Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Peluso Microphone Lab

By editorJuly 1, 2012

MICROPHONE FEATURE

photo by Staton Carter

John and Mary Peluso started Peluso Microphone Lab 10 years ago in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Floyd, Virginia.  They relocated to Floyd after a long successful career in the studio consulting and servicing business in the Chicago area.  John got his start in the recording studios of Chicago in the 70’s.  He was chief engineer at several different studios.  For over two decades John did recording studio consulting and service while Mary kept the business side of things running smoothly.  John came to know the inner workings of all types of studio gear. One of his main loves was the repair and care of microphones. 

John saw first hand the high demand for real vintage microphones.  In his years of servicing these microphones he also saw the pitfalls.  While they may have sounded amazing 40 years ago, decades of use and abuse have taken their toll. Vintage mics are expensive, can be unpredictable, and may be difficult to find parts and service for.  John saw a need for a line of microphones that truly captured the sonic and build quality of the best vintage microphones. 

The Pelusos set out to design sonically accurate reproductions of the most sought after vintage microphones.  They needed to have the same build quality and ease of service of the best vintage mics.  The mics needed to be priced in a range that left room in the budget to run a studio.  Most of all they needed to have the warm smooth balanced sound the vintage mics had when they were new.

The first step was to choose the best vintage microphones to replicate.  Several models quickly rose to the top of the long list of great vintage mics. These included the Neumann U-47 and U-67, the Telefunken 251, and the AKG C12.

Peluso 22 47 LE. Photo by Staton Carter

The Neumann U-47 was at the very top of the Pelusos’ list.  There are currently three versions of the Peluso 22 47 in production.  The 22 47 LE is designed around a true vintage EF style steel tube (Stahlröhren).  These rare and expensive vintage tubes are the heart of the 22 47 LE. This mic is designed for connoisseurs of vintage gear who want a mic driven by a true vintage tube.  John knew there was a vacuum tube with the same design parameters with an American style base currently in production.  This tube has a low cost and high reliability, and is easily acquired for replacement.  The 22 47 SE is designed around this American style tube.  The only discernible difference between the Peluso LE and SE models is a 2 dB quieter noise floor on the 22 47 SE.  In the 1970s German radio engineers needed a version of the standard Neumann U-47 with a quieter noise floor.  To achieve this they modified the mic to use a glass triode tube.  This lowered the noise floor and created a clean sound with less second harmonic content.  The Peluso 22 47 pairs the capsule, head grille and circuit design of the LE and SE models with this glass triode tube to replicate this clean low noise sound.  That’s the inspiration for the three 22 47 models. 

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell with a stereo matched pair of Peluso P-12 mics recording their new album in 2012 with producer Brian Ahern

22 251 Vacuum Tube Microphone capsule

Once the Pelusos knew what they wanted to create, the question was how to get there.  The most important aspect in the design of any microphone is the sonic quality.  The Pelusos’ goal was to create a microphone that sounded like the vintage ones did when they were new.  During John’s decades of servicing microphones he amassed a great wealth of mic schematics and specifications.  Looking back at the original schematics, John laid out the circuitry using comparable modern components. From this John created the first prototype. 

The Pelusos put their prototypes through rigorous testing until they get them just right.  Slight changes in resistor values and component manufacturers can make the subtle differences between simply an acceptable sound and the true sweet warm vintage magic they’re after.  They use a computer frequency response tool to test each prototype until they match the specification of vintage model the design is patterned after.  While the computer is a wonderful tool, there is no substitute for a real studio setting. Once they feel they are close with the design they take it out of the lab and into the studio.  There they listen to the qualities of the microphone that cannot be measured in the lab.  The design has to have the musical quality of the original. They listen for phase, proximity effect, transients, overload, and transformer saturation to insure that the design performs with the quality and sound of the vintage original.

After they are completely satisfied with the design of the prototype, they begin the steps necessary to manufacture it.  A main priority is producing a microphone with durability and ease of service. One of the beautiful aspects of their favorite vintage microphones, and why decades later so many of them are still in use, is that they can be repaired. When a vintage microphone comes in to Peluso Service for repair, they can often replace the capacitors, exchange the vacuum tube (valve), or re-diaphragm the capsule, and it is ready for years more service.  The Pelusos have designed their microphones to have the same qualities.  The microphone’s brass body tubes are designed with a heavy removable bottom nut, allowing easy access to a replaceable vacuum tube and a conventional circuit board.  Some of the vintage manufacturers used internal custom molded plastic parts that degrade over time, often break, and are difficult to replace.  The body and framework of Peluso microphones are all metal, and the Pelusos take care to use durable, high quality components throughout.

The Peluso manufacturing process is designed to keep costs to a minimum while providing the best quality.  Mary is in charge of coordinating with the many suppliers.   While she obtains parts of the microphones from various sources, they always assemble, finish and test every microphone in their Virginia shop. This ensures that the highest quality is maintained.  At their lab in Virginia, John, Mary, and now their son Chris, are often sitting at the benches performing the many assembly tasks.  Once the microphones are built, each is listened to and voice tested.  Finally a computer frequency response test is done to be sure each microphone meets their exacting specifications and is worthy of the Peluso name.

 

Check out the entire Peluso microphone range at http://www.pelusomicrophonelab.com

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