Category Archives: 1940s Microphone

RSA Selmer RL1 Ribbon Microphone 1947-1958

Wireless world Advert October 1946

Looking back from the 21st century it is hard to picture a ‘dream’ PA system as being 2 x 8” speakers attached to a 12 WATT amplifier with 2 mic inputs!! However, in the UK this marks the beginning of the age of amplified, modern popular music. Within a few years the wattage and power output of PA systems would be rising rapidly, trying to keep pace with bigger and louder guitar amps!

In 1947 R.S. Amplifiers Ltd was bought by H. Selmer & Co Ltd who were at that time the largest musical instrument manufacturer in England. RSA’s newly launched Truevoice U12 PA system (described in detail below) continued in production until 1958 and formed the starting point for the Selmer Truevoice range of amplifiers. Selmer amps soon became a firm favourite for a whole generation of guitarists and bands.

R.S.A Selmer U12 PA system
Photographs of U12 PA Courtesy of Mario Martins.
R.S.A Selmer U12 PA Amplifier
R.S.A Selmer U12 PA Speaker with Mic compartment.

The handy compartment lined with green baize is where the microphone would be stored in transit.

The RSA Selmer RL1 Microphone

R.S.A. Selmer RL1 Ribbon Microphone.

Designed as a gigging PA microphone the body of the R.L.1. is very solidly cast in aluminium. The styling is distinctive and unusual. Somewhere between Art Deco and Mock-Tudor!  I can’t think of another microphone like it. The design of the grill is also peculiar to this model (and the later RL2) with baffled slots cleverly contrived to prevent the direct implosion of breath on the ribbon.

Inside the R.L.1. the ribbon motor is also further protected by a cotton bag.

R.S.A. Selmer RL1 Ribbon Microphone Interior.
R.S.A. Selmer RL1 Ribbon Microphone Interior case.
R.S.A. Selmer RL1 Ribbon Microphone Grill Interior.
R.S.A. Selmer RL1 Ribbon Microphone Rear View..

Optional step-up transformer 15 Ohms – 50k Ohms (below)

 This enabled the mic to be plugged into a high impedance PA input or even a guitar amp.

R.S.A. Step-up Transformer 15 Ohms- 50k Ohms.

Performance.

In terms of performance the R.S.A. Selmer RL1 is pretty much what you would expect from a ribbon microphone designed to go with the U12 PA system. Although it is somewhat lacking in high end response this would not have been a problem when delivering through 2 x 8 inch speakers! However, it has a pleasing, warm midrange which is flattering for most vocalists.

I had been intending to record a vocal clip to illustrate the qualities of this microphone but current COVID-19 restrictions here in the UK still make it difficult to meet up with performers. Hopefully in the next few months this situation will improve and I will be able to add a suitable recording to complete this post. 

P.S.

Here are a couple of likely lads from Liverpool (circa 1960) with the Selmer RL2. The grill is identical to the RL1 but the bodywork is somewhat different. I wonder what ever happened to these fresh-faced youths?

Tannoy Microphone Circa 1950.

Background.

The Tulsemere Manufacturing Company was founded in London in 1926 by Guy R. Fountain. In 1928 the name was changed to Tannoy. Rectifiers used in the company’s amplifiers utilised an alloy made from lead and tantalum. The name is simply a contraction of TANtalum/allOY.

 In the UK throughout the 1930’s Tannoy built up a considerable reputation for the design, manufacture and installation of industrial public address systems. Tannoy systems appeared in department stores, factories, offices, public buildings, academic institutions and sports grounds. In fact, just about anywhere that public announcements needed to be made- indoors or outdoors. There were even mobile systems fitted to vans!  

During World War 2, Tannoy manufactured installations for the British Army, Navy and Royal Air Force. Orders and day to day communications would be announced over ‘the Tannoy’.

By the end of WW2 the Tannoy brand was pretty much synonymous with any PA system. In 1946 the word ‘Tannoy’ passed into the Oxford English Dictionary as a noun meaning ‘public address system’. This usage is still current in the UK today.

As can be seen on the microphone featured here, Tannoy were not shy when it came to emblazoning the company name on their products. Judging from the tasteful antique bronze and grey paint finish, this gooseneck announcement microphone may well have been mounted on a mahogany desk in a Town Hall or other municipal building.

At first glance I assumed that this specimen, which has no model or serial number on it, was simply a dynamic paging mic in a fancy-looking case. However, when plugged in I was very surprised to hear how good it sounded! I carefully removed the grill and inside this is what I found……………

……. A well-made and neatly constructed, end addressed, ribbon motor. The back of the ribbon is enclosed by the magnet and the rear section of the casing. This produces a pretty much cardioid, directional polar pattern. It is similar in design to the STC4113 featured in a previous post.

So what does it sound like?   Because, here in the UK we continue to be under COVID-19 lockdown restrictions I still can’t get close to any proper musicians. I have therefore put together a slightly eccentric audio ‘collage’ of ‘percussion’ from around my desk to illustrate some of the impressive qualities of this distinctive Tannoy microphone. Marvel at the slightly sinister sound of 2 small terracotta plant pots being rubbed together and check out the creaky floor board! The finest details and complex textures of a variety of sounds are effortlessly reproduced as well as delivering natural speech with a high level of intelligibility.  

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN.  

Conclusion.

This is definitely a microphone to keep. Apart from vocals and percussion, I have a feeling that it will work well on a whole range of instruments. Ribbons are always great for beefing up guitars! Can’t wait to get back to gigs and try it out!

Tannoy Mic on Rycote shock mount.

P.S.  

Here below are a couple of photos of another Tannoy microphone sent to me by Stewart Tavener at http://xaudia.com/. This mic appears to share the same casing and ribbon motor as mine but has a switch and hinged stand mount.

American Microphone Company D9A/ D9AT ‘Skyscraper’ (1938- circa 1958)

American D9AT Where's Wally

Where’s Wally/Waldo?

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.

American D9 Side View Chrysler Building

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)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!!American D9AT Interior Front viewAmerican D9AT Rear inside viewAmerican D9AT Interior side view

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.American Microphone Company D9 Advert

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.American D9AT Damage to bodywork

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.American Microphone Company D9AT

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.Badge ELGIN American Microphone Company D9AT

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.

In Conclusion

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.

Steane’s ‘Ellipsoid’ Ribbon Microphone Circa 1948. A Sorry Tale!

Steane's 'Ellipsoid' Ribbon Microphone circa 1948

Steane’s ‘Ellipsoid’ was a budget ribbon microphone made in Melbourne Australia in the late 1940’s. The advertising literature from December 1948 declares it to be the ‘World’s Smallest Ribbon Mike’!Steanes-1948-advert

Other claims made in the blurb also raised my curiosity, especially the bit about ‘No boom or puff’!  (Never previously on my list of ribbon mic problems!)   So when my newly purchased Steane’s ‘Ellipsoid’ arrived I had to plug it in straight way. However………….. As I turned up the volume on my headphones I was horrified by the sound that assailed my ears. It had a very unpleasant nasal honk and a gratingly harsh high end! This was not what I was expecting! The previous owner had assured me that this shiny gem was fully working and all original. Hmmm!

On opening it up this is what I found. Whaaaaaaaaat TF!

Astatic MC-127

The ribbon motor and transformer had been removed! The body of the mic was filled with grotty, yellowing, wading and a crudely soldered Astatic ceramic element dumped unceremoniously on the top.The whole horrifying confection was sort of held in place with a couple of random bits of grey foam.

Astatic MC-127 back view.

The grill was also stuffed with wading to stop the lose element from rattling around (and maybe improve the tone?) Perhaps it was an attempt to get rid of some of that legendary Aussie ‘Boom’ and ‘Puff’!   Anyhow, I sadly stuffed it all back together as I found it and bunged it back in the post to the previous owner for a full refund. What a disappointment!

P.S.

If like me you are unfamiliar with Steane’s microphones here is their Microphone catalogue circa 1948/9. The mics listed here offer a range of applications for both the professional and the amateur user. I notice that the Dynacard model also guarantees ‘No Boom or Puff’!  🤣  The Home Studio shown on the last page is interesting as it appears to be an early form of Karaoke system allowing the user to sing along with the radio and thereby add ‘zip’ to any party!

Steane's Microphone Catalogue 1948/9 Steane's Microphone Catalogue 1948 P.1 Steane's Microphone Catalogue 1948 P.2 Steane's Microphone Catalogue 1948 P.3 Steane's Microphone Catalogue 1948 P.4 Steane's Microphone Catalogue 1948 P.5 Steane's Microphone Catalogue 1948 P.6

Anyhow, perhaps one day another Steane’s microphone will come my way.

Martin Mitchell’s Music For 3 Saucepan Lids and Spatula ! Recorded by the Gaumont-Kalee Type 492. 😊

Inspired by washing up! I did this recording for a bit of amusement on a cold rainy Saturday morning (crazy sound engineer’s idea of having fun!) ……… but I really love the way this beautiful old ribbon mic reproduces the ring and detail of these sounds. I suspect that the 492 would also make a great drum overhead. Anyhow, enjoy!

1962 BBC Training Manual

In the 1951 BBC Microphones training manual we saw that the corporation functioned with a small selection of British manufactured microphones, most of which had been in service since the 1930’s.  So when I saw this Manual from 1962 I was curious to see how ‘Auntie’ had moved on into the swinging sixties.

BBC Training Manual 1962

Old favourites continued in use.                                                                                         BBC Training Manual 1962 STC Dynamic Microphones

The STC4021 ‘Apple and Biscuit’ first appeared in 1935 as did the famous Marconi A series ribbon microphone pictured on the page below. (The AXBT is the 4th generation).  The STC4035 was a lighter, updated replacement for the old STC 4017, which had been phased out in the mid 50’s. The 4032 is identical to the 4035 but housed in a neat handheld Bakelite body making it suitable for outdoor use in all weathers. The 4037 was designed for TV and has a rather more modern look (slim lightweight body and matt black finish). However, the capsule is still pretty much the same as the good old ‘Apple and Biscuit’. STC’s dynamic models were the tried and tested backbone of general purpose and outside broadcasting. The noise-cancelling STC4104 lip ribbon mic was used for sports commentary and noisy events. This was an updated version of the older Marconi lip ribbon microphone. More recently manufactured by Coles, the 4104 continues in production to this day.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Ribbon Microphones

So what was new?

FM broadcasting by the BBC began in 1955 and the audio frequency response was thereby extended from 5 kHz up to 15 kHz. The new FM system was also considerably less susceptible to noise and interference than AM. Although the old favourite microphones from STC and Marconi were still fine for everyday transmission of speech, when it came to the broadcasting of high quality music, mics with improved high end response were now required. With this in mind the BBC Research Department designed 2 new ribbon microphones (pictured above). First came the PGS (Pressure Gradient with a Single magnet) and from this developed the 4038. Manufactured by STC these new microphones were considerably smaller and lighter than the old Marconi AXBT, and had an almost flat frequency response up to 15 kHz. This was around ½ an octave higher than the mighty AXBT. Now manufactured by Coles the 4038 continues in service to this day and is still recognised as one of the finest ribbon microphones available.

The photograph below is rather bizarre. In real life the STC4033 is around 3x bigger than the Reslo! The Reslo was small and convenient for use on TV (as mentioned in my previous blog post). The STC4033 is an unusual hybrid, similar in design to the classic Western Electric 639 ‘Birdcage’. It has an ‘Apple and Biscuit’ type omni dynamic element, and a ribbon element. This gives a choice of switchable polar patterns. Using the elements separately we have Omni or Figure of Eight and by combining the outputs of both we obtain Cardioid. Nevertheless, by 1962 the STC4033 was a somewhat antiquated design and no match for the more sophisticated competition coming out of Germany and Austria.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Reslo and STC4033

Enter AKG and Neumann……….

A number of high quality condenser microphones now appeared in the BBC microphone locker. The legendary AKG C12 quickly became a firm favourite for the broadcasting of concerts and was very often the only microphone used to capture a symphony orchestra in glorious Mono! The AKG C28, C29 and C30 were perfect for solo performers on live TV. The variable extension pieces made it easy for unobtrusive positioning.

BBC Traing Manual 1962 AKG C12.jpgBBC Traing Manual 1962 AKGC28 .jpg

The Neumann KM54 cardioid, and the multi-pattern KM56 were also popular choices for high quality broadcasting.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Neumann KM54BBC Training Manual 1962 Neumann KM56

Other Microphones.

A number of other microphones are given a mention but not honoured with a photo. The Corporation was still very much dominated by BBC Radio and most of these microphones are from the rapidly evolving new world of BBC Television. TV presenters very often needed to keep their hands free and microphones ‘in shot’ needed to be small and unobtrusive.

BBC Training Manual 1962BBC Training Manual 1962BBC Training Manual 1962

The Placing of Microphones
The diagrams and explanations on the pages below provide an interesting insight into the lost world of recording and broadcasting in Mono.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 01

The BBC philosophy for the broadcasting of classical music is best summed up in the opening sentence of the page below.  In the manual there is a clear distinction between music which requires the engineer to simply reproduce a ‘true balance’ created by the conductor and the performers (captured by one microphone), and more popular forms of music which require the engineer to create the balance from a number of microphones. Today this distinction has been all but lost.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 02BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 03

 Modern Dance Bands

BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 05

Setups for Dance Bands.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 06BBC Training Manual 1962

The section above on Modern Dance Bands contains no mention of the latest Beat Groups, Rock’n’Roll or Skiffle. BBC thinking was clearly lagging at least 5 years behind the latest trends in popular music. If you were a teenager in 1962 the ensembles mentioned above are the sort of music your Mum and Dad would have liked! Within a couple of years British teenagers were under the bedclothes every night with a transistor radio listening to their favourite music coming from pirate radio stations such a Radio Caroline and Radio London, illegally broadcasting from offshore. It wasn’t until 1967 that the BBC threw in the towel and set up Radio 1 to cater for a younger audience!

STEREOPHONY

The final chapter of the manual is devoted to describing the basic principles of ‘STEREOPHONY’. Even though stereophonic records had been around for several years, by 1962 stereo broadcasting was still in it’s infancy. Around this time there were a number of experimental BBC broadcasts. In our house I can remember my Dad following the instructions for a particular broadcast by setting up 2 radio sets tuned to different programmes, one carrying the left-hand channel and one carrying the right !! Unfortunately the 2 radios were very different sizes and so the effect was somewhat less than perfect! It was not until 1973 that Radios 1,2 and 4 finally broadcast in stereo.

In Conclusion.

Although a small amount of space is given to sound in the context of television, this manual is firmly focused on ‘High-Quality Sound Production and Reproduction’ for BBC Radio. Tape had pretty much replaced 78 rpm discs as the primary means of recording and storing programmes. FM broadcasting was a huge technical leap forward and the arrival of some new condenser microphones further improved the quality of the output. Nevertheless, in many respects, even by 1962 ‘Auntie’ still had one foot firmly in the 1930’s !

 

 

 

 

Remembering D-Day June 6th 1944

CLICKHEREJohn Snagge announces the D-Day Landings in France 75 years ago today.

The STC4017c was used by the BBC throughout World War 2 to broadcast many momentous events and speeches. Possibly the most important communication tool of the 20th century it was the first microphone robust enough to withstand the rigors of serious outside broadcasting in a war zone.

For more information https://martinmitchellsmicrophones.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/stc-4017c-dead-or-alive/

World War 2 M.T.L.L.No2 Throat Microphone

M.T.L.L. No2 Throat Microphone

Found in a garden shed where it had been for at least the last thirty years, this WW2 British military throat mic looks a bit sad and dilapidated. The paint is falling off and the steel fittings are rusting, the elastic is past its best, and a hungry woodworm has been drilling into the crumbling leather. So imagine my surprise when I plugged it in and it immediately burst into life!

The M.T.L.L. No 2 was used by the RAF and by the army. The mic was worn around the neck and was designed to pick up vibrations direct from the voice box. The two leather covered sensors were pressed against either side of the throat. The great advantage of the throat mic was that it could be used effectively in very noisy environments, such as inside a tank or an aircraft in combat. Even loud sounds around the wearer would be largely rejected. Although the audio quality is not fabulous, speech has a high degree of intelligibility.

This view below is of the back of one of the sensors with the plastic cover removed. Inside there is a magnet, the polarity of which is marked on the metal case ‘N’ and ‘S’.  The wires are identified with red and blue cotton thread. (Hot and cold?)M.T.L.L. No2 Throat mic view inside the back

Below, (pinched from an ebay listing) is a photo of the front side of the mic, without its leather covering. Here there appear to be a couple of coils.M.T.L.L. No2 View inside front of throat mic

Below, the strip of steel which picks up vibrations from the throat is sitting on top of the coils and magnet. This assembly is held in place by the leather covering. The result of this ingenious arrangement is a small electrical (audio) output signal appearing at the red and blue wires.Inside throat mic M.T.L.L. No2

 

CLICK here to hear a short voice test of this unusual creation.

Conclusion.

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of military communications during World War 2 and the crucial role played by the M.T.L.L. No 2 throat microphone.