Tag Archives: 1930s Microphone

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.

1962 BBC Training Manual

In the 1951 BBC Microphones training manual we saw that the corporation functioned with a small selection of British manufactured microphones, most of which had been in service since the 1930’s.  So when I saw this Manual from 1962 I was curious to see how ‘Auntie’ had moved on into the swinging sixties.

BBC Training Manual 1962

Old favourites continued in use.                                                                                         BBC Training Manual 1962 STC Dynamic Microphones

The STC4021 ‘Apple and Biscuit’ first appeared in 1935 as did the famous Marconi A series ribbon microphone pictured on the page below. (The AXBT is the 4th generation).  The STC4035 was a lighter, updated replacement for the old STC 4017, which had been phased out in the mid 50’s. The 4032 is identical to the 4035 but housed in a neat handheld Bakelite body making it suitable for outdoor use in all weathers. The 4037 was designed for TV and has a rather more modern look (slim lightweight body and matt black finish). However, the capsule is still pretty much the same as the good old ‘Apple and Biscuit’. STC’s dynamic models were the tried and tested backbone of general purpose and outside broadcasting. The noise-cancelling STC4104 lip ribbon mic was used for sports commentary and noisy events. This was an updated version of the older Marconi lip ribbon microphone. More recently manufactured by Coles, the 4104 continues in production to this day.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Ribbon Microphones

So what was new?

FM broadcasting by the BBC began in 1955 and the audio frequency response was thereby extended from 5 kHz up to 15 kHz. The new FM system was also considerably less susceptible to noise and interference than AM. Although the old favourite microphones from STC and Marconi were still fine for everyday transmission of speech, when it came to the broadcasting of high quality music, mics with improved high end response were now required. With this in mind the BBC Research Department designed 2 new ribbon microphones (pictured above). First came the PGS (Pressure Gradient with a Single magnet) and from this developed the 4038. Manufactured by STC these new microphones were considerably smaller and lighter than the old Marconi AXBT, and had an almost flat frequency response up to 15 kHz. This was around ½ an octave higher than the mighty AXBT. Now manufactured by Coles the 4038 continues in service to this day and is still recognised as one of the finest ribbon microphones available.

The photograph below is rather bizarre. In real life the STC4033 is around 3x bigger than the Reslo! The Reslo was small and convenient for use on TV (as mentioned in my previous blog post). The STC4033 is an unusual hybrid, similar in design to the classic Western Electric 639 ‘Birdcage’. It has an ‘Apple and Biscuit’ type omni dynamic element, and a ribbon element. This gives a choice of switchable polar patterns. Using the elements separately we have Omni or Figure of Eight and by combining the outputs of both we obtain Cardioid. Nevertheless, by 1962 the STC4033 was a somewhat antiquated design and no match for the more sophisticated competition coming out of Germany and Austria.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Reslo and STC4033

Enter AKG and Neumann……….

A number of high quality condenser microphones now appeared in the BBC microphone locker. The legendary AKG C12 quickly became a firm favourite for the broadcasting of concerts and was very often the only microphone used to capture a symphony orchestra in glorious Mono! The AKG C28, C29 and C30 were perfect for solo performers on live TV. The variable extension pieces made it easy for unobtrusive positioning.

BBC Traing Manual 1962 AKG C12.jpgBBC Traing Manual 1962 AKGC28 .jpg

The Neumann KM54 cardioid, and the multi-pattern KM56 were also popular choices for high quality broadcasting.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Neumann KM54BBC Training Manual 1962 Neumann KM56

Other Microphones.

A number of other microphones are given a mention but not honoured with a photo. The Corporation was still very much dominated by BBC Radio and most of these microphones are from the rapidly evolving new world of BBC Television. TV presenters very often needed to keep their hands free and microphones ‘in shot’ needed to be small and unobtrusive.

BBC Training Manual 1962BBC Training Manual 1962BBC Training Manual 1962

The Placing of Microphones
The diagrams and explanations on the pages below provide an interesting insight into the lost world of recording and broadcasting in Mono.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 01

The BBC philosophy for the broadcasting of classical music is best summed up in the opening sentence of the page below.  In the manual there is a clear distinction between music which requires the engineer to simply reproduce a ‘true balance’ created by the conductor and the performers (captured by one microphone), and more popular forms of music which require the engineer to create the balance from a number of microphones. Today this distinction has been all but lost.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 02BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 03

 Modern Dance Bands

BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 05

Setups for Dance Bands.

BBC Training Manual 1962 Microphone Placement 06BBC Training Manual 1962

The section above on Modern Dance Bands contains no mention of the latest Beat Groups, Rock’n’Roll or Skiffle. BBC thinking was clearly lagging at least 5 years behind the latest trends in popular music. If you were a teenager in 1962 the ensembles mentioned above are the sort of music your Mum and Dad would have liked! Within a couple of years British teenagers were under the bedclothes every night with a transistor radio listening to their favourite music coming from pirate radio stations such a Radio Caroline and Radio London, illegally broadcasting from offshore. It wasn’t until 1967 that the BBC threw in the towel and set up Radio 1 to cater for a younger audience!

STEREOPHONY

The final chapter of the manual is devoted to describing the basic principles of ‘STEREOPHONY’. Even though stereophonic records had been around for several years, by 1962 stereo broadcasting was still in it’s infancy. Around this time there were a number of experimental BBC broadcasts. In our house I can remember my Dad following the instructions for a particular broadcast by setting up 2 radio sets tuned to different programmes, one carrying the left-hand channel and one carrying the right !! Unfortunately the 2 radios were very different sizes and so the effect was somewhat less than perfect! It was not until 1973 that Radios 1,2 and 4 finally broadcast in stereo.

In Conclusion.

Although a small amount of space is given to sound in the context of television, this manual is firmly focused on ‘High-Quality Sound Production and Reproduction’ for BBC Radio. Tape had pretty much replaced 78 rpm discs as the primary means of recording and storing programmes. FM broadcasting was a huge technical leap forward and the arrival of some new condenser microphones further improved the quality of the output. Nevertheless, in many respects, even by 1962 ‘Auntie’ still had one foot firmly in the 1930’s !

 

 

 

 

Remembering D-Day June 6th 1944

CLICKHEREJohn Snagge announces the D-Day Landings in France 75 years ago today.

The STC4017c was used by the BBC throughout World War 2 to broadcast many momentous events and speeches. Possibly the most important communication tool of the 20th century it was the first microphone robust enough to withstand the rigors of serious outside broadcasting in a war zone.

For more information https://martinmitchellsmicrophones.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/stc-4017c-dead-or-alive/

World War 2 M.T.L.L.No2 Throat Microphone

M.T.L.L. No2 Throat Microphone

Found in a garden shed where it had been for at least the last thirty years, this WW2 British military throat mic looks a bit sad and dilapidated. The paint is falling off and the steel fittings are rusting, the elastic is past its best, and a hungry woodworm has been drilling into the crumbling leather. So imagine my surprise when I plugged it in and it immediately burst into life!

The M.T.L.L. No 2 was used by the RAF and by the army. The mic was worn around the neck and was designed to pick up vibrations direct from the voice box. The two leather covered sensors were pressed against either side of the throat. The great advantage of the throat mic was that it could be used effectively in very noisy environments, such as inside a tank or an aircraft in combat. Even loud sounds around the wearer would be largely rejected. Although the audio quality is not fabulous, speech has a high degree of intelligibility.

This view below is of the back of one of the sensors with the plastic cover removed. Inside there is a magnet, the polarity of which is marked on the metal case ‘N’ and ‘S’.  The wires are identified with red and blue cotton thread. (Hot and cold?)M.T.L.L. No2 Throat mic view inside the back

Below, (pinched from an ebay listing) is a photo of the front side of the mic, without its leather covering. Here there appear to be a couple of coils.M.T.L.L. No2 View inside front of throat mic

Below, the strip of steel which picks up vibrations from the throat is sitting on top of the coils and magnet. This assembly is held in place by the leather covering. The result of this ingenious arrangement is a small electrical (audio) output signal appearing at the red and blue wires.Inside throat mic M.T.L.L. No2

 

CLICK here to hear a short voice test of this unusual creation.

Conclusion.

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of military communications during World War 2 and the crucial role played by the M.T.L.L. No 2 throat 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 wired Showing + and - and Earth 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