Tag Archives: STC Microphone

BBC Engineering Training Manual. MICROPHONES. (1951)

I was born on January 20th 1951 at St Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children in the centre of Manchester,  just across the road from the Palace Theatre. Less than a mile away, at the BBC Studios in Piccadilly, engineers were avidly thumbing through their copies of the very latest BBC ENGINEERING TRAINING MANUAL . MICROPHONES!

BBC Training Manual 1951

My copy arrived yesterday! (courtesy of eBay). It is in nearly new condition and sadly it’s unmarked pages have all the ‘vibe’ of a book that has never been read!

In recent years I have often regaled students with my reflections on how much audio technology has changed during my lifetime. Reading through this book really brings it home! It is a window into a long-gone world of engineers in brown lab coats and announcers at the microphone in evening dress. For me, as a child, it was the world of ‘Listen with Mother’ and ‘Children’s Hour’ and seeing the valves glowing in the back of the mahogany veneered wireless set on a shelf next to the fireplace in our living room.

My earliest memory of a microphone was standing on a box in front of a huge Marconi AXBT ribbon mic having won a prize in a BBC Children’s Hour competition at the age of 7 or 8. (It looked just like a giant ice cream cone!) I was presented with a silver propelling pencil by the producer Trevor Hill. I said ‘Thank You’ in the general direction of the mighty Marconi, and was escorted back to my seat.

BBC Children's Hour Competition Prize 1958


Anyhow, back to the book. 

What is most striking is how slender this volume is (114 pages). Most of it is taken up with detailed information about the propagation of sound and the physics involved in microphone design and construction. Much of this is still useful knowledge. However, only 7 different microphones are described in detail and most of these had already been in service since the mid 1930’s.

Here, (to give you a flavour of this informative little book) are some of the illustrations.BBC Marconi Ribbon Mic

In the BBC Studio of 1951 the Marconi AXBT Ribbon Microphone (first introduced in 1935) was the principal tool for drama, announcement and music. Broadcasting  was in Mono. With a frequency range from 20Hz-16 kHz, this figure of eight device was very often the only mic used!  One useful piece of advice offered to the engineer, in order to avoid ‘an excessive bass response’ (caused by proximity effect), is that ‘The microphone should never be used at a distance less than approximately two feet.’


BBC STC4017C

From 1938 to 1953 the STC 4017C was the main BBC outside broadcast microphone. Built like a tank, with a solid copper body and an aluminium diaphragm, it was a very robust dynamic. Although, in theory omnidirectional, it did exhibit some frontal directionality at higher frequencies.


BBC STC4021

The STC4021 , nicknamed the ‘Apple and Biscuit’, was a high quality dynamic mic which, due to its spherical shape, was truly omnidirectional. It was mounted vertically and was used for a variety of purposes including ’round table’ discussions and interviews. It was also used as a talkback mic.


BBC EMI Moving Coil

Developed by Holman and Blumlein working for the Columbia Gramophone Company (later E.M.I.) , it was used extensively by the newly formed BBC Television service at Alexandra Palace from 1936.The unusual thing about this microphone is the fact that it’s diaphragm is made of thin balsa wood enclosed between two sheets of aluminium foil! Interestingly, the description in the book ends with something of a warning……..  ‘the instrument is less suitable when high quality is a major consideration’  !!!!!


BBC Marconi Condenser Mic

BBC Marconi Condenser Element

The Marconi Condenser Microphone with built-in amplifier was a large and extremely rare beast, introduced experimentally in the mid-1930’s.  Even at the BBC it was not commonly used. Early condensers were prone to suffer with crackling caused by moisture.When it was employed it was mostly to be found at concerts.


BBC Brush Crystal Mic

BBC Brush Sound Cell

I have never seen a BBC studio picture with one of these. Not sure what it’s duties might have been. Perhaps, included in the manual simply because it is an example of a crystal mic? These were quite common at the time as PA and announcement mics. Also quite popular with amateur tape recordists.


BBC Marconi Lip MicBBC Marconi Lip Mic Back view

The Marconi Lip Ribbon Microphone (designed by the BBC in 1937) is a noise cancelling device which was used for sporting commentaries and broadcasting in noisy environments. It was designed for very close speaking with the ribbon protected from the impact of the speaker’s breath by the enclosing magnet. (see pics above)  One of the most important features of this microphone is the mouth-guard, which is pressed up against the speaker’s jaws, thus maintaining a constant distance between the mouth and the ribbon. This ensures against changes in frequency response, and volume, caused by fluctuations in distance. A variation of this microphone is still made today for the BBC by Coles (formerly STC).

BBC Training Manual 1951012BBC Training Manual 1951013

Foot Note.

In 1953 BBC Television broadcast live the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Amongst the most notable features of this historic broadcast was the commentary delivered by Richard Dimbleby inside Westminster Abbey. The microphone used on this occasion was the latest Marconi L.2 Lip Ribbon mic. The perfect choice! The closeness of the speaker to the microphone, and the rich tone of Dimbleby’s voice, served to give the listening audience an intimate, sense of the grandeur of the occasion. The isolating characteristics of the lip microphone also served to focus attention on his voice. Dimbleby was the undoubted master of this technique of close-mic’d delivery which became a hall-mark of British State occasions.

Richard Dimbleby at the Coronation of Elizabeth II 1953

Richard Dimbleby with the Marconi L.2 Lip Ribbon microphone in the specially constructed commentary box in the Triforium of Westminster Abbey


 

In Conclusion

Within a decade of this manual the BBC microphone cupboard would be rapidly filling with exciting new models from the likes of AKG, Sennheiser and Neumann. In the following years alongside the growth of television and multi-track recording came a whole range of microphones designed for different purposes. Stereo mics, shotgun mics, lavaliers, parabolic, contact, binaural, ambisonic…………….. A whole new world!


Here are some useful links for more information.

http://www.coutant.org/bbc/index.html   (Some great photos of the Marconi Ribbon Mic)

http://www.coutant.org/marconi/    (Pictures and information on this extremely rare condenser mic)

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

 

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

 

STC4037A ‘The Stick’ ! (1955- late 1970s)

STC4037A

After years of lugging around the mighty (heavy & cumbersome) STC4017, BBC outside broadcasters must have been absolutely delighted, in the mid-1950s, by the arrival of the 4037! Designed specifically for the burgeoning new medium of television, the STC4037 was a triumph of British understatement! Even by modern standards it is light (260g) and well-balanced, and its slender, tapered, profile feels very comfortable in the hand. Also the black shrivel enamel finish is non-reflective under TV lighting. The 4037 was so beautifully minimal and unobtrusive (and black) that it soon became affectionately known as ‘The Stick’. ‘The Stick’ came in 2 sizes, the 21.3cm long version, the STC4037A, and the shorter 13.6cm STC4037C. The short version had slightly less bass response but was extremely unobtrusive, all but disappearing in the presenter’s hand.

A couple of TV clips from the 1960s featuring the STC4037  :-

Gwyn Thomas talks to Alan Whicker about the Chip Crisis

A great Liverpool band The Undertakers with 4037 on vocals 

The original box arrived a wee bit bruised and battered!

The original box arrived a wee bit bruised and battered!

STC4037A with 4069A connector and stand adapter

STC4069A connector and  PAS45/14 stand adapter

STC4037A Base of mic

3 pin connector on base of mic

STC4069A Connector

STC4069A Connector

 STC4037A Grill STC4037 Brochure 1961

Click Here For Short Sound Clip.

Meanwhile here is another couple of suggested uses!!

STC4037A the perfect kit overhead!

Crisp snare, nice fat toms, and smooth detailed cymbals, and so much bottom end that the kick mic was nearly redundant! Job done!

Here is a short live clip of this kit with the 4037 as pictured.

Also tasty on double bass!

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

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

STC 4021 (Apple & Biscuit) 1935-1950s One of my all time favourite mics!

Through my Focusrite Twintrack the STC4021 sounds absolutely gorgeous on acoustic guitar, cello,and flute. Due to its spherical shape the frequency response is extremely uniform from any angle (.Tech Spec STC4021 )  As a drum ambient mic (up in the air over the drummer’s right shoulder) gives a big punchy sound with loads of bottom end weight and smooth silky cymbals.. Not what you would expect from a mic designed in 1935!
Certainly begs the question ‘Has microphone design improved much in the last 75years?’ !!!!!

stc-socket-closeup

A number of people have asked me about the wiring of this mic. Pin 1 is hot (ie pin 2 on an XLR)  G is  earth (pin 1 on an XLR) and pin 2 is cold (pin 3 on an an XLR)

 

Here is  my very first YouTube video which just happens to be about this mic!

 

UNCANNY RESEMBLANCE!!!