- by George Petersen
in Road Tests
Earlier this year, when Countryman Associates introduced its latest product, the H6 headset microphone, I wasn’t the only one eager to check it out. After a few months, production ramped up with the demand, and I was finally able to get an evaluation sample.
Based on the classic E6 capsule, the H6 is available in omni and directional versions, with a rugged — yet nearly invisible — headframe that’s lightweight, adjustable and remains securely in place. The capsule itself is an extremely low-profile design that’s a tenth of an inch in diameter — about the size of a pencil lead. It’s offered in three sensitivities suited to general speaking (7 mV/Pa, with 120 dB SPL handling), singing/loud speaking (2 mV/Pa, 130 dB max SPL) or very loud vocals (0.7 mV/Pa, 140 dB SPL).
The headframe is super thin and lightweight, yet strong, being made of stainless steel tubing. The length of the mic boom adjusts easily, and the earloops slide in and out for a comfortable fit. The mic can be moved to be on either side of the head. The mic is offered in four colors — light beige, tan, cocoa and black — to match a wide range of skin tones.
No less attention was paid to the cable — often the “Achilles heel” of headset mic designs, where a cable failure typically equates to the end of the mic’s useful life. But not so with the H6, which employs an interchangeable cable assembly. This not only permits cables to be switched out in the unlikely event of a cable failure (in onstage applications, anything is possible), but also allows the stocking of pre-made cable assemblies with connectors mated to fit different wireless bodypacks or simply an XLR termination for hardwired operations.
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The connector at the mic end is a sweat-proof, watertight connection that’s tough and seals with a snap to indicate it is securely in position. The cable itself is not only extremely thin (just over a millimeter in thickness), but it also very strong with a 45-pound break-strength rating. For some reason, the typically fragile cables on headset mics seem to undergo more abuse than hoist chains, with performers yanking on them or having the cable get snagged on costumes during changes or tangled in guitar straps and being subject to a lot of pulling forces. This ultra thin/ultra strong cabling on the H6 is a welcome change from the usual.
Having read through the specs and a short user manual, I was ready to put the H6 through its paces. I was using the omni version, which posed no feedback problems when set up correctly, with the capsule positioned about a half-inch back from the edge of the mouth. The earclips are secure and provide a comfortable fit.
One of the more interesting features of the H6 is that the mic ships with three interchangeable endcaps that fit snugly over the capsule and come in slightly different lengths. Besides also adding an additional protective barrier against sweat, makeup and foreign matter from contacting the mic capsule, these endcaps act like a acoustic equalizer and can have a dramatic effect on upper high-end response, allowing the user to tailor the sound of the mic to match the needs of the vocalist. The main change is a wide bandwidth, gentle slope boost centered around 15 kHz. The “Flat” endcap leaves the highs unaffected, resulting in flat performance to 15 kHz, followed by a slight rolloff after that point. The “Bright” cap begins an HF presence boost starting around 3.5 kHz, with a maximum +4 dB peak around 15kHz; and the “Very Bright” cap also starts in the 3.5k range and climbs more steeply, ending in an +8 dB bump, also around 15 kHz. My preference was for the +4 dB “Bright” cap, which added a natural sounding sheen to vocals for improved intelligibility without becoming harsh. The caps themselves are very small and can easily slip out of your fingers while changing them, so it’s best to make any such changes with the mic off the performer.
A caveat is that this mic, like most miniature capsule microphones, has a 24 dB self noise spec, so setting the gain and positioning the capsule fairly close to the edge of the performer’s mouth is important to maximize the output.
One aspect about the H6 that surprised me was the capsule’s LF performance — rich and full, with plenty of bottom end, without becoming excessive. It also includes a small foam windscreen, which is really more suited for outdoor or windy conditions, rather than breath plosives. In fact, if you’re having problems with breath noise or pops, it’s probably an indication that you simply need to reposition the capsule slightly.
Overall, the Countryman H6 is an outstanding performer that’s built tough, versatile, sounds great and is a fitting entry into the company’s legacy of quality microphones for live applications.
Countryman Associates H6 Headset Mic
Pros: Smooth, natural wide frequency response; protective endcaps allow response tweaking to personal taste.
Cons: Small endcaps easy to lose.
MSRP Pricing: Omni, $670; directional, $720.