SH Spotlight Telefunken Omni microphones and vintage Capitol "Binaural" records: "Velvet Brass" Jackie Gleason

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Aug 22, 2021.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    My dad's favorite album of all time was "Velvet Brass" by Jackie Gleason." Came out in 1957 and my dad got a free copy with a bunch of other Capitol and Decca demo LPs when he bought our one and only "Hi-Fi" system in 1959. At any rate, I loved it as well, still do, and was able to do a stereo remaster of the album for Razor & Tie on CD some years ago. ("How Sweet It Is - The Jackie Gleason VELVET BRASS Collection").

    When I was in high school I had a nifty stereo Ampex machine and a bunch of commercial reel to reel tapes. VELVET BRASS was one of them, the stereo version. As much as I loved it, I wondered why it didn't sound the same as the old MONO LP version. I mean, it sounded good and it clearly was the same music, but the presentation was not the same, for sure. I found out why many years later.

    Capitol built the Tower Studio in 1956 and it was a mono studio. When stereo started to hit about a year later, Capitol didn't know what to do, their studio was mono and no way were they going to tear it all out and start over. So, they decided to add a separate binaural recording of some of the sessions to the daily routine. At Capitol, Hollywood AND the new Capitol East, NYC, they put an Ampex 300-3 1/2" machine nearby (in the case of Hollywood, in the upstairs "snack room lounge") and ran separate microphones to the sessions below in Studio A.

    But, for them, two microphones for an entire orchestra was good enough for stereo. It was only a fad anyway!

    So, there was a Telefunken Omni for the right side of the orchestra, another Tele for the left side and a third microphone for the center channel (vocal or main instrument). How did it sound? Dicey, actually. You didn't get anything like the mono version recorded with 8 or 10 microphones, but sort of a dreamy far-miked hint of the power of the music. Nonetheless, it worked, sort of. Capitol released some stuff on open reel in 1957 and then stereo 45/45 cut vinyl starting in 1958.

    It wasn't until a few years later that they bit the big one and created a stereo/mono studio, using the same microphones for both. 1960 or so, wasn't it?

    That being said, albums like VELVET BRASS or Nat "King" Cole's LOVE IS THE THING were pretty much ok with this "two Telefunken omni mics on two booms up in the air for stereo" (binaural) approach and for many other important sessions by Sinatra, Nat Cole, Dean Martin, etc. from 1956 to 1960. Was worse on some vocal recordings, too many important things happening off mic..

    Capitol's microphones were the best and they really saved the day.

    Though built by the Georg Neumann company, a number of vintage U 47 tube microphones were badged as a Telefunken products -- Telefunken was their distributor and likely had a hand in the design of the microphone.

    The Neumann U 47 was the first commercially available switchable pattern microphone and a recording legend, used extensively on many famous recordings and regarded by Beatles producer George Martin as his favorite mic. It is widely regarded as the most iconic vocal microphone in history, with exceptionally clear high-mid response, described by renowned mic technician Klaus Heyne as "authoritative."

    The U 47 can switch from a cardioid to an omnidirectional pattern. It is known to have higher output of around 5 dB in cardioid mode.

    Originally, the U 47 was sold with the PVC-skinned M7 capsule. When Neumann engineers found about a decade later that the PVC was cracking and the sound of the capsules was changing over time, they switched to the Mylar K47 capsule in the late 1950s. The K47 generally has a brighter, more aggressive sound, especially when compared to M7 capsules which have "mellowed" over time as the PVC has dried up.

    Telefunken VF14M tubes ("M" for microphone-grade. Many non-M VF14 tubes exist and may work just fine, but must be tested over a period of 48 hours inside the microphone for noise and stability) were used in original U 47s, though toward the end of the microphone's production, Neumann's repair department were swapping the original tubes for Nuvistors, as their supply of VF14M was dwindling.

    Only 5000 U 47s were manufactured, with about 3200 specimens produced as long bodies and around 1800 short-bodied. Early specimens may be labeled Telefunken, as they originally distributed the microphone.

    Here is a sample of VELVET BRASS recorded in "stereo" in June of 1957.

    Arranged by Pete King (not Billy May as some have thought), recorded in NYC at Capitol's great studio, two Telefunken Omni microphones on the orchestra plus Toots Mondello's alto sax mic in the center channel. From a long thought lost "Stars In Stereo" master tape that was loaned to Razor & Tie by the late, great Pete Welding.

    Note, this version has had the treble bumped up to insect killing levels by Uni. My Razor & Tie version is nice and natural sounding.

  2. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

  3. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    trd, FashionBoy, Joy-of-radio and 5 others like this.
  4. thnkgreen

    thnkgreen Question Everything…Politely

    NC, USA
    Not entirely related to this threads subject, but I think some of you may appreciate it. I recently was contacted by Chuck Granata (author of Sessions With Sinatra) in looking for recording session information about Jackie Gleason. He was kind enough to share this website with me.

    Capitol Records - Music Reference Wiki
  5. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    The session sheets containing all the AFM musician sheets for every Capitol recording from 1942 to the present existed as late as 1992. I have no idea what happened to all of that stuff. Last I saw they were at Capitol/EMI distributing in Glendale. I doubt it ended well..
    kt66brooklyn, bluemooze and thnkgreen like this.
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

  7. McLover

    McLover Senior Member

    Athens, Tennessee
    The Microphone is a legend, as is the Capitol engineers of that era. Some of the best music, best audio engineering, and top artists of the time.
    Crimson Witch and Brettlowden like this.
  8. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    What's funny is that the Tele mic is actually way over the top too much. Giant treble boost, etc. The irony is that the playback gear of that era made the microphone sound wonderful. Today on modern audiophile gear it is really too much. I always have to tone it down or ears will bleed!!
  9. tim_neely

    tim_neely Forum Hall Of Fame

    Central VA
    Capitol and Telefunken had a relationship that dated back to 1949 or so. At the time, Capitol did not have a classical music line of records, and though classical didn't make much money, it did add prestige. So, once World War II was past, Capitol made a deal with the Berlin company to release European classical albums in the U.S.

    Eventually, Capitol made some deals with U.S. orchestras, and recorded such homegrown artists as the Hollywood Bowl Symphony and the Roger Wagner Chorale (Jack Wagner, the narrator of the Capitol "Silver Platter Service" series, was Roger's brother), which kept its classical department going until it was merged with EMI's Angel and Seraphim labels in the 1970s. But most of Capitol's late 1940s-early 1950s classical output was licensed from Telefunken.
  10. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Good information, thanks.
    Crimson Witch likes this.
  11. McLover

    McLover Senior Member

    Athens, Tennessee
    Also in the post WW II years, Telefunken was the Capitol licensee until EMI bought Capitol. Likewise, UK Decca was the UK Capitol licensee before EMI bought the company in 1955.
  12. hbbfam

    hbbfam Forum Resident

    To be involved w a recording with such a personal connection is a very cool story.
  13. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    The close miked mono version.

  14. Crimson Witch

    Crimson Witch ۫۫☮

    Outer Óríon
    All of this is wonderful, thank you
  15. Tim Lookingbill

    Tim Lookingbill Alfalfa Male

    New Braunfels, TX
    Wow! The trombones sound more real and fuller on the mono version listening on headphones which means it's already loud enough and up front for large speakers. But after switching back to the stereo version it was like instant 3D and quite a shock and know I'ld have to really crank it up on my big box speaker home system just to get the fuller trombones now on the left side. The wide stereo has them positioned at the back of my neck on headphones. And the room has no echo as if the entire recording studio was dampened with rugs on walls and floor.

    I played Skyliner as a trombone player in Austin Community Jazz Band at the Texas Capital back around '89. The band leader who started the band from scratch had us practice in the old carriage house (used to house horses and carriages) at St Edward's University. And somehow he had connections to gain access to all the sheet music for each big band instrument borrowed from the University of Texas music archives. Lot of Stan Kenton, Thelonious Monk and Sam Nestico stuff. Had a lot of fun back then.
  16. ODIrony

    ODIrony Forum Resident

    Danville, VA
    This thread is a perfect example of why I love this forum. I'm not technically proficient to understand much of this conversation, but having grown up loving Jackie Gleason and being loosely familiar with his music, I gave this a look, and have since been enjoying YouTube's playlist of the mono LP. (And Steve, you're so right, the binaural sound is thin and off-putting, at least to me.)
  17. Joy-of-radio

    Joy-of-radio Forum Resident

    Central ME
    I like both stereo and monaural versions, but prefer the stereo sans reverb. It's more intimate in my opinion. Thanks for the heads up on the Razor & Tie release. Yet another nice CD that eluded me back then. I'm looking forward to hearing it!
  18. acetboy

    acetboy Forum Resident

    What made the Tower studio in 1956 mono?
    Why was it such a big deal to do stereo?
    The way everything was wired up?
    Tim Lookingbill likes this.
  19. jtaylor

    jtaylor Forum Resident

    The Capitol Records manuscript archive at BYU is an incredible collection. Thousands of scores from Capitol's beginnings up until 1967 or so.

    AFM 47 in Los Angeles has done a tremendous job maintaining the session sheets/contracts and providing access to them. Local 802 in New York is another story, unfortunately. Virtually impossible to get anything from them, if any of it still exists at all.
    kt66brooklyn likes this.
  20. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    In reality, nothing on the mono version should sound better than the stereo "Stars In Stereo" version. However, let's note that the YouTube selection I picked came from Universal Music Group. That means some crack engineer raised the treble up to hurting levels. On my CD version ("How Sweet It Is" Razor & Tie) it sounds nicely balanced.

    Also, my version has no compression whatsoever. The original mono mix is really hit hard by the compressor, changes the sound, makes it more exciting, etc. But really messes with the dynamics of the orchestra.
  21. Isamet

    Isamet Forum Resident

    New York
    Brings back memories...My dad also had the Gleason album plus the Music for Lovers Only album :)
    ODIrony likes this.
  22. Tim Lookingbill

    Tim Lookingbill Alfalfa Male

    New Braunfels, TX
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  23. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    There are no mono digital versions of this album. There is the original Capitol CD from the late 1980s which is some kind of remix by Larry Walsh and there is the Razor & Tie CD that I did. Both stereo.
  24. Tim Lookingbill

    Tim Lookingbill Alfalfa Male

    New Braunfels, TX
    Then my guess is I'm probably going to get the 1980's Walsh mix even though Amazon states the label is Razor & Tie from the link you posted. I'll report back which one I got. Thanks for the clarification.
  25. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Can't lose with either, really. Larry Walsh's version on Capitol CD is kind of a homage to the original stereo mix of 1958, heavy on the reverb and compression (trying to match the 1957 mono) but still very much of the era. My version, from the dry "Stars In Stereo" 1957 binaural mix has a bit of reverb, no compression and a much wider dynamic range.

    Let us know which version it is. My bet it's the Razor & Tie CD.
    fortherecord likes this.

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