Copenhagen Dreamin’: Inside DPA’s hand-built microphone factory

In a world of mass-produced technology, the concept of something being built by hand is getting rarer and rarer, so when you do get hold of a piece of gear that’s been hand assembled, it makes it feel all the more special.

If there’s one company that excels in this field, it’s DPA. 

The company was launched in 1992 by two former employees (Ole Brøsted Sørensen & Morten Støve) of Danish sound vibration measurement specialist Brüel & Kjær, who decided to set up their own firm, with Danish Pro Audio being brought into the world thereafter. 

Now known simply as DPA Microphones however, the company is of course well-known for the likes of its 4060 and 4061 miniature microphones, which have become a staple on film sets, theatre stages and orchestral pits around the world. 

Last year it delved into the world of digital audio devices with its d:vice preamp. DPA’s flagship d:dicate 4006A was directly adapted from an original Brüel & Kjær measurement microphone and is described by the company as “one of the most accurate pro- audio mics in the world.” 

All of the company’s products are developed, hand-built and rigorously tested in its facilities in the Danish countryside and Audio Media International was given a tour of the factory to witness their meticulous manufacturing process first hand as well as to sit down for an interview with CEO Kalle Hvidt Nielsen. 

Seeing something as small as a DPA d:screet 4060 miniature microphone being put together by hand with a microscope makes you all the more appreciative of the precision Danish engineering that has gone into these products. According to DPA Microphones, there are two key things that inform its products. 

The first thing is scientific research and the second, “objectively good” sound. “DPA has roots in a very scientific and very objective way of looking at the world,” explains Nielsen.

 “That is in our blood and our hearts and we really want our microphones to reflect the real world and be objective in the sound they provide, ideally giving the same signal as the sound that hits the microphone.” 

Nielsen joined DPA in 2016 from Topsil Semiconductor Materials A/S, where he held the CEO position since 2011. Previously, Nielsen occupied CEO positions at Bang & Olufsen A/S and Brüel & Kjær Sound & Vibration Measurement A/S. “Our mission is to have as many people as possible experience good sound,” he continues. “There are still a lot of areas where we can improve. There are still a lot of people in the world that we can provide better microphone solutions for.”

Nielsen recounts an anecdote about a business conference where “a very high ranking CEO had his presentation destroyed” by a microphone headset that wasn’t working properly. 

“It was very irritating for the audience, but also because he was distracted all the time, trying to correct it. He says that this is “so sad” and adds that it’s problems like this, no matter how small, that the company likes to try solve for end users. 

“I am the irritating guy that, if I check into a hotel and there is noise in the room, I will complain,” says Nielsen, commenting on how important sound is for him and everyone else at DPA. “I don’t want to hear bad sound. Sound is really an important part of our lives here.” 

In addition to DPA’s unique approach to sound capturing products, the company also has an unusually positive outlook when it comes to the wider industry, referring to other companies not as competitors, but as ‘partners’. 

“It’s our mission for as many people as possible to experience great sound, whatever they do. With that in mind, fundamentally we should not care whether it’s us that [makes] the microphone or the competitor. 

“Of course we also have a business to run. But sound is really the driving factor. If you go and speak to one of the employees here, you’ll see that it’s this that they care about, more than if we sell a microphone. 

“I think from my point of view, that’s the right attitude to have, because no one, myself included, wants a company to say, Buy my product, buy my product. What we want the suppliers to do is to think carefully about your issues, your challenges, and your problems and not focus on selling a product but focus on solving a problem.” 

If you do that, concludes Nielsen, then competitors are no longer competitors, they “are partners in trying to solve the customer’s issue”.

Nielsen on success in the market:

“You cannot force your way into success. If you are not solving customer problems better than the alternative then you are not going to be successful anyway. So it’s not about looking at competitors as enemies or anything like that. It’s just about looking at it as if we are partners in crime trying to work together and if they have some products from one company and products from other companies, then we need to make it work together. Some of our biggest competitors are also our biggest partners.”

Nielsen on the ideal microphone:

“We try to [make] the ideal microphone, which is of course not possible, but the ideal microphone should be invisible, because you don’t want to see it; it should reflect true sound and it should be consistent and sound the same between different microphones. They also need to be extremely robust. So that is our ambition. Even though we are humble, we think we are doing really well, but we always need to do better.

Nielsen on DPA’s mission: 

“Our mission is to have as many people as possible hearing good sound. If you look at a typical sound chain, starting with the microphone, going through a wireless system, sound processors, amplifiers and loudspeakers, we are only a tiny bit of this chain, but we believe that the microphone is a crucial element, because what comes in through the microphone, the signal that the mic delivers, cannot be fixed. If that’s distorted, nothing [in the chain] can fix it.”