Handmade European Microphones
Part 1: Pencil Condensers

There is a lot more history than what you may realise, in these hand-crafted European pencil condenser microphones.

With nearly 100 years of microphone innovation emanating from Europe, let’s dig into some key moments that our favourite manufacturers have provided – including inventing phantom power – something we all now take for granted.

Here is a brief timeline of innovation, not imitation.


1928 Neumann began (the origin of all Studio Microphones)
1939 – Beyerdynamic began
1941 – Pearl Mikrofonlaboratorium began (the origin of Milab)
1945 – Sennheiser began
1947 – AKG began
1948 – Schoeps began
1950 Brüel & Kjær began
1964 – Coles began
1964 Schoeps CMT20 released (9-12 volt phantom power)
1966 Neumann presented +48v ‘phantom power’ to the world
1966 Neumann KM84 released
1973 Schoeps Collette series released
1980 – Milab name started (Pearl and Milab continue together)
1980 Milab VM-41 released
1982 B&K 4006 omni released
1988 Milab VM44 released
1992 DPA began, via Brüel & Kjær
1994 Neumann KM184 released
1994 – Factory Sound Sales opened
2011 – DPA 4006A released
2017 – Austrian Audio began
2021 Austrian Audio CC8 released


Remember, for this article we’re focussing purely on handmade, European pencil condensers. There are five (5) current models in particular we’d like to highlight, which are – in no particular order:

Some of these microphones have, in various formats, been in continuous production since 1966.

Let’s jump our way back and forth through the timeline and see what we discover along the way.

Neumann – 1928, 1966, 1994

1928 is where it all began for ‘us’ with Neumann developing the first commercially mass produced studio condenser microphone – CMV 3.

Nicknamed ‘The Bottle’, CMV3 was the world’s introduction to Neumann – a company which has continued to innovate, while still producing high-quality, handcrafted microphones that are revered for studios, orchestras and, well, any kind of sound capture we’re likely to come across.

1966 saw +48v phantom power developed by Neumann.

Why 48 volts?

While Neumann was busy getting their KM84 pencil condenser ready for the world in 1966, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, NRK, had taken a keen interest in using these microphones throughout the studio.

Prior to 1966, other forms of phantom power had been developed, but they didn’t really tickle the spot that would satisfy Neumann’s engineers.

As it turns out, NRK had 48-volt power already installed in their studios – for their emergency lighting systems.

Would 48v work? Well, we all know the answer is a big chunky YES, and +48v phantom power is now a standard around the audio world.

These days, international standard IEC 61938:2018 outlines the technical specifications, including voltage, the current draw, impedance. This is to ensure phantom power is suitable, no matter which microphone, mic preamp, mixing console or active DI box is either drawing or producing the phantom power.

But what happened to KM84 the mic that started it all?

The small diaphragm cardioid KM 84 was in production from 1966 until 1992. It remains a ‘classic’. As Neumann describes, its “even frequency response and consistent pickup pattern make it a sought-after microphone for all genres”

KM184 enters the conversation in 1994.

Looking suspiciously like a KM 84, the 1994-born KM 184 is still going strong today. You’ll often seen them in use for overheads in a studio, for ‘spotting’ mics in an orchestra, along with a variety of general instrument duties.

Beyerdynamic – 1939

We’ll keep this brief – because, while this company makes all kinds of fabulous microphones, it is most famous for their dynamic microphone varieties.

In fact, the reason we’ve listed 1939 on our timeline (even though ‘Beyer’ really got going in 1924), is because 1939 saw the release of the first “studio-quality dynamic microphone, the M19 – a perfect complement for sound recording and a milestone in electroacoustics”

Above: Beyerdynamic M 19

We will most certainly come back to visit M201 (dynamic, cardioid pencil) along with M160 and M130 (ribbon microphones) – and a fabulous cameo from M88 vocal mic, which became a ‘thing’ for kick drum.

Pearl Mikrofonlaboratorium – 1941, 1980, 1988

PML for short, Swedish microphone innovator Pearl Mikrofonlaboratorium started in 1939, but was officially incorporated in 1941.

Starting in Stockholm, the factory is now located in the southern Swedish town of Åstorp, where all their microphones are still hand made.

Meticulous quality control means all microphones have to pass several stages of testing, including audio tests in their anechoic chamber. Each microphone is delivered with its own individual frequency chart and an industry-leading lifetime warranty.

Back to the topic of European pencil condensers: Milab in 1980 with VM-41

1980 – many of the PML products were rebranded with a new name – MILAB (abbreviated from Pearl MIkrofonLABoratorium). Some microphones from this period, such as the DC-63, DC-73 and VM-41 (above), can be found with either the PML or Milab logos.

1988 came the newer design of their pencil condenser with VM-44 CLASSIC replacing VM-41 – it’s still in production today, 34 years later.

VM-44 really excels for overheads, strings, acoustic guitar. It offers exceptional detail, depth, clarity, and is therefore a go-to choice for these applications.

The Australian connection

Did you know – in 1986, Milab received the largest single order in the history of the company when almost 1000 microphones (a custom model called CM-22) were built for the Australian Parliament House in Canberra which was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 9 May 1988.

Sennheiser – 1945

Born in 1945, this German powerhouse of microphone design and manufacture has no horse in this race. Yes, they have pencil condensers such as e914 and they most definitely have handmade classic microphones, such as MD421-II – but no handmade pencil condensers for this article.

AKG – 1947

1947 Austria. AKG was proudly made in Vienna for many decades. Often the darlings of recording studios with models such as C12 and C414, AKG’s focus in this area has changed somewhat over the past few years.

Skip below to 2017 to catch up on what ended up coming from their innovative engineers, who left AKG to start Austrian Audio

Schoeps – 1948, 1964, 1973

For orchestral, film and tv, Schoeps is a favourite of many engineers and soundies.

The company was founded in June of 1948, in Germany.

1964 was a milestone year for Schoeps, with the release of CMT 20.

It was the first transistorised phantom-powered condenser microphone in the world.

If you’ve been reading closely, you may remember that Neumann invented phantom power in 1966… however Neumann invented +48v phantom power.

Schoeps had been already tinkering with lower voltage phantom by this time, and the CMT 20 was powered via 8.5 V.

Schoeps Colette (above) has been in continuous production since 1973 and is still specified by sound recordists and more.

How do you actually pronounce Shoeps?

Brüel & Kjær – 1950, 1982, 1992, 2011

We’ve spent most of our time in either Germany or Sweden so far – so let’s head to the proud manufacturing country that sits in between the two – Denmark.

Formed by Per V. Brüel and Viggo Kjær, B&K developed measurement microphones .

Discerning studio engineers soon grabbed hold of the full-frequency, omnidirectional 4006 (released in 1982), and it very much became a ‘go-to’ for grabbing a natural (uncoloured) sound, perfect for orchestral recording and a variety of acoustic instruments.

Designed for low self-noise and high sensitivity, there are still many original 4006 microphones in active service, 40 years after their manufacture.

1992 saw the formation of Danish Pro Audio (DPA), after Ole Brøsted Sørensen & Morten Støve left Brüel & Kjær and started a transformation that affects the audio industry to this day (more on some of the DPA innovations later in our series on handmade European microphones).

4006A (above) is the latest iteration of 4006 omnidirectional microphones.

It was released in 2011 as part of the D:Dicate™ range, and while maintaining the accurate and highly sensitive capsule, you can now interchange different body types (including the compact body).

The 4006A capsule is so rugged, that it has made it to Mars, as part of the Mars Rover project – and if you want to check further, head to the DPA Mars Rover page for some Soundcloud grabs from Mars!

Factory Sound – 1994

For anyone outside Melbourne, you may only know of Factory Sound since “we” took over in 1992 – incorporated in 1994.

There is a longer history of what happened at Factory Sound prior to 1992, but that’s a story for another day.

Since 1994, we have always made sure you will get looked after. A large part of this comes from the brands and products we endorse.

Back to the hand-made European pencil condenser microphones…

Austrian Audio – 2017, 2021

We touched on this earlier in the article – now it’s time to expand.

While they’ve only been active since 2017, the genesis of Austrian Audio is quite clear:

“Following the closure of the AKG offices in Vienna, we set out to create something new, challenging, and respectful to our heritage. Opening our doors in July 2017, Austrian Audio was born”

We started with a core team of 22 former AKG personnel from management, acoustics, electronics, test and measurement and mechanical design”

At the end of 2021, the CC8 cardioid pencil mic (above) became the latest member of our Handmade European Pencil Condenser microphone brigade.

It feels pretty chunky at 160g, and includes a couple of switchable pads, along with switchable HP filters at 60Hz and 120Hz. CC8 will work nicely for a range of typical ‘pencil’ applications, including drum or percussion overheads.

The Shootout Video

With MASSIVE thanks to our friends around the corner at Acoustic Centre, we took the five microphones featured in this article around to their upstairs showroom, and had a play.

Dan was unreal with both his time and talent, giving us a couple of different versions of demo playing to use for each microphone. Check it here:

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