Category Archives: Microphone techniques Ancient & Modern

AKG C451E (Circa 1970) A Classic from The Golden Age of AKG

Today AKG is little more than a brand name owned by a multi-national corporation. Like a tired old rock star it rests on the laurels of its former glory whilst still churning out a few old favourites.

However, if we go back to the late 1960’s and into the 70’s AKG was a powerhouse of innovative design and high-tech engineering. Major achievements include the D200 series which took dynamic microphone design to a peak which even today sees few competitors. This period also saw the legendary C12 condenser evolve into the C414 which continues to be a favourite in studios across the world.

In 1969 AKG launched its newly developed Condenser Microphone System (CMS) using audio frequency circuitry with Field Effect Transistors. This was a fully modular microphone system based around the C451E, the inherent features of which were claimed to be;

  • Low noise level,
  • Extremely high reliability and
  • Life-long sta­bility.                                                                                                    

AKG C451E with old style logo

AKG C451E no serial number

A selection of interchangeable capsules and extension tubes could be purchased along with a variety of accessories covering a wide range of recording and live sound applications. The CMS proved to be enormously popular with broadcasters, TV companies and studios throughout the 1970’s and beyond, and can be seen on many BBC music programmes of the period.

These contemporary AKG brochures/guides explain the features of the CMS in detail.

AKG C451 CMS Technical Specifications

Technical Info AKG CMS microphones.

AKG CK1 CapsuleAKG C451E with capsule removed.AKG C451E body with CK1 Capsule

C451E original case interior AKG C451E Original case

My C451E

Judging from the old style of logo and the lack of an externally stamped serial number on my newly purchased C451E (see top 2 pics), I think that it must be a fairly early example. It is in perfect condition and even the case is hardly marked. As always it was a bargain!

So What Does it Sound Like?    

Sadly, like many, many other people I am stuck at home at the moment practicing social distancing, and so recording music with my beautiful new C451E will have to wait until the current COVID-19 pandemic dies down and we can all get back to work!

Meanwhile Stay safe!

P.S.   Went for a walk today and recorded this:-    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5MHEL6ZPHI

 

Recording Marimba a New Experience!

One thing I really love about this job is that there is always something new to learn! Having worked as a Sound Engineer for more than 30 years, until last week I had never recorded a Marimba.Marimba One

What an amazing instrument! With a very wide frequency response and huge dynamic range the marimba produces a stunning variety of colour quite unlike any other percussion instrument I can think of. Such tonal subtlety coupled with a battery of rapid transients requires a careful choice of microphone/s.

I did consider using a pair of Sennheiser MD441 dynamics as they have the required frequency response and have an excellent track record on other varieties of percussion, producing a big ‘punchy’ sound with plenty of attack.  I also considered going down the condenser route with a pair of AKG C414s. Great frequency response and bags of detail.  But………… In the end I realised that what was really needed to capture those rapid transients and subtle detail was a high quality stereo ribbon!  In many respects a ribbon microphone has the best of both worlds. Being a variety of dynamic it can pack a great deal of attack and ‘punch’ and on the other hand has an incredibly light diaphragm (ribbon) which can react to transients and fine detail with incredible precision. There is also an intangible ‘smoothness’ to ribbons that even the best condensers just don’t seem to have.

Extinct Audio’s ‘Valkyr’ BM9x2 Stereo Ribbon Microphone was placed on a tall stand, stage centre, about 2m away from the instrument.  The mic set in M-S configuration.

CLICK HERE to hear an excerpt from virtuoso percussionist 18 year old Darcy Beck (winner of Gloucestershire Young Musician of The Year 2020) performing ‘Prism’ by Japanese composer Keiko Abe.Darcy Beck marimbaDarcy Beck marimba

In Conclusion

Apart from capturing the fine detail of even the most rapid passages the ‘Valkyr’ also delivers a very pleasing impression of the reverberant acoustics of the hall.

Season’s Greeting to All My Readers! (Just in case you need some more Christmas Music!)

Usually at this time of the year I post a slightly crazy photo, but this year I thought you might like an audio Christmas card! This video is a piece of Christmassy joy captured by the Extinct Audio BM9x2 ‘Valkyr’ Stereo Ribbon Microphone. Apart from the fabulous audio quality and detailed stereo image this microphone is also extremely unobtrusive (see pics), making it perfect for this type of live performance.

No EQ or processing has been used.

Many thanks to Pam Smith at http://www.petalpics.co.uk/ for the great photos.

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!

Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 Ribbon Microphone (Circa 1950) A rare piece of British cinema history.

Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 Side viewGaumont-Kalee Type 492 Side view2Gaumont-Kalee Type 492Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 Box

I bought this microphone out of curiosity! It caught my attention because I had never seen or heard of it before (shock, horror!).  It came in its original felt lined wooden box, of the kind normally reserved for valuable scientific instruments. The name Gaumont I recalled from the old UK cinema chain but beyond that I knew nothing.

Researching this microphone has proved to be a challenging task.

It would appear that the Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 was never on sale to the general public. It was marketed along with other Gaumont-Kalee equipment purely within the cinema industry. So far the only contemporary references I have found have been in trade journals such as British Kinematography and Cine Technician.

It was manufactured by British Acoustic Films Ltd (B.A.F.), which by 1947, along with Gaumont-Kalee, was one of the many companies which made up The Rank Organisation.

Specifically designed as a boom mounted microphone, the Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 was most likely used to record dialogue and music for the classic British movies made at The Rank Organisation’s studios in the 1950’s. By this time The Rank Organisation in Britain had become one of the biggest film companies in the world. They owned 5 major studios including Pinewood and Ealing and Denham. Rank also owned and controlled distribution for several hundred UK cinemas.

B.A.F., under the Gaumont-Kalee brand, produced a number of sound recorders for the cinema industry, both optical and magnetic. Below is an advert from Cine Technician March-April 1953. My assumption based on this is that the Type 492 ribbon mic (and the Type 493 condenser not covered here) were designed for use with these machines. A 1947 BBC technical report on The G-K Sound on Film Recorder also makes passing mention of 2 microphones being supplied with the machine.

The Gaumont-Kalee Portable Recording Equipment pictured here features 35mm or 17.5mm sprocketed magnetic film which could be run in sync with a professional movie camera. In post-production this enabled easy editing and transfer.Gaumont-Kalee Portable Recording Equipment

These days when we talk about portable sound recording equipment we are maybe thinking of something the size of a mobile phone. The ‘portable’ equipment described above would have filled the boot of a car and required fairly muscular crew to carry it! However, its mobility nevertheless extended the possibilities of location recording both for TV and film production. (Also worth mentioning that magnetic film made a considerable improvement to the available frequency response.)

From this advert it can be noted that other users included BBC Television, Universal, a number of Newsreel companies, San Angel Inn (Mexico) and Dear Film (Rome).

 

Technical Information on the Gaumont-Kalee Type 492

In the absence of any detailed manufacturer’s literature, below I have made some observations and speculation about the design of this mic.

Noise has always been the enemy of the motion picture sound recordist, whether it be camera and equipment noise, on-set noise, tape hiss, or electrical interference generated by lighting. Trying to obtain clarity, especially in dialogue, has always been something of a challenge. This was particularly true in the age before shotgun mics.

  • In common with all figure of eight microphones the dead zones at the sides of the Type 492 could be directed to minimise unwanted mechanical noise from cameras and other equipment.
  • The yellow wiring around the ribbon is cunningly arranged to form a humbucking loop, helping to reject electromagnetically induced–noise. This is very useful when operating in the vicinity of lighting equipment and large mains transformers radiating strong magnetic fields.
  • In addition, the interior of the grill is lined with ultra-fine wire mesh which not only provides a certain amount of blast protection and back pressure for the ribbon but also creates an effective Faraday Cage.Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 inside 1Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 inside 2
  • The interesting-looking baffle arrangement on either side of the ribbon has the effect of producing a boost to the high end frequency response. This may provide greater clarity to dialogue, especially when recording at a distance (in order to keep the boom mounted 492 out of the camera shot). It was also common practice at this time to boost signals going to magnetic tape at around 4kHz on the way in and cut by the same amount on playback. This returned the desired signal to flat and reduced unwanted tape hiss by several db.Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 inside 3Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 inside 4
  • The connector pictured above is a Reslo. This mic came with a 3 pin Amphenol. When I took the mic apart it became clear that this was a modification as it was chipped and had been filed to fit! Stewart Tavener at Xaudia informed me that the two 492s he had previously repaired had Reslo connectors. The Reslo fitted perfectly. Thanks Stewart!
  • Unlike many of the ribbon microphones of the period which have impedances of 50 ohms or less, this Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 has an impedance of 300 ohms with a strong output signal which requires considerably less amplification than many of its contemporaries.

So what does the Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 sound like? CLICK HERE.

 In Conclusion.

Having emailed academic institutions, museums, collectors and fellow sound engineers all over the world, so far I have only tracked down a handful people who have come across the Type 492. The serial number on mine is 132 and I assume from the complete dearth of information that only a limited number were made. Sadly, much of the recording equipment from that period has long since gone in the bin along with company records, technical literature and drawings. Trying to unearth information about the Gaumont-Kalee Type 492 has highlighted to me the growing problem of vanishing history in the field of audio technology. Living links to the past are dying out and records are being lost. It is therefore important to preserve what we can before it is too late!

NEWS FLASH UPDATE  12 Nov.2019  

   have kindly unearthed this single page ad for the Gaumont- Kalee Type 492 and Type 493  in a May 1951 GB-Kalee product catalogue ‘Everything for the Cinema and Theatre’.  GB Kalee Type 492 Advert 1951

UPDATE 28th Nov.

Stroke of luck! Have just purchased this GB-Kalee Catalogue for 1950 on ebay and here on page 4 are the frequency response graphs for the Type 492 and 493!

GB-Kalee 1950 Catalogue. Cover

Gaumont British-Kalee proudly projects it’s brand across the world! The British Empire is marked in pink. Within a couple of decades the Empire was gone along with GB-Kalee and most of British industry!  (N.B. Even by 1950 the map above was out of date. India got rid of us in 1947 !)

 


Gaumont-Kalee Catalogue Page 4

Useful Links.

https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/an-engineer-works-on-a-laboratory-set-up-to-develop-news-photo/90777079?adppopup=true   Taken at B.A.F. factory at Mitcheldean in Gloucestershire in 1953, on the workbench is a Gaumont-Kalee Type 492. The zeppelin shaped mic up in the air is the Type 493 condenser.

http://xaudiaelektrik.blogspot.com/2014/02/motm-gaumont-kalee-type-1492-ribbon-mic.html  It is interesting to note that the microphone featured here has a 1 inserted in front of the 492. Apart from having an impedance of 50 ohms, what the difference was I have no idea.

‘The Beatles Mic’ Reslo RB/L Black Label (Circa 1961)

Reslosound Ltd were a British company based in Romford, Essex, manufacturing microphones and electrical equipment throughout the 50’s and 60’s. In recent years the Reslo RB has become known as ‘The Beatles Mic’ because of its association with The Beatles early days at The Cavern Club.

However, as I recall (‘cos I’m that old), the Reslo RB was simply a popular vocal mic with many up-and-coming young beat groups in the clubs and pubs around Liverpool and Manchester. Like the Shure SM58 today, the Reslo RB was not, perhaps, the greatest vocal mic in the world, but it wasn’t bad either, and most importantly it was pitched at a price that gigging musicians could afford! In 1962 the Reslo RB/L could be purchased for £9.12s, which was less than half the price of an AKG D19B. A Sennheiser MD21 cost £16gns, or if you couldn’t quite afford the Reslo you could always settle for a Grampian DP4 L at £8. For their first gig at The Cavern in 1961 The Beatles were paid £5.

So how on earth did a delicate ribbon microphone survive whilst an enthusiastic singer (straining to get heard through a 50watt Vox PA) screamed ‘Twist and Shout’ at a distance of half an inch? (Or in the case of my mate’s band, an old valve amp built into a re-purposed rabbit hutch!) Reslosound clearly knew their market and gave this problem some thought. To avoid instant annihilation of the ribbon, Reslo had a cunning plan! Firstly the RB was designed with the ribbon motor facing backwards i.e. with the ribbon nearest the back of the microphone and thus somewhat shielded by the magnet. Secondly the RBs were supplied with a set of fine fibreglass ‘ acoustic correction pads ‘.

Reslo Filter Pads Kit 1961

These had a range of functions, described in detail in the Reslo Instruction Manual. However, the most important purpose of the pads was to prevent the implosion of breath on the ribbon.

ResloRB_INSTRUCTIONS_TECHDATA

In the almost inevitable event of catastrophic failure Reslo also had ‘Plan B’ in the form of replacement ribbons which came mounted on a plastic frame ready to do a quick swap.  It was also not uncommon for musicians to replace a blown ribbon themselves using the thin aluminium foil that came in cigarette packets! Having heard the results this is not to be recommended……… but it worked!

Rolling Stones 1963

Another bunch of likely lads with a Reslo RB. The Rolling Stones in 1963

The BBC Connection

In 1961 the BBC were looking around for small, unobtrusive microphones to use on TV. After serious deliberation, and thorough testing of the Reslo RBM/T, the Research Department concluded that ‘The performance of the microphone fell short of broadcasting standards’ (a night out at The Cavern would have told them that!).  However, the cheapness and robust construction of the RB was also noted, and they therefore suggested implementing a number of simple changes to the design which would bring it up to broadcasting specification. The full report can be read here…….

 1961 BBC Modifications.

The modified broadcast microphone is known as the Reslo VRM/T

The VRM/T was sold to the BBC for the princely sum of £10 per microphone.BBC TV Grandstand Reslo VRM/T

Home Taping

The Reslo RB was also popular with amateur tape recording enthusiasts. Once again, it gave good results without breaking the bank. The British tape recorder manufacturer Ferrograph sold Reslos with some of their machines and made their own in-line transformers to match them to the input. Here is a review of the RB by Fred Judd, who edited Amateur Tape Recording magazine for a number of years……. ResloRB_review by F Judd

Reslos also appeared in re-badged versions for various equipment manufacturers including VOX and GEC.

Conclusion

Fronting many famous (and not-so-famous) names of the 60’s the Reslo RB has rightly earned a place in rock ’n’ roll history, and thanks to its solid design there are many examples still in circulation. With a bit of a clean and a new ribbon they will probably carry on rocking for another 60 years.

So what does the Reslo RB/L sound like?

CLICK HERE Pete Gill with Reslo RBL

P.S.    If your Reslo RB needs re-ribboning or if you fancy upgrading to BBC spec http://xaudia.com/ do a fantastic job.

 

Extinct Audio ‘Valkyr’ BMx2 Blumlien Stereo Ribbon Microphone (2019)

Following the success and critical acclaim of the ‘Viking’ BM9, Extinct Audio have continued the Nordic theme with their latest creation the ‘Valkyr’ BMx2 Blumlien Stereo Ribbon Microphone. If you are looking for a stereo ribbon mic which sounds fantastic and looks stunning this is it! The immediate reaction of performers and audio colleagues is ‘Wow, what is that’?  Even the ‘Fenrir’ anti-vibration mount is a beautiful and effective piece of engineering, gripping the mic firmly and making it easy to position.

Extinct Audio 'Valkyr' BMx2 Blumlien Stereo Ribbon Microphone

These microphones are hand built by Extinct Audio at their workshop just outside York here in the UK. The ribbons are painstakingly tuned and perfectly matched.

So what does it sound like? 

  1. Acoustic Guitar Recorded in M-S Stereo.Extinct Audio 'Valkyr' M-S Stereo
  2. Swing From Paris. Recorded in X-Y configuration.Swing From Paris
  3. Church Organ. Recorded in M-S StereoValkyr Organ Recital
  4. Baroque Chamber Orchestra. M-S ConfigurationBlog pic 1
  5. Eight A Cappella Singers followed by 70 Strong Choir . X-Y ConfigurationSet-up for Choir
  6. Cello and Orchestra. Y-Y ConfigurationRebecca Mc Naught playing Haydn Cello Concerto. edit

Minimal Mic’ing.

I have always been a fan of minimal mic’ing. The more open microphones on any recording the more distortion and low-level noise. On multi-mic’d orchestral and choral recordings almost inevitably there are also an abundance of out-of-phase signals to deal with, (caused by sound arriving at different mics at different times). In reverberant acoustics this problem is compounded by large amounts of reflected sound.

The last 3 recordings above demonstrate all the advantages of using a single, high-quality pair of coincidentally mounted microphones. In these examples the two microphones are encased in one body, the Extinct Audio ‘Valkyr’ BM9x2 . For all three concerts the mic was set on a tall stand positioned dead centre, (angled slightly down towards the back of the performers), a couple of metres behind the conductor.

  1. The acceptance angle of the microphones either in M-S or X-Y configuration easily takes in the whole orchestra/choir.
  2. The audio arriving at the front of the mics is phase coherent.
  3. The stereo image produced has excellent depth and positional accuracy, such that the listener can easily identify where individual players/singers were sitting/standing!
  4. The balance obtained completely reflects the conductor’s direction.
  5. The rich acoustics are also accurately reproduced, capturing a clear impression of the building.

What’s not to like?

Update March 2020     Recording MarimbaDarcy Beck marimba v2

 

For more information: https://www.extinctaudio.co.uk/