Interview with David
Josephson and Kelly Kay of Josephson Engineering
by Eddie Ciletti
Engineering designs microphones and capsules from the brass up.
EC: I am writing an article about
"modern" craftsmanship relative to what are considered classic microphones.
What differences do you see between then and now?
JE: Keep in mind that a C12 or U47
sold for $600~$800 in 1960 and would probably have to sell for more than
$15,000 in today's market, the way the value of money has gone down and
companies' expenditures on marketing and sales infrastructure have increased.
People don't want to spend that kind of money. Modern knowledge and technology
goes toward making things more cheaply. Many companies choose to do that
in order to maximize their sales volume, which is the most important to
them. We have made a different choice and choose to push modern technology
toward making better mics.
EC: Does your company do specialty
work that might fall outside the category of "audio recording gear."
JE: We do consulting, generally
in special applications of microphones, mostly for applications other than
speech and music. We usually do a few of these of these projects a year.
It helps to keep our chops up and our skills current. Microphone and OEM
capsule manufacturing definitely comes first though.
EC: Can you list approximately how
many capsule styles you make in-house?
JE: Right now six on a production
basis, three entirely 100% from scratch (models 11, 12 and 37) plus variants,
and lots of others that we have made experimentally.
EC: Does in house mean entirely?
JE: Besides those three, the
e22S has one important outside part. The C42 capsule is a mix of OEM and
in house parts as is the C550. We always do all of our own final assembly
EC: What sort of things are out-sourced?
(I understand you'd want to keep your suppliers confidential.)
JE: We have most of our pc board
assembly done a few blocks away, leaving any critical assembly to be done
in house. Most of our machining is done out of house, mostly within a 30
min drive. Today this involves six different precision machinists, each
of whom does something they do really better than anyone else - and none
of them makes microphone parts for anyone else. We don't do our own plating
either. In most cases we actually have a good face-to-face long term working
relationship with our manufacturing partners.
EC: How many people on staff do
JE: 5 of the 6 people who work here
EC: Do you do all your own testing?
JE: Yes, acoustic, electronic, RF,
and mechanical. We have a significant amount of equipment for thorough
test here. More than one visitor has told us that we have more than expected
based on other facilities they visited. Our three principals all have significant
histories with other, larger, manufacturing companies in instrumentation
and pro audio, and so do our tech/assembly employees.
We take our testing very seriously relative
to the "best efforts" we have learned in our collective pasts. If a customer
buys any of our microphones we want them to be able to buy another of the
same model that is functionally the same at any later date with out worries.
Without good testing facilities, and a thorough understanding of the underlying
physics, no one can reliably provide that.
David Josephson has been the chair of the
AES Standards Committee Working Group on Microphone Characterization since
it was started in 1996, and that's the only group that is pushing the envelope
on microphone testing. There are about a dozen serious pro audio microphone
makers in the world, and nearly all of them actively participate in this
group, trying to understand testing and characterization a little better.
We learn a lot from each other - we've done a couple of "round robin" tests
where we send our products around to all the other manufacturers to see
that we get comparable results. The situation is improving.
EC: Who do you particularly respect
in the world of microphone designers?
DJ: Edward Wente (Bell Labs, 1917,
invented the condenser microphone) and the group at AKG that developed
the CK12. We really don't know exactly who this is. The 1954 Austrian patent
doesn't mention any names. Some accounts mention Konrad Wolf, certainly
Dr. Rudolf Göricke was involved, some other accounts mention "two
Siemens engineers," and I think Bernhard Weingartner, subsequently founder
of Neutrik, developed the most-admired version of the capsule.
KK: I concur. The original CK12
team is my #1 choice given where they fit in the scope of achievement and
where they sit on the time line.
EC: Pet peeves?
KK: In pro audio? None really. I
use to have many but I had preconceived notions of "what was right" based
on my own needs/history. As time goes on I am really beginning to understand
why things have arrived at the place they are now. Some "things" make lots
of sense and others seem primarily to serve people's desires more than
any functional need, but even that is very important.
DJ: Not really a peeve, but a frustration
- people are sometimes very focused on picking the right microphone for
the task, and of course we're happy to teach them why ours would be the
best choice (except when it's not). But too often, people have unrealistic
expectations of what a microphone can do, when they would be better off
putting energy into improving their playing or their acoustical environment.
We've all tried to make good recordings in un-improvable places, though,
so we feel their pain.
Learning a little bit about acoustics and
perception is difficult, and very important. We devote 4 times more brain
power to acoustic processing than we do to visual processing, and the idea
that you can trick the brain into being part of a reproduced acoustical
experience with just two or even 5.1 electronic channels with speakers
is really a leap of faith. If people understood what they wanted microphones
to do just a little better, it would make them more knowledgeable microphone
EC: Do you provide any repair or
JE: No. We are a manufacturer. If
we work on something it is our own so it is "repair" work regardless of
how old the microphone is (next year is Josephson Engineering’s 20th year
as a manufacturer.)
EC: OR recommend others to do that
JE: Honestly, we know a good number
of the folks who do this and we'll get more frowns for those we don't name
than smiles for those we do name. Our first recommendation is always to
send the microphone back to its maker. Electronic repairs on microphones
can be done by most competent audio techs, but repairs to capsules require
a level of testing and knowledge of the "correct" performance for a given
mic, that few individuals have.
EC: I know that David is on the
Microphone Standards committee. What’s that about?
KK: DJ is on the standards committee because
he cares, and the standards committee (mostly engineers) care that we can't
knowingly make a fair comparison between two mics based on today’s spec
sheets. A lot of that has to do with loosely defined rules for deriving
and presenting specs - its a mix of politics, marketing, and engineering
EC: What do you want people to know
most about Josephson Engineering?
KK: We really like our jobs, particularly
being able to make microphones for a living. And, we know we only have
the opportunity to do this thanks to our customers and dealers, as well
as extra help from others (like you) in "getting the word out." We really
do appreciate everyone's support and hope to keep on the same path we been
on for the last 19 years... as long as the support from others permits
us to do so. Thank you!!!!
DJ: That we're really focused on
pushing the state of the art as far as we can. We have a number of microphone
ideas in development and prototype phases that are entirely different from
what has gone before. We could be growing a lot faster if we wanted to
tailor what we make to maximize volume. Lots of companies do that, and
some of them do it really well - a small company can't.
Frankly it was a goal of mine from the
beginning to make better microphones than anyone else did. I wasn't sure
that it would be possible, given the experience base of companies that
have been doing it for 75 years. But, we have the advantage of being right
next to Silicon Valley (after being in Silicon Valley for 12 years),
where we can tap all sorts of advanced technologies.
EC: Oh yeah, do you guys have hobbies
(outside of the audio domain)?
KK: No joke, we laughed about this
one! This may sound corny but here it goes... MICS!!!! :)
That probably applies to all 3 of us. We can be the most successful doing
what we truly enjoy, right? So we are giving it our best shot.
We all really like music too, but big surprise, eh?
EC: So, do you guys collect mics,
KK: Absolutely!! We all own plenty
of mics. David J and Dave Gordon have more diverse assortments than I,
they are both 10 years older and had more time and $$$. Mine are 90% Shure
but lots of cool first run development team stuff in my collection.
EC: So, do you guys LISTEN to these
mics (or just collect them)?
KK: What? That’s really funny Eddie!
DG and I were recently talking about a Console maker that thought they
didn't need to listen to their console before they released it and they
went down like a rock. The ears are the final word.
EC: So, do you talk about these
mics? Dissect them? Are there any common threads?
KK: Talk, about mics? We do that
day long, every day. Dissect? Sure, as needed… There are some pretty strong
themes that run as constants and can be spotted. Lots of copy cat stuff
kinda like Led Zeppelin ripping off all the old blues guys and calling
the "new" songs that they concocted from the old stolen ones their own.
EC: I’d love to see a list of your
KK: My fave, that is not ours, is
the Neumann KM84. Sennheiser MKH80 is pretty nice too.
EC: Thanks guys!
JE: You bet! And thank you!
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