Interview with David Josephson and Kelly Kay of Josephson Engineering
by Eddie Ciletti
october 2007

Josephson 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 and testing.

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 tech work?

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 users.

EC: Do you provide any repair or restoration services?

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 Engineeringís 20th year as a manufacturer.)

EC: OR recommend others to do that work?

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. Whatís 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 todayís 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 issues.

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? Thatís 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 all day long, every day. Dissect? Sure, as neededÖ 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: Iíd love to see a list of your faves.

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!