Xaudia offer microphone re-ribboning and repair services.


Ribbon mics in action

I am lucky to have many great customers, and some are kind enough to take the time to share their music and other projects. It is always gratifying to see how these mics are used once they go back out into the 'wild'.

Hewdie is a long-standing customer who was kind enough to send in a copy of his excellent new album.  I have serviced many of his ribbon mics over the years and these feature extensively on the recordings - including a B&O BM3, RCA 74B, Lustraphone VR53 and a couple of Beeb Reslos. The album is well worth a listen.

Andy Wright used his Beeb Reslos to record The Kimpton Players in their radio play production of Noel Coward’s “Brief Encounter”. Here is a photo of the Beebs in action...

And Jose Estragos was kind enough to send in these photos of his band Los Brandys, in action with their fine Reslo CR microphones. I will let you guess their influences!

Producer Tony Fitz used a pair of our 'Beeb' modified Reslo RBs for the drum overheads in this track..

And here's how the drums sounded in the final track Stay by Free Manhattan

Have a great Christmas & New year - and good luck with all of your holiday projects.


'The Beeb' Reslos - also in black!

It is time to down tools for the holidays - this year we are part way through preparing a new batch of modified 'The Beeb' Reslo ribbon mics. The Beebs get a new ribbon, new transformer and XLR upgrade, along with a few other small tweaks. These will be available in January.

This batch now have their own metal badge, which looks great. In addition to the usual chrome and hammertone mics, we also have some rather smart looking black microphones, which have a tough powder-coating finish.

The sound is still the same :)


I thought this was a switch... but it isn't!

I had expected the red thing on the rear of this Amperite RB ribbon mic to be a simple on-off switch:

Amperite RB - switch on rear
In fact the knob is connected to a cloth-covered metal plate which slides up and down, blocking the rear of the mic. This is a mechanical method of altering both the pickup pattern and the frequency response.

Inside the Amperite - sliding plate, blurry photo :-(

When open, the mic will be a normal figure-8 pattern. Closing the vent will reduce pickup at the rear, and also make the mic sound brighter by reducing the proximity effect.

Open and….

… closed
The mechanism is not as sophisticated as, for example, an RCA 77DX, but at least they made an early effort to offer engineers a new flavour.

Well done Amperite!


MOTM - Melodium RM6

As promised (or threatened), MOTM is back, and December's microphone of the month is the Melodium RM6.

Although much much smaller in size than the Melodium 42B, the RM6 takes some of its design philosophy from its predecessor. The motor assembly has horseshoe magnets above and below the ribbon (like a tiny RCA 44BX), and an inductive filter with multiple cut-off frequencies. It also has an obsolete and hard to find proprietary connector, albeit a different one from the 42B.

The body is made from cast metal which has a tendency to crack, and the first challenge is to get inside the mic without damaging it. There are three tiny metal pins pushed through the mic that fix the grill to the lower body of the mic. These need to be pushed all the way through the mic so that the grill can be removed, and usually these can be found stuck to the magnet, although one will inevitably go missing!

To remove the mic completely, the connector must be unsoldered and the switch tip removed. Once inside, we see something that looks like the Easter Island statues!

The ribbon is hiding behind the baffles, and the motor requires quite a lot of disassembly before the ribbon can be accessed. The ribbon itself is about 1.8 mm wide, so a bit fiddly to fit. Like most mics of a certain age, half the problem is that the ribbon has become oxidised and stiff, and the other half is small particles of wild iron that that have become stuck between the pole pieces, preventing the ribbon from moving freely.

Removing the strong magnets made cleaning and re-ribboning a lot easier! The transformer and filter inductor are housed in a mumetal can, screwed beneath the motor assembly and above the filter switch.

As usual, the mic sounds best without the high pass filter engaged, although I can imagine it being useful to compensate for proximity effect when close micing some instruments.

There doesn't seem to be much information about this mic available on-line, but I have scanned an old Melodium catalog featuring the RM6. There is also a French language review of the RM6 over at Audio Fanzine. They seemed to like it, and gave the mic 9 out of 10!


The Dead Zone….

Here is some amusing copy from the box of a Grundig GRM1, a.k.a.  Lustraphone VR53. Above the nice diagram of the the figure 8 pattern, it proudly states "There is virtually no sensitivity at right angles to the microphone front, and this we call the "Dead Zone". Now we know what to call it!

The Xaudia blog has also been a bit of a dead zone in recent weeks, due to lots of repair work coming in. Things are getting back under control, so more microphone related posts and info will be coming soon!


Lustraphone desk mic or speaker?

Here's a funny little thing from Lustraphone, found on ebay…..

This was sold as a desk microphone, but it may actually be a small speaker. Or both! It looks very stylish, with tolex covering and brushed nickel finish.

The 'device' measures 600 ohms at 1KHz, and 50 ohms at 100 Hz. Inside, the dynamic element looks more like a small speaker than a mic element, although of course the two things are fundamentally the same technology. When wired as a mic it is pretty lo-fi with a narrow bandwidth. And it does transmit as a speaker too. My guess is that it was part of an intercom system and serves both purposes.

Whatever the intended purpose, one can easily imagine this on a gentleman's desk, so that he could talk to his secretary whilst smoking a pipe and considering important, worldly matters… like this chap!


Microphone Impluse-Response Project (MicIRP)

I have created a new blog called MicIRP, which is a contraction of The Microphone Impulse-Response Project. 

MicIRP will run in parallel to the Xaudia microphone blog, and aims to share impulse-response (IR) data from the many interesting old mics from our own collection and that come in for repair

The IR files can be used with convolution reverb programmes or plug-ins such as TL Space or Waves IR1 to simulate the sonic characteristics of the microphones. So they can be considered as filters or tiny spaces to modify your sound.

I have uploaded files for about 35 microphone to get things started, and will be adding many more mics as and when the opportunity arises.

And it is all completely free so have fun!



Cadenza microphone patent

Here is a UK patent by Eric Thompson of Simon Equipment Ltd, from 1959, that relates to the Cadenza ribbon microphone:  Cadenza Patent

Drawing from patent for Cadenza microphone

The novelty in this patent is that the ribbon is fixed in the middle and clamped at either end. The inventors claim that this allows the two halves of the ribbon to be tuned to slightly different frequencies to give a flatter overall frequency response. I had suspected this for some time, but had never seen it written down! It also has the advantage of supporting the ribbon and giving it some protection against stretching. And here is a photo of the design in real life, from an earlier post.


Upgrades for B&O microphones.

Bang and Olufsen BM3 ribbon mic

Regular readers will be aware that I am a big fan of B&O microphones, and have serviced quite a few of them over the years. Whilst these mics are stylish and look great, the output levels can often be disappointing, restricting use to sources like guitar amps and drums. The low sensitivity is usually due to weak magnets and the fact that the early microphones have an output impedance of 50 ohms - an older standard. With some work we can make these handsome microphones sound as good as they look.

B&O BM3 deconstructed

Firstly, a replacement transformer can be used to convert the microphone's output impedance. The stock transformer in the early BM2 and BM3 microphones has a ratio of about 1:20, and with the thick wide ribbon gives an output impedance of 50 ohms. Switching to a 1:40 transformer will give  an increase of 6dB and raise the impedance to about 200 ohms - Xaudia make such a replacement. With a thinner and lighter replacement ribbon, the output and impedance will both be a little higher.

New magnets!

We also commissioned a batch of custom magnets for BM2, BM3 and BM4 microphones* which greatly increase the magnetic field, and therefore the output level. The magnets in an old BM3 typically have a field strength of 1000 to 1600 Gauss, whereas the replacements give a field of around 6500 gauss - a three or even four fold increase in magnetic field strength, which translates, at least in theory, to a 9dB to 12dB increase in output.

Here are some frequency response plots from three B&O BM3 microphones.

B&O BM3 with new ribbon (blue), new transformer (green), and new magnets (red)

Red = new ribbon, upgrade transformer, new magnets.
Green = new ribbon, upgrade transformer, stock magnets
Blue = new ribbon, stock transformer, stock magnets.

With the full upgrade, the output level is raised by about +18dB, which transforms the mic into a much more versatile recording tool that can be used for acoustic instruments as well as the usual louder sources. If your B&O mic needs a new ribbon, then it is well worth considering a magnet and transformer upgrade at the same time.

*We have similar magnet upgrades for the BM5 and BM6 mics.


Reslosound VMC2 Velocity Moving Coil

Here is a nice looking Reslosound VMC2 microphone, successor to the VMC, which (probably) stands for Velocity Moving Coil.

Reslosound VMC2

As far as I can tell, the only real difference between the original VMC and this VMC2 is that the newer model has a slightly different grill, and a three pin Reslo output socket instead of a fixed cable. Inside, both mics have the same heavy paper diaphragm and coil.

Reslosound VMC2

The badge proudly declares that this specimen is a low impedance 15 ohm model.

Reslosound used a fibrous paper to manufacture the diaphragm, and the coil is simply glued to the paper tube at the rear. In fact the technology looks very similar to early speakers.

Reslo VMC2 coil and diaphragm.

When I plugged it in, the mic gave a very lo-fi sound - even more distorted than one would expected for this era. On investigation, there were some metallic particles sticking to the diaphragm, preventing it from moving freely. The paper cone had also become detached from the diaphragm.

Diaphragm from a Reslo VMC2

The remedy in this case was to carefully unsolder and lift the diaphragm and coil. Then I used a magnet and paint brush to flick and drag the dirt away, both from the diaphragm and from the magnet below.

Reslosound VMC2 magnets

Once the obstructions have been removed, the cone was then lightly glued back using some clear nail varnish, and then replaced in the magnet gap, ensuring that it was centred and free to move. This greatly reduced the distortion.

In use, the mic is slightly boxy sounding, with a steep roll off at the bottom end and some dramatic peaks and dips in the response. It very obviously sounds like an early dynamic mic!

Reslo VMC with base station

For comparison, here is a Reslo VMC with announcer's base station. Note the difference in the grill, with five horizontal slats, as opposed to three vertical.


Reslo microphones in disguise

Reslosound sold numerous microphone models under their own name, and also made microphones for other brands. This Reslo RV was made for GB Equipment Ltd, and has a funky maroon logo on the top.

This one is labelled RVH - the 'H' means high impedance output.

I have also seen and serviced RV models with a Philips badge.

VOX badged Reslo RB

The common Reslo RB models were also sold under the VOX and GEC brands. This Vox mic is identical to the Reslo badged model, apart from the badge.

GEC badged Reslo RB

The GEC mics are painted black and given the model number BCS 2378, but it is simply a Reslo

In addition to these re-branded models, many Reslo mics were sold as parts of sets with Ferrograph recorders, and it is common to find Reslos in a Ferrograph box, usually with a matching transformer.

Update January 2015: Here is one more for the collection - a rather scruffy Philips badged Reslo RV seen on eBay.


A few thoughts about ribbon mic transformers... part 1

Film industries ribbon mics

When describing ribbon mics on this blog, I often note the output impedance of the mic, and possibly the transformer ratio too. Occasionally I receive messages asking how the impedance relates to output level, so here I will try to outline the role that the transformer plays in a ribbon mic. A ribbon mics is a very simple device, and if we consider how it works we will see just how important the transformer is.

In the beginning.... Let there be mics!
If we place a thin, light strip of corrugated aluminium* foil in a magnetic field, it will move in response to sound waves, and, just like an alternator, will induce an electrical potential that oscillates with changing velocity. We have a ribbon microphone!

Tannoy mic - ribbon, magnets and transformer

But to get a useful signal out of the ribbon, we must complete the circuit and connect it to something. Because the voltage of the signal is too low to connect directly to a mic preamp, a transformer is used to increase the output to a more usable level**. So far so good, but what kind of transformer do we need? That depends on the destination of the signal and how far it has to travel to get there.

The Good Old Days
In the early days of sound recording with ribbon mics, the destination would usually have been a tape recorder of some kind, with a tube preamplifier to receive and boost the signal from the microphone.

The mic could be connected in two ways: the budget option would be a high impedance connection using an unbalanced screened cable through a capacitor and straight to the tube grid, just like a guitar! The drawback is that unbalanced, high impedance connections are prone to picking up noise, and parasitic capacitance will limit the length of cable that can be used before the higher frequencies become significantly attenuated.

A better approach is to use a balanced cable to a second transformer in the preamp. The balanced connection will give better rejection of noise and long cable runs can be used. With 30 to 50 ohm microphones it is possible to run cables for hundreds of meters, which was ideal for broadcast and film recording. For these reasons the early impedance standards for microphones in the UK were 30 to 50 ohms for professional use,  and high impedance for consumers. Broadcasters in other countries had different standards which just compounds the confusion - for example many Japanese microphones are 600 ohms.

The impedance can be set using the output transformer:  Let us make an imaginary ribbon microphone for some thought experiments! In our imaginary microphone, the ribbon in the magnetic field might produce a signal of 1 mV for a given sound level, and the aluminium itself might have an impedance of 0.2 ohms. But the transformer primary winding also has some resistance, and that would add another, say, 0.1 ohms to the impedance of the primary circuit to give a total of 0.3 ohms.

Film Industries transformer dissected

So we will make the transformer with a 1:10 ratio. This increases the impedance by a factor of the ratio squared, so in this case we need to multiply our 0.3 ohms from the primary circuit by 100, which gives 30 ohms.  The secondary winding also has resistance, which might be of the order of 2 ohms, and we need to add that in. So overall we have a 32 ohm impedance for our microphone, which is suitable for older 30/50 ohm equipment.

What about the output level? The 1mV signal is multplied by the transformer ratio, so we now have 10 mV output, which equates to a 20dB increase in signal.

This Is The Modern World
Over the decades, broadcast and recording equipment has become more standardised, and most modern mixing desks and dedicated mic preamps are made to work well with microphones of up to around 600 ohms.

Ribbon microphones tend to have low outputs compared to modern dynamic and condenser mics, so it is advantageous to squeeze out as much level as we can. So, let's go back to the transformer in our imaginary ribbon mic and re-design it for use in the today's recording environment. We can keep the same primary winding, but change the secondary winding to one with a higher turns ratio.

Xaudia ribbon mic transformers being assembled

Let's make it a 1:32 transformer, so now we need to take our 0.3 ohms from the ribbon and primary winding and multiply it by 32 squared, which gives 307 ohms. Once again we need to add the resistance from the secondary winding - in this case the wire is not only longer from the extra number of turns, and also will be thinner because we have squeezed the extra turns into the same space. A typical value would be 20 ohms, which would give us 327 ohms altogether, which most modern preamps can cope with quite happily.

Our output level will now be 32 mV, or 30dB gain with respect to 1 mV. So we have an improvement of +10dB over the 32 ohm transformer.

No Free Lunch
In life, and in physics, we know that you don't get something for nothing. So are there any drawbacks with increasing the ratio. The higher impedance can increase the resistance noise, so it is important to make sure that the transformer is well designed with a very low DC resistance, particularly for the primary winding. However, the extra 10dB could be the difference between asking 50 dB gain from the preamp, or cranking it up 60 dB gain, where many preamps are becoming noisy.

Ancient and Modern
In most cases, it is worth getting the transformer right and demanding a bit less from the preamp. With vintage ribbon microphones it is very often possible to re-wind the original transformer to a higher ratio to get more output from the microphone. If the original laminations and winding style is used, the vintage tone of the mic can be retained, and overall this can give a stronger signal and a better signal-to-noise ratio into modern equipment.

Vintage Ferrograph and Wearite matching transformers

Another option is to use an impedance matching transformer. Back in the 1950s and 60s, most manufacturers of ribbon mics sold transformers to solve all kinds of matching problems. One example is this line matching transformer from Reslo, which connects a low impedance mic to a high impedance tape recorder. Xaudia make impedance matching transformer boxes with XLR fittings to do exactly the same job in a modern studio.

In part 2 of these ramblings I will discuss the effects of the transformer's inductance and resistance characteristics.

*Usually corrugated, and usually aluminium!
** Almost always. I have seen one example of a transformerless ribbon mic, but it is a crazy design!


Xaudia P90 Hexapups

Xaudia now make P90 shaped hexaphonic guitar pickups!

P90 sized hexapup stereo pickup, installed in a Fender guitar.

The pickups can be wired for stereo or full six channel output, or somewhere in between! These are exactly the same as our humbucker sized hexapups, but in a P90 sized packet.

Carry on!


Something old and something new - STC Coles 4038 and 4050

A good customer brought in his Coles 4050 stereo microphone for show-and-tell, which gave us a good opportunity to compare and contrast with some of the STC-Coles mics from the past.

STC4033, 4038 and Coles 4050 microphones

On the of the photo left is the imposing and impressive STC 4033, which contains both a ribbon mic and a 'ball & biscuit' dynamic element. These combine to give a cardioid pattern, which was difficult to achieve at the time. 

In the middle sits a 4038, which is perhaps the classic British broadcast ribbon - designed by and made for the BBC. This one was made by STC, and they are still made to the same design by Coles Electroacoustics. The soap-dish styling is dictated by the large horseshoe magnet inside.

The 4050 stereo mic is on the right, and looks very different again. It is a more modern styling but form still follows function, and strong neodynium magnets are used not only for the ribbon motor, but also to fix the mics to the stand mount. This allows free rotation and makes setting up for Blumlein pairs very quick and simple.

Frequency sweeps of 4050 (top, red & yellow) and 4038 (bottom red)

We ran a frequency plot of both halves of the 4050, and of the 4038.* Both mics sound very good, and although the old 4038 had a smoother top end roll off, the 4050 had an extended about +6 dB higher output and an extended frequency response. We were also very impressed with how well matched the two 4050 ribbons were - less than ±0.5dB across the range, and mostly much better than that.

The 4038 is prettier though!

* Taken at 30 cm distance. Please note that some of the bumps are due to our test chamber - there are issues with calibration when comparing a figure 8 ribbon with an omnidirection reference mic.

Thanks to John Gooding


Fi-Cord FC1200A tube microphone

This nice Fi-Cord 1200A tube microphone arrived without a power supply... so we built a new one!

The problem with these mics is that they are filled with resin, and it is almost impossible to get inside them. The mic has a Nuvista tube (like the AKG C28c) somewhere deep inside. Thankfully this one was working well so it just needed a new cable and an Xaudia custom power supply....

These mics were designed and built by Calrec, so it should be no surprise that they sound really good! There is a bit more information about Calrec Fi-Cord mics at Saturn Sound.

Thanks to Santiago Ramos