Founded by David Josephson in 1988, Josephson Engineering has been producing high-quality microphones with versatile features and attractive price tags for over 30 years. The brand got its start in San Jose and later moved to Santa Cruz, where they have been designing and manufacturing microphones ever since.
We recently sat down with David Josephson to take a look behind the scenes at Josephson Engineering. Read on to discover the inspiration behind Josephson’s popular C725 condenser microphone, how the e22S was originally a custom creation for Steve Albini, and learn more about the brand new C705.
Tell us a little bit about how you started Josephson Microphones.
I’ve been playing with microphones since I was a kid because I could never really afford any good ones. After a few years working in Silicon Valley as an engineer, I decided that I really wanted to make microphones. I wanted to make mics that were really useful to professional recording engineers, as well as advanced amateurs. Sometimes people want performance that’s hard to do with current manufacturing technology. I wanted to push the edge of what was doable.
That was in the mid-1980s, and by 1988 it became evident that I could actually make it work. I wanted to start with something that I wanted to build, which would be really useful for recording engineers, and something that we could get really good at building. That product was the C700S. We wanted to build a native surround sound microphone that would have the fidelity that is needed for music recording, not just as a surround sound tool. That was the beginning.
What's a typical day at the office like for you?
We’re really lucky, I live a block away from the office and shop here in Santa Cruz and everyone else is close too. We have eight people here, including the three principals of the company. I’m the electrical engineer, Kelly Kay is the acoustical engineer, and Dave Gordon is the manufacturing engineer. The three of us own the company and we have five other full-time and part-time people who make up a strong team.
We have parts of the facility like R&D offices and the cleanroom on the ground floor, as well as a warehouse in the back where we’ve got a bunch of projects going on. The assembly and mechanical processes are upstairs, where specialists come in and work their magic. We have an assortment of people from young to old working on pieces of production and testing. We’re all really focused on doing the best that can possibly be done. It’s not always the cheapest.
One of your most popular products is the C725 condenser microphone. What makes it so special?
The C725 uses a FET and a vacuum tube to make up the cascode stage in the front end. In most of our mics, we use two FETs, but this design allows us to get some of the compression and warmth of the tube with the reliability and low noise of the FET. That also allows us to capture whatever kind of tube character we wanted.
On the power supply, there’s a Sun and Moon switch. In Sun mode, you get the full tube characteristic with lots of gain and punchy tube sound. In Moon mode, it uses a little more negative feedback from a special winding on the custom Lundahl output transformer for a more linear response. The Moon mode has less of the tube characteristic, and less gain, so you can choose between the two sounds. Of course, it also has our patented metal foam grille which greatly reduces internal sound reflections, important for the most uncolored and smooth sound.
How does the dual-diaphragm capsule affect the sound?
This is our version of the C-12 capsule, which was originally a Siemens design. It’s a really difficult capsule to make because there are five internal air spaces, each of which defines part of an acoustic circuit. All of those things are tuned to provide a reactive path to give you the directional characteristics you want. There are much simpler ways of doing it, but the sonic attributes are not as nice.
That’s the same capsule we’ve been making for many years for the Manley Reference Mono Gold condenser microphone. We started making the capsule for our own C700 in the late 1990s, as well as the C716 a few years ago. We use different tuning variants for each microphone.
The characteristic that allows you to tell if you got it right is the consistency of frequency response in the front and the back. They need to match exactly so the directional response to the side has a really deep null for a true figure-eight, like some of the earliest and best ribbon mics.
When you have a deep null that’s uniform over a wide range of frequencies, you get the ability to play with the directional patterns however you like by changing the voltage on the backplates just like you normally would.
What are some of your favorite uses for the C725?
We designed the C725 primarily for vocals. We wanted to give people the flexibility to decide whether they wanted that punchy tube sound, or a cooler, more neutral sound, as well as a range of directional patterns. In the studio, you don’t care as much about the directional pattern for where you reject sound — although that’s certainly important — but the directional pattern also changes the timbre of the voice quite noticeably.
All of the directional patterns, from omni to cardioid to figure-eight, are very useful in selecting what kind of control the singer has over proximity effect, sibilance and more based on how close they are to the microphone. It’s designed for maximum flexibility.
We live by a phrase that was credited to Paul Klipsch many years ago, which is “Good sound is the absence of bad sound.” Besides the timbre control that the direction patterns provide, we try to reduce pickup from the room in as neutral a way as possible.
You also offer a number of other microphone designs, including the popular e22S side-address cardioid condenser microphone. Tell me a little bit about the e22S.
For a long time, the e22S side-address cardioid condenser microphone has been one of our most popular microphones. That started out as a custom project for Steve Albini, the famous recording engineer in Chicago. He was really focused on drum recordings and he was having a hard time keeping his favorite vintage mics working. Drummers would hit them and they would fail. Manufacturers wouldn’t repair them anymore and he didn’t like the sound of any of the new ones.
He said, “Here’s the challenge, I want it to sound like this, and it has to be bulletproof. Can you do that?” So over the period of two years or so, we came up with a bunch of different prototypes and refined the capsule quite a bit. Eventually, he said, “Yeah, I think you’ve got it now.”
It’s a very unconventional design electronically because the transformer has some unique characteristics that affect the sound. It’s a great go-to mic for any really-close sound pickup, especially if the signal is loud. The whole idea is that it’s as neutral as possible and that neighboring sounds are attenuated by the directional pattern but don’t sound strange, even if they’re close up.
What do you think makes Josephson Engineering different from other pro audio companies?
Josephson Engineering is a technical company, an engineering-driven company, not a sales-driven company. We don’t have a marketing department. We don’t go through distributors and importers and image agents and so on. We really focus on the tech and applying that tech in a cooperative way with musicians and producers who listen critically.
And without the confines of marketing pressure to sell millions of mics, we just want to make the very best mics that can be made, limited by our ingenuity and skills rather than some characteristic of the market. We sell from our manufacturing operation to a few very selected dealers around the world, including Vintage King, of course.
You won’t find our stuff on Amazon or in big-volume places, which makes it possible for us to put more money into the precision on the microphone itself. Our manufacturing cost is much higher for most of these models than many other companies, which allows us to specify extremely tight and consistent tolerances than other companies.
What's coming up in the future for Josephson Engineering?
A lot of people have asked for a studio vocal microphone that has the benefits of our approach to things, but at a lower price point, which is the next product we’re working on. The new C705 microphone uses the same capsule as the C715 with a fixed cardioid pattern at a really interesting price point. We really want to make our microphones available to a lot more people. We’ve already shipped a couple for reviews. We’re in production now so we should be shipping soon. We don’t release anything until we’re ready to ship it.
We’re also really interested in getting input from our community. If you’re looking for a microphone that doesn’t exist, we want to know about it. If people have any requests, they can get in touch with us here. We look forward to hearing from them!