Surround Microphones: Taking Aim at the U.S. Market

Surround microphones remain a rarefied niche, although the handful of manufacturers that make dedicated broadcast versions continue to try to make inroads into mainstream sports broadcasts. They’ve managed to accomplish that to a large extent in Europe and the UK but have been less successful in the U.S. Here’s a look at the complex offerings that several manufacturers are putting before U.S. sports broadcasters.

DPA Microphones
The 5100 mobile surround microphone requires no external signal processing and can be mounted on a camera or microphone stand, suspended, or simply handheld via a hand grip. Its five miniature pressure transducers exhibit extremely low sensitivity to wind and mechanical noise, low distortion, highly consistent low-frequency response, and large dynamic range.

Appropriate channel separation and directionality are achieved through a combination of DPA’s proprietary DiPMic (Directional Pressure Microphone) technology, which mounts interference tubes on the L/C/R omni capsules, and the use of acoustic baffles to further preserve the accuracy of levels between the discrete analog output channels. The 5100’s three front microphones are time-coincident to eliminate comb filtering and ensure frequency consistency when the signal is downmixed to stereo or mono. The rear microphones, which feature standard omnidirectional patterns, are optimally spaced both from each other and from the front array to simulate the most natural time arrival differences.

The LFE (.1) channel is derived from a L/R sum, which is then attenuated 10 dB in comparison with the signal from the main channels, in accordance with the 5.1 format. The 5.1 output of the 5100 runs through a multipin Lemo connector carrying all six channels electronically balanced, and an enclosed 5-meter (16-ft.), six-pair Mogami cable breaks out to six Neutrik XLR-M connectors.

Users of the H2Pro-5.1 mic have total control and flexibility over the incoming, discrete surround audio signals. It terminates in six XLR microphone cable-ends (left, right, center, low frequency, left surround, right surround) that co-relate to the industry-standard 5.1-channels. Users can choose to use as many or as few channels as any surround project requires, because channel assignments are discrete all the way from the recording and mixing process to final delivery.

The Holophone H2-Pro 7.1 is the only microphone currently capable of recording up to 7.1 channels of discrete surround sound. It terminates in eight XLR cable-ends (left, right, center, low frequency, left surround, right surround, top, and center rear), which co-relate to the standard 5.1 channels and add a top channel for such formats as IMAX and a center rear channel for extended surround formats, such as Dolby EX and DTS ES.

The cost-effective H3-D mic features five multidirectional, full-bandwidth microphone elements and a discrete LFE microphone in one integrated capsule. The unit offers LED verification of external phantom power for ease of remote setup and is compatible with all standard XLR mic inputs on recording consoles, external preamplifiers, and location recorders that provide phantom power.

The WMS-5 is a five-channel surround microphone with its matrix electronics housed in a single body. Based on extensive M-S stereo research conducted in conjunction with broadcaster NHK, the WMS-5 delivers realistic surround sound with minimal setup time and is easily mounted on a camera, boom pole, or pistol grip. It delivers reliable, phase-coherent, five-channel sound using five discrete output signals. The M capsule is used for both center (with shotgun directivity) and front left and right channels. The S signal is used for both front left and right and rear left surround and right surround channels. The rear M capsule is used for left surround and right surround. All capsules are aligned vertically on the same axis for precise phase coherence. The WMS-5 weighs 8.3 oz. and measures 9.25 in. long.

The DSF-2 digital microphone system comprises a multicapsule microphone and a 1RU digital processor/control unit. Together, these provide everything required to capture audio in the proprietary SoundField B-Format, a four-channel digital audio stream that may be flexibly decoded into mono, stereo, mid and side, or surround sound with a variety of channel configurations. The DSF-2 captures wholly phase-coherent multichannel audio, which may be folded down without the creation of unpleasant phase artifacts; this makes it ideal for surround-sound broadcast applications where a 5.1 audio is often folded down automatically to create stereo for legacy broadcasts.

The DSF-3 is a digital processor designed to decode the SoundField B-Format signal into 5.1 surround sound in real time for immediate use by broadcasters. Together, the DSF-2 and DSF-3 provide reliable, phase-coherent 5.1 audio and simultaneous backwards-compatible stereo via a low-noise, all-digital signal path. This combination is the standard means of originating 5.1 for coverage of Premier League soccer and rugby and golf championships in Europe and South Africa; it is permanently installed in many of the world’s best-known soccer venues, such as Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, and Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge in the UK.

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