During my thee years at Coast Hills, we’ve never had a choir—or anything approaching one. But for Easter this year, it was decided we had enough interest to put together a small choir. And indeed it was small, only 19 people. I have a couple of DPA 4098HB hanging choir mic’s in stock, but I was thinking this might be the excuse I was looking for to test out the newer 2000 series mic’s that were introduced at NAB last year.
The 2000 series is roughly based on the 4000 Reference Standard series that has made DPA the go-to mic for all kinds of high-end recording. My friend Van (who is no stranger to mic’ing choirs) calls the 4011 the greatest choir mic ever. So I called my friend Jarrod at DPA and asked if I could try out a couple of 2011s.
He sent me two MMC2011 Twin Diaphragm capsules along with two MMP-C pre-amps. One of the first things you need to know about the 2000 and 4000 series is that they are modular. There is a good selection of capsules and a few preamps that they thread into. Each capsule and preamp has slightly different characteristics so you can put together the combination that suits your situation. I find this approach brilliant. You can also start out with 2000 series capsules then later fit the pre-amps with 4000 capsules series as money become available.
The MMC2011 is diminutive at just 3/4 inch in diameter and 2 inches long. The MMP-C is just over 1.5 inches long, making the entire assembly less than 4 inches in length. DPA makes a very cool thin cable with a XLR connector on it that looks more like an XLR cover than a connector, which keeps the overall size down. Combined with the suspension mount which will allow you to hang the mic from the cable and give you plenty of horizontal positioning options, it’s a pretty complete system.
I hung the mic’s from overhead (sadly, we didn’t get the thin cables, so we had to use our regular mic cables) at the 1/3 and 2/3 points in the choir, about 2 feet in front of the risers. The mic’s were positioned so they were just about head height of the third row, pointing slightly down. I also hung my 4098s right next to the 2011s to give me some reference.
During a break in the build schedule, I set up my choir mic channel. Since I was mixing on the SD10 and I had the Waves SoundGrid server, I decided to use a Q8 parametric EQ for ringing out the mic’s, and a C6 to help shape the vocal sound. I started turning up gain and finding feedback frequencies. I was quite amazed that even though the mic’s were only about 15 feet behind the PA cluster, I use only 3 narrow bands of EQ, and even then my maximum cut was about 6 dB. Clearly these mic’s have decent pattern control (check out the frequency response graph; it’s 20 dB down at 180°).
I put the C6 on board for two reasons; first, to tame the harshness you get from 15 alto and soprano women singing together into choir mic’s. A fairly wide band covering the 1.5K-4K range was set up to drop some compression in as the volume came up. That let me push the choir up without them sounding harsh.
The second reason turned out to be a happy accident. We do rock ’n roll style music most of the time, and Easter was no exception. While we have gone away from wedges and guitar amps on stage, we do still have a live drum kit. And a lively drummer. The biggest issue I had with the Easter choir was bleed from the drums. In fact, the 2011s did a great job at being a set of drum overheads, with the biggest offender being the snare. So on the C6, I used one of the floating bands to create a narrow cut at 1K that compressed fairly hard on snare hits. That kept the snare under control.
So how did it sound? Not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, it sounded quite good. I was able to get the choir to 94 dB SPL without any feedback (keep in mind, they were about 10 feet back and 20 feet down from the PA cluster, that was pretty amazing). The clarity of the mic’s was excellent, and compared to the 4098s, the 2011s had much better low end performance, and a smoother midrange.
When I played the tracks back in the studio, the results were somewhat surprising. If I had nothing to compare to, the 4098s would have been very acceptable. But when A/B’d with the 2011s, the Reference Standard mic’s demonstrate why they earned that title. There was both more body and more air in the sound, something very apparent in the quieter portions where the choir was the only thing on the track. As I said, the mid-range was smoother than the 4098; not that the 4098 is harsh, but the 2011 is smoother.
While we did get a bunch of drum spill into the 2011s—the drums were between 60° and 90° off-axis—there was almost nothing else there but the voices. And keeping in mind that 19 people is a pretty small choir, and it was their fist time out, I was pretty happy.
Price-wise, the 2011C falls in between the 4011C (around $1600) and the 4098 ($500). Some quick internet searching turned up pricing on a 2011C in the $800 range. At $300 more than the 4098, it’s not outrageous; then again, you’d probably buy 2 of them, which makes it $600 more. Then again, it’s almost buy-one-get-one compared to the 4011s, so it could be a steal.
What you buy comes down to what you value and what the budget is. The 4098s are almost invisible, sound great and are affordable. The 2011s are a little bigger, cost a bit more but definitely sound better. The 4011s will sound better still, are are more expensive. So we have options; which is good. And honestly I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these mic’s.