In their heyday, small-diaphragm Neumann, Schoeps, and AKG tube microphones were used for both classical music recordings and solo instrument miking in pop and jazz.
The original TELEFUNKEN GmbH ELA M 260 was manufactured by AKG as a variant on the company’s C60, which was much smaller than the TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik because, unlike all other small-diaphragm tube mics, its (large) output transformer and various other passive parts were located in the power-supply chassis.
The TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik ELA M 260, $1,495 list, uses a NOS TELEFUNKEN EF-732 miniature vacuum tube, rather than the original, and rare, TELEFUNKEN AC-701k. It is 5.5-inches long, slender, comes in an antique-looking, padded, wooden box with a modern power supply, 10-meter Gotham Audio cable and an effective shock mount. The mic is assembled at TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik’s plant in Connecticut, the transformer is hand-wound in the United States, and certain other parts take advantage of the efficiencies of today’s “global economy.”
Also included is a custom-machined thread adapter, enabling the user to connect vintage half-inch AKG C-451 capsules from the CK-series and even more vintage AKG CK26 and CK28 capsules (from the C60 and C28 tube mics) as well as 12 one inch capsules from JZ/Violet Designs and BLUE Microphones’ lollipop capsule series. The original ELA M 260 was supplied with only a CK28 capsule, while a vintage ELA M 261 had an exceedingly rare three-pattern (cardioid, figure-of-eight, omni) capsule.
I own four vintage AKG C60s, so the first thing I did was compare the ELA M 260s with them under various studio and location recording conditions. First of all, its output level was higher than my C60s. Unfortunately, once I matched output levels, the noise level was also higher. The ELA M 260 is rated at 15 dB, a little on the high side for a modern tube microphone (such as the Mojave Audio MA-100 and the Groove Tubes GT40), as most use miniature 5840 or 6205 tubes. But if you’ve ever looked for a TELEFUNKEN AC-701k on eBay (and experienced sticker shock), you’ll understand TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik’s decision to use a lesser known but characteristically similar “New/Old Stock” tube. Despite this, I found the noise level satisfactorily low for all uses except as main tube mics for classical music recording sessions, for which the (more expensive) Neumann KM 50-series, or Schoeps 221Bs/222s, would be preferable.
The supplied cardioid capsules sounded a lot better than my vintage AKG CK28 capsules; they were brighter and clearer on my Mason & Hamlin piano and Martin JC-16RGTE guitar, and actually sounded similar to my prized matched pair of AKG CK1s. TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik supplied three ELA M 260 systems for my tests, and I can confidently state that the capsules matched very well. On the other hand, used CK-series capsules vary widely, so TELEFUNKEN has really nailed the capsule design. The TK62 hypercardioid capsule sounded similar to the TK60 cardioid but, acting like a genuine hypercardioid, would be a better choice for stereo orchestral recording. All three capsules sounded great on drums.
The TK61 omni was really nice, with deep low-end warmth. I don’t own any original AKG CK26 capsules, but the TK61 compared very favorably with my Schoeps omnis. In fact, I found the smooth, light and bright sound of all three capsules preferable to the “aggressive” sound of my Neumann small-diaphragm KM-53s/54s and the “mid-rangy” presence of the Schoeps. They even flattered woodwind instruments, often a problem for smalldiaphragm cardioid mics, and the omnis sounded amazing on pipe organ.
The TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik ELA M 260 is uniquely positioned within the small-diaphragm tube microphone world. With its three wonderful-sounding, halfinch capsules and the ability to connect various other large-diaphragm capsules, it is the most versatile microphone of its type I’ve ever used. But even this would be meaningless if it didn’t have “the sound.” Yet, it does.
TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik | 860-882-5919 | www.t-funk.com
Dr. Fred Bashour holds a Yale Ph.D. in Music Theory, and currently performs as a jazz pianist and church organist.