AKG: Celebrating 75 years of an audio icon 

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AKG: Celebrating 75 years of an audio icon 

Words by Andy Lloyd-Russell

Few audio brands could boast the kind of seismic legacy that AKG has built over their 75 years

AKG and their legacy comes as being both an audio manufacturer and as creators of some of the most iconic and influential studio and broadcast peripherals ever released. As one of the founding pioneers in critical transducer technology, the Austrian brand has built a reputation for excellence in the space that places them firmly on the Mt. Rushmore of microphone design, becoming both a gold standard across multiple product categories (large diaphragm condenser, small diaphragm condenser, and kick mic, just to name a few), as well as becoming a favourite among the broadcast and content creator communities for their highly touted and instantly recognisable range of headphones. 

As the company celebrates its mammoth 75th anniversary, we’re taking a retrospective look into some of AKG’s most famed pieces – the groundbreaking innovations and the important moments that shaped the AKG story and ensured the brand’s ongoing reputation as a bonafide icon of the studio. 

Like many long-standing audio companies, AKG came from humble but cerebral beginnings. 

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Founded in Vienna, Austria in 1947 by two friends, physicist Rudolf Görike and engineer Ernst Pless, the original AKG factory had just five workers manufacturing the first product line to put AKG on the map – the legendary DYN Series of dynamic microphones. Adopting a revolutionary moving coil technology that made use of Görike’s unique understanding of mass load membranes, this select series of microphones featured a breakthrough extended frequency range, offering a level of fidelity that was basically unheard of in dynamic mics at the time. These were quickly picked up by radio stations, theatres, and jazz clubs all through Europe. By the end of the ‘40s, AKG had become one of the premier microphone companies in the world, a sentiment echoed with the release of the brand’s first headphones in 1949.

Some genuinely revolutionary products were introduced by AKG in the 1950s which included the D12 – the world’s first cardioid patterned dynamic microphone and still a preferred favourite for kick drum in studios around the world. Other classics of the era include the D36 – a dual cardioid capsule dynamic mic capable of multiple polar patterns including cardioid, omni, and figure-eight. But perhaps most famously, it also marked the release of the coveted C12 – the world’s first remote-controlled multi-pattern capacitor microphone and perhaps AKG’s most iconic mic. As expected, all three of these microphones are incredibly revered in their particular application, but even among such illustrious company, the C12 stands out as an icon, both for AKG and for recording history in general.

Throughout their history, the engineers at AKG have always shown a knack for innovation. The early D series microphones were superbly crafted for low end response, with their “bass response” chamber built into their head assembly; unique to this series of microphone. These dynamics set the standard of low frequency capture and were extensively used by esteemed engineers, helping shape the sounds of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones to name but a few. The D12 and the other notable D series mics of the time went on to inspire the now industry standard D112. Say no more. 

As for the condenser side of things, the C12 brought an open and nuanced character, which up until its release was simply unheard of. With its incredibly flat response, the C12 was able to capture such detail and air of a sound source – it quickly found itself becoming the go-to vocal microphone for many engineers and producers, a mantle it still holds to this day.

The now legendary CK12 capsule was at the heart of the C12, offering constant frequency response and sensitivity across all of its nine polar patterns. This was due to the CK12’s unique dual-backplate design. 

The mystique of the CK12 was then passed down through numerous other C series microphones including the ultra rare C24 (a stereo version of the C12) C12A, C12B, and then onto the transistor-based mics such as the C412 and precursor versions of the famed C414. 

From the early days of the C12 in the 1950s through to the C414s of the 1970s and ‘80s, these AKG condensers famously captured some of the world’s most iconic singers – from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley and most notably the cast of celebrity singers for the ‘We Are The World’ recording in 1985.

As the nature of multitrack recording continued to evolve, so to did the demand for interesting new sonic flavours, and from this, the now legendary C414 came to the fore as one AKG’s most distinguished (and best selling) mics, going through numerous design changes over its lifespan and becoming one on the most recorded microphones in music history.

While AKG had continued to make a name for themselves in the world of microphones, concurrently, they were also revolutionising the headphone game, with their first headphone – the K140 DYN being released in 1949. Ten years later, AKG introduced the world’s first over ear open-back headphone – the K50 model.  

Suffice to say, the open back and semi-open back headphones are an important part of the AKG story, with the K240 still being so ubiquitous across recording studios and broadcast facilities across the globe. The iconic ‘lightbulb’ headband found on many of AKG’s open-backed offerings has made them an instantly recognisable sight in live broadcasts and in radio stations worldwide, the preferred choice for many of the world’s on-air talent. 

Today, models range from the entry level K52s right through to the master reference headphones – the K872.

With such a rich history of products, AKG is showing no signs of slowing down. Still catering to the upper echelons of the microphone and headphone markets, but with an expanded scope that covers both content creation and live performance, it will be fascinating to see what the next 75 years will bring from this icon of the recording space. 

(Image: Overtone21Floor)

Head to AKG to check out their range. For local enquiries, reach out to CMI Music & Audio.