Soundelux e250 Condenser Microphone
By Barry Rudolph
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Rethinking classic tube microphone design, Soundelux Microphones' cardioid-only e250 condenser mic solves the intrinsic problems encountered when close-miking vocalists with large-diaphragm condensers.
Classic tube condenser microphones were not designed to be used six inches or closer to loud singers. But producers and engineers found that they could get a desirable presence, size and low-frequency buildup by having singers move in closer. Close-miking invites pops, sibilant and harsh consonants or peak overloading of the capsule/head amp. Of course, this seems to always happen during the best performances, necessitating retakes and compromising mic placement and sound quality. The e250 addresses these problems, delivering a more controlled outcome while letting the user maintain traditional miking techniques.
WHAT MAKES IT TICK?
The "free-center membrane" (i.e., edge-connected) capsules are handpicked and individually tested. They are 1 inch in diameter with a 6-micron-thick, gold-vapor deposited diaphragm and, like the 251, are mounted in a brass holder. Edge-connected capsules have a longer life span as compared to center-terminated types, in which the edge insulation doesn't last under moisture and dirt buildup caused by close-miked vocals.
The e250 retains the familiar ELUX 251 color scheme and uses a one-piece electroless, nickel-plated brass body with welded windscreen. The windscreen comprises three mesh layers for maximum plosive protection: a medium first layer like the 251, a smaller second layer and then a very fine inner-mesh layer. The e250 also uses Soundelux's Stable Bias circuit design that keeps the bias constant on the EF732 tube, regardless of plosives. A different output transformer than the 251 is used with a roll-off starting at 30 Hz rather than 8 Hz, like the 251's. Delivered in a wood box, the e250 kit comes with a custom shock-mount, ELUX 251's reliable P251 power supply and all cables.
IN THE STUDIO
After tightening everything down, I set up a Neumann M149 and the e250 side-by-side and had a male vocalist sing a couple of lead vocal passes into each separately, about four inches away straight into the capsules. I used two channels of a PreSonus M80 mic preamp, and no pop screens, EQ or compression. With the Pro Tools|HD4 Accel system set to 24-bit/88.2 kHz, the M149 only required about 15 dB of gain, while the e250 required about 30 dB for +18dB peaks. The e250 "popped" a lot less than the M149, but both needed pop filters anyway. The e250's shifted proximity caused a much thicker lower midrange that greatly enhanced my singer's sound--better than any EQ and/or compressor. The e250's smoother upper midrange seemed very natural-sounding, while the M149 sounded a little harsh and harder in those frequencies. I got a very impressive and big vocal sound using the e250, but I could tell that I might have to add more upper midrange EQ during the mix--an option that I prefer. I didn't notice any distortion, 'S' problems or high-frequency loss with slight head movement with the e250.
For my one-mic drum sound test, I placed both mics four feet out front of my small Ludwig kit and both sounded very good. I liked the e250 for its better spectral balance: the right amount of midrange cut, warmth and bass as compared to the M149. It's hard to compare these two world-class mics and the two made a very cool stereo pair for my anti-pop music drum loop recording.
At another studio and using an Aphex 1100MkII mic pre, the differences were even more dramatic. I recorded an acoustic guitar with the e250 alongside a very old Telefunken U67. The U67 was dark and muddy-sounding, while the e250 had a much clearer and present sound with slight top-end sheen. The e250 had more output level and a wider pickup pattern; I could tell little difference when moving it in and around the sound hole.
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