Tag Archives: 1930s Microphone

The STC4001B Acoustic Baffle for the STC4021 (Apple & Biscuit) circa 1935.

The very first post that I wrote for this blog back in 2012 was about the STC4021 (Apple & Biscuit). Still one of my favourite microphones.  I even made a YouTube video to go with it! In the course of the video I mentioned the STC4001B Acoustic Baffle. According to the STC brochure this could be purchased to modify the frequency response and directionality of the microphone. These days the 4001B Acoustic Baffle is very hard to find. So imagine my surprise when a brand new old stock 4001B (still in the box) appeared on eBay. 

So I thought I had better ‘Buy it now‘ and make another video to celebrate the occasion!

 

How to get that Vintage Mono Sound. A 1930’s Microphone Shoot-out!

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.

Echoes of France

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.

1930 Microphone Shootout.

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 !!!

NEWS FLASH!

ECHOES OF FRANCE ALBUM OUT NOW!  

BUY HERE  

 http://www.echoesoffrance.com/  https://echoesoffrance.bandcamp.com/

Recorded on the mighty Siemens SM3 Ribbon Microphone.

 

1931-32 Cutting Edge Microphone Technology At The BBC. (inc The Voight Slack Diaphragm Condenser ! ?)

1932 Marconi-Reisz

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.

BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p371BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p372BBC Year Book 1933  Microphones  p375BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p376BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p379BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p380BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p381

Here is some more info about the slack diaphragm condenser

BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p382

BBC Year Book 1933 Microphones p384

With the arrival of the iconic BBC-Marconi Type ‘A’  ribbon microphone in 1934 the somewhat unreliable condensers featured above were gradually phased out.

P.S.

The 1933 Year Book also celebrates the opening of the BBC’s fabulous new art deco London headquarters in 1932.

BBC 1933 Year Book inside front coverBBC 1933 Year Book inside back  cover

The Real King’s Speech!

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.

George VI 1938 with STC4017c

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!

Vitavox Admiralty Pattern No1359 (1944 D-Day)

 

 

Vitavox Admiralty Pattern No1359

Vitavox Admiralty Pattern No1359

Whilst the BBC was broadcasting and recording many of the momentous events of World War 2 using the STC4017C, and American radio stations continued to use the original trusty Western Electric 618A, out on the high seas the British Royal Navy were issuing orders and communicating using the Vitavox Admiralty Pattern No 1359.

Because it looks very similar, I had previously thought that the Vitavox was simply a re-badged STC, but this is not the case. Having finally managed to unscrew the grills on both it is easy to see key differences.

Vitavox No1359 and STC4017c differences

1) The STC4017 (on the right) is very slightly larger than the Vitavox No 1359. 2) The Vitavox diaphragm is, however, a good deal larger than the STC. 3) The Vitavox has no equalising tube running from the front to the rear chamber . 4) The grill components are quite different.

CLICK HERE for Sound Clip.

The Admiralty Pattern No1359  is also mentioned in the Australian Royal Navy Fleet Orders for 1945 for use with radio & disc recording equipment. It is suggested here as an inferior alternative to the STC4021  (which has a much flatter frequency response).Australian Navy Fleet Orders 1945 excerpt.N.B. Coarse groove, direct cut, disc recording equipment was used extensively by broadcasters  and the military throughout WW2.

 

STC 4017-C Dead or Alive ???

STC4017C

My freshly unwrapped STC4017C

Bought ……. ‘sold as seen’……’not known if working’….. from a house clearance sale on ebay. This microphone was previously owned by Kenneth Chaplin, who worked for the BBC from 1935 to 1981. Question is……. will my newly purchased STC 4017-C turn out to be:-

a)  A Classicic World War 2 BBC Outside Broadcast microphone in perfect working order…………’We will fight them on the beaches’… etc etc.

OR

b) An expensive  copper paperweight/doorstop!!!

What’s your guess?   a) or b)                                                                           

All I’ve got to do now is make up a special lead and find out!!!

2 Days Later ………STC4017-C to XLR To find out what happens when I plug it in  CLICK HERE!

I was going to write some technical blurb on this mic, but the information on Stan Coutant’s wonderful ‘Welcome to Microphones’ site is so comprehensive I would thoroughly recommend reading that!

http://www.coutant.org/stc4017c/index.html

Many historic 20th century broadcasts and recordings were made with the STC4017 (probably more than any other microphone) and many famous people have had their picture taken with it! Here is a great photograph of the writer George Orwell

Great photograph of George Orwell with STC4017C

Marlene Dietrich 1944

Marlene Dietrich 1944 performing for the BBC Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme.

Here is another famous user:-

The 14 year old future Queen makes her first broadcast in 1940

More PicsSTC4017-C Front aboveSTC4017-C side viewSTC4017C diaphragmSTC4017C Showing equalising tubeSTC4017C internal side view showing equalising tubeSTC4017c Internal side view.STC4017C internal view with serial numberLucky to find this elegant, original BBC stand for a bargain price on ebay!Lucky to find this elegant, original BBC stand for a bargain price on ebay!

Another sound clip CLICK HERE>

also

Live concert Solo violin recording

Tasty guitar clip.

STC4017-C Delivering 'Peace in Our Time'

STC4017-C Delivering the famous ‘Peace in Our Time’ speech. Sept 30th 1938 Chamberlain returns from Munich with agreement from Hitler!

Chamberlain Declares War on Germany 1939

‘Mark my words, that Adolf Hitler is a very naughty boy!’ Headmaster Neville Chamberlain Declares War on Germany 1939
P.S. I wonder why they mic’d up his right hand??

Here below are links to to more interesting information :-

war time use of the STC4017 by the BBC.

John Snagge reporting D-Day landings June 6th 1944

America Declares War on Japan. President Roosevelt’s Speech using the original  Western Electric 618a. (Same as STC4017a)

A variation of this microphone also used by the Royal Navy in the form of the Vitavox Admiralty Pattern No 1359

Following the years of wartime reporting, below a battery of  STC4017s assists in cementing the peace.  

Ist Meeting of the UN General Assembly Jan 10th 1946

The first session of the United Nations General Assembly opened on 10 January 1946 at Central Hall in London. Here, Secretary-General Trygve, speaks at his installation ceremony. (2 February 1946) UN Photo/Marcel Bolomey

A Rare Siemens (?)/ Telefunken (?)/ Klangfilm (?) Ribbon Microphone. (circa 1931)

The Facts

  1. It is a cardioid ribbon microphone.
  2.  Weighs over 10lbs.
  3. The microphone was aquired many years ago in America by the previous owner, the film editor David Hawkins (known for his work on the films of Jean Renoir and also The Collector.)
  4. It carries no manufacturer’s identification marks……….. however
  5. The lower half of the microphone is identical to the Siemens SM3, (aka Telefunken  ELA M25b and ELA M201 and as Klangfilm ELM24) as specified in Siemens (UK Reg) Ribbon Patent 1931
  6. On the front there is a simple brass plate declaring it to be a ‘Microphone Type R’ and a ‘Serial No 1028’

An Interesting Comparison

1930’s Siemens SM3 technical illustration

Same view of lower half of my Siemens (?) Appears to be identical, even down to the painted letter N indicating the polarity of the magnet.

My Theory

In the history of microphone technology Harry Olson of RCA is often credited with having invented the ribbon microphone and developed the first directional microphone. However, whilst it is important to recognise Olson’s major contributions to microphone technology, the accolade for inventing the ribbon microphone clearly belongs to Erwin Gerlagh and Walter H  Schottky, working for the German company Siemens in the mid1920’s. It was also the case that the early Siemens models such as the SM3 were well known for their directional properties. The back of the ribbon is enclosed by a huge ring magnet, and an ingenious arrangement of acoustic chambers,  thereby producing a cardioid polar pattern. Although the lower half of my huge microphone, including the magnet and ribbon assembly, is identical to the standard SM3, the upper half appears to be an additional acoustic chamber of some sort, packed with wadding (perhaps to provide additional damping to the ribbon and influence the HF reproduction?)

In the early days of Talking Pictures in America the microphones available were omnidirectional and thus it was difficult to balance the level of one actor’s voice against another especially if the one was more powerful than the other. Omnis also tended to pick up camera noise and anything else in the way of unwanted sounds on the set, considerably degrading the quality of the finished product.

Technical competition within the industry was fierce and American film studios of the period had strong commercial ties with the major players in the development of cinematic technology such as Western Electric and RCA.  In Europe competition came from the Tobis-Klangfilm cartel, and Siemens was pumping large sums of money, and expertise, into developing the technical prowess of its Klangfilm system.

However, there is a small body of evidence that would suggest that a number of American studios, realising the advantages of a directional microphone, bought in the Siemens microphone. It is well documented that MGM used one on the voice of Jeanette MacDonald in their 1935 film of the operetta ‘Naughty Marietta’. It is interesting to note that Douglas Shearer (head of MGM’s technical department) won an Oscar for the sound on that film! The Siemens mic was subsequently used on several other films featuring Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy in order to even up the level difference between their voices ( Eddy being much more powerful.)

My suspicion is that the use of the Siemens microphone in American studios before the arrival of Olson’s superior RCA models was perhaps more wide spread than has been previously admitted! Could this be a possible reason why this Siemens(?) mic in my collection bares no German markings…… could it be that they have been carefully removed for reasons of commercial sensitivity? …… and is the plate on the front in English simply an attempt to make it appear to be of American origin?

As the decade progressed the Siemens was largely superseded by the, lighter and more sophisticated RCA models developed by Harry Olson. Also the dual element Western Electric 639-A.

Meanwhile………

In Germany the Siemens microphone was popular throughout the 1930’s appearing regularly on stage and on screen with that rising star of news reel cinema, Adolf Hitler! During the 1930’s Siemens formed close ties with the Nazi party and helped substantially to finance Hitler’s war machine. During WWII Siemens went on to employ thousands of slave labourers in their factories……….. All of which makes me wonder……  Could it also be a possibility that uncomfortable associations with Germany and Nazism lead to the de-badging of my Siemens microphone?

Conclusion

I think that there is no doubt that the lower half of this microphone, including the huge magnet, cased in shiny black leather, and the ribbon motor assembly were manufactured by Siemens. Whether the upper chamber was a later modification by a third party or whether the whole thing is a very rare model or even a prototype we may never know. Seimens own records for this period are somewhat incomplete and I have found no documentation or pictures (anywhere) relating to this exact model.

If anyone reading this has any more information or other theories relating to this post I would be very interested to hear from you. Meanwhile here are a few more pics of this extraordinary piece of hardware.

Wadding in top chamber.

Empty top chamber. Screws on inside left indicate possible position of missing transformer.

Ribbon assembly removed, awaiting a new ribbon.

Ribbon, cut, crimped and ready to tension

Ribbon in place ready to slot into gap.

Siemens SM3 Magnet gap into which ribbon assembly slots.

Upside down. (though I think it is designed to work either way up.)

Finished at last!! Fully restored and working…… so pleased!!

So what does it sound like?  Here is my first test recording on acoustic guitar.  (many thanks to Den and Adrian for a fun afternoon experimenting!)

Guitarist Den Parratt with the author setting up the mic for our first recording!

Following in the footsteps of mad dictators and MGM film stars of the 1930s here is a vocal clip from talented young singer Joe Martin.

Here also is a fabulous album of gypsy jazz recorded by Echoes of France on this extraordinary microphone. https://echoesoffrance.bandcamp.com/

Joe Stalin. Another satisfied customer!