In the few brief decades of sound recording history, there are perhaps only two vintage pro audio products that have reached “holy grail” status, at least if the sky-high prices presently being paid for them are any indication. One is the Fairchild 670 limiter (currently $20,000 to $25,000; $1,500 new in 1961) and the other is the Telefunken ELAM 251 microphone (currently $13,000 to $18,000; $650 new in 1965).
Product PointsApplications: Studio
Key Features: Multipattern (cardioid, omni, figure eight)tube condenser microphone; 1-inch edge-connected diaphragm; 6072A vacuum tube.
Contact: Soundelux/Transamerica Audio Group at 702-365-5155 Web Site
The Fairchild compressor was “recreated” by Fairman a few years back, and now Soundelux has taken a shot at recreating the ELAM 251 with its newly introduced ELUX 251 tube condenser microphone.
The ELUX 251, like the vintage Telefunken 251, has a 1-inch edge-connected diaphragm, a sliding pattern selector switch just below the grille (cardioid, omni and figure eight), a 6072A tube, identical head grille spacial volume (which has a significant effect on the sound), a diamond-shaped name badge on the front, a light green painted body and a chrome grille head, the back half of which is painted flat black.
Unlike the vintage ELAM, the new ELUX is built to very high standards of quality. Sliding off the outer casing reveals high-end components and construction techniques that befit a mic with a list price of $5,000.
Its power supply not only matches the mic type, but is actually matched to the individual mic it ships with; the manual recommends against using any other than the original supply – the first I have seen of such a practice. A travel case is included, but it is not exactly a “flight” case since it is made of fairly light unreinforced aluminum. It has fitted spaces inside for the various pieces included, which aside from the mic and power supply are the shockmount, the cable that connects the mic to the supply and a standard AC cord.
To my delight, the ELUX 251 arrived at my studio door about two hours before a session involving acoustic piano and a male vocalist. After a quick look at its documentation, I plugged it in to warm it up. Using a Neve 1073 mic pre and a Universal Audio 1176 compressor, I patched directly into a 16-bit ADAT, bypassing the console (note: all other recordings mentioned here were done either 24-bit/48 kHz to Pro Tools or 24-bit/96 kHz to an Apogee PSX-100 converter/TASCAM DA-88). When the session began and I pushed up the vocalist’s fader, I was quite simply blown away by the amazing sound of this very special mic. Its gorgeous, clean extended top end, powerful lows and smooth midrange were nothing short of breathtaking. It continued to amaze me as the session went on, and both the vocalist and pianist commented very enthusiastically about its sound.
I then tried it with two different female vocalists. In both cases however, the ELUX lost multi-mic “shootouts;” the first by the narrowest of preferences to a Telefunken U47, and the second (with a very bright, almost harsh sounding singer) to a Stephen Paul modified Neumann U87 with SP’s custom HF roll off engaged. In these situations the ELUX sounded like a superb mic that happened not to be the absolute best for these particular singers. I do not feel that it really did “lose” in either case, it was just nudged aside by some other very heavy hitters in the mic locker. I am confident that most female voices (or at least ones that are not unusually bright sounding) will be great on it.
I had the privilege only once before of using an original Telefunken ELAM 251, but I never forgot its silky, airy top end and its overall sense of “there-ness.” The ELUX 251 immediately reminded me of that experience, enough so that a direct comparison seemed to be an irresistibly good idea.
Chris Dunn at Dreamhire rentals in New York City (Web Site) graciously agreed to loan me a vintage ELAM 251 to compare to the Soundelux re-creation. Dreamhire owns several ELAMs, two of which were available here in NYC, and after listening to both on headphones at their office, I chose the one that had more top end, a characteristic this mic is well known for. But the fact that the other one had noticeably less is a telling fact on the consistency of vintage mics.
I used the Telefunken and Soundelux 251s during sessions involving acoustic guitars, percussion and wood flutes. Later, I recorded myself playing acoustic guitar and piano, and speaking into the mics. In all cases the two 251s were set up as close to one another as was physically possible. It became immediately apparent that there was a significant difference between them -prompting the first of several phone conversations with David Bock, designer of the ELUX 251 as well as the other mics in the Soundelux line.
I found that the ELUX was consistently more “scooped-out” sounding (less midrange presence), had a more extended and less distorted top end, and more proximity effect than the vintage ELAM. With my speaking voice, I also compared the two different 251s to the Stephen Paul U87, a stock U87 (1977) and the U47. The ELUX was the most scooped out of the lot. It complemented my voice exceptionally well, though, and was my favorite for this application. Moving back from 4 inches to 8 inches as I spoke reduced proximity effect as expected. The smooth, soaring high end remained thoughout, and sounded amazing.
In the case of the acoustic guitar recordings (which involved several different instruments and placements of the two 251s) I felt the scooped-out midrange was not a good thing, making the guitars weak in the kind of presence that they might need, particularly if they had to cut through a dense track. The vintage ELAM, by contrast, had a nice punchy middle that would likely hold up better under those circumstances, and generally seemed like an excellent choice for acoustic guitar.
With the wooden flutes, the ELUX’s top-end shimmer and smooth presence rise from mids to highs flattered the instruments exceptionally well, and was the easy choice over the vintage ELAM. Likewise with the percussion tracks: the crisp, ultra-low distortion in the top end and wonderfully smooth transition from mids to highs gave the tracks an effortless clarity that was very satisfying, and preferable to the ELAM. On piano, the openness, cleanness and “size” of the Soundelux gave the instrument great warmth, detail and dimension, although the ELAM was also superb.
I found the ELUX’s omni pattern to be quite smooth and even all around the mic, with the expected reduction in proximity effect. In figure eight, however, I found the backside response to be so far from equal to the front that it was, frankly, unusable. I called David Bock to ask about this and he said he chose to optimize the design for cardioid and omni, even if figure eight suffered a bit as a consequence. He observed that on vintage ELAMs the figure eight response was also erratic, so he felt a certain license to focus less attention on that aspect of the design. Unfortunately I had to return the Dreamhire ELAM before I could compare figure eight patterns.
Bock confirmed that voicing the ELUX somewhat differently from the ELAM was a conscious decision – to depart from a strict “replica” approach in favor of a mic that might more accurately be termed “in the style” of an ELAM 251. A mic with some of the cherished characteristics of the ELAM (particularly the incredibly smooth, extended, airy high end), but different in the midrange and proximity effect areas to give the mic a somewhat “larger” sound. While its departure from the ELAM is slightly disappointing from one point of view, its overall greatness is so unmistakable that the ELUX easily justifies itself.
I tip my hat to David Bock and Soundelux for creating a truly superb new mic in the tradition of what is, for some, the greatest mic ever made. This outstanding microphone will bring “holy grail” greatness to many owners without requiring a second mortgage.