Today’s episode explores some of the possibilities of recording with a Wurlitzer Spectratone Speaker. I demonstrate how I mic the unique speaker, and give an overview of the speaker itself.
Is the Spectratone Speaker the Same as a Leslie?
The Spectratone Speaker gives a similar effect as a Leslie cabinet, but the effect is achieved in an entirely different way.
The typical method used for a Leslie cabinets is to use two methods. The bottom deflects sound using a rotating ramp. The top of the cabinet uses horns for high frequencies that rotate, but even then the source of the sound is stationary.
The Spectratone Speaker works by having the source of the sound, two small speakers, swing around on the end of a pole. It is a different way entirely to get a similar effect. When installed in an organ, the effect was most likely the closest to the Leslie method, as the reflections of the organ cabinet would ad a complexity to the sound. However, taking the Spectratone Speaker out of the organ, and recording it in open air, allows a microphone to capture a clearer Doppler Effect.
Recording the Spectratone Speaker
Because of it’s unique affect on audio, I wanted to capture the Spectratone Speaker with two microphones in a simple stereo set up.
In all my tests, I left each mic hard panned to get the maximum spread of sound. I wanted the most of this effect that I could squeeze out.
The microphones I used were two Rode NT2000, in Cardioid.
I started out with having a microphone at either end of the Spectratone Speaker. When the spinning speakers inside were rotating, they were approaching one microphone as it was traveling further away from the other one. My plan was to flip the polarity of one of the microphones to retain the mid-low frequencies.
Overall, this arrangement came out cool, but the rhythm was a little too perfect. I found that it was calling attention to the fact that the Spectratone Speaker was not tempo synced, and it was so clear that it seemed a little awkward. I needed a way to loosen it up a little bit.
Arranging the microphones so that one looked down at the Spectratone Speaker while the other looked to the side gave better results. There was still a beautiful phasing effect happening, and I was pleased with the rhythm of the two mics.
This arrangment gave a different rhythm in that the sound came from one speaker and went into the other, rather than flip-flop back and forth. The rhythm almost seemed to be thicker.
I also was pleased with the stereo spread with having the microphones 90 degrees apart. I was worried that it wouldn’t sound as interesting, however there was still plenty of stereo wideness.
Where to Find a Spectratone Speaker
The Spectratone Speaker is no longer made, but you can find them under the hood of many old Wurlitzer Organs, and also by the name of “Model 300”. There are some variations on the belt system, as some have a belt while others have a direct drive system. I’ve been very happy with the sound of my Spectratone Speaker even though it seems to be the lesser quality of all the variations.
I found mine in a Wurlitzer 4700 and the organ was used for many recordings until it started to create more noise than music.
Organs are apart of the economy of recording studios. Like pianos, there are some that are worth preserving and rebuilding, and there are others that are only worth the money that you spend repairing and rebuilding it.
Many organs can be found for free if you pick them up, and others are very affordable. My 4700 organ was $35 because it would occasionally make noise. When it finally had it’s last moments playing meaningful pitches (And not complete random noise) it was able to supply two speakers, many parts, and it’s Spectratone Speaker.