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. 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!
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!
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 )
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.)
Back in the 1950s the iconic Marconi AX ribbon microphone was the main tool for BBC drama production. Actors were familiar with its figure of eight characteristics, and would utilise the dead zones at the sides of the mic to great effect. Noisy page turns could be avoided by holding the script to the side of the mic. The impression of going off into the distance could be achieved by simply delivering the lines whilst slowly moving to the side of the microphone. Shouting from a distance could be managed in the same way. Actors were also very conscious users of proximity effect, moving closer or further from the microphone as the script required.
CLICK FOR SHORT VOICE DEMO.
BBC Training Manual 1942
Bearing this in mind an elderly ex-BBC producer told me the following delightful tale about a well- known actor of the day.
Whenever a trainee or inexperienced engineer was spotted entering the control booth he would go through the same entertaining routine. On being asked to deliver some lines to test the mic, he would start speaking in a fairly quiet voice whilst very gradually moving his head round the side of the mic. All the while the hapless young knob- twiddler in the control booth would be increasing the gain on the input. When our actor judged that the gain was almost certainly up full he would deftly swing his head back to the front of the mic and inquire in rich, thespian tones, (as if addressing the back row of the gallery) ‘HOW’S THAT FOR LEVEL?!!’
In the early days of talking pictures, years before the invention of the shotgun microphone, considerable use was made of the directional characteristics of figure-of-eight ribbon microphones to minimise the pick- up of unwanted noise on the set. Cameras and other noisy equipment could be positioned in the dead zones. This greatly improved the quality and intelligibility of the end product. It also made it possible (using more than one microphone) to balance the levels of different performer’s voices. This had not previously been possible using Omni-directional models.
Filming in locations with high levels of surrounding ambient noise, a figure-of-eight could be suspended horizontally above the actors’ heads. The back of the mic faced upwards (away from the sound sources) and the front faced downwards towards the actors. In this position the dead zone effectively attenuated 360 degrees of surrounding noise!
These days, when recording studios seem to be generally stuck in Cardioid mode, I thought it might make a pleasant change to revive some of these vintage figure-of-eight techniques. In the following episodes I shall take a look at more uses for this versatile but somewhat neglected polar pattern.
In this age of manicured digital perfection, where nothing is quite what it seems, I look back with nostalgia to a time when recording was all about capturing a performance by a great artist and not about manufacturing one!
At the present time when so much R & D is being expended on surround sound, virtual reality and other forms of immersive audio, I find myself taking a renewed interest in Mono! Just as black and white photography still has it’s charms I think that there is a good deal to recommend about sound recorded in Mono. Genuine Monophonic recordings made with just 1 microphone are completely phase coherent and coming from a single point there is something very focused and unambiguous about the sound. The listener’s attention is concentrated completely on the music and not distracted by artefacts of multi-channel production. Recordings made in this way can also provide the listener with an excitingly honest account of a real performance. The balance is simply what felt right to the performers (or conductor) at the time and there is little scope for fiddling around with the mix afterwards. For the engineer the art of Monophonic recording is in carefully choosing the right microphone and positioning it in exactly the right place, ie the perfect listening position.
Virtuoso gypsy jazz duo ‘Echoes of France’ (Fenner Curtis violin, and Andy Wood guitar) were looking for an authentic 1930’s/40’s sound for their latest recordings, harking back to the golden years of Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli. We had a very pleasant session experimenting with vintage microphones. In the space of a few hours recording in glorious Mono we laid down 12 complete tracks. No overdubs, no mixing, no editing, no plugins, no special effects! However, what we did end up with is 3 different microphone recordings to choose from!
The shoot-out is between the mighty Siemens SM3 ribbon mic, an STC4017 and an STC4021. Although they are all from the 1930’s each of these microphones has a very distinctive tonal character.
Take a listen to this short clip of each of the three mics. CLICK HERE.
Please leave any comments below and vote for the winner.
When I told my photographer that this picture was for a Microphone Shootout she suggested that perhaps they should be wearing cowboy hats for the occasion !!!
ECHOES OF FRANCE ALBUM OUT NOW!
Recorded on the mighty Siemens SM3 Ribbon Microphone.
Potted History Lesson
Lavalier or Lavaliere or Lavalliere is a term used by the jewellery trade. It usually refers to a particular type of pendant, consisting of a large jewel hung on a chain around the wearer’s neck, that is said to have been popularised by either:- a) La Duchesse de la Vallière (1644-1710), a mistress of King Louis XIV of France, or b) the French actress Eve Lavalliere (1866-1929).
Hence, it is easy to see why the blossoming film and television industries, in the mid 20th century, came to borrow the term and apply it to a small personal microphone hung on a cord around the neck of the actor or presenter.
By the 1950’s American companies such as RCA , Electro-Voice, and Shure made a range of purpose built Lavalier microphones. In Europe, AKG and Sennheiser also manufactured a number of very successful models.
Eventually, with the proliferation of miniature condenser mics in the 80’s and 90’s, the old Lavalier microphone on a cord around the presenter’s neck gradually disappeared. Although the cord has long gone, and the new miniature mics are simply held in place with clips or micropore tape, they have still retained the name Lavalier, although these days it very often sadly gets abbreviated to ‘Lav’.
End of Lesson
Here is a real gem of a Vintage Lavalier from the late 1960s the AKG D109
The D109 was designed in the mid 1960’s to meet the demands of high quality speech reproduction on television and in film. It was beautifully made, with a sleek nickel plated brass body, and ingeniously engineered so that it could be used in a number of different ways :-
- With the Lavalier collar removed it makes a very unobtrusive interview microphone. Even today there are few omni dynamic interview mics this small (less than 3 inches).
- With the collar in place it can be used as a classic Lavalier hung around the presenter’s neck.
- It also has a clip on the back of the collar for fixing to clothing.
- By raising the collar above the microphone grill the high frequency response can be increased to compensate for the mic being positioned on the performer’s chest below the chin.
- With the collar raised it can also be hidden under light-weight clothing.
AKG D-109 Lavalier Dynamic
CLICK HERE for Short voice clip.
In 1932 Marconi-Reisz carbon mics were still in regular use but their days were already numbered.
The other day I purchased a copy of the BBC Year Book 1933 from my usual supplier (ebay). The book covers the period from October 1931 to October 1932. Inside I found an absolutely fascinating chapter on the latest developments in microphones and associated technology heralding the move away from the old carbon mics and the arrival of experimental condensers and the brand new Western Electric dynamic mic. It also describes an innovative new development in the form of equalisation circuitry for correcting anomalies in the frequency response of microphones. The birth of EQ as we know it today. Exciting times!
Here below I have scanned the whole chapter.
Here is some more info about the slack diaphragm condenser
With the arrival of the iconic BBC-Marconi Type ‘A’ ribbon microphone in 1934 the somewhat unreliable condensers featured above were gradually phased out.
The 1933 Year Book also celebrates the opening of the BBC’s fabulous new art deco London headquarters in 1932.
Posted in BBC Microphones, Microphone techniques Ancient & Modern, Vintage Brochures and Tech Specs, Vintage Microphones
Tagged 1930s Microphone, BBC Microphones, History of microphone EQ, Marconi-Reisz microphone, old carbon mics, STC Condenser microphone, STC4017, The Bomb condenser microphone, The Voight Slack Diaphragm Condenser, Vintage Microphone, Voight Microphone, WE630A
Every time ‘The King’s Speech’ is re-run on TV I find myself foaming at the mouth and whining-on about the microphones…… or more specifically about the WRONG BBC microphones! This annoys the hell out of my family, and so I thought I would get it off my chest in a blog post!
Don’t misunderstand me, I love the film. Fabulous acting etc etc. BUT…………….. The spring mounted carbon microphones that appear throughout, and most irritatingly of all in that final speech, were phased out by the BBC around 1935!!!! Surely the producers knew that? Perhaps they thought the carbon mics looked cool, or more intimidating in the close-ups? Whatever the reason, they are quite simply WRONG! By 1938 the STC4017C was used almost exclusively by the BBC for outside broadcasting. Indeed here is an uncomfortable looking George VI making a speech in 1938 with a typical array of STC4017s.
Also, there would certainly have been at least 2 microphones, as that was standard BBC practice at the time. The lower mic in the picture facing upwards at an angle is positioned to pick up the voice as the speaker looks down at his notes and moves off axis from the main pair. (Chamberlain can be seen with a similar setup declaring war on Germany)
I also found this fabulous Pathe News Reel from 1938. This is what The King’s Speech should have looked (and sounded) like!
Ok rant over! Phew, that’s better!
The AKG D224E is an extraordinary combination of revolutionary design and high quality engineering, which conspires to challenge preconceptions about the capabilities of a dynamic microphone. Not only does it have the expected performance of a quality dynamic:-
- ability to handle high SPLs,
- fat, punchy midrange,
- tonally smooth high end,
- no requirement for external power,
BUT…………….. It also has all the characteristics of a good condenser!
- Wide flat frequency response 20hz to 20Khz !!
- Excellent transient response.
- Tight, uniform, cardioid polar pattern.
- Sound arriving from any angle of incidence is completely uncoloured.
- Rear attenuation is -20db at all frequencies, giving excellent rejection characteristics.
The D224 (in common with the D200, D202 and D222) does not exhibit proximity effect.
This AKG Brochure below, from 1970, gives detailed technical information and fully explains the design of this extraordinary microphone.
AKG 2 Way Mics 1970
So what does it sound like? On the morning this mic arrived from my usual supplier (ebay) the sun was shining (as it always does when a new mic arrives!) and the birds outside in the garden were singing loudly. I set up a mic stand outside my back door .
Click here for my first recording with the D224.
Here is another sound clip recorded at a live Rock’n’Roll show. It demonstrates the ability of the D224E to handle high level transients and reject unwanted sounds.
Click here for Rock’n’Roll Guitar.
Over the coming weeks I will add some more recorded examples. I really do like the sound of this mic!
As with the AKG D222, the accurate off axis response of the D224 has , over many years , been perfect for politicians who don’t tend to talk straight ( into the mic)!
Notice the use of the additional pop shield, to prevent wind (and hot air) imploding on the low end capsule!
P.P.S. If you are a fan of the D224 you may also be interested to check out the Oktava MD-186.