Tech Focus, Part 2: Surround-Microphone Products Wrap

By: Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

Considering how crucial surround audio has become for broadcast sports, the number of specialty surround microphones has remained relatively static in recent years. Some of the market is made up of freelance A1s who invest in them and then rent them to network clients for shows, which effectively puts more of these expensive but unique transducer arrays to work on sports shows than their relatively small numbers would suggest. But manufacturers say that the major networks are showing heightened interest lately. Here’s a look at what they have to choose from.

DPA Microphones
The d:mension 5100 mobile surround microphone requires no external signal processing and can be mounted on a camera or microphone stand, suspended, or simply handheld via a handgrip. Its five miniature condenser transducers exhibit extremely low sensitivity to wind and mechanical noise, low distortion, highly consistent low-frequency response, and large dynamic range. Appropriate channel separation and directionality are achieved through a combination of DPA’s proprietary DiPMic (Directional Pressure Microphone) technology, which mounts interference tubes on the L/C/R omni capsules, and the use of acoustic baffles that further preserve the accuracy of levels between the discrete analog output channels. The d:mension 5100’s three front microphones are time-coincident to eliminate comb filtering and ensure frequency consistency when downmixing stereo or mono. The rear microphones, offering standard omnidirectional patterns, are optimally spaced both from each other and from the front array to simulate the most natural time arrival differences. The LFE (.1) channel is created from a L/R sum, which is then attenuated 10 dB in comparison with the signal from the main channels, in accordance with the 5.1 format. The 5.1 output of the 5100 runs through a multi-pin Lemo connector carrying all six channels electronically balanced, while an enclosed 5-meter (16-ft.), six-pair Mogami cable breaks out to six Neutrik XLR-M connectors.

The H2PRO-5.1 terminates in six XLR microphone-cable ends (Left, Right, Center, Low Frequency, Left Surround, Right Surround) that correlate to the industry-standard 5.1 channels. Users have total control and flexibility over the incoming, discrete surround-sound audio signals and can choose to use as many or as few channels as any surround project requires, because channel assignments are discrete all the way from the recording and mixing process to final delivery.

The H2-PRO 7.1 is capable of recording up to 7.1 channels of discrete surround sound and terminates in eight XLR microphone cable-ends (Left, Right, Center, Low Frequency, Left Surround, Right Surround, Top, and Center Rear). These correlate to the standard 5.1 channels and add a top channel for such formats as IMAX and a center-rear channel for extended surround formats, such as Dolby EX and DTS ES.

The cost-effective H3-D features five multidirectional, full-bandwidth microphone elements and a discrete LFE microphone in one integrated capsule. The unit offers LED verification of external phantom power and is compatible with all standard XLR mic inputs on recording consoles, external preamplifiers, and location recorders that provide phantom power.

The H4SuperMINI features a Dolby ProLogic II encoded stereo output that can be used on any stereo recording device, from broadcast cameras to handheld recorders. In addition, it features three 3.5-mm stereo outputs for recording the six individual microphones. The H4 also has built-in headphone monitoring, a zoom feature that will forward-bias the pickup pattern, a -12-dB pad, and an on-board center-channel microphone input that features phantom power supply. This allows the user to input any external microphone into the mix. Included with the H4 SuperMINI is a TA-6–to–dual XLR output for a robust balanced signal.

The PortaMic PRO, a lightweight solution for surround-sound recording, features the same quality as its big brother, the H4 SuperMINI, in a package that fits in the palm of a hand. It contains six individual microphones in the patented Holophone head design fed into a Dolby ProLogic II encoder, a -12-dB pad, and zoom feature, as well as a balanced TA-6–to–dual XLR output.

The WMS-5 is a five-channel surround microphone with its matrix electronics housed in a single body. Based on extensive M-S stereo research conducted in conjunction with broadcaster NHK, the WMS-5 delivers realistic surround sound with minimal setup time and is easily mounted on the camera, boom pole, or pistol grip. It delivers reliable, phase-coherent, five-channel sound using five discrete output signals. The M capsule is used for both center (with shotgun directivity) and front left and right channels. The S signal is used for both front left and right and rear left surround and right surround channels. The rear M capsule is used for left surround and right surround. All capsules are aligned vertically on the same axis for precise phase coherence. The WMS-5 weighs 8.3 oz. and measures 9.25 in. long.

The DSF-B MKII Digital Broadcast Package provides everything required to capture audio in mono, stereo, 5.1, and now also height-surround formats 5.1+2, 5.1+4, and 7.1+2, as used in object-based surround sound. It offers a high degree of control over a wide range of microphone parameters from the audio-control room, without the need for physical changes to the microphone. The system comprises the DSF-2 MKII microphone (a multicapsule microphone and a 1RU digital microphone-control unit) and the DSF-3 MKII digital surround processor. The microphone captures wholly phase-coherent multichannel audio, which can be folded down without creation of unpleasant phase artifacts; this suits it for surround-sound broadcast applications where all 5.1 audio needs to be 100% downmix-compatible at all times. A crucial new function of the MKII is a wide range of integrated system self-tests with alarming and correction. They include the monitoring of all supplies (including those for the microphone) and monitoring of microphone-cable status, showing detected errors on the front-panel display and on the SoundField remote app, while auto-correcting errors as necessary to allow the event or recording to continue.

Though not a single dedicated surround microphone, the new Esfera surround-microphone system consists of the SPM 8000 two-channel microphone unit and the SPB 8000 processing unit. The processing unit uses an algorithm matched to the microphones to generate a 5.1 surround signal with sampling rates of up to 96 kHz. An integrated compressor ensures a broadcast-friendly signal. For ease of operation, the processing unit uses four directly selectable presets. These can be modified via an Ethernet interface to adapt to local conditions, including the settings for the gain of the individual channels, front and surround focus, surround delay, rotation, filters and cutoff frequencies, compressor, makeup gain, output gain, limiter and windshield compensation.

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