Very early tube ribbon microphone inspired by the RCA PB17

Ev of Vashion Island sent in these pictures of his wonderful tube ribbon microphone and has kindly agreed to share the photographs and description on this blog. The mic is a little bit of a mystery as it appears to be similar to an early Marconi design and the RCA PB17, yet has no maker’s mark and is different in many details.

The mic is clearly influenced by Harry Olsen’s design as described in his 1932 patent and the magnetic field for the ribbon is provided by an electromagnet, which is very rare and only usually found in the very earliest ribbon mics; this approach became redundant very quickly as strong permanent magnets became available.

As I have not inspected this microphone myself I will use Ev’s description and photographs – Ev’s comments are in italics:

“The outside diameter of the cylinder is 4.75 inches or 210mm. The  cylinder is aluminum. the top end cap and plate are machined aluminum. The hemispherical bottom cap is also machined aluminum.

The yoke mount is steel flatbar (I believe the PB17 yoke mount is made of cast metal).

There are three transformers including the one for the electromagnet.

Instead of having three UX864 tubes it uses two unknown tubes, one has 5 pins with a wire attached to the top, and the other is 6 pins. 

The resistors are made by Morrill, Germany. The transformers and capacitors have no makers marks that I can see. Whoever made this microphone obviously knew what they were doing. I wonder if this was a prototype made by RCA, or perhaps it is European (because of the German resistors)?

The bell…. is definitely cast aluminum. The inside plate at the connector end of the mic is also cast. The acorn nuts at the connector end fit a 7/16″ SAE wrench perfectly and the bolts with the wing nuts are US threads. 

Note the tiny piece of threaded stainless steel pipe bolted to the plate (to the left of the connector in the picture). I thought it might be a jack, but I think it is only a pipe. There is what appears to be a ground wire soldered to it inside the mic.

The number 13 etched beneath the bottom right connector blade corresponds with the number imprinted on the connector itself inside the mic.”

If any of our readers recognise this microphone or have any more information, we would love to hear from you.

GEC Ribbon Microphone Evolution

Some time ago I posted about GEC models BCS 2370 and 2373, and how they were essentially the same design in different body shapes for different applications.

Left to right – unknown, unknown. GEC BCS2370 and 2373 mics. All have the same motor.

Since then I have come across some other ribbon microphones which may be earlier GEC models, prototypes. They are perhaps rather ugly in style, but I find their functional utilitarian style rather charming.

The two unbadged mics share some parts including a twinaxial connector at the base and rubber yoke mounts. The mic on the left is made of folded steel, whereas the one on the right is brass, with a more open grill.

All four mics are essentially the same design inside. The mic on the far left has a smaller transformer and different brand of magnet, but the pole pieces and ribbon assembly are the same. The mic in the middle of the photograph above is identical inside to the known GEC mics – with the same magnet and transformer and crumbling plastic ribbon mounts.

Remarkably, both of these mics are still working with a nice tone, although a little noisy. A good clean and service should sort that out.
The mics look very similar to the drawing in a patent by GEC and Thomas Julian, from 1947.
Drawing from a ribbon mic patent by GEC and Thomas Julian, 1947 
Which in turn is obviously inspired by the BBC-Marconi type AX ribbon mic…
Drawing from BBC-Marconi type AX ribbon mic manual.
As an aside, the GEC patent is slightly odd, in that the major innovation is that the pole pieces are held in place by the magnetic field alone, with no mechanical fasteners. That is to say the major innovation is something that they have left out, rather than something they have added to the system. The implication being that other manufacturers MUST use a screw, bolt or other fastener, or else risk infringing the patent.  It would have been interesting to see how that one would stand up in court!

Massive Old Dynamic Microphone – GEC?

We’ve had some website issues this weekend, but everything has been sorted out, so let’s get back on track with another vintage microphone curiosity.

This gigantic bronze dynamic mic has no badge or makers name on it, but arrived in a box of GEC microphones. Connection to the outside world is made via two terminal posts at the rear. From the size and style it probably dates to the 1930s or even earlier. 
It is around 11.5 cm across and 8.5 cm deep, weighs nearly 2 kg, and would originally have been mounted on springs within a hoop. Two of the suspension mounts are missing – it will be a quick job on the lathe to turn new ones from a bit of brass. 
Inside the mic is very much like a speaker in reverse, with a paper and fabric cone driving a coil into the field of an enormous magnet.
On initial testing, the mic wasn’t picking up well as the cylinder in the centre of the diaphragm was scraping against something as it moved. Some careful cleaning to remove the dirt eased the movement, and the mic sounds OK, if rather peaky. The addition of some foam inside the body helped to dampen some of the ringing from the cavity.
Even with the foam, the mic is far from flat in response with an enormous bump at 200Hz. So if you want to give something an EQ boost at 200Hz, this is your mic!
Frequency plot for big bronze dynamic microphone!
Other uses include door stop, paperweight, shot-put and burglar deterrent (ouch!).
If you recognise this one or have information on any of our other unidentified mics, please get in touch.

MOTM The Italian Job

I have no idea who made October’s microphone of the month. But it is quite a beast, dwarfing the SM57 that I have used as a geologist’s hammer*.

Italian ribbon microphone by an unknown maker

This one came from Italian ebay, and has a whiff of DIY about it. Except that if it is, the work quality is very high. It could well have been a project for an engineering degree. Or perhaps a prototype from a professional workshop?  Some parts of the mic are well thought out, but ultimately it is let down by the transformer and low magnetic field.

The microphone body is based around brass tubing with an imposing chromed grill and chromed bells at each end. The base is fitted with a (horrible) 4 pin CB-radio style plug. The yoke is nicely bent aluminium with a turned base and wingnuts.

Italian ribbon mic – motor and magnets

Inside, four large cylinder magnets are clamped between two heavy blocks of mild steel, and the ribbon motor sits at the centre. There is a hint of the RCA 44BX in this approach, and the ribbon is of similar dimensions to that mic. The ribbon itself is clamped with sturdy brass blocks. These magnets here are not really strong enough for the job and the measured field in the ribbon gap is around 1000 gauss – a bit low really. Perhaps they were once stronger than this.

The transformer has its own internal can for extra screening, and the connections to the tranny primary are made with heavy copper for very low resistance. Good thinking!

Ribbon mic transformer

The transformer itself looks home-made from recycled laminations. Although the thick copper wire for the primary is a sensible choice, the inductance is a rather low 24 microHenries and there is no chance of reproducing a full frequency range. These lams look familiar – I have seen similar ones in Thiele microphones for the power transformer, and also, I think, in Geloso amplifiers

Domed end cap of the mic, with striped output leads

The maker, whoever he was, has used brass, mild and stainless steels, copper and aluminium for the construction. Parts are turned, milled, brazed, folded and domed. It looks more and more like an engineering workshop project designed to showcase the maximum number of skills, and in that respect it does a very good job.

Better laminations or a new transformer would show the true potential of this mic, as would some stronger magnets to boost the field. I will try that!

If anyone out there knows more about this mic, I would love to hear from you.

* Geologists often use their hammer in photographs as a way of denoting the scale of rock formations and features.

MOTM Mystery 74B clone

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s true then the RCA 74b junior ribbon was one of the most flattered microphones ever made!

In the middle is a ‘real’ RCA 74b and on the right is a 74b made under license in Italy by Magneti Marelli. But what’s that on the left? It’s our microphone of the month, and I don’t know what it is.*
When I first saw this I thought it must be another rebadged or licensed 74b. The outer dimensions are almost identical to the real thing, and it even has a red ‘meatball’ badge, although this time with some unidentified Eastern-looking symbols – perhaps from somewhere in South East Asia.** It even has a good copy of the swivel stand mount.
Inside the 74b clone
But inside the mic there are some differences. The ribbon has similar dimensions, but the magnet assembly is quite different, with two large, strong horseshoe magnets providing the field through a pair of U-shaped pole pieces.

Rear view with horseshoe magnets
In a ‘real’ RCA 74b, the magnets are at the front and bevelled, with a rectangular frame at the rear.
‘real’ RCA 74b microphones inside
In the photos above the transformer is a replacement. The original transformer, below, was faulty, probably due to insulation breakdown. Again, the marking on the transformer looks very Eastern in style, and appeared to have been written with a brush, in eastern style.
Perhaps the oddest thing about this microphone is that it has been shot! There is a pellet embedded in the side of the mic. Perhaps it was used as target practice. Or just maybe it was in use at a radio station in the last days of Saigon….
*Thanks to John Gooding!
** I have tried to identify these but no luck yet!


Update, 13 August 2012

A couple of readers have sent in messages about the provenance of this microphone….

My friends here in Thailand says the symbol is almost definately Chinese. It is certainly not Thai, Vietnamese or Cambodian. By most stuff here has been made in China since China started making things, so your Saigon theory is still the best.” James Browne, Hungry Ghosts

Hi Stewart. Sent picture to my factory in H.K, the marking is definitely Chinese,” Andy Hearn, ECM

Update, 15 June 2022 (ten years later…)

Thanks to Adam Pan from Taiwan for providing this additional information and photographs.
“The first photo left one ribbon mic is make by Shanghai Microphone Factory in 1940’s. 
After a long time looking for some China made microphone. when I move to live in Shanghai China from 2001, I found two ribbon microphones in China, one is the same as yours, the logo is the word “Ding”(鼎) in chinese, that is “tripod” the meaning is “one word is as heavy as nine tripods”. Reminder to “keep your word”. And the other one’s logo is “He-Ping”(和平),That meaning is “Peace”. 
A few years ago, I helped Superlux develop some products, and I met an older engineer who is retired, He was involved in the manufacture of Type 74 microphones at the Shanghai Microphone Factory.”

Mystery mic motor

One of our readers sent in these photos of an unidentified ribbon mic motor. It looks like an attempt at a cardioid pattern, with the magnet and transformer located behind the ribbon. Presumably the original mic was a circular, end address arrangement.

If you recognise this or have any further information, we would love to hear from you.

Thanks to David for sending this in.

MOTM: The Australian

This rather lovely RCA44 style ribbon is our microphone of the month for March. He was found on Australian ebay, and so will be known as ‘The Australian’ until his true identity is discovered!

‘The Australian’ Vintage RCA style ribbon mic

The mic has a chrome plated steel bottom, a steel yoke, and brass grills, painted black. Connection to the rear is via a pair of screw terminals for balanced output, but with no ground connection.

Although the body shape is very similar to an RCA44, the interior is more like the early Harry Olson prototypes, with a single large horseshoe magnet and broad flat pole pieces, giving a magnetic field strength across the poles of around 1000 Gauss.

The transformer is a dual bobbin type, with a primary inductance of 255 µH at 1 KHz, and 770 µH at 100 Hz. The thick primary wire gives a measured DC resistance of 27 mΩ, and the overall turns ratio is 1:50. With a 2.4 micrometer ribbon, the Australian has an output impedance of about 600 ohms.

There is no maker’s name plate, and no sign that there ever was once. However, next to the ribbon there is some writing in pencil. This is a little tricky to capture on film, but it reads “RIBBON 23825 B1154”.

Could this be a clue? Perhaps the 23/8/25 is a date from a previous ribbon installation? Sadly, I don’t think so. 1925 seems a bit too early – although ribbon mics were invented in the 1920s, the RCA PB31 (first commercial ribbon and forerunner to the RCA44A) wasn’t introduced until 1931. It seems more likely that this is a copy or prototype made by a small engineering firm, based around patent drawings.

Sound-wise, the mic has a rich warm tone with a decent output for its age, and the 600 ohm output makes it very usable with modern equipment. The lack of an earth connection makes hum an issue, and I am contemplating adding a third terminal to the rear, if I can find one that matches.

Perhaps it was made by an Australian manufacturer? AWA made copies of RCA microphones, and Zephyr were another Australian company that made some nice ribbon mics. For now it is a bit of a mystery, but we would love to hear from you if you know more about this.

“Big Al” – old German bottle mic

Big old German bottle microphone (flaschenmikrofon)

This time-capsule condition, stunning bottle mic is a recent ebay find, but we know very little about it! So, if you recognise this one, or have any further information, please get in touch.

In looks, this is very much in the style of an RFT CM7049 or a Neumann CMV3, but doesn’t match any of the models that I am aware of by those manufacturers. The mic stands around 320 mm tall by 80 mm diameter, and is beautifully machined from aluminium, so we’ll call him ‘Big Al’.

The bottom bell is secured by two thumbnuts, which make access to the tube and battery compartment very easy.

The capsule is held in place by a clamping ring with 12 screws, and the diaphragm looks to be either nickel, or some kind of metallised film. It is not possible to get the capsule out of the head without removing these screws – not something I really want to be doing. It is even possible to work out the backplate hole pattern from the dents in the diaphragm.

Bottle microphone capsule

The tube is a Telefunken DAF11 which dates back to the 1940s. I haven’t met one of these before, but the datasheet is available at Frank’s, and shows it to be a diode and pentode in the same shell, with a common heater & cathode.

DAF11 tube

The diode part is not used in this mic. The heater supply is a modest 1.2V at 50 mA, and is designed to run from a battery cell.

DAF11 bottle mic schematic
I traced out the circuit – the heater supply does indeed come from a battery, and there is a space inside the mic for a large cell. The switch on the top of the mic breaks the filament supply, saving battery power and (eventually) muting the mic, and there is a Neumann / RFT style indicator. in the top.
The capacitors in the rectangular metal cans are not labelled, but each can contains a pair of caps with a common negative terminal. On the bench, all four caps measure 1.0 ± 0.2 uF, and the different can sizes must reflect different voltage ratings.
There is no grid resistor present in the mic – either it has been removed for some reason, or the design relies on grid leak to set the bias.
Update 7/12/2011
We had a nice little discussion about this mic over at GroupDIY.

Microphone of the month – Old Czech tube mic: Tesla?

This is the first ‘Microphone of the Month’ blog, featuring classic or unusual microphones. Hopefully I’ll manage to find time each month for this!

This old Czech tube microphone – a recent ebay find – may well have been made by Tesla. The capsule is connected using a connector that can also be found on old Tesla and Phillips microphones. Some of the capacitors are also made by Tesla, who were a large state owned electronics company in communist Czechoslovakia.
The ‘Tesla’ looks very much like an imitation of the Neumann / Gefell CMV563 bottle mic. In fact the microphone is smaller in diameter than the CMV, has no output transformer and has an unbalanced output. Like the CMV, the capsule may be swapped, and presumably other polar patterns were available. This one is marked with a red circle, which probably means omnidirectional. (I have yet to test the capsule).
The amplifier is a very simple grounded cathode amplifier, based around a Soviet 6Ж1Л (6Z1P) tube, which is a small signal pentode similar to EF95. These are also found in some Lomo and Oktava microphones, including the Lomo 19a9 and Oktava MKL2500.

Without the original power supply we can only speculate on the operating voltages. However, a B+ supply of 90V would be a good place for experiments to start – this would give a voltage on the capsule of around 60, and a sensible current through the tube circuit.