TapeOp Issue #45/January, 2005 | by Craig Schumacher
David Bock is very serious about microphone making. In ten short years, he’s built up a reputation as a builder of some of the best sounding mics you can buy. His primary focus has been on large-diaphragm condenser mics based on vintage classics. Recently, he introduced two new members to his line: the e250 and the e49.
The e250 is a follow-up to his ELUX 251 and is meant to be truer to the original AKG design that the original Telefunken company marketed. It’s solidly-built and comes with power supply, cable, shockmount, and wooden storage box. The mic has a triple-layered screen around the capsule to help reduce plosives. There are no switches for pad or filter, nor is there a pattern selector as the mic is a fixed cardioid condenser.
David set out to make a less hyped (in the top end) version of his own 251 and went to great lengths to create a robust, classic-sounding studio microphone. He definitely succeeded. The e250 is an amazing-sounding vocal mic. It has a lot of presence and really does have a classic sound. It reminded me of the way John Lennon’s vocal sound always had that commanding presence and yet at the same time seemed intimate. Its proximity effect is very strong and responds well to up-close singing. It is very focused and adds a nice color to male vocals. With less top boost then the 251, it is also better suited for female voice as well. Experienced studio vocalists will really like this microphone. I tried it on some other sources besides vocals, and it worked very well on acoustic guitar and piano. I also liked the way it handled alto saxophone; it sounded smoky and old-school with a classic jazz sound. Perhaps it is the lack of the upper-end boost that many of today’s modern mics exhibit that makes the e250 sound special.
The e49, as the number in its name suggests, is a reproduction of the revered Neumann M 49. These mics have become increasingly expensive and hard to find. The lower part of the e49 body is exactly like the original M 49 and is even fitted with the two protruding rivets so it will fit an original M 49 mount. The capsule is internally shock-mounted on a triple-layer sandwich of rubber and metal. The internal electronics, including the tube, are also shock-mounted inside the body. The difference in design vs. the M 49 is that the e49’s outer screen is cylindrical rather than angled like the Neumann’s. Inside the outer screen are two more layers of smaller mesh that mimic the Neumann shape. This allows for better air movement (sound) through the metal mesh at the sides to reduce the sonic effect of the mesh, especially in omni mode. Like the e250, the e49 comes with an external power supply custom-built for the mic’s electronics, but the e49’s power supply has a pattern selector. The patterns range from omni to figure?8, and since the control is sweepable (not just a multi-position switch), you can get many different pattern shapes, like you can with the original M 49.
The supplied clip for the e49 took me some time to get used to. It is not a locking mount but rather a hook that the mic rests in. The inner part of the hook has foam pads that cradle the mic snugly, and the two metal rivet-like protrusions at the base of the microphone extend across the foam pads to hold the mic in.
I spoke with David about this hook-mount setup, and he informed me that he is working on an improved, optional mount. Original M 49 mounts by themselves are a bit scarce. Hand-making specialized mics of this caliber is not easy, and it’s an expensive undertaking. David wanted to keep the cost down and felt that this hook setup would keep the price reasonable. Since the e49 is internally shock-mounted so well, the accompanying mount is just that — a mount and not a shock mount. I bent the hook a little more — “field adjusting” it for a snugger fit.
With so many new mics claiming to be the same as classic mics, it is easy for me to be skeptical. I decided to call my good friend Jim Brady, who has recorded the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Cracker — and more big band and jazz than anybody in my state — for his opinion. Jim Brady’s studio is everything you expect to see in a professional facility. He has a great Trident 80-series board, every imaginable Ampex ATR format, and a vintage Neumann collection as good as any studio in the country. Jim is a great engineer and in many ways my mentor. When I called him up, he did not believe that the e49 would rival his M 49. So, on a day off during the Thanksgiving weekend, I packed up the Soundelux and went up to Jim’s studio.
We set the two mics side-by-side and hooked them up to the Trident and used the board’s mic preamps. We used phase-cancellation between the mics to level match the mics. I put on the headphones first and started talking and singing into the mics. (I’m very familiar with how my voice sounds in Sony 7506 headphones.) He was in the control room alternately switching between the two inputs while I had no knowledge of which mic was on at any given time. Both mics were set for cardioid. I could not tell the difference in any way, shape, or form between the two mics. About the same time I was about to conclude this to Jim, he cuts in through the talkback and declares, “I can’t hear the difference between the two!”
We switched places, and he got on the mics so I could hear the mics through the Genelecs in the control room. Again, I could not, no matter how hard I tried, hear any difference to where I could say with confidence which mic was which. We then switched both mics to omni and repeated the experiment; there was a subtle but noticeable difference between the two. The Neumann was not as neutral and had a bit of a mid boost.
With a test of close-mic’ed vocals completed, for our next test, we decided to mic Jim’s Yamaha grand piano. After carefully aligning the two mics, we repeated our cardioid experiment. Again, no discernable difference between the two regardless of what was being played — high notes, low notes, big loud chords, or little arpeggios. Placing the mics in omni, we continued with critical piano listening. As before, we detected a slight audible difference. Both of us agreed that the Soundelux was really great sounding and was representative of the piano’s true sound. I could see Jim’s brain twirling while he did the math, thinking about how he could afford a matched pair of e49’s for the price of his one Neumann.
The next day, I had a session with Jorge Pastrana, a teacher from the University of Arizona, who has a doctorate in classical guitar. I set up the e49 through my Avalon 2022 and Daking FET II compressor to 2'' 16-track recording at 15 IPS. The companion mic was a Milab LC?25 running through the Daking Mic Pre IV and the Daking FET II compressor. After careful positioning of the e49, I was able to find a really balanced sweet-spot about 2 feet from the guitar, looking straight at the point where neck meets body. With a little bass roll-off from the Avalon, I got a really amazing sound. I brought the Milab in on the inside of the e49 and checked my phase between the two. Satisfied, we got to recording. The sound was so realistic it was scary. I’ve recorded quite a bit of nylon-string guitar here at WaveLab, and I used to think I knew what I was doing. I’ve tried many combinations of large and small-diaphragm condensers, and I’ve always been satisfied with the results. With the e49, I really got the most natural sound to tape I’ve ever experienced, and Jorge was extremely pleased with the sound.
David Bock has truly succeeded in remaking a classic — at about half the price you would pay for an original M 49. Give his microphones serious consideration if you are in the market for high-quality studio microphones. The demand for vintage microphones has driven up prices beyond the reach of most studios, but thanks to David Bock and some of his peers, classic-sounding, well-built mics are now a lot more affordable. (e250 $3000 MSRP, e49 $3750)
Read more about the Soundelux E250 cardioid tube condenser microphone.
Read more about the Soundelux e49 multipattern tube condenser microphone.