The vintage vacuum tube Telefunken ELA M 251 E is a true classic microphone. And if you're quick, you can get your hands on one for $19,999. That's assuming you have $19,999 lying around. It may sound like a lot of money, but 20 grand would buy you a merely decent professional violin. It wouldn't buy you anything approaching the quality expected of a soloist's instrument. So in that perspective, $19,999 is pretty reasonable for a top-notch microphone. Prices can only go up.
The ELA M 251 shares a lot of its history with the AKG C12. The commonly-told story is that Neumann made U47 microphones for Telefunken (which were Telefunken-badged) until 1958 when, for whatever reason, they decided to stop. Telefunken needed a first-class microphone in their range so they approached AKG (rumor has it that all the best microphones come from either Germany or Austria!). AKG took the capsule from the C12, incorporated the pattern selector into the microphone rather than putting it in a separate box, and hey presto the ELA M 251 was born. The version without the 'E' at the end was intended for the state broadcasting systems in Germany and Austria; the E version was the commercial product.
There's a lot of information available elsewhere on the web, so I won't go into too much detail here. I will say however that it has been speculated, in the highest echelons of audio, that AKG sent the best of their microphones to the USA. So a US-spec 251 versus a European-spec comparison would be interesting, although of course age would throw confusion into the test.
The example here is for sale on eBay at the time of writing (April 2, 2013). Audio Masterclass has no association with the seller other than we asked permission to use the photos. Here it is...
Apparently the original owner of this mic considered it too good for everyday use, and he commonly left it in the cupboard and used lesser mics on his projects - it picked up too much HVAC and coke machine. Oh well, that's great microphones for you!
One interesting point is the diaphragm, which apparently is original. Looking at the photos it has quite a rich patina. There must come a point where this kind of degradation becomes too much. But that's part and parcel of the vintage microphone experience. If you want something predictable and bland, buy a new mic :-)
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