Inside our microphone cabinet: the Neumann U47

Is there a more revered microphone than the Neumann U47? Prized for its incredibly detailed and buttery smooth sound, the U47 is without a doubt one of the best microphones in the world. When we talk about providing our students with industry-standard equipment, we don’t just mean the latest digital technology (although we have that, too). Here’s why the U47 became such a legendary mic, and why we’re extremely fortunate to have one at Abbey Road Institute…

The Neumann U47: A legend is born

The Neumann U47 was introduced to the world at the Berliner Funkausstellung (Berlin Radio Show) in 1947. Yes, that’s where the “47” comes from! According to Vintage King, the “U” indicates that it uses a plug-in style amplifier tube. It was the very first microphone designed by Georg Neumann. Incidentally, Telefunken was the distributor for Neumann microphones, so some U47s ended up with a Neumann badge, others with a Telefunken badge (and were sometimes called a “Telly”. Certainly Frank Sinatra did). They are the exact same microphone.

Whether it was by chance or necessity, the combination of components used in the original U47 came together in perfect harmony to give the microphone its legendary sound.

The U47 sound

Some people attribute the sound of the U47 to its large grille, which creates subtle analogue distortion at all the right frequencies. Most likely, it’s the circuit design. The first U47s came with an M7 capsule made out of PVC. This was replaced by a Mylar-based K47 capsule in later models. Each has a different sound, though which one is “best” is a subjective choice!

If we had to choose one component that can claim full responsibility for the U47 sound, it would have to be the VF14 valve (or tube). This valve was only produced for a few short years before Neumann made its last order for them in 1958.

There is nothing standard about the VF14 valve. In fact, it probably couldn’t be replicated with today’s electrical equipment safety regulations! There have been many attempts, and some have come close, but there’s nothing like the original to an engineer’s ear. Today, an original VF14 valve would set you back at least £3,000, and the price is only going to go up as the ones that remain break. And an original microphone? Well, you’re probably looking at upwards of £15,000…

Legendary mic from a legendary studio

So how did we get our hands on such an amazing microphone? Georg Neumann GmbH was founded in 1928, just a few years before Abbey Road Studios opened its doors. Unlike today, there weren’t hundreds of microphone manufacturers to choose from at the time. Abbey Road Studios liked the sound of Neumann microphones and stocked its cabinets with them. They very quickly became the engineers’ favourites. George Martin in particular was a huge fan of the U47; you can hear it on almost every Beatles track.

Most importantly, Abbey Road Studios’ microphone collection has been under the care of Lester Smith for the last 50 years. Combining amazing electrical engineering skills with a little bit of wizardry, there are very few things Lester can’t fix. He’s also developed some top-secret tricks for bringing VF14 valves back to life but don’t bother asking him what they are, he’s not telling…

Thanks to our relationship with Abbey Road Studios, Abbey Road Institute students have the opportunity to use the legendary U47 microphone on their recordings, and judge its sound for themselves.

Ready to record with some of the most sought-after mics in the industry? Check out our Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering, or contact us for more information.