Vintage Mics: Let’s Ask Somebody That Knows

Much like vintage microphone preamps, the lore around vintage microphones is a deep and treacherous pit-a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs (thank you Dr. Thompson).  But, in all seriousness, the epidemic of misinformation on this topic has gotten way out of hand.   Add the forums and the continued marketing of new products that come out of a catalog from China and it’s real hard to discern fact from fiction.   The truth is, those of us that have used a lot of vintage mics know that most of the time, three or four Neumann U-47s, AKG C12s or ELA M 251s in a mic locker are all going to sound different.  Those of us that haven’t worked with a lot of the real deal are forced to believe that whatever mic we purchased (that is supposed to sound like a mic that is no longer being manufactured) is the sound of a certain generation of technology.  So, when a manufacturer claims to be capturing the “sound” of a certain mic-which “sound” are they catching?  Admittedly, there are certain characteristics that a particular microphone possesses and most of the time, that is what is trying to be duplicated in the design process of these modern day microphones.   Take the highly sought after ELA M 251 for example…

Bock Audio 251I recently sat down with David Bock (an authority on vintage mics if there ever was one) and asked his opinion on the subject.   What are the core elements that make up a 251 and how does it compare to other microphones?  David: “A great vintage 251 is a unique sum of it’s parts and design that sets it well apart from other mics, even one with many similar parts like the AKG C12.  Though made by the same company and sharing the same capsule, tube, transformer, and psu, it’s the small details that set the 251 apart in it’s sound and design.  It has a larger headgrille and more protective mesh.  This coupled with a special variation capsule and self biased tube contribute to a sound that’s easily distinguished from it’s closest cousin, the C12.  This sound is often described as having a full low end and very sweet top end, which finds it to be flattering on many things.  It also benefits from slightly higher gain and lower effective noise floor, which also contributes to it’s great versatility.”

So that being said, let’s hear what it sounds like.   Below is a link to download a Pro Tools session (the audio files are consolidated for non Pro Tools users).  The purpose of this session is to compare the sonic differences between a current production Bock 251 and a vintage ELA M 251.  The Bock design is hand built in the USA using only the finest and most appropriate parts available to achieve the sound David described above.  The ELA M 251 is a vintage microphone with a street value of around $15,000-if you can find one.  Per usual, I encourage you to listen to this session in your own studio or listening environment and let your ears do the talking.  I think you’ll hear an immediate difference that will spark some questions of your own.

Bock Audio 251 session