Saturday, September 29, 2007

Crowley and Tripp Mics Appeal to Independents and Nonconformists

The saying was "everyone ought to be a nonconformist" during an individualist conference session during the 60s.

Who is a nonconformist? Is it simply someone who is eccentric, or are there minority cohorts of nonconformists, who, in their lack of uniformity, maintain their distance from that which is obviously conformist. Conformism - the adoption of behaviour and attitudes shared by others - is of course partly due to peer pressure, and begins at an early age. It is an essential human quality to want to belong, and belong we do, in dress, manners, speech, food and many other things that we like to share with others. So that leaves those who do not share the same likes, and the question of why and how preferences are formed. The contrarians.

Manufacturers of things for sale are very interested in preferences. They need to know preferences so they can plop their new product right down in the middle of the biggest buying segment. The iPhone and iPod, and "BMW Lifestyle Apparel" come to mind. All three products are positioned as having an individualist leaning, yet are perfectly centered on a certain buying market, age group and demographic segment. (confession/disclaimer: I do own a BMW, and like it)

We are constantly told that our mics are "intelligent" and that we are somehow "different from all the others", all attributes that we like to hear. The fact that we are "off the beaten path" and "away from the mainstream" is considered to be of value in an industry that demands creativity and renewal, and rejects that which is centered on "the masses". I'm not sure that we are centered on anything, let alone a demographic segment. Our customers seem to come from all over; Singers with a passion, curious engineers, jazz quartets wanting to capture their performance, guitar players looking for tone, genius composers, virtuoso horn players, the famous and the obscure,and producers who are both new and established. We don't seem to particularly appeal to the strict traditionalists - they have already made up their minds and their beliefs are firm - but we do seem to appeal to the younger artists, engineers and the adventurous, those who you might call individualists of any age, and even the wacky, but also to the seemingly low-key, and serious. We enjoy the diversity and the colors and flavors they brings us, and for the knowledge, too.

So who are you? Are you a conformist? I doubt it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Naked Eye LIVE with Roswellite

A Naked Eye LIVE with Roswellite getting some serious testing on our heavily modded Guild with the pair of 7027a Tung Sols and various other tricks, including a power supply with double the original peak current rating. I'm amazed such a small combo can make so much good sound and it seems to like the 60th anniversary strat that we keep as a knock around here in the lab, along with other beat-up instruments.

This mic sounds like a a Naked Eye Classic. It has the same dual tones and dense thick bottom, and it comes with our new Roswellite tm ribbon material, which means that air blasts, plosives, and other mechanical and electrical perturbations won't bother the ribbon, at all. Unlike Naked Eye Classic, Naked Eye LIVE with Roswellite is aimed specifically at road use. It has the same output levels and doesn't rely on thick ribbons to do this - a thick ribbon is just as likely to get bent and stay that way as a thin one. We looked at that and long ago decided that the only way to improve the ribbon material is to concentrate on the material properties, not just the thickness. Roswellite has even better speed than aluminum, and responds well to delicate and soft sounds as well or better than the traditional "foils", but keeps its shape, no matter what.

We realize that it wasn't until the advent of nanotechnology and nano-engineered materials that engineers could actually do something about the too-fussy ribbon of yore. If Harry F Olson had some Roswellite, he would have used it instead of the Alcoa foil used by RCA. It would have led to even more improvements to ribbon mics at an earlier time also. That's the way it goes in technology development - often one has to wait until some new machine, method or material is invented to finally get it right.

It is my sincerest hope that someday, someone, some genius, will find a way to get rid of windshield wipers, which I hate. At least we are on the road to eliminating "foils".

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The oil from the head of a whale is a very fine, light oil that burns with a bright white flame, so for years, whale oil was the fuel of choice for lamps and lanterns. Whale oil was expensive and was replaced by petroleum oils when techniques were developed to refine Pennsylvania crude, a black smelly gunk that had been lying around in lakes and could be obtained in bulk by drilling relatively shallow wells.

Many naturally occurring materials, like cotton for instance, have not yet been completely replaced. Kevlar is a lot stronger, and parachutists probably prefer Kevlar over cotton parachute cord today, for obvious reasons. I'm sure you can think of your own examples. Cotton feels nice though, so cotton is used to make most clothing.

Aluminum is an important and relatively expensive material that is being used more in automobiles and motorcycles, aircraft, beach chairs and anywhere a lightweight and strong metal is needed. Mountain bikes are usually made with aluminum frames too. But aluminum is not often used to make springs. The elasticity of aluminum is nowhere as high as steel and other alloys, and not even a fraction of more exotic alloys such as Nitinol. Aluminum road bike frames are light but have a certain stiffness that can be unpleasant, so there are still plenty of steel alloy frames being made.

Aluminum has been the choice for making ribbon microphone elements since day one. For small excursion, low intensity sound applications, aluminum worked out fairly well, albeit with some shortcomings in the longevity department. Better alloys and mic designs nearly doubled the effective durability of ribbon mics. The Crowley and Tripp Naked Eye Standard is one such example of a higher strength aluminum ribbon that has been successful.

Now we are about to introduce a new material we call Roswellite as an improved replacement for the aluminum ribbon. Roswellite has many times the tensile strength and elasticity of aluminum, yet is lightweight and even lower in mass than what it replaces. It costs much more to make though. This leads to the important question: How good is good enough? Are present aluminum ribbons good enough? Apparently not, at least not for those who still shy away from ribbon mics. It seems that "the stigma of ribbon mic" stems from the ribbon material, mainly. And it ends with an even more important question: If Roswellite is superior to aluminum, but costs much more, is it worth putting in all ribbon mics of the future, or just the ones with the highest performance requirements? If Roswellite eliminates, once and for all, any doubts about what one can use a ribbon mic for (for instance, on the road, outdoors, etc.) then why should anyone continue to make aluminum ribbon mics anymore, unless cost was the primary factor?

The head of a whale or a porpoise has a domed shape, yet the skull of these animals is pointed, even beak-like, with a broad flat area over the front of the brain, which is large. That's where the dome is. That dome is filled with oil. Whale and porpoise oil has a different acoustic refractive index, or velocity, than water, and in that shape it forms a sound lens that focuses soundwaves onto the front of the brain. These soundwaves carry shape information, so the whale or porpoise can discern shapes very accurately and surely with it. It is just like a large eye at the center of their head. Experiments in pools have shown that porpoises can make out shapes, circles, textures, and even the faces of individual porpoises using only their sound lens, and clicks.

The third eye of consciousness is in our literature and history. Music evokes the third eye and the scenic, panoramic and visual response to music is only limited by our ability to listen, and see.


This is a picture of an old product brochure from Boston Scientific that shows one of the ultrasound-equipped catheters that Hugh Tripp and I worked on. The artist put in a little umbrella shaped "scan" so you could imagine the area that the ultrasound beam, which was scanned in a circle, could visualize. The acoustic transducer, which is really just like a very small microphone with a narrow pattern, is spun using a special kind of wire that is wound sort of like a speedometer cable and a guitar string, but with a hole through the middle so you can add a very tiny coax cable that allows the signal from the transducer to get to the preamp. That black wire outside the catheter, except for the tip, is called a guidewire. Guidewires are used in many medical procedures in the same way as an electrician's snake, except of course much smaller and safer. But the idea is the same: find a hole in the body, or make a small one, insert the guidewire and under X-ray, get it to where the problem is, then leave it in place and slide other things, such as an ultrasound catheter, or some kind of cutter, or a drug delivery device, to the area once you've figured out what to do.

It sure beats cutting open the patient!

Not sure what you are reading about? Click on the image to zoom in and take a close look

Know who wrote these 60s songs?

Goodbye Mary Hopkins
Bad To Me Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas
Catwalks Chris Barber Band
Come and Get It Badfinger
From A Window Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas
Hello Little Girl Fourmost
I Don't Want To See You Again Peter & Gordon
I'll Be On My Way Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas
I'll Keep You Statisfied Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas
It's For You Cilla Black
I Wanna Be Your Man The Rolling Stones
Like Dreamers Do The Applejacks
Love of the Loved Cilia Black; Mike Shannon
Sour Milk Sea (Harrison) Jackie Lomax
La Penina Carlos Mendez
Love of the Loved The Strangers; Mike Shannon
Nobody I Know Peter & Gordon
Step Inside Love Cilla Black
That Means A Lot P.J. Proby
Those Were The Days Mary Hopkins
Tip Of My Tongue Tommy Quickly
World Without Love Peter & Gordon

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Altec 639b, EMI Ribbon, el Diablo with Roswellite

At last year's AES meeting in San Francisco, we had three new ribbon mics "mentioned" for possible future production. Though we haven't ruled out something inspired by the first two, only el Diablo got the funding and ad commitments needed to actually make the investment in the development of a new ribbon microphone and roll it out with an all-new ribbon material.

Our experience with superelastic materials used in medical devices was key; We had to adapt relatively heavy, magnetic forms of superelastic construction to a much lower mass, paramagnetic material suitable for use in a ribbon mic, and of course capable of very high SPLs, such as an ACTUAL SPL, at all freqencies, of 146db. You may see others out there that claim even higher SPL handling, but these are stated at 1 KHz, which is easy for standard ribbons. Try 146db at 30 Hz and see what happens to an aluminum ribbon! Roswellite handles it easily.

Mercenary Editions are a product marking that advertises Mercenary Audio and its indication that it has 1. influenced the design of the product and 2., approves of the result based on actual trials. This is certainly true with el Diablo, which made enough trips back and forth over the short drive between us and Mercenary in Foxboro until we tweaked it so that it sounded just so, suitable for placement in a kick drum, but also very useful for recording clean, flattering, high definition vocals, demanding bass, loud guitars, and other apps where tone and loundness are a factor. In doing so we have been able to keep the gains we made in the area of natural ribbon output, getting the ribbon mic to pass the output of an SM57 (or 58) while generating an artifact-free signal over a wide dynamic range. Very wide!

What about the Altec, or the EMI? We'll have to wait and see. Both of those would have centered on maintaining some of the old style while improving the sound quality and overall mic performance, unlike el Diablo, which started on a modern platform made by us and known to have specific sonic capabilities and with known and controlled manufacturing processes.We aren't into reproductions.

I hope to see you all at AES! Exciting stuff in our bag this year.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Crowley and Tripp Firsts in Ribbon Microphones

First ribbon microphone with true dual voicing
Naked Eye
Technology: Two separate acoustic circuits int he sound chamber with a centered, symmetric ribbon.

First Ribbon Microphone with output higher than dynamics
Studio Vocalist
Technology: Ultra efficient ttransformers, magnetic and extremely low loss Ohmic connections.

First ribbon microphone with a rising vocal response
Studio Vocalist
Voiced sound circuit and acoustic impedance matching at the element.

First phantom power, plosive, and air blast safe ribbon microphone
el Diablo
Technology: Roswellite (acoustic nanofilm) superelastic paramagnetic composite.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Here are some aluminum rods cut and drilled to make chimes. It turns out that the hardness of the aluminum affects the chime tone and its ability to ring greatly. First I tried some precision ground 7 series aluminum, but that cost over $35 a rod! Way too much, I thought, so I ordered some 6 series, and they are almost - not quite - as good. These are tuned to just over 10K.

Why are we making chimes? Stay tuned for the answer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Roswellite and the other "ites"

There a numerous minerals and materials, both natural and man-made, that have the "ite" suffix.

Here are a couple of weird ones:

* Boussingaultite (Hydrated Ammonium Magnesium Sulfate)
* Cryptohalite (Ammonium Silicon Fluoride)
* Struvite (Hydrated Ammonium Magnesium Phosphate)
* Tschermigite (Hydrated Ammonium Aluminum Sulfate)

Try pronouncing these tongue-twisters.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Atticus, Steve Jacobs, Bob Crowley, and John Cate

A recent barbecue with various Newton MA-originated recording artists present. Here's a shot with Stephen Jacobs (Carey Bell Blues Band,Hambone), and John Cate (John Cate & the Van Gogh Brothers, Zamcheck).

Friday, September 14, 2007

Oliver and Klaus to Explain Sex Appeal of Old Mics

I just spotted this in the AES program. I'm pleased to predict they won't be including us in the following:

AES New York 2007
Master Class M5

Sunday, October 7, 11:00 am — 12:30 pm

Oliver Archut, TAB-Funkenwerk - Gaylord, KS, USA
Klaus Heyne, German Masterworks - Portland, OR, USA

Vintage Microphone Mystique—How Sex Appeal Trumps Specs

The current phenomenon of frequently using fifty-year old microphones in critical recording applications, from pop vocals to classical symphony orchestras, is unprecedented and seemingly illogical in a world of rapidly evolving recording technologies. Oliver and Klaus will examine why, subjectively and objectively, recording microphones seem to occupy this uniquely antiquarian role. They will also discuss how and why many of today's manufacturers yield to the demand and desire of the recording community for microphones from yesteryear by issuing products that emulate the past.

I'll be there. I have to say in advance, however, that the preference to old instruments isn't unprecedented: Plenty of vintage Fenders and Gibsons are preferred over newer guitars, for example. Part of the phenomenon is of course the name, and part is that humans tend to recall very specific, very particular tones, usually the ones they heard when they were teenagers. Of course many of the mid and late-career engineers grew up listening to the Beatles, when those vintage mics weren't quite vintage yet.

So it is not surprising to me that the music gear biz tends to turn back on itself, as it is run mostly by those of us "from the 1900s". It is encouraging to read this abstract (link here) which apparently confirms the discrepency between style and performance in the proliferation of so-called "pro" mics, recreations, and the illogic behind reissues.

Our Third US AES Coming Up

Here's a vintage shot of Bob and Hugh at our first AES New York three years ago. Last year we were in San Francisco and had a very good show, and this year we are going to be back in New York, booth 772, showing off some new microphones.

If you need a pass to the exhibits go here and sign up.

See you in New York.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Heavy Hauling and Rigging

That red object on the big flatbed is a CNC mill that was delivered to our lab. It looks fairly small in the picture, but it barely fit under the loading dock door, and a wall section had to be removed to get it into the machine shop. Hugh Tripp looks on. There was less than an inch of ceiling clearance in spots and the ceiling itself had to be raised at the final location of the machine. You can see the size of the machine, and the jumbo forklift that rolled it in, if you click on the image.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Stalin's Microphone

The ML-52 has a distinct mid century soviet look with a grille pattern that resembles a Western Electric 639b.(or Altec)

Here it is in front of Firesign Theatre's "How can you be two places at once when you're not anywhere at all", also from the mid `1900s.

The ML-52 has a very rugged case, a well shielded, efficient and high output transformer, coupled to an efficient, unusual dual ribbon motor unit. The designers of this motor, which appears unchanged in many Chinese ribbon mics, wanted to get high output with fewer magnets it seems. Having two sensors in parallel side-by-side does introduce some phase cancellation at various angles, but the major problem with the ML-52 turned out to the the dramatic grille design itself, which was prone to resonance that added a telephonic tone to an otherwise acceptable mic. Later the grille was replaced with a better sounding one and the mic renamed the ML-53. Less drama but better tone. I have been told this same mic has been made in China as well as Russia. I believe the Oktava factory is located in Tula, near Moscow. Several years ago they contacted us pleading for a source of traditional aluminum ribbon. We helped them out with a supply and some information in return for some kind of acknowledgment that we had helped them, but I never spotted it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Anti-Tamper at the DOD

It is necessary to protect our intellectual property and prevent tampering with or reverse engineering of our products.

We have the work of the DOD and DARPA, and other high security organizations, both governmental and private, to learn from, and implement.

You can find out about the program, which is mainly designed to keep "the bad guys" from stealing weapons technology, here.


Starting from the left, going clockwise, microphone, microscope, microtome, micrometer thimble, microhenry inductor, micrometer.

You are probably familiar with all but the microtome, which is used for slicing very thin specimens, often mounted in wax. A precision piston moves up and down controlled by a big micrometer thimble.

That nice microscope is a Leitz, just about the best there was at the time it was made in the mid 1900s, and this one is a real gem, with a beautiful black and brushed chrome finish, precision stage, and collimated illuminator with a precision iris.

The micrometer is a Starrett, made in Athol, Massachusetts.

The microphone is an early test mule we made. It has housed various transducers and has a bottom XLR held in a piece of cherry wood that has been lathe turned and stained black to match the rest. Quite an Art Deco or Art Moderne style I think.

Micro = millonths. Now that the 1900s are over and Microsoft and many others have come and gone, we are in the Nano period. If you google nano you will see so many "nano" companies, and it might remind you of the DOT.COM craze a few years back. Nano = billionths. One thing most nano companies share today, at least, is nano income! But stay tuned as the 21st Century is still young and it will take a little more time for people to let go of the good old 1900s.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Piezo Transducers

Piezoelectricity is an interesting physical property that can be used to make very good microphones, sensors, transducers, pickups and other transducers. Most piezoelectric devices sold today use hard materials known as piezoceramics, which as the name implies, are composed of relatively hard, ceramic or glass-like materials. That's what you see on the left: Many circular piezo discs mounted on a plate. These particular discs are used to make ultrasound imaging devices.

But there are many other types of piezo materials. There are plastics called PVDF that have piezo properties, and there are inadvertent piezo materials, such as the back plastic inserts in some cheap XLR connectors.

We found this out by accident when we dropped the cable end on the hard cement floor, and heard the bang through the headphones, without a microphone attached! The "device" we discovered was nothing more than than the piece of plastic between the pins vibrating and creating a voltage, and not a small one! This "no microphone, microphone" could be used in high intensity applications, like monitoring blasts of explosives. Cheap too.

Even the dielectric in coaxial and microphone cables, when hit or bent, exhibits a piezoelectric effect, which can produce unwanted noise. Good cable makers know this and avoid certain materials that are more prone to piezo noisemaking.

Try it yourself. Get a cheapo cable from RS, connect the proper end to your hi gain preamp and nothing to the other end and put on the headphones. Tap it and listen.