REVIEW: Shure DuraPlex DL4 condenser lavalier mic

Music technology author and lecturer Stephen Bennett recently put Shure’s new DuraPlex DL4 condenser lavalier mic through its paces. Here’s what he had to say on the company’s smallest microphone yet…

The lavalier microphone has come a long way from its humble beginnings recording voices onto Dictaphones or wax cylinders. Modern film directors usually try to capture as much on set dialogue as possible, so the requirement for small, durable, easily camouflaged microphones that can compete sonically with the big boys on a boom has become even more acute. Lavalieres also allow the recordist to get that ‘close up’ voice sound even when a boomed mic is out of the question.

The Shure omnidirectional DuraPlex DL4 condenser lavalier reviewed here is the company’s latest product that attempts to address the requirements of film, television, and, increasingly, the production of high-quality audio-visual material in the education market. Shure says that the 5mm DL4 is built to IP57 standards, i.e. it has adequate dust protection for the applications in which it will be used and can survive immersion in water of up to one meter. Though I didn’t have time to take it to a desert location, I can attest that the latter specification was admirably met.

To clean the microphone after a particularly muddy battle scene, you just wash it down with distilled water. The DL4’s protection from environmental crud is probably enhanced by the fact that it features a Micro Electro Mechanical System (MEMS) device that uses a chip rather than a diaphragm as a transducer. This technology is used in mobile phones and the microphone should, in theory, be also sonically consistent between models due to the reproducibility in manufacture – which might be important if you’re renting equipment.

I decided to audition the DL4 in a less demanding situation than a full-scale war movie. I, like many academics, have had to produce top notch online learning material pretty damn quick this year, and what often sorts out the wheat from the chaff regarding the quality of these academic productions is poorly recorded audio. As I tend to move around a lot during lectures, I wanted to capture this element of ‘performance’ at the highest audio quality. To this end, I’ve been using wireless lavaliers for my recordings and was keen to try out the new Shure. The company supplied the DL4 microphone with a lockable LEMO three-pin connector, but you can also specify a TA4F (mTQG) connector.

The captive 1.6mm diameter PLEX cable is excellent and doesn’t ‘remember’ how you’ve bent it, which is a godsend. It’s also paintable – essential for on-set work – and I managed to hide it under my shirt effectively. You can also specify the mic in a range of different and useful colours, including several skin tones. The specifications for the microphone read well, with excellent sensitivity (-42.5 dBV at 1 kHz) and the ability to respond well to unexpected bangs during any fight sequences (Maximum SPL of 132.0 dB at 1 kHz and with one per cent THD) alongside a dynamic range of over 100 dB. Self-noise is low, and the microphone caused no audible problems during the review, responding well when matched with high-quality recording equipment.

As you might expect from a microphone designed mainly to capture speech, there is much focus on the ‘presence’ region of the audio spectrum. Unadorned, the DL4 is fairly well balanced and reproduces male and female voices in a pretty neutral fashion. Fitting the supplied ‘Presence Cap’ provides a few dB of boost around the 10 kHz mark, making voices sound more ‘airy’ and ‘breathy’. The effectiveness of this option is going to be determined by the voice you are recording and what you want to achieve, but the option is a useful one to have and it works very well without adding harshness.

Shure also supplies windshields for use with both EQ curves – you need to use the correct one for each application – alongside tie-clips and sticky mounting devices. Attaching a lavalier is an art in itself, and I’m sure the customers for the DL4 will have a range of fixtures and fittings for any occasion. The microphone itself comes in a small semi-hard protective case.

In use, the DL4 delivered a clean, noise free and ‘weighty’ yet balanced sound, reproducing my voice, warts and all. My teaching material has clear audio that is intelligible on everything from a smartphone to studio monitors – though my videos could do with a better-looking actor. I tried some outdoor recordings with the Shure as well, and the wind-noise suppression was perfectly acceptable, even in the blustery city where I live. Clothing noise – the bane of the on-set recording engineer – wasn’t too bad with the supplied mountings, but any engineer worth their salt will have bespoke solutions that cover just that problem.

Sadly, I didn’t have the time to check the DL4’s performance in capturing dialogue while swinging on a rope across a ravine, but I’ve no doubt that it would have passed the test with flying colours too. The DL4 is a welcome addition to Shure’s microphone range and it’s hard to find fault with it – it just does what it says on the box without any fuss.

Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich, he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing on media and technology at the UEA.