SUCCESS THROUGH DEVOTION TO DETAIL:
A HISTORY OF SCHOEPS
In 1998, Schoeps looked back over half a century of designing, developing and marketing condenser microphones. The name Schoeps is recognized throughout the world for products of outstanding quality, whose simple elegance and devotion to detail offer practical solutions to a broad range of recording situations. Today, Schoeps specializes in the manufacture of condenser microphones of the highest quality with a broad range of supporting accessories. But, as with its product line, the company itself took time to develop and define its purpose.
In the post-war period, business life in Germany was largely concerned with rebuilding the devastated economy and securing a living for employer and employee alike. In June of 1948, Schalltechnik was founded by Dr.- Ing. Karl Schoeps (born in 1906). His first employee was Dr.- Ing. Wilhelm Küsters (born in 1910). Both were graduates in Communications Engineering at the University of Karlsruhe. The company logo, which dates from that era, symbolizes the shared interest that brought both men together: sound waves (the "Schall" of "Schalltechnik") superimposed on the big "T" for "Technik" (technology). The similarity of this logo to that of a pre-existing company called Tungsram made it necessary to modify it at the end of the 1950s into today's form with the bevelled upper corners of the "T."
In the early days, while Dr. Schoeps was the director and business manager of the company, Dr. Küsters was mainly responsible for technology and manufacturing. As his health deteriorated, however, Dr. Küsters began to look for someone to assist him. He was fortunate in finding Jörg Wuttke, who joined the company in 1970. Wuttke had studied with and assisted the inventor of the interference tube "shotgun" microphone, Professor Kurtze, who taught at the University of Karlsruhe. Jörg Wuttke had hoped to gather some practical experience and then obtain a doctorate afterward, but matters turned out differently.
At the end of 1971, Dr. Küsters died, and Jörg Wuttke took over his job. He and his colleagues launched the well-known Colette series in 1973. In 1978 the GmbH was founded. In 1980, the son of Dr. Schoeps, Ulrich Schoeps, joined his father's company. Employees and customers took this as a hopeful sign that the company would remain family-owned in the future. Dr. Schoeps was then already 74, and people began wondering who would replace him when he retired. At first, Ulrich Schoeps worked mainly in the administrative and legal sector. Then, in 1986, he became second director, with his father remaining first director. At the end of 1993 Dr. Schoeps, who was still coming in to the company every day, died, whereupon his son Ulrich became head of the firm. In 1997 Jörg Wuttke became the second shareholder in the GmbH, joining Ulrich Schoeps.
When the company was founded, its "factory" was housed in private apartments, but before long it moved to a rented house in Durlach, the oldest district of Karlsruhe. The company's residence is one of the oldest houses preserved in Durlach; its cellar and foundation walls date back to 1662. The firm bought it together with an adjacent building in 1965, doubling the available floor space. In 1990, as the company continued to grow, a former ballroom on the premises was rebuilt into a production facility for mechanical parts. The company is still at that address today.
The name "Schalltechnik Dr.- Ing. Schoeps," which is rather unusual for a microphone manufacturer, stems from the fact that in the beginning the company dealt with sound recording and reinforcement systems. In the days before television, people often found entertainment at the cinema. As the film industry flourished, Schoeps engineered sound systems for use in motion-picture theaters, and even manufactured a tape recorder for a short time. Concurrently, the first Schoeps condenser microphone was built - the CMV 50/2, using two of the legendary RV 12P 2000 tubes. Its capsule and microphone body were then still rigidly connected to each other, with a length of 320 mm and a diameter of 80 mm, dwarfing today's Schoeps microphones.
In the first twenty years of its history, Schoeps had practically no distribution network of its own. Nevertheless, its circle of customers steadily increased. Thanks to the friendship between Dr. Schoeps and a French businessman, who had very good contacts at radio stations, Schoeps gained a strong market position in this sector during the 1950s which it has managed to preserve to the present day. As a result, more than half of Schoeps' production was exported to France. By then, Schoeps products already showed what would become one of their distinguishing features: the small size of the microphones (though this could not yet be called miniaturization). In 1955, the highly regarded M 221 B tube microphone came out. Today the M 221 B has found a worthy successor: in 1996 the M 222 came out in response to the general renaissance of interest in tube technology. Both epitomize the smallest types of tube microphones.
In the years that followed, Schoeps developed contacts in German radio and television stations, making the name Schoeps well known in Germany. It wasn't easy, however, to compete with the large-diaphragm microphones of other companies whose products were already well established in the radio stations. Rather than compete at a lower price, Schoeps sought to convince new customers of the specific advantages of the respected Schoeps designs. Schoeps microphones also began to be distributed as OEM products by Philips, Telefunken and Siemens, with Telefunken advertising Schoeps products in magazines. This brought Schoeps worldwide recognition as early as the 1950s and 1960s.
At the beginning of the 1960s Schoeps, along with many other companies, made the transition to transistor technology. The CMT 20, launched in 1964, was a milestone for the company as its first transistorized phantom-powered condenser microphone. At that time, the affordable and low-noise FETs found today as impedance converters in the input stages of nearly every condenser microphone were not yet on the market. Thus noise reduction was achieved by modulating an RF carrier. In addition to its circuit design its switchable three-pattern transducer was a special feature of the CMT 20. It worked according to the push-pull principle, with a single diaphragm mounted between two back electrodes. The output stage of this microphone had no transformer. Later it was built without coupling capacitors as the CMT 200. This circuit topology is found in Schoeps microphones up to the present day.
Schoeps introduced the very first mechanically switchable three-pattern capsule, the MKT 26, as early as 1961. In contrast to the common electrically-coupled double diaphragm design, a patented, mechanically switchable transducer with only one diaphragm was used. This offered the exceptional low-frequency response of a real pressure transducer in the "omni" position. In 1969, a stereo condenser microphone, CMTS 501, was launched. Designated the CMTS Sol, it had two switchable three-pattern single-diaphragm capsules.
Meanwhile, in 1965, the metal diaphragms were replaced by the more reliable, gold-sputtered Mylar membranes. This material was selected only after an extensive series of experiments led to the pre-ageing process that gives the diaphragm its long term stability, a manufacturing technique still used by Schoeps.
In 1973, the Colette series was launched, the most extensive and versatile microphone system ever conceived. The "active Colette tubes" are familiar to the millions who have seen the Three Tenors or "Les Miz" on TV; they are also used by the German Parliament. The "active cable" is widely used (but not seen!) in "stashed" (hidden) microphone rigs by film and TV recordists, on stage sets, and in concert halls and opera houses. This is possible because the microphone amplifier can be separated from the capsule, making the visible part of the microphone substantially smaller. Today, this "modular microphone system" has been widely imitated, but Schoeps continues to offer the broadest selection of transducers and accessories. In that same year the MK 6 Colette capsule was developed out of the MKT 26.
A year later it was followed by the MK 5, a switchable two-pattern capsule (omni/cardioid) with improved high-frequency response. Both are still in the catalog. Starting in 1974, the Colette series was made available on an OEM basis to Studer, who were hoping to expand their product range. They renamed the CMC microphone amplifiers "SKM" (for Studer Kondensator Mikrofon). By this time Schoeps had begun to exhibit at conventions of the AES and VDT, which were then quite small.
In 1976 Schoeps launched the MSTC 54 "ORTF Stereo" microphone, embodying one of the most effective simple stereo techniques ever devised. It is still in general use, and is especially popular in its country of origin, France. Finally, in 1977, Schoeps placed their first advertisements. They showed the Colette series in advertisements that were published three times a year in the Funkschau -- then a magazine for radio and television technology.
In the meantime, the boundary-layer plate BLM 3 came on the market, and soon won in a comparison test with similar units. Two years later, in 1985, it was produced in miniaturized form as an active boundary-layer capsule. In 1990, Schoeps caused a stir with its implementation of the sphere microphone invented by Dr. GunterTheile. This first sphere microphone was designated the KFM 6U.
In 1994, along with the miniaturization already made possible by the active Colette cables and tubes, a new miniaturized microphone was introduced. Called the CCM, this series represents the smallest ever "classic" studio condenser microphone (that is, without an electret element), with a fully balanced output. By employing surface-mount technology the microphone amplifier could fit inside the capsule housing, no longer requiring the use of "active" cables and tubes to achieve miniaturization. At the same time, the reliability and immunity to interference of the system was improved without any influence on its quality.
In 1997 the CMXY 4V stereo microphone was introduced. This is a novel arrangement of two compact cardioid microphones, which rotate together to form an X-Y pair spread at any angle. It is the smallest microphone of its type, intuitive and easy to use thanks to its simple mechanical design.
Schoeps is unquestionably among the most innovative microphone manufacturers in the world, leading the way in many developments. Central to its design philosophy over the years is the company's insistence on the absolute sound neutrality of its microphones. It is really no wonder that Schoeps has so many supporters, not only in the area of classical music recording and reinforcement, but also in film and television. No doubt part of its success is due to the fact that, in a space of only 1500 square meters, a total of 35 employees develop, manufacture and distribute the whole range of Schoeps products. Staff turnover is very small, which says much about the family atmosphere in the company. Many an employee has celebrated his or her 25th anniversary with Schoeps.
Continuity is and will remain very important at Schoeps. Despite many outside offers, Ulrich Schoeps intends to continue the life's work of his father.
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|Most recent revision January 5, 2012|