BBC Engineering Training Manual. MICROPHONES. (1951)

I was born on January 20th 1951 at St Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children in the centre of Manchester,  just across the road from the Palace Theatre. Less than a mile away, at the BBC Studios in Piccadilly, engineers were avidly thumbing through their copies of the very latest BBC ENGINEERING TRAINING MANUAL . MICROPHONES!

BBC Training Manual 1951

My copy arrived yesterday! (courtesy of eBay). It is in nearly new condition and sadly it’s unmarked pages have all the ‘vibe’ of a book that has never been read!

In recent years I have often regaled students with my reflections on how much audio technology has changed during my lifetime. Reading through this book really brings it home! It is a window into a long-gone world of engineers in brown lab coats and announcers at the microphone in evening dress. For me, as a child, it was the world of ‘Listen with Mother’ and ‘Children’s Hour’ and seeing the valves glowing in the back of the mahogany veneered wireless set on a shelf next to the fireplace in our living room.

My earliest memory of a microphone was standing on a box in front of a huge Marconi AXBT ribbon mic having won a prize in a BBC Children’s Hour competition at the age of 7 or 8. (It looked just like a giant ice cream cone!) I was presented with a silver propelling pencil by the producer Trevor Hill. I said ‘Thank You’ in the general direction of the mighty Marconi, and was escorted back to my seat.

BBC Children's Hour Competition Prize 1958

Anyhow, back to the book. 

What is most striking is how slender this volume is (114 pages). Most of it is taken up with detailed information about the propagation of sound and the physics involved in microphone design and construction. Much of this is still useful knowledge. However, only 7 different microphones are described in detail and most of these had already been in service since the mid 1930’s.

Here, (to give you a flavour of this informative little book) are some of the illustrations.BBC Marconi Ribbon Mic

In the BBC Studio of 1951 the Marconi AXBT Ribbon Microphone (first introduced in 1935) was the principal tool for drama, announcement and music. Broadcasting  was in Mono. With a frequency range from 20Hz-16 kHz, this figure of eight device was very often the only mic used!  One useful piece of advice offered to the engineer, in order to avoid ‘an excessive bass response’ (caused by proximity effect), is that ‘The microphone should never be used at a distance less than approximately two feet.’


From 1938 to 1953 the STC 4017C was the main BBC outside broadcast microphone. Built like a tank, with a solid copper body and an aluminium diaphragm, it was a very robust dynamic. Although, in theory omnidirectional, it did exhibit some frontal directionality at higher frequencies.


The STC4021 , nicknamed the ‘Apple and Biscuit’, was a high quality dynamic mic which, due to its spherical shape, was truly omnidirectional. It was mounted vertically and was used for a variety of purposes including ’round table’ discussions and interviews. It was also used as a talkback mic.

BBC EMI Moving Coil

Developed by Holman and Blumlein working for the Columbia Gramophone Company (later E.M.I.) , it was used extensively by the newly formed BBC Television service at Alexandra Palace from 1936.The unusual thing about this microphone is the fact that it’s diaphragm is made of thin balsa wood enclosed between two sheets of aluminium foil! Interestingly, the description in the book ends with something of a warning……..  ‘the instrument is less suitable when high quality is a major consideration’  !!!!!

BBC Marconi Condenser Mic

BBC Marconi Condenser Element

The Marconi Condenser Microphone with built-in amplifier was a large and extremely rare beast, introduced experimentally in the mid-1930’s.  Even at the BBC it was not commonly used. Early condensers were prone to suffer with crackling caused by moisture.When it was employed it was mostly to be found at concerts.

BBC Brush Crystal Mic

BBC Brush Sound Cell

I have never seen a BBC studio picture with one of these. Not sure what it’s duties might have been. Perhaps, included in the manual simply because it is an example of a crystal mic? These were quite common at the time as PA and announcement mics. Also quite popular with amateur tape recordists.

BBC Marconi Lip MicBBC Marconi Lip Mic Back view

The Marconi Lip Ribbon Microphone (designed by the BBC in 1937) is a noise cancelling device which was used for sporting commentaries and broadcasting in noisy environments. It was designed for very close speaking with the ribbon protected from the impact of the speaker’s breath by the enclosing magnet. (see pics above)  One of the most important features of this microphone is the mouth-guard, which is pressed up against the speaker’s jaws, thus maintaining a constant distance between the mouth and the ribbon. This ensures against changes in frequency response, and volume, caused by fluctuations in distance. A variation of this microphone is still made today for the BBC by Coles (formerly STC).

BBC Training Manual 1951012BBC Training Manual 1951013

Foot Note.

In 1953 BBC Television broadcast live the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Amongst the most notable features of this historic broadcast was the commentary delivered by Richard Dimbleby inside Westminster Abbey. The microphone used on this occasion was the latest Marconi L.2 Lip Ribbon mic. The perfect choice! The closeness of the speaker to the microphone, and the rich tone of Dimbleby’s voice, served to give the listening audience an intimate, sense of the grandeur of the occasion. The isolating characteristics of the lip microphone also served to focus attention on his voice. Dimbleby was the undoubted master of this technique of close-mic’d delivery which became a hall-mark of British State occasions.

Richard Dimbleby at the Coronation of Elizabeth II 1953

Richard Dimbleby with the Marconi L.2 Lip Ribbon microphone in the specially constructed commentary box in the Triforium of Westminster Abbey


In Conclusion

Within a decade of this manual the BBC microphone cupboard would be rapidly filling with exciting new models from the likes of AKG, Sennheiser and Neumann. In the following years alongside the growth of television and multi-track recording came a whole range of microphones designed for different purposes. Stereo mics, shotgun mics, lavaliers, parabolic, contact, binaural, ambisonic…………….. A whole new world!

Here are some useful links for more information.   (Some great photos of the Marconi Ribbon Mic)    (Pictures and information on this extremely rare condenser mic)


Shure 430 ‘Commando’ Controlled Magnetic / Controlled Reluctance Microphone (Circa 1957)

Shure Model 430 CommandoShure 430 Commando grill

The Controlled Reluctance microphone (aka Controlled Magnetic) was developed by Shure during World War 2 to fulfil the need for a battle announce microphone that could operate reliably at extremes of temperature and humidity. (Subsequently also perfect for Korea and Vietnam!)

Although the Controlled Reluctance design was in some respects similar to a conventional dynamic in other ways it was significantly different.

The 2 diagrams below illustrate the differences.

  • DYNAMIC MICROPHONEDynamic-moving-coil-diagram
  • CONTROLLED RELUCTANCE/MAGNETIC MICROPHONE (2 slightly different versions)Controlled Reluctance Microphone Sectional Diagram

Here, in response to an email enquiry, is an explanation from Shure of the working of this microphone

On 3 May 2017 15:06, “Shure Europe” <> wrote:

Response By Email (Michael P) (05/03/2017 09:06 AM)

Controlled reluctance is a variation of a dynamic mic.  The controlled reluctance mic diaphragm connects to a small lever made from ferrous material.  The other end of this lever is positioned inside of a stationary coil of wire.  Surrounding the coil of wire is a stationary magnet.  As the ferrous lever is moved by the mic diaphragm, the lever disturbs the magnet field.  This induces an AC signal (the audio signal) in the coil of wire.

Answer Link: Difference between controlled reluctance and controlled magnetic

This type of mic was originally designed for military applications.

Michael Pettersen

Shure Historian


2 pin Ampenol Connector

If you buy a 430 make sure it comes with one of these as 2 pin Amphenol connectors are hard to find.

The CR/CM elements have a high output (making them suitable for transmission over large distances) and require no additional transformer. They are therefore cheaper to manufacture than a conventional dynamic.

After WW2 Shure introduced several models for the civilian market, including the famous Green Bullet (still popular with harmonica players to this day). These were mostly budget PA mics intended for speech applications such as paging and announcements. Whilst not being particularly noted for high quality audio, their main selling points were cheapness and reliability. It is therefore not hard to see why these sturdy, affordable mics soon found favour with musicians and singers.

Apart from being highly profitable, Shure’s military communications contracts had the additional spin-off of enhancing a lasting reputation for reliability. Indeed, the company have often boasted that all of their products are tested to military standards (MILSPEC).  Even though the Model 430 was made for the civilian, domestic market it nevertheless trades on its military heritage with the name ‘Commando’ and it’s distinctive, camouflage green head!

Shure 430 Commando head

Data Sheet for the Shure Commando series.:-     us_pro_415_ug

Shure Microphones  :-  1957 Catalogue

 430 Commando Original Box

So what does it sound like?  CLICK HERE for a short clip of spoken word and Blues Harmonica.


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 £700.00 !

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.Sennheiser MD441-U Frequency response graphs

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


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!)


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




Experimental Line Array Microphone


Improvising the mount for a 4 Element Line Array Microphone.


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


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.


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…………..