Sunday, September 16, 2018

Deity S-Mic 2 Shotgun Microphone - Third time's the charm

It's been interesting to watch Aputure, ostensibly a company that manufactures professional video lighting fixtures, push its way into the location audio market with microphones. Andrew Jones' work to bring the Deity S-Mic 2 Shotgun to market has been impressive because, in meeting him, he obviously cares about audio, knows about it, has additional "outside the box" experience and perhaps most importantly, he listens to and responds to the market.

The Deity S-Mic 2 is a shotgun microphone with pop filter and simple clip in an extremely sturdy road case for $359 USD. If you think it looks familiar, from the outside, it's almost a direct copy of a Sennheiser MKH 416 that sells for $999 USD.

Deity S-Mic 2 Shotgun Microphone

The S-Mic 2 is the third iteration of this mic. Each iteration has been the direct result of listening to the market. Lower selfnoise, more LF response and cautions about moisture and RF sensitivity have been heard and responded to. If you watch the video below, you'll hear what the S-Mic 2 sounds like. I also compare it directly to a Sennheiser MKH 416.

Then, with permission of Deity, we did the Dunk Test.

And then there was the results of the dunk test!

Without water damage, the low frequency response of the S-Mic 2 is slightly less than the MKH 416. As demonstrated in the video, while the difference is noticeable if the mic is within the proximity range, at farther distances of a foot or more, the difference on the human voice (mine) is negligible.

The S-Mic 2 doesn't have the presence peak that the MHK 416 has. That world known peak is great for pulling dialog out of the mud, but if you're mudless and your talent has any excessive sibilance, the MKH416 can be edgy and you'll have to do some de-essing in post.

S-Mic 2 EQ Curve

Watch and listen to the first video with a focus on the high frequencies. While graphs can sometimes be dollied up to look better than they are, what is obvious is that on the two graphs above and below, the S-Mic 2 starts to drift downwards at 2 KHz. The 416, on the other hand, begins to rise at 2 KHz. This reflects fairly accurately that the MKH 416 is brighter than the S-Mic 2. 

MKH 416 EQ Curve

As can be heard on the first video, the patterns of both mics are very close. The S-Mic 2 either has a wider pattern or the shoulders of the pattern are a little softer. Not by much, but a little.

In the RF Resistance Department, like my MKH 416 (an old one with point to point soldering), the S-Mic 2 has a well grounded brass tube. Both Deity and Sennheiser are now using Surface Mount Technology (SMT) on the circuit boards. This can result in reduced RF problems because the leads of the components are so short that they can't really act like RF antennae.

RF or DC?
There are insulative areas on the capsule between the diaphragm and the backplate and/or ground. When the moisture and dirt bridge these insulative areas, current flows where it's not supposed to. That causes noise.
One of the main selling points of the MKH 416 is that the diaphragm is polarized by an RF voltage rather than a DC voltage. Rode copied this attribute in their NTG-3 shotgun microphone. The use of an RF voltage seems to eliminate the problem.

Here's more from Wikipedia: "RF condenser microphones use a comparatively low RF voltage, generated by a low-noise oscillator. The signal from the oscillator may either be amplitude modulated by the capacitance changes produced by the sound waves moving the capsule diaphragm, or the capsule may be part of a resonant circuit that modulates the frequency of the oscillator signal. Demodulation yields a low-noise audio frequency signal with a very low source impedance. The absence of a high bias voltage permits the use of a diaphragm with looser tension, which may be used to achieve wider frequency response due to higher compliance. The RF biasing process results in a lower electrical impedance capsule, a useful by-product of which is that RF condenser microphones can be operated in damp weather conditions that could create problems in DC-biased microphones with contaminated insulating surfaces. The Sennheiser "MKH" series of microphones use the RF biasing technique."

Got it? No? Go back and re-read it...slowly. Savor it. This is an important point. Going forward, the Deity S-Mic 2 does not use RF voltage on the diaphragm. The Deity S-Mic 2 uses DC voltage. Problem? Probably not because of what else Deity has designed in, but I guess we won't know for sure until a number of them go into the Amazon, or Washington, D. C. in the Summer.

There are some who claim this as the "sometimes" problem with Schoeps mics. My own experience with two Schoeps CMC641 is that the problem is not the diaphragm, but the connector rings on the capsule and body. If you regularly unscrew the capsule from the body, you allow schmutz to build up on those surfaces and that causes noise problems. Once I cleaned those contacts and left the capsules screwed on to the bodies, I stopped having noise problems. 

Deity S-Mic 2 peeled open
What else has Deity done to prevent these problems? On the left here are the guts of an S-Mic 2. The first thing we notice is the splayed metal screen from top to bottom with two slight indents to allow the set screw to secure the brass shell to the internal tube. This conductive screen shield wraps around the mic body, shielding the innards from RF.

Next there's the "inner veil", a papery like sheet that wraps tightly around the tube. The lower section, below the screen, is the chamber in which the XLR leads and plug sit. (see below)

Deity's point man, Andrew Jones, says, "We have 1/8" of pure solid brass around our PCB and capsule. We've tested it against a 100mw Zaxcom ZMT3, transmitting within an inch of the microphone and zero RF signals could be heard."

That's a good, solid test, but (sorry to be a bit conservative here) experience has shown that RF can be tricky.

As another hedge against moisture, Jones says the boards inside the mic are treated with a coat of clear epoxy to prevent moisture penetration. Below is a shot looking under the metal screen at the circuitry and back end of the XLR connector.  You can't see the epoxy because it's clear, but it's there. OK, all of these things make me feel better about the moisture issue.

Inside the S-Mic 2 Circuit Boards and Connections
The Deity S-Mic 2 is a backplate charged electret mic. Let me stop right now and say, you can hear or read stuff that says "True Condensers" are better than "Electret Condensers." If someone hands you that crap, kindly stop listening to them. You can continue to bob your head as though you were listening to them, but DON'T LISTEN! 

I have discussed this with a number of German Tonmeisters over the years who worked for AKG and Neumann. In every case they responded by saying that, certainly, electret microphones can be made as good as externally polarized microphones. So, good electrets are better than bad externally polarized mics and good externally polarized mics are better than bad electrets. 

Juice Use
You could take the position that, in the field, when you're running on batteries, the S-Mic 2 will eat your batteries more slowly than an MKH416. That's because the S-Mic 2 is an electret with a charged backplate. Looks at the specs. The S-Mic 2 will run at 24 or 48 V DC and pulls 1.5 mA. That's probably 1.5 mA at 48 V DC and even more current at 24 V DC.

That's the thing about Phantom Power. Power is voltage times current. P = I x E. Sure you may be able to run a mic at a lower voltage, but it will make up for it by drawing more current or by added distortion because you're starving the mic.

The MKH416 pulls another half a milliamp more than the S-Mic 2; 2.0 mA. Not a major difference since mics like the Schoeps CMC641 pull a hefty 4.0 mA when powered by a 48 V DC Phantom Power supply and 8.0 mA when running at 12 V DC, but still more battery consumption.

The Deity S-Mic2 is also available as a kit with foam windscreen, mic stand clip, Rycote pistol grip/suspension mount and furry and very rugged case.

Deity S-Mic 2 Kit
In Conclusion
What we have here is a very ambitious offering from a company not as steeped in microphone history as Sennheiser or Neumann, but coming up fast.

Although you should always make your own judgements about the sound and operation of your gear, if you're a solid MKH416 user, an S-Mic 2 could begin life for you as a very good sacrificial substitute when you don't want to put your MKH416 in peril and then allow it to earn its stripes. In the short time it's been here, I personally think it deserves at least that. If you've been using a Sennheiser ME66/K6P, I think this will be a step up for you.

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