Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Philip Lampe

How is modeling different than Still Acting?

Gazing into the North light is our friend, webmaster, and fellow businessman Philip Lampe, reviewing last year's booth design, which he did all the graphics for. Among many other things, Philip is a terrific musician, sitar player, ambient performance maker, and sound and visual artist.

You can see Philip's website oriented website at http://www.vectorspin.com

We recommend him highly.

Also look at http://www.repeatpeak.com to see and listen to some of Philip Lampe's performances, and interesting art.

Here, Philip reminds me of what I imagine a Still Actor might be doing.  My definition:

"Still Actor" is the term used here to describe something more than a model.  It would be, as the name suggests, an actor for still images.  The implication is that Still Actor relies upon more skill, when done well, than "just a model".  Though there are wonderful models who are also actors, and therefore Still Actors by definition, Still Actors may favor non-moving, silent forms of acting for artistic reasons.  Still Acting may have its own methods and meanings, requiring additional skills beyond striking a pose, and holding it.  Still Acting is primarily used in conjunction with some form of optical imaging, such as photography. The intersection of portraiture and Still Acting might involve the interpretation of the person through single or serial still images, and various motives, themes, emotions, intentions and complex meanings can be developed by skilled Still Actors.

In commerce and advertising, Still Acting in photographs may attempt to convey meanings that motivate potential customers to favor a specific product, or service.  Still Actors have been involved in certain street  and gallery performances where the contrast between the normal movement of persons in a place stands out against the motionless Still Actor.

Crowley and Tripp Custom Shop - Shure 333 Ribbon with Red Screen and Black Body

Something about the Shure 333 when done up in nice semigloss black powder coat and with a candy apple red screen is very appealing.This one is a gift to a collaborator, and it has the original Shure transformer, but a different experimental ribbon in it. Since this is a hypercardioid mic, the ribbon is backed by an acoustic cushion to suppress the back lobe. Unlike the RCA 77D and DX, there is no acoustic labyrinth, only a pair of side ports to essentially redirect the back lobe out to the sides.

Microphone Microstructures

Even though Roswellite tm is getting all the attention lately, you should know that there are other "nano" acoustic materials that we are developing. And we are looking at some of the interesting phenomena that result from various heat treatment, extrusion and superplastic deformation processing steps. In particular, superplastic deformation, artistically depicted above (photoshop and some imagination), is a way to alter the shape of the molecular domains in an alloy. The Russians have been experimenting with it to strengthen aircraft aluminum, for instance, and also, amazingly, for the production of superconductors.

Imagine you are looking through semitransparent metal, and the lines and colors are the joints between the domains. They get fainter as you look back into the distance. But there are no broken joints - there can't be actually, as there is virtually no space between the various "plates" or deformed areas of elemental or molecular metals.

Some superplastic deformation may occur in the making of ordinary ribbons for ribbon mics, as sheets may be rolled ever thinner, stretching and compressing blobs of aluminum.

Materials used in Microphones

Now that Roswellite tm is being talked about I am getting a lot of questions about it and also microphone materials in general. It is satisfying to see that people are interested in this vital area of transducer design.

On the right is a shot of the shutter mechanism from an RCA 77DX ribbon mic which you can enlarge by clicking on it. The cam shaped yellow/orange part is made of a thin sheet of phosphorous bronze, which is an alloy, similar to brass, but with more spring. In fact there are many springs made out of this exact material.

I'm not sure why RCA chose this material, but I can tell you that I think it was a good choice: Not likely to corrode, flexible yet stiff, not likely to lose its shape over time. Sort of like what we want in a ribbon! But phosphorous bronze is, sadly, a very poor material for a ribbon, as it lacks the strength needed when it is made very thin, and it has rather mediocre conductivity which is quite important in a ribbon that works in a magnetic field.

I guess I went on and on at length about materials used in mics, in Lynn Fuston's Tape Op Con interview which you can find here. Motor mouth me must have had a good night before or something, as my usually laconic commentary is seemingly endless. If you can stand a 45 minute monologue, you might be amused.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Resonances and Overtones in Microphone Membranes

There have been a lot of discussions about the materials used for microphone membranes, capsules, ribbons, diaphragms etc. and also about how Roswellite tm fits into the widening range of improved materials that designers might use to make new microphones and transducers with.

Comments that keep coming up include the understandable questions "how does the new material sound"? Or, "What does the new material sound like?"

People are sometimes surprised that Roswellite tm mimics the traditional sound of "foils". How can it do that? Our old scientist friend Chladni explained how shape and frequency, and not material, influence the complex motion of acoustic surfaces such as drum heads, violins, and even microphone capsules. And of course we designed Roswellite tm to sound the same as before, because we have put so much effort into getting the sound in the first place. One variable at a time, please!

I've written a lot about Chladni and how important yet little-known his work is. His work explains why different ribbon materials can have the same timbre in a certain microphone, among many other things.

But you don't have to know about him to understand how the shape of mic element affects things like harmonic distortion, tizz, and breakup.

You can click on this link and see graphically what shape does to the nodes and antinodes on a surface.

For ribbons, select rectangle. Enter 1, then 30. This will give you a graphic of the pattern on a long skinny ribbon or skinny plate.

For round elements, select circle, and enter any two same number such as 1 and 1.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Quick Voltage Amp

If you need a quick voltage amp for some project requiring a lot of gain and transformer output, a quick and easy way to go is to use the input of a typical low cost solid state condenser microphone, which has a high gain amp in it, behind a super low noise amp, like this one shown here from Miteq. The DC bias at the input must be blocked by a cap, and shielded by the stock headgrille. Use an isolated BNC connector. A regular BNC will bring in a ton of noise.

This mic was about $45, yet the low noise 50 db amp cost at least $400. Together they will produce over 100 db of gain, not without noise, but OK for non critical applications.

I used this one on a "fly's wing" transducer with a piezoelectric base. You can read about that here.

Silent Film Fest in Boston

Ted Gallagher, Peter Schaefer, and Chris Regan practice along with Dominic Musacchio’s “Wet Paint”

Click on th image to read the whole article.

Excerpt below from The Boston Metro online edition:

‘Sound’ vision
Filmmakers and musicians unite for ‘Silents’ night

PROFILE. Musician David Haskell made a silent film that may have remained without sound if it weren’t for an eventful cab ride a few weeks ago.

As he tells it, the driver was playing “these incredible finger-picked guitar tunes on his stereo.”

Although Haskell plays music, himself, scoring the film would have been against the rules he and his co-producers Peter Schaefer and Dominic Musacchio set up for ‘The Sound of Silents.’

For the past two years, Haskell and his KNOW Movement Productions, along with the Somerville Arts Council, have put together live soundtracks for classic silent film article continues here

That's Chris Regan of Crowley and Tripp at the keyboard.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

General Cinema Corporation Executives circa 1965

"Ben Hur" and "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" were playing at the many General Cinemas around the Boston Area in the mid 60s.

Each GCC feature presentation began with a cheesy, famous and remarkable Intro Trailer (a non sequitur I admit) consisting of badly spliced clavinet and percussion, and various room noises, and random sounds. This one is worth putting the headphones on.

It is an example where everything is wrong, yet together achieves a certain type of perfection. And it leaves you hanging at the end, listening to noise, which of course it was intended to do.

Click on the execs to see and hear it, or on this image of the projector.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Roswellite Mics

Roswellite tm advanced material was invented by medical device pioneers Bob Crowley and Hugh Tripp who together went through several years of R&D, process development, material testing, outside contracts, and patent writing, not to mention the mics!

How do they sound? If higher dynamic range, easily capable of withstanding plosives without distortion, high sensitivity, high output, low noise and freedom from tizz are important to you, we know that you will like the sound of Roswellite tm.

Actually there is very little of the ribbon microphone sound produced by the ribbon itself. You may have read elsewhere on the blog where I point out that the sound is produced by the physics of the structure and the shape, and other factors. But a thicker ribbon will have more mass, and greater inertia, so it may be slower than a thin one. Yet a thin ribbon (of the old aluminum type) will have lower inertia, but can be fragile. I've recently found out that the 4038s keep AEA busy doing reribboning. That's just too fragile and I had no idea that they reribboned dozens per month. A nice little business.

So Roswellite tm has low mass, but isn't fragile. Our mics are generally a bit brighter than a 4038, and have more shielding, and may have a lower noise floor. A Studio Vocalist with Roswellite tm is likely to sound like a Studio Vocalist with aluminum, just be more capable of extremes, misapplied p-power, and so forth. That's because the Studio Vocalist ribbon mic is voiced using a dual transmission line and a particular series acoustic resistance, plus a transformer good up past 1 MHz, more than anything else.

The big impact is what the new material affords to new designs. Now that the touchy ribbon is solved, the designer can change other parts of the mic to take advantage of Roswellite's extreme strength. And that's exactly what we are doing.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

In Process Inspections

Even though some of us are floating on boats or lazing away on the beach, others are diligently producing. Here Crissy points the dreaded inspector's pencil at some Naked Eye bodies and other parts that are in process. The idea is to catch anything that might have gone wrong during a machining, forming, coating, assembly or alignment step, and to look for blemishes that might have crept in as a result of handling. One common blemish is a chuck mark, where a machined part gets a mark impressed upon it by the jaws of a lathe chuck, or the like. Rejected! Fortunately, most of the parts are fine, but we still do 100% in process and final inspections, just to be sure.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Take a break
sleep late
find some sand
breathe the air
clear your head

Thursday, August 09, 2007

RCA BK5A Performance

There have been numerous discussions on the boards about the sound of the BK5A or B on percussive sounds, kick drums, and other sources. It seems to deliver the punch, the kind that hits you in the chest, that is defined and not a muddy thump.

The BK5s use an acoustic labyrinth that provides a blocked off acoustic impedance to the rear of the ribbon, which is then more sensitive to incoming sounds from the exposed front. Like a pillow, it cuts off the rear lobe, at least in the mids and highs, but not very much in the bass region. The more focused hypercardioid response is sometimes easier to use but the tradeoff is that the mic begins to sound like a conventional dynamic. The reason for this is twofold: First, there is an increase in off-axis coloration, and second, spatial cues that the ear and brain interpret as "space" are absent vs the figure 8 configuration. Since the spatial component of ribbon mics is one of the more recognizable attributes there is less of that ribbon sound.

One thing is preserved however: The top end smoothness produced by the linear, restricted mode movement of the ribbon is still present, and that alone contributes to the lack of tizziness and lateral modes which plague most round elements of any appreciable size. That would include large diaphragm condenser and dynamic types. Chladni patterns on round plates clearly show that complex, distortion producing lateral modes (that are mostly avoided with a ribbon) and that attribute alone may be reason enough to choose a ribbon over the tympanic form of microphone.

Read about Hugh Tripp's investigation here.

About that tizz. It is clear to us that the newer generation of engineers and producers have recognized tizz for what it is, and no longer confuse the fizzy shhhh with "air" or "tops", especially in vocals. We have all heard many songs where the vocals are just too harsh for this reason, and it is of course an engineering goal to keep listener's ears on the song, rather than have them tune away. Tizz-air has become an affectation. I can think of one recently recorded album (which is incredible, fabulous, perfectly mixed, beautiful and monumental) where the singer's very famous voice is presented in a way that sounds like there might be some bees buzzing around. Only on a track or two. A detail.

Ribbon microphones have gone mainstream in the last few years, and the reasons for that are many. Improvements in ribbon mics, which have been largely left unimproved for decades, are on the way too, so the whole scene is changing. We refer to the beloved classics - like this BK5, from the set of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson - as milestones but also as starting points.

More about the BK5A from NBC here.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Prototype Ribbon Microphones

Summer is a busy time at Crowley and Tripp mics, with the usual production and fast growing sales, but also now with a lot more R&D than ever before.

The increased research activity is welcome, but time-consuming, and includes medical device-like test protocol development, testing, and more testing! We are very careful about design changes and want to do everything possible to determine what will happen to a new mic before we send it out to the customer.

I read on the message boards several instances where the customer became the ginuea pig for a mic manufacturer. All the explaining in the world couldn't fix the misunderstanding which was about the fact that the mic being talked about was only a photo model and not the real thing. An unfinished product has to be very carefully controlled and only used by people who have been briefed on its unfinished characteristic.

Above are two mics you will never be able to buy. They are converted test mules used for various experiments. The tape label is a dead giveaway that these aren't the final product.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Cyrillic is kind of cool looking and not that hard to read. Here is the word "RADIO" in Cyrillic. The P has an "R" sound. The funny looking big A has a "D" sound. The backwards N has a "EEE" sound and the O sounds like and "Oh". Raaadeeoh.

Here is the great artwork of early 60's Soviet Space program propaganda, showing male and female cosmonauts standing in provocative poses. It is interesting to cover their heads and see the very subtle male vs female shape cues, almost nonexistent, put there by the unknown artist.

Russia claimed to be ahead of the US in equality issues during the Krushchev era. Communism claimed a lot of things, equality one of them.

That dynamic space tower in the background of course appealed to the Russian radio hams who engaged in "radiosports" closely watched over by the Kremlin. Something about the style of this is appealing today and collectors seek original Soviet artwork for its bold style and spirit.

Check out the Women's Audio Mission logo no doubt taken from the same era of Soviet glory.

To see a cool Lomo microphone marked in Cyrillic click here.