TwinPlex Takes the Stage
After years in development followed by extensive field-testing in the most high-profile events and shows ever, TwinPlex microphones are ready for prime time. Product Manager John Born explains what it took to create one of the most complex microphones Shure has ever built.
After years of witnessing our wireless receivers perform flawlessly in the highest profile applications – from Super Bowl halftime shows to theater productions – we decided it was time to deliver a superior end-to-end solution: Shure wireless attached to Shure lavaliers and headsets.
Shure is widely recognized for its microphones and amazing wireless systems, but we had not addressed the premium lavalier and headset market as thoroughly as our other portfolios.
To make that happen, we needed to engineer and manufacture the best sounding, most durable lavalier and headset mics that the pro audio world had ever heard. We focused on three goals: sound quality, cable durability and sweat protection.
Twice the Sound
To get the big sound we were after, Shure engineers proposed a dual diaphragm design – literally two parallel elements. With twice the surface area of other 5 mm microphones, the cartridge offered a bigger, warmer low frequency response, better extension and a smoother top end response. Also because of the increased surface area, we would expect best in class specifications and the largest dynamic range of any lavalier at this scale.
The dual side-firing elements delivered another important advantage for performers that move around a stage or studio: reliable and consistent off-axis performance. As an actor’s head moves side to side or a mic drifts on a forehead, sonic changes are minimized because the sound source is always facing one of the diaphragms.
Another side benefit of the dual-diaphragm design was minimal cable noise. Any mechanical vibrations that touch the cable are essentially canceled due to the parallel diaphragm. This was especially noticed in the Film/TV market where they are constantly hiding mics and needing quiet solutions for feature films and reality shows.
Making it Small
Early on, one of the biggest challenges was size. The first concepts were way too big. The very early prototypes were shown to leading sound designers, and they looked at me like I was crazy.
We had to figure out how to take at least 4 mm of length out of the mic without sacrificing sound quality. We did this by placing the electronics in between the two microphone diaphragms instead of behind them.
Cable vs. Cableflex Machine
Since cables are usually the first components in lavs and headsets to fail, we worked as hard on the cable construction as we did on the cartridge. We wanted a mic that sounded great, but it was just as important for it to work reliably on stage or in the television studio as long as possible.
We started early on in the project with a separate team devoted to the cable. We worked closely with our strategic supplier team to seek out a new partner to co-design the cable with us. After about a year of searching and testing and traveling to about 10 different companies, we settled a high-end medical company that had a unique cable construction used in medical devices.
After a few prototype rounds, we put the first batch on our cable flex machine and the cable failed to fail in over two weeks – or 140,000 flexes – on our laboratory’s punishing cableflex machine. We actually stopped testing it because the machine was needed for other tests.
In fact, the medical grade cable is thinner than our previous cables and lasted significantly longer than our original specification requirement based on competitive benchmarks.
The reason for its extraordinary durability is a nontraditional cable construction. There are two tinsels wrapped inside the shield that function as redundant grounds. Also, the spiral tinsel resulted in a very flexible relaxed feel that is easy to route through a costume for theater or film work. We wrapped the unique cable in a paintable jacket that resists dry out and cracking and takes paint very well, a requirement for theater work.
There’s no denying it. Subminiature lavs in theatrical or broadcast applications are subjected to a tremendous amount of sweat that can degrade the tonal quality or cause the mic to fail altogether. This is less than ideal for a talk show host, a reality TV star or a singer delivering the signature song of a Broadway musical.
We needed a way to test for this so we invented a new test at Shure that can measure mic performance in the presence of sweat. We named it the “Sweat-Bot”. It pummels mic elements with expensive artificial sweat and allows us to catch mics failing red-handed. We then tear the mic open, analyze it, and make it better.
This pushed us to design a cap on the element to prevent sweat and moisture from entering the mic in the first place. We settled on a micro-molded frequency response cap that is nanocoated with a super-hydrophobic coating. Sweat simply rolls off the element before entering.
Subjected to weeks of drip testing by the SweatBot in the Shure lab, we had created the first line of defense in sweat protection.
We knew we needed to have TwinPlex be right. Not just the microphone itself, but the packaging, accessories, mounts, clips, colors, connectors also needed to be perfect. We didn’t want there to be any reason why these high-tier customers would not choose TwinPlex.
So we embarked on an extensive field testing, deploying literally thousands of mics into the market to various market segments from theaters to broadcast studios and even orchestras using TwinPlex as string mics.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and we couldn’t get samples out fast enough.
TwinPlex prototypes took the stage on some of the biggest shows and theaters, including The Voice, Shark Tank, the Grammy’s, the Oscars, The Jimmy Kimmel Show, The Ellen Show, Film and TV projects and Broadway and West End stages in New York and London. Many of those prototypes are still in use today.
Living Up to the Shure Name
The enthusiastic response we received from our beta testers said a lot about the kind of faith our customers have in Shure. For them to love it so much and trust versions that weren’t quite ready for prime time proved to us that the time it took to bring TwinPlex to the stage was well worth the wait.
From the very beginning, we knew we had to remove every obstacle preventing users from putting TwinPlex microphones to the test. We had to offer superior sound quality. We needed to nail durability and ensure the right product version available. Whether it is a color, sensitivity, connector, or accessory version, integrating TwinPlex into your existing workflow is now a seamless transition.
For a more in-depth look inside TwinPlex microphone development, check out shure.com/twinplex.