Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mystery Sphere

I will be investigating and reporting on this strange spherical electronic device in a week or so. If you can ID it from the picture please let me know!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Future Mics from Crowley and Tripp?

If you've been reading Pro Sound News you might have spotted the recent piece beow that talks about innovations here at Crowley and Tripp mics. We have certain "experimental" versions out in the realm, being tested, beat up, abused, listened to, and most importantly of all - being though of as the next major improvement in ribbon microphone technology.

It all started when we began to ask users what they felt were the most important aspects of ribbon mics, and what needed to be done to make them useful tools that can be relied upon for even the most severe applications. So, we started by making them rough and rugged, and this shows in the Naked Eye, Soundstage Image, Proscenium, Studio Vocalist and Recordist models, all which have very high reliability and low, near-zero down time.

Now we are taking that a step further. The next generation of ribbon mics from Crowley and Tripp will use nano-enabled materials that have extraordinary strength and acoustic qualities that were not available from traditional materials. The first few of these mics have been built at great expense, but the results seem, at least so far, to be worth it.

If you see one of these in use, check it out, but don't bother to handle it carefully.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

1950s Germanium Transistor Radios

Just a shot of a couple of older transistor radios I have in the transistor radio museum. The one in the center is a Joni 7, likely named to sound a bit like the much copied Sony brand that was everywhere at the time.

Virtually every transistor radio sold during the late 50s and early 60s had the number of transistors labeled and it became a contest to see who could have the most. 7 was one more than the typical six! In the back ground you can see "Vote for Number 6" from The Prisoner TV series. The Joni 7 has mostly germanium transistors, and I forget what's in the others. Yes they work.

On either side are a pair of coral and aqua colored little reverse plastic transistor radios from the late 50s. They have different names but seem like they are the same, except the colors. Coral and auquamarine were very popular colors then. The term "reverse-plastic" was coined by me in the early days of USENET to describe the way some Japanese transistor radios were imprinted on the reverse side of a plastic see through section of plastic, and the term stuck. If you go to google groups, type in the search term n1ddzrjc to see dozens and dozens of usenet posts, and also w1xyz to see more. I was a USENET junkie! Or simply click here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Microphonium Museum of Ashland

The small but growing mic museum that is in the conference room at
Crowley and Tripp Microphones.

Some of the mics shown here appear in previous posts. Also in the scene, which is enlargable by clicking, are various historical artifacts such as an old Zenith radio, a cool Geloso tape recorder, A sealed, NOS Shure mic from the late 50s, never opened, an RCA ribbon mic that I call the "Gas Pedal", and several awards, packs of ancient Gibson strings, and other items placed to entertain guests who stop in.

The Acousticon

Here's an uncommon carbon microphone from the Dictaphone days. This Acousticon microphone is housed in pure black, pressure molded, filled, phenol-formaldehyde resin, otherwise known as Bakelite.

Such an important sounding name! ACOUSTICON!! You know this device means business, and the name alone suggests an intimate knowledge of Classical language and modern technology, embossed with Art Deco motifs all along the oddly fractal surface, and squarely affixed to its mini-monument pedestal base in perfect proportion to the Statue of Liberty, or maybe a Western Electric 1B, but minified. The Acousticon may have been used on Henry Ford's desk as his intercom mic, so he could order more charcoal briquettes (which he invented) or call his son, Edsel, to take the helm.

Hugh found this gem, cleaned it up a little, and put it on display at the Microphonium Museum. Carbon microphones have a reputation for high noise and low fidelity sound, a telephonic crackle that is accompanied by the hiss of the high voltage across the carbon buttons inside that conduct more or less as sound pressure varies. Soon you will be hearing about the rebirth of the carbon microphone, but with all the old limitations solved, and with some new advantages such as extreme durability, and very high bandwidth. We won't name it "Acousticon" though.

Click on the image for excruciating detail of the Acousticon.

What things came in

Not the plastic bubble pack, the ones that you need heavy duty shears to penetrate. Just ol' rectangular cardboard boxes from the long past. Boxes that brought microphones, some good, some not so good, like that Lafayette Dynamic you see in red. That one has a dynamic element in the base, facing up, and a lot of air in the large windscreen. That's right, it was a fake.

If you zoom in you can spot an old razor blade package too, and one you won't find anymore, among the pile of obsolete, quaint, and somewhat interesting arrangement of Electrovoice 635s, carpet tacks, Allen Bradley switches, and more Lafayette stuff from Japan.
link to v1 reactor at audioaddict

Monday, March 12, 2007

New Box, Old Box

What's in a box? Why do Crowley and Tripp obsess over the particular container for their studio microphone line?

Nobody knows, really, it's just that way.

The vertical storage scheme isn't to keep ribbons from sagging since they aren't going to sag anyway. There is a certain missile silo aspect to these boxes, ready for launch, or, a vague similarity to an old commode that has been pointed out.

But the reason for this post is to introduce a new box, from a new manufacturer. We don't make boxes, we buy them. Our first US based box manufacturer was pretty good and made some incredibly nice boxes, but the supply chain was a long one and there was a constant issue with finishes. Now we have found a much closer box maker and the new box is inour opinion stronger and more stylish, even nautical in flavor, than the old one. Space for a small binnacle or a new Studio Vocalist.

Zoom in and see the finger joints all up and down the corners. Finger joints are very strong and assure that the box will stay together for a very long time.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Astatic D-104 Microphonium

The venerable and ubiquitous D-104 is an example of one of most emblematic and prototypical microphone designs of all time. Its origins date back the 1920s as a Brush Manufacturing Company spring-suspended housing style for many carbon and later crystal microphone types, and even in its last iterations retains the four peripheral screw positions where hooks once were. The D-104, also shown by Astatic as the D104, was first sold as that model in 1933, according to the manufacturer. Here is a link to the Astatic literature discussing the history of this mic and their company.

And it is not a lo-fi device. Not at all, which is remarkable for a crystal mic. The curve, which aggressively rises up to about 8K, is relatively smooth and supports excellent vocal bass response when properly terminated into a high impedance load.

The D-104 would seem to get its designation from "10" signals which were in use by certain communications groups and later the CB types who chattered "that's a big 10-4 good buddy" until that 1970-era craze's merciful death. Broderick Crawford, from Highway Patrol, a 50s TV show, would say "ten-four" at least once in every episode.

D-104s show up at antique shows and are always way overpriced. Perhaps this can be excused, given the vintage, early style of this famous mic.

Friday, March 09, 2007

On Air with the EV-635a

If you have been reading along you may have noticed snide remarks about Electrovoice. The V1 ribbon was an EV mic that I thought was particularly bad. But not all of EV product fail the microphonium lab standards: the EV-635a is one I use very frequently as an on-air ham radio mic, hooked up to my Johnson Viking Valiant transmitter, shown in the background. The Valiant is capable of producing a healthy 100 Watt hi fi AM signal that can be heard over the Northeast on frequencies around 3885 KHz and 1940 KHz.

Lots of these mics exist and many are in use as ENG mics because they are extremely rugged and resistant to moisture. Like most vocal dynamics, designers have tilted the response upward to enhance articulation, and provided a series of blast filters to collect spit and hopefully eliminate plosives. The '635 has a somewhat hard and blocky sound, not very useful for music in my opinion, but good where you need voice punch, so you can be heard, and understood.

Click on the image for a very high resolution view of the unusual and slightly weird non slip finish.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Argonne AR-57 Pill

Few microphones of the 60's were more successful in design yet horrible in performance than the common Argonne AR-57 dual crystal element microphone. Variously labeled as a house brand, this RCA 77C inspired inexpensive mic has all the visual detail that 60s Japanese electronics packaging was known for. The exuberant and colorful designs of thousands of Japanese transistor radios shared elements like ribbed chrome rings, a real cloisonne emblem (claws on a, not cloy son a - geesh!) and mother of plastic and chromium plated details galore.

Two rochelle salt crystal elements are connected in parallel to lower the output Z and boost the output level. This mic is hot and produces an amazingly unpleasant ringy tone on any sound source unfortunate to be near.

But it still is and has always been a favorite of mine. These are not scarce and yet they bring over a $100 on ebay, which is about $50 too much in my estimation, given that hundreds of thousands were probably sold.

I saw this mic used as prop on a late nite TV infomercial where some greasy haired dude tries to sell nutriceutical pills.

"Pill Shaped" is how this is often described.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Naked Eye as an Overhead Mic

People are curious about Naked Eye. It is, by any standards, an unusual microphone with features that may be slightly unfamiliar to some users. Innovation invariably involves a change not only in the technology but in the user too, and Naked Eye is no exception. The availability of relatively inexpensive low noise preamps and the need for versatile personal recording tools, and the tremendous improvements made recently in the field of modern ribbon microphones, have led to a new set of user requirements that Naked Eye seems to fill.

I get asked a lot about the mount. Unfamiliar. Yes. But also strong, positionable, quick, sturdy, and precise. Precision is important with Naked Eye because it has two distinct voices that can be adjusted and blended by rotating and then locking the mic in the position that sounds right. Strong is also a requirement for overheads. As you can see in the picture, the Naked Eye is really sticking out! And it will stay there as long as you like it. So, you can position the Naked Eye or two of them over drums.

And it works on a boom as well. The angle of the Naked Eye low diffraction mount isn't dependent on a vertical mast, though it is easy to use that way too.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Oxygen Free Copper

I'm not going to dodge the issue: I believe that oxygen free copper is a lot of baloney. That is, unless you are out in space, somewhere that has zero oxygen. Copper is a fairly reactive metal and combines with sulfer, chlorine and a lot of other elements very easily, even right out of air.

Air, such as you are breathing, contains about 1/5th oxygen, and the remainder is mostly nitrogen. A very small amount - somewhere around 0.029 to 0.039%, is carbon dioxide.

I was reading an in-flight catalog where the sellers were emphasizing the absolute importance of having oxygen free copper in my audio system, and as I soared over Palmdale, I was glad that the oxygen free engineers hadn't designed the wing of the 757.

Above you see some very ordinary, but carefully specified and prepared, oxygen tainted wire that we use in some Crowley and Tripp ribbon microphones. These blunt little solid bits convey the signal from the ribbon, to you. They are a pain to work with because they are so stiff, but it's worth it, because of the very low ohmic loss that a large conductor affords.

Can you hear the sound of the oxygen? I hope so.

WANTED: American Beauty Mandolin

Just in case someone as seen an American Beauty Mandolin around or knows where to get one, I'm posting this image below. Seems that I had one just like the one shown here a long time ago, and now I'd like to get another one. This is an off topic post but still, close enough.

The mandolin is an interesting instrument and this flatback mandolin was probably made in the 30's or 40's, not a bad instrument, not expensive either. The one I had delivered a woody tone that had a strong ring to it, like a mandolin ought to have.

Anyway, if you have one of these critters, let me know.
UPDATE: I found one! Really nice too, on ebay (but it smells and needs to be aired out for about a year)

Thursday, March 01, 2007


I miss listening to the BBC on shortwave radio. Ever since I was a kid I listened to the chimes of Big Ben, the various "programmes" and much thoughtful, noncommercial fare.

Today, BBC is still going strong in TV and radio, but not much shortwave, at least not that I can pick up here. CBC's 'As It Happens" has replaced BBC on shortwave, and BBC now comes through in streaming audio, if you click here. No static, no interference. Better.

But, not simultaneous with the listening community. The internet delays and buffers time, so you get it "After it Happens" at best. And not in time with unseen fellow listeners who I always imagined were hearing it along with me. We lost the steady pulse of common time through timeshifting, while gaining convenience.