The music industry is a very important and lucrative sales market for microphones. Sennheiser successfully gained a foothold with its evolution range of microphones. “However, this was Sennheiser’s third or fourth attempt to manufacture microphones that were both inexpensive and reasonable quality,” clarifies Heinz Epping, head of the Dynamic Microphones Development department. Before that, it was one flop after another with the “Profipower” microphone, the Black Fire series, the plastic era.
When Heinz Epping came to Sennheiser in 1989 as a Development Engineer Acoustics, all hopes were pinned on the Black Fire microphones. “This series was based on existing microphone types, which were then adapted and modified to make them suitable for use on stage. Ultimately, the series was unsuccessful for various reasons. The term black fire had political connotations in the US, the production costs of the series were high, the microphones were very complex to build.”
“After Black Fire came the plastic phase,” grins Heinz Epping. “The components of the microphones had to be manufactured as cheaply as possible, that’s why we opted for plastic. The acoustics of the plastic microphones were good, but it was a painful lesson when the microphones clearly didn’t live up to the customer’s expectations. The singers like to have something solid to hold, not just a plastic housing. The solidness is reassuring, and things can get a bit rowdy on stage sometimes.” Eventually, a new colleague who had himself been a musician and producer got the ball rolling again. “For the first time, he turned the tables on the engineers: What does the customer actually want?” In fact, a wide range of products was needed to meet all of the customer requirements. The evolution 800 series was created for vocal performances and the evolution 600 series for instrumental performances. Heinz Epping was solely responsible for the acoustics: “There weren’t many of us engineers.” Back then, the gold standard for the music industries was the Shure SM-58 microphone. “We developed the e 835 based on the acoustics of the SM 58. It came to be known as the SM-58 killer.” The e 835 became a bestseller.
“The really great thing about the evolution series is its modular design. The directional effect of the microphone was not altered by adapting the design, as our competitors would do, but by modifying the microcosm of the capsule, which places a huge strain on the quality of components and fully automated production. And vice versa, as a Development Engineer, I also had to adapt to the possible functions of the machine—that’s how the Sennheiser modular principle came about. As the EvoLine continued to develop, the quality of the microphones also increased. The 900 series has even tighter tolerances and is better suited to professional musicians. We made umpteen visits to different studios and stages and listened to myriads of instruments and singers to make adjustments to the acoustics.”
Heinz Epping also designed never-seen-before types of microphone for the range. “There had never been anything like the e 604 before. In fact, this mic had the shortest journey from the drawing board to the stage ever,” he recalls. “On Wednesday the microphone was with the Scorpions for testing. I then spent the weekend building more samples with the trainees so that the Scorpions could take them on their planned tour. It was only later that we started on project work for the e 604.”