German Microphone Fetish


Apropos of nothing and probably of no interest to anyone except those interested in the history of recording (like me) the vocal microphone that we have been using at the recent recording sessions of my band is an AKG C12-A. Kenny Jones, our engineer/co-producer, sometimes has to come into the “live-room” to squirt some kind of WD40 like substance onto the contacts until it’s “warmed up”. The C12-A is “powered” up in the control room by quite a large box that has old style valves in it.

 

The actual microphone’s very functional casing is a bit battered but it sounds absolutely amazing, giving an uncanny representation of the voices in front of it (sometimes too uncanny) or of my Martin acoustic guitar. When I asked about it, Kenny said that it’s older than him, so I’m guessing it’s about the same age as me – that is around 60. What is interesting about The Microphone is that, like The Bicycle or The Fender Telecaster and my Martin D28, no one has come up with a better technological solution than the original design. In the case of The Microphone; the Neumans and AKGs made in post-war East Germany and Austria are still sought after and loved. They are kept going by a few specialist engineers, shamans of physics who understand the innermost secrets of their hand built anatomy. Microphones like the C12-A are analogue and mechanical, the vital front end to a whole load of digital shit that goes on afterwards, where singers can be put into any concert hall in the world and magically re-tuned in seconds. But the collection device, the microphone has stayed stoically the same, because it can’t be bettered.

 

In our business, the sound recordist is somehow the poor cousin to his/her more “glamorous” counterpart, the lighting cameraman/woman. But over time I have come to respect the quiet skills of the sound recordist and the technology they use. They are very often the saviour of our content and without content…we have nothing. One of our favourite sound recordists, Rory McGarrigle uses Schoeps microphones. Schoeps was founded by a Dr Schoeps in southwestern Germany after the Second World War. Like the AKG C12-A many of Dr Schoeps’ original studio mics are still in operation and lovingly cared for. Watching Rory set up his stubby little Schoebs ancestors is a little like watching a priest prepare the host for communion. As he begins to record, locked in the quarantined audio world of his headphones, Rory’s expression changes to one of contentment and serenity; a man at one with his chosen recording devices, and the surety that they will work beautifully.

 

Out of respect for the recordist’s art, Proudfoot have invested in a couple of classic microphones for when we have to self-shoot. Guided by Chris Morphet, who suddenly found that as a cameraman he was asked to “do the sound as well”, he invested in a Sennheiser 416 (Fritz Sennheiser 1910-2010). We’ve got two of Fritz’s mics; the 416 is the staple of any respectable boom swinging soundman (unless you are Rory). If you place the 416 in the right position, about four inches from the top of the head of the speaker pointing at their mouth, set the levels on the camera so that you are not over recording; the 416 will give you a top notch recording.

 

In conclusion; respect to post-war Germany and Austria, whose brilliant scientists created something truly world-beating out of the terrible mess of the Second World War. Without their inventions, the audio world we all enjoy simply would not be the same. The microphones by Neuman, AKG, Sennheiser and Schoeps have surely been used in every post-war feature film and TV programme, not to mention every recording from The Berlin Philharmonic to The Beatles, Kanye West to Miley Cyrus and more.

 

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Beth Crozier and the AKG c12-A

 


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