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Weird Gear: Altec/Western Electric 639B
By Jay - 10/16/2006

Gimlet Audio is the proud owner of two of these fantastic microphones. We acquired the pair in 2005, taking a big chance with an Ebay auction. NB: Ebay is definitely not my first choice for purchases given how most people treat microphones, especially ribbon mics. But the chance paid off big... one of the mics had a broken cage (the microphone housing is refereed to as a bird cage due to it's appearance) so the pair was purchased for $400. The pair are actually labeled Altec which means they were produced after the name change from Western Electric in '41 (Altec is the audio spin-off of Western Electric).

The 639 is special. It is a hybrid mic with both a dynamic moving coil and ribbon element. The dynamic element is omni-directional and the ribbon sports a figure of eight pickup pattern. On the back of the mic, there is a six position switch that blends the 2 elements resulting in a wide variety of pickup patterns and tonal responses. The switch settings are:


So... why is this thing so cool? Let's face it, it looks totally bitchen! Plus, the six different pickup positions make for a huge sound palette. I am particularly fond of the R position since it captures so much room sound. In this position there is a bit of a peak around 2,500 kHz which can definitely help a darker sounding guitar amp. It definitely sounds unique for a ribbon mic, possibly the result of the creased ribbon which I have never seen in another ribbon mic.

If you want to hear for yourself how it sound in comparison to other mics, check our our Microphone Shootout.



By Jay - 10/16/2006 |