In the 90 years Neumann have existed, the developments in pro audio have changed the landscape so completely that there is almost nothing which persists from these early days. One thing which uniquely does persist is the Neumann microphone.
Formed in 1928, the company formed by Georg Neumann manufactured the first commercially available condenser microphone. To give some historical perspective the triode valve or vacuum tube had only been invented in 1906 and they had only been put to work as amplifiers since 1912. So the CMV 3, the famous Bottle mic, the first Neumann product, a mic of which a version is still available although not manufactured by Neumann, was first produced 16 years after the the invention of electronics!
The events of the first half of the 20th century affected everyone, and the history of Neumann is a case in point. The original Berlin factory was firebombed in 1943 and afterwards the factory was relocated to the town of Geffel in what was to become East Germany. After German reunification the Geffel operation which had been producing microphones in the Eastern bloc ever since became Microtech Geffel.
Neumann himself had re-established his company in West Berlin and in this post war period the golden age of Neumann really began. The microphones produced in this period are still in use and are some of the best known and most revered mics ever created. Rather than talk about the company let’s consider these for a moment, after all when most people talk about Neumann they don’t mean the people. They mean the products. When looking at a back catalogue from a company as historic as Neumann you really are spoilt for choice. From the first mass produced condenser mic, the CMV3 of 1928 through to the cutting lathes which have quietly been in service from vinyl’s heyday, through its near extinction back to its current resurgence. The realisation that the knowledge of how to service and repair these machines came close to disappearing with the passage of time that goes to show that good engineering doesn’t just last one lifetime.
Neumann’s Greatest Hits
I’ll inevitably omit something which should have made the list but here are, in no particular order, five products from Neumann’s back catalogue which have stood the test of time and still feature on the recordings of people who can use anything they like but choose to use classic Neumann products.
U47 - Do I need to say anything at all? This mic on its own would guarantee a place in recording history. A valve condenser with omni and cardioid patterns and a mid-forward character, it’s so relevant today, nearly 70 years later, that in spite of the numerous clones available, if Neumann were to reissue it they wouldn’t be able to make them fast enough (if only you could still get VF14s).
M49 - If it wasn’t for the U47 the M49 would be the superstar it deserves to be. Picture the iconic photograph of Bob Dylan during the Highway 61 Revisited sessions, with a Jazz bass in hand and in the top left - an M49. Cool! Rather than the either/or choice of omni or cardioid (or Fig 8 or cardioid in the U48) the M49 offered variable patterns from omni to cardioid to fig 8 all remotely controlled from the power supply.
M50 - From this first salvo of classic Neumanns from the 50s. While the M50 shares a lot with the M49 this is an Omni mic and because of its innovative design it is extremely well suited to orchestral use and you’ll often see M50s in Decca tree configurations at orchestral recordings. The M50 features a single small diaphragm which is set into an acrylic sphere which, due to the way a sphere interacts with sound waves, results in a +5dB boost to the HF above about 5KHz. This is very desirable for distant miking as it counteracts the HF rolloff which happens through frictional losses through the air at distance. Clever! This arrangement continues in the current M150 microphone.
KM84 - The first phantom powered microphone this small diaphragm condenser mic has a flat frequency response and a very consistent cardioid response across the frequency spectrum resulting in a pencil condenser which still sets something of a standard for stringed acoustic instruments, probably because of the even off axis response.
U87 - In the same way as if you ask a non musician to visualise an electric guitar it will almost certainly be a Stratocaster, if you ask a non engineer to visualise a studio microphone it is more than likely going to be a U87. The current product in a line which includes the U47 and the U67, the U87 is the ubiquitous studio workhorse which with many enjoys the same “first call” status for large diaphragm condenser mics as the SM57 does for dynamic mics.
What Have I Missed?
U67? SM2? (the first stereo mic), D01? (who says older is better) the list is long, share your thoughts below and congratulations Neumann. Love your work! Here’s to another 90 years.