SOUNDBITES: A VERY ROUGH GUIDE TO THE AKG C12/C414
Dr. Rudolph Goerika and Ing. Ernst Pless started producing loudspeakers and microphones in 1945 in the ruins of Vienna after the Second World War. The economy wasn’t just broke, it was non-existent and legend has it that their first sale was in fact a swap for a side of ham (very Funky Junk…). In 1947 they established Akustische u.Kino-Geraete Gesellschaft m.b.H, the company we have all come to know and love as AKG. For those interested, there is a detailed company history here…
In 1953, AKG introduced the C12 tube microphone, designed by Konrad Wolf. It remains one of the most prized studio microphones of all time. The purpose of this brief article, however, is not to review or praise the C12, but rather chart it’s development over the years.
I’m fortunate enough to own most variants of the C12 and its successor, the C414, so photos and opinions are based on my own collection. I apologise in advance for any chronological errors or omissions, and welcome corrections and/or additional details.
AKG C12 (1953) Large diaphragm tube condenser
The AKG C12 Capsules were made by hand and were far more intricate than those fitted to equivalent Neumann mics in the 1950s (Neumann U47 etc), incorporating more than 120 individual parts. These are colloquially known as ‘brass’ capsules due to the brass housing, although the coating of the capsule itself is sputtered gold.
The microphone requires an external power supply with a remote pattern box.
TELEFUNKEN ELAM 250/251 Large diaphragm tube condenser.
A variant on the AKG C12 lineage, AKG were commissioned to produce microphones for Telefunken after Neumann stopped production of OEM Telefunken badged U47 mics in the 1950s. When I visited the AKG factory in Vienna, I was told that the design was in part due to the fact that Telefunken wanted a more compact microphone than either the Neumann U47 or AKG C12, which tended to cast shadows when used for film and television recording. The idea of the 250/251 being ‘compact’ brings a smile to my lips.
Although a different microphone, the ELAM 250/251 used the same C12 capsule, transformer (T/14) and (as standard) AC701 tube as the C12, but the reworked electronics avoided the need for an external pattern box.
The original AKG C12 was discontinued in 1963 and replaced by the AKG C12A, a more compact microphone using the same ‘brass’ capsule and transformer but incorporating a ‘NuVista’ miniature valve. These had a distinctive ‘diamond’ shape that has lasted for fifty years, with some minor alternations.
The C12A also utilised an external power supply which was fitted with a pattern switch. The mic has a distinctive stand mount/connector, which matches the body shape a little like an ice-cream cone. Indeed, after my visit to the AKG Factory I wrote an article headed ‘Food and the Art Of Microphone Design’ for the Funky Bazaar magazine.
The AKG C12A is, in my opinion, the most underrated and best value classic tube mic around. I have a lovely AKG C12, but if anything I prefer the sound of my C12A – it has all the warmth and sparkle traditionally associated with a C12, and which gives a mid-range presence than no Neumann can match (except the best M49s). NuVista tubes are often accused of being noisy, but I’ve never suffered a problem with them. Like tubes, make sure you select a quiet example.
Note – the AKG C12A shown is a very rare Phillips badged example from my collection. I have a number of AKG mics in Phillips livery as well as other makes such as Altec. A number of manufacturers commissioned OEM (i.e. own branded) mics from AKG. I’ve often seen AKG C451 mics badged Revox and once saw a matched pair of C12s with Revox logos.
Original AKG C12A Manual & Parts Orders
The first FET AKG mics were introduced in the late 1960s and believe it or not, were more expensive than their tube predecessors. FETs claimed to offer better noise figures than tubes and were deemed more reliable.
The 412 looks exactly like the C12A (the AKG C12A was, of course, silver) and has the same conical stand mount adaptor. Needless to say, the mic used the same capsule and transformer as its predecessors.
PLEASE NOTE – the mic illustrated has the optional rubber suspension rather than the cone-shaped connector.
The earliest AKG C414s roughly resemble the mics we all know and love, but are a tad noisy by the standard of later versions. The stand mount adaptor has gone, with connection by a standard XLR directly into the body of the microphones, making it more compact. As before, these have brass capsules and T/14 transformers.
The C414 looks identical to the C412, incuding the ‘cone’ mount but now featured a four position pattern switch on the body.
This microphone was soon accepted as the standard studio and broadcast mic. Similar in appearance to the original C414, the EB now boasted an addiitoinal three position pad switch on the body and a more reliable XLR connector.
There is a belief that AKG C414EB’s incorporated the classic ‘brass’ capsule, but this was not always so. During the period of manufacture, AKG developed the Mylar (plastic) capsule that was cheaper and easier to manufacture, so be warned – that C414EB going for gazillions on eBay and claiming to have a brass capsule may actually house the cheaper, Mylar version.
I recall once being accosted by a client who had sent his AKG 414EB in for repair and claimed our techs had swapped capsules, because his mic had a Mylar capsule, and as some bod on Gearslutz authoritatively claimed, all EBs had brass capsules, which is why he’d paid so much on eBay. Ah, suffer the little children for they know not what they do…
The stand mount adaptor has gone, with connection by a standard XLR directly into the body of the microphones, making it more compact.
In 1997, AKG released a strictly limited edition of 100 gold plated C414EBs to celebrate the Fiftieth anniversary of the company. I bought a couple and have kept them unused in my cupboard of delights ever since – one of the pair is still in a sealed box. Goodness knows why I did that – I guess I’m just a sad old AKG microphone fanatic.
Anyway, here are some pictures…
Introduced in the late 1980s. To quote the excellent guide on Ashley Styles website…
“A new model, the AKG C414B-ULS, was the next microphone to emerge. The suffix ULS, denoting that the microphone had a “completely linear transfer characteristic of all transmission parameters”. Looking just like a black/matt version of a AKG C414EB, the C414B-ULS offered better performance figures and reliability, than the AKG C414EB-P48.
The electronics took on a highly complex design. Utilising no less than 17 transistors, as opposed to the previous 4 transistors in earlier designs. Whether or not this maze of components could improve the sound quality, would be food for thought. However, we did see the return of the DC/DC converter for polarising the capsule.”
Particularly popular in the States, the AKG C414 TL-2 was marketed as a vocal version of the B-ULS. It lacked a transformer – hence ‘TL’ or Transformerless – for lower noise. It utilised a new nylon capsule and can be identified by the gold grill. More expensive than the standard version, these are nice mics.
More rounded than the traditional AKG C12A, AKG C412 and AKG C414s, these are the latest/current versions of the classic range and feature nine selectable polar patterns via a switch on the mic body.
Also available with the mid-range boost as the XL-2.
See our product page for more details.
The AKG C414B-XL is also available as a transformerless version, as the AKG C414-XL11 – click below to see more details.
View the AKG C12A tube condenser microphone Classic Brochure.