Product review - ELA M 250
Telefunken ELA M250F - MusicTech December 2007
Vintage Telefunken microphones are among the most valuable and collectable of all classic recording equipment ? despite the fact that Telefunken didn?t actually make them. Instead, the leading microphone manufacturers of the 50s and 60s were contracted to make them for Telefunken on an OEM basis.
Invariably, these microphones were just re-badged Neumann U47s, Schoeps M221s and so on. Until 1958, all Neumann mics exported to the US were branded Telefunken, but when this arrangement changed, Telefunken decided it needed a microphone it could call its own.
The company commissioned AKG to design and build a large-capsule condenser that would surpass the Neumann U47 in sound quality. Subsequently, the Telefunken ELA M250 was introduced in 1958. AKG used the CK12 capsule from its C12 mic mounted in a wider chassis under a metal grille. The ELA M 250 had only two pickup patterns, omni-directional and cardioid, but figure-8 was added for the ELA M 251.
AKG originally used the AC 701 tube that was the standard for audio applications in 1950s Germany, but realised that the 6072 tube would be preferable in microphones destined for the US. An E (for ?export?) was added to the model designation.
Many vintage microphones suffered high noise floors due to circuit board moisture absorption. To solve this, AKG used polystyrene plastic for the boards, the valve was inverted to minimise cable length from the capsule, and a 100Hz bass rolloff facility was added.
Estimated production figures for the ELA M 250 series vary from fewer than 2,000 to almost 3,000. Even if you could afford one, unmolested and perfectly functioning examples are almost impossible to find and rarely appear on the open market. Maybe, then, you?re wondering why we?re giving you all this info about a long-extinct microphone. The reason is that Telefunken USA?s ELA M 250 is an exact replica of the original.
The M 250F version we?re reviewing here comes from the company?s more affordable Professional series. Ditching the flightcase and the vintage-spec power supply offers some savings, but in every other way the M 250F is just like the originals. The only grey area is the capsule. Telefunken USA?s Platinum range features newly manufactured CK12 capsules, while its Vintage range has original AKG CK12s. The Professional range contains Telefunken USA TK12 capsules that were designed to accurately re-create the original?s sonic properties, but the company wasn?t very forthcoming with the details.
As soon as you see this mic you become aware that you?re dealing with a very special microphone indeed. Ever wondered why records made by top engineers sound so great? Well, here?s a little insider secret: when you have access to the very best mics, preamps and rooms, you?d really have to go out of your way to mess up the sound.
Indeed, the M 250F is one of those microphones that almost does the job for you. We started with acoustic guitar, lining it up against a renovated 1950s Neumann CMV563 with an M7 cardioid capsule. The difference was dramatic, but completely in line with what you?d expect if you?ve used vintage
Telefunkens and Neumanns before. The M 250F has a wider spread of frequencies, especially in the top end. When knowledgeable pros talk about ?vintage warmth?, the defining factor is the quality rather than the quantity of the high frequencies. The M 250F?s detail and transparency is remarkable, yet it sounds intimate rather than forced.
Drum it in
The M 250F also captured the acoustic guitar?s tone with an eerie realism. By comparison, the Neumann is thicker and pleasantly coloured in the mids, but without the tightly controlled lows. Switching the M 250F to omni, the sparkling highs remained and the lows gained some extra focus, but at the expense of some midrange presence.
The M 250F excels as a cardioid drum overhead. Cymbals sound crystalline, while the rest of the kit remains well balanced and defined. Again, the Neumann sounded meatier in the mids, but it couldn?t match the M 250F?s lightning transient response.
Switching to omni, the M 250F overhead did an even better job of capturing the kick drum. The Neumann capsule gave the M 250F a run for its money in the highs and lows, but it wasn?t as ?together? in the midrange.
One of the M 250F?s most surprising attributes is its power handling. Lots of valve mics tend to distort in front of guitar amps, but the M 250F sounded smooth, detailed and perfectly at ease. It?s also perfectly balanced for naturalsounding vocals, and our guitar adventures suggest that dynamic vocalists won?t trouble it whatsoever.
The real deal
Users of original Telefunkens describe the sound as a glorious hybrid of the Neumann U47 and the C12 ? the fatness and midrange of the former combined with the silky highs and extended top end of the latter. That?s certainly how we?d describe the M250F. There?s no denying it?s expensive, but when you consider the money you?ll save on ?warming up? plug-ins, placebo valve devices and exotic EQs, the M 250F looks very tempting.