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DPA 5100 Mobile Surround Microphone Review


New from DPA Microphones is the 5100 Mobile Surround Microphone, a multicapsule, self-contained mic for surround recording. The 5100 has five 48-volt, phantom-powered microphone elements in a handsome (yet vaguely bicycle seat–shaped) array: L/C/R and Ls/Rs, along with a sixth output for the subwoofer channel that is derived by summing the left and right front microphone channels with a 10dB/octave roll-off. It’s truly plug-and-play, lightweight (17.6 ounces) and discrete; no other processing is required for basic surround recording and mixing.

The five capsules are pre-polarized omni-directional condenser elements, and directionality is achieved using DPA’s proprietary DiPMic™ (Directional Pressure Microphone) technology. Mounted between the front L/C/R capsules are interference tubes and acoustic baffles to increase directionality. With a wide dynamic range and low sensitivity to wind noise, the 5100 is well suited for a variety of surround pickup environments, indoors and outdoors. Fans of the versatile (but somewhat noisier) DPA 406x miniature capsule series will be pleasantly surprised to find that the five individual capsules in the 5100 have a noise floor that is lower by 5 dB, which is a critical improvement that allows for more serious recordings.

The 5100 includes standard Euro-style 3/8-inch sockets on both its top and bottom, along with a U.S.-standard 5/8-inch threaded adapter for attaching the mic to camcorder brackets, mic stands or stereo mic bars, and suspension mounts of your own choice. However you mount it, there’s virtually no handling noise and the 5100 becomes a very quiet and stealthy-looking “ear in the sky.”

Using Windtex fabric technology, the unit’s smooth black casing feels like sleek tennis-shoe material: slightly padded in the right places, but not wobbly or flimsy. The 5100’s array is solidly built.

Rounding out the package, a detachable Mogami breakout cable (Lemo multipin to six individual male XLRs) adds flexibility and offers easier hanging options. The unit comes standard with a 16.4-foot cable, but DPA offers other lengths that would prove handy in very large spaces, such as when suspended from the ceiling. Other options include the Windjammer WJ5100, which easily fits on the 5100 and gives you an additional 15 dB of attenuation in seriously noisy environments at 100 Hz.

For fast, easy 5.1 capture, you can mount the 5100 directly on a camcorder or nearby stand. I couldn’t resist setting it up in my driveway for doing drive-bys with my car, letting the dogs run around the mic while chasing each other and squirrels, and listening to a morning symphony of bird calls, cicadas and bees—all of which the mic reproduced in lovely surround sound. Videographers and sound designers will love the 5100’s ease of use for capturing live dialog, room tone and outdoor events in dead-on accurate surround without having to fuss with mic position or mess with tangled cables. Grab your favorite multichannel audio recorder, and you’re set.

Moving on to more serious pursuits, the 5100 really turned heads (and ears) in more demanding environs, specifically two concert halls at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, where I often record. Thanks to an adroit IATSE crew headed by lead sound tech Dave Connor, we first flew the 5100 in the more intimate 650-seat Perelman Theater for a handful of multitracked shows, including live jazz with singer Claudia Acuña and her trio; classical music with the final appearance of Ignat Solzhenitsyn as music director of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia; and finally a double-bill of avant-garde music with Brooklyn Rider and special guest 2 Foot Yard.

For the jazz and avant-garde performances, the 5100 provided a solid and smooth “overlay” of surround/live ambience whenever needed in the mix. Acuña’s show, which had a front-of-house P.A. system in place, rendered most of the sound from the 5100’s front mic moot, but its two rear-surround mics handled ambience and applause superbly. On the other hand, I captured a dramatic, living, breathing 5.1-surround performance of classical music with the 5100, including violin soloist Soovin Kim performing with the Chamber Orchestra.

To hedge my bets, I still hung my standard DPA 4006 stereo spaced omni pair array, and compared the two systems later in stereo mixdown. The 5100 more than held its own when used as a two-point stereo pickup system. The results were a bit different, but not better or worse, and are entirely useful for serious listening and broadcast.

Somewhere in-between the two concerts, I captured a wonderful, wildly divergent set of material from new music pioneers Brooklyn Rider and 2 Foot Yard. My mixdown of that performance contains a blend of everything: 5.1 ambient sound from the hall and direct mics on the musicians. The flexibility available in a setup like this was priceless.

The real acid test came while using the 5100 as the main array for a live recording in the 3,200-seat Verizon Hall of the Academy of Vocal Arts’ 75th-anniversary concert, produced for radio broadcast and subsequent DVD. Due to the limited availability of ceiling drops and cable restrictions, the 5100 provided our only main pickup of the hall and orchestra. We used spot mics for vocalists and multiple tracks for some orchestral parts, but for the recording’s real core, we relied heavily on the 5100. Thanks to the optional 65-foot cable and a resourceful crew, we were able to fly the 5100—literally in plain sight of everyone—directly over the conductor’s head at a height of about 20 feet. Its “stealth” look rendered it mostly invisible to almost everyone present.

The mic provided a superb downmix for the stereo radio broadcast and rock-solid 5.1 imaging for the DVD soundtrack. During the mix, I slightly delayed the rear two channels to spread out the applause and ambience beds. The unaltered mix was fine as-is, but adding a little depth seemed to enhance the sound further. Although my tests never got close to the 5100’s maximum stated handling level of 132dB SPL, I have no doubt that the mic effortlessly handled transients and the occasionally seriously loud passages. As expected with DPA, the 5100 offers one smooth, silky-sounding array that can handle anything you put in front of it.

At $3,699, the 5100 is a welcome addition to the field of “point-and-shoot” surround recording options. As long as you have enough available tracks and are prepared to go the extra distance in deploying the unit from a ceiling or tall stand, the 5100 works wonderfully well in a variety of applications. Whether indoors or out, rain or shine, songbirds or opera stars—you can capture it all with the 5100.

Joe Hannigan’s company, Weston Sound, is in its 21st year of production.

Click on the Product Summary box to view the DPA 5100 product page.

Placement of the DPA 5100 microphone at the 3,200-seat Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia