MOTM – Lustraphone VR64 ribbonette

Lustraphone was a British manufacturer of audio and hi-fi equipment based on Regent’s Park Road in North West London. They traded from 1942 until sometime in the 1970s, when the company was dissolved. This month’s MOTM is the Lustraphone VR64 pencil ribbon mic, known s the ‘ribbonette’  because of its small size. It was the successor to the VR53. They were also sold under the EAP / Elizabethan brand.

The VR64 is an attractive looking small ribbon mic, with a slightly wider grill at the front than the rear. Like its competition from Reslo and Film Industries, the magnets are positioned to the rear of the ribbon making it an imperfect figure-8 pattern. It was produced in several colours – I have see brushed chrome, blue paint, and grey hammertone examples.

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I always thought that Lustraphone had one of the coolest logos, a bit reminiscent of The Man From UNCLE TV series. Different models have different styles of badges, either applied as a decal or a sticker.

When working properly, the VR64 sounds rather good, with a higher output and better top end response that the VR53. Like most of the British ribbons of the time, the Lustraphone mics were available with different impedances. The mics come badged with either ‘High’ or ‘Low’ impedance, but that doesn’t always tell the whole story. Two examples pictured here were both marked low impedance. However, one measured 15 ohms and the other 600 ohms, so it is important to know what you have.

The output transformers have a slight quirkiness, in that the bobbin is pushed halfway through the frame of the mic before the laminations are added, which neatly solves the problem of mounting the tranny.

Lustraphone VR64 inside
Lustraphone VR64 motor – rear view showing magnets

I’m not sure if having a layer of insulator between the laminations has any sonic effect, beyond the fact that the transformer has one fewer layer of laminations in the stack, and so a lower inductance and higher cutoff frequency. Probably little or none.

The 15 ohm transformer is made up from 15 turns of 0.85 mm wire for the primary, and about 145 turns of 0.3 mm for the secondary, giving a ratio just under 1:10. This one was re-wound for 300 ohms using the original lams, which gives a better output level into a modern preamp, whilst retaining the vintage character.

Lustraphone transformer autopsy

This example had a quick release mounting system. A bullet shaped part screws onto the mic stand, and then the mic is pushed onto it. Very cunning!

Lustraphone quick release mic mount
There was also a stereo model, the VR65, which was basically two mics stacked one on top of the other, with the upper mic rotated by 90 degrees for Blumlein pair recording. There are some sound clips on this thread over at Gearslutz.
Lustraphone VR65 stereo ribbon mic

Lustraphone filed a patent for a stereo ribbon mic with a complicated switching system, to reverse phase and reduce noise, although the only examples I have seen have had seperate outputs for each ribbon, and no switches.

Lustraphone VR65 in action 
(Thanks to Santiago Ramos for permission to use the photos of his VR65)

Reslo LTU1 line matching unit manual

When home recording with  reel-to-reel tape machines was a popular hobby, back in the 1960s and 70s, many recorders had only high impedance inputs. However, the low impedance microphones of the time could be used with a longer cable without signal degradation, and so most manufacturers offered matching transformers to plug that gap.

Other transformers were also available to match medium and high impedance microphones to low impedance inputs, and so on. But the Low-to-High is by far the most common.

Here is a scanned manual for the Reslosound LTU1 line matching unit, which was used to connect 15Ω to 50Ω ribbon microphones to a high impedance tape deck. This was superseded by the LMT, which is essentially the same thing in a smarter metal can.

Reslo impedance matching transformer.

Hexapup samples, wiring and technical specs

Here are some wiring suggestions and sound samples for our ‘Hexapup’ hexaphonic pickups

Installation – Mounting the pickup
The hexapup is a standard humbucker size and will fit into most humbucker routed guitars without modification. Please note that the hexapup gives best results in the bridge position, and because it uses strong magnets it not really suitable for use as a neck pickup.

1. Mono pickup
When wired as a conventional mono pickup, the hexapup has a bright single coil tone. The coil arrangement means that it has very good hum rejection (humbucking) properties.

2. Stereo guitar.
The simplest way to connect the hexapup for stereo use is to mount two jack sockets into the guitar, and wire one side of the pickup to each jack. The signal can then be run to two amps or DI boxes for gigging or recording. There are two obvious ways to divide the strings, the pickup can be supplied in either split or spread mode, with spread being the default.

Split mode – low strings are sent to one amp, high strings to the other

Split mode sends the low strings E, A and D to one channel, and the high strings G, B & e to the other, like Neil Young’s stereo guitar.  Spread sends alternating strings to each channel, that is E, D and B to one output, and A, G & high-E to the other, which gives a nice spread of frequencies across the stereo image.

Here are some sound samples of the pickup in split mode. As always the stereo image comes across better on headphones than laptop speakers!

Split mode Hexapup – picking

Spread mode – alternating strings are routed to each channel

Here is one of the riffs above in stereo ‘spread‘ mode.

Spread mode hexapup – picking

In each case the playing is a single guitar,  and the recording was made using the DI input of API A2D preamp into protools, processed using Amplitube amp modelling plug-in.

3. Mono / Stereo Jack 

An alternative way of wiring the output is to use a stereo jack and a stereo breakout box. If the stereo jack is wired so that the positive wires from both sides are wired to the tip, one negative wire to the ring and the other to the sleeve, then the pickup will also work in mono if a normal mono guitar cable is used.

4. Stereo guitar with Split / Spread switch.
On request, the hexapup may be supplied pre-wired with a switch to choose either split or spread mode. Here is an easy way of switching between the modes.

5. Full hexaphonic mode.
The hexaphonic pickup can of course be supplied with six pairs of output wires, which gives a vast range of wiring possibilities. Probably the simplest way is to use a 6 or 7 pin XLR socket for the guitar output, and run this to a breakout box wired to give six separate jacks.

Heavily modified Jagmaster with hexaphonic and stereo outputs.
When wired this way all six channels share a common negative path, which precludes phase or series / parallel switching of individual strings. However, having six channels without these options is usually enough to worry about!  For our demo guitar we used this 8-core screened cable from Canford Audio.
Six channel breakout box for a hexaphonic guitar.

Here is a sample recording made in hexaphonic mode, with the EA strings panned left, the top B and E to the right, and the D and G strings lower in level and somewhere in the middle. Different amp models (Amplitube) have been used for left and right.

Low and high – hexapup

There are some further sound samples of the hexapup in full hexaphonic mode here.

Xaudia Hexapup – Typical specifications

Fits in a standard humbucker route.
70 mm x 39 mm x 20.5 mm deep (25 mm including screw lugs)

Stereo model (3 coils in series)
DC resistance = 5.1 K ohms
Inductance @ 1kHz = 0.9 Henry
Wiring = Red & black, green & white.
Case ground = green/yellow
Red & green = positive, black & white = negative

Hexaphonic model (single coil)
DC resistance = 1.8 K ohms per coil
Inductance @ 1kHz = 0.31 Henry per coil

Rear of hexapup with six pairs of output wires
Wiring. Output wires are silver plated, teflon coated.
Colour = positive, black = negative
E = Red & Black
A = Pink & Black
D = Yellow & Black
G = Green & Black
B = Blue & Black
e = White & Black
Case ground = green/yellow

More Hexaphonic pickup sound samples

Xaudia Hexapup

A hexaphonic pickup lets you record you record the signals from each string separately, either through six amplifiers, or perhaps more sensibly by recording directly through instrument inputs or DI boxes. This gives a lot of creative possibilities.

For example, here’s a G major chord, played lazily from the low strings to the high. This was recorded directly into Protools, with the notes spread across the stereo width.

Gmajor – spread

Adding an amp simulator gives it some body…

Gmajor – jazz amp

With a hexaphonic recording, it is simple to change the timing of individual strings. Imagine that we wanted the chord played tightly, rather than note by note. A quick edit and here it is…

Gmajor – all together

Or perhaps we would prefer to strum from the top to the bottom instead. No problem – we can just shift the notes slightly and we have it …

Gmajor – reverse strum

And by reversing the waveform of three strings and repeating the notes, we get this little ambient loop. A semi-reversed guitar

Gmaj & Amaj – edited loop

Now let’s get silly…
… we want to transpose part of a song, but the guitarist has gone to the bar. We can use Autotune on each track to pull each string up by two semitones to play an A major instead.  Here’s how it looks on the screen…

And here’s how it sounds!

Auto-tuned Chord – Gmajor to A major 

Of course we could have simply pitch shifted the whole chord up to achieve a similar effect – Autotune gives it an interesting glitchy slide texture as it chases the notes

By shifting the G-string up by one semitone rather that two, the chord becomes an A-minor. Now that’s something which can’t be done with simple pitch shifting!

Auto-tuned Chord – Gmajor to A minor!

The possibilities are endless!

Polyphon mechanical music player

And now for something completely different, let’s look at a portable music player from a hundred years ago!

This rather wonderful Polyphon type mechanical disc music player was a Christmas gift. Thanks Santa (& Mum & Dad!).

Metal disc music player

Inside the box is a clockwork device very much like a music box, but the music is encoded onto a metal disc with teeth around its outer edge.

The disc is driven by a clockwork device, with a coiled spring providing the power, and a spinning regulator to keep the speed constant.

The disk drives a set of rotating gears, which in turn strike the tines of the comb to produce the sound. Each tine is a different length, and so a different note. The sound is then amplified simply by the resonance of the wooden box.

Small polyphon style music discs

The discs are about the size of a CD, and the musical information is stored in them by punching and bending strips of metal so that they strike the music player. Each disc holds a mammoth 20 seconds of music, approximately. A few of the discs are rather rusty and bent, but the majority of them still play well enough.

Rusting gracefully!

Each disc is ink stamped with a number and the name of the tune. I have discs with numbers beyond 400, so this must have been a popular format with a wide choice of titles.

Here are some sound files  for a few of the discs. The sound is pretty and a little creepy at the same time, with all of the mechanical clicks and whirrs.  (mono .wav files around 3 Mb each, recorded with a Neumann TLM49 through RFZ KV80/1 preamp).

133 – Bonnie Dundee
143 – Banks of Alan Water
152 – Sally in our Alley
156 – Rock of Ages
189 – In the good old summertime
219 – Liberty Bell March (damaged)
222 – Marching through Georgia
402 – Carmen Polka

My aim is to record and share all of the discs that I have, so check back later for more.

I found this video on the web, which features the same player. The owner claims that it was made by the Swiss company Thorens in around 1910. One can imagine people taking this kind of music player along on a picnic perhaps, on a sunny summers day!

Mine seems to run a lot faster than this, so I may need to adjust the regulator.
Update 2…
Thanks to Alexander Schulz for sending in a link to the History of Thorens webpage.

Happy 2013

Thanks to all of our friends, customers and suppliers who helped to make 2012 another exciting and successful year for Xaudia.

Hot-rodded Reslo RB microphones

In 2012 we repaired 203 microphones for customers, an increase over 2011, and Reslo microphones were again very popular – we serviced 47 of them this year.  Once again RCA mics came in second place (23), with AKG and Beyerdynamic in third and fourth.

Xaudia – microphones serviced in 2012

We sold a further 50 or so refurbished vintage ribbon microphones through our website, including about 25 ‘Beeb’ modifed Reslos. And we also introduced our own low noise ribbon microphone transformers for repairs and upgrades.

2013 looks to be just as exciting – we will be launching a range of guitar pickups, making a few more transformers, and also there will be some tube mic power supplies. And of course we will be here to repair your microphones.

Happy New Year!
Stewart & Jane