Tape Op reviews the RM1: Gold Stars Fantastico

Even though this is our very first totally independent review, I don't think the one in Tape Op will ever lose its luster.  The guys came by the booth at AES and we had a nice little social event.  But (as they say in Noo Ywawk)  "I'm dyin ova heah":

http://tapeop.com/reviews/gear/111/ocean-way-audio-cliff-mics/

Cliff at AES the weekend

Greetings from Ocean Way East in Framingham Massachusetts

I'm sitting here at the controls of my computer, in my "lair" with red, yellow and orange leaves falling past my window, thinking of my trip tomorrow on the "Limoliner" headed for The Apple and the 139th AES.  Memories rush at me of staying at the Waldorf in the '70's, giving AES papers and seeing Frank Zappa and the Mothers on Halloween with Mark Gander.  And later memories haunt me of hanging in open space, a hundred feet above the concrete ice-making floor,  from a hole in the ceiling of Madison Square Garden, supported only by my belt and two strong IBEW brothers (local 3?) as they ran chain motors and I connected large hardened alloy-steel bolts to secure a big speaker truss to hold my "US Sound Coherent Zone" speaker array;  one of four I designed when CADD was in its infancy and I had a computer running DOS and Generic CADD.  How far we've come (I'm hoping).  

But on the approaching Friday, it's now the year 2015 for the pro audio industry and all my thoughts are about making The Beautiful Sound for the cats; the artists and  producers and recordists.  And my thoughts are now taking me back a mere year ago when I first showed the RM1 microphone to the world, thanks to the encouragement from longtime friend Doug Fearn (www.dwfearn.com) who gave me a place in his booth at last October's AES show in LA.  And who do I spy stalking about in the aisles but my old buddy Allen Sides.  After laughing at each other and having a bit of the Olde Home Weeke, Allen listens to the RM1 ("what, you did a microphone?" he asks, incredulously) and lights up when he hears it over some good Sony cans and Doug's beautiful tube preamp:

"Clifford, this is a really good microphone.  I'll help you with it". (really, Allen?  Exactly what do you mean by this...?)

The really really really short story is that I sent him one to spend some time with and (as a result of many brainstorming conversations) Ocean Way Audio is now the distributor/promoter of the RM1 (and future Cliff Mics inventions).  Not only that, but I am now Director of New Technology for OWA, infusing new innovation and invention into OWA's impressive means of making true audio magic.  Not only that, but OWA recently appointed industry leader Rick Plushner as President of the company. ( !! )  It's basically a mighty new version of the company; Rick calls it "Ocean Way Two-Point-O".  

So I'm thnking about all this stuff and about how I got here after all this adventure and about the upcoming show this weekend and about what we'll be sharing with you all soon.  So exciting.  I can't wait for you to see and hear it all, and, well...um....you see...

O-o-o-o-oh baby; it's Showtime!  

"Come on down":  I'll be in the Ocean Way Audio booth 337 with my colleagues Allen Sides, Rick Plushner, Ernie Woody and Horacio Malvicino.  You'll witness the debut of daring and innovative new OWA beauties as well as the super-magnetized, ultra-quiet full-spectrum Cliff Mics RM1 ribbon mic, now distributed by Ocean Way exclusively.  And (but wait; there's even...) more.  You'll see but, more important, you'll hear lovely and thrilling high fidelity a-bounding. I hope you all can come by, enjoy a little bit of that Olde Home Week too and celebrate what we have created to make our world safe for The Goode Sounde.  And in New York City no less...

...'ayyy, New Yawkk, juss like I o-ways pichiddit...

Returns on Magnetic Investment and the Measurement of Microphone Noise with a Fish Scale

By Cliff Henricksen

Permanent magnets are the fountain of performance for a lot of audio devices and for pretty much all loudspeakers as we know them, until someone invents something better (working on it…).

In professional high-frequency compression drivers, the “B-field” (magnetic flux density in Gauss or Tesla) translates directly to the transduction coefficient for that driver.  That would be how much force you get for a given amount of electrical current input.  Unfortunately, once you get near a flux density of 1Tesla (10,000 Gauss) at the driver’s voice coil, the efficiency or sensitivity gain is almost nonexistent, except for the very high end.  A higher flux density basically extends the break frequency of the high end, but not the low end or the (flat) region in the midrange.  So you get a little more output in the upper 1.5 octave.  But once you are in the >1T region (some compression drivers approach 2T!), you have to use a way-disproportionate amount of magnetic energy (thus way-disproportionately-large permanent magnet) to overcome this “saturation”, where the steel magnetic conductors look more like air than steel.  So in professional compression drivers, you don’t get a very good return in overall performance with a large investment in magnetic field strenth, especially above 1T in the gap.  Actually, it’s a poor investment, especially in that you can typically cut the costs of any driver’s magnetic strength and save a lot of money by just providing a little extra HF gain in the system.  Return on magnetic investment is pretty poor in compression drivers.  (Unfortunately for the pro audio business, little gains in measured high end are part of a sales mechanism that is largely driven by data and not by common sense.)

In contrast, the return-on-magnetic-investment in the RM1 is huge.  The strength of the B-field gives more level in all ranges.  This means that investing product cost in magnetic performance has dramatic returns in product performance.  And it’s not linear either;  the voltage developed in the RM1 is directly proportional to the strength of the B-field, so the output is not a 10 log effect; it’s a 20 log effect (voltage squared!).  For twice the B-field level, you get 6dB more output at the ribbon.  So our  investment in magnetic circuit cost (machined pure iron and pounds of NeO) gives RM1 customers a performance benefit with a big lever.  And more output means less gain needed for acheiving a useful signal level at the (relatively noisy) downstrem recording chain.  This means less noise at any sound level input. 

The fact that the RM1 weighs on the order of 8 pounds means that a lot product cost has been invested in magnetic performance.  Simply, more magnetic energy comes with more magnet volume.  And, to “contain” all that energy and focus it on where the ribbon “lives” (in its magnetic air gap), the magnetic circuit has to be commensurately large and heavy.  So the weight of the RM1 translates directly to our decision to dedicate product cost to magnetic efficiency, in order to combat noise, the age-old nemesis of ribbon microphones.  The magnetic circuit in the RM1 has been optimized with a modern FEA (finite element analysis) program, so it is actually as lightweight as it can be, making most efficient use of the permanent magnetic source energy of its two (expensive) Neodymium magnets. 

We affectionately refer to the RM1 as “the Shelby Cobra of Microphones” for this reason:  The two massive blocks of Neodymium in the RM1 are not unlike dropping a NASCAR V8 engine into a “polite” little aluminum-bodied English sporting motor car, resulting in world-beating performance.  It’s actually a frightening bit of magnetism, albeit all nice and politely-contained in its sculptured package.

You know how the weight of any amount of gold translates directly to how much it costs?  It’s pretty straightforward.  You pay more and you get proportionately more of this rare element.  The same is true of magnetic ribbon microphones.  If good magnetic design is done, the weight of the microphone translates to how much the designers invested in both magnetic performance as well as product cost.  So, in a way, you can almost measure the inherent or “native” noise any ribbon microphone will have by looking at how much it weighs.  Want a quiet ribbon mic?  Go to the microphone store with a fish scale.  Ignore comments from the sales guy.

 

Cliff Captured In The (LA) Bush

Meanwhile back at the AES show in LA, this (very friendly) guy with a video camera shows up as I'm standing by the RM1 and says "tell me the story here".  So I start talking and he starts "filming" (is that still a viable word in "today's topsy/turvy world of digital distractions"?).  I just saw it online, to my surprise.  I was obviously having fun talking about it.  That's My Boy, the one-and-only DW Fearn with the beard in the background.  We had a ball in the booth, lots of visitors and old friends.  Anyway, it was a surprise treat to look at this:

Moving Electrical Current Through a Vacuum ( ! )

The Miracle of Electricity Flowing In A Vacuum

by Cliff Henricksen

At the AES show, sharing a booth with Doug Fearn and his vacuum-tube creations, once again I puzzled endlessly, looking at his big Simpson meters flicking back and forth as visitors spoke into the RM1 and listened over Sony cans: So I'm thinking "this sound is being processed by electrons flowing through a vacuum, in a bunch of little heated tubes in there.  How can this be possible?".  Well, it's not possible, but there it is anyway.  My only conclusion, thus, is that it's a Miracle:

The flow of electricity in circuits and in solid state electronics is almost understandable:  You connect copper wires to solid objects and you can get electrical current flowing thru them.  In audio and musical instrument amplifiers, these create enough current to move loudspeaker diaphragms enough to create heroic excursion and forces (“of love”, say some artists). 

 Moving to “tube amplifiers”, this is more of a stretch, for me anyway.

 Let me try to explain all this dilemma further:  Electricity is a common invisible force.  "Electrons", small elements of electrical current, allegedly "flow" through electrically-conducting metallic wires into and out of all kinds of things.  We deal with this conceptually by likening the flow of electricity to the flow of water in pipes.  Ohm's famous law still holds true today and I use it with great confidence myself, without reservation or suspicion, in my work.  I can depend on it, because it appears to describe one of the dependable laws of physics, engineering and of Life (possibly even  “love”) itself.  Today, the electric and electronic working and organization of our entire society is almost totally based on Ohm's famous law, itself based on a totally abstract model of what electricity and electrical current flow is.  We can certainly deal with electricity this way, but do we really understand it and know what it truly is?  Knowing PhD candidates in Physics, not to mention practicing Physicists themselves, all confirm a resounding “yes we do!”.  I think Douglas W Fearn and William Hughes (inventor of the Ampeg SVT) also feel this way, inexplicably.  They say “of course we do”.   

We can break an electrical wire that is passing current and cause sparks to jump across the break in the wire, just like if we cut a pipe with water flowing through it.  Splish/splash.  In this case “zapp”:  there it is!!  If we have high voltage, we can actually feel the effect on our skin and body hairs if we pass our hands through the gap between the wires or by touching the wires directly (zzappp!!! owie).  But the effect of these "charged electrons" or whatever they are, is invisible.  Electrons are now thought of in terms of even smaller particles, which are in turn thought of in terms of even smaller particles.  The more we look, the more we find.  And the more we look, the more evidence we find that everything is mostly unoccupied space.  How can there be basically nothing there but the probability of whirling energies and yet the natural universe and all of creation is so solid and real?  Wow; Science Fiction.  I love it. 

A common but more fascinating energy phenomenon is the passage of electrons through a total vacuum, as in a vacuum tube used in the amplification of electrical signals, like in electric guitar amplifiers.  Think about it: no copper wires; just a bit of space with nothing in it and all the air pumped out.  Talk about “Science Fiction”.  Inside the vacuum tube, from which all the air has been evacuated (thus “vacuum tube”), there is a “plate”, a “cathode”, a “grid” and a device to heat up the cathode, basically a small length of special wire that has a lot of “electrical resistance” and gets red-hot when you put electrical current through it.  In other words, this length of wire can easily convert electrical energy to heat energy.  I can relate to that. 

You can see these elements as pieces of metal inside the glass tube, all arranged in a mysterious (but somehow intriguing) geometry.  Here’s how this works:  A steady, high positive DC voltage (300-500 volts or so) is placed on one metallic piece inside the tube (the plate), the cathode (another metallic piece) is heated until it glows red and an electrical circuit is made between the plate and cathode, typically outside the tube using its “pins”.  The main conductor of current is (get this) the expanse of, basically, vacuum, or what’s in outer space, between the plate and cathode.  The grid (yet another metallic object with open spaces in it) is placed in the path between the plate and the cathode.  An electrical signal placed on this “grid” acts as a variable “valve” that regulates the “flow of electrical current” through the vacuum, between the plate and the cathode.  The small to-be-amplified grid or input signal causes large changes in the power flowing from plate to cathode, thus the signal is amplified.  You want a Space Odyssey?; you got it right here!  I mean, you can stare at this tube all day and night and there is not going to be any indication that there is something going on in there, other than a soft light and heat such as you get from a light bulb.  But, if you connect this up in a typical amplifier and put your hand on the speaker cone it is driving, there is no doubt that amplification is working and some real physical stuff is being unleashed.  I mean, if you put your hand close to the cone of an aggressively-played bass guitar amp (like if you take the grille off and expose the actual speaker), your hand will get spanked good and proper.  Whew!  But the electrons (or whatever they are) that cause these forces are invisible, as is electrical current flow. 

 I guess that this is probably as close to witnessing a Genuine Miracle as anything I can think of.  Maybe that’s why electric guitar players love their tube amps so much.  Serious Religion.

 

 

Magnetism Revealed!!

A trusted advisor in the realm of physics, electromagnetic transduction and spiritual electroacoustics tells me that I'm tragically misinformed about magnetism.  Thanks to Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity, we (well not "we" as in 'us' but "we Physicists") know exactly what magnetism.  It goes like this:

"Magnetism is the wake of the electric field as it moves through space at the speed of light" .

Right?  Could a fooled me!  And so, doesn't this all make sense now?  Aren't you all more comfy with this "mysterious" energy source; magnetism.  I know I am.  It's as tangible for me now as a Big Mac.  Don't you think?

A Mysterious Force in the RM1 microphone

This really mysterious force is, of course, Magnetism.  

Certainly we know how to deal with magnetism.  I have books full of magnetic design equations and, like Ohm’s law, I use them in my work with great confidence. One can actually design things that produce a quantitatively predictable magnetic effect that can reliably and predictably pick up or attract pieces of iron (for instance entire steel-bodied automobiles).  You can design a “magnetic circuit” that can be used to produce a predictable force exerted by a current-bearing wire situated in the field, like what takes place in a loudspeaker or an electric motor (actually, both are the same thing).  And you can reliably predict the voltage produced on a ribbon of aluminum as it vibrates in a magnetic field you designed.  Computers are a big help and can give high accuracy in predicting the actual spatial “lines of flux” in both air and in magnetic conductors (like iron and steel) of definable geometry.  This is called “Finite Element Analysis” or “FEA” in techno-speak. We like FEA. 

Like Ohm’s law, magnetic equations describe a natural law and the behavior of a life-force that exists everywhere in the natural universe, including in our own human bodies.  

But what a mystery!  You can’t see or feel magnetism.  But if you pass a wire through a magnetic field, you have created an electrical generator in the purest sense.  This is the essence of the ribbon microphone.  If you connect this wire to an electrical load, this will create an electrical current and produce both force and heat.  It produces heat allegedly because electrons collide with the atoms of electrical conductors and this "friction" heats them up, like a running back colliding with a hungry defensive line (in American football).  Well, um,  not exactly.  You see, electrical current flow goes one way and electron flow goes the other way.  This is what I was taught in engineering school, anyway. Forget this for now (or forever). We do know that another magnet will actually be attracted or repelled by a magnetic field, depending on its orientation.  Iron (only iron and not anything else in creation) will be attracted to a magnetic field and iron filings will accumulate on the magnet like bees on honey.  Why?  Because of "electron spins"?  These can be illustrated by pointing your thumb, index and middle fingers in some way I forgot.  I accepted this as an engineering student, but "electron spins"?  There must be a better explanation, especially one that humans can relate to.  And, of course, this explanation provides no clue whatsoever as to what magnetism really is anyway.  Yet mankind has been living on a big permanent magnet (earth) since first appearing (or arriving, depending on whose opinion you believe; you really had to be there to know for sure). 

When pressed (I’ve done this many times), Professors of Physics and the like will be forced to admit that no one really knows what magnetism really is.  I mean, we know what water is and what sound is.  And lots of other stuff too, like what kitties and spiders and pizza is.  But magnetism?  No cigar here.  Personally, I’ve given up trying to figure this out and just accept this part of creation for what it is and for what it does so well.  I know we can accurately predict and use magnetism for great works and for use in clever and helpful machines.  But, after almost a half-lifetime of study and speculation, my overwhelming conclusion is that magnetism is pure magic.  (  !  )  Nothing else explains it. 

Isn’t that enough?  Furthermore, isn’t that a lot more inspiring and empowering than making stuff up about electron spins and finger-pointing? 

“Hi, I’m Cliff Henricksen.  My work is exclusively based on the use and confident prediction of pure magic.”  I'm a Magician.  I love it.  

(For another spin on the nature of magnetism, listen to the RM1-recorded message from a veteran Physicist/lecturer in the “How-To” section of this website.  Listen to "Chris" at the bottom).

 

 

 

Reflecting AES and RM1

I'm thinking about the blizzard of info I got from the AES.  Some brief comments:

The RM1 is unobtrusive

Several times I pointed at the mic to someone and said "want to listen".  They smiled and looked around and not at the mic, not really seeing it right away.  Although the RM1 has a unique shape, it really does  blend.  I really doesn't draw attention like, say, a new Corvette does.  That was one of my goals, knowing it might be used on sets for video or movies.  They don't usually want this blingy thing.  It was a revelation and a happy one at that.

Off to Nipomo

I'm in Oxnard right now visiting my brother and his family.  This morning I'm off to Nipomo to the home of LR Baggs company, engineering developers of the lovely phantom preamp in the RM1.  We have worked together on a wide variety of projects over the years and the company is really dedicated to listening and making The Beautiful Sound.  I love these guys, an inspiration to me.

I guess that's it for now.  More as it comes.

 

Day 3 AES 137 OMG A Star is Born

Well everyone really liked it a lot.  It was nonstop visits to see the star-child RM1, most being a rave of love for what they heard in the Sony cans and what they saw in its distinctive design.  And it didn't hurt to have it playing through the Best Preamp in the World, the DW Fearn VT2.  The show-buzz via the artists and producers and engineers and studio owners had reached the other mic manufacturers so by show-end I had visits from representatives and even owners.  They looked, listened, asked questions ("...I'm sorry; that's a trade secret...") and many, so sweet and generous, gave me a complement or two and welcomed me into "the club".  Very touching and by the time the show closed I was full of encouragement and enthusiasm, no more stage fright.  It all looked good.  

Here are some stories, such a pleasure to write about the next day:

Big handsome guy comes up; an artist for sure; puts the cans on and (I gotta tell ya) goes "wow" and gives the experience a giant gush-rating.  I'm talking about a full 5-star review with fanfare and fireworks.  Plus he loves how it looks.  Turns out it's producer Tony Shepperd.  The guy has a totally beautiful speaking voice, clear, resonant.  I ask if he does voice-overs (some).  We talk, he listens some more, we talk some more, we shake hands (solid, a real strong but real sincere handshake) and he leaves, brings more colleagues back, leaves again and before the show ends brings a couple of CD's he's produced with artist Sheléa.  You know if this was my only visitor for the entire show, it would have been more than worth it.  A very sincere and instantly likeable man, such a pleasure.  Click on his link above, you'll get a good idea.  Here's Tony having a dialog with my boy the RM1:

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I got a bunch of visits from Dr. Fado deConsolo, this time with author ("Recording the Beatles") and Who keyboardist Brian Kehew (apparently on a break from an ongoing tour).  Fado, all wide-eyed, telling Brian "you gotta see this" .  I think he actually said "hear this" too; he knows.  Brian listened, said "it sounds great" and we chatted.  Brian a very engaging and delightful guy to talk to.  He tells me "you know, there was another RM1 microphone and it was made strictly for the use of the Beatles, another ribbon mic".  I didn't know what to say.  Luck?  Am I somehow connecting with the ghost of rock and roll past?  Who knew?  Anyway, here's a Kodak moment with Fado and Brian, and our star-child the New RM1:

That's Fado on the left.  He's been in this biz a long time.  Some of you may know him with a different name.  Hey, we were in a band together, he did FOH.  Maybe he change the name to escape some guy who thought we stole his CM chain motor, I don't know.  It's all good.

Producer Amir and his colleague and voice-over artist Marissa (all the name I got) came by.  "Marissa; want to hear your voice over the RM1?".  She was all for it.  Here's her reaction:

Think she liked what she heard?  Delightful, engaging young woman, really great to talk to.

Heidi Robichard came to visit, said "Steve Greeley told me to come by and say hi".  Steve is my songwriting partner in our original band "Big Red Sun" in Boston.  I fell out.  You never know who's going to show up.

Doug Fearn and I had more of the endless conversation about theoretical physics and microphone phasing.  Dave Royer joined us, a real treat for me and we waxed Ribbonesque.  Allen Sides (Ocean Way Recording) came by again, put the cans on, turned the knobs a bit, said "this sounds real good, nice piece of work" and said "leave the knobs where I set them for the demo".  No epoxy around to pour on the knobs, so I memorized their positions.  When this guy sez stuff, I'm all over it.  Allen will get one of these soon, followed by, no doubt, a giant list of all the good qualities and every single wart on the mic.  Great stuff.

That's it.  I'm full-up, elated, exhausted and full of encouragement and hope for the future of Cliff Mics. Can't wait.  Thanks thanks thanks everyone for being so supportive and generous with your time and advice.  See you all soon is my fondest wish.

Day 2: The life of Our Boy RM1, in the LA Bush (AES #137)

(by Cliff)  (who else) So I woke up the morning after day 1 of being on my feet for 8 hours straight with very strange and rather uncomfortable cramps in my legs, calves, feet.  Weird muscle lock-up stuff.  I'm in pretty good shape, but the elliptical ain't the answer for getting in shape for a trade show, especially if you're an exhibitor and especially if only-you are it.  I know, wah wah stop whining.  So I will.

Leg cramps are my only regret and a nice walk after breakfast in the Topanga state park loosens everything up and makes it all right.  That's right behind my friend Mark Gander's great house, where I'm staying for the show.  

I gotta tell ya, I had an absolute ball talking to everyone.  So much fun and such a rich group of mostly artistic people, people making music, movies, everything.  For me, the hit of the day was this guy, Gil D'Orange from Carson.  He walks into the booth with this cigar-box guitar over his shoulder and a smile.  A really cool guy with a great smile and vibe.  So I said to him "wanna hear your axe over the RM1?".  So he's all over it instantly, drops his bag, puts on the Sony cans and starts playing, big smile and all.  He doesn't want to stop.  Amazing.  I listened a little while he played and knew why.  Big and clear and unmistakeably his guitar, but bigger than life.  He takes the cans back and keeps playing, finally thanks me, we shake hands, he leaves.  Maybe he'll buy one, who nose?  knows. Anyway, here's Gil having a ball:

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A whole bunch of people came by including Dr. Fado DeConsolo who gave me a big hug.  A highly-interested couple came by, very curious about the mic.  Spoke little English but once I said "Neodymium" they were locked in and were into it.  Every detail I explained, they said, in unison, "ahhh".  All I got for names was "Fukasawa" at Myaji Pro Audio in Tokyo, what appears to be a pro audio distributor or dealer in Tokyo.  Great people, listened to the mic too.  Check it out:

During the day, the Doug Fearn Fan Club was a nonstop stream of admirers.  Good for me too because a lot of them wanted to check out the RM1, which Doug was enthusing and promoting.  Of course we played it thru the beautiful-in -every-way VT2 preamp.  When we had quiet moments, we continued The Endless Conversation about The Beautiful Sound and how to get it.  Doug is a master audio engineer and artist in this realm and he played me some beautiful recordings of a guy I knew of from when we lived togather in PA.  Here's Doug ("my harshest critic", happily for me ) listening ("Cliff, I think there's a serious problem at 59,7 kilocycles").  Actually, Doug is rotating the RM1 to try to get rid of the thumpa/thumpa recordings our neighbor plays to demo his something-or-other.

Allen Sides came by again with some buddies to see the mic, have a listen.  We went back up to his demo in the GC Pro (Yo PK) and he played me some as-usual exquisitely-recorded music over his monster Coupe deVille studio monitors.  Very cool stuff and real everything-at-once clarity.  Knowing Allen I was not surprised.  Allen and I go way back and we spent a lot of time together working on various things together in the '80's.  Actually, my band was the first to be recorded in his studio when he first moved from Ocean Way (name of the street) in Santa Monica (San Demonica; I couldn't help it) to United Western.  Allen and I get all gooey and misty-eyed remembering how the control room sounded in Santa Monica.  We kind of lost touch but meeting at the show was a great like-yesterday reunion, like reunited brothers.  Amazing.  I learned so much from him in terms of listening skills and a whole variety of techniques for diagnostic listening to speaker systems.

A bunch of other microphone designers/engineers came by, some to ask questions (uh, that's a trade secret), tell me how I should redesign the RM1 and the owner of one of the big companies came by to learn about the mic.  After a little show-and-tell he sincerely complemented me, told me he admired the work and welcomed me to the "club".  Wow is right.  Such a sweet gesture, totally genuine.  I was touched.

"the Club" indeed.  I really don't know anyone in the microphone tribe yet.  I'm brand new to this, albeit with a totally relevant new product.  It's amazing.  People I didn't know came up to me, said stuff like "I'm happy to finally meet you" and things like this.  This is all from my former life as a loudpeaker inventor (all in the Wiki article ).  Now I'm nothing, starting and stumbling around from square one all over.  At the start of the show I thought "My god, what am I doing" with a bit of stagefright.  Today writing this I'm feeling ok about it.  I think I can make the world a better place for music and artists.  I'm looking forward to commercial success with the RM1 so I can get on to all the rest of the mics I am planning to create.

Hey everyone.  Wake up!  It's morning here on the Pacific, and looks like a great day coming.  See you at the show.

Our Baby's First Day in Public

So we arrived at the (cavernous) LA convention center and had 2 hours to set up before showtime.  Doug and I are considering a new career in interior decorating.  Behold the fabulously-transfomed booth 1003:

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Talk about stagefright.  I mean I've done countless papers and exhibitor booth duties at AES shows, but never with my own product and my own company.  Scare-eee (for me anyway).  Like jumping out of an airplane.  But ah, such a silly boy.  Everybody loved it, even some other microphone designers.  Actually, that was my first experience, even before the show opened.

Across the aisle was PMI microphones.  I was admiring their desk-mount mic stands and it turns out they were only someone else's they were using for the show.  They had a ton of mics, all different sizes and designs, including one really cool one that looked like an iPhone.

So this one guy from PMI comes over and says he was intrigued with the RM1.  So I gave him a little tour and a listen.  He loved it, was very impressed (we used the Doug Fearn preamp  and a good pair of Sony studio cans).  He also told me something that would play back a lot during the show, which ran from 10am to 6pm:  He said he knew it was very hard to get such a complete "look" and totally-integrated design concept.  Like, say you want an art-deco mic.  I realized then that one of the things that mic designers do to differentiate from all the zillions of other mics available is to have a unique-looking mic.  I was floored when he paid me this compliment.  So I told him my secret:  the RM1 was not "designed".  The finishes I chose were to make it "Everlasting".  But how it looks is another thing.  I told him the RM1 is pure form-follows-function.  How it looks is a pure and honest manifestation of its function.  The RM1 looks like it does because that's how it needs to look to work right.  It's like I told the mic how I wanted it to work and it told me "this is how I have to look".  This is profound.  After the show was over for the day, I remembered a lot of very similar reactions.  I realize now that the RM1 elicits a deeper gut reaction because of its display of "this is how I work".  People like it but they don't really know why.

I thought this guy was one of the sales guys for PMI.  "No, I designed all these mics".  Brent Casey.  Floored me, even before the  show officially opened.  I thanked him profusely, a real genuine and, from another designer, real generous and honest comment.  Here's Brent chekkinitout:

Doug has a big fan club and it was lucky for me because they were also interested in the RM1.  You know Doug?  A finer man is hard to find, and I'm lucky to have had him as a friend for so long.,  Here we are in the booth:

Being on my feet for 8 hours was a unique physical challenge.  I thought I was in good cardio shape but not for doing that.  Worth it tho.  A lot of people were interested in the RM1 and were intrigued with the engineering behind it.  There were a lot of schools represented, for teaching recording and production.  A lot of studio owners too.  Two magazines came by requesting mics for doing a review; John Baccigaluppi from Tape Op (I've read this, have copies at home, really cool mag) and Mike Metlay/Paul Vnuk Jr. from  Recording (one of the big ones).  No; the magazines didn't come by and visit, the guys did.  Duhh.

By show closing I was pretty full of encouragement.  Lots of potential here.  On his (or her) first alive in public, we were proud parents and no longer afraid of flying.  Today is part 2.  Tired but elated,  And ain't we got fun?!  My old buddy and colleague Allen Sides (Ocean Way Recording) came by and was amazed to see I had created a microphone (and not a speaker).  It's been a long time so we had a great time doing a little reunion in the booth and a nice little round of conversation with Doug.  Allen's got his own studio monitor system on display, no doubt sounds Most Excellent.  I'll go see it today.  Allen was intrigued with the RM1; I'll get him one and will get a great and useful review of it.  All in all a great day.

In LA for AES

Ah, LA.  What can you say?  Anyway, I'm here, registered and took a look at the booth.  Doug and I will totally transform it tomorrow.  Show opens at 10am.  Heres the "Before"; pretty, 'ah?:

Booth 1003, waiting for the decorators

David O'Leary using an RM1. And, wait: The AES in LA

Hey out there in Cliff Nation.  I'll be letting you know a lot of stuff from now on.  My microphone company needs to be in touch, so this will be The It on our website.

Here's something innerestin:  I brought an RM1 over to David O'Leary's studio recently.  He has what he calls a "whisper booth", one of those semi-anechoic vocal booths with a window/door, covered with carpet and really tight and dead inside.  It's where he does all his voiceover work.  Such a smart facility to have.  David's reaction to using the mic (see in testimonials, herein) was instant and a big gush.  Other than broadcasting over Boston's popular "Magic 106" fm station ("...all the hits..."), David has a strong and steady business doing voiceovers for a very impressive list of clients.  So I asked him if he wanted to "live with" the RM1 for a while and he immediately accepted.  You know, this is his profession and his living.  He is always in the process of using all the best broadcast mics you can get and has a daily familiarity with how they respond  to his voice over a good pair of headphones.  So he knows instantly what he hears, like a professional athlete trying on a new pair of running shoes.  Knowing this, I was totally excited to observe his reception to the RM1.  But, to answer what the mic is like on a daily working basis, this is a really good test of the mic on a longer time scale.  He'll be using it straight-on in creating his product: voice messages.  So I'll check back with him after I get back.  Maybe he'll report on a feeling of well-being because of the RM1's stray magnetic field (earlier blog herein).  I can only hope.

Wait: "back".  Aieee, that's right; airplane tomorrow.  

Yeah, that would be back from the AES show in LA.  The beaches, the movie-stars, the traffic on the 10 freeway.  Actually, it'll be "studio tan" time as I'll be "in the booth" (1003) the whole time.  But, man!, it's been such a long while since I've been to an AES show (memories of the Waldorf Astoria).  I've done so many papers and workshops.  Did you know I'm an "AES Fellow"?  No, this doesn't mean I'm an AES member who's a guy.  It's actually quite an honor.  But you know what?  It's also an honor to be in the booth with Doug Fearn, master of electron flow in a vacuum.  Just think about this and what it means.  Electrons flowing in space.  You can't see them but they drive speakers with pounds of force.  You want science fiction?  Just look inside your Fender twin.  Blow your mind.  Anyway (now that I think of it, more on this later), I'm honored to be sharing the booth with Doug and his venerable all-tube Made in USA hand-wired masterpieces.  Today's activity for me is mostly getting ready, get packed, see what sunglasses to bring, etc.  I'll bet some of you will be at the show.  You better come visit if you know what's good for you...

Why do we love the sound of ribbon microphones?

On Ribbon Microphone diaphragms and their sonic signature, compared to others

By Cliff Henricksen

Many recording artists (including “engineers”) love using ribbon microphones, especially for recording voice and “acoustic” instruments. 

Like a player’s experience with their instrument, the recording artist’s experience with their microphone (the experience of the person actually making the recording) is also unique, hard to explain and hard to translate to others.  I’ve had extensive experience working on “tone” with, for example, electric guitar players, including some famous ones (no name-dropping here; so unattractive).  As artists, they are so much deeper inside the tone they hear and so deeply involved in the mechanism of creating tone, that it’s impossible for an outsider (anyone outside the experience) to appreciate.  To the artist, it’s as real and tangible as the art itself.  I know this, and so I’ve learned to accept what they tell me as truth.  The same is true for artists that use microphones in their work, to create a beautiful instrumental tone.  Those deeply and intimately involved in the recording process hear and perceive things no one else does.  It’s uniquely personal and a fact of the process.  I mean, they have no reason to lie about this.  It’s as honest and real as the art itself.

Lovers of ribbon microphones have their preferences for such devices for reasons only they know, or feel.  Maybe they’re really not sure why either, preferences being the sum total of a vast assortment of different phenomena and signal-contributing elements that make the sound they are involved with.

I’ve wondered a lot about why we (and I) love the sound we get from ribbon diaphragms.  Maybe it’s their basic nature that makes a sound we love.  Think about the other kinds of transducers you can use:

The condenser microphone’s diaphragm is typically circular diaphragm stretched to a very high tension.  It resonates (mechanically) way above the upper limit of hearing (supposedly 20KHz).  It’s stiff as can be.  Thus it has some kind of a musical character, like the subsonic character of a drum-head below its principle resonance.  Condensers don’t move much and when they do, they get stiffer, like a drum-head.  They have built-in amplification and tend to create "hot" output signals with pretty low noise.  Condenser mics are used everywhere anyone does recording, a very popular and useful general category of microphones.  Condensers are available with omnidirectional and unidirectional pickup patterns via all kinds of methods including dual-diaphragms and resonant/damped back-cavities.  

The dynamic microphone is basically a loudspeaker in reverse, and early headphones were made by putting electrical power into dynamic microphones and putting them into small enclosures close to the ears (“the cans”).  Dynamic mics have resonances in the bass region but because they are typically dome diaphragms with mechanical suspensions, made of paper, metal or some composite, they have mechanical resonances that occur all throughout the audio region.  They are probably the most mechanically-complicated microphone, consisting of a diaphragm, suspension element, resonating back-cavities (for uni mics), a coil “former” (cylinder the voice coil is wound on), a pair of lead-outs, and so on.  This is all vibrating when sound hits it and thus has its own musical character; harmonics that speak when the microphone speaks.  Like a different tube of oil paint, dynamics all have different sonic signatures and are very useful in a wide variety of uses.  

Ribbon microphone diaphragms (the good ones anyway) are typically long, narrow pieces of almost-impossibly-thin aluminum and are relatively loose and non-resonant.  If you take a ribbon diaphragm out of the RM1 and let it loose in the air, it will slowly float about, almost buoyant.  It is the loosest and floppiest of all microphone diaphragms.  Some ribbons are corrugated and have resonances in the bass region.  Some are loose and have no resonances at all.  Ribbon mics are typically bidirectional, due to their basic nature.  This is very useful in specific applications.

So what do we perceive from these, due to the basic nature of the diaphragm.  Does their basic nature contribute to their musical signature?  Are the sound of condensers “tight” and stiff in nature?  Are dynamics resonant and their signals full of their own mechanically-resonant acoustical signatures?  Do ribbons have the least emphasis on resonances?  Certainly condensers are widely used in recording everything.  We know we can get good (some great) vocal sounds from the good ones.  Dynamic microphones are preferred for snare drum, electric guitar amps and even many vocal recordings. Is this because we like the harmonic content they add to the sound they pick up?  Ribbons basically sit and vibrate and really don’t have much of a musical character of their own.  Is this what we love about the sound they make?   

RM1's "friendly" and "calming" experience reported ?

Singers enjoy singing with the RM1.  They do, of course, enjoy hearing themselves on playback and on studio headphones, as one artist puts it, "sounding the way I think I sound".  Some are content to simply use a quiet ambient monitor or a "cocked headphone" and simply listen to their own singing in the air, unamplified, being confident they will hear the sound they expect on playback.

But, there are other intangibles too.  The RM1's "Megaflux" magnetic circuit design results in a lot of stray field all around the microphone, like a magnetic "aura".  Of course, no one really knows what magnetism is, but as a tribe of humans, we do know what magnetism does and how to deal with it (via magnetic design, such as used in the RM1).  Our objective analysis of magnetism is an abstraction that really does work, including committing it to dependable computer-based "FEA" (finite element analysis) software tools.  When you look at a depiction of the stray fields around the RM1's magnetic circuit (or measure them, like with a "Hall Probe"), you can clearly see or measure this halo of magnetism.  It surrounds the RM1 in all directions.

Graphical depiction of the magnetic flux field surrounding the RM1 magnetic circuit, from FEA analysis.  Field is approximately .1T or 1000 gauss in strength near the top (and bottom; the design is symmetric).

Graphical depiction of the magnetic flux field surrounding the RM1 magnetic circuit, from FEA analysis.  Field is approximately .1T or 1000 gauss in strength near the top (and bottom; the design is symmetric).

The health benefits of magnetism have made clear headway into the modern world.  Bracelets, magnetic pads and other aids are said to promote healing and general well-being.  So, this may be yet another (albeit intangible) factor that creates the feeling of well-being that RM1-users report.  Here's what WebMD.com has to say about "Magnetic Therapy":

" Magnet therapy involves applying a magnet to the skin or close to the skin to improve a condition such as pain.   The strength of magnets is described in terms of “gauss” or “Tesla.” A Tesla is equivalent to 10,000 gauss. Magnets used for treatment usually have a higher magnetic strength than typical refrigerator-type magnets. Therapeutic magnets are most often in the range of 200-10,000 gauss. Typical household magnets are typically around 200 gauss.   People wear magnets to treat painful conditions including general pain, pain after surgery, low back pain, foot pain, heel pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), carpel tunnel syndrome, painful menstrual periods, nerve pain caused by diabetes (diabetic neuropathy), sports injuries, and migraineheadache.   Magnets are also worn for treating water retention, wounds, male sexual performance problems (erectile dysfunction, ED), trouble sleeping (insomnia), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), epilepsy, trouble controlling urination (incontinence), and many other conditions.   Magnet therapy is a big business. Worldwide sales of magnets for treatment is estimated at over $5 billion annually. In the US the market is about $500 million.     How does it work?  There is interest in magnet therapy for medical conditions due to the variety of electromagnetic fields that naturally occur within the body. For example, nervous system transmissions and related muscle contractions are associated with magnetic activity. The heart generates the largest magnetic field in the body. Several other activities in the body are associated with magnetic activity.   At one time it was thought that abnormal magnetic fields in the body might result in certain disease states and that magnets could play a role in making these magnetic fields normal again.   You may hear that magnets attract the iron in red blood cells, resulting in increased circulation. But this is wrong. The iron in blood cells is not in a magnetic form. However, magnets, in theory, could have an effect on other charged molecules in the blood and other parts of the body.   There isn’t enough information to know exactly how magnets might work in the body to treat disease or pain."