Pictured in Matthew Sweet’s Lolina Green studio are Susanna Hoffs and Sweet with a new Telefunken USA Ela M 251F condenser tube microphone. Photo: David Goggin.
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs are currently recording a follow-up to their 2006 debut collaboration for the Shout! Factory label, Under the Covers, Vol. 1, which offers their renditions of 1960s pop and folk-rock songs such as The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing” and Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Their second album for Shout! Factory will explore the pop music of the ’70s.
Hoffs is famed as lead singer, rhythm guitarist and founding member of The Bangles. Sidney Matthew Sweet has been a mainstay of the pop scene since his smash 1991 debut, Girlfriend. The two are longtime fans of each other’s work, performing guest vocals at each other’s concerts, and collaborating with comedian Mike Myers as members of Austin Powers’ on-screen band Ming Tea in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Austin Powers in Goldmember.
Hoffs and Sweet each purchased Telefunken USA Ela M 251F microphone systems. The new mics house vintage NOS tubes with dual membrane capsules. "I helped Susanna set up a Pro Tools studio of her own like mine," explains Sweet. "For our second album together, we are going back and forth, so it's genius for us to have the 251 in both studios.
"The Telefunken USA 251 has a rich harmonic quality in the midrange," Sweet continues. "It's just a creamy sound with a bright top, like a sheen. I love using it for harmonies because it gives something to the tops of the voices that is crystalline. But it also has a good, big bottom end, as well. I started using it on acoustic guitars and other instruments, and now I use it for just about everything.
"I first got interested in what Telefunken USA was doing because I heard what Allen Sides had to say about their microphones. I know Allen and I've used his vintage mics at Ocean Way, and he is the real deal. For Susanna, she heard her voice with the new 251 and immediately told me she had to have this mic." Hoffs adds, "It's magnificent—such presence. Just big."
"I was also very impressed with how this microphone can take sound pressure," Sweet continues. "You can get close on the mic and it's very intimate and sensitive. You can really pick out detail, perhaps because of the high-end bump it has. The magic is partly that high-end, but a large part is the tube sound that is hard to put your finger on. Maybe it's a form of very subtle harmonic distortion, but it has a richness in the midrange that is really pleasing."