In 1943, following the bombing of the Neumann factory in Berlin, Georg Neumann, along with technical director Erich Kühnast and around 20 staff, moved production 300km away to Gefell, a small town in Thuringia. This new facility, set up in an old textile mill, became known as Georg Neumann & Co/Gefell.
At the end of the war, in addition to Gefell, Neumann set up a new factory in Heilbronn making batteries, before returning to Berlin to set up Georg Neumann GmbH (today owned by Sennheiser). Meanwhile, the original staff in Gefell continued making high quality microphones. Gefell was now in the GDR and, with the building of the Berlin wall in 1961, all links between East and West were severed. In 1972 the Gefell factory was taken into public ownership by the East German government. The company was renamed VEB Mikrofontechnik Gefell.
And here’s where it gets interesting……….
During the Soviet the era the company formed important research links with RFZ (GDR radio and TV) and the NIFKI institut (for film and TV) in Moscow. This meant that the company could share the very latest developments in Soviet technology. During this period the team at Mikrofontechnik Gefell worked on a number of significant projects, financed by the GDR government. These included the development of high powered lasers, solid-state microphone amplifiers, and the production of chromium plated ceramic diaphragms under high pressure.
Eventually, with the collapse of communism and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Georg Neumann claimed back the Gefell factory. When the technical staff from Berlin started looking at the microphones produced in Gefell they were shocked to find technology more advanced than anything found in the West!
Back in 1986 when Mikrofontechnik Gefell designed the PM860, high quality handheld condensers were something of a rarity. The chrome plated ceramic capsule with its spring shock mounting was cutting edge technology. Even today the capsule design of this microphone remains unusual and distinctive.
The grill basket is also sophisticated, being made up of several layers of fine wire mesh, providing excellent wind screening and blast protection.
The quality of the PM860 is such that in 2010 Microtech Gefell chose to reissue it. The ‘look’ and specification of the new model is exactly the same as the original, with the exception of the power supply which is now 48v phantom on an XLR, instead of having a separate power unit with a multi-pin connector.
Here is the Tech Spec for the original version
And this is the more recent version
New ones are still available from several outlets for around £1500. Considering that for the same money you could purchase 15 Shure SM58s, the PM860 is definitely a microphone for the discerning professional performer!
So What Does It Sound Like?
High quality microphone production has continued at Gefell uninterrupted since Neumann & co first arrived in 1943. Although today the name of Neumann no longer appears on the company products the tradition of excellence continues. Microtech Gefell is owned and run by descendants of the original staff and Gefell microphones are widely recognised as being amongst the finest available anywhere.
Here is a Learning Experience!
When my lovely PM860 arrived from my usual supplier (ebay), I plugged it in straight away. However, I was horrified by the sound that assailed my ears! My voice was accompanied by a dreadful cacophony of cracking, whistling, rustling and similar unwelcome noise! My immediate impulse was to send it straight back to the seller. However, once I had calmed down and given it some thought, it occurred to me that even if I sent it to Microtech Gefell for servicing it would still have cost me a lot less than a new one. So that was what I planned to do.
Meanwhile a couple of weeks went by. The microphone was sitting on my desk in my warm dry living room. I plugged it in again and was surprised to find that most of the noise had disappeared! At this point it dawned on me that the most likely cause of the problem was damp. Perhaps in transit, or maybe it had previously been stored somewhere damp. Anyhow, I placed several bags of silica gel in the case with it and left it a few more days. When I next plugged it in the noise had gone completely and it sounded GREAT! So my new plan is to simply carry on using it and to keep it stored in suitably dry conditions. RESULT!