Monday, July 9, 2018

Klover Parabolic Collector Microphone Systems - The Latest Dish.

Klover Products 26" Collector Dish
As I ambled through the Las Vegas Convention Center during the most recent National Association of Broadcasters' Convention (April 2018), I came across Klover Products of Janesville Wisconsin, home of three models of parabolic collector dish microphones; the 26" Mik, 16" Mik and 9" Mik.

Paul Terpstra, Klover Products President, was manning the Klover booth. Like many people, I have seen mics like this, mostly at football games but never up close. I had no idea what they might really sound like or where else to use them other than sporting events.

I talked to Paul Terpstra about a demo. After the NAB 2018 dust settled, the three dishes arrived. The 26" was loaded with a Sennheiser MKE2. The 16" had a DPA 4060 and the 9" had a Countryman B3, specially EQed by Chris Countryman for a more natural sound.

Brian Glock with the Klover 9" dish and hand-grip
In fact, in listening to the three different dishes, the 9" did have the most natural sound, but, due to its size, not the range. The 26" and 16" captured more, but were peaky. Fine for a live broadcast sporting event with grunting footballers, but too peaky for movie dialog unless the scene called for surreptitious surveillance audio from a dish. Maybe with some EQ......? Hmmm.

Attached to the 26" and 16" disks are tubular, segmented, black, carbon fiber brackets that are easily assembled and hold the mic slug in place. The dog-leg in the bracket allows the mic to reach the dish's best focal point. The support brackets are attached to the dish with bushings to reduce handling noise and are made of carbon fiber which crumbles safely if hit. Some dish makers use PVC pipe which can break into body-penetrating pointed shards.

The Klover 26" is the largest and heaviest of the three, weighing 7.5 pounds. It has hand grips and a neck strap. I would think a monopod would be a much better support solution but Paul Terpstra says the networks have a safety concerns with using monopods on the sidelines. If you're not working for the NFL, or don't have bodies hurtling at you, get a monopod or tripod.

The Standard 26" Klover collector dish has a flat slot at the top for mounting transmitters. There is also a 26" Tactical Version with a triangular top that's made to fit into Pelican cases for shipping and transport. Terpstra says FOX Network uses the MKE2 and that some of their mixers prefer a Neumann KM183 omni. My first thought was to switch to a cardioid pattern to reduce picking up unwanted nearby "front" sounds. Terpstra says a cardioid fails to capture the last few inches around the rim of the dish which results in lower overall sensitivity level and that the sound you get from the focal point overpowers any ambient noise an omni would pick up. I'm not done with this thought, but.........
Schoeps MK 21 Wide Cardioid

I became curious about what might happen if an exceptionally wide cardioid were used. The Schoeps MK 21 capsule, for example. According to Schoeps, this type of capsule has a directional pattern between omni and cardioid. The basic idea in designing this capsule was to combine the advantages of the cardioid with those of the omni. This results in a pickup pattern which blends the two sets of characteristics. It has a fuller and more extended low-frequency response than a cardioid, with less proximity effect, while picking up more room sound than a cardioid. There is a version with a high-frequency lift, the Schoeps MK21H, but given the response of the dish, we didn't need that. Redding Audio's Scott Boland forwarded me the MK 21 capsule for the trials. I swapped out my MK 41 for the MK 21 on my CMC6 body and went to work. In the Klover 26", the MK 21 is a noticeable improvement over the MKE2

I was interested not only in outside performance, but also what the MK 21 capsule would provide inside. So, down into the studio I went for a little experiment. I rolled video on it so you could see and hear what I experienced. 

In the studio with the Klover 26" and Schoeps CMC621.

Some might say that a 26" (much less a 16" or 9") dish is simply incapable of capturing low frequency sound because the wavelength of the lower frequency sounds -- say the low A on an 88-note keyboard -- is 41.1 feet long. If you're one of these, you need a refresher in the difference between transverse and longitudinal wave propagation. All three of the dishes picked up a lot more low frequencies than I expected, especially outside, but not as much on voice.

Victor Martin dodging the rain with the 26" dish and MKE-2.
Our first exterior session was during a light rain. Our second session was a dry day. Then a short session in which we compared the Klover 26" dish to a Sennheiser MKH 416.

Even using the lavs, the ambient low frequencies sounded very big in the headphones. They were still there when I took the headphones off, but significantly less obvious and more distant. I guess part of this is how our amazing brains process what we hear. At one point, during our first tests, a low frequency wave rolled through like a gigantic tumble weed, lasting for four or five seconds. Was that due to wave propagation in the rain; maybe a distant thunderclap that, like a tidal wave, came rolling across the terrain? Dunno. Our second day was quieter; no rain and fewer birds. All of these ambient sounds need to be considered when deciding if a dish is right for your kit.

Looking up to the house. 84 feet from manhole to the mics.
The process was simple. Walk down the driveway to the manhole 84 feet away. Slowly move back in and listen to the differences. We found that the dishes picked up more when we had black top between the voice and the dishes. When we moved to the grass, the sound wasn't as bright. The brightness differences were not as obvious over speakers, but were with headphones.

Looking the other way.
Head turns or even looking down also reduced the level to the dishes. We did a number of "walk and talks" and later added EQ to show what might be done. Boosting some 80 Hz to 200 Hz warmed things up, but I had to roll off below 80 Hz sharply to control the outside ambience. Click on the links below to hear and see what we came up with. As my pal Bernie Ozol notes, I have a pretty big baritone. If your talent speaks softly, you just won't get the range. My advice is to use your headphones for critical listening to the following files.

This first walk and talk uses the Klover 26" dish with Sennheiser MKE2 lav. As with the next two, I applied some EQ just to give an idea of what might happen in post. Keep an eye on the screen to see where I popped in some EQ.

26" Klover with Sennheiser MKE-2

You can hear the rain and slight breeze in the following clip, along with a distant train whistle and the large low frequency tumbleweed that rolled through. Vic Martin heard it in the cans, and it was very obvious to me just standing there. Head turns make a difference, as does looking down toward the ground while speaking or moving from hard black top to grass. After I reached the manhole at 84 feet, Oh, there's an airplane!!!

16" Klover with DPA 4060

The Schoeps MK 21 capsule arrives and, below, Bernie Ozol and I do another walk and talk. Everything sounds better with the Schoeps, just not as much chest tone as we'd like. As Bernie says, "It could be used for long lens dialog, as is." Car starts, wind chimes ring, cars leave, all while Bernie tracks me with the Klover 26" dish all the way out to the 84 foot manhole cover and back across the lawn. Again, I popped in some EQ from time to time. Keep an eye on the screen. The Schoeps B5D was not quite enough to catch some of the wind puffs. 

26" Klover with Schoeps CMC621

Heads-up DSLR shooters and birders. As mentioned above, the custom EQ done by Chris Countryman on one of their B3 omni lavs sounds noticeably more natural than the MKE2 or 4060 used in the bigger dishes. Again, this was our first day of recording. As you can plainly hear, both Victor Martin and I heard rain, lots of birds and the occasional Light Rail passing by during these tests. The Light Rail tracks are about 200 feet away through the back of the neighbor's backyard. Because of the rain, we kept the dish in the alcove. You can hear some resonating, especially when I'm up close and my voice goes past the dish to bounce around in the alcove. Would a directional mic have worked better at ignoring the bounce? Hard to say.

We had the dish attached to the hand-grip and the same tripod that we used on the larger dishes, but the larger dishes had better isolation hardware. Because of this, there's more rumble in this track. The hand-grip might be better when hand held and not conducting tripod vibrations to the mic. You can hear me say that I'm engaging the Low Cut filter in at 80Hz at 2:45 in, and then sweeping it up to 120Hz. That pulled out a lot of the low end noise, but also thinned out the voice a bit. I rolled the low cut back off just before the ned of the clip. I'm not sure how much bandwith tailoring YouTube does. If you can't hear the low end go away during that time, then there's more YouTube roll off than expected.

If you have time to set up a camera-mounted shot and hold still enough, you'll get better results, but as with any camera-mounted mic, the 9" is susceptible to camera handling noise and perhaps some zoom motor noise.

The 9" Klover with the custom Countryman B3

Finally, I set up on a third day, far enough away from the porch alcove and recorded both the Klover 26" and a Sennheiser MKH 416. When I listened to the playback, I could hear some phasy wonkiness in the 416. I think that's due to aiming the 416 down the driveway with it parallel to the driveway and picking up some sound bouncing up into the interference tubes.

26" Klover with Schoeps compared with a Sennheiser MKH 416

I got more than expected from these three mics, but more work needs to be done on choosing lavs, or EQing mics. Even the Schoeps CMC621, which sounded best of all, needed a little EQ help. 

For more details, visit the Klover web site:  
KM-26, KM-16, KM-09 or KM-26, KM-16, KM-09.

Big thanks to Victor Martin, Brian Glock, Bernie Ozol and Kathy Phelps for helping me get the sounds I recorded on my Sound Devices 664.

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