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Shour. It’s Your Sound.

I wrote briefly about Cairo Egypt in an earlier post. As usually happens on our vacations, I try to seek out whatever regional audio-oddities I can.  Cairo did not offer much in this regard, but I managed to find a few items of interest.

Most of what I came across was public-address equipment and rudimentary recording gear.  This caught my eye in a shop beneath a highway overpass in the center of the city.

It was a new microphone in a shopworn box.  It cost me about $15.  Meet the Shour Beta 57.

Look familiar?  Yes it does.  Today we will take a listen to this marvel of copyright infringement and see how it compares to it’s Shure-brand inspiration.




When is an object a copy?  What defines a fake versus an imitation?  Deception, or the desire to deceive, is certainly a factor.  I think that our friends as Shour INC probably had deception in mind, especially since Roman characters are likely as inscrutable to most Egyptian residents as Arabic is to me.

There is no Shour dot com, btw.  And there is absolutely nothing on Google relating to Shour Microphones.  It’s not a bad attempt at a name, though.  Sort of suggests ‘Shure’ (the world’s best-known microphone manufacturer) and ‘Shout’ (the most basic of spoken signals) combined into one convenient brand.

I think the fact that they actually go so far as to tout (highly doubtful) Mexican manufacture (as actual Shure mics are made in Mexico) is pretty telling. I am going to assume that the Shour was birthed in China, but I have no way of knowing.  Oh and no word on the availability of the rest of the Shour line.  OK!  On to the sound.

I did not have a Shure Beta 57 in the house today, so I used a regular Shure SM57, which I imagine sounds pretty similar…  I think the polar pattern rather than frequency response is more of a factor in distinguishing an SM 57 from a Shure Beta 57 (Cardiod vs Hypercardiod).

Despite having an XLR-M output jack, the Shour is a high-Z, unbalanced mic.  Connecting it to the DI input of the MBOX and cranking the gain resulted in audible digital inteference noise (sounded similar to iPhone interference), so in order to nullify this, I instead used a direct-box inline.  This DI is one of my own, from a series that I built using 1970’s AKG UT-330 matching transformers.

OK here’s the sound clips.  Have a listen.  First, the SM57.


…and now the Shour (through the Direct-Inject box):


A few things are obvious:  The Shure 57 has much better low-end response evident, even with the signal being an acoustic guitar mic’d at 2-feet.  I would imagine that if you stuck these mics on a bass guitar amp or floor tom, the difference would be much more dramatic.  On the other hand, this could be due to the Direct Inject box, and not the mic itself.  I have never measured the response of this DI box.

The other clear difference is the noise level.  Since I am using the DI box, I needed to boost the gain on the Shour input to 100%.  Anyone who has used an M-Box will know that this basically creates a White-Noise-Generator.  Those preamps are terrible.

Overall, though, the basic sound is similar.  I was surprised.  Of course, there are a whole wealth of other characteristics that distinguish microphone quality, such as feedback resistance, durability, and SPL handling ability, but I think it’s safe to say that I got my full $15 worth of microphone here.

Anyone have a similar knock-off mic story?

Mixing in the 70’s – UPDATE 2 -Philips Console Information

Philips Mixing Console c. 1974

Since we originally published this post in 2010, several folks have written in to provide more information about these desks.

Update 1:

Tom H. in Sweden sent in a picture of his Philips MD console.

From Tom:

“I got it from NYC… Had to recap it and go thru it… Sounds fab.
Germanium Transistor based, and sounds very nice to me… It’s quite limited but the sound makes up for it…  12/4 configuration, one Aux send, no pans! Left/Center/Right by switches…  4 EQ’s w/ 10K, 100Hz boost or cut + presence boost available on tracks 5-12…   I use external valve mixers and micpres,  basically I use it with my Studer A80 1″ 8-track, mixing to a Studer C37 1/4″ machine.”

Update 2:

Above: courtesy of PS Dot Com reader M.G. in Canada comes this document from 1968 which outlines all of the part numbers for the Philips console components.  MG writes: “I came very close to buying a Philips “Control Desk” in April 1968… (this) is the quotation I received at the time listing all the Philips part numbers…




No big theme today.  Instead: a quick look at some 1970’s mixing consoles that caught my eye for one reason or another.  Dig in, and let us know if you have any thoughts on working with these various oddities.

I cannot find any information on Wiegand Consoles.  Looks to be serious kit though.  A quick google search puts Midas at the head of the results, no reason indicated: perhaps Wiegand is part of the early Midas story?  Anyone?

Schlumberger consoles seems to have generated some heated discussion on the G*****tz forum not so long ago.  No one could agree where they were built.  Germany or France?   Probably not too common in the USA.

Style for miles.  Philips MD mixing console.  Sign me up.

From the pages of the AES journal, an early appearance of ‘pro-sumer’ ‘home-recording’ kit.  I recently purchased a near-mint TASCAM Model 5 EX expander unit for a few bucks at a yard sale (Not yr average yard sale: I also picked up a few P+G faders, VU meter, sequential tone generator, and a mile of balanced belden cable).

(web source)

The Model 5 EX is basically 12-channels of Model 5 minus the meters, buss masters, and stereo master.  So you’ve got 12 inputs (mic inputs have Tamura transformers!) with 4 unbalanced buss outputs plus 2 aux sends.  It certainly would be possible to create a stereo mix on the model 5 EX, but the intent was to use it with a model 5.  Right now, my Model 5 EX is sitting in the shop awaiting the axe.  Eventually I will start to explore ‘upgrading’ the channel cards in the hope of eventually making some channel strips worth racking + selling.  The channels don’t sound terrible as-is, but they are more noisy than i would like.  As-in broadband white noise.

…And the more ‘pro’ TASCAM board of the era.  The TASCAM Model 10.

Speaking of ‘mixing’ on a 4-buss unit with no master… I have always been very curious about these little Gately mixers.   Hope to get my hands on one soon..

Langevin Engineer John Jarvis describes his methodology for console design in this 1969 AES article.  Jarvis left Langevin for UREI shortly after this piece was written.

(web source)

Here is a photo of an actual unit.  These are super-cool.  If I ever have a spare year I would love to DIY one of these from scratch.

Interface Electronics model 300.  Anyone?

…And the one that became a keeper; a classic.  The API 2488.  Dan Alexander has a great wealth of information on this piece.  Check out his fantastic website sometime.

AES Journals of 1978: Digital Audio meets VCR

Looking through a selection of Audio Engineering Society journals from 1978, we see several themes repeated.  Primarily: digital signal processing (echo and primitive digital reverb) and digital recording.  Papers dedicated to various issues concerning digital encoding and playback occupy many of these pages.  Digital audio recording was a long way from being widely-accepted as professional practice in 1978, but based on the content of these publications, most in the field seem to have regarded it as inevitable.  Most of the content of these issues is excruciating technical, and well beyond the scope of this website; one paper, though, brought light to a forgotten early chapter in the digital audio story.




When I first became involved with music recording in the early 1990s,  I often heard vague stories of guys ‘recording digital audio onto VCRs.’   The September 1978 issue of the AES journal finally clarified this all for me.  As it turns out, SONY was the first company to bring a digital-audio-recording product to mass-market.

(web source)

SONY’s PCM-1 (read an excellent period analysis here) was not a digital audio recorder, per se; rather, it was an early D/A and A/D converter which was used in conjunction with an analog video recorder as the data storage device.

Basically, the PCM-1 converted analog audio to a digital data stream, and then converted this digital stream into a video signal by adding video synchronization data to the digital audio stream.  SONY’s engineers chose 44.05k / 16bit as their data spec.  This is very close to our modern standard of 44.1 / 16 bit.  Not sure why the slight difference.  Anyone?

Interesting stuff.  A quick web search does not reveal any PCM-1s on the market; I wonder how many were sold in the US.

Anyone use a PCM-1 or any of the later models? Any thoughts?

Is the digital audio signal from these SONY devices compatible with modern digital audio streams such as AES/EBU or spdif?

Early Electronic Music Technology: Part One

From the back-pages of the AES Journal in 1965:

Moog is a legendary name in the world of music.  As far as manufacturers/innovators of musical/audio equipment go, Robert Moog is a close to a household name as anyone I can think of.  The original Moog Modular Synthesizer, as used in early ‘hit’ electronic records such as Carlos’ “Switched on Bach,” was the earliest commercially-available integrated audio synthesizer instrument.

But as much as Moog was indeed an innovator and a massive contributor to the world of music and audio, widespread acceptance of his (and others – Buchla, EMS, etc) synthesizer systems actually marked the demise of a much earlier tradition of electronic music practice.  Because the Moog Modular, complex and inscrutable as it now seems, was in fact a massive simplification and streamlining of the earlier academic/institutional ad-hoc electronic music studio.   Today we will start (what I intend to be) a series of investigations into the technology of early studios used by electronic pioneers such as Varese, Stockhausen, and Luening.

I am slowly-but-surely accumulating some of the original circa 1960 equipment similar to that which pre-Moog electronic music was created with, and I hope to attempt some of this early practice myself.




This article, from the same 1965 issue of the AES journal which heralded the arrival of ‘The Moog,” details a basic ad-hoc electronic studio of the era.  Read through it.  The basic components that Robert Moog integrated into his ‘modular instrument’ are all present in the Brandeis studio, minus the keyboard: oscillators, a mixer, a filter, a noise generator, a ring modulator, a spring reverb unit.  And, of course, several tape-recorders to allow the various sounds to be layered and combined in order to meet the composer’s intent.  In order to understand just how much effort was necessary to create even these basic conditions for composing, consider this:  the (very simple) mixer had to be custom-designed and built by an engineering firm.

And the studio-staff themselves designed and built the white-noise generator that the set-up used.




Columbia University had a similar, but much more sophisticated studio at the time.  They began the construction of their set-up in 1952, nine years before Brandeis did the same.

Here the Columbia/Princeton studio is profiled in the June 1965 issue of ‘Radio Electronics,’ the same year that  the AES covered Brandeis.

You can here some of the music that Otto Luening made on this rig (presumably) at the youtube link earlier in my article.  I find it to be very beautiful; it is in many ways the most basic type of music: I think we experience it directly as ‘Organized Noise,’ as free-as-possible from cliche and expectation.  Just my $.02.




As I had mentioned earlier, Moog’s real innovation was to take all of the disparate components of electronic sound-generation – the oscillators, mixer, filters, noise generator, ring modulator, a spring reverb  – and combine them into little panels that fit a single chassis, with a conventional piano-type keyboard as the primary input-control device.

But where did our pre-Moog pioneers source their hardware?  As the c. 1965 coverage indicates, Brandeis and Columbia had some of it custom built; some was built by the staff; and some originated as non-musical laboratory equipment.

General Radio was perhaps the pre-eminent manufacturer of electronic test equipment in the 1950s and 1960s.  I have owned some of their pieces, and the build-quality is absolutely incredible.

This type of hardware is fairly easily obtained nowadways for very little money – i generally pay $5 – $20 for a unit – and usually it still works.  Sometimes it is hard to resist the temptation to chop up these pieces in order to use the valuable transformers for other projects, but I have saved a few of the better pieces in the hopes of getting my own super-primitive Electronic Composing Studio together.




Anyone out there ever made music on a pre-Moog system?

Anyone attend the Brandeis or Columbia programs in the early 1960’s?  Drop a line and let know about it.

Microphone Harvest of 1965 part 2

Courtesy of the Audio Engineering Society’s 1965 Membership Directory Publication:  today we take a look at some ‘full-product-line’ advertising from the the leading microphone-makers of 1965.  Shure, Beyer, and RCA are curiously absent.

Gotham Audio of NYC was the sole USA importer/distributor of Neumann Mics for a very long time.  It is incredible to me how Neumann’s reputation has stayed so strong for so many years.  Sort of like… Mercedes?  BMW?  Maybe there is something to be said for quality vs. price-point-engineering after all.

I knew that 421s were popular in the 1960s, but i had not realized that they were available as early as 1965!  This is an incredible product.  The 421 is still considered a world-class mic choice for tom drums, as well as bass guitar and kick drum for certain sounds.  I have also found it a great mic for aggressive rock vocals. FORTY FIVE YEARS and these things are still in demand.

Ah yes the EV line.   Need to do that 655 listening test!  Also this reminds me that I need to find a model 666.  Satan references aside, the 666 is somewhat the predecessor to the EV RE-20, which is to this day one of my all-time favorite microphones.  Gets used on every session.

The AKG line-up from 1965, branded and distributed in the USA by Norelco.  I recently came across a large trove of 1970s AKG dealar literature which I will feature soon on the site.   The only mic from this 1965 stable that I have much experience with is the D-19, aka the Ringo Overhead Mic. I have found it to be useful for ‘distressed’ rock vocals, as well as aggressive driving  acoustic guitar rhythm tracks.

…And the Schoeps line.  yup gotta get some of these.

Tomorrow: Primitive electronic music studio.

AES Journals Circa 1965: Microphones

Our earlier post on Saul Marantz discussed the journal of the Audio Engineering Society in general.  This week we are going to take a closer look at some of these fascinating publications.  We’ll start with a crop of microphones from the 1965 issues.

For a time in the 1960’s, Norelco (the electric-razor people) branded and distributed AKG microphones in the United States.  The AKG C12A was the historical bridge between two icons of pro audio: the legendary 6072-tube driven C12, and the perennial AKG 414.   If you have been following this blog you will recognize the AKG 414 as my ‘reference’ microphone.  I have two 414s – an older 414 XLS and one of the newer 414Bs.  The 414 is, basically, the cheapest (around $1000) widely-used multi-pattern microphone for professional applications.  Most audio-folk are familiar with the 414 sounds, so i feel like it makes for a good sonic reference point.

Unlike the 6072 (aka hi-grade 12AY7) powered C12 or the solid-state (aka transistor-driven) 414, The C12A uses a Nuvistor to provide capsule gain. The Nuvistor is a fascinating device.  They are essentially miniature vacuum tubes which were assembled entirely in vacuum chambers.  If the transistor had ‘never happened,’ Nuvistors might have represented the future of active circuitry.  I don’t know of any current-manufacture audio equipment that uses these odd devices.  Anyone?

Ah.  The Electro-voice 635A.  The ‘Buchanan Hammer.’  These used to be as ubiquitous as Shure SM57s.   Unlike most modern dynamic mics, the 635 is omnidirectional (picks up sound from all sides), so they are not so popular these days for music-studio-recording.  I hope to do a listening-test with the 635 soon, side by side with a 57.   BTW, 55 years later:  EV still makes this product.  Wow.

In an earlier post, I discussed a pair of EV 655s that I came across.  Unlike the EV 635, the much costlier 655 is no longer being manufactured.  The 655 seems to have been replaced by the (also discontinued) RE55 sometime in early 1970s. Expect a listening test of my 655s soon.

Yup, Schoeps mics are great.  Need to get a few…

Has anyone been using Sennhesier 211s?  The 211 is a small omni-directional dynamic mic.  I am very curious to try these out.  A couple of these sold on eBay for $150/ea a few weeks back.  Drop a line if you have an opinion on the 211.

Tomorrow: deeper into the AES c. ’65.

Spring Reverb Defines a Mythic Space Where The Legends of Rock Live

Listen to this audio.


You don’t need me to tell you that this is the sound of an electric guitar playing through a guitar amp (speaker).  You would believe me if I told you this was what you were hearing.




But what about the space that this happening in?  And what does the sonic event of this speaker-movement sound like in that space?  I can show you.


…And you would believe me that this is the space in which this event is taking place.




Humans are pretty good at using our ears/brain to evaluate a sound and judge the space in which that sound is occurring.  We never had to do this much until about 100 years ago, because until we had technology to record/transmit and playback sound as audio, the only way to hear a sound was to be physically present where the sound was being generated.  So baring blindness or blindfold, if you heard a sound, you did in fact have good direct knowledge of the space in which the sound was occurring.  But we now have the technology to capture and reproduce sounds divorced from their origin in time and/or space.  And we also have devised technologies to synthesize the sound of spaces.  We can synthesize very good imitations of real physical spaces that we have experienced in the flesh.  And we can also synthesize the effect of imaginary and unreal spaces.

Listen to the guitar performance again.


I have taken the close-mic’d guitar-audio you listened to initially and ‘placed it’ into a ‘church-space’ by processing it with a computer-reverb program.  There is no actual physical space captured here, other than the 2-inches between the microphone and the speaker.  But, if we suspend that knowledge, I think that we can all reasonably accept that yes it does in fact sound like the guitar-performance is taking place here:

(web source)

Many generations of computer-programmers have labored for decades to create that sonic illusion, and they have done a pretty good job at it.   Even the cheapest pieces of audio-hardware nowadays come with these digital-reverb programs built-in, and there are generally dozens of ‘spaces’ on offer, from Halls to Churches to Rooms etc.  And most of the time, these reverb-programs are effectively able to convince us of the spaces that their names suggest.

But what about spring reverb?  AKA., guitar-amp-reverb?  AKA, the reverb knob on your old Fender (or whatever…) amp?  Exactly what space is defined there?

Let’s take a listen.  Here’s the same close-mic’d guitar performance you heard earlier; this time, though, I have turned on the reverb knob on the amp.


It’s evocative, right?  But of what?  And more importantly, of where?  Our brain is telling us that the guitar is now in some sort of space.  But what is that space?  Well, literally, it’s the space and the springs inside this little 9-inch steel can in the back of the guitar amp.

(web source)

But emotionally, we don’t feel like we’re hearing the sound of this little sardine can.  Instead, the guitar-performance (and our imaginations) have been transported to some sort of mythic Rock-Legend-Space.  How is this possible?  Because we have heard this same goddamn accutronics-reverb-tank sound a million trillion times since were little kids.  Because nearly every good-quality guitar amplifier made in this country or any other between the years 1965 and 2000 had one of these little mechanisms in it.  Furthermore, we never heard the sound of this ‘space’ when we were walking down the street, or to the kitchen in the middle of the night to get a snack (crunchy carrots).  We have heard this space a zillion times always and only in context of Rock and Roll.  Either on record, on the radio, or in a club watching a band on an elevated stage.  Through these millions of associations, the sound created by that little metal can has come to represent a sort-of Mount Olympus of Rock and Roll.

(web source)

Or, if you like, the Hall Of Justice of Rock.

(web source)




Have you ever read Rock Dreams by Peelaert and Cohn?  It’s a collection of illustrations (with some explanatory text) that attempts to visualize the legends and myths that we associate with various Rock and Soul performers.

All of the personages represented in the illustrations are real, actual people who were born, lived, and died (or will).  But they have been placed in settings which are simultaneously unreal and yet totally expected.  The scenes depicted in the images are not actual places where these people ever set foot.  Instead they are spaces that we have created in our collective imaginations.  And they are very fitting.

I think the spring-reverb box in the guitar amp has come to define such a space.  Not a space of inches and miles, walls and ceilings, tiles and columns; but an imagined space where Rock and Roll lives; an imagined space that we all imagine with uncanny similarity.

Recording Engineer/Producer Part III

Spent yesterday doing some tech work in a time-capsule circa 1983 recording studio.  Today’s perusal of RE/P Magazine c.’85 feels especially poignant.

I had never paid attention to the name ‘Dennis Lambert’ before, but wow what a list of credits this dude has.  The Four Tops ‘Ain’t no Woman Like The One I Got.’  Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds.  Survivor.  The Grass Roots.  And Player’s ‘Baby Come Back.’

RE/P identifies Lambert as a master of the ‘Crossover Hit,’ which basically means that his music has an incredibly broad appeal that spans multiple listening tastes.   Based on his credits, I think this is accurate.  Dude had a book published called “Producing Hit Records,” and I think he earned the right.  This interview was conducted as his active career was coming to a close.

Sony Electronics recently unveiled a new product called the SONY DASH.  It is a ‘personal internet viewer,’ sort-of like a clock radio-meets- iPad.  I worked on the product launch for months as music-supervisor and never once did I recall that SONY actually had a major pro-audio product named DASH in the 80’s/90’s.  The DASH digital-multitrack has vanished to that great of a extent.  Crazy.  These gigantic, expensive machines were the historical bridge between 24-track analog tape and DAWs like Pro Tools.  A lot of really, really big records were recorded on the DASH, but at this point, they offer neither the ‘sound’ of analog tape nor the convenience/editing ability of DAWs.  God only knows where these monsters have ended up.  Feel like I saw one of eBay for like $1500 last year.

Here we have a competing digital multi-track from Mitsubishi.

Effectron!  What happened?  Where did your knobs go?  Bad move guys.  Unlike the circa ’82 blue Effectron with the great, tactile interface, this later digitally-controlled version was not a hit.

Love, love my DBX 900 rack.  I have five 903 compressor cards, one 902 De-esser, and 2 of the gates.  These are a great value in outboard gear and they take up so little space.  Highly recommended.

As much as I like older audio equipment, I do not miss hardware gates.  Not at all.  Thank you Pro Tools and the Digital Hygiene that you make possible.  There are certainly many creative applications for these devices, but overall this is functionality that is much better served by the DAW.

Seems like a pleasant lady.  Interesting how FOSTEX is really going after the non-technical-person market here.  As-in., “I write songs. I want to record them.  Don’t care about specs ETC.  Here’s a pic of me writing a tune.  Here I am looking pensive.  Also here’s the product.”  TASCAM had a very similar product range at the time, but conversely, they wanted to convince you that their 16-track 1″ machine was ‘actually serious kit, for real!’

Recording Engineer/Producer Part II

Looking through the August and October 1983 issues of RE/P today.

What has changed since 1982?  There is an even bigger focus on digital recording – primarily new 2-channel Digital Mastering platforms.  There is also more discussion of Dolby noise-reduction.  This is certainly the direction that the 1980s were heading.

Today I will be going to a local studio to (attempt) to service the 1983 NEVE console installed there.  I don’t think it has been switched on for 10 years.  Wish me luck.  Expect a full report soon….

Audioarts appears again.  CT.

Speaking of Connecticut:  when I was growing up, ‘Eastcoast Sound’ was the local guitar store.  It was a gigantic cavernous former roller-rink (or so i heard…) steps from Candlewood Lake in Danbury CT.  Where FOREIGNER songs will blast from small-power boats until the end of time.  Anyhow, I had pretty mixed experience with Eastcoast.    Some good deals on used guitars and amps; not always the most professional salespeople.   A couple of years ago I came across this little gem on Youtube.  Incredible but true:

OK.  We’ve got Anaheim CA in 1983.  We’ve got a studio employee named Les Claypool.  He has a mustache.  Draw your own conclusions.

I would certainly buy a new Echoplate 3 for $1700.  Kinda miss 1983 right now.

Epcot Center: a true American icon on the 1980’s.  Here we get an in-depth study of the sound system installed there.

OK this is going to go on for a while…  So follow the link below to READ ON…

Continue reading Recording Engineer/Producer Part II