Fostex RP Headphones 1977

Download a high-res scan of the four-page 1977 Fostex RP Headphones catalog:

DOWNLOAD: FostexHeadphones1977

Models covered, with specs and photos, are: Fostex T50, T30, T20, and T10 headphones.

On-the-go music-listening is more popular now than ever due to the convenience and features offered by devices such as the Apple iPod.  This new technology has also driven the demand for quality headphones.  When asked for headphone recommendations,  I generally steer people towards the Sony MDR-7506, due to their relative portability, extremely low impedance (translation: even an iPod can make them very loud) and very present sound.  Plus they have a 1/8th-inch jack, so they mate properly with your iPhone iPod or whathaveyou.

This all being said, I always also tell folks that I personally do not listen to music on the MDR-7506.  They are too hyped and unrealistic-sounding to me.  I am not sure exactly what they do to the sound, but they make everything sound ‘better’ in a way that i don’t really find ‘better’ but instead somewhat cloying.   Regardless, if you want headphones that will play loud, shut out the outside world, and last forever, the 7506 is a great bargain.  This is also why almost all musicians prefer the 7506 in a recording-studio-tracking situation.  I own several pairs for this reason.

What I use personally for monitoring in the studio is the Fostex T50RP.  When I am tracking I find the 7506 to be the best choice, but whenever I am behind the desk and need to monitor with headphones for one reason or another, I put on the T50s.  Likewise, they are good for music listening at home.  They give a good, accurate sound, and they are just so robust and well made.  These things really are the best value in audio today.

Turns out that the Fostex RP line goes all the way back to 1977.  The components have changed a couple of times over the years, but the basic printed-diaphragm technology which distinguishes the RP line from most other headphones has remained the same.

According to the excellent ‘Wikiphonia’ headphone web database, the RP line was originally introduced as a less-fussy (IE, no power supply needed) alternative to the then-novel and popular Stax Electrostatic headphone line.

Pictured above is the Fostex T20 as it first appeared in 1977.  The T20, like the T50, is still be manufactured today in a slightly varied form. The T20 seems to have undergone the least cosmetic change since its introduction.   I do not recommend the T20.  I have owned a few pairs and I find the very dull and chalky.  My advice: spend the extra 20 bucks and get the T50 instead.

ICON: Kustom Instrument Amplifiers: 150, 250, 500 series

Download the twelve-page 1972 Kustom Electronics, INC catalog for their 150, 250, and 500-series guitar and bass amplifiers.

DOWNLOAD: Kustom_150_250_500_Catalog

Kustom amps, with their ‘tuck and roll’ sparkle-Naugahyde upholstery covering, are a true icon of the rocknroll amplifier.  Bud Ross took the idea of RocknRoll=hot rods to its logical conclusion with these things.

Tuck and Roll custom hot-rod upholstery (web source)

Interesting how well the Rock-Music/Hot-Rod connection worked in the 50s/early 60s.  Consider the Gibson Firebird and Fender Stratocaster guitars, both of which had direct aesthetic relations to youth-favored automotive designs of the times.  At right: the 1953 Buick Wildcat (source).  Below that, the Fender Stratocaster, designed in 1953 (source).

I wonder why no one has made a Honda Civic or Subaru WRX flavored guitar (or beat-making software interface WHOA maybe getting too far out there…)

The 1940 Chrysler Windsor, designed by Ray Dietrich (source)

The 1963 Gibson Firebird, also designed by Ray Dietrich (source)

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From Wikipedia:

Rockabilly and Motown musicians originally used (Kustom) amps. Other artists known for using the Kustom brand for live applications are Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Altamonts, Dusty Murphy, 3 and Sheryl Crow. Some of the most famous Kustom P.A. users include Creedence Clearwater Revival, Leon Russell, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark, The Jackson 5, Carl Perkins,Alun Tan Lan(Y Niwl) and The Carpenters.”

All of the original 1960s and 70s Kustoms are solid-state amps, so their appeal nowadays is mainly for their cosmetic a(e)ffect.  These things were no slouches in the technical department, tho – the 250 and 500 lines shipped with optional JBL or Altec speakers (look for the silver dustcap on the drivers); furthermore, when you come across one of these things nowadays, they generally work well, which is more than can be said for most 40-year-old solid-state guitar amps.

Pictured above is a German 1972 pricelist for the entire Kustom line.  If there is enough demand I will scan and upload the entire thing.

(web source)

(Web Source)

A Kustom-Brand Police Radar gun.  Hot Rod Cars are still a focus here, but the situation has changed dramatically.  And yes the same man is responsible for both product lines.   (Web Source)

Since Kustoms are so iconic, there is a ton of information on the web regarding these artifacts and their very colorful and storied creator Bud Ross.   Ever wonder what the connection was between Kustom and Kasino?  And a gambling addiction? Promo branded halter-tops?  Unsavory-looking plush toys?  And police radar guns?  Yes folks it’s all true.  This is an American Epic.  Here’s my pick of the best:

History of Kustom/Kasino amps and Bud Ross

A great stockpile of vintage Kustom literature

Personal site of a Kustom super-collector

History of the various Kustom lines

Polymath Bud Ross on-camera delivering an oral history of Kustom and his later ventures

Lexicon Digital Audio Processors of the 1980s

Download twenty-one pages of original Lexicon catalogs and sales materials from the mid 1980s.

DOWNLOAD: LexiconProcessors1980s

Full details, photos, and specs on: Lexicon Model 97 Super Prime Time programmable digital delay; Prime Time II; PCM-42 delay unit; PCM-70 effects processor; 224-X Digital Reverb; plus a period price list and sales letter.

It’s hard to remember just how important these devices were back in the 80s and early 90s, before the advent of DAWs (e.g. Pro Tools) and the audio-processing plug-in effects that accompanied the DAW.  Sure, Lexicon digital reverb may not ‘really’ sound like the sound of a ‘real space,’ but it sure did sound like the sound of a Hit Record for a good long while.  And if you wanted That Sound, the only way to get it was with one of these devices.   There is still some demand for these devices (PCM-42s still go for around $1000 used), likely due to older engineers’ familiarity with these devices, as well as their still-relevant live sound and instrument-rig applications.  Interesting to read these specs and see that, at best, these were 16k bandwidth devices.   Who would dream of setting up a new Pro Tools session at 32K sampling rate these days?

Unfortunately I could not find any paper work on the most expensive item on the pricelist – the Lexicon 1200CMS stereo Digital Time Compressor/Expander.

(web source)

This was a truly significant, cultish device.  You can occasionally find them on eBay for around $200.    Cost new in 1985?  $15,995 for a stereo unit.  In today’s money, that’s  thirty-two thousand ($32,000) d0llars for a device that could (at 32k) pitch-shift a stereo program a semitone or so.

Who in their right mind would pay this money for this kind of functionality?  Broadcasters, primarily.  If you spend any time working in television post-production, you will still hear older producers and creative directors say “Lexicon it” to the sound engineer.  Now, when they say this, they are not telling the mixer to put a shit load of echo or reverb on the audio.  In the post-production audio world, “Lexicon-it” was an imperative to time-shift material.  As-in, “Hey, johnny read that tag line a little slow.  Can you Lexicon it, Joe?”  The vogue for these devices in Broadcast really took off when put-upon ad-agency types realized that you now could make a 32-second commercial, and then speed the spot up to play back in 30 seconds time whilst ‘Lexicon-ing’ the audio program back to regular pitch.  At the end of the day, the TV viewer can’t tell that anything is off, but you, Mr Crafty Agency dude, have managed to cram thirty-two seconds of your boss’s and clients’ revisions into a a thirty second commercial.  You are now a genius.  This is the stuff on which vacation homes are made.

Of course, music-recording engineers also used these things daily to fix pitch-y vocals and what not, but that’s a story for a different day…

Aphex Aural Exciter Lineup circa 1984

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Download 6 pages of Aphex Systems INC sales material circa 1984.  Details on the entire lineup, plus full specs on the Type B and Type C ‘Aural Exciters.’

DOWNLOAD: Aphex_exciter

Products covered, with specs and photos, include: Aphex II-S Exciter; Aphex II-B exciter; Type B and Type C exciter; Compellor Compressor; EQF-2 and CX-1 lunchbox cards; Aphex R-1 10-space rack and PS-1 power supply; 4B-1 self-powered 4-slot lunchbox; Aphex 2521 op amp, 1537A VCA IC and VCA cards  500A and 505.

Aural Exciters are essentially dynamic equalizers; as-in; rather than deriving their frequency-manipulation parameters from a set of fixed (or user-variable) static controls, the frequency-manipulation is, in one way or another, dependent on the program material. Furthermore, in the case of the Aphex exciters, the ‘equalization’ is accomplished not by the selective cutting and boosting of certain frequencies, but by essentially creating a distorted duplicate of some of the lower frequencies of the program material and then mixing this distorted signal back into the program with some amount of slight time adjustment; and all of this action is further dependent on the program level.

Aphex was the company that popularized these devices; in fact, many major-label records from the late 70s actually go so far as to credit these devices by name in the liner notes of the album. This was practiced in the early days of Aphex, when the devices were not even available for sale; instead, studios had to pay to rent the devices at a cost of $30 per minute of program material.  Consider what this meant.  If you were mixing, say, a 40-minute rock album in 1977, and you wanted the ‘aphex process’ used on the whole record, it would cost you $1200.  Which is $4300 in today’s money.  Wow.  Imagine if plug-ins were rented this way today.

I used one of the cheap-o ‘Exciter C’ units back in the mid-90s; it was a good way to compensate for the poor sound quality we experienced when bouncing down tracks on a 4-track cassette machine or the TSR-8 tascam 8-track.  I later replaced the Aphex with a slightly more advanced BBE 862, which operates on somewhat different principles but offers a very similar overall effect.  I still find the BBE useful in the studio; not for the ‘exciter’ high-end boost, which sounds very brittle and artificial, but for the powerful low-end enhancement it offers.  I imagine the plug-in sounds much the same.

Although Aphex may have brought significant advancement to the field of ‘psychoacoustic processors,’ of which the Aural Exciter is certainly one example, they did not create this product category.  Several devices were available as early as the early 1960s which promised dynamic, program-dependent equalization of audio material.

Once such example is the Fairchild 673 “Dynalizer” Dynamic Equalizer.  In an excerpt from an excellent post on Pro Sound Web, noted audio-expert John Klett describes the 673:

“673 “Dynalizer” Dynamic Equalizer – does a Fletcher Munson Loudness curve equalization and boosts highs and lows as level drops – like an automatic loudness control. This uses the same optical system as 661 and 663… kind of slow and stupid but – who knows – possibly useful as a “thing”. You would have to get the gain structure around this right to make it work “well”.”

In the download, you can also find information on Aphex’ small line-up of API-500-spec processing cards: the EQF-2 equalizer and the the CX-1 compressor.  I have never used these units personally, but according to this website they are in fact compatible with the API-500 standard.

Simple Tube Program EQ project

From the September 1947 issue of RADIOCRAFT magazine: an interesting ‘response equalizer’ project that looks to have great potential for use in the recording studio.  Download the complete article with schematics:

DOWNLOAD: ResponseEQ1947

You will need to download and read the article for complete details, but essentially this circuit provides the following functionality, with 7 controls:  4-position high-pass.; variable low-end boost with 4 selectable frequencies; 4-position low pass; variable high-end boost with 4 selectable frequencies; 10db overall gain with variable output trim.  And it does all of this with no inductors or transformers, and just one very cheap 6SJ7 tube.

To use this circuit in a complete studio-ready device, we will need to add several things:  First, an output stage capable of easily driving a 15k:600 output transformer.  I am going to try the very simple output circuit show above, taken from tubecad.com.

A 250-300v DC power supply (plus 6.3v filament power) will also be necessary; plus input and output transformers.  Once I get this all together, I will also need to figure out a good, silent bypass-switching arrangement.   Should be a good inexpensive tube eq project.   The overall application is very similar to the Pultec EQP-1A; this unit will not have as precise control due to the lack of inductors; but it will cost a heck of a lot less (likely $250 of parts verses $800 to build a Pultec).  Plus it allows one to boost and cut at different frequencies, which the Pultec does not offer.  Expect some build-notes, images, and audio examples here soon.

Music Synthesizers in Popular Electronics 1972

Download a five-page article by David L. Heiserman on “Music Synthesizers And How They Work” from Popular Electronics magazine, February 1972.  Also included is a brief description and schematic for a ‘surf synthesizer’ project.

DOWNLOAD: SynthsPopElecFeb1972

Nice images of the Putney Synth and a Moog IIIc.  This article offers a very broad treatment of the subject, and it does not discuss music or music aesthetics very much; it is interesting though because it is intended for an audience with some technical savvy.  Everything in this piece can easily be applied to gaining a greater fluency with the software synths that we use today.

Naturally, any discussion of ‘music-synthesizers’ in Popular Electronics had to be followed by some sort of audio-synthesizer project; since this is 1972, the project is a Surf Synthesizer, aka a white-noise generator followed by a randomly-modulated low pass filter in sync with a VCA.  If you know what any of that means, you might could be interested in the schematic, which you can find after the link below.  I can imagine sitting at the kitchen table during the Nixon administration, carefully soldering this mood-enhancer while my wife macrames an Owl.

Continue reading Music Synthesizers in Popular Electronics 1972

Sennheiser 421 and 441 Dynamic Studio Microphones

Download three circa 1980 Sennheiser product-sheets for the MD-421-U and MD-441 microphones:

DOWNLOAD 421-U (color 4-panel): Sennheiser421_Color

DOWNLOAD 421-U (monochrome 2-panel):SennhesierMD421U

DOWNLOAD 441: SennheiserMD441

If you have spend much time in recording studios, you are probably familiar with these great microphones.  When we were kids first learning about recording, the 421 was the one ‘good’ mic that we had; we didn’t know exactly why it sounded so very much better than the assorted Shure, EV, and Realistic public-address mics that we had, but the difference was shocking.   A little while later I discovered the 441, which I find to be a less-exciting sound but still incredibly useful, especially when you want a really tight pattern and good fidelity (esp. under the snare).   Also good on the rack toms to reject snare and hat.   Stan Coutant’s excellent Microphone Data website has a download link for more current spec sheets on these models; I thought it might be useful to offer some earlier material here.

AKG Acoustics Full-Line Catalog c. 1981 – Microphones Reverbs Headphones

Download the thirty-two (32) page 1981 AKG Acoustics catalog (9.8mb file):

DOWNLOAD: AKG_Acoustics_FullLine_Catalog_1981

Models covered, in text and photo (no specs), include: AKG C-422 stereo condenser microphone; C-33 and C-34 stereo mics; C-414EB. C-414E1 and C-414EM/p48 condensers plus S-421E1 control unit; C-450 System; C-535EN, C-567E, C-568EB condensers, D-300 series live sound mics; D-224E and associated dual-diaphragm mics; plus the proverbial ‘shit-ton’ more. AKG BX-20, BX-10, and BX-5 reverbs are included, plus a wide range of headphones including the K-40, K-41, K-141, K-240, and K-340 dual-system.

AKG USA was once-upon-a-time located right down the road from here in nearby Stamford, CT.  I think this is probably one reason that I have come across so many unusual AKG mics, headphones, and related literature at the flea markets and estate sales of Southern CT.   The AKG 414 microphone, in all of its variations, is a staple of the audio world and a staple of this website; longtime readers will recognize this as my ‘reference mic’ for audio examples.  It’s  not the most exciting sound but it’s a high-quality sound that many of you know and therefore I feel that (along with the SM-57) it makes a good benchmark.  ANYhow…  check out the crazy art-direction of the this catalog.

In addition to the awesome haute-’70s monochromatic earthtone backdrops (see examples in photos above), we have various ‘symbolic objects’ to characterize the products; King Tut represents the gold of the diaphragms;

…a crystal vase represent ‘clarity’ of the electret-condenser line;

…a ‘flower-in-vase’ perhaps suggests the ‘capture-of-nature’ promised by the dual-system electrostatic/dynamic K-340 headphone?  Dig in and enjoy.

Primo Microphones Circa 1980

Download the entire 12-page Primo Microphone Catalog Circa 1980:

DOWNLOAD: PrimoMicrophoneCatalog

Models covered, with specs and photos, include: Primo CMU-503 and P-77, P-88 ‘professional’ studio microphones;  UD-876M and UD-959 Live Sound mics; and a huge range of general-purpose stage mics including: Primo UD-905, UD-876, UD-866B, UD-871B; Electret Condenser models EMU-4520, EMU-4516, EMU-522, EM-518, EMU-4517; plus many more mics and accessories.

From what little information I can gather, these mics seems to have been made in Japan and then sold in the US by ‘primo,’ which also made telecommunications mics and/or mic elements.  I have never come across one of the these units.  Anyone?

Best half-tone cover image ever, btw.

Winter 2011 Mixtape

It’s time for another compilation culled from the endless crate-digging.  This season’s harvest seems to have slant towards country-rock and psych-folk.  If you see me, ask me for a copy.

1. “Ohio River, She’s So Deep And Wide” by Winifred Smith.  From ‘Folk Songs Of The South’ by Winifred Smith.  RCA Victor #61100

2. “It Ain’t Easy” by Ron Davies.  From “Friends” A&M SP 8021

3. “Broken Hearted Blues” by T-Rex.  From “Tanx” Reprise 0598

4. “Dear Mary” by The Steve Miller Band. From ‘Sailor’ /Capitol ST 2984

5. ”Jamie” by Hedge & Donna.  From ‘The New Spirit Of Capitol’ Capitol #SNP-6

6. “Hope” by Mason Proffit.  From “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream” Ampex A-10138

7. “Reflections” by The Chambers Brothers. From ‘New Generation’ Columbia C 30032

8. “Bad Night at the Whiskey” by The Byrds.  From ‘Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde’ Columbia CS 9755

9. “Innervenus Eyes” by The Bob Seger System.  From ‘The New Spirit Of Capitol’ Capitol #SNP-6

10. “In Your Life” by Tower.  From ‘Collecting Peppermint Clouds’ Technicolor Dream Records T.D.R. 002 (Originally a Decca b-side)

11. “Baal” by Exuma.  From “Exuma II (Air)” Mercury SR 61314

12. “The Joys Of Life” by Karen Beth.  From “The Joys of Life” Decca DL 75148

13. “Atlantis” by Donovan.  From ‘Barabajagal’ Epic BN 26481

14. “Take My Home Country Roads” by Olivia Newton-John.  From ‘Heavy Hits’, Adam VIII LTD # A-8010

15. “I’m Losing You” by Dwight Twilley.  From “Sincerely” Shelter SRL-52001

16. “My Love” by Paul McCartney.  From the 7” single Apple #1861

17. “August Day” by Hall & Oates.  B-side to “I don’t want to lose you” RCA PB-11424

18. “I Go Crazy” by Paul Davis. From the 7” single Bang # B-733

19. “Only With You” by The Beach Boys. From ‘Holland’ /  Captiol MS 2118

Follow the link for more information…

Continue reading Winter 2011 Mixtape