When I was in school at the University of Michigan, I did a lot of recital recording of ensembles and piano. Through this, I learned that all the orchestra recording was done with DPA mics (marketed under the Brüel & Kjær brand), which were apparently the best of the best. So I was excited to test and review several products from DPA: a d:dicate ST2011A stereo kit, which includes two 2011A cardioid condenser mics, clips, windscreens, and a waterproof Pelican case; two MMC2006 omni capsules; and the SBS0400 modular stereo boom with shockmounts. I've been out of the recital business for a while and had not heard of these models, so I avoided looking up prices until I was done testing. I knew that the B&K line was quite expensive, and I didn't want that to cloud my judgement. 

The first order of business was to record a freshly tuned 2009 Steinway Model B in a beautiful room with vaulted ceilings. I brought along what I would have tried if I hadn't had the DPAs — my trusty pair of Audio-Technica AT4051 cardioids with AT4049-EL omni capsules (used many times on the aforementioned recitals) along with the recently reviewed Monoprice 600700 [Tape Op #98] and 600850 [#105] mics. For one pass, I mounted the d:dicate MMC2006 omni capsules onto the MMP-A preamp bodies of the d:dicate 2011A mics, and placed the mics over the strings, facing the player, but angled down towards the back of the piano, using the beautifully engineered d:dicate SBS0400 stereo boom. The boom allows for precise spacing and angle setting, for various stereo techniques, of which I chose X-Y. Only the angle adjustment has tick marks, so bring a tape measure if you're doing ORTF. The Lyre shockmounts could not handle the weight of my bulky cables, and no matter how I dressed the cables, I couldn't get the Lyres to sit quite right, but the setup worked nevertheless. Bring thinner cables. I think thin cables would fit in with the overall theme of the accessories — stealth. For instance, all the mic holders' pivots are tightened by a small screw; there's no fitting a coin in there — you need a screwdriver. Clearly, the stuff is designed for doing live recording and sound reinforcement as invisibly as possible, by the kind of pros that bring their toolbox to gigs. The ATs with omni capsules were placed over and behind the player's head. I recorded four tracks at 24-bit, 96 kHz. Then I swapped in the cardioid capsules on both pairs of mics for a second pass. I followed that with two more passes after switching placement of the AT and DPA mics, and then swapping capsules again. Finally, I tried the Monoprice 600700 mics with omni capsules over the strings, while the 600850 mics were in a Blumlein pair in the aforementioned behind-the-head setup. 

In all cases, I liked some mix of the string and rear mics, and overall, I can tell you the DPA mics crushed the others, but all the tones we got would be considered good in the right context. The DPA d:dicate mics would excel at audiophile piano recording of any kind; they sounded by far most like the piano in the room. I wished I'd had a second pair, because the omni capsules won the rear shootout and the cardioids won the strings shootout for fidelity. The Audio-Technica AT4051/4049 mics would be appropriate for a softer sound. They were very pillowy, and closer to "Hey Jude" than hi-fi, in a nice and dreamy way. The Monoprice mics were bluesy and imparted a honky-tonk tone, which may sound like an insult to a mic, but that's a pretty good trick if you can do it to a freshly maintained Steinway. The Blumlein pair by itself made the piano sound 100 ft wide when panned all the way — a good trick for ambience mixed low. 

I compared the aforementioned piano mics, sans the 600850s, by measuring with my usual setup in an untreated room — not accurate for reference, but ok for comparisons. This was interesting, because the traces were not that different from each other, but the sound of the mics is obviously different. I think this is rooted in the time-domain; i.e. the transient response of the DPAs seems to outclass that of the other mics (and my speakers too). 

I tried the DPAs in my home studio, on acoustic steel-string guitar, drum overheads, and male and female vocals. In all cases, they outperformed whatever I was comparing them to in terms of fidelity. As with the piano recording, any given mic sounded pretty good until you compared them to the DPAs, but other mics might still be chosen for "flavor" in the right context. 

The DPA d:dicate mics and accessories that I tested are all built so well. The capsules screw on effortlessly, and the finish is low-reflective and scratch resistant. They are durable, proven by dropping an omni capsule from about belly height right after measuring. It hit my shoe and then rolled on the hardwood floor. I measured it again immediately, and the results were exactly the same, and there were no dings. Sorry about that DPA — but nice build quality to be sure. The d:dicate capsules use two mini diaphragms, a great idea that optimizes noise performance and transient response. I encourage you to look up more about that. These may be the ultimate "if you can only have one mic" mics. I was praying to the audio gods that these are from a new budget line, but their top-notch quality means they've got to be expensive. How much are they? Oh yeah, this is the good stuff. They are an amazing value for what they are though, in the same way a Porsche 911 is, and I'm not being ironic. If it's any consolation, the mics in the d:dicate 20-series are about half the price of those in the 40-series. Special thanks to the esteemed Gary Schultheis for his help. 

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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