Beam me up Scotty
Beyer DT159 & DT329
Many bands prefer conventional handheld mics to the headset models favoured by late 80's synth duos. But as well as increasing mobility, headset mikes are now able to deliver a performance to win over the image-conscious. Ian Masterson models Beyer's DT159 and DT329s and decides that the Klingons have had a bad press...
Those of us with home studios have become used to handling instrumental, programming and engineering duties all at once - with a smattering of lead or backing vocals on top. But when it comes to taking finished pieces on the road, it's not so easy to be in six places at once.
No matter how much of it you farm out to session musicians, sequencers and backing tapes - ift a live environment you'll still be stuck behind a keyboard, drum kit or guitar, desperately trying to play in time while the monitors deafen you and your mic boom-arm slowly sinks slowly to the floor. It's a nightmare every live performer can relate to.
But help is at hand. Or rather, at ear. And even at mouth. Headset-mounted microphone systems are nothing new in the audio or video worlds; you'll see them nestling on the noggin of every TV cameraman, stage manager, concert engineer and lighting op. Until recently, their use has generally been restricted to intercom and talkback applications, simply because getting the quality of sound demanded for critical live use out of a tiny headset mic capsule has proved to be both difficult and expensive. However, continuous research into the problem has resulted in a new breed of headworn condenser capsules, which offer high sonic performance without compromising on durability or size. The DT159 and DT329 sets are just two of Beyer's contributions to this expanding market, and are aimed at anyone who needs both to hear and be heard in difficult live situations.
Of course, there are numerous variations on the basic headset theme; you can have your mic mounted on a simple head- or neck-band without cans (Beyer's TG-X30 suits nicely here), you can have a can on one ear only for basic monitoring purposes (the DT191, for example), or you can go for the all-enclosing models reviewed here. Just decide whether you want them to be open (the DT329) or closed (DT159) back. Pretty much every requirement is now catered for. We've opted for the last permutation simply because they're probably more useful to the musician who has both hands full. With these units, you'll be able to keep both hands on your instrument/mixer/sequencer, listen to a perfect stereo mix and contribute your vocal talents without dislocating any limbs or straining any tendons.
The DT329 combination features a chunky, comfortable headset and clip-on HEM561 electret condenser mic with removable windshield. Of the two models on test here, this is perhaps the one better suited to complete wireless operation; in other words, through the addition of belt-pack transmitter and receiver units, you can completely divorce yourself from cable tangles and knots. (Beyer produce numerous radio system components to suit various stage applications.)
The headset features extensively-padded ear and head cushions, which help the assembly grip your bonce, no matter how frantic your funky stuff gets, and the mic boom can be adjusted at a whim via a single knurled screw. It's pleasing to note that the mic can be replaced easily, just in case the unit gets stamped on by someone's size-tens. A tiny connector at the end of the boom allows you to disconnect the mic cable from the main headset.
"Popping is always going to be a problem, but the HEM 561 seemed to reject all but the most violent plosives without compromising on overall sensitivity."
All signals to and from the unit are carried on a single, back-length twin-pair cable, terminating in a 1/8" stereo jack for the cans, and a small screw connector for the mic. This connector links either into a belt-pack or the supplied XLR adaptor (which also houses the battery needed to power the electret capsule - although phantom powering is a preferred alternative). I should point out that while the screw connector is welded firmly to the cable, the headset jack is not - in fact, I managed (accidentally) to yank the cores out of the plug during my first test session, simply because the cord grip in the plug is pathetic. Bearing in mind the stress this unit could be placed under in a live situation - either by performers or technicians - this seems to be a serious construction flaw in an otherwise immaculately-made unit.
Anyone familiar with Beyer's classic DT100 studio headphones will instantly recognise the basis of the DT159 design - basically, the unit comprises a set of black DT100s with a HM560 headband mic clipped on the side. These components really serve to put the DT159 in a league above the DT329, simply because the quality of the individual parts is pretty much legendary in the proaudio stratosphere.
The DT100-derived headphones need little introduction: those rectangular, all-enclosing closed back earpads speak for themselves. Because their design is decidedly more bulky and 'solid' than that of the DT329s, the DT159 system is probably better suited to the musician or engineer operating out of sight of an audience, in areas where the exclusion of external noise is more critical. However, this almost seems to be a waste of the HM560, a dynamic ribbon mic ideally suited to the smooth reproduction of critical vocals - normally, this mic appears fixed on a single headband without headphones for vocalists on the move.
Because of the large element needed in a dynamic ribbon of this sort, the capsule enclosure (finished in silver, as opposed to the rather more stylish black of the HEM561) is quite large, and looks fairly intimidating with the windshield in place. In this permutation, the HM560 is clipped to the side of the DT159 with the sort of knurled screw/ball joint that appears on all Beyer's headset units, and the mic wire disappears inside the right earphone, before emerging again as part of the headphone cable. This is terminated in a 1/4" stereo jack plug (for the cans) and an XLR with handy beltclip. Once again, the mic connection seems fine, but the tacky plastic jack on the cans' lead definitely isn't the sort of thing I'd expect to find on a headset of this calibre. Obviously some work needs to be done in this department across the range.
I put both the DT329 and DT159 units to test during a single club gig, where the band on stage consisted of a lead vocalist, guitarist, keyboard player and DJ/samplist. Since both the keyboard player and DJ remained in the background for most of the performance, they were keen to experiment with both models, the keyboardist opting for the lighter DT329s. Listening front-of-house during the soundcheck, I observed the mic performance of the 329s to be absolutely impeccable, once some adjustments had been made to the position of the capsule relative to the keyboardist's mouth.
"I would envisage the DT329 being of more appeal to the dance or pop performer conscious of on-stage style and obtrusiveness."
Popping is always going to be a problem with headset mics, no matter how good the windshield, but the HEM561 seemed to reject all but the most violent plosives without compromising on overall sensitivity. And since the cardioid pattern seems relatively tight, a much higher gain before feedback could be achieved. The wearer also reported some pleasure at actually being able to hear themselves in the monitor mix, which could be controlled much more carefully, with the sound being pumped straight into his ears than with it blasting out of a floor wedge loudspeaker.
Slightly more feedback problems were encountered when setting up the DT159s, since the dynamic ribbon capsule is probably more suited to behind-the-scenes use than the rigours of the on-stage environment. However, since the DJ in question was also controlling the mix of sound being produced from the instruments onstage - as well as contributing the occasional backing scream or grunt - he enthused about the closed-back nature of the DT100-derived headphones, as it allowed greater attention to be paid to the raw, rather than ambient, sound. This only serves to support Beyer's 'horses-for-courses' approach to headset manufacture further.
My verdict overall conclusions are very complimentary. I do have serious reservations about the quality of the headphone connectors employed on both units, but there is little doubt that the quality of the rest of the components used in Beyer's construction is superb. Obviously, the DT159 unit is aimed at a more 'technician-based' market than the DT329 set, and for this reason alone I would envisage the DT329 being of more appeal to the dance and pop performer, conscious of on-stage style and obtrusiveness - particularly in cable-free situations. However, exactly what you demand of your PA and miking - and the situations in which you want to employ headset units - could lead to different requirements altogether. As I mentioned above, Beyer have an impressive range of models to suit most environments; on the evidence of the DT329 and DT159, I can only recommend you inspect their wares closely.
Prices inc VAT: DT329: £269.00 DT159: £319.00
More from: Beyerdynamic, (Contact Details)
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Review by Ian Masterson
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