tube mic preamps at Columbia NY in the early 60's

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honkyjonk
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tube mic preamps at Columbia NY in the early 60's

Post by honkyjonk » Thu Aug 01, 2013 9:36 am

I'm sort of obsessed with the sound of Columbia Records recordings in the early 60's. Even more so than the best Abbey Road stuff. Think Dylan's first 3/4 albums, or Leonard Cohen's Songs From a Room. (Though that was a bit later)

Before I get the usual 'it was the room' 'it was the musicians' thing, let me just make a request to keep this discussion concerning mic preamps.

I plan to start learning to build tube circuits with the goal to end up eventually with a couple wide/3D sounding tube preamps that will compress slightly and naturally and will be high enough gain to keep ribbons quiet, while also allowing the use of condensors.

Couple of questions. From what I understand, they were probably custom designs at Columbia. Who knows what kind though? Push/pull? Single ended? Negative feedback or no? Where would be a good place to start?

I'm tempted to look for some of Doug Williams' Collins/Gates/WE etc recommendations, (which are all sorts of different tube technologies so I don't know exactly what I'm looking for)build a power supply, rack 'em up. But my concern is that many American preamps of this era (not all) had fixed roundabout 40dB gain. Which leads me to another question.

If a lot of these consoles had preamps with lower/ fixed gain, and at the same time, a lot of ribbons being used for vocals, how did that work? Extra amplification in the summing portion of the mixers? Common use of tube compressors that could boost things on the back end? Or just tape machine inputs that would peak at lower input volumes? Or any combination of the above?
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RoyMatthews
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Post by RoyMatthews » Thu Aug 01, 2013 12:05 pm

Well, I have very little knowledge of electronics and all that so this might not be the most helpful reply but I believe that the way the worked back then was centered around a custom console. In addition to the preamps there were additional line amps and gain stages in the console. If I understand correctly they usually bussed to tape so submixing through line amps was pretty much a given.
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Gregg Juke
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Post by Gregg Juke » Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:32 pm

Well, I'm in the same boat as Roy as far as electronics knowledge, and yes... (it was the room, the musicians, and the custom echo chamber), but one person that I'll bet would know, or at least know a lot more than us would be Bob Olhsson. He not only worked at Motown, but during those years to the present has connected with other guys from the era (Tom Dowd for instance) that could give you more info. Bob is around the TOMB once every seven years, but you might catch him over at Gearslutz, and I know he's got a mastering site on-line (Google). Bob is really quite the encyclopedia of audio recording and music business history, so I'd start there.

On a side, but highly related note, have you seen this recent posting?: http://messageboard.tapeop.com/viewtopic.php?t=83829

I wish I could afford that right now. It looks very clean inside.

GJ
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honkyjonk
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Post by honkyjonk » Thu Aug 01, 2013 6:38 pm

Yeah, saw that, and just a few days ago, won a pair of Akai M8s that I'm gonna do the RodC or Tablebeast thing to. Seem to be pretty similar (to the ampex's?) minus the transformers I guess. We'll see! Maybe I'll look no further! Whatever the case, when I'm done I'm hoping they will be able to cleanly power my ribbons.
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Gregg Juke
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Post by Gregg Juke » Thu Aug 01, 2013 8:18 pm

OH NOOOOOooooooooo!!!!! Don't tear-up those Roberts's!!!!

GJ
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AndersonSoundRecording
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Post by AndersonSoundRecording » Fri Aug 02, 2013 6:12 am

FWIW, I don't see many ribbons in most of the Columbia session photos (post-Sinatra)

usually just tube Neumanns.
I heard they inserted a Jimmy Hendrix into the chain somewhere before the preamp.

...Anybody know what that preamp was, 'cause I'd also love to get that sound.

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honkyjonk
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Post by honkyjonk » Fri Aug 02, 2013 10:08 am

Yeah, true that. I guess I was thinking of Dylan's first album, which if the pictures are accurate was a RCA 77 ribbon I believe?

Sounds rad too. Almost preferable to Freewheelin.
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Post by Jim Williams » Sat Aug 03, 2013 8:31 am

Tube designed mic preamps are limited to about -127 dbu EIN. Not too shabby if done correctly. You need a quiet tube, an excellent 1/10 ratio mic input transformer (the Jensen JT-115KE is the best) and a quiet power supply.

That still won't work the best for a ribbon mic as far as noise vs gain. In that case a SS preamp with a -129.5 EIN will drop a couple more db's of hiss out. Someone also had a transformerless tube preamp out, it did -124 db EIN, too noisy for a ribbon mic on a quiet source. Some will use a ribbon with a quiet SS preamp followed by a tube device to regain that flavor. The use of a booster device like the excellent Cloud Lifter is another way to get the gain without noise off a ribbon mic. That box only adds 1 db to the noise specs.

Condensers arn't any problem due to their higher output levels.
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Post by emrr » Thu Aug 08, 2013 12:58 pm

There's a picture at Flickr of a modified Collins 212-B console at Columbia Records Studios, 799 Seventh Ave.
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