Interview with KLAUS
HEYNE (pronounced "Hyna")
by Eddie Ciletti October 2007
Klaus Heyne restores and customizes microphones
at German Masterworks.
He also moderates The
Mic Lab at the ProSoundWeb message board.
EC: How did you get into mic repair
KH: I became a lifer the day, in
the 1970s, when I heard my voice through a good KM54 for the first time:
an undeniably higher level of sensual experience, after which it was impossible
to return back to a status quo ante, and accept life as it was before.
I was hooked. Started to import Neumann tube mics. Made my offerings more
competitive by redesigning circuitry and optimizing capsule performance,
and gradually got calls for improving mics other than the ones I was selling.
Dropped out of selling when I could no longer find enough good mics in
Germany, and started concentrating my energies on improving the very best
mics, regardless of brand.
EC: How long did it take you to
get good at it? (You said that you do things differently now than
earlier in your career)
KH: An example: for 20 years have
I continually tried to improve the sound of my U87 modification. When clients
send me some of the earlier modified mics for service, I recognize, sometimes
with embarrassment, how much closer I have come over the years to getting
a pleasurable sound from this mic.
But "Getting good at it" is a moving target:
as long as my hearing and mental recognition and discrimination continue
to evolve, I hope my work will also continue to improve.
Yet, sometimes "good" or "better" is not
a straight process: "Flavor of the month" and ever-changing production
fads sometimes interfere with my better sense of what sounds good. For
example, I would in the past dial in much more high frequency content in
a mic than I was personally comfortable with, just to make sure the client
was happy. I am now in a much better position to say to that client: What
you want from this mic sounds wrong to me, and I respectfully decline,
because it will reflect badly on my name and my skills.
EC: Did you get help from anyone
(or any specific resources)?
KH: I pretty much started alone,
and on the left bank of the microphone establishment, right from the start.
My insistence that the sex appeal of a mic will always trump any specs
worth considering, obviously did not find acceptance from my lab-coated,
My early and often expressed contention
that, when it comes to good microphone design, if you cannot hear something,
its quantification on a graph does not matter, still irritates and confuses
the microphone establishment.
These days, I rely on a few trusted colleagues
for support and inspiration in my field, among them: Oliver Archut. We
bounce ideas back and forth weekly, he sends me transformer prototypes,
considers my suggestions and often shares his ideas how to improve microphones,
revive the art of good tubes, how to uncover obsolete raw materials...We
recently held an AES Master class in New York that was very enjoyable,
just alone for the respect and trust we have for each other. Brad Lunde
of Transaudio has for many years given me good insight into how microphones
should be marketed in an ethical and truthful way. In general, I do best
with the kind of professionals who dare to trust, rather than hedge their
But, as I mention under "pet peeves", itís
mostly a lonely job, and more suited to individuals comfortable to work
alone, than gregarious Eurocentric luddites like me. Yet I feel lucky and
proud to have kind and respectful relationships with manufacturers, modifiers
and sales professionals, bar none.
EC: Who are the people (customers
and other technically savvy folk) you really count on for their ears or
KH: Leslie Ann Jones (Skywalker
Sound), the producer Jon Brion, the engineer Al Schmitt, the scoring engineer
Shawn Murphy, and many other less well known, but equally passionate listeners
give me valuable input into the results of my work, which I then compare
to my own impressions at the time the mic left here. In the end clients'
impressions and my own mostly overlap, and through that affirmation my
microphones get better. I also often call clients after a few weeks, and
ask them to share their impressions. That helps me to calibrate my esthetics
against a larger body of professional users.
EC: Who are the technicians you
really respect in our biz? This might also include people who do work that
you don't. For example, I understand that you do some capsule tweaks,
but you most likely rely on - have preferences for - certain capsule manufacturer
and/or restoration services. You're welcome to associate (connect)
a name with a particularly fine service.
KH: Every single manufacturer aiming
for high quality microphones (and not just for an easy buck) deserves respect,
even just for the fact that they all try so hard, while the Big Boys have
dropped the ball. Most likely, the new flagship mics will come from one
of these boutique shops, rather than a transnational consumer goods conglomerate.
Dirk Braunerís philosophy of Ďless is moreí
was instrumental in my decision to develop the Brauner-KHE with him. David
Bock has singular passion for new design ideas, which also may come to
fruition. Oliver Archut has single-handedly revived the art of transformers,
which are vital for a good sounding mic. David Josephson has an encyclopedic
knowledge of technical matters that he shares freely.
I will drop everything to sing high praise
for the new master(s) of the most elusive, artistic and secretive of all
the skills in our field: new capsule manufacturing. In the meantime, hats
off to Neumann for unerringly sticking to the same old three capsule designs
that have made them famous, and, thankfully, without changing a thing!
And, while I am generally under whelmed by most of the current independent
capsule providers, Herbert Haun in Germany excels.
EC: What are the challenges you
face, in terms of getting good parts (tubes, FETs capsules)
KH: Electronic component manufacturers
do not pay much attention to esoteric parts for professional audio equipment.
But, as I use a relatively small number of high quality components, parts
are still relatively easy to obtain, either through surplus dealers or
from boutique manufacturers where they can be very expensive.
I wish someone would invest a few dedicated
years of his life to revive the AKG CK12 capsule. I still have some stock
left, but itís not getting any better or more with the years.
Tubes currently pose the only truly insurmountable
dilemma for me: Russian, Chinese and central-European tubes made today
are unsuitable for high quality condenser mics, because of their inferior
sound, lack of quality control and durability. As a consequence, I will
not install any currently made tube in any of my work. And my NOS supply
EC: What is the range of time you
might spend on a microphone?
KH: A U87 modification will take
me about 3 days: Day 1- assembly, Day 2- fine tuning and
making all parts work in synergy, Day 3- questioning what I did
on Day 2, and refining my work further, or starting over from scratch.
On the other end of the range would be
the full restoration of a Telefunken ELA M251: 1 week to glue all the broken
plastic parts together, 3 days to restore/upgrade amp, capsule, power supply
and cabling, 1-2 weeks to fine tune the capsuleís front side, and then
one more week to wait for the tube to sputter, or some other AKG gremlins
to raise their heads.
EC: Do you have a non-audio hobby
or does it consume all of your time?
My motto: Thou shalt not be consumed by
microphones! I have always felt much more fulfilled playing music with
friends or in a professional band than I could ever feel as shoeshine boy
to the stars.
I will often push aside microphone work
because I love to repair essentially any broken household goods that my
family tosses my way: "Papa can you fix this ($2.- plastic sword)?" I go
at it with a zen-approach: "letís see what the absolutely best adhesive
and gluing sequence for this job would be..." I also love to spend
time outdoors to reduce some of the pressures of my work life - I live
on acreage in the Columbia Gorge, and frequently make time for felling
trees, riding the tractor, mowing the field...
EC: how many employees do you have?
KH: None, yet, but it may not be
I recently sat my 5 1/2 year old son down
and said: Listen, if you want to learn a job where people are always nice
to you, wait patiently for years, pay you enough to feed, shelter an clothe
you, a job, where you can take naps every day, take a day off, or two,
and greet the Fed Ex man in your pajamas at three in the afternoon, I may
have something for you! And, guess what else: you would be the only
person in the whole wide world to whom I would tell all the secrets
I know about microphones!
He was mildly amused.
EC: do you have a pet peeve - something
that really bugs you?
KH: I mainly have two:
EC: Are your customers patient?
The direction in which Neumann has been heading
ever since giving up the claim to the throne of making the best microphones
in the world. (Do I even have to mention what happened to AKG?) Neumannís
bullheaded idea that the world is ready for digital processor mics just
isnít the direction recording professionals seem to be looking in at the
How much better microphones would we be able
to buy by now, if we would share our specialized knowledge a bit more with
each other, pass it on to our colleagues as we get older, publish what
we know; in general, act with less fear of getting ripped off and deprived
of a living- as if there wasnít enough individualized work around for all
of us for centuries!
KH: If there was one aspect of my
job as gratifying as trying to make microphones sound more pleasant, itís
the endless, good-natured patience of my customers. Itís been years since
anyone expressed annoyance or frustration (at least to my face!) about
my long waiting list. I feel lucky to be in a field where everybody treats
me with courtesy and respect, and have never taken my good fortune for
EC: Thank you, Klaus! This
was fun for me.
J.J. Blair's 2007 Interview with Klaus
Bruce Borgerson's Interview with Klaus