Lindos, known for their test and measurement equipment, have started making products for musicians and engineers. We put their versatile new stereo mic/preamplifier kit to the test.
Lindos is probably not a name that rings bells with most SOS readers. This small British company were founded in 1979, and their first product was an audio test system called the LA1, superseded in 1984 by the more advanced LA100 — a system I remember well from my days as a BBC engineer! This used a graphic LCD to show frequency response graphs, which was a revolutionary technology at the time, and the LA100 became a standard tool for broadcasters and equipment manufacturers around the world. The LA100 is still available, but Lindos also offer the Minisonic MS1, MS10 and MS20 audio test systems as well — and the company are now run by the son of one of the original founders.
With fresh blood in the company came fresh ideas, and Lindos have recently branched out into offering an interesting microphone set intended for music and music-video recording applications, featuring carefully thought-out accessories and interfaces for everything from SLR cameras and consumer video camcorders to iPads.
The Minisonic Mic Kit comprises two high-quality sub-miniature (quarter-inch) electret microphones (with cable tidies), a stereo MP1 preamp, a pair of mic holders, a pop shield, two windshields, a lapel clip, a belt clip, two stand adaptors, and a manual. It's all housed in a compact box with a magnetic clasp and custom-made foam inserts. A comprehensive collection of various preamp output cables to suit different applications, camera adaptors, carrying cases and mic stands are available separately.
The MM4 mics included in the Mic Kit are derived from the MM3 models Lindos have used for some time for measurement purposes. The MM4 is a calibrated omnidirectional electret measuring about 6.5 x 25 mm. The mic has a roughly three-metre long cable attached, terminating in a good-quality 3.5mm mini-jack plug, all stored neatly on a cardboard cable tidy. All Lindos microphones are matched to within ±0.5dB for accurate stereo work, and the frequency response is quoted as ±1dB between 40Hz and 15kHz. Sensitivity is given as 12mV/Pa with self-noise at 24dB (A-weighted). Noise inevitably rises as the diaphragm size is reduced, but these mics are relatively quiet for the type. Also available is a high-SPL version of the mic called the MM5, which at 1.6mV/Pa has roughly 18dB less sensitivity, allowing close miking of drum kits and other loud sources without fear of clipping.
Supplied within the kit box is a pair of hollow aluminium 'bodies' with a slot cut down one side and foam inserts inside. The mic capsule can be easily installed in this body and then used exactly like a conventional small-diaphragm mic, mounted with the 3/8-inch stand adaptors also provided in the box. There's even a small circular fabric pop screen included, which clips onto the mic body adaptor, if required. If the mic body adaptors aren't appropriate, alternative mounting options are included, such as a tie-clip adaptor with a pair of foam windshields, a belt clip, and a pair of Rycote Fluffy furry wind-gags.
Also included in the kit is a very neat little mic preamp, which is housed in a compact black aluminium box measuring 34 x 58 x 102mm (HWD). The underside features a quarter-inch threaded socket for attaching to a camera tripod, and a pair of spring clips are also included to allow the preamp to be clipped onto a mic stand, if required. The bottom end-plate has a PP3 battery drawer, and there is also a 2.1mm coaxial 6-14V DC power inlet socket on the right hand side. Apparently an alkaline PP3 battery will power the preamp and mics for around 35 hours.
The opposite end-plate carries a pair of 3.5mm input sockets for the two mics, and a nine-pin D-sub connector for the outputs. The top panel has three mic-gain toggle switches, marked with the anticipated peak sound pressure levels (128dB, 118dB and 108dB). In essence, these adjust the gain in 10dB increments from +20 to +40dB. A third toggle switches power on or off, and five LEDs are used to warn of clipping and to indicate the battery voltage. The outputs can be actively balanced (centre-grounded) or unbalanced, depending on the output cable loom, providing a maximum output level of +18dBu in the balanced mode. Noise is quoted as -84dBu (A-weighted) with the gain switch in the middle position, and distortion is 0.015 percent.
Interestingly, Lindos don't use the standard 'plug-in power' arrangement to energise the electret capsule impedance-converter electronics. Most portable recorders provide between 3V and 5V via a load resistor of a few kΩ, but this Lindos system provides 5V, with the load resistor being in the microphone itself. It is by adjusting the value of this resistor that Lindos calibrate the microphone output level. However, although this arrangement allows better technical performance, it also means that conventional plug-in-powered mics can't be used with the preamp unless the connection wiring is modified — but Lindos provide details on what to do, if required.
The review kit was supplied with the optional balanced and unbalanced output cable looms, although I did most of my tests using the balanced output adaptor, which provides line-level signals on a pair of XLRs (colour-coded with red and black cable sleeves). A nine-pin-to-nine-pin extension cable was also included in the review kit, as the standard balanced output lead is only about 1.5m long.
There is something inherently 'right' about the sound of good omnidirectional microphones, and sub-miniature mics offer several practical advantages — just ask DPA or Earthworks! The Minisonic Mic Kit offers a good collection of accessories to make most applications very easy and practical, and the preamp performed extremely well.
I made a few spaced-omni recordings using the mic-body adaptors and stand clips, with good results, and I liked the ability to clip the preamp safely to the mic stand — a much better arrangement than placing it on the floor where it will inevitably be stood upon!
I also tried Lindos's recommended 'singing guitarist' technique, with the supplied pop shield on the vocal mic and the guitar mic placed close to the guitar itself. In this situation, good separation relies entirely on the mics being very close to their respective sources, and as far from the unwanted source as possible — but at least there is no proximity effect to restrict how close you can go! I have to say this wouldn't be my preferred way of recording a singing guitarist, but it actually worked pretty well. I also made some ambient nature recordings in my back garden and the nearby woods, using the Rycote fluffies on the naked mics to keep the wind noise at bay, again with great success.
If I had to be critical, and while I understand why the output adaptor cables are sold separately, the kit won't work without at least one adaptor, so it would make more sense to me if the kit price included one (either the balanced output lead, or perhaps one lead from a choice of two or three). However, for a little over two hundred quid in the UK (plus the cost of any output adaptor cables, which vary between £10 and £35), the Minisonic Mic kit is good value and delivers remarkably good performance from a very versatile kit of parts.
There are many miniature electret lavalier mics on the market, across a wide range of prices. The industry leaders are undoubtedly DPA, who produce a range of mic-mounting systems for instrument use. The now discontinued 4090 model is similar to the Lindos concept, and Earthworks also make a number of miniature omni mics that can be used in the same way.
The Minisonic Mic Kit can be used with a wide variety of recording devices when paired with the appropriate Lindos adaptor cables. The current list of supported cameras includes the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2, the Canon EOS5Dii and 60D, the Sony HDR FX1E and VX1000. It can also be used with the Apple iPad in conjunction with the Apple Camera Connection Kit and Griffin iMic USB soundcard adaptor. There are also options for using it with the iPod and iPhone – full details are provided on the Lindos web site.