It was that warm analog sound that instantly attracted Rodger Cloud to the ribbon microphones originally designed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Though digitally updated, they still maintain the handcrafted detail prescribed in the 1930s by RCA’s founder Harry F. Olson. Engineer Jon R. Sank carried on his work and began teaching his son, Stephen Sank, the audio secrets at the age of 10.
Cloud, Cherokee and Chippewa, eventually crossed paths with the younger Sank, his father having passed in 1998. The pair bonded over a mutual appreciation of the smooth sound delivered through the ribbons, individually cut, corrugated and installed by hand.
Together, they formed Cloud Microphones in 2009.
Lee Allen/ARIZONA FREELANCE
Rodger Cloud, CEO of Cloud Microphones, proudly displays his hand-built ribbon microphone based on the legendary RCA mikes of the 1930s.
“The microphones we’re working with capture the nuances of traditional music,” says Cloud, a singer/songwriter and co-owner of the company. “We use the simplest technology there is—an aluminum ribbon that physically moves free form to sound waves.
“When you record traditional or healing music with that kind of equipment, you can actually capture depth and feeling in a way you just can’t do with modern products,” he continued. “Our mikes resonate sound on a spiritual level.”
The Tucson, Arizona-based outfit is dedicated to buying locally and working with Native businesses whenever possible.
“It’s becoming increasingly rare to see a company manufacturing goods entirely within the U.S., and while I’ve had suggestions to push our manufacturing to China or Mexico, I’ve refused,” Cloud said. “It makes no sense to me to prosper at some else’s expense, and we felt connected to the Native community and wanted to give back.”
For its first couple of years, Cloud Microphones built their products by hand. Then Cloud discovered Tooh Dineh [Industries and learned of its Native hiring practices. “I don’t think I could find another vendor, anywhere, that could do a better job.”
Tooh Dineh is a 30-year-old company based in Winslow, Arizona on the Navajo Nation and the largest full-service contract electronic manufacturer in Northern Arizona that counts Fortune 500 companies in its client base.
“Nearly 10 percent of our work force is dedicated to building circuit boards for Cloud Microphones,” Chief Executive Officer Casey Dooley told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Every account helps, because our mission statement is to employ as many people as possible within our community. It’s good to know the people you’re working with and we view Cloud as a local company—one we’ve built a respectful relationship with.”
Courtesy Tooh Dineh Industries
A Navajo worker for Tooh Dineh Industries assembles circuit boards for the microphones.
Among the technical crowd, ribbon microphones are a favored product. “There are microphones in our industry that can cost up to $15,000, and I’ll play one of ours [with a price tag less than $2,000] up against those any day. You don’t have to record and then spend hours equalizing, you just put it out there and it records sounds accurately—the nature of the technology doesn’t alter the accuracy of the sound.”
World-renowned Native American classical guitarist Gabriel Ayala recently discovered the product. He liked the company’s commitment to responsible manufacturing and employing a Native workforce. Now the Yaqui artist uses and promotes Cloud Microphones.
“Right away, there was a connection,” he told ICTMN. “Not only do I believe in [Cloud’s] product, I believe in his goals, and after a couple of weeks with a loaner unit, I now have a couple of microphones of my own. Instead of having to record and then filter, now my guitar sounds like my guitar should. It picks up every single sound from 12 inches away to 12 feet away.”
Although Rodger Cloud acknowledges that his company is still relatively new and occupies a boutique market, he is optimistic about the future.
“As far as sales volume goes against the Big Boys, we’re still close to the bottom and hoping to trend upward,” he said. “People who have used our microphones say they sound like they should have another zero in the price tag.”