Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ipod Nagra III

In the spirit of the holidays, thought I would send along a couple of pics of the Ipod Nagra. It's a work in progress. Was hoping to sell it for holidays this year, but I keep adding things. It actually sounds pretty good, those are Tivoli Audio speakers in the deck, sealed speaker enclosures and a class T amplifier inside. The mic input works, tone generator, tape transport, playback head, and has bass, treble controls, RCA stereo ins and outs. Runs on D cells or external power supply.  All the selector positions have a specific function. Pilot flag indicates that ipod is charging.  Last hurdle is to create some record capability with the tape loop, to create a short message or slapback echo gag. I've got to find or create a small enough record amplifier with bias generator. Any ideas? It will play the loop now. But if it can't record, its not a Nagra.
Automatic Record -selects external RCA stereo line inputs (may activate record feature in future)
Hi-Fi Record- ipod mixed with mic input or tape head (selectable)
Test- tone generator (original circuit) (when front button pushed)
Stop - Power Off - Ipod charging
Playback/Batt. Meter- Ipod Playback only, no mic or tapehead, battery reserve shows on meter
Hi-Fi Playback - Ipod Playback, meter displays audio level (independent of speaker volume)
Meter displays audio level at all positions except in Batt Meter position

Other controls
Line input/playback control - Speaker volume
Mic input - microphone input/tape head preamplifier level
Fast Forward button - activates motor for tape loop (for now)
B/A button - may activate record in future
Tone button - sounds reference tone
Bass and treble controls/ RCA ins/outs on right side
Tape/mic select and motor speed control on left side

by Pete Verrando

Friday, November 30, 2012

Stellavox SM5 restoration progress

The motors from a Stellavox SM5 and a Fi-Cord 101S are identical. Except they run in opposite directions. Shown is the rear centrifugal startup flywheel. 

Here's the record electronics, the db15 connector/cable is running to the transport for testing.

Here is the motor speed regulator board. That '61 is year.

Here is the tape transport and the electronics. Ipod Nagra in the background. I work on about 6 projects at once.
The Stellavox SM5 project is moving ahead. Got the motor running. Imagine, the armature was rotating around the shaft, and apparently the fixation was lost between the two. That was a freakin' mystery. Imagine hearing the motor spin, but the shaft did not turn. Twilight Zone!   No way to take the motor apart without destroying it. A few well aimed taps on the shaft with a hammer seems to have fixed it. I've removed and installed that motor on the transport about twenty times. Now to prime and paint the wooden enclosure, which has the integrity of a cigar box. Originally covered in Tolene (guitar amp vinyl covering), it looked like crap. The wood is too cheap to finish out, so I'll prime and paint to some astonishingly lovely color (yet to be decided) and add rubber feet on the bottom. Fun!
1st coat of primer on the box. Notice the inspiration for this Blog name in the background.

Ah, the slow time of year...

You know, I haven't worked in about two weeks. And I'm having the time of my life.

My daughter's home from college, watching her become an adult is like, what... a butterfly emerging. My son's been out of (home)school for Thanksgiving,  and we've re-roofed the doghouse, hit the skatepark, cleaned his room, and broke into the fireworks.  Sally's made a stunning amount of Thanksgiving food that's all gluten-free. I've been raking leaves, washing windows,  playing with the dogs, and projects. Ohhh, the projects.

There's some home projects, it's true. I have 20 reflectors on our flat roof that keep the 2nd floor cool in summer, that I stacked and tarped for the winter. We had a lot of tree work done, and Joey and I sliced it up into firewood. Good lesson for Joey on the circular saw. I replaced my 2001 GMC Safari Van with a newer model, and finally got around to selling the old one. Treadmill 30 minutes every day. Did it twice on Thanksgiving. (Still loosing the war, tho...)

Watching "The Walking Dead" on the treadmill. All caught up on "Homeland," waiting for the new episodes to emerge. Waiting for the mid-season break of "Breaking Bad," or is it just me? My illegal download site doesn't show any episodes beyond #8.

Just took delivery on three "Greta" tube amplifiers from Fender, so I can see how they can be hacked/modified into Ipod docks or something... got 'em for half price on Black Monday. $99! No Tax! Free Shipping!
The Fender "Greta" table-top amplifier.

And finally, digging deep into a restoration, a Stellavox SM5 portable reel recorder. A stunning Swiss Watch of analog recording heaven...if only I can get the DC motor to hold steady speed. Take it apart, and it overnight run test should bear out if I have the solution- seems like a victim of water damage.  This tiny recorder is a jewel, and the record electronics are working upon power-up. Just have to re-finish the cigar-box wooden case (what color?) , get that motor running, make a custom drive belt, and re-assemble. I'll soon have 50-12000hz response in a 7"x4" box with 3" reels of recording tape. Machined gold-anodized aluminum parts, lots of tiny screws, massive flywheels and vintage germanium record electronics.  And a hot modulometer.
Stellavox SM5, full track mono with synchronous recorder with pilot, 1961

Also working on the Nagra Ipod Dock at the same time. Trying to incorporate some kind of record capability into this beast... Having trouble finding a record amplifier with bias oscillator to create a slap-back echo affair on the tape drive. While still a functioning custom Nagra-based Ipod dock. And then the Lightining connector had to come along. Shit. This thing's been in the works for over a year.
The Nagra Ipod Dock on the bench. . It must record. Or will it?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sanken COS-11 Lavalier Dissection

The Sanken COS-11 lavalier mic and accessories. Notice the length of the capsule.
A couple of my Sanken COS-11 lavalier microphones bit the dust lately. I had one cast member, a young mom, who routinely breast-fed her baby, often while wired with one of my lavs. Hiding a mic in wardrobe is sort of a black art, and further mystified by a nursing bra and a fussy, groping baby. No matter where I hid that lav, those groping hands would find it. Anyway, the kid managed to pull on it enough to create an intermittent where the wire enters the microphone. Sanken COS-11's retail for about $350. Production bought me another mic and left me to play with the broken one. 

Sound mixers gush about the great sound of COS-11 microphones. It seems no matter how it is oriented on wardrobe, or how it may be buried, it still sounds bright and natural. It is easy to hide. The cable is very soft and lays flat on the body's curves.

Most miniature lavalier microphones are manufactured using hearing-aid capsules. These are the ultra-miniature microphones that are built into hearing aids. There's probably a hundred or more different capsule models, by a range of manufacturers.  The first really miniature lavalier, the TRAM TR-50, was based on a side-entry hearing aid capsule. I took  apart an old TR-50, and I could see the logo and model number of the capsule printed on the back, and was able to source the capsule on the internet.
Tram TR50 Lav microphones contain Zero G 1506 hearing aid capsules

Sanken COS-11's are said to have the diaphragm (the membrane that vibrates in reaction to sound) run lengthways down the capsule case. The membrane can therefore be larger than the typical hearing aid membrane, which is as tiny as practical, and round. Some describe the COS-11 as a ribbon mic in a lavalier. True?

Well, I wanted to see if the sales pitch of the COS-11 is true. Does it have a large membrane, or just another hearing aid capsule in a long case?

The microphone body is permanently assembled and sealed. You really can't take it apart without destroying it. So, as I offered up my $350 microphone to curiosity, I took some pictures of the dissection. Here we go.
This is the COS-11 with the exterior windscreen removed. Inside, there is a fine mesh screen, presumably to help keep out dust and add a layer of wind protection. The exterior screen often falls off these lavs. Users who try to re-glue them with super-glue will destroy this interior screen, which sucks up the glue like a wick. (You need to use a thick epoxy that sticks to the walls of the case, and won't pool up on the interior screen.)  J.B. Weld is the most magnificent epoxy in the world.
Here is the mic with the rubberized strain-relief removed. This was a thick, tough cover that protects where the wire enters the mic. Underneath, there is a metal collar that clasps the cable onto the underside of the case. The tubular case looks crimped on, but it is not. It is actually threaded, and screws on to the base. However, there is a  leaf-spring securing the interior capsule inside the case. If you attempt to twist off the case, you will tear the wiring. One would have to secure the lower collar, and secure the interior capsule from the top,  while unscrewing the outer case.  Custom tools required.
I decided to cut the case open laterally with a Dremel Moto-Tool.

This cut presents a nice cross section of the mic, showing the screen and interior capsule. Onward...
Here is the outer shell removed, the threads at the base are evident.  Next...
 The interior capsule exposed! A curious assemblage. the top half is plastic, the bottom half is metal.
 Here's a view of the metal side. The indentation is where the leaf spring goes, which is that small out-of-focus thing in the background. I believe the dimple supports the FET inside the metal half.

Here's the leaf spring in place on the capsule. This would certainly insure a good electrical connection between the capsule and the case.
 The two halves open like a clam-shell to reveal the delicate membrane inside. It is a translucent metalized sheet. In electronics, a capacitor, or condenser, consists of two plates separated by a dialectric, or insulator. What we seem to have here is one of those plates, served by the membrane.
If we look down the clamshell, we see.... the other plate?  Could it be that the dialectric is air, separating the two plates?  Those who have wired a connector to a COS-11 know that the cable contains a black wire, white wire, and an uninsulated shield wire. These wires, impossibly short at the bottom of the mic, are soldered this way: White to the plate on the plastic side, black to the membrane & the metal side, and the shield- it either goes to the case, or terminates unconnected to anything.  Side note: In many audio applications, the shield is not always connected to both inputs and outputs. One side or the other is often lifted to prevent hum issues.
In my final act of destruction, I pull away the two halves. One can see the translucent metalized diaphragm, and the opposing metal plate. Sound enters in through the top, and excites the diaphragm, creating minute changes in capacitance between the plates. This signal is amplified by the FET (field effect transistor).  That diaphragm is about 6 times larger than a conventional hearing-aid capsule diaphragm.
Hence the "sound", and perhaps other engineering of which I'm totally unaware...

 Finally, here is a close-up of the impossibly short wires that are directly soldered to the two halves of the capsule sandwich. No immediate evidence where the shield wire may be terminated. The threading on the base is visible. Again, one would need some special tools to unscrew the outer case while holding the base/interior capsule stationary. Otherwise, the wires would tear right off.  What to do with the resulting mess? Maybe earrings...

 Update-  here is the metal base with the membrane removed. No FET, but a channel thru which sound enters from the top and is exposed to the length of the diaphragm. The FET must be on the plastic half of the sandwich.

-by Pete Verrando Please visit my home pages at

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

LMa, SMV, and college tuition.

I just added two more SMV transmitters, and my hands are tired from mashing those little buttons. The Reality Soundman Army  continues to rack up transmitter count without regard to ROI. Its a bit like collecting Hot Wheels cars. Bexel and VER keep a bowlful at the checkout desk.  Happily, I don't give away services and gear, and my schedule is still full.  I'm a one-man army, knee-deep in the Full Catastrophe, (google it, son)  and the  LMa wireless transmitter from Lectrosonics  will be our little secret.

The SMV series from Lectrosonics. $1300 and up.
 One thing you can't beat the SMV for...wireless on children. The SMQV? I don't get. Too big for the bucks. 
The $650 LMa.
To whom does this size difference matter? Catherine Zeta Jones, maybe. Reality Cast...?
I've always resisted commenting on the LMa because I'm afraid Lectro is going to wise up and start charging more for them. But I've knocked back a couple, which is always ill-advised when posting, and I'll probably delete this in the morning anyway. 
The LMa's lower power is virtually indistinguishable from an SMV or any Lectro 100mw transmitter. While visiting with the bunch of hams (I'm KQ5I) who volunteered to check freq's at the last Superbowl, we did comparisons and measurements with their very expensive spectrum analyzers, and found the LMa has to have at least 70+ mw of power, and in real world situations, the difference between the two matters little. Audio-wise, they are identical, both in specification and in the real world. The fixed antenna on the LMa is an advantage, as it is more robust than the connector affair, and makes the antenna physically shorter by eliminating the connector. The spring clip has a lower profile than the clunky um400a clip, and the "lip" can be bent down to make the profile even lower. Excellent in a bra-strap mount, where I go 90% of the time. Less excellent on the waistband, tends to fall off, but considering the LMa's low-profile without clip, pouch-wise and concealment-wise, it runs a close second to the SM's and their ilk. Hides well in the men's front pants pocket, I defy you to see it on camera. The clip pops on and off in a second, no tools required. The power switch seems different than the um's, and is mounted differently, but I can shut it off and adjust gain by feel thru most materials on a women's back. (somehow my jobs are mostly women on camera). Finally, when monkeying with 10 wireless going at once, I'll take lower power over higher. There, I've said enough already. Larry please don't raise the price on the LMa's...

by Pete Verrando

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lav Channel 1, Boom Channel 2, Please

Record Now, Decide Later.

Ever wonder why interviews are recorded with both a lavalier mic and a boom microphone? The standard producer request, whenever an interview is recorded for television: Boom channel 1, lav channel 2, or visa-versa. Why 2 microphones for one sound source? The answer runs a little deeper than you may think.
20 or 30 years ago, 2 mics for a single interview was not done. The sound recordist chose his weapon, a lav or a boom, and recorded with that. The producer or director, or whoever was in charge, asked no questions. There was only one, recordable mono track anyway!  Back in the news-film, documentary days, or anything that preceded video, the audio went to the mono Nagra track, or the single audio channel on whatever sound amplifier (Auricon, Cinema Products, etc) was driving a sound-on-film system. Not only were two mics unnecessary, there weren’t two audio tracks for two mics! Two tracks of audio eventually became available when 3/4” u-matic, stereo Nagra, or 1” field recording came into being. Yet two mics for a single-person interview was still hardly contemplated. 
Enter the days of Tabloid and Reality television. And, the need for low-cost programming to fill 80 channels of cable/satellite TV. The small army of production mixers across the US, in their lofty, revered, hard-earned union positions, were no longer enough in number to meet the demand for the forthcoming tidal wave of cheap television. However, there were plenty of young, inexperienced crew people flooding into the production work force, many never having picked up a boom pole or lavalier mic.  They worked for cheap, learned by trial and error, clipping lavs on collars, happily chasing around cameras with their little mixers. Recording interviews with whatever audio gear the cameraman owned, or was thrown in the back of the truck. 
You can imagine what came next. Horrible audio came flooding into the edit bays. Poorly cued booms, lavs placed too low or too high, or no mic at all- when the new guy forgot to switch from the camera mic! If a mic battery died, or a location was noisy, the editor got what he got- 1 channel of crappy audio from one mic, recorded by a beginner.
It didn’t take long for word to come down on high. Make those jobs idiot-proof, because we’ve got an army of idiots recording our field audio! Thus came the new protocol- record lavalier on 1 channel, and boom on the other. In Post, now we can choose the less horrible of the two!  The senior sound guys balked- they knew how to get good interview audio with one mic, and no memo from above was going to tell them how to do the job. Regardless, the protocol stuck, and is still with us today. I don’t begrudge the method at all. Today, having both mics going makes sense in a fail-safe kind of way- most of the time. Also, for fun, we get to A/B our boom and lavs during the interview. The on-set mentality is:  Get it right, get it in spades, and if you can, postpone making a decision about anything. Works for me! All I ask is: Please, Mr Editor, pick one or the other, and don’t mix the two down to mono! 

- by Pete Verrando

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Six Stages Of Film Production?

Hi, and Welcome! Bend Over!
A few years ago, there was a great t-shirt, occasionally seen around  the set, featuring "The Six Stages of Film Production." Perhaps this was modeled after the college textbook dogma, which follows:

 "Six Stages of Film Production"

1. Development
2. Pre-Production
3. Production
4. Post-Production
5. Distribution
6. Exhibition

However, I think the t-shirt  more accurately represents our "profession"

The Six Stages of Film Production:

1. Wild Enthusiasm
2. Disillusionment
3. Panic
4. Search For The Guilty
5. Punish The Innocent
6. Reward the Non-Involved
Actual picture from production company website
offering perks to anyone who contributes $ to the film.
Be A Movie Maker! $1000 or $500 Membership Levels!
click the above for a sales pitch to the gullible!

Found recently is another "6 Stages" List, with a bonus 7th stage:

The 7 Stages of Film Production

1. Wild Enthusiasm
2. Total Confusion
3. Utter Dispair
4. Search for the Guilty
5. Persecution of the Innocent
6. Promotion of the Incompetent
7. Distribution of T-Shirts

Hi, welcome to Television!
-by Pete Verrando

Monday, May 21, 2012

Welcome to the RF Jungle

These are not my equipment packages, and for that I am very happy. They are shown here only as examples of compounding technology to remedy the effects of compounding technology.  Who wins? The equipment vendor!
As long as I don't have to run!

Antenna "distro" adaptor farm
Hope it doesn't rain!
Its interesting how Lectro designed the SR as a slot receiver, sacrificing a level of extraneous RF immunity for size. Then users try to cram a bunch of them in a bag, in close proximity to IFB and hop transmitters, an environment for which they were not designed. Panicked bag users attempt to fix them with external amplifiers and antennas. Then manufacturers rush to market to supply plug-n-play amplifiers and antennas. Users end up scratching their heads as to why RF doesn't all work like water in a garden hose. -by Pete Verrando

Please visit my website

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pimp My DSLR

     2012 has started out as a busy year!  The Canon 5D has shown up on more shoots than any other camera, and they’ve shown up in quantity, sometimes with 4 or 5 cameras on the job.  I typically send high quality wireless audio links to these cameras, and can send audio to several of them at once, with different tracks going to each. My wireless receivers are compact, lightweight, and can ride on the hot shoe of the camera. However, regardless of the robust audio I can deliver directly to the DLSR, Double System Sound is a must for DSLR audio work. 
     As many production companies are now discovering (thru bad experiences), it is essential that 5D, 7D and D60 shoots record double system sound. That is, the sound should be recorded to a separate, high quality audio recorder, and never to the camera only. Even with the advent of the 5D Mark III, with added audio features, double system sound is a must. Here’s just a few reasons why:
  1. The mini audio input jack on these cameras are prone to developing problems. Dirt ingress and torquing from the mini plug can cause it to fault without warning. The input jack is held in place only by solder junctions on the circuit board.  Just a few spots of tin and lead!
  2. The audio inputs on DSLRs only accept mic level audio, at a very specific level for optimum signal-to-noise ratio. If the inputs are not set exactly right, the resulting audio will be to low-level and noisy, or too hot. 
  3. Unlike professional video cameras, the sound man cannot check the DSLR for audio confidence during a shot. Only before, or after. If you are missing audio, you’ll only know after the action’s over!
  4. Especially in documentary situations, camera operators are prone to inadvertently pulling the mini-plugs off the DSLR in mid-shot.  There’s no “click” or screw connection to keep them in. 
  5. Audio interfaces such as the Juiced-Link, were rushed into production, and are very poorly designed. The silkscreen switch label quickly wears off, leaving you wondering which switch does what. The metering, 3 or 4 LEDs, is difficult to set correctly. The knobs on these devices are prone to being unknowingly nudged by the camera operator, screwing up the settings mid-shot.  
Using a separate recorder such as my Deva Fusion 10-track allows you to isolate all those talent wireless on to their own separate tracks, with superior audio quality. It also allows the use of time code and metadata to identify takes, and create sound reports.  The wireless audio links I use add extra power to auto-sync software such as PluralEyes. With this software, audio can be automatically sync’d-up with the picture files. However, a reasonably robust audio track must be sent directly to the DLSR that matches the production audio. The DSLR internal camera mic can serve this purpose, but only if it is in “earshot” of the action you’re recording. Enter the wireless links! -by Pete Verrando

Please visit my website!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Facebook Sound Mixer Nation

Theres a burgeoning Facebook group known as "Freelance Sound Mixers & Recordists for TV/Film. It is a largely un-moderated an un-categorized free-for-all. But, if One had to categorize the existing posts, these come to mind:
*I Can't Get Any Wireless Range
*I Just Spent another $2000 and I Still Can't Get No Wireless Range
*My (equipment) Stopped Working, How Can I Fix It Without Getting It Repaired?
*My Crisis That Is Holding Up A Production Right This Moment Is:
*I Bought This(equipment) & How To Use It
*I Bought This(equipment), Do You Want To Buy It
*What Frequencies Are Good In This (city, state, country, nation, hemisphere)
*What Do You Think Of This (microphone, recorder, wireless, etc)
*You Are Wrong About That (microphone, recorder, wireless, etc)
*Lengthy Technical Posts Of Questionable Accuracy
*Arrogance As An Expression Of Insecurity
*An "office today" photo.
*What Is The Best Microphone For (whispering, shouting, singing, sound effects, gun shots, etc)
*How Do I Record On A (plane, train, automobile, bus, boat, hallway, bathroom, mountaintop, etc)
*Has anyone ever used this(microphone) In This (situation)?
*Look At My New Package (of equipment)
*What Is A Good Pay Rate For A Mixer/Equipment
*This Job Is So Cool, Whats The Big Deal About Pay
*I'm Doing Lots Indies & Shorts Films with My New Package.
*Why Is The Pay So Low On Indies & Shorts?
*Old Mixers Bitching About New Mixers Working For Cheap
*Old Mixers Bitching
*Arguments About How Wireless Microphone Equipment Works
*Production Starts In 3 Days And I Have No Clue About Any Of This
*Ha Ha Lame Craigslist Crew Posts
*The Only Work I Land is From Craigslist Crew Posts
-by Pete Verrando

 visit my website

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lectrosonics Venue Field Mod

This 6 channel receiver was originally conceived as a single-space rackmount device. Lectro then quickly morphed it into a box for field use, essentially by folding the 'wings' underneath the main board. The resulting lunch-box affair was neat-o, but still a little bulky for real field in-the-bag use.  I've always looked at this product with an eye towards sizing it down, and I finally squeezed the project in this week. Primarily,  I re-designed the NP-1 battery receptacle to save a 1/2 inch off the height of the box:

The above photos show the size savings after the mod. I also re-positioned the LCD and shaved a 1/4 inch off the top of the faceplate. Also, the antenna inputs are re-routed to the front of the cabinet. Now it can ride bag-style with some much needed space savings. Still too big for run-n-gun bag, 6 individual receivers will still occupy about half the space. Fun project, though.
-by Pete Verrando

Please visit my website!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Block 21's Up For Grabs?

Good Ol' Block 21...
I follow the used equipment market pretty closely. I've noticed the past 3 months or so a glut of block 21 wireless being put up for sale. It could be that folks are just upgrading to newer gear. But I wonder if the motivation could be based on more RF spray issues on the lower blocks. And, the crowding of dual receivers into bags with digital recorders, high output IFB and hop transmitters, wifi devices, smartphones and ipads.

I know there's more intelligent (& cheaper/lighter) ways of dealing with stray RF than throwing more splitters, combiners, sharkfins and preamplifiers into your rig. In doing so, you are essentially re-designing the front-ends of receivers that have already been very carefully designed. But this seems to be the popular trend, based on general lack of understanding, and I'm sure the equipment vendors don't mind at all. Of course, I'm often wrong, but certainly never in doubt.

Please visit my website

Thursday, March 1, 2012

First adopters, first responders

The Zaxcom Nomad one of the latest devices offered for production sound mixers. It offers multi track recording and mixing, in about the same footprint as a traditional 4 or 5 channel mixer. It is not a collection of afterthoughts, like the Sound Devices 788T/CL8. Nevertheless, it is new, and does not have many hours racked up in the field. Its also a complex device, and new-gear bugaboos are inevitable.
The Zaxcom Nomad
Following a popular sound mixer discussion group, a few reactions become evident.
1. Many newer sound guys who've had a mixer-only package are upgrading to this device.
2. There's still a few tweaks and quirks in the device that are being discovered while on the job.
3. Those who have problems quickly detail their production horror story on the discussion group.
4. The good or uneventful experiences go un-documented. 

I've never been a "first adopter." Why would anyone bring a 1st-generation device, right out of the box, to a paying client's job? The producer is not paying me to experiment with new gear. My gigs are not beta-test sites for new equipment.   Granted, equipment issues happen on the job, even with time-proven gear. That's why its important to have an intimate knowlege of how your gear works, and even some ability to fix it. Which I do. Also back-up gear is important to bring along if ever things get really nasty.

Back when DAT became the standard recording device, many mixers continued to roll their analog Nagras as a backup. Two recorders on the cart. It was cumbersome, but the peace of mind of having a backup was sublime. Those DAT machines were quirky animals, so much as an errant speck of dust could shut them down. When they were finally obsolete, we sound mixers built a huge bonfire and threw all our DAT machines on it. Not really. But I still have my DAT machine, so if you ever want to have a bonfire, I will be the first to throw mine on.

There will never be a Nagra bonfire, because they are just too beautiful a machine to trash.  As a hobby,  I restore and sell Nagras to audiophiles.  Nagras are the ultimate refinement of the analog recording medium.

So, if your soundman comes to the job boasting of a new piece of gear, raise an eyebrow. Make sure your production won't be featured as the next dirty-laundry story on a popular sound mixer discussion group.

Please visit my website

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Seeburg 1000 Restoration Complete!

Record changers are fascinating mechanisms from the recent past. Older folks take them for granted.
Audiophiles, enamored with vinyl, disdain changers. Noisy, common, abusive to records.

That's a shame. From a younger person's perspective, they are graceful and robotic. They are a pleasure to watch. It's like contemplating a lawn sprinkler, relaxing and strangely entertaining. And with the Seeburg,  you'll hear retro background tracks, music not intended to be heard above the department store din.

These selections, however, was laboriously written and recorded, one piece at a time, by real, work-a-day musicians. There's excellence in the execution of these pieces. The recordings are solid and consistent. And, there's lots of improvised solos and seemingly, entirely improvised pieces.  Some of the solos are pretty wild, especially for what is supposed to be background music. Listen to the final number in the demo video below.

I am fascinated by devices such as this Seeburg 1000 changer. Not intented for general use or consumption by the public. Intended to be hidden in a closet at the back of the store. Built like a tank, to work all day long, every day, for years.  The machine has many patents, all of them searchable on google patents.

For the uninitiated, here's the basic introduction....

The Seeburg 1000 Background Music System is a phonograph designed and built by the Seeburg Corporation to play background music from special 16 2/3 RPM vinyl records in offices, restaurants, retail businesses, factories and similar locations. It provided a service similar to that of Muzak.  A full load of records, played all the way through, yields a about a 1000 selections, hence the name. 

This restoration was from a unit that was water damaged. The "compact" case that these turntables were built into are unattractive and have an awkwardly functioning door.  This one's cabinet was quite rusted, and so I constructed a base to better appreciate the mechanism.  The unit was also available in an metal, chrome and glass cabinet, about the size of a large microwave oven. While certainly attractive, these cabinets take up a huge footprint, and again limit the appreciation of the Seeburg 1000's form and function.

I don't remember how I stumbled across these unusual players from the 60's. But I happened across this decrepit example of a Seeburg 1000 BMC player on ebay, and the seller lived in Austin. We got together at the Vintage Radio Society Convention and Auction last November, and he sold this to me in its original form for about $100.
-by Pete Verrando

Please visit my website

Get this thing off my chest.

The following is a rant that probably won't be understood by anyone outside of production audio....    

I think the size of a sound bag may relate to the mixer's self-esteem, or lack of it.

ooooh, that's a big bag....

     Even with the latest equipment getting smaller and smaller, mixers are configuring their bags bigger and bigger. Some of these things weigh in at 30+ pounds. I don't get it.  One mixer told me "yeah, its a beast, but I get to sit down a lot." This cracks me up. This kind of work is called "run & gun." That means you should be able to run with it. And wear it like a gun. So you can run. And gun.  Not sit.  Maybe you can sit on this show, but what about the next?

    There's a lot of junk on board that you don't need. There's also the question of purchasing equipment with respect to size. The 788T is by far the smallest multitrack, but I think it lends itself to over-sized sound bags. Lots and lots of adaptor cables. A very weird footprint with the CL8.  Kind of an upside-down L. The Zaxcom Fusion (thumping chest here) is physically bigger that the 788T, but lends itself to smaller kit size.  And you don't need an ipad to set levels and write sound reports.  Where you gonna stow that? Yeah, yeah...,the Fusion's more expensive.  Given the money you're already spending, it's $2k or so that's of little consequence. 

   You'd think the addition of IFB and hop transmitters to a sound bag blows away any chance of reduced size. Why would you pack a T1  (T4) IFB transmitter in a sound-bag? Its big. It's RF output BNC is on the back, bleeding RF right next to the maze of cables down there. (See "garden hose comment below.)

     The Lectro T4 draws 250ma of power, radiates RF like a son-va-bitch, and sits right on top of all your receivers. This leads to de-sensing the receivers and swamping the front ends.  Frequency or block, it matters not.   Why not a UM400, or better yet, an LMa?  70mw is plenty for IFB, in fact, its plenty for anything. Many mixers have a "CB radio" mentality about wireless power, but don't get me started, that's for another post.  Anyway, T1's and their ilk are too big. Replace it with something smaller, dude.

     OK, everybody's jumping on the SR receiver bandwagon. 2 receivers in one box. But wait- that's a 401 level front end. And its a shared front end between 2 receivers- further compromising selectivity. You know what selectivity is, right? But who cares- its soooo small! I can have 8 receivers in one bag!
    Oh wait- that reduced selectivity is giving me RF hell with my hops and my IFB transmitter. Hmmm. I guess I must redesign the front end of my SR's (Did Lectro's engineers do it wrong? )-  by buying a bunch of splitters and RF amps and shorty cables and adaptors, and add me a couple a' little ol' LOG PERIODIC SHARK FIN ANTENNAS to my "run & gun" bag. Oh, and I need another 100ma of power for the RF preamps. And tie-wraps. Lots of tie-wraps.
Now there's a back-breaker!

     By the way,  RF acts just like water in a garden hose, right? All you need is valves, and hoses, and splitters and stuff to get it where you want it. Right?   Oh wait, that's another post...

    BTW, watch out, I can only fit through a door one way now.  But remember, I get to sit down. If not, I'm still young, so my back can take the weight.

     What about power distro? Well, see, Remote Audio or BDS makes these cute little distro boxes. So, really, that's the only way possible to distribute power to all my little toys. I have to add another box! With a bunch more little cables and connectors coming out of it! Why, its almost the same size as my  Lectro T1.  So, another layer of gear won't protrude my kit out very far.  I'll just have to do some more crunches.

     What if I had a simple power distro based on cables- soldered cables, and no box. I could just pull the battery out to power everything off. Hey, that's one less box! And, without my Lectro T4, I almost don' t need another row of stuff!

And hey, what if I'm not using receivers 6 thru and 8, like I do ten hours out of every 12 hour day.  I could leave those receivers turned off.  I'm saving power! And since my IFB is a LMa, I'm saving even more power!  And since I'm not swamping my receivers with a TI, I don't need all those splitters and preamps and cables and SHARK FIN ANTENNAS! I don't even need to carry that 2nd battery!

I'll stop here. Do you see the road I'm taking?  There's more to it, much more. But hey, you've got all that sitting time on the producer's dime to figure this stuff out. Good times!
-by Pete Verrando

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