From the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Emile Menasché
DPA’s series of 4099 CORE microphones includes models designed to cover a wide range of instruments, depending on their sound-pressure levels. Each mic features some important qualities—a small footprint, a pre-polarized supercardioid condenser capsule, and mounting hardware optimized for the instrument in question.
I tested a version designed to work best with acoustic guitar, mandolin, dobro, and ukulele. According to DPA, the new mic was designed to improve clarity, openness, and consistency over its predecessor (reviewed in the August 2009 issue of AG). With already high gain before feedback, the goal was to offer a more natural-sounding alternative to onboard pickups—or a complement to a guitar’s electronics system. Of course, the mic can also be used for recording. And because it clamps onto the guitar, you could use it in addition to stand-mounted mics without getting in the way of them.
Out of the Box
As you might expect from a mic with a street price topping $600, the 4099 comes in a sturdy case. In it, I found the mic mounted to a lightweight five-inch gooseneck, a mounting bracket for the guitar, a six-foot cable, an adapter that converts the cable’s MicroDot connector to XLR, and a soft padded bag. The mic itself is tiny—under a quarter inch in diameter and less than two inches long, though it looks larger inside its foam windscreen.
I’m not sure if it was just missing from my package, but I didn’t find mounting instructions in the case. Fortunately, DPA has an online video that shows how it’s done in under 30 seconds (although it took me a full minute the first time). It’s actually really brilliant. The gooseneck snaps to a little clip on one end of the lightweight mounting bracket. It’s held in place with a collar that snaps over the clip. You can choose where along the length of the gooseneck to clip the mic, and the gooseneck is long enough to allow plenty of adjustment without moving the bracket.
The bracket is held in place by clamps running from the guitar’s top to its back and can be adjusted to fit a range of body depths. I had no trouble mounting it to a small-bodied Martin 00-18, a much larger Taylor 814CE, and a mid-depth Epiphone archtop. The span of the clamp is set by sliding one of its jaws along a track. The jaws have a smooth but rubberized finish to prevent marring the finish. A quick release lever lets you slide the jaws open to remove or reposition the mic.
You don’t need any tools to mount or move the mic—a major plus in live situations. I tried three or four different spots on both the bass and treble sides of the guitar and was sure I’d bump the mic while I was playing. But I never touched it—not even when strumming vigorously.
The 4099’s lightweight and flexible cable screws in at the butt of the gooseneck, which keeps it well out of the way. The other end connects to an XLR adapter that has a clip on its barrel. The clip prevented me from plugging the adapter directly into an amp or preamp; I had to put a short XLR cable in between. However, there’s an upside: the clip can also take the gooseneck directly, and thanks to the clip, you can mount the mic on something other than the guitar—like, say, a music stand. [Note: DPA reports that the clip in fact includes a replacement ring for plugging the XLR adapter directly into an amp, preamp, or interface.]
The need for phantom power meant that I needed to grab a mic preamp when testing with my Crate Acoustic CA125D, but if you’re going direct to a mixing board or recording interface, it won’t be an issue. The mic can handle peak sound pressure levels up to 142dB, and the overall dynamic range is 100dB. DPA reports frequency response to be 20Hz–20kHz and a frequency range at 20 cm (about eight inches) of 80Hz–15kHz with 2dB soft boost at 10–12 kHz—all well within a guitar’s range.
Tested with the 00-18, I was surprised by how much low end the mic produced. The guitar sounded more like its unplugged self when I rolled back some bass or moved the mic to focus on the treble side, but I also liked the way I could position the DPA to give the little Martin more heft and authority on fingerpicked lines. The mic was well suited to the bigger sound of the Taylor. It was a bit harder to find the sweet spot on the archtop, but once I did it brought out the instrument’s acoustic qualities well.
Although the 4099 is designed for high output before feedback, it’s not like you can just slap it on the guitar, turn up the amp, and have worry-free sound. The laws of physics apply, even with smartly designed equipment. When I played too close to the speakers, I was treated to rings and howls. More than once, I wished there was a kill switch on the mic or gooseneck; it could be a lifesaver if you’re doing your own sound at a gig.
The DPA 4099 CORE instrument microphone is player-friendly, sonically flexible, and way less of a hassle to use than you might expect from an instrument-mounted mic. It’s not exactly instant gratification, but once you’ve found the sweet spots for your instruments, the DPA 4099 offers an elegant, high-fidelity alternative to pickups and stage mics.
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Microphone type: Pre-polarized condenser with supercardioid polar pattern and small diaphragm
Frequency range: 20Hz–20kHz
Maximum SPL: 142dB
Signal-to-noise ratio: 71dB (A weighted)
Self-noise: 23dB (A weighted)
Output impedance: 30–40Ω
Weight: 0.95 oz
Extras: Clip for guitar
Made in: Denmark
Price: $619.95 street
SHOP FOR THE DPA 4099 CORE AT THESE ONLINE RETAILERS
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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.