Review: DPA D:Fine In-Ear Broadcast Headset Mic

Alistair McGhee explains why he sees the company’s new in-ear mic as “a piece of fine art audio engineering”.

Picture the scene – a much loved uber-confident radio presenter, a packed theatre, a waiting audience, a live broadcast, radio headphones and hand held radio mics. What could possibly go wrong?

Well let’s say the radio headphones’ cabling is not as reliable as it could be and at a crucial point in the evening when the whole shebang is live, it fails. Now the much-loved presenter can’t hear himself, or the people in the gallery yelling at him to carry on. No, he thinks the mic has failed, so he picks up the second hand held, ‘is this working?, still can’t hear himself, so he picks up the third and then the spare. Bellowing furiously into four working mics that ‘none of these mics are working.’ You had to be there, it would be funny, unless of course you happened to be the engineer (hi Mark!) or the producer that night.

What we need, of course, is a super-reliable headset system from one of the world’s top manufacturers. Something with a high-quality mic you can sing into and some well engineered cable management. And maybe a remote controlled presenter would be nice. Enter stage left DPA and its new d:fine In-Ear Broadcast Headset Microphone, complete with single or dual earpieces. The d:fine In-ear mic will be available in two mic versions – an omni based on the existing d:fine 66 and a directional version based on the d:fine 88; both are available in brown, beige and black.

The new d:fine In-ear headset mic is hard to describe, especially if you haven’t seen the mic-only versions. Superficially delicate but actually sturdy and beautifully finished. It’s a piece of fine art audio engineering.

Two slender but tough wires form the backbone, which is expandable to fit the size of the talent’s head – in broadcasting usually XXL. To this wire frame are attached all the tricky bits. At your right ear a rubberised curly fixing while the left ear has an earpiece and a boom complete with the DPA mic. The mic and earpiece are cabled to the midpoint of the retaining wire and then exit down what should be the back of your neck – if you are wearing the wire like a tie, you have it on the wrong way round. About five inches down the wire there is a small clip to retain the cabling to a suitable anchor point on your clothing. The signal cables are about four feet long – with radio systems in mind – and terminate in very discreet connectors. Micro dot for the microphone and 3.5mm jack for the ear piece feed. The 3.5mm headphone jack is metal finished and the cable entry point has some nice strain relief, as does the microdot microphone connection.

By definition a head-worn microphone has a tough life. Stuck on a presenter’s head, under the lights, that’s a hot sweaty environment. These things get bent and pushed into and out of shape on a daily basis. On first inspection at least the d:fine In-ear mic looks made to take a beating. The finish on the mic boom is not going to shed and there’s a ‘drop stopper’ to keep moisture from running down onto the capsule.

The boom is adjustable back and forwards, which is a neat trick and works in conjunction with a cabling assembly that allows slack to be taken up out of the trailing leads to make fine adjustments to the amount of cable you have available to the microphone boom. And, in a miracle of engineering, the boom is removable, which is very impressive.

In use

It kind of goes without saying that a DPA mic will be good, the question is just how good. I plugged the d:fine In-ear mic into my Micron radio kit and gave it a whirl. I normally use a Sanken COS 11D, which is also an omni, so that was a natural starting point of comparison. Clipping the Sanken high up on my collar I ran a set of vocal tests. Listening back the DPA easily bested the Sanken. A top end sparkle and a less boxy lower mid range. Checking the frequency responses the DPA’s peak is a bit higher than the Sanken’s, which accounts for the top end but didn’t explain the mid range contrast. As something of a champion for the 11D I was a bit disappointed. I then mounted the Sanken on the boom alongside the d:fine in-ear mic to test mounting position as a factor. A much closer result, the 11D’s mid range opened up and now the differences were all about the top end. Both mics were good enough to hear the wireless link. Despite the fact that the Micron is very good indeed. If I cabled the DPA direct to the mixer it had even more to give and throughout the testing I was struck by the low handling noise and pop resistance. All in all the d:fine In-ear Headset Mic is a remarkable microphone, a credit to DPA’s engineering.

The Earpiece

And so to the earpiece. I had the single earpiece but a dual version offering stereo will be available. In all, the options are single-ear mount and single in-ear; dual-ear mount and single in-ear; and dual ear-mount with dual in-ear. DPA has outsourced the units which are designed for comms, a feed of programme with talkback would be the normal send. This is the bit that allows you to shout, ‘no the mic is working, just keep going’, straight into your talent’s lug hole. It’s not designed for quality monitoring, more the essentials of keeping the show on the road. The earpiece comes with a removable rubber boot, making it easy to clean. One area the industry does need to think about is a standard locking connector for our headphone feeds – a magsafe one would be brill.

To sum up DPA has yet another top-end audio product. It’s not going to be cheap but let’s face it you’re worth it, even if your talent isn’t! Hopefully they’re still working on the remote controlled presenter bit.

Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television. Most recently, Alistair was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba.