Microphones in Action

  • By Jim Evans

Microphones in Action

As the events and outside broadcast sectors gradually emerge from the restrictions of the Covid pandemic, Contributing Editor,  Jim Evans reports on the activities of the microphone specialists on location and in the field and in the growing podcasting and live streaming sectors…

The past eighteen months has been an extraordinary year for the entertainment industry. As long-established microphone specialist Georg Neumann points out, while the pandemic brought many activities to a standstill, other areas experienced unprecedented progress. The use and distribution of OTT content and streaming made a huge leap forward and with it the professionalisation of audio visual content in the digital realm.

“At the start of the pandemic, musicians streamed live concerts more out of necessity in order to keep in touch with their fans,” says Mark Fölsener, Head of Market Communications at Georg Neumann, “but it quickly became a completely independent business model that clearly stood out from what was associated with livestreaming in previous years. In addition to the two main business pillars of recording and live concerts, streaming has developed into a stable third pillar, for which professional audio equipment from Neumann is the perfect partner.”

Addressing the growth in demand for quality audio for video, Neumann partner company Sennheiser has introduced the MKE 200 to its portfolio. The mini-microphone is designed for easy on-camera use with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras as well as mobile devices, where it ensures clean and crisp audio and gives a professional touch to video clips.

“With the MKE 200, we are offering creators the first step to upgrading their sound,” said Tobias von Allwörden, Head of Portfolio Management - Audio for Video at Sennheiser. “Improved audio significantly increases the overall quality of your content. The MKE 200 makes this possible with its unique design which minimizes handling and wind noise. Simply attach it to the shoe mount, select the appropriate cable for your device and you’re good to go.”

Whether interviews, commentary or ambience, sound is the key to captivating and drawing in an audience. To provide creators with a tool to explore their sonic horizons, Sennheiser has launched the MKE 400 - a highly directional compact shotgun microphone that brings compelling audio to DSLR/Ms and mobile devices alike.

“When working in content creation and electronic news gathering, you need to cope with time pressure and very different recording situations on site,” says Tobias von Allwörden, Head of Audio for Video Portfolio at Sennheiser.

“Form factor - small size and weight - and ease of use are crucial while the gear needs to provide 100% reliability at the same time. With Sennheiser audio solutions such as the AVX wireless microphone systems, the new MKE 400 on-camera mic or the MKE 200 and XS-Lav USB-C smartphone mics, you will be able to deliver broadcast audio quality while being as flexible and fast as you need to be on site.”

Production company, PURE, was set up by Olie Bryl at the beginning of 2020 to promote the work of unsigned artists. Quickly having to adapt to the ensuing pandemic restrictions, until now it has done most of its filming outside. As a fledgling company with limited resources, it used equipment that cameraman, Farris Simmons, already owned. 

“We looked at what was available as the next step up, tested out a few options and decided that Sennheiser’s MKE 400 would be ideal for us,” says Bryl. “We immediately noticed a real improvement in sound quality and the system is incredibly easy to set up, so it’s improved our workflow, too.”

One of the longest established and - in terms of production and equipment deployed - major events on the live broadcast calendar finally took place at the Ahoy Stadium in Rotterdam. The event was chosen to be the first large scale show with a live audience to be piloted as a Netherlands Covid-secure event. It was watched in 234 Countries with an estimated TV audience of 183m. The social media statistics are equally impressive.

With more than 40 artists on stage, the event needed a wireless system that could meet every contestant’s demands.

“With Shure’s Axient Digital we found the perfect system to monitor and coordinate the complex audio set up that Eurovision required, in which sound quality and spectrum efficiency are key,” said Aart Heus, Wireless Coordination Technician at Ampco Flashlight. “Shure’s Wireless Workbench was the most qualified software for it. The hardware not only provides control and stability, it is trustable and reliable which is essential for a show of this size.” The Eurovision Song Contest relied on Shure’s gear and trusted its Axient Digital for the sound set up, including: 20 Axient Digital AD4Q Four Channel Quad receivers, 20 Axient Digital ADX2FD Handheld Wireless Microphone Transmitters including ShowLink Remote Control and 70 P10R+ Diversity Bodypack IEM Receivers.

“Sound and reliability are everything in an event like the Eurovision Song Contest and Axient Digital is the perfect system for meeting these expectations. The ESC is a highly complex event technically and it’s been an honour to work with Aart Heus and the rest of the production team to deliver a successful show,” remarked Tuomo Tolonen, Senior Director of Pro Audio in Western Europe at Shure. 

Also playing a key role in Rotterdam was a substantial DPA Microphones inventory. Ampco Flashlight provided one-hundred 4088 Directional Headsets and 40 d:facto 4018V Vocal Microphones from DPA Microphones for all of the show’s vocal performances. 

Regarding the effects of Covid on the industry, Chris Spahr, VP of Sales & Marketing, DPA Microphones US comments, “Though virtual events broadcast to TV and streaming services became commonplace throughout the pandemic, the live events industry was especially affected these last 18 months. As certain areas of the world are slowly reopening, we’re excited to see the return of some of the things that we’ve missed out on, like concerts, awards shows and Broadway-style productions. Even things like the relatively normal sight of a full in-person broadcast studio at local TV stations is noticeably happening more and more.  

“At DPA, we’ve taken this time during the pandemic to focus our efforts on ensuring that our production facility continued to safely and efficiently manufacture high-quality microphones to supply products for our clients whenever they returned back to work.  We’ve also been hard at work designing new products and solutions that we’re excited to bring forward in the coming months, including our recently launched 4466 and 4488 Headset Microphones.” Palm Beach Opera brought joy to Florida’s classical music fans with an innovative opera festival with nine days of performances at the iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach. Sound design for the event called on Point Source Audio Embrace microphones for every principal performer- allowing each to “self-mic” to observe COVID-19 protocols. 

“Every principal got their own microphone,” explains Sound Designer, Paul Bevan, who has previously used Embrace to mic violinist Joshua Bell. “I was a little apprehensive because who would think a microphone sitting back on the ear is going to give you enough gain in what is basically an arena sized venue with a huge PA system. But I knew right from the first note I heard that we weren’t going to have any problems. There was so much gain and it sounded so clear.” On the new product front, Point Source Audio has introduced its Lavalier Switch Kit, designed for sound professionals and offering changeability according to miking situation. “We created the Lavalier Switch Kit to be a ‘grab and go’ solution for audio professionals,” said Point Source Audio’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Yvonne Ho. “Having the right accessories can very quickly transform a basic lavalier mic into a tailored solution for a stage actor, corporate presenter, or a guest speaker in a studio setting.”    

As with entertainment, the sports sector has suffered over the past 18 months, but with major events such as the Euros and Tokyo Olympics (albeit with limited audience participation) back on track, outside broadcasts are returning to somewhere near the norm.

Audio-Technica is the official Microphone Services Solution Provider to MotoGP, the Grand Prix motorcycle racing Championship with 19 Grand Prixs held at race circuits around the world every year. The appointment is made by Dorna Sport S.L., the commercial rights holder of MotoGP.

Successful tests resulted in Dorna’s decision to select some 265 Audio-Technica microphones, headsets and monitoring solutions including 53 track feed microphones, 76 interview and ENG camera microphones, and Audio-Technica System 10 2.4GHz wireless microphone solutions for 16 roving ENG cameras. Audio-Technica’s new 3000 Series handheld wireless systems and new Engineered Sound 925 goosenecks with Dante endpoints are used for the pre & post-race press conferences, while 30 BPHS1 headsets are deployed at various commentary positions.

A selection of 72 M60x monitor headphones and E50 in-ear monitors also allow the MotoGP teams to keep an ear on their live audio feeds. The selected Audio-Technica solutions began to be rolled-out from the first European race of the 2019 MotoGP season at Jerez, Spain in May.

Head of Global Engineering at Audio-Technica Kazuhiro Onizuka said: “We are delighted that we have been selected as MotoGP’s Microphone Services Solution Provider and that Dorna have deployed such a large number of our broadcast microphones, however, I am particularly excited by the close R&D opportunities that we will be able to work on together. Working with Dorna at the actual live MotoGP races around the world is a great extension to our research laboratory, and further demonstrates Audio-Technica’s commitment to sports audio broadcasting.”

Finally, a major success story in recent times has been the establishment of Austrian Audio, formed after AKG’s departure from Vienna. CEO Martin Seidl reports, “We’re in a unique position as we started with the former core AKG engineering- and management team. That has certainly given us a head-start as a new company. We always joke, Austrian Audio is a start-up with 350 years of combined experience, but it’s true. Our engineers have always had great, innovative ideas and Austrian Audio has given them the space to make these ideas into real products. For example, our OC818 features the world’s first wireless control of analogue mic circuitry and a precision tuned and handbuilt CKR12 ceramic capsule, as well as a dual output function to record each diaphragm separately.

“So, I think the product quality and the innovations behind each of our products are the main differentiators when it comes to our success. But we also are very fortunate to have found great distribution partners worldwide which certainly helped during the pandemic.”