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Author Topic: Recreating Mike Millard Analog Recording Set-Up: AKG 451E CK-1 > Nakamichi 550  (Read 1054 times)

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Offline JEMS

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I recently acquired a fully restored Nakamichi 550 cassette deck, the same model used by some serious tapers in the '70s, including the legendary Mike Millard, most famous for his Led Zeppelin 1975-77 and Bob Dylan 1978-79 tapes. While I had seen pictures of the deck many times, I had no idea how big and heavy it is. Yes, it is portable in that it can be fully operated on 8 D-cel batteries, but it is as heavy and large as many home tape decks. It easily weighs over 15 pounds, which makes me respect its use in stealth taping all the more.

According to Millard's own handwritten notes, his primary microphone set-up was a pair of AKG 4541E microphones. Until a couple of days ago, I had never researched these mics, but after doing so I began to understand his choice. First, they were/are a very well regarded condenser mic, with interchangeable caps, including the CK-1 cardioid caps, which is what Millard used. Second, you could alter the angle with A51 swivel adapters that allowed the taper to tilt the caps 90 degrees from the bodies, which could be incredibly helpful in a stealth situation. Given that some believe Millard used a wheelchair to record, it makes sense that the mics could be mounted more easily with the swivel caps to aim them forward and maintain a low profile.

But the question I'm looking to answer is what did he use to power the mics? The Nakamichi 550 is designed to be used with Nak's microphone series, CM-50, CM-100, CM-300, CM-700, CM-1000, all of which are battery powered, with a single battery in the body (or in the case of the 1000, in a portable preamp, if memory serves).

Did AKG sell a portable, battery operated pre-amp for the 451 line for use when phantom power wasn't available? If they didn't, what kind of battery phantom power source/pre-amp would have been in common use circa 1975-81?

Would welcome anyone's POV on this, as my goal to mirror his set-up and use it in the wild. There's something about the sound and quality that Millard was able to capture that I want to attempt to recreate.

Thanks,

BK for JEMS


Offline heathen

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I wish I had some helpful information to contribute.  I think this is a fucking awesome project though.
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Offline OldNeumanntapr

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When I was going to school at Cuesta College in the 1980s I was working part time for the music dept. they had a set of AKG 451 microphones with a preamp that ran on 110 volts AC. I would imagine that AKG also made a battery powered version.

My friend Jack, a local SLO county soundman, had a Nakamichi 550. They are indeed big and heavy, and have huge VU meters that swing from the top. They also have three mic inputs, left right and a center blend but only two VUs.

Nice project. I never knew exactly which AKGs Millard used. Nice to have that info.

Offline goodcooker

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I don't have any direct knowledge of what Millard may have used but something like this would have probably been available at the time - transistor tech had shrunk devices some by then.
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/146403-REG/Neumann_BS_48_I_2_BS48i2_Phantom_Power.html

I can say with personal experience that the AKG 451 is one of the most "live" sounding microphones. I was just listening to a Calexico recording I made with a pair of 451s many years ago and it sounds fantastic. I always have an eye out for these mics when I trawl the pawn shops and resale places.
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Offline furburger

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Given that some believe Millard used a wheelchair to record



I met a (the) guy who pushed his wheelchair in to many of the 70's Zepp shows...and he had all the 1g tapes from Mike (red/blue rollerball ink, "Mike The Mic" written on each spine....and many on VHS!) to prove it.


there was basically no other way to get that deck into the venue....for Zeppelin, they wheeled him right up into the front handicapped section...I think there was deck problems with one of the '75 shows (Long Beach?), which is why it's truncated.

I have one of his last masters (as a 2g), sadly, it's an ABB show from the Greek in '90 or '91 (not at home to check), so it's not really torrentable. Dave (wheelchair pusher) let me sit in his house for 4 days and dub down whatever I wanted....


will send you a PM, as I think the wheelchair pusher is still active occasionally on TTD. I also have his ex-wifes phone number/FB info, so I may be able to track him down that way.
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Offline rocksuitcase

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The 550 is an animal. One was in our crew for a while being hauled around by JJH in the fall 1984 and spring 1985 tours. They are heavy and huge indeed. I also had the opportunity to patch out of one of them 4-5 times into a Sony TCD5 in summer 1982. IIRC, each user had Nak microphones, using the internal batteries, although it is very noticeable on the tapes when the batteries start to go on the mics, the distortion picks up dramatically.
I wonder how he powered the AKG 451's as well. Hopefully you will get some info from the wheelchair pusher. Incidentally, the guy on summer 1982 tour also used a wheelchair to get his rig in.
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Offline rippleish20

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I started taping using a Nak 550 in 1979 and continued until 1981, when I got a Sony D-5. I used Nakamichi microphones too during that period so I also have no idea how he powered 451s but he must have had some sort of pre.... As far as carrying at around and getting it in, I always managed one way or the other. The PCM encoder /Betamax and associated batteries combination that some people were using prior to introduction of DAT machines (83-88) was much worse weight and size wise...


I would guess he used something like the AKG B46E

https://www.ebay.ie/itm/Vintage-Condenser-Microphone-AKG-C-451-E-with-case-AKG-B46E-Phantom-PSU-/332343603612
« Last Edit: May 14, 2018, 01:48:45 PM by rippleish20 »
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Offline DATBRAD

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Tapers I knew running 550s with condensers all used separate battery supplies unless they ran Senn K6 or similar electrets with batteries in the body like the Naks. The 451 could operate at any phantom voltage from 9-52V and the B46E was a 9V portable battery supply made for it and it used a single standard 9V battery. I think there was also an N46E that was 12V (possibly T-power not sure it's been decades).

Shortly after the C460B was released they introduced the B18 which was an 18V portable phantom supply with a belt clip. I used these before switching to Stewart 48V portable supplies in the mid 90s.

The 550 was like other portable decks of the era, they didn't supply phantom. I don't recall a single portable cassette deck with phantom.

I expect if that had been left out of source histories on recordings, it was because few mentioned it. Mics>deck was what all tapes I traded or made in the '80s was critical to know, power supplies were just a given.
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Offline JEMS

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I would guess he used something like the AKG B46E

https://www.ebay.ie/itm/Vintage-Condenser-Microphone-AKG-C-451-E-with-case-AKG-B46E-Phantom-PSU-/332343603612

Thank you so much for this. I think you are right. Much appreciated.

Offline JEMS

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Tapers I knew running 550s with condensers all used separate battery supplies unless they ran Senn K6 or similar electrets with batteries in the body like the Naks. The 451 could operate at any phantom voltage from 9-52V and the B46E was a 9V portable battery supply made for it and it used a single standard 9V battery. I think there was also an N46E that was 12V (possibly T-power not sure it's been decades).

Shortly after the C460B was released they introduced the B18 which was an 18V portable phantom supply with a belt clip. I used these before switching to Stewart 48V portable supplies in the mid 90s.

Thank you so much for this extremely helpful information. The B46E and B18 are both options I wasn't aware of and are definitely part of the answer. Turns out the N46E is a standalone AC-powered, two channel phantom power source.

Much appreciated.

BK
« Last Edit: May 14, 2018, 02:49:39 PM by JEMS »

Offline DSatz

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I'll confirm the information in the thread; I used a 550 to record in Europe in 1974-75 before switching to a Sony, and AKG C 451s were my first real condensers back in about 1971. The wide-range, peak-reading meters on the Nakamichi were wonderful, and the mike preamps, though their inputs weren't balanced, were excellent. The original C 451 cardioid was on the bright side sound-wise; not harsh, but definitely not neutral/natural sounding. The omni for that series, on the other hand, was rather sweet for semi-distant recording.

By then I was already using Schoeps mikes, and I had an outboard battery supply for them. If I had stayed with the Nakamichi, I might have modified it to add input transformers and 12-Volt phantom powering (or 10-Volt, since as I recall that was the recorder's positive "rail" voltage). IIRC the input sockets were actually the tip-ring-sleeve type so they wouldn't have needed replacing, but there wasn't enough space for transformers inside the case.

I'm sure you know that Nakamichi during this era still had its own EQ curve that was 2 or 3 dB different on the high end from anyone else's. Cassettes recorded on a Nakamichi of this period play back a little dull on all other brands of cassette deck, while all cassettes sound brighter when played back on a Nakamichi of this era than any other brand. They eventually "split the difference" and came closer to matching the rest of the world, but that was years after the 550.

--There are variants of the original C 451 amplifier that you shouldn't reject out of hand if you find them. The C 452 was modified by the addition of one resistor so that the current draw at 48 Volts would be lower (without it, the mikes needed 6 mA each), but the compromise is that the C 452 can ONLY be powered by 48 Volts or thereabouts, not 9 to 54. The "EB" version (made for both the C 451 and C 452) is the same circuit as the "E" with the addition of a switchable low-cut filter.

BTW, the "E" stands for "export" and simply means that the amplifier has an XLR connector on it. At the time, the XLR hadn't achieved world domination yet, and microphones often had different output connectors depending on which country you were in. Tuchel connectors were still the main connector used in Germany and Austria, so the "continental" version of the amplifier is the C 451 C or simply C 451. (The Austrian state broadcasting network, the ORF, used special versions of everything with large Lemo connectors, so for them AKG made the "C 451 L" ... inside their sound trucks, even their Studer decks used Lemo connectors, just so that they only had to carry one type of cable on remote jobs, but no one would steal them for their own use ...)

--best regards
« Last Edit: May 15, 2018, 10:29:52 AM by DSatz »
music > microphones > a recorder of some sort

Offline MakersMarc

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This is great stuff. When I first started in 97 I had a d3 analog deck. Loved everyone about analog except the flips. Constant 44:00 anxiety. 😀
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Offline JEMS

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I'll confirm the information in the thread; I used a 550 to record in Europe in 1974-75 before switching to a Sony, and AKG C 451s were my first real condensers back in about 1971. The wide-range, peak-reading meters on the Nakamichi were wonderful, and the mike preamps, though their inputs weren't balanced, were excellent. The original C 451 cardioid was on the bright side sound-wise; not harsh, but definitely not neutral/natural sounding. The omni for that series, on the other hand, was rather sweet for semi-distant recording.

--There are variants of the original C 451 amplifier that you shouldn't reject out of hand if you find them. The C 452 was modified by the addition of one resistor so that the current draw at 48 Volts would be lower (without it, the mikes needed 6 mA each), but the compromise is that the C 452 can ONLY be powered by 48 Volts or thereabouts, not 9 to 54. The "EB" version (made for both the C 451 and C 452) is the same circuit as the "E" with the addition of a switchable low-cut filter.

BTW, the "E" stands for "export" and simply means that the amplifier has an XLR connector on it. At the time, the XLR hadn't achieved world domination yet, and microphones often had different output connectors depending on which country you were in. Tuchel connectors were still the main connector used in Germany and Austria, so the "continental" version of the amplifier is the C 451 C or simply C 451. (The Austrian state broadcasting network, the ORF, used special versions of everything with large Lemo connectors, so for them AKG made the "C 451 L" ... inside their sound trucks, even their Studer decks used Lemo connectors, just so that they only had to carry one type of cable on remote jobs, but no one would steal them for their own use ...)

--best regards

Thank you so much for the additional information. This has moved from the theoretical to the doable thanks to the contributions on this thread.

Offline twatts (that "Pants" thing is so lame...)

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This is a much better read than the Furry Fiasco...

Thanks JEMS!!!

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Offline kindms

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I'll confirm the information in the thread; I used a 550 to record in Europe in 1974-75 before switching to a Sony, and AKG C 451s were my first real condensers back in about 1971. The wide-range, peak-reading meters on the Nakamichi were wonderful, and the mike preamps, though their inputs weren't balanced, were excellent. The original C 451 cardioid was on the bright side sound-wise; not harsh, but definitely not neutral/natural sounding. The omni for that series, on the other hand, was rather sweet for semi-distant recording.

By then I was already using Schoeps mikes, and I had an outboard battery supply for them. If I had stayed with the Nakamichi, I might have modified it to add input transformers and 12-Volt phantom powering (or 10-Volt, since as I recall that was the recorder's positive "rail" voltage). IIRC the input sockets were actually the tip-ring-sleeve type so they wouldn't have needed replacing, but there wasn't enough space for transformers inside the case.

I'm sure you know that Nakamichi during this era still had its own EQ curve that was 2 or 3 dB different on the high end from anyone else's. Cassettes recorded on a Nakamichi of this period play back a little dull on all other brands of cassette deck, while all cassettes sound brighter when played back on a Nakamichi of this era than any other brand. They eventually "split the difference" and came closer to matching the rest of the world, but that was years after the 550.

--There are variants of the original C 451 amplifier that you shouldn't reject out of hand if you find them. The C 452 was modified by the addition of one resistor so that the current draw at 48 Volts would be lower (without it, the mikes needed 6 mA each), but the compromise is that the C 452 can ONLY be powered by 48 Volts or thereabouts, not 9 to 54. The "EB" version (made for both the C 451 and C 452) is the same circuit as the "E" with the addition of a switchable low-cut filter.

BTW, the "E" stands for "export" and simply means that the amplifier has an XLR connector on it. At the time, the XLR hadn't achieved world domination yet, and microphones often had different output connectors depending on which country you were in. Tuchel connectors were still the main connector used in Germany and Austria, so the "continental" version of the amplifier is the C 451 C or simply C 451. (The Austrian state broadcasting network, the ORF, used special versions of everything with large Lemo connectors, so for them AKG made the "C 451 L" ... inside their sound trucks, even their Studer decks used Lemo connectors, just so that they only had to carry one type of cable on remote jobs, but no one would steal them for their own use ...)

--best regards


what were you recording with that rig in the early 70s in Europe ? Care to give us an idea of what you were using it for
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