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Microphones Of The Past With Recording Legend Bruce Swedien

An excerpt "Make Mine Music" that's rife with need-to-know history and personal stories

By Bruce Swedien November 11, 2015

Microphones In The Past from Bruce Swedien’s book Make Mine Music

This excerpt is the first in a series from Bruce Swedien’s book Make Mine Music by Hal Leonard

Microphone Design Technology And Microphone Technique
Along with this development of a more live sound and hi-fi in the popular recorded music of the early 1950’s, a great deal of experimentation and improvement in microphone placement and technique was going on at the same time.

Much energy and effort were put into the development of innovative microphone design.

American microphone design technology and microphone technique were handed down from the broadcast industry to the recording industry, and were definitely ready for experimentation and improvement.

Many of the so-called unidirectional and bi-directional mikes of the time were actually omnidirectional in the low-frequency range of the audio spectrum.

Of course, this only accentuated the problem of too much reverb time in the low-frequency end of the spectrum in the day’s major recording studios.

To further intensify this low-end “coloration” of recorded music, the off-axis response of most of these older mikes caused very unpleasant and unmusical-sounding time and spectral coloration of the sound.

As microphone placement technique underwent radical and welcome experimentation and improvement in the early 1950’s, the introduction of exotic, new microphones, such as the Telefunken U 47 from Germany greatly improved the recorded sound of music.

In the fall of 1951, I was attending classes at the University of Minnesota. Walking from class to class on the campus, my schedule took me close to beautiful Northrup Auditorium.

A large concert hall with wonderful acoustic qualities, Northrup Auditorium was, at that time, the home concert stage for the Minneapolis Symphony (then under the baton of Antal Dorati).

As a kid, I had attended Minneapolis Symphony concerts almost every Thursday evening, with my mom and dad, at a time when Dimitri Metropolis conducted the orchestra.

Click to enlarge diagram.

The sight of that big, lovely concert hall reminded me of the fantastic sound of the orchestra in such wonderful acoustics that I had heard as a youngster.

Telefunken U 47
While at the University of Minnesota, I worked part-time at KUOM, the University radio station. Every Sunday afternoon, KUOM broadcast the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in concert (in mono, not stereo).

One day, in the KUOM studios I met a man by the name of Bob Fine, a recording engineer from New York who was in Minneapolis to record the Minneapolis Symphony for Mercury Records. He had in his hand a black box that resembled a miniature coffin.

This important-looking little black case was about 10” long, 2-1/2” wide, and about 2” high. Bob opened the case, and resting in it on a little bed of dark blue velvet was an absolutely gorgeous German microphone. Bells went off in my head!

I had never seen anything like it in my life before! It was the Telefunken U 47 microphone! I was most definitely in love!

I was, of course, very impressionable at the time, but I will never forget the sight of that exotic-looking microphone with its handsome chrome top and impressive machined metal-and-rubber shock-mount.

I couldn’t wait to hear how it sounded! Every time I look at my Telefunken U 47s now, my mind flashes back to that moment. Bob took the mike out of its case and showed it to me. He explained a bit about how it worked and how he was using it suspended 10’ above Mr. Dorati’s head.


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