Field Test: Telefunken Ela M 251The original Telefunken Ela M 251 microphone has quite a history. 10/01/2003 8:00 AM Eastern
The original Telefunken Ela M 251 microphone has quite a history.Telefunken originally contacted AKG in 1958 to develop the 251; theresulting design incorporated the same CK12 capsule, 6072 tube and T-14transformer as the AKG C 12 mic.
AKG settled on two models: the Telefunken 250 and 251. Thetwo-pattern 250 was designed to compete with the Neumann U47,originally developed by former Telefunken employee George Neumann, andthe 251 was developed as a direct replacement for the AKG C 12.
Through the years, many A-list engineers and collectors haveresponded enthusiastically to these gems and have created a trend foracquisition, as well. The Wall Street Journal published anarticle in the 1990s on the original Telefunken Ela M 251, describingit as one of the best overall investments of the 21st century.
Toni Fishman of Telefunken USA recognized this and decided todevelop a reissue. His business first developed identical replacementparts for vintage 251s. A chance meeting with Allen Sides in Nashvilleresulted in Sides telling Fishman that there was one particular mic inhis collection of more than 20 vintage 251s that was consistently usedby Joni Mitchell for many of her classic recordings. Unfortunately,there was a small fire in the studio in which this mic was being used,and the 251 was damaged. Sides agreed to sacrifice the mic so thatFishman could literally raise the capsule from the ashes to validate aschematic for use in the development of a world-class reissue: the ElaM 251.
Visually, Telefunken USA's Ela M 251 ($10,000) is identical to theoriginal, right down to the silver logo. The body measuresapproximately eight-and-a-half inches long and two inches in diameter.It features the familiar three-position, sliding polar-patternselector, and the mic connects to the power supply unit via a Neutrik6-pin XLR-style connector. The power supply unit features an on/offtoggle switch, a red pilot light and a fuse holder. The old EuropeanA/C power cord has been upgraded to a standard IEC socket and removablecord. Every mic is hand built to order, and each 251 is a direct resultof more than 200 man-hours of labor.
In application, the mic was a pleasure to work with. It comes in avintage-style, humidity-controlled tweed briefcase with form-fit slotsfor the mic case, cable and power supply. I first used the mic torecord a rhythm section; specifically, as an overhead for tom fills.The mic truly shined and captured the performance while complementingthe sonics of the instrument in the room. The drum's definition wasclear and precise. Later, I recorded an acoustic guitar on the samepiece of music. The guitar sounded absolutely wonderful with greatpersonality and color, leaving very little need for compression orequalization.
On another session, I placed the mic above a snare drum that was hitwith blast sticks. Again, this backbeat performed in a small roomsounded glorious and instantly became the basic rhythm track for themaster. I then used it to record additional percussion, includingtambourine, djembe, shaker and bass drum. Similar to the drumexperience from the previous session, the mic captured the performance,while allowing the instruments to really speak in the track. In bothsituations, the 251 was sent through a Universal Audio 2-610 mic preand sent directly to a hard disk recorder. Occasionally, the chainincluded a Universal Audio LA-2A limiter. Despite any additions, the251's airy, sonic softness added depth to the recordings.
Next, as an overdub, I used the mic to record a Takamine six-stringsteel guitar and a classical nylon-stringed guitar. I set the mic to acardioid pattern and placed it about a foot from the 12th fret.Occasionally, I placed it further away to add a little depth to thesound. Again, the results were stunning.
I should state that I had an original 251 available at the sessionand often used it as an alternative to measure performance. In alltests, the new Ela M 251 sounded as good as, or better than, theoriginal.
Next, I used the mic to record a vocal, with an LA-2A placed in thechain for some subtle compression. The voice sounded awesome. When theoriginal 251 was used for comparison, you could hardly tell thedifference between the two. The brilliant top end along with its fullbottom took the vocal performance to a higher level. Finally, I used itto record a violin and harmonica to complete the session. Here, the micreally brought out the tone of the violin with a soft clarity thatcomplemented the mix.
Telefunken USA's Ela M 251 is an incredible mic. In everyapplication, it never let me down. From the subtle guitars to theabusive transients of powerful percussion, it rose to each occasionwith great results. The $10k price tag can be a bit of a shocker, butyou get what you pay for. Regardless of the price, I recommend checkingit out, because it is well worth the experience. It appears to haveeverything; however, you must supply the talent.
Telefunken USA, 860/882-5919, www.telefunkenusa.com.
Mark Cross is a producer/mixer in Los Angeles, and has workedwith Bill Bottrell, Shelby Lynne, Randy Newman and JenniferWarnes.