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Back To The Future: Looking Into Notable Recent Microphone Milestones

Newer innovations and old standards given new life...

By Gary Parks November 6, 2014

The modern Shure Super 55, descendent of the original Model 55.

Miniatures
A major development within the last couple of decades is in the quality, consistency, and increased miniaturization of mics. The Sennheiser MKE-2 was a seminal step in this process, as was the Countryman ISOMAX. In a conversation with Chris Countryman, he elaborated on his company’s concepts and processes toward miniaturization.

He notes that it begins with stripping down the elements of microphone technology to the basics, followed by an ongoing review of materials and methods developed in other industries and incorporating them into the designs, very careful process control in manufacturing, and extensive QC and testing.

“We push for every last thousandth of an inch,” Countryman says. “For example, we’re drilling precisely placed holes the size of a human hair in our H6 and other capsules, exploring paint chemistry to be able to make a very thin film that will still be flexible, moisture resistant, and durable, and researching adhesives.

He adds, “We use semi-conductor etching technologies to make micro-structures that form the core of a capsule. And the Kevlar stuff – I can’t tell you how many cable designs we went through to get one that’s supple yet is also very strong.” 

The Countryman ISOMAX microphone, now also available mounted on a headset.

DPA mics are widely used in touring sound for their combination of small size and sound quality. The 4060 Series that debuted in 1996 incorporated all of the knowledge and experience the company had acquired into a miniature capsule.

“With these mics as a starting place, we use the technology of interference tubes as one of our main principles to create well-controlled miniature directional mics,” Nymand says. “In addition, our back-plates are pre-polarized at a very high voltage so that the mics can handle very high SPL without distorting, and our unique preamps within the mics use principles found in hi-fi and the Danish hearing aid industries.”

Headset manufacturers must factor wireless transmission into their designs, since most are used in that manner. Countryman says that “about 90 percent of what we sell goes into a wireless device. We have at least 50 unique configurations with various combinations of connectors and wiring schemes to match the requirements of the electronics in the transmitter, and a database that contains hundreds of different wireless systems that we keep up to date.

The latest iteration of the DPA d:screet 4060 omnidirectional microphone.

“Customers also use our headsets with computers for podcasts and other audio applications,” he notes, “so we also must pay attention to USB connections and compatibility with a variety of sound cards.”

On It Goes
This overview has just scratched the surface of more recent mic development and innovation. A key benefit of competition, in conjunction with the advent of new technologies and applications, is that manufacturers push each other to develop products that sound and work better, are more reliable, and can adapt to changing requirements.

Also, when handled with a commitment to users rather than profit being foremost, even pricing competition can lead to better products for less money, rather than to lower quality, disposable goods. With the talent and dedication that these mic designers show, live sound engineers can look forward to new and improved designs, and mic-to-mic consistency—even with those old standards in their mic toolkits.

Gary Parks is a pro audio writer who has worked in the industry for more than 25 years, including serving as marketing manager and wireless product manager for Clear-Com, handling RF planning software sales with EDX Wireless, and managing loudspeaker and wireless product management at Electro-Voice.


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About Gary

Gary Parks
Gary Parks

Gary is a writer who has worked in pro audio for more than 25 years, holding marketing and management positions with several leading manufacturers.

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