The Neumann U67 Tube Condenser Microphone
The Greatest and Most Influential Microphone Ever Created
The Neumann U67 is perhaps the greatest and most influential microphone ever produced. It was first introduced in 1960 and gave us the sounds of the Golden Age of Music. Image courtesy-- Neumann GMBH
How do we judge whether or not a microphone is considered to be the greatest and most influential of all time? Do we judge this microphone by its longevity, or durability? Do we judge it by how it sounds on a variety of sources? Do we judge it by the number or even the popularity of the many artists and musicians who have used it for their recordings over time? Or, should we judge a microphone by the influence that it has had on the development of subsequent microphones? Perhaps. However, I would argue that one microphone deserves the moniker of the greatest of all time not just because it has addressed each of the questions above, but, in the case of this particular microphone, it has also done something even more profound. I would argue that the greatest microphone of all time has influenced how people around the world listen to music and has helped to define what good music is supposed to sound like to the consumers of this gigantic industry that has influenced the development of our global popular culture. Can just one single microphone have had such an influence upon all of us as connoisseurs of both music and therefore popular culture, as well? I would argue that one microphone has had just such an influence, such that owning just a single version of this microphone today should define what a serious recording studio facility either is— or, is not.
This microphone first made its appearance in 1960, just as popular music was entering into its golden age, and perhaps more than any other device captured the memorable performances of this era in the history of popular music until the company which produced it, first ceased the production of it in 1971. It sounds almost perfect on any source— vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, electric guitar amps, and even drum overheads. In fact, it may well have defined what we think of as the ideal sound for each of those sources. From 1960-1971, it was used on legendary sessions by the greatest artists of the era, such as the Beatles, the Rollings Stones, Glen Campbell, the Temptations, and Led Zeppelin. It directly influenced the development of the Neumann U87, perhaps the most recognizable microphone of all time and the ultimate Swiss-army knife microphone of any mic locker in any serious recording studio facility around the world today. It is the microphone which influenced how we think of great sounding music from the era which gave us the seminal moments of rock and roll, a modern revival in jazz, the growth of early heavy metal, a renaissance in popular film scores, and tremendous experimentation in both popular music and the technologies that evolved during the period to record it. The greatest and most influential microphone of all-time is none other than the Neumann U67.
The development of the Neumann U67 was influenced by the advances in recording technologies which occurred rapidly after the Second World War. Image courtesy-- Neumann GMBH
To discuss how the Neumann U67 came to be the greatest microphone ever produced, we have to first step back in time to understand both the evolution in recording technology and the historical forces that lead to its development. To do this, believe it or not, we actually have to step all the way back to the end of the Second World War. At that time, what we think of as analog recording technology was truly in its infancy and the Neumann microphone company which had built microphones for radio broadcasting and film applications beginning in 1928, before the war, found itself located in a post-war Germany that was divided by the victorious former Allied powers who now stood against one another in the bitter standoff of the Cold War, at its conclusion. In 1949, the Neumann microphone company created its first legendary microphone that would be used for recording popular music— the U47. We have to understand that at the time, there was only mono, or single track recording, so a microphone would have to be able to record a wide variety of sources in a single live room, including the vocalist, of course, extremely well. In fact, the first application for the U47 and later, it sister microphone, the M49, was to record orchestral arrangements, vocalists, and sound for film. It was only as popular music transitioned from Broadway show tunes and swing to early rockabilly, and vinyl record sales began to soar to teenage audiences by the mid-1950s, that the U47 and M49 became used for recording such artists as Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Buddy Holly and the Crickets. However, as recording technologies evolved and stereo recording emerged— along with the development of the first recording consoles and large-scale multitrack analog tape machines— it became clear that microphone technology would have to evolve, as well. It was not only the emergence of new technologies that led to the development of the greatest microphone of all time, but, also, fate intervened, too, as the coveted VF-14 tube which was at the heart of the venerable U47 came to be in such short supply that Neumann was forced to stop their production of the microphone all-together by 1965.
In its place, a new microphone emerged that would change the nature of recording music forever. The new microphone would have to do everything that the U47 and M49 could do: recording orchestras, vocals, and instrumentation in live rooms and on stages— but, it would have to do something else that was revolutionary and for which it was the first microphone of its caliber ever to be designed for just such a purpose— it would have to be able to be used in closer proximity to a greater variety of sound sources than any microphone ever conceived— up to that time. In summation, the birth of multi-track recording had necessitated the development of a microphone that could be used to record both multiple and singular instrument and vocal sources, and for the first time, isolated sources at close proximity, too. Originally, as conceived, the microphone took the designation U60 after the year in which it was developed (1960), but, in order to show continuity in their product lines as the successor microphone to the U47, the microphone was dubbed the U67— largely for marketing purposes. From this historical backdrop, the incomparable Neumann U67 was born and made its debut in recording studio and broadcast facilities in 1960.
From the beginning, the U67 had to be able to do more than the legendary microphone models which came before it and so much more. Image courtesy-- Neumann GMBH
The Neumann U67 was originally produced from 1960-1971, and from the beginning it was built to be both durable and a microphone that would last for a lifetime. It is a true testament to the durability of the vintage U67 microphone models that can be found in recording studios today that range from fifty to sixty-one years of age, that it is extremely rare to find one that is not in pristine working condition. The reasons for this are varied: first— studio technicians take excellent care of venerable microphones; second— though the U67 is still used for a wide variety of applications in major recording studios, it is rare that an engineer would put such a venerable microphone in a situation that would compromise its integrity or would allow for its components to be damaged; and last, but, not least— the U67 is actually relatively easy to take care of despite the age of a vintage specimen due to the fact that it was designed with durability in mind from the beginning. I worked at Curb Recording Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, for a year in 1998-1999 and we had a pair of U67 microphones, both, of which, I handled quite a bit over the course of that year and on subsequent visits for eleven years afterward and it always struck me just how durable they actually were to handle.
The Neumann U67 was originally produced from 1960-1971, and from the beginning it was built to be both durable and a microphone that would last for a lifetime. It is a true testament to the durability of the vintage U67 microphone models that can be found in recording studios today that range from fifty to sixty-one years of age, that it is extremely rare to find one that is not in pristine working condition. The reasons for this are varied: first— studio technicians take excellent care of venerable microphones; second— though the U67 is still used for a wide variety of applications in major recording studios, it is rare that an engineer would put such a venerable microphone in a situation that would compromise its integrity or would allow for its components to be damaged; and last, but, not least— the U67 is actually relatively easy to take care of despite the age of a vintage specimen due to the fact that it was designed with durability in mind from the beginning. I worked at Curb Recording Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, for a year in 1998-1999 and we had a pair of U67 microphones, both, of which, I handled quite a bit over the course of that year and on subsequent visits for eight years afterward and it always struck me just how durable they actually were to handle.
On the inside, the Neumann U67 is engineered with unparalleled craftsmanship and precision to detail. Image courtesy-- Neumann GMBH
As a microphone, the U67 was built with classical interior circuitry and components. The tube power supply, was lighter, but, yet, extremely durable just like those of either the U47, or the M49 models that we had in the studio. Though I will discuss it in a moment, the U67 was also built to be durable and this quality would continue with its replacement, the venerable U87. In handling both the U67 and the original U87 capsules, the U67 is slightly heftier. It would be extremely foolish and dangerous to say the least, to drop any microphone of the caliber of a U67 or a U87, but, having worked in recording studio facilities in Austin, Los Angeles, and throughout the Nashville metro area, I have seen specimens with significant dings that are also still operating with their original brilliance. Considering that an original U67 specimen would have to be at least fifty years old, this is in no doubt due to the craftsmanship, the components, and the design of the microphone. The chief reason for this design was that the U67 was crafted for the intent of close miking sources in a wide variety of recording applications and therefore, it had to be smaller, more durable, and more capable of delivering in situations that a U47, or M49 would never have been placed into before by engineers, producers, and experimental musicians.
The Neumann U67 has influenced the design and function of just about every single microphone that is produced for the purpose of recording popular music in the modern era. Image courtesy-- Neumann GMBH
The design and longevity of the U67 would have another consequence, as it would be the true beginning of the most important microphone in any locker in any major recording studio in the world— the large diaphragm condenser microphone of the modern era. It was truly the first microphone to feature many of the hallmarks of the modern large condenser microphone, including: a revolutionary new capsule, the use of a new material (mylar) in the capsule membrane, a new grille housing, a new cutoff filter and pad switch, a new and smaller glass vacuum tube, and a new tapered body that was easier to service and could be opened easily without special tools. Though it was not the first large diaphragm microphone to do so, the U67 incorporated a feature that was introduced with the U48— three switchable polar patterns (cardiod, omni, and figure-of-eight). Although the U67 was recently re-issued to the excitement of the music recording community and to great fanfare just a couple of years ago, the influence this microphone has had due to its design and longevity can be seen in both Neumann and its competitors, who since 1971 have designed microphones that can trace their lineage— all of them, to the U67. From the Neumann microphone company alone, one can draw a straight line from the U67 to the development of the U77, U87, U87ai, U89, TLM-67, TLM-102, TLM-103, TLM-127, TLM-170, and the TLM-193. There were also direct variations of the U67 that were produced by Neumann with differing designations, too, from 1962 to the present, including: the M269, M367, SM69, QM69, and the USM69 FET. Truly, the U67, due to both its longevity and durability has had a huge impact on the development of the large diaphragm condenser microphone and today, it has not just spawned a re-issue from Neumann itself, but, also, a variety of clone models from such companies as ADK, Peluso, Warm Audio, and Wunder Audio, as well. Even the new digital modeling microphone models from such companies as Townshend Labs, Slate Digital, and Antelope Audio, among others, prominently advertise that they are capable of modeling the sound of a vintage U67 microphone. But, the U67 does not just set itself apart as the greatest microphone ever created due to the durability and longevity of its design, because for any microphone, the full measure of its greatness comes down to one critical element— how it sounds in the studio.
The Neumann U67 is a unique microphone. It does not sound like any other microphone, though the U87 does share some similar characteristics with it. A Neumann U67 can be best described as delivering a full-bodied, smooth, and even creamy sound to whatever source you put in front of it. In other words, it is that microphone which can deliver both a smooth and accurate representation or image of just about any sound source. The U67 is commonly used on piano, drum overheads, acoustic guitar, and both lead and background vocals. Though it has a lower SPL tolerance than subsequent microphones in the Neumann family, such as the U87 for example, the U67 can deliver astonishing results if placed on an electric guitar cabinet or even on a bass amp. The U67 excels on stringed instruments— acoustic guitars, violins, mandolins, and even cellos, or upright basses. In my own personal experience, I saw engineers most commonly using the U67 on grand pianos, and it is easy to hear the reason for this— the U67 can give a dynamic instrument a smooth, creamy quality that no other microphone before or since could ever do. I have seen the U67 used on drum overheads, and it gives the same characteristic full-bodied smoothness to the entirety of the drum kit that will benefit an entire mix, even before processing. A pair of U67s as drum overhead microphones will add definition to both the sound of the snare and the kick drum, while taming the shrillness of the cymbals in your stereo image.
The U67 also shines on vocals. My producer used the U67 exclusively on every single background singer in each of our recording sessions and it is easy to understand why. The U67 adds presence, depth, and dimension to a vocal in a way that few microphones have ever been able to do before, or since its inception. One characteristic of the U67 that I have found unique is that it can fit almost any voice or performance quite well. It is an exceptional microphone on lead vocals and has been a staple for some of the greatest singers in the history of recorded music. It is the perfect microphone for character voices— a singer who does not have an exceptional vocal range, but, that produces hit songs based on the originality of their voice.The U67 also has the unique quality of being able to smoothen the sibilance from a vocal performance while retaining the full-bodied sonic characteristics of their voice.
For those who have never used a U67, it is a tube condenser microphone and after connecting all of the components of the microphone system, you should allow the microphone at least a few minutes to warm up prior to initiating a performance with it. It is my experience that if you have used a newer condenser microphone from the Neumann family, such as the TLM-102— which is also, a wonderful microphone in its own right, that the U67 tends to not be quite as bright and to have slightly less gain than that particular microphone. With a U67, think of a microphone that is smooth and delivers both a creamy and rich sonic palette for the listener. The U67 will deliver in just about any recording situation and quickly become the most valuable player in any mic locker. If you have listened to popular music from 1960 to 2020, you have heard the U67 used on the greatest hits of every generation, but, it made its first mark in the Golden Age of Music from 1960-1975, and as I will argue at the conclusion of this essay— changed the very nature of the way that we hear and think of the sound of great music.
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Above-- a link to YouTube and the Beatles rooftop concert performance of January 30, 1969. Notice the use of the Neumann U67 microphones in the footage. This link is external and not affiliated with this website.
To find the Neumann U67 in the Golden Age of Music, just look at the photo galleries from the famous recording sessions of the era and you will see it being used in sessions by the greatest acts in the history of recorded music, including: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Temptations, Glen Campbell, and Led Zeppelin. Prior to authoring this essay, I was watching a video on Youtube of the final live performance by the Beatles on the rooftop of their Apple Corporation building on January 30, 1969. In the video, the group is performing the song, “Don’t Let Me Down,” and even just a casual observer can notice it— there are U67 microphones utilized throughout the performance. The U67 is used on John Lennon and George Harrison’s electric guitar amplifiers, Paul McCartney’s bass cabinet, and most prominently, there is a single one that is placed above Ringo Starr’s drum kit. Aside from the vocals, almost every single instrument in the performance from the greatest musical act in the history of recorded music is heard through the use of U67 microphones. If casual observers are wondering— both in photographs and footage from the Beatles final sessions from the years 1967-1970, the microphone that is seen quite often— whether on acoustic guitar, bass or electric guitar cabinets, or even on the piano, is almost always a U67. On one of the greatest hit songs of all-time from the Beatles in this era, “Hey Jude,” (1968), it is a U67 that you hear on Paul McCartney’s lead vocal. It is this period that critics of popular music and historians of the subject often regard as containing some of the greatest musical work in both style and substance from the greatest act in musical history and much of it was captured through the use of U67 microphones in their sessions from that era.
If you study the photographs and footage of this entire era in the history of recording music, you will see other prominent artists using U67 microphones, too, and you can hear it in their music. One of the greatest songs ever recorded is the hit single by the Temptations, “My Girl,” which was released in late 1964, but, it would hit number-one on the music charts in early 1965 and became an instant classic. On “My Girl,” the Temptations lead vocalist at that time, the soulful David Ruffin, is singing through a U67, and the background harmonies that you hear from the other members of the group are also being sung through a pair of U67 microphones. One of the top-selling artists of this period was actually Glen Campbell, with such hits as, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and “Wichita Lineman.” In every image of Glen Campbell in a recording studio session from 1967-1970, the artist is playing an acoustic guitar and singing through a U67 at Capitol Recording Studios. A trio of U67 microphones were used to record the Simon and Garfunkel album— Live From New York City- 1967. In the footage from their 1968 and 1969 sessions, including from Sympathy for the Devil, U67 microphones are ever-present in the recording sessions with the Rolling Stones and was the vocal microphone for their legendary frontman during this period— Mick Jagger. In fact, the vast majority of the most-played and requested songs from the Rolling Stones that are performed at their concerts to this very day are songs that come from this period in the life of the band— in which the U67 featured prominently in each of their recording sessions. In their early recording sessions, U67 microphones can also be found being used to record the legendary band, Led Zeppelin. But, perhaps the greatest endorsement for the microphone came from the lead singer of the musical group, Looking Glass, Elliot Lurie, who, in recalling the recording sessions for their famous and memorable number-one hit single in 1972, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” lavished praise on it— in his own words referring to it as singing on a beautiful, Neumann U67— a great microphone in a great studio. A pair of U67 microphones were also used to record one of the top-selling jazz albums of all-time, Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert in 1975.
Below, the Neumann U67 in the beautiful flight case in which it is housed. Image courtesy-- Neumann GMBH
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Above-- a link to YouTube and the legendary recording studio engineer, Al Schmitt, discussing the history of the Neumann U67 and his love for the incomparable microphone from Neumann at a Westlake Audio proSession. This link is external and not affiliated with this website.
When those of us who love popular music and film think of great music, we tend to think of the period in history that produced such acts as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin, and perhaps the California sound and the Motown sound of the era, which is why it is often referred to as the Golden Age of Music. During that period, the technologies used to record music evolved tremendously, such that from 1960 to 1980— consoles, outboard gear, and even analog multi-track machines grew in both scope and capability. But, during that period, one aspect of music recording remained a constant, the use of the U67 to record the greatest music of the period. Even today, more than fifty years after the last U67 was handcrafted in a small Neumann factory and long before the microphone was re-issued with painstaking attention to detail, those of us who were educated to work in sound for music and film production, were often taught to use as a benchmark that what sounds ideal from a recording session comes almost straight from that thin slice in musical history from 1960-1975. This formative period gave us the ideal drum sound, the ideal acoustic guitar sound, the ideal sound of a grand piano, the ideal sound of a guitar cabinet, and of course— vocals and background harmonies from this era are among the most revered recordings to be taught and for even the general public, to be listened to and enjoyed.
The standard for musical greatness was fashioned from the recordings which came from this era. But, it was an era in which console technology was— at best— compared to the desks that were produced after 1975, quite primitive. In fact, the first great large-scale consoles such as the Trident A-Range did not make an appearance until the final U67 was produced in 1971. The venerable Neve 8068 console did not appear in recording studios until 1976. Although outboard gear and processing would eventually come from the early Neve, Trident, Helios, and custom-made consoles of the era— and those made by companies like API, for example— for the most part, the ability for engineers to carry around racks of fantastic sounding outboard gear did not appear until the 1980s. For an engineer working on a recording session in 1968 for example, outboard gear did exist, such as the venerable Fairchild 660 and 670 units and those compressor/limiter models such as the LA-2A that was built by Teletronix— known today as Universal Audio. But— dynamics processing, equalization, and reverb- each of which, engineers in recording studios that now have access to plug-in software technologies which can virtually emulate any piece of vintage gear or microphones from the period— were all very primitive in 1968. By 1968, for the first time, eight-track analog recording machines were in existence, but, even the Beatles, to record the classic hit-song, “Hey Jude,” had to go to Trident Recording Studios in London, because it was the only recording studio facility at the time which was in close proximity that possessed one. If each of the technologies that we take for granted in recording studio facilities today were in their infancy in 1968, then what was the technology that made the recordings from the greatest and most definitive era in music recording possible? It was the microphone technology and at its heart was the Neumann U67.
The Neumann U67 defined for us the ideal sound that we try to achieve in recording musical sources to this very day, even in the era in which we find ourselves in at the present time. When we listen to great music, we expect to hear 1968. We expect to hear an acoustic guitar which sounds as if it were played by Glen Campbell, a piano or bass guitar as played by Paul McCartney, an electric guitar sound as if it came from the amplifier of George Harrison, or the sound of a drum kit as played by Ringo Starr, or the late Charlie Watts, or later, in the early 1970s— John Bonham. We revel in hearing the soul of a singer such as David Ruffin, or the beautiful blended harmonies of the Temptations. As we hear the natural sounding vocal of a storyteller, such as Elliot Lurie of Looking Glass in the hit-song, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” we naturally believe as connoisseurs of popular culture that this is how every lead vocal on every song should sound to us. What we believe to be great music and how it should sound, therefore, came to be defined by the sounds of the era which gave them to us. And the microphone that reproduced those sounds of great music for all of us to listen to for generations to come and to enjoy— was none other than the Neumann U67.
Above, the Neumann U67, a microphone that has been used to record the greatest music of all time. Image courtesy-- Neumann GMBH
Owning a Neumann U67 can take a small recording facility from being just another home studio and put it on the pathway to being a serious recording studio. Since 1971, owning a Neumann U67 was usually just reserved for major recording studio and broadcast facilities or elite music producers. In 1992, Neumann briefly re-issued the microphone with a limited production run of a few hundred units. But in 2018, the Neumann microphone company completely re-issued the U67 microphone to the enthusiasm of engineers, producers, and audiophiles, alike. While vintage U67 models can fetch as much as $11,000 USD or more, a brand-new model will now cost about $7,000 USD, a more than reasonable price for the greatest microphone ever produced. It is not, however, a clone or just a modernized version of the vintage U67, it is an authentic U67. In every detail, Neumann has once again painstakingly taken the time to give us the gift of the greatest microphone ever produced. If I am ever fortunate enough to be able to develop my own recording studio facility and fulfill a lifelong dream of mine— the first piece of gear I will purchase for it will be a microphone— a Neumann U67.
For more information about the Neumann U67, please visit the website of Neumann GMBH. Once at the site, you will find that this company has produced some of the greatest microphones in the history of sound recording.
The Neumann U67 is perhaps the greatest and most influential microphone ever produced. It was first introduced in 1960 and gave us the sounds of the Golden Age of Music. Today, the great people at Neumann have lovingly and painstakingly re-issued the classic Neumann U67 to the delight of engineers, producers and people who love music around the world. Image courtesy-- Neumann GMBH
If you wish to listen to either a vintage or a brand new Neumann U67 Tube Condenser Microphone in action, click the blue button to watch the video on YouTube. This link is external and not affiliated with this website.
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Special Thanks and Acknowledgement
I would like to take a moment to thank Mr. Jonathan Ruest for his time, energy and important contributions to the development of this article about the Neumann U67 Tube Condenser Microphone in the Recording Session Vault website project.