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Microfiles: A Garage Band Classic

Detailing the Realistic Highball-2 microphone that was a big-time garage band favorite in the 1970s...

By Craig Leerman February 26, 2014

The Realistic Highball-2 microphone

While my first microphone was a model 99-45460 from Lafayette Radio Electronics (read about it here), many of the mics owned by my garage bandmates were from Radio Shack, usually the Realistic Highball-2. Some of you likely had at least one as well—it was a popular mic in the early 1970s that offered acceptable quality at a good price.

“The Shack,” as we called it, had a number of in-house brands, including Archer (antennas and accessories), Duofone (telephones and accessories), Micronta (scientific and education equipment), and Optimus and Realistic (audio/video). The store sold many cost-effective items that we used with our fledgling bands, including mixers, amplifiers, cables, adapters, and of course, mics.

Radio Shack was founded in Boston in 1921 by brothers Theodore and Milton Deutschmann to provide amateur (ham) radio gear and electronic parts for a growing market. The company was named for the term used for radio rooms on ships, and many hams today still refer to their radio rooms as shacks.

To expand sales, in 1939 the company started distributing a catalog with audio equipment in addition to radio gear and parts. As the company grew, it added stores around the U.S., and carried more consumer electronics goods. But by the early 1960s, Radio Shack was near bankruptcy when it was purchased by the Tandy Corporation, which later also bought Allied Radio, a similar operation.

In 1977, Radio Shack was one of the first companies to offer a personal computer, the TRS-80, which was very popular. (By the way, the “TRS” stands for “Tandy Radio Shack.”)

A popular marketing program of the time were cards for the “Battery of the Month Club”—cardholders were entitled to a free in-house-brand battery once a month. My dad and I would drive to our local Shack almost every month to get a free battery (and usually something else!).

The diaphragm of the Highball-2.

Now known as “RadioShack,” stores (and the website) still offer a variety of parts and consumer electronics with an emphasis on mobile phones, wireless plans and accessories.

Two Models
The company used catalog numbers to identify all products, and number 33-985 was the Realistic Highball-2. It debuted in the early 1970s and was manufactured in Japan, as were many of the in-house brands for Radio Shack, Lafayette and other electronic manufacturers of the era.

The Highball-2 is a handheld, omnidirectional pattern “ball” mic offering dual impedance and a fixed cable, shipping in a Styrofoam-lined package. A later model was low-impedance only (600 ohms) and came in a smaller unlined cardboard box.

Physically the two look identical except the model number on the later low-impedance version was changed to 33-985B, labeled as such on the switch cover, while the earlier version featured a decorative star emblem on the front of the grill.

The decorative star emblem on the grill of the early version.

The original Highball-2 was advertised as having a “Feedback Filter,” with later ads omitting this “feature.” I’m assuming it was just an earlier marketing term for the “pop proof screen” that is noted prominently in later advertising.

And credit where credit’s due—the ball grill is very well made and is outfitted with an inner metal perforated piece as well as a foam lining. It does stop “pops” and “plosives” very well. 

Both models sport a fixed rubber jacketed cable a little more than 6 feet long. The earlier dual impedance versions had a standard 1/4-inch phone plug that could be removed to rewire the mic for high or low impedance. The later version offered an attached, molded 1/4-inch phone plug.

The cables were way too short for stage use even though ads showed performers onstage with mics in hand and plenty of extra cable to spare.

The later low-impedance version, complete with on-off switch.

Many users (like me) bought an extension cable with a molded female 1/4-inch jack at one end and a molded 1/4-inch plug at the other that allowed us to actually use the mics onstage (as well as in our garages and basements). Being omnidirectional, they weren’t exactly the best mics to use on a noisy live stage.

Both versions shipped with a plastic stand mount clip. The earlier versions featured chrome plated metal on the threaded section that screws to a mic stand, while the later versions were all plastic.

I acquired my first Highball-2 microphone from a buddy in high school who traded me a few items for a guitar pedal. At the time I thought he got the better end of the deal, but now I think I made out better, still in possession of a classic mic that brings back memories of my garage band days. 

Realistic Highball-2 Specs
Transducer Type: Plastic dynamic
Polar Pattern: Omnidirectional
Frequency Response: 90 Hz – 11 kHz (B models were 50 Hz – 13 kHz)
Sensitivity: -82 dB low impedance, -59 dB high impedance
Nominal Impedance: 250 Ohms or 50 kOhms
Size: 7.25 x 2 inches
Net Weight: 20 ounces
Price for a new one in 1973: $13.95

Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor of ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International, and is an avid collector of microphones. Check out more Microfiles from Craig here.

About Craig

Craig Leerman
Craig Leerman

Senior Contributing Editor, ProSoundWeb & Live Sound International
Craig has worked in a wide range of roles in professional audio for more than 30 years in a dynamic career that encompasses touring, theater, live televised broadcast events and even concerts at the White House. Currently he owns and operates Tech Works, a regional production company that focuses on corporate events based in Reno.


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