It's funny how the audio industry sometimes seems to go in waves. Four years ago, summing mixers, like the Dangerous 2-BUS (Tape Op #35), were the new thing, and two years ago, monitor controllers were hot, but it was difficult to find a new small-diaphragm tube condenser mic. Now there's quite a selection, including the Chameleon Labs TS-1, Mojave Audio MA-100, and Peluso P 28. The Ela M 260 is Telefunken USA's entry into this category. I've used all of these mics, and they all sound great! Physically, the TS-1, MA-100, and Ela M 260 appear similar to each other (except for color), while the slightly larger P 28 is a bit different. The P 28 and the Ela M 260 share one common element, a NOS Telefunken EF 732 tube. Other than that, they're different beasts. When Telefunken USA offered to send a pair of M 260s for review, I said, "Sure, I'd love to check them out!" When the 260s showed up, I was immediately impressed with the build quality. The power supply was solid with a beefy handle and an overall very vintage feel to it. One of my beefs with a lot of the newer tube mics is the cabling. Many of them use five or seven-pin XLRs with wire-thin pins that quickly get bent, making the mic intermittent; and in extreme cases, you can't plug in the mic or the supply without straightening the pins. The M 260 is a definite upgrade in that regard with very solid, thicker Neutrik XLR connectors. The M 260 also ships with two shock mounts, one that I've seen with several other mics originating in China-a solid, well-built version of the suspended elastic-band mount. The second is an ingenious, super-sturdy mount that uses a loop of very thick rubber that I haven't seen before. This mount is both compact and looks like it will last for years. The M 260 also ships with a nice oak box and three capsules-omni, cardioid, and hypercardioid-as well as an adapter to use AKG CK 1, RED or BLUE lollipop capsules. Unlike some of Telefunken USA's other mics, the M 260 is not an exact historical recreation. The original M 260 was first built in 1959 for Telefunken by AKG and used a CK 28 capsule and the super-rare and pricey AC 701 tube. The newly-designed capsules in the Ela M 260 are a result of nearly two years of experimentation and voicing, and the mic is assembled and tested in Connecticut from parts sourced in the USA, including a custom transformer by AMI/TAB Funkenwerk.
I left the M 260s out in the studio for a few months, and they saw a fair amount of use in this time. As expected, they got used on a fair amount of acoustic guitar tracks with good results, but they also got used on some sources I wouldn't have initially expected. Engineer Thom Monahan, who had tried some of our other tube SDCs and wasn't initially stoked on them, used an M 260 on our pump organ and was really enthusiastic about the results. On a tracking date for the band The Broken West, Thom also used the M 260 as a hi-hat mic with a vintage Electrodyne preamp. What sold them on the mic was not just the top end, but also "the low mids of the hi-hat, which just sounded great," according to Bryce Gonzales, the second on that session. Bryce also used the M 260 on snare through our Neve 34128 console on a session with the band All On Seven and was really pleased with the sound. "The M 260 had a better top end than the other dynamic mic I tried, but it was really natural and not super-hyped," said Bryce. Later that same week, he used both M 260s as overheads for drum tracking with folk artist Autumn Sky and was pleased with the sound.
I should note that at The Hangar, we have several SDCs with which the engineers are already very familiar and that have proven themselves over the years, such as the THE KA-204, while more recently the Peluso P 28 has been seeing a lot of use. My point here is that if the M 260 didn't sound pretty damn good, it would not have stayed up and made it onto as many records as it has over the last few months.
Finally, we did a listening test with the M 260, P 28, MA-100, TS-1, and a Neumann M 582 with an M 62 capsule recording an acoustic guitar track. After setting levels and looping the track, Bryce and I were not that surprised when we both said, "All these mics sound really good; it's hard to tell them apart." The differences in the top end were so slight that most of the mics seemed nearly identical above 5 or 6 kHz. The differences in the bottom end and low mids, below 500 Hz, were more noticeable but still not that great. Bottom line, any of these mics would have done a great job of recording the guitar. Bryce and I slightly favored the MA-100 and M 260, but also liked the top end (or maybe lack of low end) on the M 582. Thom was in the back mixing, so we grabbed him to come listen without knowing which track was which. Surprisingly, he liked the TS-1 the best, a mic he hasn't really liked in real-world applications. After we identified the tracks for him, we concurred that all the mics sounded great, but the M 260 had a more natural top end, the M 582 had the most extended top end, the P 28 had the most low mids, and the MA-100 maybe seemed the best if we were actually going to record the guitar track. "I don't care though," remarked Thom. "I'm standing by the Telefunken. Every time I put it up, it sounds really good. I haven't had that luck with some of these other mics."
Gear Reviews(continued on page 72)/Tape Op#64/71
In conclusion, the M 260 is a great mic, and I ended up buying them as all the engineers who used them kept bugging me to not let them go back. You are definitely spending a premium for a mic that is very solidly built and looks a cut above its competition. But if you're on a tight budget, you may feel that its nicer looks and potentially higher reliability aren't worth almost twice what a Peluso, Mojave, or Chameleon costs. Truth be told, the 1/2" square Telefunken logo and cool-looking light-green paint don't affect the sound of the mic one way or the other. The very solid power supply and much better cabling and connectors will affect the sound however, as the Telefunken USA line seems more reliable than some of their competitors'. While everyone here really loves the sound of the Pelusos, one of them was cutting in and out because of the aforementioned bent connector pins, and I lost one of the overheads on a drum recording at one point. (That take was the best of the day, so we just had to live with only one of the two overheads.) For working studios looking for a mic that could last several decades without any problems, the Ela M 260 could be just what they're looking for. ($1495 MSRP; www.telefunkenusa.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.