Métallique Speaker – Experiment 1

When Maurice Martenot invented the ondes Martenot, he understood that the amplifier and speakers were an opportunity to give the performer more precise control of tone. In a typical setup, the ondes is connected to three speakers that can be mixed from the tiroir (drawer of controls). The first is a traditional loudspeaker called the Principal. The second and third are more unique creations of Martenot: the Palme, a lyre-like speaker with sympathetic strings, and; the métallique, a gong resonator (1947 French patent for métallique with images).

The modern ondist can recreate the Principal with a consumer amplifier and speaker; although, one should be careful as loud sub harmonics can cause damage to speakers. The palme and métallique are much more difficult to source. The inventor of the Ondomo, Nao Omo, has produced wonderful recreations of both that I was lucky enough to hear at the 2017 NAMM show, but does not plan to put them immediately into production as he is busy with the swelling demand for the Ondomo. Eowave produced the Metallic Resonator 60cm for a brief amount of time, but production has since stopped. Their site does have a signup form to be updated when they are beginning production again.

Geoff Farr demonstrates his Métallique resonator. I was told by a fellow ondes Martenot enthusiast that he does have them for sale, but I have not reached out.

The Challenge:

Although, I do not have a formal education in audio hardware or electrical engineering, I work in a studio full of analog gear and have had to hone my soldering and repair skills in recent years. The project of building a custom métallique seemed like a good opportunity to continue to develop these skills and learn more about how sound is generated while hopefully creating something interesting and useful. The concept is simple: to suspend a gong (or cymbal in my case) so that it can resonate and then attach a driver that is connected to a amplified audio signal.

I was unfamiliar with how drivers work, so after a quick internet search, I came across a forum where people were discussing using audio exciters to drive the cymbal. These are inexpensive products that are designed to turn any surface into a speaker – a table, wall or car window, for example. When I met with Omo in February, I asked him about using exciters and he advised against it, recommending to create a voice coil driver instead. While I trust and respect Omo’s expertise on the subject, the price and simplicity of the exciters seemed like a promising place for a novice like me to begin.

Materials:

  • Gong or cymbal: A friend gave me two beat up and pretty dead Zildjian cymbals.
  • Sound Exciter: I ordered two Dayton Audio Sound Exciters from Amazon for $20. These attach by 3M stickers. Dayton Audio also makes exciters that screw on, but that involves drilling the gong. The above forum recommends using the Monacor AR-50 for those of you in Europe.
  • Cymbal suspension: Here I used a microphone stand and some string (shoelaces to be exact).
  • Amplifier: I used an Alesis RA-100.
  • Speaker wire.

The Setup:

This was pretty easy to put together – the most difficult part was waiting for the Amazon 2-day Prime delivery. I ran a string through the center of the cymbal and tied it to an extended arm of a microphone stand so that the cymbal could freely resonate. The sound exciters had four stickers that you peel and then press firmly onto the cymbal – I placed it a couple of inches from the edge. Finally, an instrument was connected to the input of the power amp and speaker wire was run from the amp to the sound exciters.

A video of random phrases performed on the Ondomo through the métallique resonator and recorded on an iPhone.

The Results:

It worked perfectly, just as the contributors on the forum recommended. The cymbal resonated better on higher pitched instruments than lower, as bass frequencies would rattle the small sound exciter. When I connected the exciter to a larger, darker cymbal, the reverb tail became quite long, but the small exciter lacked the power to fully power it heavier piece of metal.

An SM57 and guitar pickups were set up within an inch of smaller, brighter speaker opposite the driver and were able to pick up quality tones. Anything that is a microphone is also a speaker and vice-versa, so I connected the second exciter to the opposite side of the cymbal to be used as a contact microphone. This worked as well, but having the second exciter attached, deadened the sound a bit.

The first track is a live experimentation of old songs performed on the Ondomo through the métallique and recorded by guitar pickups. This is to demonstrate how the métalique responds to varying tones and registers. The latter two tracks are of synth rhythms, the first one dry and the second played through the métallique resonator and recorded by an SM57.

Room for Improvement:

  • Find a way to attach a more powerful driver.
  • The Dayton Audio exciter stickers are convenient, but do not hold well. Need to determine a more permanent and reliable solution.
  • Although, the exciters are light, they do add weight to the cymbal which dampens the sound. A better solution would be to have a lighter driver setup.
  • Experiment with the placement of the driver and pickups.
  • Find a better way to suspend cymbal so that it freely resonates, but still limit it’s movement so it can be enclosed and portable.
  • Design a frame to protect the cymbal.
  • Possibly include its own paired amplification circuit.

Further Reading:

Please feel free to contact me on this site or on social media if you have questions or ideas. I’m currently documenting a second attempt and plan to continue developing this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *