The Neumann U87 - The Most Famous Microphone in the world.
The Neumann U87 is the worlds most iconic studio tool. Even if you have no idea what the inside of a studio looks like, chances are you will know this microphone, you will know that image and how it relates to famous recordings, classic rock to swing jazz to modern pop. Few would bother to debate that there was any other microphone that had been used more often, or had featured on as many hit records.
It remains an absolute stalwart of quality projects and expected to feature in any serious studios microphone collection.
Here I just wanted to share with you a bit about why at Working VoiceReels we use the Nuemann U87 as our primary talent microphone and why we feel the significant investment is worth it.
Vorsprung durch Technik - Advancement Through Technology
The Neumann U87 is classic German design, their command of the utilitarian, yet with that obsessive passion for detail is why they are broadly considered mastery of taste and purpose. In any picture of an 87 the gravity of the microphone may not be obvious, but in the hand it is weighty and finely finished, every switch designed as if to withstand the rigors of battle, the head basket (wire frame enclosure at the top of the microphone) is tightly and accurately woven, it is not lumpy or crude as I have noticed in many of its imitators. The impression one surely takes away is that of an item not of the domestic world, but that of a mechanical, purposeful one.
The War Years...
Of particular interest is its long history and evolution and that this utilitarian look, it's military style appearance was determined during the second world war,
it was made famous by the German dictator Adolf Hitler.
Hitler can be seen giving speeches through an early relative with what was known as the 'Hitlerflasche' or 'Hitler Bottle' the Neumann CMV3, and was thought to be fundamental in heightening the impact of his speeches, the CMV3 was a microphone that did not just amplify the speaker but was able to put across emotion, something of an abstract concept up until this point.
1940s - 1950s
The heritage of this design can be seen in the late 40's with the updated U47 a more recent relation and somewhat famous for being Frank Sinatras microphone of choice.
While the microphone initially may seem quite different looking to the CMV3, if you were to remove the silver head basket, it would look really rather similar, incidentally if you are wondering, in the picture above the microphone is actually hung upside down, a subject of some debate as to why this was done, the two most probable theories are that this was to limit exposure to the precious capsule from heat generated by the body of the microphone, while others believe it was simply a way to keep the microphone from obscuring the view of a lyric sheet.
Due to the discontinuation of some of the key components of the U47, Neumann were under pressure to deliver a new design that could be used up close, offering a different sound, less emphasis in the mid-range and a more forward tone, this they achieved with the U67.
You may note that the U67 is almost identical to the U87 other than its smaller size but as well it was powered by an external tube based unit, The U67 is a highly valued item and like the U47 can be bought for an eye-watering price tag placing it well beyond the reach of most audio engineers.
The 60's and 70's - A Golden Era of Record Production
Although the U87 was manufactured first in the 1960s it's wartime DNA is still apparent albeit as a slightly more feminised body shape, a shift from its brutal incendiary like appearance yet still clearly born out of a military focused era, an era when items were made to last and made to withstand the rigors of a less comfortable life than we know today. The 87 is a more refined object, tailored to the demands of the music and broadcast industry,
It is this quality that draws the attention of audio engineers and a music industry that requires broadcast grade or commercial equipment where compatibility, preservation of signal and dependability are absolutely key, this industry like TV or Film, is uncompromising in its pursuit of perfection or meeting the high standards before its product can be passed for distribution nationally or globally.
Criticisms leveled at the 87 revolve around it's high price tag and for some its lack of arrogance sonically. It is argued that it is rather plain compared with an emerging trend for ever more punchy, steroidal type recordings.
Not only do I think this is wrong, but probably an ignorant understanding of its transparent nature, however I was once such an engineer who wanted the immediate 'produced' sound that these other microphones offered, I can see why it doesn't turn everyone on, this is probably because in use the U87 is not an especially dazzling microphone to work with, it is not hyped or larger than life but actually very modest and workmanlike, here in is its genius. The quality of this design is in how it captures both a true and authentic image of the voice while still somehow lifting it and giving it a unique mojo. It makes the voice sound both familiar and glamorous and yet still grounded, a very fine balancing act that I have never experienced in anything but a Neumann.
Recording into the Future
The trend microphones come and go, they can either make life very easy or rather difficult depending on how right a choice they were at the beginning, the 87 however encourages the focus to be on the performance and emotion, and responds positively when you are getting that right. As you focus the performance the tone of the microphone comes alive.
What I tend to find when recording a voice with it, is there is a certain space around the performer, a sonic stamp, it seems to draw out the artist in the artist and it does so in an extremely clean and smooth way. It is a microphone that to me is something of an enigma, in comparison to other popular microphones it can in some ways sound thinner and yet is consistently more commanding and weighty.
I'm not sure I can explain this other than it simply being magical. Maybe if I am being more realistic it is perhaps the sound I have grown up with and associate with enduring records, maybe it is because this Neumann sound makes you feel like you are creating history, you are making real records.
The Neumann U87 has been the go to instrument for singers and voice over artists for over half a century now, it is trusted by large recording studios and movie studios the world over.
However from what I can tell via the kit list of many of our competitors, few use a genuine Neumann 87, many get by with the sub £500 priced (some even sub £200) condensers I've touched on that offer a degree of value, yet are the difference to me, between the end result being demos or professional recordings.
While I don't doubt that for the most part these will be adequate for delivering a good reel, I personally want my clients to sound like rock stars, to sound like the people they have heard on their favourite recordings so they can really envision themselves making it and directly competing with their idols.
I hope I have ignited your interest in this fascinating piece of studio history and perhaps that it inspires you to come and sing in to our Neumann U87. Come and find out for yourselves why we love it so much.