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October 23, 2017 Executive Profile

Venitosh finds right pitch at S. Windsor's Telefunken

HBJ Photo | John Stearns Alan Venitosh, director of operations for microphone maker Telefunken Elektroakustik, shows a sample of mics the South Windsor company makes.

Some of the biggest names in music have relied on a small South Windsor company to help deliver just the right sound in their live performances or studio recordings.

The company, Telefunken Elektroakustik, makes microphones.

An office display case contains signed mics from musicians across genres.

“We have everyone from Snoop Dogg to ZZ Top to Phish, Mötley Crüe, the Beach Boys,” said Alan Venitosh, director of operations for Telefunken Elektroakustik, who oversees the site for Toni Fishman, Farmington-based owner of Telefunken USA.

The team of rocker Tom Petty, who died Oct. 2, bought several Telefunken mics this year for stage performances.

Venitosh cited other clients from a recent trip to London: Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles and Pink Floyd recorded, bought a set of mics. So did Peter Gabriel.

“When he built his new studio, he wanted the best he could get, so he purchased two of ours,” Venitosh said.

The company ships about 10,000 microphones a year and has grown sales revenue 9 to 12 percent annually, said Venitosh, 39, who joined Telefunken in 2002, sold its third mic and helped build its sales and distribution network. It doubled its office size to about 16,000 square feet last year and plans to expand into an adjoining space soon, adding about 8,000 more square feet. It has 30 employees.

Telefunken also has a sound stage musicians visit, sometimes unannounced — Colin Hay from Men at Work recently dropped in — to test equipment. It's a studio environment that replicates the “harshest audio or recording environments in the world,” Venitosh said, likening it to a test track for cars.

The majority of Telefunken's microphones incorporate old, but never-used vacuum tubes, which are central to creating a classic, warm sound, Venitosh said. Telefunken has a large collection of what he calls “new old-stock vacuum tubes” from archival collections it purchased that have never been opened and might have been new in the late-1970s or early-1980s.

“We're opening them now for the first time … and we're putting them in our circuits, in our microphones, so that's how we preserve that tone,” Venitosh said.

Fishman acquired the Telefunken name for use in North America in 2000 and incorporated in 2001, but Telefunken dates to 1903 in Germany. Among its ventures were wireless radio communications, vacuum tubes and microphones, including the “world renowned” U47 mic it began distributing in 1947, according to Telefunken's website. The ELA M 251 mic followed in 1959, was made until 1962, and is “thought to be one of the best-sounding microphones ever created,” the site says. The company ceased production in 1985.

Fishman later acquired a vintage ELA M 251, discovering a broken switch that plagued original units, and began reverse-engineering the switch. That led to the idea to re-create the entire mic, introduced in 2002.

Telefunken re-creates the sound with modern engineering, but “not forsaking the way they did it then for innovation,” Fishman said.

After the ELA M 251, Telefunken re-created the U47 and another popular model in 2004, followed by new designs throughout the years. They fall into three categories: vacuum-tube mics ideal for recording studios; mics with similar components in a more affordable package; and dynamic mics for holding on stage or close to an instrument.

Entry-level dynamic mics run about $250 to $500, midlevel mics about $1,200 to $1,800 and premium mics about $8,000 to $10,000.

A potential new piece of business is mics for sideline sports reporters. Telefunken was approached by sports networks that have modified its hand-held dynamic mics, modifications Telefunken is working on internally.

Music lifestyle

For Venitosh, who grew up in South Windsor enjoying music, Telefunken seems a harmonious fit. He was obsessed with his father's records, transferring vinyl audio to cassettes to listen in the car.

Something else about vinyl caught his eye besides band members' names. He was intrigued by people with titles like engineer, second engineer and producer.

He degreed in music production and technology at the University of Hartford's Hartt School, worked in a music store selling guitars, mics and drum sets, and toured as a guitarist with a progressive rock band, Rane.

“I played a thousand gigs, driving around in the back of a 10-person passenger van all over the Northeast United States,” he said. “While I was selling by day, I was gigging at night, so I've immersed myself in the gear.”

Venitosh jams with friends today in Auburn Mode, which plays acoustic folk music. At home, he plays drums, a bass, guitar and piano.

His wife, Heather, is a guidance counselor with the Capitol Region Education Council. They have a son, 3.

“Alan's always had my back and I admire him, his music ability, his personality, his people skills, his ability to figure it out for me when we didn't always have the answer,” Fishman said.

Fishman sees more innovation ahead for Telefunken, which prides itself on high-quality, locally made products.

A new venture could include headphones.

“We might want to do some more projects like guitar pedals or guitar amps, or something … a little more within our wheelhouse before we think that we can make billions of dollars worth of headphones,” Fishman said.

View a video interview with Alan Venitosh here.

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