DPA’s new directional mic takes aim at an untapped mid‑level market in location recording kit.
I’ve used DPA mics for many years — my workhorses for documentary production are two DPA 4060 omnidirectional clip‑ons. They are robust, low in noise and have a wonderful frequency response. They are not by any means a low‑budget option, but are what you would genuinely call an investment in quality.
However, lavalier mics aren’t the only option for this kind of work: many people like to use ‘shotgun mics’, or highly directional microphones, to capture dialogue when filming. DPA’s new 2017 shotgun model is interesting in that it at first looks like a ‘cut down’ and much more affordable version of their existing 4017. This would be no bad thing at all, but in actual fact it also offers something a little different. The 2017 comes in just shy of half the price of the 4017, from which it inherits a lot of DPA DNA. The preamp and capsule design, though, are actually new, so it’s more a child of the 4017 than it is a sibling, taking a different direction in a few interesting ways. Gone are the low‑cut and high‑boost switches, the modular preamp options and the lighter aluminium body, replaced by a fixed HPF and a hefty and invincible‑feeling brass tube. So DPA have stripped out things that would add extra cost but not necessarily be useful to everyone, while also adding some differentiation, mainly in terms of the ultra‑robust and compact construction.
I’m not a huge fan of reeling off specifications, as they’re best presented by the manufacturer, but suffice it to say that the 2017 maintains the same kind of low noise, low distortion and high SPL handling found in the 4017 and its varied preamps. Notably, though, the weight is up from 73g to 115g, due to the brass body. If you’re running a particularly long day on the boom mic and every gram counts, it’s worth knowing what you’re working with, though the 2017 is still lighter than many other shotguns.
The length of the interference tube itself — the cylindrical part with lots of slots in it — is actually comparable to that of many much longer mics, but the rest of the circuitry has been packed into a smaller space at the rear: an impressive feat, which gives the mic a slighter appearance than you’d expect, and marks a very welcome trend in the design of shotgun microphones.
The box includes the DPA mic and its interesting twist‑lock mic holder, a zip pouch and a small windshield. A huge variety of DPA accessories is available for adapting the mic to various tasks, and accessories from both Rycote and Bubblebee Industries are now officially recommended too, so there is no shortage of choice available.
Though technically a ‘budget’ mic in the DPA world, it still reportedly works between ‑40 and +40 degrees Celsius and at up to 90 percent humidity, ticking off the vast majority of production environments.
Along with a select few premium German mic manufacturers, I associate DPA with meticulous acoustic research and the desire to provide the most neutral frequency response possible. The 2017 does not deviate from this recipe, and as expected, the frequency response is pleasingly flat, with only a built‑in high‑lift and bass‑cut coming into play.
The low cut in the 2017 is fixed and permanent, a relatively steep third‑order low‑cut filter at 60Hz. For me this is a good choice of frequency, as I’m often frustrated by excessively high low‑cut filter frequencies on preamps and mics. They often lead to me running ‘open’ while recording and leaving any filtering until the post‑production stage. I’m also a fan of steep filters in this application, so the fixed slope was not an issue for me. It is something to bear in mind, though, if you’re using the mic in a capacity other than location sound, such as recording an orchestra section or similar.
As with all directional microphones, working at 60cm or closer incurs a proximity boost in the low frequencies. This effect is useful for dialogue, and can be a help with close‑up shots in production, as well as in music recording.
The 2017 also has a small fixed lift of 2dB at 15kHz. This is a useful feature in a shotgun mic, which will often be placed in protective or wind‑blocking equipment that will naturally attenuate the high end. Like the low cut, this cannot be defeated. It’s very gentle in nature, however, and is not the big ‘vocal presence boost’ found in some studio vocal mics, for example.
Although the 2017 is primarily aimed at location and film sound, there’s no reason not to use a mic with very low noise, high pressure‑handling capabilities and close‑to‑flat response for music recording. Individual small string instruments, for example, benefit from such a mic when recording an ensemble, and a hi‑hat mic can often benefit from extra directionality and airiness. As a result the 2017 is not restricted exclusively to use on location.
One very important aspect of a shotgun mic is its pickup pattern, and another is the linearity of the off‑axis response. The off‑axis attenuation on the 2017 is nice and tight: 10dB at 90 degrees and up to 20dB at the rear. The working principle of a shotgun mic is based on phase cancellation, the simplified explanation being that the long, vented tube itself acts as an acoustic filter. The longer the tube, the more sound from the sides is rejected by being bounced around in the tube and ‘interfered’ with. Obviously in reality this, like many acoustic principles, is vastly complex in nature. It’s not currently possible to achieve absolutely perfect cancellation at all frequencies purely with acoustic engineering, but the more advanced computer modelling techniques become, the closer microphone designers come to creating the ideal system. The off‑axis response of the 2017 has clearly benefited from such modelling in acoustic design, and is extremely neutral. I can’t see any situation in which distracting coloration is going to arise in practice. We really are spoiled these days by the mics on offer!
In use, the 2017 was exceptionally resistant to handling noise, displayed no excessive sibilance, and had no issues with plosives in normal use. I was also unable to coax it into picking up RF interference, which is a good thing. The noise floor always remained appreciably low even when recording at a distance, and as with most high‑end mics, my location preamp showed its flaws before the mic did. No recording felt at all coloured or untrue, so I’m happy to report that there’s not much to report! This kind of mic is designed to capture a true sound with a minimum of fuss, and that’s what it does with aplomb.
DPA have brought the price of exceptional‑quality capture down significantly...
That said, the 2017 is a more disruptive product than you might at first think. This kind of quality and pricing combination demands a response from DPA’s competitors, as the mic currently occupies its own market position. By making very careful feature cuts, DPA have brought the price of exceptional‑quality capture down significantly, and they’ve given the mic a rock‑solid body to boot. If you don’t care about the lack of switchable frequency adjustment or preamp options and don’t mind the slightly higher weight compared with the 4017, it’s hard not to recommend saving the money and getting a spectacular mic for a great price. Plug it in and enjoy it!
The obvious alternative is the Sennheiser MKH 416, which has been a location‑recording stalwart for many years. Originally released in the mid‑1970s, the 416 has a very distinctive ‘forward’ character, with a 5dB bump centred roughly around 8kHz. Listening to recordings made with the 416 tends to reveal a high‑midrange focus to the tone, and emphasised sibilants. It comes in at a very similar price to the 2017, but is an older design by many decades, plus it’s quite a bit heavier. It is, though, a mic that pretty much everyone is used to. It’s a bit like using an SM57 on snare: you know it’s not a neutral sound, but you may well like how it sounds.
Some people recording on location prefer to hand off sound that is somewhat ‘baked in’ in order to minimise possible issues in post, while others aim for true neutrality. For the latter, the Sennheiser MKH 8060 provides a similar neutral tone and directionality to the 2017 but at a markedly higher cost. The Schoeps CMIT series are also modern designs with commendably neutral performance but again at a higher price, and likewise the Neumann KMR 81i. All of these models have onboard filter switches. Below the £$500 price mark there is a vast number of options, emphasising the 2017’s quite unusual price point, sandwiched between budget‑conscious and high end.
- Neutral frequency response.
- Ultra‑robust brass construction.
- Low weight and small size.
- Low self‑noise and high SPL handling.
- Includes foam windshield, stand clip and zip case.
- Fixed high‑pass filter and high‑lift may cause some to pick another product for more varied use cases.
The DPA 2017 is positioned uniquely in the market. With very few sacrifices DPA have managed to significantly reduce the cost of a top‑class shotgun mic, while adding a robust brass body. Only the fixed filter may give some pause for thought, but regardless, it’s an excellent product that demands a response from competitors.
€1008 including VAT.
Sound Network +44 (0)20 3008 7530.