Tag Archives: 1940s 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.

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!

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.

 

Electro-Voice Rags To Riches. T45 Noise-Cancelling Microphone (1944)

In 1942 after America entered World War 2, the US military estimated that only 20% of radio communications in combat were successful. Failure in the other 80% was mainly due to the voice of the radio operator being drowned out by the surrounding cacophony of war. Like no other conflict before, success on the battlefield relied on communications. Spotting a gap in the market Al Khan and Ed Burrows, the owners of Electro-Voice, came up with a brilliantly simple, ingenious and cost effective solution to this problem. Electro-Voice T45 Box

Electro-Voice T45 Instructions 1944

Electro-Voice T45 Instructions P2Even in 1942 the single button carbon microphone was a piece of old fashioned tried and tested technology, having been in use in telephones since the tail end of the previous century. Although the audio quality of the T45 is little better than it’s telephonic predecessors it is extremely reliable and very robust. It also has a high output making it ideal for long distance communication. Even if the microphone gets wet you can simply dry it out (as per the instructions above) and it will carry on working! However, the really clever part of this design utilises 2 small holes of equal size on the front and back of the mic.Electro-Voice T45 Back hole.Electro-Voice T45 Front Hole

These allow the surrounding noise to enter the microphone on both sides of the diaphragm. The sound striking the back of the diaphragm is 180 degrees out of phase with the sound at the front. This causes a very impressive cancellation of the unwanted noise whilst the speaker’s voice, which is less than a 1/4 of an inch from the front opening, dominates the transmission.

In terms of manufacturing costs it would be hard to produce a cheaper microphone.  A carbon button is a very small tin of glorified coal dust (carbon granules) with a simple diaphragm attached.  A bit of wire and some lightweight plastic fittings and that is it! Pure genius !Electro-Voice T45 Noise-cancelling Microphone

After some initial military skepticism the product was thoroughly tested and a first order came through to Khan and Burrows  for 100,000 units! The T45 was soon taken up by all branches of America’s armed forces and  the success rate of combat communications rose to 90%.

Rags to Riches.

Prior to World War 2 Electro-Voice was a small struggling company, with 20 employees, manufacturing a handful of dynamic and velocity microphones per week. By the latter part of the war Electro-Voice had 500 employees working in 3 shifts  producing more than 2,000 T45 microphones a day! After WW2 it was also adopted by commercial aviation and remained in service for several decades.  The T45 was also used on the Mercury, Gemini and Skylab space missions.

Over the entire production run more than a million were produced placing the T45  among the highest selling microphones ever made.

During the war many small firms went out of business due to a shortage of manpower and materials, but for those involved in the war effort fortunes were to be made. In 1946 Electro-Voice moved into an impressive new factory at Buchanan Michigan where they continued to manufacture  innovative and exciting audio products  for the next 60 years.

 

Footnote 

Circuit for powering a carbon microphone.  Circuit for powering Carbon Microphones.

 

Electro-Voice EV630 circa 1940

Electro-Voice EV630

The EV630 is a solid, but elegant, workhorse microphone from the golden age of ‘reliable and made to last’! It was a versatile and popular product, remaining in the Electro-Voice catalogue for more than 25 years. Even now it has a certain vogue among radio hams, who value its vocal clarity, and blues harmonica players seeking out that elusive, fat, ‘Chicago’ sound!

This 1960s  EV630 Tech Spec  shows an impressively flat response from 60hz to around 10khz, which is due in part to its small size and rounded shape.

The earliest reference I have found to the EV630 is in a Lafayette Radio Catalog 1942

My EV630 is, I think, an early example. It was made at the original Sound Bend factory and the company name is in a type face not found on later models. It also has no serial number.EV630 Switch Plate early 1940s

The internal wiring is black textile-covered, rubber-coated wire (not dissimilar to the stuff found in my 1930s Siemens!)EV630 wiring

Albert R. Kahn, life-long radio ham and founder of Electro-Voice with his trusty EV630.

Albert R. Kahn, life-long radio ham and founder of Electro-Voice with his trusty EV630.