When the American D9A was launched in 1938 it was notable because of its fashionable Art Deco ‘look’ inspired by the skyscraper skyline of New York and other great American cities. Indeed the side elevation of the mic appears to directly reference Manhattan’s famous Chrysler Building constructed in 1930.
This was the age of Jazz, and Rock’n’Roll was just around the corner. Microphones increasingly appeared centre stage in photographs and on screen as part of the performer’s visual image. Over the following couple of decades the American Microphone Company kept ahead of the game producing a number of stunning designs which appeared in movies and featured in commercials.
Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson, and Angela Lansbury in State of the Union (1948)
The transducer design of the American D9 is also interesting and unusual.
The D9A /D9AT is often incorrectly identified as a ribbon microphone! This matter can simply be resolved by undoing 4 screws!!
Does this look like a ribbon motor??!! In the advertising blurb below it is described as being ‘a pressure-velocity combination microphone’ which may have led some folks to think that the ‘velocity’ element must be a ribbon (like the Western Electric/Altec 639). However, the 2 elements are clearly both dynamic. One pressure element (omni) sealed at the back, and one velocity element (Fig of 8) open at the back. The signals from these 2 elements are combined to produce a cardioid directional response. I can’t off hand think of another microphone that is configured in this way using 2 separate dynamic elements.
Although I can accept most of the description given above, the notion that the DA9 has ‘qualities of ruggedness’ is somewhat farfetched. Sadly, the bodywork appears to be cast in a cheap zinc alloy which is brittle and easily damaged. The yoke is also made of the same material. These days it is hard to find one without bent, cracked or broken ribs.
Some years ago I was working on a theatre show in which an over-excited actor, (playing the part of Jerry Lee Lewis) unintentionally launched my treasured Electro-Voice EV664 right across the stage. It landed 30 feet away with a sickening thud. Apart from a slightly damaged switch the mic was unmarked and still worked perfectly! That is rugged! I wouldn’t want to try that with my D9AT. This is definitely not a mic to drop by accident. As well as the fragile body the chrome plating is remarkably thin. Even though my D9AT is from the tail end of production in the mid 50’s much of the chrome has worn away. Nevertheless it is still a stylish looking object.
BUT………….. More importantly what does it sound like? CLICK HERE for Voice Recording
The American Microphone Company D9A / D9AT was not designed as a high quality studio instrument. It was recommended for P.A. and installation use. In 1938 most dynamic P.A. mics were feedback-prone omnis. American’s dual element cardioid with its promise of higher gain before feedback could therefore be seen as an exciting new development. However, the following year Shure launched their game changing Unidyne 55 featuring a single cardioid capsule. The new single capsule design was soon adopted by most manufacturers as it was clearly cheaper to make and capable of producing excellent results. American carried on manufacturing the D9A/ D9AT for another 15-20 years. In 1955 the company was bought by Elgin-Neomatic,Inc. whose main business was watch making. At the time Elgin had the notion that they would develop miniature parts for microphones but this idea soon faded. My D9AT featured here is from the Elgin period.
Around 1960 American was sold again to General Cement Company Rockford, Il (AKA G.C.Electronics). Several years later the company was finally bought by Electro-Voice who soon retired the brand.
Although the American Microphone Company D9A/AT may not win any prizes for its audio quality it nevertheless provides an interesting link in the development of directional microphones in the first half of the 20th century.
BBC L2 (STC4104 A) Lip Ribbon Microphone Circa 1955
When this BBC L2 (STC4104 A) first arrived, I thought that I might lavish some TLC on it’s battle-scarred wooden case to make it look a bit smarter. However, the more I look at it, the more I think that I shall leave it just as it is. This microphone has clearly been around the block a few times and has history. The two stickers on the lid are REPAIR and TESTED labels from the BBC Equipment Department in the mid 1980’s. By then it had already been in service for 30 years!
I always feel a bit sad when I see a vintage microphone advertised on a selling site as being “Unopened in original box”, or simply “NOS”. No history, just old. Certainly not the case for this BBC L2 (STC4104 A). Opening the lid of the box reveals a microphone which has had a lot of use!
Most high quality microphones spend their lives cosseted, and looked after by skilled engineers, in the well regulated environment of a recording or broadcasting studio. This BBC L2 lip ribbon microphone has spent its life on the road with journalists, commentators and broadcasting crew. What is really amazing is that it is still in great working condition, along with its original 3 position Equaliser.
The only down side to this piece of kit is that the microphone, equaliser, and case have a combined weight of 13lbs! Most of this is the equaliser. Later models dispensed with the EQ. Instead the MED BASS roll-off was built into the microphone. However, it is pretty clear from the big splodge of red paint, that even with this mic, MED BASS was the preferred setting.
The BBC designed the L2 in 1951 as an updated version of the L1 which had been in service since 1937. It arrived just in time to play a starring role in the televised Coronation of Elizabeth II, when it was used to capture the famous commentary by Richard Dimbleby in Westminster Abbey. Dimbleby was known as the “Voice of the Nation”, and so on this occasion the L2 was perhaps the “Ear of the Nation”, into which he delivered his stately measured tones. It was the first mass-televised event in Britain. Shops selling televisions ran out of stock as people bought them for the first time!
(Watch from 3.30m)
The BBC L2 (STC4104 A) also made it possible to clearly broadcast commentary from even the noisiest of environments.
This microphone has an extraordinary ability to cancel out and reject unwanted surrounding sounds. It is particularly insensitive at the sides of the mic in the dead zones of the ribbon.
Here is Kenneth Wolstenholme at the 1966 Football World Cup.
CLICK LINK below to hear the end of the match !
CLICK HERE to hear my STC4104 A in action!
CLICK HERE to hear the STC4104 A delivering a VOCAL. (Great new look for any singer!)
In previous posts I have occasionally (often) moaned about the difficulty of finding information about various vintage microphones. In the case of the L2 lip ribbon microphone, because it was designed by the BBC, there is a wealth of documentation available. Rather than writing a lengthy technical description myself, I would recommend reading the BBC Monograph which appears below. This explains the design and usage of this classic microphone in great detail.
P.S. Today a version of the BBC L2 (STC4104) lip ribbon microphone is still made by Coles and is widely used by journalists and commentators all over the world.
Posted in 1930s Microphone, 1940s Microphone, 1950's Microphone, 1960's Microphone, BBC Microphones, Commentators Microphone, Microphone Tech Specs, Microphone techniques Ancient & Modern, Noise- cancelling microphones, Ribbon Microphones, STC Microphones, STC4104 A, Uncategorized, Vintage Broadcasting, Vintage Brochures and Tech Specs, Vintage Microphones
Tagged 1950's Microphone, BBC Microphones, Microphones for Television, STC Microphone, Vintage Microphone