Thursday, June 29, 2006

Return of the Carbon Microphone

Emile Berliner was the inventor working for Bell who came up with the idea of placing carbon granules between conductive plates to make a sound variable resistor.

Chladni would have liked it.

You can look at the loose granules of carbon by zooming into the center of the holder. When assembled, the center of the diaphragm rests on the little dish full of carbon and makes electrical contact.

Old carbon microphones were noisy and affected by moisture. Sometimes you had to tap the mic to loosen up the granules. Occasionally I see some person tapping on a mic or blowing into it and wonder if they picked that up from an old movie. Also Bjork and Shlomo know how to properly get a carbon mic to operate. Check out this video and also notice the flapping hand producer technique that follows. Amazingly, her music continues to be innovative and often excellent.

The carbon microphone is about to make its comeback.

Chladni Day at Soundwave Research Labs

Sometimes referred to as Ernest Florenz Friedrich Chladni. He lived from November 30, 1756 to April 3, 1827. We celebrate June 29th as Chladni Day in Massachusetts, Maine and Puerto Rico. I have asked Hallmark to produce commemorative cards to celebrate the life and work of Chladni.

Today we honor Ernst Chladni, the German scientist who elucidated fundamental principles of quantum theory through his investigations of vibrating plates. "Chladni Plates" are metal discs or squares upon which sand is poured. The edge of the plate is bowed with a violin bow, the vibrations propagate across the plates and moves the sand, and all sorts of interesting interference effects and patterns become visible, as the sand collects in the antinodes.

I like Chladni a lot because his work explains why ribbon microphones sound better than condenser microphones. The basic reason is that the ribbon microphone is predominantly a two dimensional system, with fewer overtones. lateral modes and generally unwanted resonances ("forbidden modes" to you quantum folks) in the band of interest (music) than the three-dimensional system of a disc moving with tympanic action, AKA the condenser membrane.

Investigate quantum principles without doing the math! Select "rectangle" Let m = 1 and let n = 10. Click on "plot" and observe. What do you see?

Then switch to "Circle". Plug in m= 1 and n = 5 ( which can be the case with a large diaphragm condenser) What do you see? "Tuners" re-tension the capsule for reduced lateral modes. You can too.

BEO-3 Ribbon Microphone with Original Offset Ribbon

This is a decent close up shot of a B&O 3 ribbon microphone with the original "duralumin" ribbon still in it. This mic was DOA from the factory as the ribbon was incorrectly installed, and had shorted against the frame, hence no output. Lifting the end of the ribbon up just a little got it working again. Duralumin was an early name for a high strength aluminum alloy. Today there are many high strength aluminum alloys grouped according to series, such as 3 Series, or 7 Series. 7 is strong material.

You are looking into the A side of the mic, and the ribbon is convex. That transformer is tiny and very inefficient. Overall the motor unit is rather underwhelming. The microphone case is a beauty! That brushed finish and deeply engraved red filled letters - oooohh!!

These are beautiful art objects and worth grabbing if you see them at a reasonable price. In terms of output level , sound quality and noise, they are old school designs and do not compete well with more modern designs. A new ribbon and a remagnetization of the motor can bring it up a bit, but then the limitation is the tiny transformer.

Collectors of things like old mics and transistor radios from the 50's know that the mintiest examples are often DOA units that were put back in the box and stashed away. Millions of cool and colorful transistor radios, in particular, were given as gifts during the late 50's and early 60's, and some were of course Dead on Christmas Morning. Others were put away for good once the batteries wore out! Thanks to those frugal people of the past and their upper left-hand sock drawers, our little collection continues to grow!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Crowley and Tripp Guitar Amp Sticker

Ribbon microphones are great for recording guitar amps. Naked Eye has a mount that makes getting the right tone super easy.

Guitarists seem to love stickers and happily snap these up when given the chance. We include one or two with every mic and stick one in the envelope if someone writes for a product sheet or something. Many people have commented on our logo and tell us that they like it, and that it looks like something familiar. Well, it is a new design adapted from an older, abandoned mark which we altered and now have used in all of our microphone products around the world.

We have a nickname for the logo. Can you tell what it is?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Stanley Tools To Pay $205,000 Civil Penalty

FTC has settled an action against Stanley Tools in which it found that the company was indicating certain tools were "Made in USA" when in fact a substantial component of the product was of foreign origin.

The Federal Trade Commission requires that a product be "all or substantially all" US origin in order for it to be advertised as "Made in USA". See here for the FTC website.

What does this have to do with ribbon microphones? Well, we work hard to comply with the "Made in USA" standard, and go to lengths to assure that components and materials meet the requirements of the "Made in USA" label. It costs us more, we are better able to control quality, and it is something we decided to do to see if the customers see the differerence. Apparently they do, even in countries such as Denmark, Sweden, France, the UK, Australia.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Crowley and Tripp Review - Recording magazine

In the July issue of Recording there is an excellent review of the Crowley and Tripp Studio Vocalist vocal ribbon microphone. Reviewer Scott Dorsey reports that this is, indeed, an optimal vocal mic, and that it has useful side purposes.

An excerpt or two:

"I tried the Studio Vocalist on an alto singer and got the most rounded and clean vocal tone from her."

"...this mic is called the Studio Vocalist, and I'd recommend it for any time you need that rounded tone but need the vocal to be the center of attention in a mix."

Well put, Scott. This is exactly what we designed it for.

As you can see, the Studio Vocalist is on the cover of the magazine. The review is in print and there is not an online version. Recording is a traditional paper magazine. I got this copy from the news stand at the mall. You should look for it.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Art Microphone Concepts

Left to Right: Wernher von Braun memorial Vans mic casing with geodesic dome, Pill-O-Phonic American Retrospective with chrome jumblies, South Beach "waistband" verson, Chromium-Crimson without distal attachment, Dual Handybygaard Stack with Orb.

We are always experimenting and challenging the idea of "what a microphone should look like".

Friday, June 23, 2006

Grampian Ribbon Microphone - With Crumblies

The Grampian Ribbon is similar in construction to a Reslo, and has the ribbon frame which can be positioned, a bit, within the confines of the magnet assembly. This is a fairly conventional setup with two horseshoe magnets and tapered pole pieces defining the magnetic gap.

The Grampian looks larger in photographs, and has a sculptural aspect, but is rather smaller than one would expect and therefore not very impressive when seen "in person". The transformer (not shown) is an EI type with a low Z output. The cast potmetal base and frame are well executed and nicely finished, and the recessed blue metallic label has a simple but good look to it.

This picture was shot right after we opened this ebay purchase up. The crumbly bits are a reminder of what happens to most polymers over a long time, which is why we avoid them in our mics. Only certain polymers have the stability needed for a planned 50 year service life, which we learned making medical devices and doing accelerated aging studies. That's why we can predict such long service lives for the Crowley and Tripp mics.

I love the name. Grampian. So English, stodgy, appropriate.

An Amusing Blog about Intellectual Property

Here is a link to Lee Gesmer's blog about things relating to intellectual property. Lee is a patent attorney, among other things. His blog is a collection of witty and sometimes sardonic observations, generally about matters pertaining to legal aspects of patents, trademarks, and the like.

Image shot by Jon Oshima at Wood's Hole in 1974 during a performance of the group "Mother Zamcheck's Bacon Band".

Correction: Lee tells me it cannot have been shot in 1974, as he sold his guitar before that. More like 1971.

Players included:
Mark Zamcheck - keyboards
Gian Caterine - bass
Lee Gesmer - guitar
Paul Freidlander - guitar
Joe Cartier - percussion
Mimi Kravitz - vocal

Monday, June 19, 2006

Visit to Tombstone

After Tape op I had one day to drive down to Sierra Vista to see my old friend Steve and get some lunch in wild west city of Tombstone. It was blazingly hot there today, at least 105 degrees and intense sunshine. With all that sunshine, Arizona ought to be the solar energy capital of the world. There's probably enough energy to power most of the US. There was nothing about microphones for a whole day.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Aftermess

This is not exactly a travelogue quality scene, but it is the reality of what a trade show looks like after the exhibitors pack their many boxes and leave the scene. The only sounds left are the zippings of tape dispensors and rustling of bubblewrap, and a few rambling conversations, mostly between the old timers who have been here before.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Tape op Booth

A picture of our little booth at Tape Op, here being staffed by the very able Megan who is doing her graduate work in Tucson and has been in the band "The Meat". Megan neatened up the mess I made, straightened out our wrinkled sign, gave product demos all day, and hooked up the Grace preamp and cool Grace headphone preamp and made it all work. Thanks to Eben Grace for supplying us with this excellent, clean, ribbon-optimal pre for the show. No noise, just clean, nice gain. Nice

Brad Avenson at Tape Op

Microphone aficionado Brad Avenson stopped by the booth to say hi and chat about various doings in new microphone technology. Brad is definitely a mic guru and you should check out his mics at

Brad uses cedar boxes for his microphones.

Nice mugshot. You can see Wes Dooley in the background, but not wearing his stovepipe hat.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tape Op Tucson

Hey it's not nearly as hot and terrible here at 105 degrees as I expected. There's a stiff breeze and the humidy is quite low. Just spent the latter part of the afternoon unpacking the Crowley and Tripp mics and all the gear that goes with them. Hugh and Chris did quite an outstanding packing job.

Ribbon mics are the topic here at Tape Op it seems.

More to follow. I'll take some pictures.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Fostex Mid Side Stereo Mic

Fostex made these Mid Side Stereo mics and referred to them as "printed ribbon" mics. They are not ribbon mics but are more like dynamics, sans a separate vioce coil on a tympanic membrane. Instead, a spiral conductor is printed on a lighweight polymer substrate material. The substrate is not stretched and is not under tension.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

V1a Apart

Here are most of the parts from this mic. Notice the open frame transformer. Not much more to say here.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Electrovoice V1a ribbon microphone

Here's an EV V1a ribbon mic sitting in front of some nice Collins gear. We have a complete set of measurements of its performance, and we spent a day looking at the internals of this model, cleaning, fixing and reribboning, and getting it to operate.

I'll get right to the point and tell you that if you are looking for a recording ribbon this is probably (I'm certain) not what you want. However, it is a very handsome design, like a scaled-down RCA 44 sort of look, rendered in pot metal castings. I see these on ebay quite frequently.

Anyway nice to look at. If I find another I may make a new motor for it.

Here is an exploded view of th innards!

Friday, June 09, 2006

RCA BK5a - Ribbon Mic with Provenance?

Here's an RCA BK5a that has an interesting history. Notice the residual blue paint on the shock absorber and compare that to the blue paint on the 77DX used on The Tonight Show. This particular BK5a, we have been told, was the off camera overhead mic used on that set, during that period of the 60's when pastel blue was in.

Little bits of blue can be found all over the mic, in crevices and interstices, and at the bottom.

We reribboned it, tested it, and then sold it on ebay. The BK5a is a hypercardioid ribbon mic with an internal acoustic labyrinth. The differences between the A and B versions of this mic are small, and consist of the shape of the aperture, and the size, of the side baffle at the concussion filter, which sits ahead of and upon the actual ribbon motor. This was done to tighten up the polar response and reduce sidelobes. The BK5a also has a switchable reactance output like a 77DX.

Monday, June 05, 2006


I play the shakuhachi: the traditional end-blown Japanese flute. Last March I had the opportunity to be in on a session with electric sitarist Philip Lampe and electronic tweaker Robert Manzke. The two create and perform ambient soundfield pieces, often with multimedia and various programmed segments interwoven with live playing. Take a look at Spiralzero and Repeatpeak to see more of this interesting collection of experimental music, visuals, and interactive presentations.

Check out that Lava Lamp and the cool blue LED spot. The metallic grey Naked Eye is on the stand tilted forward so I could play both front and back of the mic.

Converting a recorder into a rakuhachi

Hemlock Bugs

The bare branch behind the Naked Eye in this shot has an obvious meaning. We designed Naked Eye to be "bare" and you can see in to the ribbon if you look. The branch itself is from a Hemlock tree next to our front door. I ran outside and picked some dead branches, laid them on a black velvet cloth, placed the mic on top, and shot the image. I like the light/dark areas along the branch and the natural texture and shape which is used in an as found condition.

Notice the bluish color on the branch: the shot picked up a lot of the blue colored benches we have all over the lab. That mic you see in the picture is actually dark metallic grey, not blue,but it looks it.

After the shot was taken it was sent around the WWW in various press releases and turned even bluer. Everyone expected a bluish mic so we had to start mixing colors to get it close to what people were expecting. The effort was worth it. My old grey Naked Eye which I use personally to record shakuhachi (does very well for that) is is the only grey one ever made but I like the blue ones much better. I am sure they sound better in blue. Larry Killip has the only "Killip Green" Naked Eye built.

The Hemlocks are all dying around here. A bug called a Woolly Adelgid is infesting them and sucking the life out of them. The Hemlock is an important evergreen, as it is home to red squirrels, and thrives in shady, wooded locations. The hemlock tree is not poisonous.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Music Break: John Cate

John Cate has become very well known and loved in New England and beyond, and he plays his own special brand of original American music in the Boston area frequently. His multiple CDs are each filled with many gems composed by this prolific talent. If you have a chance go see him LIVE.

You should check out and hear him and his great band. They rock!

Go,and listen !

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Special Guest at AES Paris

John Jennings in the booth checking out Crowley and Tripp mics and saying a friendly hello at last week's AES meeting in Paris. Shown here (L-R) Naked Eye, Proscenium, Studio Vocalist, and Soundstage Image ribbon microphones by Crowley and Tripp.