The Telefunken ELAM 251E

The Holy Grail of All Microphones

If ever there was a microphone that an engineer, producer or artist would refer to as beautiful, it would have to be the Telefunken ELAM 251E. It sounds amazing on the following sources: drums, acoustic or stringed instruments, and woodwinds-- but, it truly shines on vocals. In fact, it may well be just the perfect microphone for capturing the voice of a performer. Until recently, it was a rare microphone to possess, even for some of the top recording studios in the world. But, as of 2003, this legendary microphone has been reproduced down to the last detail and fashioned completely by hand by the wonderful and amazing people at Telefunken Elektroakustik, right here in America.

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The Telefunken ELAM 251E is one of the most recognizable microphones in the world. Image courtesy of Telefunken Elektroakustik.

 This grand microphone with its classical lime green body is instantly recognizable to those in the engineering community, even if you have never been fortunate enough to see one in person in a studio, much less be able to use one on your session, until Telefunken re-released the 251 in 2003. As most classical vintage microphones do, this amazing microphone has an interesting story behind its original development. The story of the development of the Telefunken 251 begins at the height of the Cold War in Germany in 1958 with the company deciding to end the production of the steel VF-14 tube, which was at the heart of the famed U47 and U48 microphone models. Telefunken made the steel VF-14 tubes, but Neumann constructed the microphones which were then to be distributed under the Telefunken brand. When Telefunken quit making the tube, Neumann ended their distribution partnership, and began the process of creating a new microphone-- which would eventually become the legendary Neumann U67. Meanwhile, Telefunken made a deal with a rival microphone manufacturer in Austria, AKG, which already had a flagship microphone-- the C12. But, AKG agreed to the partnership with Telefunken and in the process, the legendary Telefunken ELAM 251 was born. 

From 1959-1962, AKG manufactured about 2,000 units for sale in both Europe and North America. There were two differing versions of the microphone that were created-- ironically to be able to compete with the Neumann U47 and U48 models-- the ELAM 250 (which featured two polar patterns- cardiod and omni, just like the Neumann U47) and the ELAM 251 (which unlike the Neumann U48, actually featured three polar patterns- cardiod, omni and figure-of-eight). However, the ELAM 250/251 models did feature some key refinements over the AKG C12. First, an engineer could change the polar pattern on the capsule of the microphone itself, on the AKG C12 this had to be done on a small selector switch box which was connected to the power supply and then to the capsule of the microphone. The tube was inverted in the new Telefunken ELAM 250/251 models from the design of the C12 which shortened the distance for the signal to travel and the capsule was shortened and featured a deeper cavity and a wider head grille housing, compared to the C12. In effect, the new Telefunken microphone models featured the best of the designs of both the Neumann U47/U48 models and of the AKG C12. The new Telefunken microphones also had a new and critically important design feature-- each was created utilizing a modular design scheme, so that they could be more easily serviced. Two differing models of the Telefunken ELAM 250/251 were created for two different markets-- the ELAM 250/251 featured the AC701(k) tube which was more readily available in Europe, whereas the ELAM 250E/251E (the "E" designation stood for export) models featured the 6072 tube-- which could be more easily found in North America.  The Telefunken 250/251 models quickly found their homes in major recording studio facilities around the world and quite soon established themselves as some of the greatest microphones perhaps ever to be made for the purpose of music recording. 

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The Telefunken ELAM 251E in its beautiful case. Image courtesy of Telefunken Elektroakustik.

How does a Telefunken ELAM 251E actually sound in the studio? It is perhaps the smoothest and richest sounding microphone ever created. We had a classical vintage 251 at Curb Studio and one afternoon, after we had purchased this microphone I had a friend who was a demo singer who wanted to record some background vocals for a project and she came into the studio to work with me on it. I decided to give the new microphone a try. We had a Neumann U47, a pair of Neumann U67s and a pair of AKG  C12s at Curb Studio, but the 251 had never been taken out of the case and had been with us for over a month. It sounded gorgeous-- with a rich low-end response and clear, detail throughout the mid-range frequencies, with a smooth and silky top-end. I do not think that I have ever heard a microphone more perfectly fit a person's voice than the Telefunken ELAM 251 fit this particular singer. If you have a person who can truly  sing and has tremendous vocal range-- it is the perfect microphone for this type of performer and nothing else remotely comes close. It is just that good. It sounds amazing on acoustic guitar, though I have never seen an engineer use it on one other than myself. It also sounds superb on piano, as well. As I noted in the opening, it would be the perfect microphone for vocals, strings and woodwinds. Though I would not have used it on drum overheads, it goes without saying that it would certainly give a rich, smooth, and detailed definition to the sound of an entire drum kit. I think a pair of ELAM 251s in omni would be gorgeous— not just in capturing a string section, but, also a choral ensemble. A stereo pair of ELAM 251s would not only be great for piano, drum overheads, string sections or choral ensembles-- but, would make excellent room microphones, as well. It is an amazing microphone that just sounds gorgeous on any source.

Since 2003, Telefunken Elektroakustik has made an exact copy of the ELAM 251E, down to the original details. During that year, Toni Fishman, who would create Telefunken USA, met with the legendary engineer and studio manager, Allen Sides, of Ocean Way Studios, who had twenty original 251s, including one that had been damaged in a small fire in the studio that had been a favorite vocal microphone for the legendary, Joni Mitchell. Fishman and his team at Telefunken USA took this beautiful, but damaged microphone and after painstaking studies and testing, recreated it by hand in all of its original glory-- the Telefunken ELAM 251E, one of the greatest microphones to ever be created rose from the ashes to live once more. The Telefunken ELAM 251E is an authentic recreation of the original, classic, vintage microphone. It can be used with a vintage specimen as a stereo pair and the majority of the parts of both microphones are completely interchangeable. For the first time, since 1963, one of the very best microphones to ever be created is now available to the public-- and for music producers, recording engineers and studio facilities, this amazing microphone can now become a true studio staple once more.

While there are a number of manufacturers that make clones of the 251, the classic recreation made by Telefunken Elektroakustik is the standard for one of the greatest microphones ever made. Today, it is lovingly made by hand at the Telefunken USA factory in South Windsor, Connecticut. You can also have your classical vintage Telefunken microphones repaired by hand with the best available parts in the world by the wonderful people at the company. The company now makes a wide variety of products-- their Diamond Series, features their classical tube microphone models (the ELAM 251E, ELAM 251T, U47, U48, and C12 models); their Alchemy Series features their condenser microphone models (the TF11 FET,  TF29 Copperhead, TF39 Copperhead Deluxe, TF47, and the TF51 models); their SDC series features their small diaphragm condenser microphone models (a tube version, the ELAM 260 and a FET version, the M60 FET are available); and their Dynamic Series features an array of dynamic microphone models (the M80, M81, M82, M80-SH, M81-SH, plus wireless versions with the M80-WH and M81-WH models). The company also sells fabulous mono and stereo direct boxes (both active and passive versions are available). You can also purchase merchandise from the company store online. 

If you are interested in learning more about their amazing microphones, fabulous direct boxes or great merchandise, please visit their website at https://www.telefunken-elektroakustik.com/. 

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Pictured with the Telefunken ELA M251E at Aftermaster Studios are (L-R) Daniel Poselli, Telefunken consultant; Toni Fishman, Telefunken CEO and Founder; and Aftermaster CEO and Founder Larry Ryckman. Photo by David Goggin. Image courtesy of Telefunken Elektroakustik.

Special Thanks and Acknowledgement

I would like to take a moment to thank Mr. Alan Venitosh of Telefunken Elektroakustik for his time, energy and important contributions to the development of this article about the Telefunken ELAM 251E in the Recording Session Vault website project.