Milab P14C & DC96B Microphones
This month we have the welcome chance to look at two microphones from the Swedish manufacturers, Milab. To get the pedigree correct, Milab were previously known as PML or Pearl. The change from the latter being needed when the Japanese Pearl mics came into Europe. UK distribution is by AVM, based in Tyne and Wear, who also handle Ferrograph Spares, Service and Instrumentation. With their Milab distribution they have successfully interested the BBC amongst other prestigious users. Milab are at the forefront of microphone development — witness their Hemi mic, making use of the pressure zone principle. E&MM will be looking separately at this aspect of microphone design and their particular use in a future issue.
The microphones submitted for review are two widely different types from the Milab range. At £39 we have the P14C, a moving coil 'vocal' hypercardioid and the DC96B, a dual diaphragm capacitor, full range'studio' cardioid at £260. The wide differences in the two mics in terms of usage and results, let alone price prompt me firstly to enlarge on an aspect about microphones that I can only usually make in passing — there are in my view two basic 'classes' of microphone.
Here we have the concept of accurate conversion of the soundfield at the microphone's position, into an electrical signal. Wide and very flat frequency range is a prerequisite. Such mics would generally be featured as 'crossed pairs' and used at a distance — anything beyond one metre. For example, used on a symphony orchestra or a large choir they could be 20 metres back, centrally placed and 'automatically' producing stereo because of their 'crossed' directional characteristics. Good stereo produced by a very close together (co-incident) crossed pair, has many attractions. Apart from locational positioning, one gets a depth perspective as the reproduced ambience is coherent with the sources of sound producing it. Flat frequency response recording would be the order of the day without curve bending equalisation being done. Listening would be with flat 'natural' sounding loudspeakers with a lack of colouration and excellent stereo imaging.
I believe that, apart from their use in large scale or small scale classical music, there is a future for crossed pairs in other areas of music recording, where the multi-mic approach has, for good reason though, held sway. I hear musicians ask for a 'live' sound — well the judicious use of crossed pairs is, in my view, worth looking at. However, any old mics won't do — they must for best results have accurate directional patterns at all frequencies apart from extended response at low frequencies and the absence of 'presence' peaks at high frequencies.
In the multi-mic situation, with close up use, say under one metre, there is a different requirement. Mics are used close to avoid spillage from other instruments and voices. They are usually directional to assist in this, but then require a curtailed low frequency performance to compensate for the proximity effect of increased bass response. Going close changes the perceived balance of the harmonics in the sound produced. Also most mics used in these situations will be lower cost ones and will have irregularities in the 'on axis' response as well as irregular polar/frequency plots. The result is a sound which isn't actually 'natural' and in any case will again be altered by the channel equalisation on the mixing desk. 'Stereo' would be created by pan potting and the use of artificial reverb and other effects.
I am very conscious of the asking price for this class of microphone. The C suffix indicates XLR connector equipped and the mic only in this form costs £31. With stand adaptor and foam windshield one has the £39 list price. There is the basic P14 with integral lead terminating in an XLR plug and on/off switch at £26. The prices stated are 'list' with professional discounts available.
It seems to me that competition is hotting up in mics of this type as the P14C proves to have a fine performance. The published curve does not show any extreme peak and there is a bass roll-off to compensate for the proximity effect of close use. The typical polar response in the brochure shows an excellent uniformity across the audio range, so it was indeed interesting to have the mic sung into close up and discover a respectable sound.
It is evident that the polar pattern is uniform. It is shown in the brochure with hypercardioid characteristics and is likely to have most rejection either side of 180° — in theory useful when used centre stage with the PA columns at either side of the stage.
Handling noises are below the general average and certainly so in its price range. There is a rubber and foam isolating system. The mesh ball head has an integral foam shield and popping is again below average. Impedance is quoted at 200 ohms and this means that long leads can be used without high frequency losses.
So I can very much recommend audition of the Milab P14C and its numerical brothers. At the other end of the Milab dynamic mic range is their F69 at nearly three times the price and depending on your requirements this should certainly be on your trying list.
This is in fact the first of this particular class of microphone that I have looked at in this series of reports. It is a full range cardioid of the highest class and this was obvious straight away even on the voice tests made on the Sony PCM F1 and played back on a particularly 'natural' sounding speaker system. More extensive musical usage just confirmed this impression. There is a B&K 'on axis' response plot supplied and this is very flat and extended.
I would have liked a pair of DC96Bs to play with as the specifications and the impressions in use with the one submitted, indicate that they would be ideal as a crossed pair. I would mount one upside down above the other with directivity angled at around 110°.
This Milab capacitor mic requires 50v DC phantom powering and is unique to my mind in having a rectangular dual membrane capsule. The dual membrane or diaphragm has advantages in acquiring directional properties and probably maintaining low frequency extension over the single diaphragm acoustic labyrinth method of doing the same job. Variable polar response pattern mics utilise the same principle and Milab have some very interesting microphones which use similar capsules — the DC63 single mic and the XY series of one-piece stereo mics.
The DC96B has a matt black finish like the P14C. It is available alone without windshield, two mic clips and lead at £236 list. One of the mic clips is a very neat and effective anti-shock mount with a substantial single piece moulded rubber insert.
To put the cost of a pair of mics like the DC96B into context one has to consider the price of a pair of speakers capable of doing justice to mics of this type.
Summing up on the DC96B. It is one of a range of top flight accurate, natural sounding mics and obviously should be considered if you have a requirement in this area.