Last week while working some car set-ups on a reality show, I struggled with getting clean sound out of the lavalier microphones on the two cast members once they got into the car and put their seatbelt on. You see, the seatbelt, while not entirely covering the mic placement, would rub off against the mic every so often when the cast member would turn their body as they turn the steering wheel, for example.
I was lucky to be able to fix the issue before continuing by moving the mic placement further out of the way of the seatbelt, but sometimes this is not feasible, especially in fast paced scenarios as one may find often in reality work. A stash microphone is an obvious and great solution to getting good sound in car set-ups (and other situations as well). I own Sanken CUBs which I’ve used previously for stashing, but due to issues noted further down, they are not always ideal. So this week I decided to to do some tryouts and test a few of the options available in the market, and pick what I thought would be the best tool to match the rest of my arsenal.
Which Stash Microphone is the Best?
Well, that’s subjective, but Pro Sound NYC was kind enough to let me test a few stash microphone options at their shop, and lucky for me, Max Futterman was around to help me set it up, run the tests and share his expertise as well. Here’s what we had, along with some relevant specs:
|Manufacturer||Sanken||Peter Engh||Production Talent||DPA|
|Frequency Response||60Hz – 15kHz||50Hz – 17kHz||80Hz – 12kHz||20Hz – 20kHz|
(1kHz ref. 1V/Pa)
|Equivalent Noise Level
|16dB(A)||Not Provided||Not Provided||Typ. 23dB(A)|
|Max SPL||120dB||Not Provided||120dB||136dB|
|Dynamic Range||120dB||100 dB||Not Provided||102 dB|
In the past, I’ve used Sunken CUB-01 boundary microphones that are quite easy to stash, but unless they are flush against a hard (preferably flat) surface, they will not sound good (as per the way boundary microphones work). Additionally, if the surface is touched or hit, the vibrations will be transferred easily onto the microphone. Lastly, the setup time on a car for these may be longer than others, as you have to route the long cable run appropriately to the dropped bag or transmitter.
The Peter Engh Omnigoose, Production Talent InstaStash, and DPA 4098 microphones are gooseneck style microphones. They all have a flexible gooseneck for easy bending (which helps to getting the mic on axis), and are around 6″ / 15cm long, give or take (the InstaStash is about 8″ / 20cm). These lend themselves to quick and easy stashing. For example, just plug them to a transmitter, and hide them in the visor above the talent in a car setup.
Test & Parameters
This test is by no means scientific. I can throw a bunch of specs and numbers at you, but I think ultimately what matters is how the microphones sound, and as such, we decided it would be best to record and let your ears do the work. I’ll obviously still provide my opinions, but they are ultimately just that, my opinions, and you should listen critically and make up your own. Sound brother and mixer extraordinaire Michael “Mangler” McQueen, who happened to stop by Pro Sound while he waited between flights to his next job, was kind enough to provide his beautiful southern male voice for the recordings. He read some short passages for us.
All microphones were recorded at 1′ (30cm), 2′ (60cm), and 3′ (90cm), approximately, from the sound source. All microphones were being recorded into a Zaxcom Maxx via XLR inputs using Ambient Eumel EMP5S TA5 to XLR adapters / power supplies (as all the mics are terminated to TA5F), except for the DPA 4098, which was connected to a Zaxcom TRX transmitter and the receiver to the Maxx (we did not have a microdot to XLR adapter, only a microdot to 3-pin lemo adapter). It should be noted that while DPA states that the 4098 requires at least 5v to operate, they still work with Zaxcom transmitters’ 3.3v. This, however, leads to a higher self-noise and lower sensitivity on the microphone. As such, in this test, one can say that the 4098 is already at a disadvantage due to the crippling caused by the lack of resources.
The Sanken CUB-01 was placed against a hard flat surface for optimal performance. Additionally, these mics were tested in a live store environment (Pro Sound NYC) only. Ideally, I would’ve liked to take these out to the field, and test them out in a car, for example, where I would most likely use these. However, for my purposes, this simple test satisfied my needs.
Recordings are offered as is, without any equalization or compression. The only editing done was in Audacity, to cut the files to ideal lengths for upload and sharing. For each recording there are four files, one for each microphone:
- 1: Sanken CUB-01
- 2: Peter Engh Omnigoose
- 3: Production Talent InstaStash
- 4: DPA 4098
I. 1′ / 30cm Stash Microphone Tryouts
The following recording was done with the microphone capsules at around 1 foot / 30 centimeters from the sound source:
I can immediately tell that the CUB-01 sounded lovely thanks to the flat surface it was on and the close proximity. The cardioid pattern helps keep the sound very natural, while still providing good directionality. I do think though that the sound of this mic was just a tad bright for me.
The Omnigoose and InstaStash were the most open sounding mics, especially in the store environment, but I suspect that in a controlled environment such as a car, they will likely sound decent. They had a lot of emphasis in the mid-range frequencies, sounding almost nasally. The noise floor was significantly higher in these two mics as well, a bit more so on the InstaStash. I had to provide a lot more input gain to get the Omnigoose and the InstaStash mics at unity.
The DPA 4098 sounded great. The tighter supercardioid pattern allows to really narrow into the sound source while rejecting more of the unwanted noise. It feels extremely natural albeit the tighter pattern, but it also suffers from proximity effect the most. At this distance the lower frequency response was a bit too emphasized.
II. 2′ / 60cm Stash Microphone Tryouts
The following recording was done with the microphone capsules at around 2 feet / 60 centimeters from the sound source:
The CUB-01 still sounds good, but a bit deflated due to the longer distance, and in turn, now it is starting to sound a bit harsh.
The Omnigoose still sounds nasally. The InstaStash a bit less, but still not liking the way either of these sound in this environment, especially at this distance, where the pick-up pattern is starting to loose more of the desired source and bleed in more of the ambient noise.
The 4098 is really shining at this distance. The bit extra bass from the 1 foot distance is no longer an issue at this distance. The narrow pattern is really cutting through the noise to grab a naturally sounding voice.
III. 3′ / 60cm Stash Microphone Tryouts
The following recording was done with the microphone capsules at around 3 feet / 90 centimeters from the sound source:
The CUB-01 now has slightly less bass, and sounds slightly harsher. Still not a bad sound, but not ideal to my ears. The Omnigoose and InstaStash are also digging deeper into the higher noise floor and overemphasized mid range. The DPA 4098 is still sounding lovely. I really dig this microphone.
I think it’s not hard to hear that the DPA 4098 is the clear winner here. Great natural sound throughout, as well as excellent reach and isolation. The Sanken CUB-01 comes second. It sounds great in close proximity, but as you get farther away, its sound gets deflated, as well as brighter and harsher. The Omnigoose and the Instastash come last. I think I liked the sound of the InstaStash just slightly better, but they both suffered from being too open sounding and from the overemphasis on the mid range frequencies.
- I never liked the sound of the CUB-01 without a hard surface, which is why I didn’t really use them in car set-ups. Mangler suggested that sticking the CUB-01 to a square foot of a hard surface (such as plexiglass) when mounting it by the visor in a car set-up would greatly improve the results. Great idea! I never thought of that.
- While I really didn’t like the Omnigoose and InstaStash in this particular environment, I suspect that in a car, they will not sound horrible.
- Which brings me to my next point: this test would’ve benefitted from being performed in different environments and situations, to better judge how each mic performs overall. That said, I think it’s not hard to fall in love with the sound of the DPA 4098.
- Since the DPA 4098 was plugged into a Zaxcom transmitter, it did not have as much sensitivity and suffered from higher self-noise than it would have normally. However, even “crippled”, it still sounded better than the other microphones in my humble opinion.
- While testing the InstaStash microphone individually, I noticed that it seems to be prone to RFI from external wireless units. Whenever it got close to the Zaxcom transmitter the DPA 4098 was plugged into, there was a noticeable high frequency whine and other RFI artifacts, which worried me a bit.
- Perhaps that old saying, “you get what you pay for”, is really true. At least this test seems to prove so. The DPA 4098 is the highest priced item from all the microphones tested, and it was by far the best sounding one. The Omnigoose and InstaStash were the lowest priced items, and were my least favorite.
- I ended this test by ordering myself a couple of DPA 4098 microphones. I was really excited by how great these sounded, and cannot wait to use them on my next job.
These tryouts wouldn’t have been possible without these folks, to whom I offer my gratitude:
– Pro Sound NYC‘s owner Rich Topham Jr. and sales rep Justin Marinoff for letting us try out these mics and helping us set up the test (as well as for getting me going with my microphone order :D).
– Max Futterman for helping set up and running part of the tryouts with me.
– “Mangler” McQueen for providing his beautiful southern voice for the recordings.
That’s it! I’d love to hear your thoughts!