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For well over a decade, Klaus Heyne has been recognized as the foremost practitioner of condenser microphone modifications in America—perhaps in the world. His client list includes superstar vocalists (Bryan Adams, Neil Young, Whitney Houston), leading producers (Simon Clymie, Trevor Horn) and the elite of recording studios and scoring stages (Lucasfilm, Disney, Cello, Paramount).
Using his own voice and ears as primary test instruments, he has developed an uncanny ability to translate the smallest variations in phase and frequency response into precisely the right combination of electronic and mechanical modifications and adjustments.
Heyne’s approach to microphone modification was shaped by his early training as a luthier. A native of Germany, he started his apprenticeship in the craft with a guitar and violin maker in Frankfurt. After emigrating to the United States in the mid-70’s, he quickly landed a job as the master guitar tech at Don Wehr’s Music City in San Francisco, where he prepped custom guitars for—among many others—Carlos Santana and Joan Baez.
During his frequent trips back to Germany to visit family, he started purchasing used microphones (mainly from German broadcasters) at auction, and bringing them to the states for resale. A perfectionist by nature, he starting poking into the innards of the classics he had purchased (Neumann M50s, U47s, M49s), looking for ways to make them sound even better. Soon the guitars were left behind as microphones took center stage as Heyne’s new passion.
After establishing his mic mod reputation working out of the Bay Area, Heyne moved his business to a serene rural setting outside Portland, Oregon. PSW recording editor Bruce Borgerson interviewed Heyne there, in his orderly attic worship, surrounded by a carefully chosen minimum of appropriate technology.
Bruce Borgerson: So, why did you start modifying those old microphones, instead of just re-selling them as they were?
Klaus Heyne: I realized that in order to stay competitive, they had better sound good when they get to the customer, because there is always somebody else who might want to sell something cheaper. So I started looking at some things that didn’t make such sense, and making some inquiries about them. I found out that certain compromises were made for broadcasters in these microphones, things that made no sense in the studio environment. For example, they were lopping off everything above 15K in order to be down enough at 18K to stay clear of the multiplex signal for stereo broadcast, that kind of thing.
So I started offering microphones with minor improvements. This was in the mid-eighties, and it soon turned into a situation where people who had microphones already would buy one from me, and then say, “Yours sounds so much better than my old one. Can you do what you did to the one you just sold us to the ones we already have?” So by 1987, I was doing nothing but upgrading recording microphones. It suited me just fine, because I didn’t have to deal with junk, and I hate selling anyway.
BB: How did you get involved with Brauner and this special Klaus Heyne edition of the VM-1?
KH: I had developed over the years certain basic principles of modification. I have a philosophy about that. But I am limited in what I can do myself, physically. I have tried to hire people, but nobody is as anally retentive about it as I am. I realized that I was limited in terms of growth by what I could do myself, so I thought about selling my ideas for a new model. I looked around, and about three years ago at the AES, I met Dirk Brauner, and he had some ideas that I fully agreed with. He was another one of those people who follows his guts when it comes to microphones. He had excellent ideas already incorporated into his VM-1.
So I did it like Americans like to do, with a shootout. I took a stock VM-1, and also one I had modified, and we went into a studio, and I asked which one he liked better. He preferred my modification, so we made a contract, and started cooperating on a brand new tube model that incorporates everything I have ever learned.