Neumann Celebrates 75 Years—Ni-Cad Batteries to Classic Microphones - Mixonline

Neumann Celebrates 75 Years—Ni-Cad Batteries to Classic Microphones

For the past three-quarters of a century, the Neumann name has been synonymous with excellence in audio, but the influence of company founder Georg Neumann
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For the past three-quarters of a century, the Neumann name has been
synonymous with excellence in audio, but the influence of company
founder Georg Neumann (pictured) goes far beyond the famed microphones that bear
his name.

Among Neumann's first products was a record-cutting lathe. Rather
than the belt-driven mechanisms so common in other lathes of its time,
the 1931 AM31 instead employed a direct-drive design, where the motor
itself was an extension of the platter's spindle. In 1933, a portable
lathe followed, which simplified the process of making location
recordings of speeches and music concerts outside of the studio
confines.

Besides its record lathes—which set the world standard for
half-a-century—Neumann also produced reference playback
turntables, cinema gongs, radio station ID code signal transmitters,
electro-acoustic measurement devices and the first factory-produced
logarithmic level display chart recorder. Neumann's nonmicrophone
innovations continued into the 1980s and beyond, with products such as
the VMS Series (widely considered the best record lathes ever made),
the DMM (Direct Metal Mastering) disk mastering process, and studio and
broadcast consoles, both analog and digital.

Ironically, the Georg Neumann invention that made the greatest
impact on the world was not audio-related at all: In 1947, he created a
process to make nickel-cadmium batteries without the excessive
formation of gas, allowing the production of sealed, leak-proof
designs. Even today, Ni-Cad batteries are found in every conceivable
type of electronics, a lasting tribute to the genius of Georg
Neumann.

MICROPHONES!
Ni-Cad batteries aside, microphones were and always will be the most
loved legacy of Georg Neumann. The story starts 105 years ago. Born in
1898 in a small town outside of Berlin, Neumann apprenticed at Mix
& Genest and did amplifier research for AEG. When AEG lab director
Eugen Reisz created his own company, Neumann joined him and looked into
ways to improve carbon microphone technology. Neumann stretched a tight
rubber membrane over a marble slab containing powdered carbon and two
electrodes. The resulting “Reisz marble block microphone”
was fairly flat from 50 to 1k Hz, with a 10dB peak at 4 kHz, and was
-15 dB at 10 kHz. Hardly impressive by modern standards, this 1923
model encouraged Neumann to look at other ways to improve mic
performance.

Neumann CMV3a "Bottle" mic, with interchangeable capsule

In the mid-1920s, as radio gained popularity and record companies
switched over to the “electrical recording process,”
microphones suddenly became a major link in the audio chain. Excited by
the idea of building capacitive (condenser) mics, Neumann left Reisz
and, with Erich Rickmann, founded Georg Neumann & Co. in Berlin in
November 1928.

The first mass-produced condenser mic—Neumann's
CMV3—debuted in 1928 and remained a standard for years, both in
studios and in live broadcasting. By 1932, Neumann unveiled the CMV3a,
which featured interchangeable heads (cardioid, omni and figure-8). The
mics stayed in production until after World War II and are still in use
in studios worldwide.

With World War II escalating, Berlin was a major target for Allied
bombing. In 1943, the Neumann factory in central Berlin was struck by
incendiary bombs. Searching for a safer site to relocate the plant,
Neumann drove south of the capital and, according to legend, stopped in
Gefell, the first place where he didn't see bomb craters. In 1944,
Neumann moved into this small village with most of his workforce and
the manufacturing equipment salvaged from Berlin.

After the war, Gefell was in a U.S.-occupied zone, but with the 1945
Potsdam Conference, the area was turned over to the Soviets. With the
growing uncertainties about East and West, Neumann moved back to Berlin
under the new name “Georg Neumann GmbH.” The Gefell company
continued supplying components for Neumann until 1953, but with the
establishment of the East German state, commerce became increasingly
difficult and all commercial ties between Gefell and Neumann were
severed. Gefell continued making mics on its own, mostly supplying
broadcasters in the Soviet bloc, and today, with the fall of the Iron
Curtain, now creates studio, live and measurement mics for a world
market.

The postwar Neumann factory in Berlin was definitely moving forward.
Besides Neumann's 1947 sealed Ni-Cad cell, that year, the company
introduced the U47, the first switchable-pattern condenser mic. The
microphone that began the age of modern studio microphone technology,
the U47 featured a high-performance VF14 tube and the dual-diaphragm M7
capsule, essentially back-to-back cardioid capsules that could be
combined to create an omni pattern or used singly for a cardioid
pickup. Due to distribution issues with Telefunken and post-war
production snags, the U47 officially debuted in 1949. Eight years
later, the U48—a cardioid/figure-8 switchable version—was
added to the line.

The success of the U47 was followed by a number of
“firsts”: The M49 (1951) was the first mic with a remotely
switchable pattern; and the M50 (also in 1951) featured a
small-diaphragm, pressure-gradient capsule embedded in a perspex
(acrylic) sphere to provide a very smooth upper-end response. The onset
of stereo in the mid-'50s led to Neumann's SM2 (1956), the world's
first stereo microphone. The 1987 RSM 190-S was the first stereo
shotgun mic. Three years later, the M50 concept was revived in the
nickel-membrane TLM50, a transformerless, low-noise, solid-state
design, and in 2000 with the M150, featuring a low-mass titanium
diaphragm and the same tube electronics developed for the
large-diaphragm, multipattern M149: the first mic with transformerless
tube electronics.

In all, Neumann has released some 90 microphones during its 75-year
history, and going through the design specifics of each one would take
a book. Models such as the solid-state U87 and U89, the tube U67, the
KU80/81/100 “Fritz” binaural dummy head, the KM84/184
small-diaphragm condensers, the TLM103, M147 tube and KMS105 handheld
have certainly joined other Neumann models in the category of audio
classics. Fortunately, for those seeking more, Neumann offers archives
of current and vintage models on its Website. Additionally, a wonderful
290-page book detailing the company's products and history is now
available from www.neumannusa.com.

Neumann Solution D, the company's first digital microphone system

DEFINING ITS FUTURE
For decades, the Neumann facility stood on
the edge of Western Europe near the Allies' “Checkpoint
Charlie” between East and West Berlin. With the fall of the
Berlin Wall in 1989, the company's plant was suddenly in the center of
Berlin. Rents soared and the building was slated for demolition to be
replaced by a skyscraper. Very expensive to manufacture, Neumann's line
of superb analog and digital consoles proved unprofitable. Meanwhile, a
growing CD market spelled the end of Neumann's profitable record lathe
business and plans for a mechanical CD lathe (DMM CD) fell short,
because, unlike DMM for vinyl production, the copper blanks for CD prep
had to be 100% pure, as even the tiniest microscopic flaw or void in
the blank would create havoc on a CD master. Also at the time,
Neumann's heirs—who owned the company since Georg's death in
1976—wanted to sell their share. The company's future was
uncertain, to say the least.

In January 1991, after talks with a number of potential buyers, the
Neumann family turned the company over to Sennheiser Electronics, a
similarly structured, family-owned business based in Hanover, a few
hours from Berlin. The plan was to move production to a new
“Neumann” section of the Sennheiser plant, while Neumann's
engineering, marketing and repair facilities would remain at a new
complex in Berlin. Company founder Professor Fritz Sennheiser had known
Georg Neumann for years and was quite familiar with the Neumann
operation. In many ways, the change offered the best of both worlds:
Neumann would have access to modern, world-class electronics
manufacturing, while the “old-world” processes—such
as the meticulous hand-assembly of capsules—would be done under
clean room conditions.

There's no doubt that Neumann—once infamous for long
production backlogs—is far better equipped to handle modern
production demands under Sennheiser's ownership; further products, such
as the popular TLM103 (a $1,000 mic that combines ultralow-noise 7dBA
electronics with a single-diaphragm version of the K67 capsule from the
U67) simply could not have existed under the old Neumann system. Other
companies might have been tempted to buy Neumann and then cash in by
flooding the market with cheap products with a famous name—we've
seen that scenario many times before—but Sennheiser remains
committed to maintaining the Neumann quality and reputation for
excellence.

The Sennheiser-Neumann relationship has gone well beyond mere words
or shared production conveniences. The companies collaborated on the
2003 TEC Award-winning KK105S, a handheld wireless transmitter that
combines the performance of Neumann's acclaimed KMS105 capsule to
Sennheiser's SKM 5000 UHF wireless rig. Both are also working on new
mics for on-air broadcasting, with the new BCM 104 kicking off the
series. And Sennheiser supports the development of new approaches, such
as Neumann's Solution D digital mic system, which defines the future
direction of microphone design.

Besides the innumerable hit records made using Neumann
mics—from Sinatra to the Beatles and beyond—the accolades
for Neumann products have been many. The company garnered an
unprecedented seven TEC Awards for microphone excellence, and received
a Technical Grammy® Award in 1999 for the company's contributions
during the years. Georg himself would be proud of those products that
bear his namesake.