Born of the idea to provide replacement parts and restoration services for vintage Telefunken microphones, the newly formed company Telefunken USA quickly expanded its mission to include the complete re-creation of several vintage products, including the revered Ela-M 251 microphone.
Product PointsApplications: Studio recording
Key Features: Multipattern (cardioid, omni, bidirectional); tube; electronically filtered/fully regulated power supply; locking tweed hard-shell case with humidity control
Contact: Telefunken USA at 860-882-5919, Web Site.
The new Ela-M 251 ($10,125) is the first of several faithful reproductions planned by Telefunken USA. Calling it a “tribute to the classic microphone,” Telefunken USA’s meticulously built reproduction of the Ela-M 251 microphone is a near part-for-part dead ringer of the original.
The original Telefunken Ela-M 251, (a.k.a. “ELAM” 251 – the Ela-M moniker was short for Telefunken’s Elektroakustic Microphone line) is one of those “golden voice” microphones with a recording history and aura as big as the sound it can produce. With less than 3,000 manufactured, it is no wonder that the original Ela-M 251 has become a coveted and highly valuable microphone. A top-condition original Telefunken Ela-M 251, introduced over 50 years ago with a $300 price tag, can sell for around $20,000 in today’s market.
According to Telefunken USA, the company’s research and development team spent over one year “reverse engineering [the mic], networking with the people who use them and the people who repair them, and meticulously documenting each and every part down to the last screw… Every measurement is still in metric and each part retains its original German spec.”
The biggest challenge Telefunken faced was recreating the infamous CK-12 capsule, considered to be one of the most complex condenser capsule designs in microphone history. The capsule was recreated in the exact form as specified in the original authorized blueprints of the CK-12. According to the manufacturer, the capsules are hand-built one at a time, using materials identical to the original.
For those who are interested, Telefunken USA’s website includes an interesting still-image “documentary” detailing its Ela-M 251 manufacturing process, including sections on the company’s use of original injection mold technology (state of the art in 1960) and winding power supply transformers.
The mic is identical to the original in appearance, right down to the Telefunken logo pressed in sterling silver using an original Telefunken badge die stamp. The microphone body measures approximately eight and one half inches long and two inches in diameter and features the familiar three-position sliding polar pattern selector.
The mic connects to the power supply unit via a Neutrik six-pin XLR-style connector (one of the few obvious differences from the original, which used a sometimes-problematic DIN connector). The power supply unit features an on-off toggle switch, big red pilot light, and a fuse holder (.08A/30V). The old hard-wired A/C power cord has been upgraded to a standard IEC socket and removable cord.
In the recent past, I have had several opportunities to record with vintage Telefunken Ela-M 251 microphones. Through Pro Audio Review, I have also had the opportunity to record and evaluate the recent Soundelux and Lawson 251 reproductions. While I found both the Soundelux and Lawson reproductions were excellent microphones in their own right, Telefunken USA’s Ela-M 251 recreation is without a doubt the closest match when compared to the sound and build of the original.
Sonically, the Telefunken USA Ela-M 251 is as good a mic as any original model I have used. Its recreation of the classic 251 sound is, to my ears, pretty much dead on (of course, at this stage, finding two original M 251s that sound exactly alike is impossible). Telefunken set out to clone an original and succeeded admirably.
During several weeks of use, I found that the mic was more versatile than any of the original M 251s I have used. Perhaps this was because it is less fragile than an original so I felt less restrained in setting it up and breaking it down so many times – the originals tended to stay safely in the box until the big vocal sessions. It may also be that this mic provided a more predictable recording experience over the originals.
I enjoyed using the mic on typical favorites: male and female vocals, top end of the grand piano, baritone sax etc. But I also found myself using the mic on a variety of other instruments on which I had not previously tried a 251: solo cello, acoustic guitar (steel and nylon), “big” drum room mic, overhead on vibes, bassoon – all with excellent results.
I also noted that the Telefunken USA mic seemed markedly quieter than any of the original 251s I have used – something that has bothered me with the original models in the past.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to do side by side comparisons, but listening to vocal recordings I made with each of the four models (original Ela-M 251, Soundelux ELUX 251, Lawson L251, and the Telefunken USA Ela-M 251), while unscientific, helped confirm my observation that the new Ela-M 251 sounded closest to the original. I should note that the singer was the same in each of the recordings (me) and the same mic preamp (API 512) was used to cut straight to “tape” (Pro Tools) with no other equalization or processing in line.
To be fair, the Lawson and Soundelux mics are not designed or marketed as faithful recreations of the original; both are excellent mics that strongly echo the M 251 signature sound while also incorporating updated elements such as a constantly-variable polar pattern, pad and/or low-frequency rolloff. These changes are smart and welcome additions to modern mics that bring a 251-like sound to many who will never have the opportunity to use an original.
In the end, as with all mics, beauty is in the ear of the beholder – always do what you can to use the mic prior to investing. Telefunken USA obviously put an extraordinary amount of time and care in recreating the classic Ela-M 251, and this is reflected in the build, sound and price of the microphone. The result is a versatile world-class tube microphone that was a pleasure to use. While there is no mic for all occasions, when used appropriately the Ela-M 251 sounded great on nearly every instrument at which it was pointed.
In steadfastly sticking to the as-close-to-the-original-design, materials and manufacturing techniques as possible, Telefunken USA has created a limited-run, hand-built mic that just might make the leap to a different playing field – one where people weigh the option of buying a vintage model with potentially unpredictable performance for $20,000 or breaking in a new model for around $10,000. It does not hurt that they have the original Telefunken name, design and silver logo stamp!
Westlake LCW8.1 and SP Technology Timepiece studio monitors; Hafler and Sunfire power amplifiers; API 512 and Aphex 1100 mic preamps; API 2500 and UREI LN-1176 compressors; Audience high-resolution cables.