Steam Powered Studio
February 14, 2011

MiLab DC96b

This thing is pretty beat up- a refugee from a dumpster, actually. For some reason that makes it all the more appealing to me.

It's one of those Swedish designs, like that Ingred Bergman. It's a little odd- a condenser mic with a rectangular (rather than circular) diaphram. For that reason alone it's worth having. But in fact, it sounds really good!

The MiLab DC96B. You can never have too many colors in the paintbox...

music catalogue
February 10, 2011

The Stray Birds are playing the Winter Campfire at Club Passim this coming Sunday. The performance will be streamed, so check it out- 6:15 PM, Sunday Feb 13. The 'Birds also have a shiny new website you should visit.

February 05, 2011


The results of the Steam Powered Sponsorship drive are in. We have 21 current sponsors. I'm damn proud of every man jack of them- they are making the world a better place. [/British Army Officer Voice]

Of course, you can join at any time, and when you do you'll get access to the more than 450 songs currently in the song catalogue, as well as frequent updates on studio activity and exclusive offers. (not sure what those offers will be yet, mind...)

Just write to to learn more.
About the Studio
February 24, 2011

the pacemaker

I sometimes think Tom and I were separated at birth or something, or maybe it's just the water down where we're from, but when he wheeled this in on Tuesday I thought it looked beautiful. It sounds beautiful.

The Pacemaker.

February 19, 2011

Speaking of microphones, I have a Beyer 160M ribbon mic, which is broken. It it used to make pecular grunting noises when it heard moderately loud low mid-range sounds, like the bass strings of an acoustic guitar.
I say, it used to, because I decided to either fix it myself or have it repaired... Well, the repair was upwards of $250, which would be worthwhile for this particular mic, but naturally, I figured that if I was going to have it repaired, I might as well make damn sure it was really broken. So I went online and found folks who assured me that fixing these things yourself was not out of the question. Awesome!

guts o1

Once I figured out how to take the capsule apart I found this here. Ribbon mics work on the principle that conductive material moving through a magnetic field will produce an electric current. Simple. The silvery strip in the middle is an aluminum ribbon about .0005" thick. That is mighty thin, folks, but it has to be to respond to sound waves properly. The rectangular slabs on either side are magnets.

Now, it may not be obvious from this picture, but that ribbon is bent. This might have happened because someone blew into the mic to see if it was working. Ribbon mics don't like this. Because it is bent, it may be distorting in the way I described- a sort of grunting sound as the ribbon rubs against one of the magnets at certain frequencies. The idea is to pull it tight again by removing one of those brass clamps and re-stretching the ribbon.

My online advisers advised that because this stuff is so thin (like gold leaf thin) certain techniques must be employed. That ribbon sticks to anything with the least bit of oil on it, so every surface (and fingers) must be oil-free. They say to hold your breath- I wore a dust mask which worked well. They say that the best way to "handle" the ribbon is with a toothpick wetted with alchohol- the surface tension of the alchohol will make the ribbon stick to it when you want to move it. I used the frayed end of a Q-tip wetted with alchohol, and that worked OK. They say that if the ribbon sticks to the clamp, it can be pried loose with a sharp object.

That was not so easy. I tried the sharpest razors I had but I could not work this thing loose from the base of the clamp. I thought I might be able to wiggle it loose using the Q-tip method, but after a few minutes it cracked and broke near one end.


If you click that picture you will see the dangling ribbon responding to whatever minute air currents there were in my basement. I'm breathing very softly through a dust mask- I don't think these air movements were caused by me.

guts 02

Oddly enough, this was not the end of this microphone. The Beyer 160M is unusual in that it uses two ribbons, one behind the other. (They are German, they have their reasons). Before I broke ribbon number one I made a recording with the mic just to see what was going on with it. This was what it sounded like after I had been toying with the ribbon but before I broke it. Not grunting, but it sounded like this.

It was hard for me to figure out what was happening right away. Somehow all the low-end was gone. The loose ribbon was not grunting anymore, but it seemed to somewhow cancel out all the lower frequencies.

And so I opened it up again, and that was when I broke ribbon #1. After that, I wondered what this thing would sound like with just one ribbon functioning, so I removed #1 completely and made this recording.

The first thing I noticed was that the output of the mic was way louder than before. The bottom end was back. At first there was a rubbing sort of sound happening, but that disappeared in a few minutes.

What have we learned? Nothing conclusive, but this mic, with one ribbon, sounds pretty good to me. I might just have to leave it be for a while...

February 17, 2011

sun dog

Sun dog over Warwick township on Tuesday afternoon. It's damned hard for my camera to pull focus on these things, but then, there's nothing to focus on.

Mike stopped by that evening and recorded electric bass on a couple of Summer Thieves songs. Nameless Joe was counting measures...


Nope, there's no sound on the video.
February 11, 2011

Thanks to our sponsors we were able to jump on this deal when it came along.

Audio Technica 825

It's an Audio Technica 825 stereo microphone, shown here feeding the M-Audio Microtrack digital stereo recorder. I used this setup to record my old Epiphone acoustic (clicka de pitcha) which has some crappy old strings on at the moment.

I'm really pleased with the results- it's very natural sounding to my ears, and helps solve the age-old problem of making a single acoustic guitar sound big. I almost always end up using two microphones on acoustic guitars, but that can be iffy, and if the performer moves around much you gets phasing noise sometimes. This mic will also be handy as an overhead for drums, and it is a big improvement over the little "T" stereo mic that came with the Microtrack when I want to do ambient recordings. It's an awesome addition to the mic cabinet!

The breakout cable that came with this mic also helps with another mic problem I've had. Recently sponsor Bob turned me on to a great deal he had discovered on E-bay- this Beyer Dynamic SHM 20/21 right here.

Beyer SHM 20/21

It's a little gooseneck, probably intended to be mounted on a podium or in a conference table, because it includes a bitty LED ring around the head of it that can be used as a cue.

Beyer SHM 20/21

Well, this baby has a 5-pin mic connector on it- most mic connectors are 3-pins- and that made it tough, because I didn't have any sort of cable handy to plug it into. Fortunately, the other mic also has a 5-pin microphone connector on it, and it came with a "Y" cable to break that out into two 3-pin connectors (for left and right), and I got lucky and one side of that "Y" adapter also works for this little Beyer.

If you click the top picture of the Beyer you can hear what it sounds like. You can compare the difference between mono and stereo recordings of a crappy sounding acoustic guitar.

February 06, 2011

Big Red live at McCleary's

We had real good seats for the show last night. Here's video of Big Red doing a song they do so well- Stage Fright, at Mc Cleary's Pub.
sponsometer We've added 5 new sponsors since Groundhog Day!

February 02, 2011

old hog

I suppose spring is just around the corner...

Featured Song
February 15, 2011

A new featured song today- the latest in the series from Ron Cook. These songs, as you may recall, were recorded by Ronnie back in the early 1970's on some good old reel to reel tape. Eventually his son brought two of these reels into the studio to find out just what was on there. We found plenty!

This latest, number 23, is announced as The World is Waiting for the Sunrise, which seems appropriate...

February 12, 20100

flag of Egypt

Wow. Who needs leaders?

Mobs of people helping each other- not directing hate at some vague enemy or belief system, but focused on removing the actual oppressor and his structure of power.

I'm old enough to remember Solidarity and the changes that a group of striking workers brought about in Europe. No, Ronnie Reagan did not cause the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was playing on their team the whole time.

Who else is on that team? Pick any world leader you like. You don't get into those positions unless you're playing for the team.

I think we could use a little Egyptian style democracy right here in America, and I'm not talking about some goofy tea baggers.

February 09, 2011

The Stray Birds got some airplay on WXPN last Saturday morning. Birds of the Boarderlands was played on the program Sleepy Hollow. Thanks Neal for submitting the music to them, and thanks Mr Bobby for reporting it to us.

Tony Eisemonie has become our latest sponsor! I hope to get his soulful voice on a recording here someday.

Last night a Summer Thieves recording session was simul-streamed to an imaginary park in Second Life. Once we find a real venue there (and get on a regular schedule) I'll let you know when we plan to do this again so you can listen in. So sign up and start designing your avatar!

neveah zane and liv