The Telefunken Ela-M 250 / 251
The Next Step Forward In Microphones
Sometimes, one piece of legendary gear can spawn another. In this case, one of the most revered vocal mics of all time was on the verge of disappearing, causing a rival to be born out of necessity.
In 1958, Telefunken announced to Georg Neumann that it was discontinuing the production of its VF14 steel tube, the heart of the Neumann U 47 and U 48 condenser mics. In exchange for the tube, Telefunken had gotten the distribution rights for Neumann microphones. But this deal ended when the VF14 was stopped.
Neumann began to develop a new microphone, while Telefunken went looking for a new manufacturer to partner with, and found them in Austria. The result was one of the finest microphones (or family of microphones) ever created, the ELA-M 250 and 251.
AKG And Telefunken Unite
AKG in Vienna had been building its highly successful large diaphragm condenser mic, the C12, since 1953. Telefunken contracted with AKG to make a modified version of this mic with significant improvements, and a pair of microphones were born; the model 250 with Cardioid and Omni patterns (like the U 47), and the model 251 with an additional figure-eight pattern (like the U 48).
These two microphones used three of the four key elements that made the AKG C12 so desirable. They included a Haufe T-14/1 output transformer, a socketed 6072 tube and a CK12 capsule. The fourth element was the head grille, and for this, the new mic had a larger cavity with an extra inner mesh, that contributed significantly to the frequency response.
Variations From the AKG C12 Design
Another difference was that the Ela-M 250/251 had the selector switch right on the body of the mic, just like the Neumann U 47. The selector switch was even color-coded to make it easy to determine from a distance what pattern is set on the mic. By dispensing with the remote pattern box used in the C12, the microphone was more portable, with less parts to malfunction during critical sessions.
Another innovation was that the Ela-M components were designed to be dismantled without the use of tools. The bottom portion unscrews to allow removal of the mic body, revealing an inner plastic housing for the electronics, and a head assembly that is easily removable to allow for a quick change of capsules. This modular design made it simple to swap out components if they needed replacement and Neumann would copy this idea for its next flagship microphone, the U 67.
The Ela-M Model Family
One last refinement was made as the specifications of Austrian and German broadcast systems required the use of the miniature Telefunken AC701(k) tube in the microphone. Since this tube was difficult to obtain outside of Europe (where the 6072 was quite common) this led to the family of four versions of the basic microphone: Ela-M 250 and 251 (with AC701 tube) and Ela-M 250 E and 251 E ("export" models with 6072 tube). In most respects, (other than wiring for the different tubes), the "E" and "non-E" models are identical.
The Ela-M has become a Holy Grail microphone due to its incredible tone, and has been used on countless great recordings over the last 50+ years. It is also one of the most-copied microphones in history, a testament to its enduring status as a piece of immortal gear.