The View Up Here

Random scribblings about kites, photography, machining, and anything else

Posts Tagged ‘Alice’

(Yet More) Microphone Tests

Posted by Tom Benedict on 19/12/2016

Since writing my last post Homero Leal pointed out that I could mitigate some of the harshness of the Alice microphone (for field recording, mind you) by adding a capacitor across the 2.2k drain resistor. I didn’t have the size I needed (6.8nF), but I had everything to make a similar modification by adding an 8.2nF capacitor in series with a 750 ohm resistor, both across the 2.2k drain resistor. All of this is spelled out in Ricardo Lee’s ChinaMod+U87.doc file on the micbuilder forum.

Alice with ChinaMod U87

I walked out into the park behind my work, recorded for about five minutes, and headed back inside to modify the microphone. After adding the HF EQ mod I walked back out into the park and recorded again.

Prior to the mod my recording had a background hiss that sounded like microphone self-noise. I knew from testing the mic inside my car that it’s not, and is actually a sound from the environment. While testing the mic with a 22″ parabolic dish a couple of weeks ago I panned around to try to identify the source. I’m almost certain the hiss comes from the sounds of tree leaves rattling against each other in the wind. It only takes a breath of wind to make the leaves rattle, so the sound is almost always there. After the mod, that background hiss was reduced quite a bit. Enough so that I wanted to try it more rigorously out in the field.

Last night conditions were almost perfect. We had a storm system rolling in, the air was still, and the sky was overcast. Perfect conditions for people to stay home, get off the road, and let people like me lurk in the shadows with headphones on. I packed both my Alice microphones along with my SASS and Olson Wing, and headed out to an old cane haul road to record coqui frogs and insects. I was rained out in the end, but even that worked to my favor.

The tests!

Alice with HF EQ vs. Stock Alice

This is an A-B test between the Alice with Ricardo Lee’s HF EQ mod (thanks for the pointer, Homero!) and an unmodified Alice. The mics alternate every ten seconds, with a two-second cross-fade. That’s probably excessive on the cross-fade, but c’est la vie. Keep in mind there was very little wind during the test, so the difference is subtle. But it’s there.

SASS vs Olson Wing

While I was there I also tested the SASS against the Olson Wing. In this case both were populated with Primo EM-172 capsules. After I got home I realized I had wind protection on the SASS, but none on the Olson Wing. So this isn’t a fair test of frequency response, but it should be a fair test of the depth of stereo imaging, and to some degree, sound localization. (The frogs really don’t move around that much.)

I was content to let this setup run for a while, but it started to rain. Without any rain protection on either array, I knew the rain would eventually soak the mics. So I packed it all in and pulled out my rain gear.

Rain Gear

I’m still trying to get a good, clean recording of rain. A while back I took a tip from Gordon Hempton and built a microphone rain shelter. It’s a hard aluminum plate covered with two inches of non-woven air filter material. The aluminum plate keeps the mics dry, and the filter material diffuses the rain drops to a soft “fuff” sound. I also added a layer of carpet foam underneath to cut down on the residual “fuff” sound. It’s set up to take my DIY shock isolator, a small ball head, and my ORTF bar. (Sorry, no pictures of the whole setup just yet.) With the whole mess set up on a tripod or c-stand, it protects the mics from rain while minimizing the sound of the drops hitting the rig.

Finally finally I had a chance to use it in the field. And it worked! It worked great!

Only problem is that I managed to damage one of my EM-184 cardioids while testing the Alice mics. It barely responded at all, and produced a deep wumping noise in the recording instead. So the stereo recording is rubbish, unfortunately. I thought the wump sound was the mic picking up rain drops hitting the tripod legs, so I switched to a c-stand, re-arranged, tied up cables, did all sorts of things. None of it helped. After about half an hour I finally admitted to myself that the mic wasn’t working, and packed it all in.

But the rain gear worked! It worked great!

And once I dried the EM-184 mics out they worked great again, too. (Lesson learned:Don’t let it rain on your mics. DOH!)

All in all it was a good night of testing. I have one other test I’d like to do with the two Alice mics (ocean waves!), and I’d like to do one more side-by-side of the SASS and the Olson Wing to see if I can shorten the length of the Olson Wing and still get a good boundary effect out of it. But I’m pleased as punch with the rain gear.


P.S. I also learned that I need to finish this project before watching another season of Stranger Things. There’s something about driving way the hell out on some abandoned road to some spot in the woods in the middle of nowhere with fog and rain and nothing but the buzz of the insects and the calls of the frogs to… WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!

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Alice and Behringer Sitting In A Tree – Part 1

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/11/2016

The field tests on my BM-800 Alice conversion will have to wait. Late last week I handed it over to a friend for tests I’m not equipped to make, including several mic comparisons. I’m eager to see (and hear!) his results.

Meanwhile my Behringer C-2 mics showed up. These are the ones I placed a bid on over at Ebay before I realized they were coming from Haifa, Israel. Despite the distance the shipping was actually less than FedEx charges to ship a letter-shaped package from the mainland US to Hawaii. (Go figure.) It still ramped the price of the mics up almost to market value, which on Amazon with its super saver free shipping basically means I could’ve ordered them new and had them weeks ago.

But they’re here. And they’re mine. And… to be honest they’re in pretty ratty shape. One of them had something loose in the capsule. If you pointed the mic up and shook it, it made a hellish noise and clipped constantly. Turn it upside down and shake, and you hear something rattling around. The other mic has something massively wrong with its circuit board. It sounds for all the world like a Huey is hovering overhead. Bup bup bup bup bup bup bup… It never ends.

So long story short, I don’t mind gutting these things and building something new. In the short term I put the good capsule on the good mic body so I have one working mic to play with. The other one I started taking apart.

Behringer C-2 Capsule Removed

These have interchangeable capsules, though I don’t know if Behringer (or anyone else) makes any other capsules for it. The one that came with my mics is a hypercardioid. (At least that’s what the icon on the side of the capsule looks like.) Given the size of the vents at the back, I can believe it.

Underneath the capsule is a white plastic plug with a pogo pin centered in it. Not much to look at. And no real clue how to open things up past there.

To gain access to the innards of the mic, peel back the the “Behringer Condenser Microphone” name tape at the base. This reveals a small set screw that should be familiar to anyone with Switchcraft XLR connectors. Screw the set screw all the way in. This releases the XLR connector from the body. Next, center the pad/high-pass filter switch and pull the switch button out with needle nose pliers. Finally, push on the white plastic plug to expose the circuit board.

Behringer C-2 Stereo Pair - Partially Disassembled

Here’s what’s inside:

Behringer C-2 PCB Top

Since one of my mics has a damaged board, rather than figure out how to tweak what’s already here, I went ahead and tried to figure out how to pack a Pimped Alice into the same board space. I started by taking measurements.

The board is 15.5mm wide x 52.35 mm long, and is 1mm thick. The thickness is important because the board slots into the white plastic insert. One nice thing about this method of mounting the board is that there are no screw holes, and except for the humongous XLR pins and the 2mm area that slots into the plastic insert the rest of the real estate on the board is free. The board is mounted just below the centerline of the mic, so there’s vertical room as well. Up to a point, anyway. Those capacitors are 6.5mm diameter x 8mm tall. Nothing bigger than that will fit, even centered on the board.

There’s really not enough room to use through-hole components everywhere, so I converted most of the Pimped Alice circuit to 0805 SMT components. The exceptions are the filter capacitors, the 1Gohm resistor, and the FET.

There seems to be some resistance to using surface mount technology for DIY mics, but SMT has been used for over a decade for DIY robotics and electronics. I’ve built AVR processor boards using SMT components, and figured this wouldn’t be much different. With the exception of the big filter caps and the FET, that’s how Behringer built the original board for the C-2, so I figured it was a safe way to go. As soon as I have a new PCB layout, I’ll send it out for fab.

Meanwhile I started taking apart the capsule. Just looking through the grille, it seems like the C-2 uses a Transsound capsule similar to the TSB-165A Scott Helmke used in the original Alice.

Behringer C-2 Capsule Front

I started by removing the back plate. This is just pressed into place, but it’s a bear to get out. I eventually removed it by gripping it by an inside edge with needle nose pliers (pushing outward), and spinning it out. It took a couple of attempts, but it came apart.

The rear side of the capsule has an open cell foam washer in it, presumably to provide wind protection and to act as a delay plate to shape the hypercardioid pickup pattern. With the washer removed, the back side of the capsule is visible, held in place by a brass retaining ring

Behringer C-2 Capsule Back - Baffle Removed

The holes in the ring are really tiny. My existing pin wrench didn’t work, so I used an old divider with dull points as a pin wrench. There’s a bit of red enamel to prevent the ring from backing out, which took a little force to crack. Once that was done, though, the ring backed out easily. (I’ll need to be sure to apply a fresh bit of enamel when I get the new capsule installed.)

Behringer C-2 Capsule Disassembled Back

Behringer C-2 Capsule Disassembled Front

I was hoping the capsule was a Transsound TSB-165A, the same one Scott Helmke used in his original Alice microphone. Unfortunately it’s not. The capsule in the C-2 is 16mm in diameter x 6mm thick. The TSB-165A is 16.5mm x 8mm. But after some poking around on the JLI Electronics web site I think I found a match: the TSB-160A. The specs are almost identical to the TSB-165A, so it should play nicely with the Alice circuit (yay!), but the form factor matches what’s in the C-2. I’ll order a pair of these when I place the order for the 165A capsules for my MS Alice.

Behringer C-2 Capsule Mesh Outside

Another concern with the C-2 capsule holder is how the capsule is recessed, and how close the edges of the holder come to the input ports on the capsule. From my experiences with my first rev of mic bodies, I know that can color the sound enough to hear it. I’d like to open this up, if possible. It’s a simple enough job on a lathe as long as I can get the grill out.

Behringer C-2 Capsule Mesh Inside

The grill looks like it’s a two-layer mesh that’s either glued or soldered into the capsule holder. That should be easy enough to remove with heat, one way or the other. I might even be able to re-use it if I’m not too rough getting it out.

The grill serves two purposes. First and foremost, it’s an RF shield to keep stray electromagnetic radiation from getting into the signal path. Second, it helps to keep the capsule free of debris. Third, some manufacturers will stick enough mesh in front of the capsule to act as a rudimentary pop filter, and at least reduce the effect of wind. The problem with that third purpose is that you need a lot of tight mesh to pull that off. Enough so that it colors the sound of the mic. Not surprisingly, one of the more obvious mic mods is to remove a layer of mesh from the capsule housing.

But given how open the outer mesh is, I’m afraid it will make the mic prone to RF interference. For now I’ll leave it alone.

The next steps are to finalize the design of the new board, send it out for fab, and source all the components and capsules. But before I can finalize the board design I want to see if I can add in one of the features of the C-2: The switch on the side of the mic lets you select a high pass filter or a -10dB pad. If I can find the real estate on the board to accommodate the switch and the components necessary to add these into the Alice circuit, I will.


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BM-800 Microphone Conversion Part 2

Posted by Tom Benedict on 22/10/2016

This is the second half of a two-part article describing my conversion of a BM-800 microphone to an Alice microphone using a Transsound TSB-2555B cardioid capsule. All of this is based off of a pair of Instructables written by Jules Ryckebusch: Modify a cheap LDC Condenser microphone and Build the MS Alice Stereo Microphone.

Part 1 of this article showed pretty pictures of the donor mic (a Neewer NW-800 with an excess of bling), a description of the cable that came with the mic (which I don’t intend to use), photos of the mic in various stages of disassembly, and a CAD drawing of the salient features inside the microphone to help others lay out circuit boards for their own conversions.

Since writing part 1, all of the bits and pieces I ordered to do the conversion arrived: enough electronics to build three Alice boards, and a TSB-2555B capsule to put in the first one.

Everything for an Alice Conversion

Before populating the boards I did a test fit to make sure they would actually fit. I was pleased to see how well the screw holes lined up, and I came pretty close with the taper.

NW-800 With Alice PCB

The next step was to populate the boards. Opinions differ on how to wire the high-impedance (high-Z) end of the board, so I started with all of the low-Z components.

The circuit used in Jules’s first article had zener diodes on the output stage to protect it against over-voltage on the XLR pins. The circuit as-built in his second article omits the zeners since the 2N5087 transistors are rated for more than the 48V likely to be seen on an XLR connector. I ordered the zeners, but left them out for now.

Alice Trio with Low-Z Components

After I’d already wired all the boards I installed one in the mic and ran into my first problem: With the board installed right-side-up, the 47uF capacitor pokes up high enough that it interferes with the body tube. For my first mic I’m planning to install the board up-side-down to give the capacitor more room. But if I wind up building the MS mic from Jules’s second Instructable, I’ll need to install new capacitors that lay flat against the circuit board.

BM-800 Alice Board Placement

The reason for the difference of opinions on the high-Z end of the circuit is that it’s sensitive to contamination: leftover solder flux, dirt, dirt combined with humidity, oxidization, etc. on the high-Z end can all cause unwanted noise in the mic. Jules soldered his components to the board without issue. Others have used Teflon standoffs to float that part of the circuit above the PCB. Homero Leal built his Charis mic by point-to-point soldering the high-Z components, letting them float above the board without standoffs. Scott Helmke, the original designer of the Alice circuit, solders the high-Z components directly to the back of the mic capsule. For my first pass at this I soldered the low-Z legs of the FET to the board, but floated the high-Z circuit without stand-offs, similar to Homero’s Charis mic. I can always change my mind later and re-wire them.

High-Z Components Air-Floated

With the board built, the next step was to add 22nF capacitors between pins 1 and 3 and pins 1 and 2 on the XLR connector to provide additional RF noise filtering. After that I installed the modified connector and the board in the mic body.

Alice Board and XLR with RF Filter Caps

The rest of the action takes place inside the headbasket.

It’s possible to cut away the original mic capsule to leave a saddle for mounting the TSB-2555B, but I wanted to make an entirely new saddle. Chalk some of this up to not wanting to make a modification I can’t back out. Chalk some of it up to my wanting a machining project to go along with the electronics project. Either way it needlessly complicates an otherwise pretty simple project.

Space inside the headbasket is tight, so rather than run into more interference issues I fleshed out the 2D CAD drawing and turned it into a 3D model. The space constraints almost entirely dictated the shape of the new saddle and post. The mic frame is drilled and tapped for M2.5 screws on a 10mmx15mm rectangular pattern, only two of which are used on the original saddle. I chose to use all four. The mic wires pass through holes spaced 20mm apart, centered on the long axis of the bolt pattern. In the CAD model I indicated these with 3.13mm holes, but in the final part I cut them as slots to make installing and removing the capsule easier.

Mic Saddle - CAD vs. As-Built

I attached the TSB-2555B capsule to the saddle with E-6000 silicone adhesive. A better method for the saddle shape I used would’ve been a polyurethane adhesive like Gorilla Glue, but I wanted to be able to remove the capsule in case I decide to add shock isolation inside the mic to cut down on handling noise. As-built the capsule can be removed by passing a fine wire between the capsule and the saddle, cutting the silicone bond.

EDIT: The first time through, I missed an important step: One of the charms of the Pimped Alice circuit is the potentiometer next to the 1Gohm resistor. It allows you to bias the FET properly, regardless of which FET you use. The catch is that by definition, if you don’t do anything with the potentiometer it will not be properly biased! In all ignorance I soldered everything up, closed up the mic, and went testing. Even with an improperly biased FET it still performed beautifully. I did go back and do a proper job of it, though.

In Jules’s first Instructable, toward the end, there’s a nice write-up for how to bias the FET. The catch is that this step must be done before the capsule is soldered to the board.

With the FET properly biased and the capsule attached to the saddle and post, all that was left was to put it all together and close it up.

Finished BM-800 / TSB-2555B Alice

I did a quick side-by-side against one of my Primo-EM184 cardioid mics. The Alice runs a little hotter, but not by too much. I’m reserving further judgement on the new mic until I have a chance to get it out in the field and try it on some quiet sources.


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Building New Mics

Posted by Tom Benedict on 17/09/2016

When you’re faced with a dilemma like choosing the next step to improve your recording gear, instead of finding the right answer to the question, sometimes it’s more fun to dodge the issue completely and go off on a tangent.

So I went off on a tangent! Building new microphones!

I’ve currently got two projects in the works. A parabolic mic and a self-contained mid-side mic.

The Parabolic

I’m basing my parabolic mic off of the family of parabolic mics  from  Telinga Microphones. The mics from Telinga offer all kinds of neat options. One contains a cardioid mic facing the parabola and an omni facing away from the parabola. This lets you record a distant sound and the ambient sound field at the same time on two different channels. Another contains two omnis on either side of a baffle plate so you can record a distant sound in stereo.

But at its simplest, a parabolic microphone uses a parabolic reflector to direct pressure waves at a single microphone located at or near its focus. That’s where I’m starting.

I picked up a 22″ parabolic dish from sdill471 on Ebay. He sells them for around 50USD and ships all over the place, including Hawaii (yay!), using USPS shipping.

The microphone for this project is the first EM-172 lavalier mic I built back when I started building external mics for my DR-05. It’s since been converted to XLR and received the full shielded treatment the rest of my EM-172 mics got when I did that conversion.

The rest of the project will be to make all the mechanical bits to place the EM-172 mic at the focus of the dish. I’m drawing a good bit of inspiration from WW Knapp’s Homemade Parabolic Mic page, though I’m making two big departures Knapp’s design: The first is to think more in terms of parts I can make in a machine shop rather than what I can find at the hardware store. (This departure is called “needlessly complicating a good, simple design”.) The other is to take a tip from Klas Strandberg at Telinga: You don’t always want the mic to be at the exact focus of the paraboloid. Having the ability to rack the microphone through focus gives you some much needed flexibility in the field to widen or narrow the pickup pattern of the mic, or even to tune which frequencies are focused on the mic by the dish.

I’ll post the design and build articles once I’ve finished the mic.

Mid-Side Microphone

The entire idea for the self-contained mid-side microphone comes from an Instructables article written by Jules Ryckebusch. Jules took a BM-800 mic – about ~20USD off of Ebay depending on the seller – gutted it, and replaced its innards with two Pimped Alice amplifier boards and three TSB-165 capsules. The really clever part is how he did it, but for any of that to make sense it helps to understand how mid-side microphones work.

The easiest way to understand mid-side recording is to read a really good article about it. What I wrote below won’t be nearly as good, so I urge you to follow that link. That being said, here’s my take on mid-side:

Back when recording was in its infancy no one even thought in terms of stereo recordings, quadrophonic, 5.1, 7.1, or any of the other immersive formats we’ve since come up with. Mid-side was one of the earliest stereo techniques, patented by Alan Blumlein in 1933.

Mid-side uses two microphones: one to pick up the center part of the sound field (the “mid” mic) and another to pick up the sound on either side (the “side” mic). In most cases the mid microphone is a cardioid, which preferentially picks up sound in front of the mic. In all cases the “side” mic is a figure-eight – a microphone that picks up sound in two opposite directions, but nowhere else.

To create what we consider a conventional Left-Right stereo image from a Mid-Side (M/S) recording requires a little math. The equations look like this:

Left = Mid + (+Side)

Right = Mid + (-Side)

In the equations the Mid channel is taken as-is. The Side channel is used twice: first it’s used as-is (+Side) and the second time it’s used inverted (-Side).

As wonky as that sounds, and as convoluted as the post-processing sounds, it offers some distinct advantages when mixing the tracks afterward. Want a wider stereo sound? Mix in a little more of the Side channel and a little less Mid. Want to focus the listener’s attention on the bird in front of the mic and down-play the forest full of frogs chirping in the background? Bump up the Mid and turn down the Side. Want to mix a mono track to go with an accompanying video on Youtube? Use only the Mid channel for clean mono without any phasing issues. The real strength of mid-side is the flexibility and versatility it offers after the fact.

The one catch with mid-side, as with all stereo techniques, is that it requires two distinct microphones. ORTF requires two cardioid mics and a bar to mount them on. A/B requires two widely spaced omnis. Even my SASS consists of two omni mics mounted in an admittedly rather large baffle. M/S is no different, requiring a cardioid and a figure-eight.

What makes M/S special is that you want the microphones to be as close to each other as you can get them. By its very design it’s inherently physically compact. (Side note: This is true of X/Y as well, which uses two cardioids pointing 90 degrees to each other, and of the Blumlein arrangement, which replaces the cardioids with figure-eights.)

Which leads us back to Jules’s M/S microphone, which takes “compact” to a new level by cramming multiple microphones into just one mic body. That makes for a light, portable recording kit that’s quick to set up and tear down; perfect for traveling, or for recording subjects that require substantial hiking to reach.

So why three capsules instead of two? Jules realized that if he took two of the TSB-165 cardioid capsules, faced them in opposite directions, and wired them 180 degrees out of phase with each other in series, they act like a single microphone with a figure-eight pickup pattern. Add a third TSB-165 capsule in the center and you have all the makings of a well matched mid-side microphone.

Where Things Stand Now

My parabolic reflector arrived last week. The mic for the parabolic project is already in-hand, though I may have to (yet again) cut it out of its housing and install it in a new one. I’m in the process of designing the mechanical bits, and should be able to start making them in the next couple of weeks.

I ordered the BM-800 donor mic for my mid-side mic just this morning. Jules posted a link to download the Pimped Alice PCB files that Homero Leal designed based off of Scott Helmke’s original Alice design. Once I have the board mounting hole pattern off of the BM-800 microphone, I’ll add those to Homero’s PCB layout and send the files off to OSH Park for fab.

Work on both of these is contingent on my getting a number of other gotta-do’s off my plate, but I hope to make some progress on both in the next couple of weeks.


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