Sennheiser MD441-U Another Classic Dynamic Microphone! (1971 to the present)

Following on somewhat from the theme of the previous post.

Sennheiser MD441-U

Sennheiser MD441-U Grill

Launched in 1971 as Sennheiser’s flagship dynamic the MD441 has remained in production ever since. Famous users include David Bowie, Stevie Nicks and Elton John. It is a superb example of German design and engineering, and even today has few competitors. However, a microphone of this quality does not come cheap. A new MD441-U will set you back around £650.00 !

Cool Mic Dave!

When AKG produced the remarkable D224 (c1967) they went to great lengths with their twin capsule design to eliminate proximity effect, and create a wide, flat frequency response from 30Hz-20 kHz, regardless of distance from source. With the MD441 Sennheiser took a rather different approach. Whist the frequency response is similar to the AKG (30Hz-20kHz), Sennheiser allow the user of the MD441 to have creative control over proximity effect and also high end brilliance.0553

This is achieved using a five position bass roll-off switch and a 2 position brilliance switch. This provides a choice of 10 different frequency curves to suit the needs of a wide range of applications!

The Sennheiser MD441 User Manual below explains very thoroughly the operation and characteristics this extraordinary dynamic microphone.

Sennheiser MD441 Manual.

Sennheiser MD441-U

So What Does It Sound Like?  CLICK HERE for a drum clip illustrating the wide frequency response, dynamic range and highly detailed transient response.

CLICK HERE for Tenor sax and clarinet.

In Conclusion
Whether you choose heavy metal guitar at full volume, or a solo violin, a baroque recorder, or a baritone sax, the MD441 delivers! There is little to distinguish between what goes in and what comes out! It sounds remarkably natural on a wide range of acoustic instruments and the human voice. The Sennheiser MD441-U has all the subtlety normally associated with a high quality condenser combined with the smoothness and punch of a great dynamic. If I was only allowed one microphone in my ‘desert island’ studio this would probably be it!

Dynamic Microphones for Classical Recording?!

In the late 1950’s Electro-Voice ceased production of both ribbon and condenser microphones. In an article in his series ‘MICROPHONE FACTS for the operating engineer’ Electro-Voice founder Lou Burroughs explained the decision and presented reasons why dynamic microphones were, in every way, superior. The feeling at Electro-Voice was that ribbons and condensers were too fragile and prone to failure and that dynamics were solid and reliable and sounded better. Towards the end of the article (referring to dynamics) Burroughs declares that ‘These are the microphones of the future’.

Today, although dynamic mics are still revered for their robustness and ability to handle high SPLs they are not generally considered to be sonically superior to all other microphones! Indeed, I can’t imagine many engineers taking a pair of dynamics out to record an orchestral concert of classical music instead of their usual selection of condensers and ribbons.

Compared to condensers Burroughs claimed that dynamics have a ‘smoother high frequency response’ and so, here (by way of an experiment) are a  couple  of clips from an orchestral concert I recorded recently using a pair of Soviet Era, Russian, Oktava MD186 dynamics! I was simply curious to see if Lou Burroughs maybe had a point?

CLICK HERE for End of Beethoven’s Fifth

CLICK HERE for Mozart Piano Concerto

Electro-Voice EV642, 643, & 644 Cardiline Microphones , (circa)1960

Ever since the advent of the ‘Talkies’ sound technicians have struggled to pick up speech in motion pictures with sufficient clarity. For many years the problem of getting the microphone close enough to the performers without it being in the camera shot was a constant challenge!  On the other hand if the mic was too far away the sound was often ruined by the pickup of unwanted surrounding noise.

Seeking to address this problem, in October 1959 Wayne A. Beaverson of Electro-Voice filed for a patent on a new type of directional microphone which could be successfully operated at a distance from the sound source.  At low frequencies this microphone exhibits the directional characteristics of a cardioid mic, with excellent rear rejection. As the frequency response rises it becomes a line mic with considerable attenuation of unwanted sound from the sides. Thus the new ‘Cardiline’ design provides excellent directivity right across its operating frequency range.

Electro-Voice Patent for Unidirectional Microphone 1963

The success of the new microphone was such that in 1963 Electro-Voice received an Academy Awards “Oscar” for the development of the model 642 Cardiline, The award, in part, read “To Electro-Voice for a highly directional dynamic line microphone… capable of picking up sound in situations where a microphone cannot be placed close to the sound source and where unwanted sounds are to be discriminated against.”

Although the Academy Award went to the 642, the microphone drawn and described in the original patent application was in fact its close cousin the EV644. At this point you might be wondering about the 643?  Well ……… The 643 was pretty much the same as the 642 except in one significant detail ……… it was just over 7 feet long!  All three of these mics were of the Cardiline pattern but they were aimed (excuse the pun) at different areas of the market. As we know, the 642 was tailored very much for the film and TV industry and came with an elastic mount for attaching to a boom.

EV642 Advert 1963

EV643  Advert

Electro-Voice_643 Advert

electrovoice_643_2

Although extravagant claims are made for the mighty 643 in the advert above, I suspect that this mic was in fact quite awkward and unwieldy to use (even sighting along the barrel!!) It is certainly hard to find any fond recollections of it. I came across one report from some poor sod who once spent an afternoon standing on the roof of a football stadium trying to follow the ball round the field!! Anyone who has ever operated a theatre follow spot will appreciate just how ludicrous that must have been!

Which leaves the 644. (My latest eBay bargain!)

electro-voice-ev644

Designed for use on stage, in theatres, auditoriums and churches,  the EV644 Sound Spot came with a microphone stand mounting and was finished in classic Electro-Voice chrome. You could also buy it with a dull matt paint finish,(non-reflective under lighting), but why do that when the chrome version just looks so rock’n’roll cool !

Allied Catalogue 1960

List Price $110. A bargain at $64.68 ! (Not cheap in 1960!)

ev644-back-end ev644-body-and-stand-mountev644-end-grillev644-original-box-insideev644-original-box

CLICK HERE for Voice recording at a distance of 12ft

CLICK HERE for Glockenspiel Recording

In Conclusion

The 1963 patent shown above acknowledges a number of earlier inventions relating to directional microphones. In particular the patents of Harry Olson dating back to 1939. However, the earlier inventions, (mostly involving complex arrangements of multiple tubes of differing lengths), were awkward and cumbersome. In contrast, Beaverson’s Cardiline microphone, using a single multi-path tube feeding a single cardioid capsule, was an uncomplicated work of genius. It was both effective and easy to use.

To this day the elements of Beaverson’s patent can to be seen in shotgun microphones all over the world.

Below are the Techincal Specification Sheets for all 3 microphones.

Electro-Voice 642 Spec Sheet

Electro-Voice 643 Tech Spec.

Electro-Voice 644 Tech Spec

HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

MY WIFE WILL NEVER SUSPECT THAT I'VE BOUGHT ANOTHER MICROPHONE  :)

MY WIFE WILL NEVER SUSPECT THAT I’VE BOUGHT ANOTHER MICROPHONE 🙂

Experimental Line Array Microphone

making-line-array-mount

Improvising the mount for a 4 Element Line Array Microphone.

line-array-microphone

My basic 4 Element Line Array Microphone.  (Using 4 x Omnidirectional Karma K-Micro Silver Bullets)

shure-m268-front-panel

A handy little pre-amp for my line array. A Shure M268 4 x channel Mono Microphone Mixer. Surprisingly clean-sounding for its age!

Line array theory has been around since the 1930’s. In the 50’s and 60’s basic line arrays were very popular in the form of the column loudspeaker commonly used for PA. These days we are used to seeing massive line array speaker systems flown above the stage at festivals and concerts.

On the other hand the line array microphone is a rare breed and the few that are around, such as the impressive Microtech Gefell KEM970, tend to be expensive. The KEM970 is around £10,000.

In common with the shotgun microphone, the line array is a phase-reactive device. Unlike the shotgun where the on-axis position is down the length of the interference tube, with the line array the on-axis position is side-on at 90 degrees to the vertical column. Sound arriving at 90 degrees will be in phase at all of the capsules. The electrical output from each capsule will be identical and therefore additive. Sound arriving off-axis will suffer varying degrees of phase cancellation, depending on the frequency and the angle of incidence.

The polar pattern of a line array microphone is therefore wide in the horizontal plane and narrow in the vertical, getting narrower with rising frequency. This enables the mic to pick up over longer distances whilst rejecting mid and high frequency sound arriving off axis ( ie below and above.)

N.B.The longer the array (ie the more elements in the line) the lower the frequency at which it starts to be effective.

line-array-microphone-polar-pattern

Polar Plot at 1kHz

Below about 400Hz my 4 element model becomes increasingly omni-directional.  In this respect it is once again  similar to a shotgun.

Over the next few months I am planning a number of experiments to explore how this array will behave and to see what practical applications I can find for it!  I’ll report back…………..

.

Grampian DP4 (circa 1963) A trip down memory lane!

It was the mid 1960’s and I was a teenager at school in Manchester. Only 30 miles from Liverpool. Before the age of discos. It was a fantastic time for live music. The Mersey boom was at its height and the pubs and clubs were rocking to the latest beat groups. (It is worth noting that none of the music clubs such as The Cavern in Liverpool, or The Twisted Wheel in Manchester, were licensed to sell alcohol. Nevertheless on a Saturday night their subterranean vaults were crammed with teenagers who had often queued for hours to see their favourite bands!)

In the 5th form some of my school mates formed a group. I used to lig along to their rehearsals in the school music room. They had a couple of Vox AC30 guitar amps and an old Selmer which was used for PA. I can remember the singer turning up one day with a very shiny new microphone. All black enamel and chrome, like the headlamp on a classic British motorcycle.Grampian DP4  Removed from it’s bright blue box the mic was duly plugged into the Selmer amp. The lads then launched into their version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue’. The assembled hangers-on (including myself) thought it sounded amazing!

I was therefore overjoyed a few weeks ago when a friend kindly gave me this bright blue box. I recognised it straight away!Grampian DP4 Box

Grampian DP4 with clip

Just below the chrome bezel there is a ribbed rubber ring designed to prevent the mic rolling off flat surfaces. Brilliant feature!

If you buy a DP4 make sure it comes with the 2 pin mic connector as these are as rare as hen's teeth!

If you buy a DP4 make sure it comes with the 2 pin mic connector as these are as rare as hen’s teeth!

Grampian DP4 Label

Here in the UK although the Grampian DP4 enjoyed a good deal of popularity as a PA microphone, and also with amateur tape recording enthusiasts, it was never really thought of as a top quality professional instrument. Sennheiser had launched it’s superb MD21 in 1953 and followed it in 1960 with the MD421.  Around the same time AKG gave us the D19 and the D24. The poor old Grampian was not quite in the same league. However, for a while the DP4 was used by the BBC for outside broadcasts and by their Wildlife Department in conjunction with the Grampian Parabolic Reflector. (As seen on the front cover of this issue of Tape Recording Magazine from 1969 )

tape-recording-uk-1969-04

A few weeks ago on TV I saw an old film clip featuring an impossibly young David Attenborough in the middle of the jungle somewhere clutching a Grampian Parabolic reflector with a DP4 mounted on it.

In the end Grampian Microphones were no match for the German. Austrian and American competition. As the 1960’s rolled on bands got louder, PAs got bigger, stage monitors were introduced and the omni-directional dynamic microphone fell out of use. Cardioids simply had more gain before feed back! By the mid-1970s the Grampian DP4 had disappeared from the stage and eventually the company went out of business.

So what does it sound like? 

 CLICK HERE for a short vocal trip down memory lane!

 

Grampian Brochures and Technical Information (These came in the box with my DP4.)

grampian-dp4-page-1grampian-dp4-page-2grampian-dp4-page-3grampian-dp4-page-4

grampian-dp4-instruction-sheet-page-1028grampian-dp4-instruction-sheet-page-2030

ASTON ORIGIN (2016)

It is not often that I buy anything simply on the strength of the advertising, but in the case of the Aston Origin that is exactly what I did! In fact worse than that I bought two! Aston Origin Out of Box As a rule when you make this kind of impulse purchase, the goods arrive and you are doomed to disappointment. However, on this occasion it turns out that Aston microphones are as good in real life as they look on paper and on the website! Every aspect of the product has been carefully considered and designed from the ground up, everything from the unique flexible grill to the eco-friendly packaging.

At the present time the myriad of competitors  in this price range are mostly derivatives of older designs, often vaguely resembling particular vintage Neumann or AKG models. Aston Microphones have launched into this rather tired and jaded market place with product that is radically different.

Designed and built in the UK the Aston Origin not only has eccentric good looks, but it also boasts a distinctive ‘British’ sound. A sound shaped by a panel of 33 well known UK producers and recording professionals, who listened to every element of the audio chain, and by a lengthy process of elimination, chose the very best sounding components. For the full story and technical specifications visit: – http://www.astonmics.com/

The stand mounting options are either the very classy custom Rycote InVision shock mount (left) or simply screwing the mic straight on to the stand.(right)

The stand mounting options are either the very classy custom Rycote InVision shock mount (left) or simply screwing the mic straight on to the stand.(right)

My only criticism of screwing the mic straight on to the stand is that whilst this is quick and easy, it is not always possible to manoeuvre the mic into exactly the right place.

Below is my homemade rotating knuckle joint which allows the mic to be moved into any position whilst screwed directly to the stand.     It is made from the top piece of an old camera tripod. Using Milliput (which sets rock hard) I glued a 3/8 inch thread adapter into the base.  Then over the screw which would normally hold the camera, I glued a 3/8 inch stand adapter to hold the mic. The ball-joint, which can rotate in any direction, is fixed by screwing down the chrome locking ring.

Rotating Knuckle Joint for Aston Origin

So What Does It Sound Like?

CLICK HERE for Rain Stick transient response test

CLICK HERE for Saxophone.

CLICK HERE for Piano and Orchestra

Neumann U87Ai  v  Aston Origin CLICK HERE

Neumann U87AiAston Origin grill

N.B.

The Neumann U87Ai is 8 x the price of the Aston Origin!

Here are my Aston Origins used to record Vocals, Guitars and Harmonica on the title track of Steve Ashley’s new album ‘Another Day’.