Category Archives: Vintage PA Microphone

Sennheiser MD441-U Another Classic Dynamic Microphone! (1971 to the present)

Following on somewhat from the theme of the previous post.

Sennheiser MD441-U

Sennheiser MD441-U Grill

Launched in 1971 as Sennheiser’s flagship dynamic the MD441 has remained in production ever since. Famous users include David Bowie, Stevie Nicks and Elton John. It is a superb example of German design and engineering, and even today has few competitors. However, a microphone of this quality does not come cheap. A new MD441-U will set you back around £650.00 !

Cool Mic Dave!

When AKG produced the remarkable D224 (c1967) they went to great lengths with their twin capsule design to eliminate proximity effect, and create a wide, flat frequency response from 30Hz-20 kHz, regardless of distance from source. With the MD441 Sennheiser took a rather different approach. Whist the frequency response is similar to the AKG (30Hz-20kHz), Sennheiser allow the user of the MD441 to have creative control over proximity effect and also high end brilliance.0553

This is achieved using a five position bass roll-off switch and a 2 position brilliance switch. This provides a choice of 10 different frequency curves to suit the needs of a wide range of applications!

The Sennheiser MD441 User Manual below explains very thoroughly the operation and characteristics this extraordinary dynamic microphone.

Sennheiser MD441 Manual.

Sennheiser MD441-U

So What Does It Sound Like?  CLICK HERE for a drum clip illustrating the wide frequency response, dynamic range and highly detailed transient response.

CLICK HERE for Tenor sax and clarinet.

In Conclusion
Whether you choose heavy metal guitar at full volume, or a solo violin, a baroque recorder, or a baritone sax, the MD441 delivers! There is little to distinguish between what goes in and what comes out! It sounds remarkably natural on a wide range of acoustic instruments and the human voice. The Sennheiser MD441-U has all the subtlety normally associated with a high quality condenser combined with the smoothness and punch of a great dynamic. If I was only allowed one microphone in my ‘desert island’ studio this would probably be it!

Electro-Voice EV642, 643, & 644 Cardiline Microphones , (circa)1960

Ever since the advent of the ‘Talkies’ sound technicians have struggled to pick up speech in motion pictures with sufficient clarity. For many years the problem of getting the microphone close enough to the performers without it being in the camera shot was a constant challenge!  On the other hand if the mic was too far away the sound was often ruined by the pickup of unwanted surrounding noise.

Seeking to address this problem, in October 1959 Wayne A. Beaverson of Electro-Voice filed for a patent on a new type of directional microphone which could be successfully operated at a distance from the sound source.  At low frequencies this microphone exhibits the directional characteristics of a cardioid mic, with excellent rear rejection. As the frequency response rises it becomes a line mic with considerable attenuation of unwanted sound from the sides. Thus the new ‘Cardiline’ design provides excellent directivity right across its operating frequency range.

Electro-Voice Patent for Unidirectional Microphone 1963

The success of the new microphone was such that in 1963 Electro-Voice received an Academy Awards “Oscar” for the development of the model 642 Cardiline, The award, in part, read “To Electro-Voice for a highly directional dynamic line microphone… capable of picking up sound in situations where a microphone cannot be placed close to the sound source and where unwanted sounds are to be discriminated against.”

Although the Academy Award went to the 642, the microphone drawn and described in the original patent application was in fact its close cousin the EV644. At this point you might be wondering about the 643?  Well ……… The 643 was pretty much the same as the 642 except in one significant detail ……… it was just over 7 feet long!  All three of these mics were of the Cardiline pattern but they were aimed (excuse the pun) at different areas of the market. As we know, the 642 was tailored very much for the film and TV industry and came with an elastic mount for attaching to a boom.

EV642 Advert 1963

EV643  Advert

Electro-Voice_643 Advert

electrovoice_643_2

Although extravagant claims are made for the mighty 643 in the advert above, I suspect that this mic was in fact quite awkward and unwieldy to use (even sighting along the barrel!!) It is certainly hard to find any fond recollections of it. I came across one report from some poor sod who once spent an afternoon standing on the roof of a football stadium trying to follow the ball round the field!! Anyone who has ever operated a theatre follow spot will appreciate just how ludicrous that must have been!

Which leaves the 644. (My latest eBay bargain!)

electro-voice-ev644

Designed for use on stage, in theatres, auditoriums and churches,  the EV644 Sound Spot came with a microphone stand mounting and was finished in classic Electro-Voice chrome. You could also buy it with a dull matt paint finish,(non-reflective under lighting), but why do that when the chrome version just looks so rock’n’roll cool !

Allied Catalogue 1960

List Price $110. A bargain at $64.68 ! (Not cheap in 1960!)

ev644-back-end ev644-body-and-stand-mountev644-end-grillev644-original-box-insideev644-original-box

CLICK HERE for Voice recording at a distance of 12ft

CLICK HERE for Glockenspiel Recording

In Conclusion

The 1963 patent shown above acknowledges a number of earlier inventions relating to directional microphones. In particular the patents of Harry Olson dating back to 1939. However, the earlier inventions, (mostly involving complex arrangements of multiple tubes of differing lengths), were awkward and cumbersome. In contrast, Beaverson’s Cardiline microphone, using a single multi-path tube feeding a single cardioid capsule, was an uncomplicated work of genius. It was both effective and easy to use.

To this day the elements of Beaverson’s patent can to be seen in shotgun microphones all over the world.

Below are the Techincal Specification Sheets for all 3 microphones.

Electro-Voice 642 Spec Sheet

Electro-Voice 643 Tech Spec.

Electro-Voice 644 Tech Spec

Grampian DP4 (circa 1963) A trip down memory lane!

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.Grampian DP4  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!Grampian DP4 Box

Grampian DP4 with clip

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!

If you buy a DP4 make sure it comes with the 2 pin mic connector as these are as rare as hen’s teeth!

Grampian DP4 Label

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 )

tape-recording-uk-1969-04

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.)

grampian-dp4-page-1grampian-dp4-page-2grampian-dp4-page-3grampian-dp4-page-4

grampian-dp4-instruction-sheet-page-1028grampian-dp4-instruction-sheet-page-2030

How to take apart an AKG D2000 or a D170

Recently I noticed a thread on a well known web forum which specialises in disseminating misinformation on a range of gear. In this erudite discourse it was suggested that these ‘inexpensive’ old AKG dynamics were not made to last and that they couldn’t be taken apart or repaired by the user. This is of course complete bollocks!

Simply peel off the name strip from around the grill ( taking care to save it to put back on afterwards.)  The top half of the grill can then be easily unscrewed. If necessary the element can be gently pulled out from it’s rubber mounting. At the other end a single screw holds the XLR in place.

The AKG D170E  pictured below has been taken apart to clean and replace the disintegrated old foam inside the grill.

AKG D170E Dismantle 1AKG D170E Dismantle 2

N.B.

It is also worth noting that when they were new these ‘inexpensive’ old microphones cost more than a week’s wages for the average musician!

AKG dynamics from the 1970’s were well designed, solidly engineered and intended to last. This one is nearly 40 years old and still sounds as good as the day it left the factory!

AKG Catalogue 1978

AKG_Mics_1978_part1

AKG_Mics_1978_Part_2

AKGD170 Bass Drum Application

Apart from being mainly designed for heavy rock vocals I was interested to note that the AKGD170 is also recommended for Bass Drum ‘ (where other microphones sound too ‘bassy’ and muddy)’……………… So with that in mind I recently took it out on some live rock’n’roll gigs and was very pleased with the tight, punchy sound it produces. If more low end is required it also responds very well to additional EQ.

CLICK HERE for AKGD170 Bass Drum Clip

The Shure SM58 (1966-2016). 50 Years at the top!

The Shure SM58 is a microphone I have never owned, and it is not a model that I would particularly recommend. I can always think of a better alternative. Nevertheless, if I arrive to engineer a show and find that the theatre or the PA company have supplied SM58s for all the vocals I am not unhappy with the choice! It is unlikely that any of the vocals are going to sound amazing. At best they will probably sound good and at worst they will be ok. Part of the ‘magic’ of the Shure SM58 is that whilst accuracy is not one of it’s hallmarks, it does a reasonably good job of flattering most singers. The SM58 is like Dave the rhythm guitarist in your band………… He is never going to be an inspired soloist but he turns up at all the rehearsals and can be relied upon at the gigs to play the right chords. Not fantastic but utterly dependable. A safe pair of hands!

With the 58 it is not just vocals. If you run out of quality mics at a gig and a stray conga player turns up who is not listed on the technical rider you will inevitably stick a couple of 58s on them. [NB. It is a matter of scientific observation that no matter how many microphones are used at a concert there will always be 2 x SM58s left in the case!??]  Not the best choice but they will do the trick! I once had a ‘guest’ fiddle player suddenly appear on stage during a live recording. He grabbed the nearest 58 on a stand and pointed it at his instrument. I hastily adjusted the gain and the impromptu fiddle track ended up on the album. (In fact quite a few people commented afterwards on how good it sounded!)

Shure SM58Another clue to the enduring popularity of the Shure SM58 lies in this photograph. They will put up with almost any amount of abuse!! On tour it is very hard to find one without a dented grill. In fact there is a brisk trade on eBay for replacement grills. (see pic above) You can drop a 58 regularly for 30 years and it will probably still be working  (that may not quite be true but I have certainly seen examples that look like that is what has happened!) and after the gig you can store them in a damp, unventilated van. Don’t worry; just chuck them loose in the glove compartment or in an old cardboard box under the front seat. (These appear to be popular storage solutions preferred by SM58 owners!)  Even when the paint is all corroded and chipped they will still be working just fine! A friend of mine was engineering at a festival a few years ago when an ‘overexcited’ singer vomited all over his 58. After a bit of a wipe and a rinse, unlike the singer, it was back in action! No problem!

The legendary rock’n’roll credentials of the SM58, I think, can be traced all the way back to the film of the Woodstock pop festival in 1969. The only mics used at Woodstock were in fact modified Shure 565s which are very similar to the 58 (just more shiny?!) They were used on everything from bass drum to vocals. Martin Scorsese’s film was seen by millions worldwide and in every camera close-up of the stars on stage there appeared the same Shure microphone! Woodstock was the first big festival PA system, setting a benchmark for years to come and cementing the place of the Shure SM58 in the forefront of popular music.

So Happy 50th Birthday SM58!

P.S.       If you want to listen to sound clips of this mic there are several million on the internet!

sm58_specsheet

OKTAVA MD-66a Noise-cancelling Microphone (1979) Brand New!

Oktava MD-66a New Old Stock

A Rare Find! Still wrapped up in it’s original box!

According to the yellowing Russian leaflet pictured above, the Oktava MD-66a is  a ‘Dynamic coil microphone meant for sound amplification of speech and air traffic/transport controllers/officials communications.  One direction microphone.’  (literal translation)

Oktava MD-66a Grill

AKG D58 and Oktava MD66 Frequency Response comparison v2

Although the Oktava MD-66a doesn’t look anything like an AKG D58 it is clear from the 2 frequency response graphs above that the design intention of both mics is fairly similar, with a steep cut from the mid-range downwards and a considerable boost to the frequencies which affect the intelligibility of speech. N.B. The dotted line on the AKG graph shows how the low-end frequency response is restored to flat when the sound source is very close to the mic (bass proximity effect).  Low frequency sound emanating from further away, however, will be greatly attenuated thereby improving the clarity of the close mic’d sound.

Oktava MD-66a Polar Plot

The polar plot also shows a  narrowing of the high frequency response on axis. High frequency sound arriving off axis will therefore be considerably reduced.

Although I don’t have any ‘air traffic’ or ‘transport’  to control or ‘officials communications’  to make, it does occur to me that this neat little noise-cancelling dynamic might have many other uses.

CLICK HERE for Acoustic Guitar & Harmonica.

P.S.    Having taken the MD-66a out on a number of live gigs recently it is currently my favourite mic on snare. It delivers a crisp, fat, punchy sound whilst picking up very little of the bass drum.

A Classic Dynamic Microphone. Sennheiser MD421 (Circa 1960)

Sennheiser MD421-2

Introduced in 1960, the Sennheiser MD421 is a robust, large diaphragm, cardioid, dynamic microphone originally designed as a general purpose tool for the German broadcasting industry. It has an excellent frequency response from 30 Hz to 17 kHz with a brightness boost at around 4-5 kHz making it perfect for speech and vocals. 55 years later the 421 is still in the Sennheiser catalogue and continues to be one of the best-selling microphones ever made!

  • Great for speech and vocals both in the studio and on stage.
  • Excellent for brass, delivering smooth full tone, and rich timbre.
  • Effortlessly handles even the loudest electric guitar.
  • Especially good on drums and percussion, producing both punch and fine detail!
  • For many engineers the 421 is the bass drum mic of choice with its ability to accurately reproduce low bass and cope with high SPLs.

Throughout the 1960’s the MD421 was adopted by recording studios and performers all over the world. Here is a review from Hi-Fi Sound (Dec 1967)

Sennheiser MD421 Review from Hi-Fi Sound Dec 1967

Sennheiser MD421-2 Side view.

The 1960’s was of course  a time of experimentation and innovation, and one unusual feature of the MD421 is that the body is made of plastic which is rare for a high quality professional microphone. Other examples I can think of (also from the 1960’s) are the AKG D202 and the D222.

In 1971 George Harrison and Ravi Shankar held their famous Concert for Bangladesh at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The stage was positively bristling with MD421s, including all of the stars’ lead vocal mics  (Eric Clapton, Ringo Star, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell and Billy Preston)  Check out the video: –     https://vimeo.com/66413717

Sennheiser MD421 Script Logo

My Sennheiser MD421-2 pictured above with its rare script logo is a fine example from the early 1960’s. It still sounds as good as it ever did. In fact some say that the early models (which have no bass roll-off switches) sound better than the new ones!                                                                                                                       (N.B. This might just be a myth spread about by owners of old mics!)

Tech Spec for the current MD_421_II_GB

Here are some sound clips of my MD421-2 in action.

CLICK HERE for Tenor Sax

CLICK HERE for Drum Kit Overhead

CLICK HERE for Bird Song.