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View From the Top: Ralf Oehl, CEO, Georg Neumann GmbH

Ralf Oehl, CEO of Neumann, shares how the legendary audio manufacturer honors its past while changing with the times.

Ralf Oehl, CEO of Neumann.
Ralf Oehl, CEO of Neumann. Swen Siewert

December 8, 2020—For Ralf Oehl, audio has long been a personal passion, but it was only this past February that he finally became part of the pro-audio industry. Unlike most of us, he got to start at the top, becoming the new CEO of Georg Neumann GmbH., bringing to bear his extensive professional background in industrial high-tech environments and manufacturing.

“At Neumann, my passion and my profession completely match for the first time in my life—this is speaking from the bottom of my heart,” said Oehl. “You perhaps know the Japanese Ikigai philosophy, where you have four life and job dimensions, and you hardly get these dimensions to overlap completely—but I feel that perfect match with Neumann.”

Founded in 1928, the company was led by Georg Neumann and then by his family before it became part of another family business—Sennheiser—in 1991. This allowed Neumann to continue to offer the high-end audio products its known for, while also gaining access to the stringent manufacturing abilities of Sennheiser’s factory.

“Our R&D team does not only develop new products, but also makes sure that our classics—all those fabulous products from the U47 FET to the U67 and U 87—can still be produced,” Oehl said. “There are changes in regulations over time, components don’t exist any longer and so forth. To round things out, we also employ a tremendous service and maintenance department that also takes care of ‘Made-to-Order’ requests of our most passionate customers.”

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However, while the company is perhaps best known for its long-running classics, Neumann has also made a point to change with the times. “Neumann has been an anchor…and just like the audio industry, in particular the professional recording side, everything has been really stable—you could even say ‘unadventurous’—for many years,” Oehl concedes. “But if something is so stable for such a long period of time, a disruption is coming soon, and Neumann was preparing for that. One of these disruptive changes is the rise of more and more artists who have never been to a professional recording studio but rather work from their home studio. The most famous example is probably Billie Eilish, who swept the Grammys this year, and her brother Finneas, who produced her hit album in his bedroom studio. He largely relied on an unconventional, digital set-up plus a Neumann TLM 103. We noted that there was an increasing number of artists entering the business that don’t use traditional ways of recording. The same applies to film, gaming and podcasting, so we started to adopt our product offering to reflect these new ways of working.”

That said, the company is well aware of what its main constituencies are. “Our core market is the professional recording industry, music and audio recording, but also a lot of film post-production,” Oehl said. “One market that has grown tremendously over the past five years is the semi-professional market which we support with entry- but high-level products such as the TLM 102 or TLM 103 on the microphone side, and the KH 80 DSP and KH 750 DSP on the studio monitor side. The radio and podcasting market are going to become an increasingly important focus for us over the coming years.”

By paying close attention to market trends and understanding users’ long-term needs, Oehl knows the company will maintain its presence as a cornerstone of the pro-audio industry. “Neumann has always been about stability,” he said. “Whatever solution we bring to the market is expected to be an industry standard that’s here to stay for a long time. While we are certainly looking at complementing and expanding our portfolio on the microphone and on the headphone side, too, we will put some emphasis on the Neumann studio monitors in the near future. These have gained significant acceptance in the market, so we will work on expanding this portfolio both with regard to products and features.”

Oehl acknowledged that even though the pandemic has been a very challenging time for the music and live audio industry, Neumann will continue to support the industry as much as it can: “For example, through our initiative #AtHomeWithNeumann, we offer tutorials on how to set up and best work in the new situation. At the same time, we have been humbled and honored to see artists choose Neumann to such an overwhelming extent in order to create music and audio at their homes.”