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No matter how much technology improves, there are still some things that the classics do better. Vintage mics are known for their warm tones and natural sound, and are the backbone of recording as both an industry and an art. If there’s a company out there that manages to bring that vintage sound back into the modern era, it’s Warm Audio.
Warm Audio is known for manufacturing microphones that are homages to legendary, out-of-production mics, bringing those classic sounds into present-day studios all around the world. Perhaps their most well-known mic is the famous Warm Audio WA-47, a mic that calls back to the now-discontinued original series Neumann U47.
The company is now bringing that same approach to the Telefunken ELA M 251, colloquially known as the Telefunken 251 or the 251 mic. This mic is one of the most beloved vocal microphones of all time, and has been reissued at an exorbitant price tag. The Warm Audio WA-251 aims to take that quality and make it more affordable. You’ll see whether they succeeded or not in this condenser mic review below.
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Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Figure-of-eight
132 dB (<0.5% THD)
12 dBA (IEC651)
Rated Load Impedance
The Warm Audio WA-251 was created in order to bring classic, quality sound to users at a much more affordable price. In order to replicate the 251’s iconic sound, the company carefully studied different 251 microphones to analyze the sound, components, and what listeners liked about them. The Warm Audio 251 was carefully designed to replicate that vintage sound while also standing out on its own.
The 251 has been used on hundreds of hit records over the past 50 years, and is considered one of the greatest condenser microphones ever manufactured. These are tough shoes to fill, but the WA251 steps up to the challenge. This all vacuum tube, large-diaphragm, multi-pattern large condenser microphone is designed for both home and pro studio use, as well as live and broadcast applications.
Designing and creating an homage to a legendary microphone isn’t about 1:1 replication. Warm Audio’s goal is to make the 251’s beautiful vintage sound to users who might not otherwise have been able to afford it, using materials that are available today. Still, the WA-251 strives to call back to the 1960s when the classic 251 was first produced and became popular. With a modern, affordable twist on a vintage look and sound, the Warm Audio WA-251 stands head and shoulders above all the other homages to the Telefunken 251.
As you might expect when basing a microphone on a vintage unit that’s gone out of print, many of the components that gave the 251 its iconic sound are no longer available. Warm Audio did some careful research on what made the 251 so special, and attempted to recreate that through components and design. The original 251 had a solidly vintage charm, which the WA-251 calls back to with its warm yellow, tube-shaped body. Despite its slimness, it feels durable and hefty, and is likely to hold up to wear and tear in the studio.
Like most Warm Audio mics, the WA-251 is all about quality for an affordable price. Its casing may not hold up to greats like the Neumann line, but for the price and the sound quality it certainly satisfies. It comes packaged in a cardboard box that in turn holds the wooden case for the microphone, the power supply, shock mount, and a seven-pin XLR cable. Its chromed metal grille stands out against the cream color of its body, and its cradle has a latch mechanism that holds the microphone firmly while being quick and easy to use.
Like any microphone, the most important part of the WA-251 is its interiors. Replicating a classic microphone can be difficult, but the engineers and designers at Warm Audio certainly stepped up to the challenge. The capsule is Warm Audio’s WA12-B-60V, which attempts to recapture the richness of the 251’s original CK12. As the CK12 is somewhat notorious for being hard to copy, the WA-251’s approximation is quality work.
The tube is a Slovak Republic JJ 12AY7 vacuum tube with a solid frequency response and a smooth, vintage tone. The microphone’s cable, often an afterthought, was in this case carefully considered. Warm Audio chose to go with Swiss company Gotham Audio’s seven-pin GAC-7 cable, which is said to increase top end presence and reduce phase shift and the parasitic effect usually found in low quality cables.
All these carefully selected components are well and good, but how does the WA-251 actually hold up performance-wise? The answer is: fantastic. The sound is bright yet smooth, with the same richness that makes vintage microphones so popular. On drums the WA-251 has a full sound with smooth highs, while on the electric guitar it has clarity and definition without getting too aggressive. But where the WA-251 really shines is vocals. With this mic, vocals are able to cut through the mix with minimal post-processing, with a lively top end that’s not too bright, and a smooth, buttery overall sound.
The original Telefunken ELA M 251 was a top vocal mic, and Warm Audio’s homage captures that same energy. It has a smooth, rich sound that flatters any voice, and is able to hold its own against more expensive microphones. The low end is full with a neat, natural presence, while the top end is bright without exaggerated airiness. The microphone is a little sensitive to plosives, so if your vocalist’s mic technique is lacking you might want to invest in a pop filter. Overall, however, the WA-251 recreates the classic sound of the 251 admirably, and its multiple polar patterns give it flexibility for any recording situation.
Every microphone wants to hold up to the classics while still standing on its own, but not many are able to do that. The WA-251 is a fantastic homage for an affordable price, giving users the richness, smoothness, and clarity of the 251 without the astronomical price tag. While there are other 251 homages on the market, the WA-251 shines in both sound quality and affordability.
If you’re looking for a mic that captures that vintage tone without you having to pay through the nose for it, then you can stop looking. The Warm Audio WA-251 achieves exactly what it set out to do: recreate a classic microphone without losing its own unique sound. For the price and quality of sound, there’s simply nothing better. Find the best deals for the Warm Audio WA-251 Microphone here.