They probably have a good case, too: as well as the iconic image of a Model 55 cupped in the hand of Elvis Presley, there are countless photos in circulation of artists such as Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and even Metallica and Mariah Carey — amongst many others — singing into a Model 55.This classic microphone also featured in many of the critical moments of 20th century history, capturing the speeches of such luminaries as Franklin D Roosevelt, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Indira Ghandi and General Douglas Mac Arthur on the deck of the USS Missouri during the ceremony ending the war with Japan in 1945.A common alternative was the crystal (piezo-electric) microphone, but these were delicate and reacted badly to heat, humidity and physical shock.Early capacitor microphones were available, too, but they were very expensive to build, still relatively fragile, and again, required external power.The Model 70 crystal (piezo-electric) mic and Model 40D capacitor mic followed in 1935, and the company’s first dynamic microphone appeared in 1939.To put these dates in context, Georg Neumann started his microphone company in 1928, the Russian manufacturer that became Oktava started making mics in 1932, Electro-Voice in 1933 and Beyerdynamic in 1939, while both AKG and Sennheiser were formed post-war in 1946.Some 75 years after its introduction, the Model 55 is still in production (albeit with a few updates and improvements!
Although cheap to make, these microphones were inherently noisy, had a very limited bandwidth and required an external DC power source.
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Such is the revered status of the Unidyne Model 55 that it received an IEEE Milestone Award at the start of 2014, marking its place in the history of the audio industry alongside the work of Alan Dower Blumlein, Marconi’s early radio experiments, and the invention of the CD player.