Tag Archives: Vintage PA microphones

Sennheiser MD408 N Super-Cardioid Dynamic Gooseneck Microphone. 1960’s/70’s

Sennheiser MD408N
Sennheiser MD408N

Originally designed for speech and vocals the Sennheiser MD408 N is a solid, reliable, workhorse microphone which is useful for many tasks. It performs well on guitar cabs, delivering a rich beefy sound with plenty of midrange punch. The flexible gooseneck makes it particularly easy to position. It is also useful on snare and a variety of percussion. Once again the gooseneck is very handy for manoeuvring in awkward spaces. Being a super-cardioid it also has excellent feedback rejection.

Some microphones were destined to appear with the stars, glittering centre stage with Elvis or Tina Turner or David Bowie. Others however, never quite made it to the limelight. Back in the 60’s and 70’s the MD408 N was often used as a humble studio talkback mic. Even so, when it comes to dull publicity photos the shot below takes a lot of beating!

Sennheiser Advert 1969 for MD408N
Sennheiser MD408N  Klien Tuchel Connector and standard 3/8 inch stand adapter.
Sennheiser MD408N Klien Tuchel Connector and standard 3/8 inch stand adapter.
Sennheiser MD408N On/Off switch

The MD408 also has a silent on/off switch which is very handy if it is used for talkback or as a lectern mic. The neat square plastic actuator has sadly gone missing on mine but you can see it in the publicity photo.

CLICK HERE to listen to the MD408 on rock’n’roll Guitar at a live show.

Conclusion

Whilst it may not have the kudos and charisma of the more famous Sennheiser Models such as the MD421 and MD441 it is nevertheless a recommended addition to any collection.

Omnidirectional Dynamic Vocal Microphones

Up until the late 1960’s, cardioid, omnidirectional and figure of eight dynamic microphones were all commonly found in use on public address systems. Singers were able to choose whichever pattern suited their particular style of delivery. Figure of eight ribbon mics, for instance, were enormously popular with the jazz singers and ‘crooners’ of the 40’s and 50’s because of their smooth response and rich proximity effect which enhanced the low end of the voice. Omni was preferred by singers who required a more ‘open’ sound and the ability to move around without altering tone. Unfortunately, with the development of high power PA systems and the introduction of wedge monitoring in the late 60’s, only cardioid microphones had the required rejection characteristics to deliver a suitable amount of gain before feedback. Consequently, within a few years figure of eight and omni all but vanished from the stage and were pretty much banished to the studio!

I recently acquired a number of vintage omnidirectional dynamic mics from the tail end of the last century. Although the primary purpose of these mics was originally news gathering, my attention was drawn to the following excerpt from the AKG Engineering Data sheet for the D130. It perfectly describes the numerous benefits that an omnidirectional microphone offers the vocal performer.

AKG D130 Data Sheet.

A wide-range instrument, the D-130E offers “open”, natural reproduction of speech and music -without harshness, popping or bass emphasis. Moreover, the D-130E ‘s omnidirectional pattern and consequent absence of proximity effect enable the microphone to retain this natural quality -regardless of the relative position or distance of performers working into it. Together with its handling comfort and attractive styling, these same characteristics also lend the D-130E to a variety of hand-held on-camera applications in the studio -especially to pop-free coverage of vocalists who do not desire proximity effect.

Many singers (especially male vocalists) have an uncomfortable relationship with cardioid microphones because of their inclination towards ‘boomy’ bass and unpleasant popping plosives. I have also worked with performers who are in the habit of pulling away from the mic when delivering the loud bits leaving their voices sounding suddenly thin and weedy (N.B. Proximity effect works in both directions i.e. moving away reduces bass). With omni the bass remains constant with the desired reduction in volume.

And another thing………

For performers whose vocal style involves ‘cupping’ the back of a cardioid dynamic, maybe an omni would be a better choice? It comes ready ‘cupped’!

SM58 cuppingBeyer M58 2 N (C)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So…….. Here’s a thought…….

With the rise of in-ear monitoring many performers and bands are dispensing with their cumbersome (and feedback prone) on-stage wedges. So it would seem to me that for cardioid averse vocalists, perhaps now would be a good time to consider bringing back the considerable benefits of the

Omnidirectional Dynamic Vocal Microphone.

AKG D130

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.

AKG C451E (Circa 1970) A Classic from The Golden Age of AKG

Today AKG is little more than a brand name owned by a multi-national corporation. Like a tired old rock star it rests on the laurels of its former glory whilst still churning out a few old favourites.

However, if we go back to the late 1960’s and into the 70’s AKG was a powerhouse of innovative design and high-tech engineering. Major achievements include the D200 series which took dynamic microphone design to a peak which even today sees few competitors. This period also saw the legendary C12 condenser evolve into the C414 which continues to be a favourite in studios across the world.

In 1969 AKG launched its newly developed Condenser Microphone System (CMS) using audio frequency circuitry with Field Effect Transistors. This was a fully modular microphone system based around the C451E, the inherent features of which were claimed to be;

  • Low noise level,
  • Extremely high reliability and
  • Life-long sta­bility.                                                                                                    

AKG C451E with old style logo

AKG C451E no serial number

A selection of interchangeable capsules and extension tubes could be purchased along with a variety of accessories covering a wide range of recording and live sound applications. The CMS proved to be enormously popular with broadcasters, TV companies and studios throughout the 1970’s and beyond, and can be seen on many BBC music programmes of the period.

These contemporary AKG brochures/guides explain the features of the CMS in detail.

AKG C451 CMS Technical Specifications

Technical Info AKG CMS microphones.

AKG CK1 CapsuleAKG C451E with capsule removed.AKG C451E body with CK1 Capsule

C451E original case interior AKG C451E Original case

My C451E

Judging from the old style of logo and the lack of an externally stamped serial number on my newly purchased C451E (see top 2 pics), I think that it must be a fairly early example. It is in perfect condition and even the case is hardly marked. As always it was a bargain!

So What Does it Sound Like?    

Sadly, like many, many other people I am stuck at home at the moment practicing social distancing, and so recording music with my beautiful new C451E will have to wait until the current COVID-19 pandemic dies down and we can all get back to work!

Meanwhile Stay safe!

P.S.   Went for a walk today and recorded this:-    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5MHEL6ZPHI

 

Acel GM-17B. A ‘Mystery’ Polish Microphone (Circa 1987)

This wonderfully shiny and somewhat obscure vintage microphone was kindly sent to me as a Christmas gift by Adam Wilma, one of my Polish readers!

It is interesting, not because of its fabulous quality, but because it provides a small window into a fairly grim chapter of Polish history.

Acel GM-17B Cardioid Dynamic Microphone

GM-17B Cardioid Dynamic Stage Microphone

GM-17B Box

After 30 years of Communist misrule, the Polish economy was in an extremely precarious state with serious shortages of many goods. Shops were empty with long queues in the streets. In March 1979 the Ministry of Internal Trade listed 280 products for which demand was difficult to satisfy and the list grew longer in the following year. 1980 saw the formation of the free trade union Solidarity and the end of Communism seemed to be in sight. However, in 1981 General Jaruzelski declared martial law and Solidarity was banned. The USA imposed sanctions and for the next 10 years the Polish economy struggled along in a state of collapse. This lead to the rapid growth of a black or ‘grey’ market. In these conditions a ‘second’ or ‘parallel’ private sector economy flourished.

Acel GM-!7B Dynamic MicrophoneSmall scale private businesses were broadly tolerated and allowed to function supplying demands that could not be met by the ‘official’ economy. However, if a company became too large and successful it risked attracting unwelcome attention from the Communist bureaucracy and might be shut down and its assets seized. This probably explains why the Acel GM-17B microphone pictured in this post, with its original packaging, gives away little clue about the company who made it or their whereabouts! So far all attempts to trace the manufacturer have failed! Goods like this were sold through local craft associations/co-operatives, which was a way of avoiding the many permits and licences that were officially required. All we know is that this particular microphone was sold in 1987 by the Multi-Branch Co-operative in Leszno. The previous owner informed me that it cost 15,330 old zloty. (For comparison, in the same year a kilo of carrots cost 50 zloty, and a kilo of tomatoes 200 zloty).

1980’s Polish Music Scene

For musicians this was a difficult time and few could afford good quality equipment imported from abroad. The electrical industry had been particularly affected by shortages of raw materials, components and machinery. Local manufacturers did their best to meet demand with limited resources. Sadly the resulting equipment was often somewhat less than ideal! Paradoxically, this decade saw a flowering of rock music in Poland. In no other communist country was there such freedom for musicians. It was not by accident – the communist authorities calculated that for young people it would be a good way to neutralize frustration. Freedom for various subcultures also served to draw young people away from the Catholic Church, which was perceived to be their greatest threat. It was not by chance that the dates of the biggest music festivals coincided with important dates in the Catholic calendar.

Polish Plug Problems!  

One Acel GM-17B Connector.slightly annoying feature of Polish-made gear of this period is the non-standard connector! Although this may look like a standard Klein Tuchel socket (as found on German and Austrian mics of the 60’s and 70’s), the locking ring is slightly larger with a different thread. I am told that Polish-made guitars often came with non-standard jack sockets. Slightly bigger or smaller! Presumably this meant that you would have to purchase a special lead from the maker at extra cost. Or maybe it was to avoid patent infringement? Who knows?………….Anyway, an ordinary Tuchel plug on the GM-17B can be kept in place with a piece of gaffer tape!

So What Does it Sound Like?  

During the Communist era, here in Western Europe we were always lead to believe that products made in the USSR and Eastern Europe were bound to be inferior to anything made in the West! Indeed, even now I am assured by a musical connection in Poland that Polish-made gear of this period was very poor and that this microphone can probably be summed up by one word: ‘CRAP’!!  Anyhow, I don’t like to jump to conclusions so I thought I would give it a fair trial……………..

CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE GM-17B in action…….. and reach your own verdict!

Many thanks to Keith Thompson for the tasty guitars and vocals (I played shaker and programmed the kick!) and thanks once again to Adam Wilma for sending this interesting and unusual microphone.

 

‘The Beatles Mic’ Reslo RB/L Black Label (Circa 1961)

Reslosound Ltd were a British company based in Romford, Essex, manufacturing microphones and electrical equipment throughout the 50’s and 60’s. In recent years the Reslo RB has become known as ‘The Beatles Mic’ because of its association with The Beatles early days at The Cavern Club.

However, as I recall (‘cos I’m that old), the Reslo RB was simply a popular vocal mic with many up-and-coming young beat groups in the clubs and pubs around Liverpool and Manchester. Like the Shure SM58 today, the Reslo RB was not, perhaps, the greatest vocal mic in the world, but it wasn’t bad either, and most importantly it was pitched at a price that gigging musicians could afford! In 1962 the Reslo RB/L could be purchased for £9.12s, which was less than half the price of an AKG D19B. A Sennheiser MD21 cost £16gns, or if you couldn’t quite afford the Reslo you could always settle for a Grampian DP4 L at £8. For their first gig at The Cavern in 1961 The Beatles were paid £5.

So how on earth did a delicate ribbon microphone survive whilst an enthusiastic singer (straining to get heard through a 50watt Vox PA) screamed ‘Twist and Shout’ at a distance of half an inch? (Or in the case of my mate’s band, an old valve amp built into a re-purposed rabbit hutch!) Reslosound clearly knew their market and gave this problem some thought. To avoid instant annihilation of the ribbon, Reslo had a cunning plan! Firstly the RB was designed with the ribbon motor facing backwards i.e. with the ribbon nearest the back of the microphone and thus somewhat shielded by the magnet. Secondly the RBs were supplied with a set of fine fibreglass ‘ acoustic correction pads ‘.

Reslo Filter Pads Kit 1961

These had a range of functions, described in detail in the Reslo Instruction Manual. However, the most important purpose of the pads was to prevent the implosion of breath on the ribbon.

ResloRB_INSTRUCTIONS_TECHDATA

In the almost inevitable event of catastrophic failure Reslo also had ‘Plan B’ in the form of replacement ribbons which came mounted on a plastic frame ready to do a quick swap.  It was also not uncommon for musicians to replace a blown ribbon themselves using the thin aluminium foil that came in cigarette packets! Having heard the results this is not to be recommended……… but it worked!

Rolling Stones 1963

Another bunch of likely lads with a Reslo RB. The Rolling Stones in 1963

The BBC Connection

In 1961 the BBC were looking around for small, unobtrusive microphones to use on TV. After serious deliberation, and thorough testing of the Reslo RBM/T, the Research Department concluded that ‘The performance of the microphone fell short of broadcasting standards’ (a night out at The Cavern would have told them that!).  However, the cheapness and robust construction of the RB was also noted, and they therefore suggested implementing a number of simple changes to the design which would bring it up to broadcasting specification. The full report can be read here…….

 1961 BBC Modifications.

The modified broadcast microphone is known as the Reslo VRM/T

The VRM/T was sold to the BBC for the princely sum of £10 per microphone.BBC TV Grandstand Reslo VRM/T

Home Taping

The Reslo RB was also popular with amateur tape recording enthusiasts. Once again, it gave good results without breaking the bank. The British tape recorder manufacturer Ferrograph sold Reslos with some of their machines and made their own in-line transformers to match them to the input. Here is a review of the RB by Fred Judd, who edited Amateur Tape Recording magazine for a number of years……. ResloRB_review by F Judd

Reslos also appeared in re-badged versions for various equipment manufacturers including VOX and GEC.

Conclusion

Fronting many famous (and not-so-famous) names of the 60’s the Reslo RB has rightly earned a place in rock ’n’ roll history, and thanks to its solid design there are many examples still in circulation. With a bit of a clean and a new ribbon they will probably carry on rocking for another 60 years.

So what does the Reslo RB/L sound like?

CLICK HERE Pete Gill with Reslo RBL

P.S.    If your Reslo RB needs re-ribboning or if you fancy upgrading to BBC spec http://xaudia.com/ do a fantastic job.

 

Philips LBB9050/05 Dual Capsule Dynamic Microphone 1970

 Philips LBB9050-05

 Philips LBB9050-05

Philips LBB9050-05

Launched in 1970 the LBB9050/05 was Philips flagship dynamic microphone, and was heralded in Philips literature as being a ‘revolutionary new design incorporating high and low frequency systems’. However, a small amount of research reveals more than a passing similarity in technical specifications between the LBB9050/05 and the popular D200 series of microphones by AKG, which had been around for several years.

Philips LBB9050-05

The mystery unravels further, and the true origins of this microphone become clear when we observe the words ‘Made in Austria’ on the packaging, the storage case, and on the microphone itself. Michael Amon, top technician at AKG for 30 years, has confirmed to me that the LBB9050/05 was indeed made by AKG for Philips in 1969.

Box for Philips LBB9050/05

 Philips LBB9050-05 Bass Capsule Ports

Picture above shows Tuchel socket, and ports for the LF capsule.

The Dual Capsule Design.

The original Austrian patent dates from 1960. The full specification appears in the English patent registered by AKG in 1965, and shown below. This makes an interesting read if you want to understand how this clever piece of technology works.

Original AKG Patent for Dual Capsule Microphones

Philips Advertising Leaflets Courtesy of Philips Company Archives.

LBB9050 microphone,

leafletLBB9050 microphone, leaflet, 1971

So What Does It Sound Like CLICK HERE for a short clip of Blues Guitar

In Conclusion

Just like its AKG cousins the D200, D202, D222 and the D224, the Philips LBB9050/05 is a serious quality professional microphone, exhibiting a wide frequency response, tight cardioid polar pattern, and no proximity effect.  Sadly, these days it is much less well known than the AKG models.  But maybe Philips is to blame? If you were to choose a completely unmemorable name for a product you really couldn’t do better than to call it the LBB9050/05!  Two minutes from now you will probably have forgotten it!

 

Mélodium 76A 1960’s / 70’s

Looking like a cross between a Van Gogh Sunflower and a pepper pot, the Mélodium 76a is a shining gem of chrome and aluminium. A classic of French design!

Melodium 76A Front Grill

In the 1960’s Mélodium developed a variety of modular parts and accessories to give their range of microphones greater versatility and customers more options.

The basic 76A microphone (head) came with a choice of 10 ohms or 200 ohms impedance.

Melodium 76A Head

The mic could be used plugged straight into the cable. (Great for harmonica players!)

If required this handy plug-in transformer converts the 76A from 200 ohms to Hi-Z.

Melodium 76A Transformer

There was also a choice of handles.

Melodium 76A Detachable handle

Melodium 76A with 314 Handle

In this 1970’s Mélodium Catalogue (below) the technical details of the microphones are presented along with a full range of parts and accessories, including goosenecks, tall stands, short stands, table stands and a large selection of adapters, switches and transformers. It is a very comprehensive selection, to cover every possible application.

CLICK Here for MelodiumCatalog

Sadly these days it is hard to find much information about Mélodium. Even in its heyday the company was little known outside of the French speaking world. By the end of the 1970’s Mélodium were no longer in business. Probably wiped out by the superior German and American competition.

Melodium 76A

Finally

Having finished re-soldering all of the joints in my eBay ‘bargain’, I just need to plug it in and find out what it sounds like!

CLICK HERE for Sound clip of Voice and Blackbird in the garden.

Mélodium 76A 1960’s / 70’s Construction Kit!

Mélodium 76A Construction Kit

When the previous owner mentioned in the description that there were ‘a few wiring issues’ with this vintage French PA microphone he wasn’t kidding! (It looked perfect enough in the eBay photograph!)

Was that why it was so cheap, and no one else bid? Hmmm…….

So now for a bit of fun wiring it back together!

I’ll report back if it by some miracle it works!!

P.S.  Just to make things a little more exciting Mélodium have their own plugs and sockets that only fit Mélodium microphones. They are made so that the pins can be moved about in various configurations up to 5 pins! This 431 socket will be 3 pin…… when I get them in the right holes!

Melodium 431 plug

P.P.S  Just noticed that there should be a rubber gland inside the knurled ring at the top!

Mélodium  Mélodynamic 75A (1948-1958)

Melodium 75A

Made in Paris between 1948 and 1958 by Mélodium Société, 296 rue Lecourbe 15eme.

Although visually the design harks back to the 1930s it has a surprisingly modern sound. This is borne out by the frequency graph, which shows a smooth response from 50 Hz to 10 kHz.There is a presence lift of 5db at around 4.8 kHz which lends clarity and crispness, particularly to speech and vocals.

The 75A boasts a very light duralumin diaphragm and voice coil (30mg), giving good transient response. It is also claimed that the microphone is impervious to wind, making it an excellent choice for outside broadcasting and sports reporting.

The grill design featured in the technical leaflet above was used on the earlier models.

Melodium 75A Grill

 Melodium 75A Side view

If you buy a Mélodium 75A it is worth noting that it has very low impedance (10 ohms) and will require the services of an appropriate preamp.

Also, the plug socket on the 75A is peculiar to Mélodium!  (N.B. The earliest models have 3 screw terminals.)

melodium-75a-connector

N.B. Right hand pin is + ‘hot’. Left hand pin – ‘cold’. Centre pin is earth.

Melodium 75A plug

These Mélodium locking plugs are very hard to find!  (They also fit the 42B ribbon mic.)

Melodium 75A Locking plug

Famous Users.

The Mélodium 75A was employed extensively by French broadcasters and was used by many famous entertainers and politicians, including the singer Edith Piaf and President Charles de Gaulle.

President Charles de Gaulle.

‘Non’

 

Even with this slightly creepy, wax works figure of Edith Piaf, at Musée Grévin in Paris, the Mélodium 75A takes stage centre!

CLICK HERE for a short voice recording using the 75A