Unseen lavaliere mics deliver big sound

DPA Microphones played an integral part in recording the audio for the film version of the hit musical "Les Misérables," which features an all-star cast including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Nominated for nine BAFTA Awards, including one for sound, "Les Misérables" used an innovative technique that involved recording vocals live on set with the cast singing to a live piano accompaniment played to them through earpieces. The orchestra was recorded later in post-production, with the musicians taking their lead from the performances of the cast. 

This break with tradition enabled director Tom Hooper to create a truly emotive experience for audiences watching the film. Production sound mixer Simon Hayes, who was responsible for capturing the film’s entire audio content, says it was a truly unique way of working and one that would not have been possible without exceptional microphones, in particular DPA 4071 lavaliere microphones. In his opinion, the DPA is better, more open sounding, less chesty and sounds more like a boom mic than any other lavalieres he has heard.

Hayes had 50 DPA 4071 lavaliere microphones at his disposal during the filming of "Les Misérables," all of which were supplied by Richmond Films in conjunction with DPA’s UK distributor Sound Network.

Normally when Hayes is recording a film, he prioritizes boom mics, especially if the scene is being shot with a single camera. But with "Les Misérables," the director wanted all the angles covered from all sides to capture the perfect performance. This meant they couldn’t rely so heavily on the booms because the wider angle coverage would stop them getting close enough. The solution was to come at the recording from a different angle and make lavaliere microphones the priority.

Abbey Road engineers checked the sound quality of the DPA 4071 lavalieres to make sure they were the best choice for vocals. Hayes says they were impressed with the results. Hayes’ next task was finding a way of using the mics that gave the best sound but still allowed them to remain invisible to audiences.

Costume designers worked to conceal cables within the clothes and to disguise microphones that were positioned on the outside of the costumes. DPA’s mini concealers solved the problem of clothing rustle and, on the rare occasions when they showed in a shot, mics were painted out afterward in post.

"Les Misérables" took 15 weeks to shoot, and an additional seven weeks were spent rehearsing with all the actors mic’ed up so that the audio could be sent to Abbey Road for feedback. Hayes was delighted with the sound and believes that what was achieved wouldn’t have been possible without the DPA lavalieres.