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This time a microphone I should have put in the spotlight sooner, because it is one of the types that contributed much to sound as we know it today.

The Western Electric 639 A contained two elements: a bi-directional ribbon and an omnidirectional dynamic capsule, the same as in the Western Electric 630 'Eightball'.

A screwdriver operated switch at the back of the casing allowed a choice of three different positions: R: the ribbon element with its figure-of-eight pattern, O: the dynamic element with an omni pattern, or C: the combination of both outputs, resulting in a directional polar pattern. It was the first really directive microphone, which made it immensely popular for PA, in the studio, and on soundstages for film.

The 639 A was used in almost every professional production for more than thirty years. The directional setting (C), made voices in reverberant spaces much more audible, and the sound could be amplified four times as loud as before, without feedback.

Outside it was of no use, because it was too suscebtible to windnoises. For film use another casing was developed, the result was the RA 1142.

A later version, from 1940, was the 639 B, with 6 different polar patterns.

When Altec took over WE's microphone production, this succesful model was continued.

These mics were used for the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers' film 'Brother where art thou', from 2000. It became a best seller and proved the sound of the 639 is even popular today.

In England STC produced the virtually identical 4033, which was also used in the Netherlands by broadcasters. This is a collector's item as well.


altec 639

we 639 ad