DPA have been leaders in the tiny-microphone market for years, but their new 6000 Series takes 'miniature' to a new level.
Size is relative, isn't it? Way back when I started my training in broadcast sound I remember being impressed with what I thought, back then, was an amazingly compact 'personal mic' — the Sony ECM50, which was the mainstay of BBC TV studio sound. The ECM50 measured nearly 12mm in diameter and over 20.5mm in length, but over the following decade it was replaced by smaller and smaller models, culminating in mics like the ECM77 (5.6mm diameter), the DPA 4060 (5.4mm) and the very popular Sennheiser MKE2 (4.8mm). These 'personal' or 'lavalier' mics, and more from other manufacturers, have remained in widespread professional use in the broadcast and theatre industries for a considerable time now, and I had assumed it was simply not practical to make a high-quality microphone much smaller than that.
However, the advent of high-definition television and, particularly, UHDTV (4K pixel resolution) created strong demand from production companies for even smaller and less visible clip-on microphones. During a recent visit to the DPA Microphones factory in Denmark, I was privileged to be let in on a closely guarded secret: DPA had designed and perfected a brand-new 'sub-miniature' microphone. And by 'perfected' I don't just mean this new creation is smaller than their previous microphones. Other manufacturers have built sub-miniature mics, after all, but DPA's achievement is to design one which matches the technical performance of their highly regarded 4000 Series range, despite being significantly smaller. And that is really pushing against the boundaries of microphone science!
Moreover, I wasn't being shown some delicate R&D developmental prototypes. The factory was already manufacturing full production microphones in reasonable quantities to build up stocks ahead of the public launch in Autumn last year. Marketed as the 6000 Series, the new microphone's initial variants are the d:screet 6060 (standard omni) and 6061 (high SPL omni) lavalier models, along with the d:fine 6066 omni headset version. DPA sent me a 6061 and a 6066 headset to try for this review.
Naturally, all three new 6000 Series models share the same fundamental omnidirectional capsule design, which is a genuinely astonishing 3mm in diameter (3.4mm with the removable cap fitted), and 14.4mm in length. Interestingly, the reduction in diameter of roughly 2.5mm compared to the 4060 has a much bigger visual impact than you might expect, and DPA estimate that it makes the mic appear around 60 percent smaller overall. It certainly does look substantially smaller than the 4060, becoming little more than a swelling at the end of the wire.
Something I wasn't expecting when I watched the mics being constructed at the factory was that the new capsules use a circular diaphragm across the end of the capsule rather than the rectangular form perpendicular to the capsule, as in the 4000 Series. I was also amused and pleased to see the tiny array of radial slots closely resembling the classic DPA 4006's grille in the end of the mic's cap (which is removable for cleaning). That's a nice engineering feature, although you might need a magnifying glass to appreciate it!
And talking of the cap, whereas the 4000 Series mics can be fitted with different sized caps to alter the capsule's high-frequency response through an internal pressure build-up effect, the 6000 Series mics will only have the standard cap. This provides a frequency response equivalent to the standard 'soft boost' cap of its sibling range; apparently, the physics of the much smaller diaphragm mean that a cap designed to produce a stronger HF boost would be impractically long. However, I don't perceive that as an issue, and in cases where a little more treble is required (to compensate for difficult positioning, say), gentle desk EQ will solve the problem without drawing out excessive noise.
All 6000 Series mics are built with an hermetically sealed impedance‑converter stage in the capsule, using the company's Core technology (offered as an option for the 4000 Series mics last year) and, as I mentioned above, the new mic's technical specifications are virtually identical to the 4000 Series equivalents. For example, the sensitivity of the new 6060 is exactly the same as the 4060 at 20mV/Pa (the 6061 and 6066 variants are 6mV/Pa). The peak SPL capability is the same too, at 134dB for the 6060 and 144dB for the 6061 and 6066, while the one‑percent THD limits are slightly better than the 4000 Series equivalents, at 126dB peak for the 6060 and 128dB for the 6061/6066.
Most impressive of all, though, is that — despite the substantially smaller diaphragm surface area — the microphone's self-noise figure is just 1dB higher for the 6060 compared with the 4060, at 24dB(A). For the 6061 and 6066 models the self-noise is actually exactly the same as their 4000 Series counterparts at 26dB(A). The new mic's frequency response is also virtually identical to the 4000 Series, with a gentle 4dB presence peak centred around 12kHz or so.
It is often the case that smaller means less resilient, but DPA have gone to great lengths to ensure the 6000 Series retains the robust handling attributes of its siblings. The capsule housing is made of stainless steel with a PVD coating in black or beige, and it features a strong built-in cable‑strain reliever. IP58 certification means the mic's operation is completely unaffected by dust (think stage make-up) and can survive immersion in a few metres of water without damage (think sweat-drenched performances!).
The cable is often the weakest element in many lavalier mics, so rather than opting for a new slimmed‑down cable for the 6000 Series, DPA have (very sensibly, in my view) chosen to retain exactly the same well-proven 1.6mm diameter type used in the 4000 Series microphones. These cables are pleasingly tangle-resistant, and have a Kevlar inner core which provides high tensile strength. A variety of termination options are available, of course, although the default connector is the familiar MicroDot, ensuring compatibility with DPA's range of adaptors and accessories. Other connection options include the TA4F mini-XLR, three-pin LEMO and mini-jack, to suit different brands of radio mic transmitter.
One of the biggest challenges with lavalier or personal mics is how to mount them to ensure good sound quality while simultaneously minimising fabric rustles. DPA have come up with a bespoke new crocodile-style clip for the 6000 Series, identified as the SCM0030 — or more informally as the 'eight-way clip'. A rotating turret with click-stops every 45 degrees (hence 'eight-way') holds the base of the mic capsule by its cable strain relief, providing some additional vibration isolation, and a cable grab at the tip of the opposite jaw can be used to secure the cable in a vibration-isolating loop. The arrangement works very well indeed; fitting the mic securely to the clip is a matter of seconds, and the rotating turret makes it extremely fast and easy to reposition the mic for left- or right-handed shirt plackets or lapels, or as a vertical mount for T-shirt necklines or the front gore of a bra. (I always find it instils confidence and puts the talent at ease if you use the correct technical terms as you're rummaging in their clothing to attach mics!)
As you have probably already surmised, the d:fine 6066 headset model (pictured above) uses the same capsule as the high-SPL 6061 lavalier, and the headset itself looks broadly similar to that of the 4066. However, there are several important detail differences, and this is clearly a thoughtful evolution of the predecessor's design in response to customers' desires for greater mounting security and stability.
As before, the mic capsule is fixed rigidly to the end to a non-reflective metal wire boom, which is suspended from one of the earpieces via a bespoke clip that allows it to be adjusted for both length (reach) and its up/down angle — so no more need to bend the boom arm! This clever clip is also designed to prevent the arm from rotating up or down on its own, as well, so once in position the mic really does stay where it is placed. Naturally, this clip can also be released and remounted with the boom on the opposite side earpiece, if desired.
At the back end of the boom the cable emerges from what is described as an 'integrated service connector' — much like the 4066 model — but the cable is then clipped into a '90-degree management system'. This heart-shaped plastic clip not only secures and guides the cable neatly downwards at the centre of the user's neck, but also serves to clamp the two halves of the wire headset together, with a sliding action that allows the overall size of the headset to be adjusted as necessary. The total adjustment range is considerably greater than before, I think, and DPA claim it is a 'one-size-fits-all' design that can be used by adults and children.
It's certainly a much simpler and tidier arrangement than that of the 4066, making it more elegant but — importantly — also much less fiddly, and I found it easier to adjust and therefore more effective. I also found it far more comfortable to wear than the 4066, its positioning seemed to be a lot more stable and, unlike most headsets, I found I quickly forgot I was wearing it, which is a Very Good Thing.
The most obvious difference to explain that fit-and-forget stability is the shape of the ear hooks. Instead of just hanging over the top and nestling against the back of the ears, this new design is engineered to maintain three points of contact. The hooks sit over the ear in the usual way, but D-shaped loops at the bottom rest against the backs of the ear lobes, and the loops in between extend further backwards and slightly inwards so that they grip gently but firmly on the bony regions behind the ears.
I am very familiar with the sound of the DPA 4060 (I have a pair of Core 4060s myself), and I have fitted and used a lot of 4066s and 4266s (the single-sided version with the coiled rubber hanger) over the years. Once I had compensated for the lower sensitivity of the 6061 in comparison to my Core 4060s, I found it remarkably difficult to tell these models apart from the sound character alone. If anything, I felt the new model might have a little more energy at the extreme high end — which probably isn't a bad thing, actually. I perceived it as having a fraction more air to the sound, suggesting a slightly wider or higher presence boost.
The bane of most ultra-small-diaphragm mics is self-noise, and given the difference in sensitivity and thus preamp gain in my comparison, I wasn't really best placed to make a direct comparison. However, I trust DPA's specifications, and even in my own flawed tests there was only a marginal difference in the noise‑floor level. Likewise, the level of distortion in noisy situations remained satisfyingly low, with lovely wide, clean dynamics.
DPA have always excelled at making elegant but immensely practical mounting accessories for their microphones, and the new eight-way crocodile clip specifically designed for the 6000 series is no exception. I actually preferred it to the four-way clips I use with my 4060s, although the new clip does have fewer cable-securing options. I have to say that the new 6061 mic felt every bit as robust as its larger sibling, and I appreciated the reassuring click when replacing the protective cap.
Moving my attention over to test the d:fine 6066, I was very impressed with the adjustment range of the headset and the ease of fitting and positioning the mic. I think it fair to suggest this is easily DPA's best headset evolution to date and, as I've already said, I quickly forgot I was wearing it, as did my (reasonably) willing assistant! Even after an hour of moving around fairly enthusiastically, the mic remained exactly where I'd positioned it, I had no issues with wind, plosive or friction noises at all, and its vocal clarity and diction were beyond reproach. Some of this must be credited to the neat cable-management system, which is also a big improvement in terms of practicality compared to previous designs.
Undoubtedly DPA have a sure-fire winner with their new 6000 Series mics. These new models build upon the standards of their forebears whilst retaining the sound quality and technical performance we've long associated with DPA's miniature microphones. The engineering finesse and cunning involved in the 6000 Series is impressive, and the beautifully thought-out accessories and mountings have clearly benefitted from years of constructive user experience and feedback.
Clearly, not all users and applications will demand such a genuinely sub-miniature microphone, and there is roughly a £100 premium on the 6060 compared to the 4060 in the UK... but for those applications where size (or more accurately, visibility) really does matter, few (if any) alternatives can match the sheer technical performance and sound quality of DPA's ingenious and quite extraordinary 6000 Series mics!
- DPA's familiar high-quality sound.
- Almost identical technical performance to their forebears.
- Should prove just as reliable as the 4000 Series mics.
- Nicely evolved accessories and fitments.
- IP58 environmental rating.
- A tad more expensive than the Core 4000 equivalents.
Astonishingly small mics that manage to retain the quality and performance of their larger siblings in 60 percent of the size!
d:screet 6060 Core & 6061 Core £456 each; 6066 Core £720. Prices include VAT.
Sound Network +44 (0)20 3008 7530.
d:screet 6060 & 6061 $549.95 each, 6066 $859.95. Prices include VAT.
DPA USA +1 303 485 1025.