When I got serious about collecting microphones I started a list of the models I wanted, and one of the first names on the list was the D-22 from the American Microphone Company. It’s a beautiful omnidirectional microphone with two-tone coloring and a very modern unique look.
American was a popular manufacturer from the 1930s and into the mid-1960s. The company was founded by Fern A. Yarbrough in Los Angeles, later relocating to Pasadena, CA, and it built mics primarily for broadcast and recording, with a few models designed for live sound use, including the D-22. During World War II, the company produced several communications mics for the military.
The Elgin Watch Company bought American in 1955, with a newspaper article of the day noting that the purchase was part of Elgin’s effort to expand it’s interests outside of watchmaking.
Specifically, the company stated that it would commence developing miniaturized components for mics because the current offerings were considered “too bulky for correct use on television.” By the early 1960s, that plan was abandoned, with Elgin selling American to Electro-Voice, which soon retired the brand.
The D-22 was introduced in the early 1950s and was part of the Full-Vision (FV) Series, a name referring to the slim profile that offered a better view (or full vision) of a presenter on TV in comparison to other contemporary models that were bulky.
The FV Series included a pair of identical looking mics, the D-22 and D-33. However, they differed in their intended usage and offered different frequency responses.
Marketing material states, “The D-33 is designed for television, AM or FM broadcasting and recording, while the D-22 is suited for less critical applications.” The spec sheet of the D-33 shows the frequency response is 40 Hz to 15 kHz (+/- 2.5 dB), while the D-22’s response is listed as 100 Hz to 8 kHz (+/- 5 dB). All other specs were identical.
Both models have precision machined “Duraluminum” cases as well as micro-metal alloy diaphragms that are unaffected by temperature changes and treated for protection against corrosion. Impedance on both models may be easily changed by removing the name plate and loosening the screws that hold “linkage bars.”
The bars then slide to the impedance position desired, with the screws tightened and the name plate re-installed. Many American models use linkage bars for setting the impedance, and I think it’s a better idea than exposed switches that could easily get changed.
All of the mics in the FV Series are simply gorgeous, with a color combination of black and gold. Over the years, the black on many units has faded into a dark purple color, only adding to its beauty in my opinion. My model seems to have lived its life mostly in the case, so the black color has not faded.
For an additional $5, FV mics were also available in a non-reflecting “Antihalation” finish (all black) for unobtrusive use on television.
Then & Now
The D-22 also has a unique stand mount called the “slide-lock,” which allows a performer to easily detach the mic from a stand for handheld use. A knurled knob end screw on the stand mount is used to securely lock the unit into a recess in the mic base. At the rear is a standard 3-pin XLR connector. (American was one of the early adopters of this now-standard connector.)
The broadcast and higher quality models from American shipped with fitted velvet-lined cases as fancy as the mics themselves. In addition to the case and stand adapter, 25 feet of shielded rubber-covered cable was included with each mic.
The modern, sleek lines and quality sound made the D-22 (and D-33) a popular choice for broadcast, recording and live events in the 1950s and 60s. And their timeless beauty makes them a popular choice with collectors today.
American Model D-22 Specs
Transducer Type: Micro-metal alloy diaphragm dynamic
Polar Pattern: Omnidirectional
Frequency Response: 100 Hz-8 kHz (+/- 5 dB)
Sensitivity: -86 dB at low impedance, -52 dB at high impedance
Nominal Impedance: Switchable 50 ohms or 40K ohms
Size: 8.2-in x 1-in
Net Weight: 7 ounces, including slide-lock stand mount
List price for a new one in 1961: $99.50
Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor for Live Sound International and is an avid collector of vintage microphones. Click here to check out more Microfiles from Craig.