Saturday, March 29, 2008


I could not resist posting this arresting linked image to SETI. I want to work on SETI full time, and build my own antenna array.

Of course in the microphone world, the metaphor is even more complex. Some people seem to hear with their eyes when it comes to audio equipment specifications, for example.

Salvador Dali or Max Ernst, or perhaps Marcel Duchamp, could elaborate.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Myth of The Ribbon Microphone Exposed! Part Two Update

Now dimly aware that his party with faceless apes must end, The Joker
sets out on his checkered journey toward modern civilization.

Editor's Note: This is an updated version of a controversial post that I wrote in 2006. It is explicit in that it discusses a lot of the oft-repeated nonsense about ribbon microphones that we still hear and read about. Some people got it, and some just didn't. If you have followed the microphonium blog you might have noticed that we never directly criticize another manufacturer, nor do we take apart or attempt to show the workings of any in-production microphone other than our own. To be on the safe side, we also never compare our measurements of a competitor's microphone with their published measurements.

Here is a link to a gearslutz discussion with criticism about this post.

We do this to be polite

A lot has happened here at Crowley and Tripp Microphones since Part One of The Myth of the Ribbon Microphone was published. We invented a new material which we call Roswellite tm that seems to be changing, in a very fundamental way, our thoughts about the ribbon microphone, how it should be designed, what we should expect from it, and the new things we can do. Other important changes have been related to vocal recordings, which ribbons are being called upon to do more and more, and also field recordings, where ribbon microphones like Naked Eye Roswellite, now tough enough to finally go outside, are being used.

So in looking over the original "Myths" I thought it was time to interject a few new comments that reflect the state of the art, which has changed. I will also make a few comments about parts of the original "Myths" that brought in some very funny and a couple of quite angry emails. The original is in blue, and my new comments are in red.


Before objective knowledge there was dancing, fire, and superstition.
Some people were offended by this comment, which has multiple meanings. I like it.

"The Knowledge" of a London cabbie consists of a complete mental map and image of the the city roads and byways and those with The Knowledge are then qualified to transport via black cab any passenger to any location within London.

The Knowledge of Ribbon Microphones - A Codex inscribed herein for posterity - consists of the true facts and explanations about the mysterious and sometimes ancient mythology of the revered and sometimes reviled ribbon microphone.

The Myths are many and the tales told are handed down over the generations of recording aficionados and repeated almost as prayers in the scripture of the ubiquitous message boards, where no false word is ever erased, and lore is mixed with fact, fiction, lies, myths, heresy, pure falsities, and half-truths.

That paragraph pissed a few people off and delighted some. We have a tendency to appeal to so-called "early adopters" because what we do is inherently disruptive and tries to produce change. This appeals to those who "believe in innovation", but not others who "believe in tradition". It's not about beliefs though.

And then there is the phenomenon of repetition, whereby the truth is manufactured, where errors are repeated, often over and over, until they become accepted facts, despite the lack of supporting evidence. Like parrots, the falsehood is recanted, passed down through generations, and finally accepted without question.

Here are a few myths to get us started:

Vintage Myths - those myths based on lore, history, and New Old Stock

Myth: "Nothing sounds like/as good/mellow like an old RCA 44, 77, (insert an old mic here)"
Fact: These mics were good and produced excellent sound, but have low output and relatively high noise levels, and are highly variable. Most of the vintage ribbon mics have a steep roll off beginning at 10 KC. If you can put up with unpredictable performance, they may be for you. I have three RCA 77DXs here in the lab at the moment. You can bet they sound good, but different.

I sold one of my 77DXs recently.

Myth: "Such and such has New Old Stock ribbon material (magnets/grille cloth/blueprints/uncle/DNA) which is the best"
Fact: Old ribbon material is likely to be inferior to modern materials. Aluminum oxidizes slowly but corrosion can produce pinholes, while precipitation (age/heat) hardening causes embrittlement, and fracture. Present day aluminum is produced in precise thickness and with better purity than was available even 20 years ago. This is due to demand for thin foils in other parts of the electronics industry, such as capacitors.

Naturally since this was writtten before Roswellite, the emphasis was on aluminum.

The Saggy Baggy Ribbon Myths - Things may droop over time, also with ribbons?

Myth: "Ribbon mics should be stored vertically".
Fact: No. The weight of a typical "large ribbon" is around 0.0018 grams, and a thin ribbon is about 1/4 that. If that is enough to cause sagging, then something is very wrong. Ribbon microphones of any vintage can be used and stored in any position.

Nothing has changed, except I learned that one somewhat "in production" microphone (remember our rule) seems to have such a fragile ribbon that it does indeed sag and blow out often. Also, there are a number of new ribbon mics that are being shipped with saggy ribbons either from the factory or from shipping damage, or some other reason. Check out Lynn Fuston's website for pictures.

Myth: "Just closing the case will blow the ribbon"
Fact: This is quite doubtful. Once again, if the air pressure is enough to damage the ribbon then most of ribbon microphones out there today are already blown. Several manufacturers including us supply ribbon microphones in horizontal cases with top lids. I think you would have to try to slam it very hard, over and over, to show any change to the ribbon tension.

With that one un-named exception, mentioned above.

Myth: "Crowley and Tripp uses a vertical storage box to prevent ribbon sagging."
Fact: We did this so you can see it and because we thought it looked better and was more convenient, and that it might cause the user to grab it from the mic locker more often rather than laying flat in the dark recesses of the cabinet. You can lay the box down on its side, turn it upside down - it doesn't matter at all because gravity has only the most minute influence on the ribbon.

Myth: "All ribbon microphones are fragile"
Fact: Modern ribbon microphones are not at all fragile.

There are various degrees of "fragility". Roswellite ribbon mics can stand up to windblast and repeated phantom power misapplication, and are far less "fragile" than the strongest modern rugged aluminum ribbons.

Myth: "Move the ribbon mic slowly"
Fact: Nonsense. I saw an intern walking across the studio holding the microphone like it was a lit candle. This was very amusing.

I got more email on this one and all kinds of similar funny stories.

Myth: "Loud sounds will shatter the ribbon"
Fact: Loud? Not loud like loud music loud, at least. No. Detonation of high explosives, maybe. Do not try this.

Phantastic Phantom Myths - Images of smoke, fire and destruction.

Myth: "Phantom power will destroy a ribbon microphone"
Fact: Not usually. Phantom power correctly applied does so evenly, so there is no net force on the ribbon.

Not ever with Roswellite.

Myth "Phantom power will not destroy a ribbon microphone"
Fact: Usually. Phantom power can stretch an aluminum foil ribbon. Any signal that is applied unevenly, such as 1. through a patchbay which is a bad idea anyway, or 2. by hot swapping cables, WILL boink the aluminum foil ribbon in passive ribbon mics.

Phantom power will not ever destroy a Roswellite ribbon.

Myth: "Phantom power will demagnetize the magnets"
Fact: I had to include this one since it was so interesting, and impossible.

Oft-Repeated Mythicisms - merely annoying, or insidiously harmful?

Myth" "Ribbon mics are dark sounding"
Fact: Some are, more modern ones are less so, and a couple are neutral to bright sounding. You choose.

Figure Eight Type Myths - fundamental things about sound in general actually...

Myth: "The back of a ribbon mic is usually brighter than the front"
Fact: This is definitely not so. Most good quality ribbon mics, ours included, are perfectly symmetric in response. The only difference from front to back, of course, is the phase. We think it's slightly embarassing at times to have to explain why this sounds different to people wearing headphones. No offense! Avoid uncomfortable social gaffes and use your phase reverse switch.

I still read this erroneous myth about ribbons usually being brighter on the back on certain sites that are not up to date, and in discussion forums. The tone of a symmetrical ribbon mic is the same, front or back. That includes most ribbon microphones.

Exceptions: Naked Eye is intentionally asymmetrical in response with a 3dB average 8-12 KC presence rise off the back, with no dips. (recall the embarassing phase cancellation phenomenon causes some people to misunderstand). The so-called "offset ribbon designs" are unintentionally different in tone color from front to back, I suppose because the distance from the mic body and screen to the ribbon varies from side to side. Intentional or not, it can be useful. The RCA 77DX is rather asymmetrical even in the figure eight position. This is a problem inherent in the 77C, 77D and 77DX because the local field around the ribbon motor isn't quite symmetrical to begin with, which is intentional because it is a multipattern mic.

I see this repeated still today.

Myth: "Ribbon mics have low output"
Fact: Modern ribbon mics have a HIGHER output than most stage dynamics. Remember that a condenser capsule has NO output and depends on the internal active electronics which are essentially a high gain voltage amplifier.

Myth: "You need a preamp with tons of gain"
Fact: No. Not only is the answer "no" but you can use your preamp wide open and unrestricted because ribbon microphones have extremely low self noise.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Naked Eye Roswellite Sound on Sound Ad

"The ribbon that will not break"

Naked Eye Roswellite tm completely solves ribbon stigma forever. No more reservations about using a ribbon on any application.

Roswellite has great ribbon sound.
Dual Voicing effortlessly delivers great guitars and great vocals.

Ribbon microphones will never be the same. Find out for yourself.

Bonus Tensegrity Suspension Mount free offer extended through April.

link to the story of what led up to Roswellite

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How Much Longer?

The proportion of mics ordered with Roswellite is increasing.

On the left, a pile of aluminum ribbons. They look very decorative and remind me of the tinsel we used to put on the Christmas tree. We'd put gobs of tinsel on, so much that the tree would look like an old Savanna gum or swamp cyprus covered with greybeards.

Male XLR Pinout - Solder Side

The topic of phase comes up all the time on the boards and the term "pin 2 high" is used a lot. What that means is the first impulse that the A side of the mic hears, produces a positive-going voltage on pin 2. On many mics wired incorrectly, the phase is reversed. I am a firm believer that preamps should have a phase reversal switch for several practical reasons, incorrect wiring not being one of them in particular.

Canon was the originator of the XLR connector, and like anything, has some history, which you can read about here.

There have been various stories about the origin of the XLR designation. Certain people have suggested, strongly, that it was a stereo designation, X being the center, and LR being Left and Right.

But the reality seems to be much less glamorous: It seems that the L stands for "Latching" because the first of the series pulled apart far too easily, and the R stands for "Rubber" which was added as a strain relief. X series connector, with a Latch and a Rubber, is now standard in virtually all microphone cables.

Like the Poco horse, lore and certain doubts surround the origin of the XLR

Monday, March 17, 2008

This is (sort of) a microphone

You are looking at an ultrasound motor drive unit made almost 20 years ago by Diasonics of Milpitas CA. Back in those days I worked for then-young Boston Scientific and we had a joint venture with Diasonics to introduce IVUS, which is catheter-based ultrasound.

Today, IVUS is used all over to look at coronary blockages. I used to fly TWA about every week through St. Louis to get to San Jose then to Milpitas, and racked up a lot of frequent flyer miles.

We have a lot of capacitor microphones with interchangeable heads today. This is actually very similar. That metal "nose" on the left is where the "head" attached. Actually it was a disposable catheter with a coupler based on a familiar ham radio type PL259 antenna connector. Inside is a transformer and a preamp. The transformer is very much like those found in the best mics today, except it is designed to rotate so the catheter can scan the vessel. It was like a speedometer cable from a Schwinn. The catheter has a tip with a small ceramic element on the end, which works exactly like a ceramic microphone, or a bridge pickup for an acoustic guitar. It also can be used to send a sound signal, just like a piezo buzzer in a wristwatch.

Finally, this motor unit, the analog to the mic body, is designed to work at 20 Megahertz. The body is cast urethane plastic, which was a popular way to make short run plastic enclosures. The probe connected to an IVUS console, and if you want to see one, just click here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

POCO Horse

If you recall Poco, you have been around for a while. Phil Hartman of Saturday Night Live fame is said to have designed the Poco horse.

For years I have had this original ink drawing of the Poco horse and though it looked familiar to me, I never made the connection. I have lots of paintings, drawings and prints, which I collect, mostly by American illustrators, but also some Europeans, such as Klaus Voorman,

I have inspected it under a microscope and am sure it is not a litho.

Anyway, this one is signed "Claude Valle". Hmmmmm, a pseudonym? Or is the story apocryphal? Anyone know? Here's the guy who owns the original, so what is this thing that I have? Why would "Claude Valle" have signed it?

Poco Horse Update!

I was so intrigued, and certain enough of the hand-drawn look of the ink, that I googled the name "Claude Valle" and came up with a local email address to a Claude Valle, so, I emailed him and sent him a link to this post. He called me up today, and his story is amazing!

It turns out that MANY YEARS AGO, young Claude, like many of us, was a big Poco fan. So much so that he got out some paper, and carefully, very carefully, traced the image of the now-famous palomino straight off the album cover, and then, just as carefully, by hand, inked it in with a marker. Claude's girlfriend liked it, so she suggested he sign it, which he did, reluctantly.

Now we are all glad he did. Not only is the mystery solved, but Claude Valle, the artist who bothered to trace what he loved and then sign it for his girlfriend, is now in the league of pop icons such as Roy Lichtenstein, who basically have done the same thing as Claude, just in a bigger way.

In music, we call it a "cover". Copying isn't really what it's about. Admiration, appreciation, recelebration, and just plain wanting to have a piece of it - that's why Claude's work hangs next to a real Dali and another fake Dali, not far from a real Calder, and it's a good "cover" with real ink. Joe Cocker did a good cover of "With a little help from my friends" right?

Claude says he did two of them, and still has one.

So I'll keep this one.

XLR Connectors: Switchcraft

Here is a Switchcraft flush mount XLR that can be used in a microphone. It looks like the same Rickshaw Records specifies for his home made ribbon mic.

Here is a great die-cast old Shure 55C!

The body is made of a chrome plated die-cast metal. Die casting is consistent, and can be economical and effective, and cost much less than machining. In metal die-casting, an alloy of metals containing various elements such as tin, aluminum, antimony, and even lead are introduced into a mold under pressure as a hot liquid. The liquid cools and the part hardens. After that it is cleaned of flash, which are burrs and edges. and then either anodized or plated for the most part, though they can be painted, powder coated etc. See "More on Die Casting"

The XLR must be conductive so it contacts and shields. The greenish plastic is important: Cheap XLRs use a type of ABS - essentially styrene - that is piezoelectric, and that can introduce noise and unwanted microphonics. The plastic itself becomes a transducer! We don't want that, so we use this one.

Here is the link to the XLR Mothership, which George Clinton hasn't seen yet.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Interesting article by John Abele - "Getting disruptive ideas to market"

"Disruptive ideas are very threatening to the establishment, or whoever owned that marketspace before. They may be products or technology like the iPOD (catheter surgery in the case of BSC), or they can be processes or services like Amazon or eBay. Or they can be social ideas like a bike path into the city. They can lead to dramatic changes in the field to which the idea applies. That can mean different people will use and control it. And it will be used differently with a different infrastructure and in different locations. There will be economic implications with winners and losers. And the idea will influence many others indirectly." article

Saturday, March 08, 2008

On Topic

A bit more to the point of the microphonium blog.

Hand waving, joking around, and philosophizing about sound, the earth, big oil, and which headphones we like.

Off topic

This is Mr. Crowley's black touring bike, made in Japan by Honda. This is the second post in a row that has nothing at all to do with microphones, except possibly that some aspects of Japanese automotive and motorcycle quality are exceptional and inspire us.

This weighty beast, a ten year old ST-1100, is designed to travel long distances, and has a 7 1/2 gallon tank.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The 450th Microphonium Blog Post

In case you like to keep track of numbers, this is the 450th post to the microphonium blog. There are dozens of posts about Naked Eye, Crowley and Tripp, Roswellite, nanotechnology, ribbon microphones, vintage microphones, and RCA 77DX mics as well in this blog.

None of that is any excuse at all to upload this science fiction image by an artist unknown to me, but here it is. Apparently, male and female alien superbeings make a spectacular appearance on a destroyed earth, probably near a Baltimore train station, or somewhere along the B&O RailRoad line. The girl trying to leave the phone booth could have just arrived from Cleveland on track 13, and frozen at 5:13pm. "Oh well" seems to be the reaction of blase female superbeing in her tights, boots and pointed helmet. The black collar completes the outfit.I have seen many bizarre things in Maryland before, but none like this. One thing is for sure: these aliens are fitness freaks or know good plastic surgeons. I don't own it, and I don't know where or who the file came from. If it is yours and you object to it being shown, let me know and I will take it down. Until then, click on the image for a closer view.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Lab Favorite - Back to the bone - Lauren Passarelli

We definitely do have our favorites here in the microphone lab that never seem to leave the CD changer for long. One of them is our friend Lauren's CD "Back to the bone" consisting of solo guitar compositions in various modes and tunings. The CD has received many excellent, insightful and interesting reviews that you can read by clicking on the image to the right.

And if you are lucky enough to be in the area:

LAUREN PASSARELLI LIVE in HUDSON, Near Sudbury, Maynard Live Music

Doings in Hudson MA


March 13 2008 Harvest Cafe' in Hudson

Lauren Passarelli performs original songs from her new itunes singles
& full length recordings, Shadow Language, Back to the Bone & Among
The Ruins. A studio wizard who writes the songs & performs most of
the instruments, engineers & then mixes the songs too, Lauren has
been focusing on new digital only releases released worldwide on
Itunes & CD Baby. Be sure to catch this unique artist live! For sound samples & videos visit CD &