Category Archives: Vintage Microphones

Sennheiser MD408 N Super-Cardioid Dynamic Gooseneck Microphone. 1960’s/70’s

Sennheiser MD408N
Sennheiser MD408N

Originally designed for speech and vocals the Sennheiser MD408 N is a solid, reliable, workhorse microphone which is useful for many tasks. It performs well on guitar cabs, delivering a rich beefy sound with plenty of midrange punch. The flexible gooseneck makes it particularly easy to position. It is also useful on snare and a variety of percussion. Once again the gooseneck is very handy for manoeuvring in awkward spaces. Being a super-cardioid it also has excellent feedback rejection.

Some microphones were destined to appear with the stars, glittering centre stage with Elvis or Tina Turner or David Bowie. Others however, never quite made it to the limelight. Back in the 60’s and 70’s the MD408 N was often used as a humble studio talkback mic. Even so, when it comes to dull publicity photos the shot below takes a lot of beating!

Sennheiser Advert 1969 for MD408N
Sennheiser MD408N  Klien Tuchel Connector and standard 3/8 inch stand adapter.
Sennheiser MD408N Klien Tuchel Connector and standard 3/8 inch stand adapter.
Sennheiser MD408N On/Off switch

The MD408 also has a silent on/off switch which is very handy if it is used for talkback or as a lectern mic. The neat square plastic actuator has sadly gone missing on mine but you can see it in the publicity photo.

CLICK HERE to listen to the MD408 on rock’n’roll Guitar at a live show.

Conclusion

Whilst it may not have the kudos and charisma of the more famous Sennheiser Models such as the MD421 and MD441 it is nevertheless a recommended addition to any collection.

LABOR W MD7 Omnidirectional Dynamic Microphone Circa 1950.

A Short History Lesson.

In 1945, just a few weeks after the end of World War 2 Fritz Sennheiser and 7 fellow engineers from the University of Hanover set up a business designing and producing a range of electrical equipment in a laboratory called Laboratorium Wennebostel (“LABOR W” for short). The laboratory was named after the village of Wennebostel in the municipality of Wedemark, where it had been relocated during the war. LABOR W began building microphones in 1946 and by 1953 (see catalogue below) they had developed a whole range of microphones, including the legendary MD 21 which is still in production today. By 1955 the company had expanded to 250 employees and in 1958 changed its name to Sennheiser.  

These days microphones from the early LABOR W period are becoming increasingly rare, so when this unusual looking MD7H turned up on eBay, ‘untested’ but very cheap, I immediately clicked ‘Buy Now’.

LABOR W MD7H   front view
LABOR W MD7H  front view 2
LABOR W MD7H rear view
The ‘H’ indicates that this is the High impedance version.

The photograph on eBay however, gave no sense of scale and it wasn’t until the microphone arrived that I realised just how small it is! I was reminded of the anecdote of the person who buys a gorgeous sofa online at a bargain price and when it arrives it turns out to be for a dolls house! Had I seen the LABOR W advert below that might have given me a clue.

LABOR W MD7 Advert early 1950's
‘Our most powerful moving coil microphone
MD7 for speech’

Below are the microphones featured in the 1953 LABOR W Catalogue.

Microphones featured in the 1953 LABOR W Catalogue. Page 1
Microphones featured in the 1953 LABOR W Catalogue. Page 2

(Translation of catalogue description above)

‘MD7 Speech microphone

Particularly good speech intelligibility due to emphasis on high frequencies. Therefore recommended for announcement and dictation systems. The soft rubber housing makes the MD7 insensitive to rough handling. Available in low and high impedance versions.

Dimensions: 76 x 48 x 48mm.’

For a sense of scale here below is the baby MD7 along with its Senneiser cousins the MD21 , MD421 and the mighty MD441.

LABOR W MD7 along with its Senneiser cousins the MD21 , MD421 and the mighty MD441.

Innovative design

In the early 50’s the soft rubber housing of the MD7 was an innovative design feature, and indeed made it very robust and resistant to rough handling. I haven’t tried it, but I think it would probably bounce if dropped from a height! It therefore came as no surprise once I had soldered a jack plug on to the cable it burst into life working perfectly.

So what does it sound like? CLICK HERE

LABOR W production came to an end in 1958 and the name changed to SENNHEISER. The rest is history!

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.

Electro-Voice DO56L Dynamic Shock Mount Omni circa 1980

Perfect for the socially distanced interview!Electro Voice DO56LElectro Voice DO56L OmniElectro Voice DO56L with original case

Following in the company’s long tradition the Electro-Voice DO56L is a triumph of innovative design and precision engineering. The 11 and a half inch 56L is the Long version of the DO56 and was intended as the perfect tool for TV news gathering or Talk Show Hosts. Even the dull ‘Silver tone beige’ finish was carefully chosen to be unobtrusive and none-reflective under TV lighting.

Electro-Voice advertising material from 1980 featured below explains in detail the design of this exceptional new microphone. The clever arrangement of the internal shock mounting is particularly impressive.

Electro Voice DO56L Literature. page1Electro Voice DO56L Literature. page2Electro Voice DO56L Literature. page 3

Phil Donahue Edit

Can’t beat a bit of subtle product placement/celebrity endorsement!

So What Does it Sound Like?  CLICK HERE for spoken word clip.

What else can it be used for?

Back in the 1950’s when AKG came up with the D12 they fondly imagined that they had designed a general purpose instrument and vocal mic. The marketing blurb featured photos of pretty girls warbling sweetly into the new microphone and indeed it was a great success with singers. Then along came the studio engineers who took a look at the tech spec and said, ‘Hey…. I bet with that frequency response curve and high SPL rating the D12 would sound great on bass drum’!  Within a few years it was on bass drums all over the world! In fact these days it is often referred to as the ‘legendary bass drum mic’ (no mention of vocals). So when I see marketing literature declaring a microphone to have a particular purpose I always find myself imagining (based on the tech spec) what else it might be good for.

Although the Electro-Voice DO56L was very much designed with demands of TV journalism in mind and a frequency response tailored to the human voice, I feel sure that it could also have a range of other uses. So let me see now……………

More Sound Clips to follow as soon as COVID-19 allows!

 

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.

UNITRA Tonsil MCU-53 Cardioid Condenser (1970’s/80’s)

History

In the early 1970’s MB Electronic (now known as MBHO) produced the MB C540. This was a high quality battery powered condenser microphone. It boasted an almost flat frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz with a slight dip at the low end. The MB C540 was modular in construction and had the option of 2 capsules (omni or cardioid).

MB C 540 AdvertMB C 540 Frequency response

In the UK it appeared as the PEERLESS MBC-540.

Reviewed here in Studio Sound May 1977.Review. Peerless MBC 540 - Studio Sound - May 1977

Meanwhile in Communist Era Eastern Europe.

This German design was also manufactured under licence by the Polish state owned electronics company UNITRA Tonsil and marketed as the MCO-30 (omni) and the MCU-31 (cardioid). According to Polish sources, the only difference between the German and Polish versions appears to have been variation in quality control at the Tonsil factory. This lead to some Polish mics reputedly sounding rather better than others.

Around 1980 the design was modified and updated. Whether this was done by MB Electronic or by Tonsil’s own engineers is not clear. (MB licenced a number of different designs to Tonsil but sadly MBHO now have no records relating to this microphone !)…….. Anyhow, the resulting microphone was somewhat shorter in length, the battery powering was changed from 2 x 15v to 1 x 6v and the previously unbalanced output was upgraded to balanced. The WCU-31 and WCO-30 capsules were retained and the frequency response appears pretty much the same. The new model was the UNITRA Tonsil MCU-53 (cardioid) / MCO-52 (omni).  The Tonsil 50 series continued in production through the 1980’s. In the late 80’s a further modification was carried out to provide 48v phantom power. This model was the MC-265.

UNITRA Tonsil MCU-53

UNITRA Tonsil MCU-53UNITRA Tonsil MCU-53 exploded view

A clever modular design. Well constructed and finished in shining nickel plate.

Tonsil WCU-31 Cardioid capsule. Front view

WCU-31 Cardioid capsule.

WCU-31 Cardioid capsule. Rear view.

Unusual 5 pin DIN connection.  (below)

Pins 4&5 in the plug are shorted together to provide a ‘switch’ for the battery. When the cable is plugged in the power is thereby switched on. N.B. This also means that if you accidently leave it connected when not in use you end up with a flat battery!! Arrrgh!

5 Pin DIN socket on Tonsil MCU-53 5 Pin DIN plug Tonsil MCU-53 Tonsil MCU-53 5 pin DIN Plug

Technical Specifications.

Pages from MCO-52/ MCU 53 Owner’s Manual UNITRA Tonsil MCU-53 ManualUNITRA Tonsil MCU-53 Manual P2UNITRA Tonsil MCU-53 Manual P3

In Conclusion.

Being battery powered made the MCU-52 /53 suitable for use with cameras and tape machines which in the 70’s and 80’s often did not provide phantom power. This made it a popular choice for wildlife and location recording.

When there is once again an opportunity to record music I will be interested to see how the MCU-53 compares to the AKG C451E as their frequency responses appear to be somewhat similar. I suspect the Tonsil may have a bit more self-noise but tonally may give the AKG a run for its money. Let’s wait and see…………

Credits.

Many thanks to Adam Wilma for sending me this pristine example of the UNITRA Tonsil MCU-53. Very generous. And thanks to my old mate blues guitarist Keith Thompson for bringing it back from Poland. His March tour was sadly cancelled after only 2 shows as Poland went into COVID-19 lockdown. Luckily for me the second gig was in Adam’s home town of Torun and he kindly dropped the mic off for Keith to bring back before the borders closed!

 

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

 

Acel GM-17B. A ‘Mystery’ Polish Microphone (Circa 1987)

This wonderfully shiny and somewhat obscure vintage microphone was kindly sent to me as a Christmas gift by Adam Wilma, one of my Polish readers!

It is interesting, not because of its fabulous quality, but because it provides a small window into a fairly grim chapter of Polish history.

Acel GM-17B Cardioid Dynamic Microphone

GM-17B Cardioid Dynamic Stage Microphone

GM-17B Box

After 30 years of Communist misrule, the Polish economy was in an extremely precarious state with serious shortages of many goods. Shops were empty with long queues in the streets. In March 1979 the Ministry of Internal Trade listed 280 products for which demand was difficult to satisfy and the list grew longer in the following year. 1980 saw the formation of the free trade union Solidarity and the end of Communism seemed to be in sight. However, in 1981 General Jaruzelski declared martial law and Solidarity was banned. The USA imposed sanctions and for the next 10 years the Polish economy struggled along in a state of collapse. This lead to the rapid growth of a black or ‘grey’ market. In these conditions a ‘second’ or ‘parallel’ private sector economy flourished.

Acel GM-!7B Dynamic MicrophoneSmall scale private businesses were broadly tolerated and allowed to function supplying demands that could not be met by the ‘official’ economy. However, if a company became too large and successful it risked attracting unwelcome attention from the Communist bureaucracy and might be shut down and its assets seized. This probably explains why the Acel GM-17B microphone pictured in this post, with its original packaging, gives away little clue about the company who made it or their whereabouts! So far all attempts to trace the manufacturer have failed! Goods like this were sold through local craft associations/co-operatives, which was a way of avoiding the many permits and licences that were officially required. All we know is that this particular microphone was sold in 1987 by the Multi-Branch Co-operative in Leszno. The previous owner informed me that it cost 15,330 old zloty. (For comparison, in the same year a kilo of carrots cost 50 zloty, and a kilo of tomatoes 200 zloty).

1980’s Polish Music Scene

For musicians this was a difficult time and few could afford good quality equipment imported from abroad. The electrical industry had been particularly affected by shortages of raw materials, components and machinery. Local manufacturers did their best to meet demand with limited resources. Sadly the resulting equipment was often somewhat less than ideal! Paradoxically, this decade saw a flowering of rock music in Poland. In no other communist country was there such freedom for musicians. It was not by accident – the communist authorities calculated that for young people it would be a good way to neutralize frustration. Freedom for various subcultures also served to draw young people away from the Catholic Church, which was perceived to be their greatest threat. It was not by chance that the dates of the biggest music festivals coincided with important dates in the Catholic calendar.

Polish Plug Problems!  

One Acel GM-17B Connector.slightly annoying feature of Polish-made gear of this period is the non-standard connector! Although this may look like a standard Klein Tuchel socket (as found on German and Austrian mics of the 60’s and 70’s), the locking ring is slightly larger with a different thread. I am told that Polish-made guitars often came with non-standard jack sockets. Slightly bigger or smaller! Presumably this meant that you would have to purchase a special lead from the maker at extra cost. Or maybe it was to avoid patent infringement? Who knows?………….Anyway, an ordinary Tuchel plug on the GM-17B can be kept in place with a piece of gaffer tape!

So What Does it Sound Like?  

During the Communist era, here in Western Europe we were always lead to believe that products made in the USSR and Eastern Europe were bound to be inferior to anything made in the West! Indeed, even now I am assured by a musical connection in Poland that Polish-made gear of this period was very poor and that this microphone can probably be summed up by one word: ‘CRAP’!!  Anyhow, I don’t like to jump to conclusions so I thought I would give it a fair trial……………..

CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE GM-17B in action…….. and reach your own verdict!

Many thanks to Keith Thompson for the tasty guitars and vocals (I played shaker and programmed the kick!) and thanks once again to Adam Wilma for sending this interesting and unusual microphone.

 

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!