The name TELEFUNKEN dates back to 1903. The company began as a joint venture between Siemens & Halske and AEG (Allgemeine-Elektrizitãts-Gesellschaft, or General Electric Company). Siemens & Halske was busy developing wireless communication for the German Army, while AEG was doing so for the Imperial German Navy. When a dispute concerning patents came up, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II urged the two groups to join efforts, and the shared company TELEFUNKEN was born. The prefix “tele-” comes from the Latin word for distance, and “funken” is the German word for spark, or to make work through electric spark.
Throughout the 1900’s TELEFUNKEN lead the global technology industry with a number of ventures such as wireless radio communications, television sets, electronic video cameras, vacuum tubes, preamplifiers, microphones, and many more. In 1947, TELEFUNKEN began distribution of the world renowned U47. The U47 was the world’s first switchable pattern condenser microphone (cardioid and omnidirectional), and became extremely popular, especially in the United States, where ribbon microphones were the standard for recording studios. The fidelity and fine detail of the U47 pushed it to the forefront of recording studios everywhere.
When U47 designer Georg Neumann decided to not renew his distribution contract with TELEFUNKEN, the U47 was pulled from distribution. TELEFUNKEN sought to replace it with a microphone of equal caliber, and contracted AKG to develop a new series of microphones for their product line. Of these great microphones, one of them became a legend: the ELA M 251. The design stemmed from AKG’s already in-production C12, with the CK12 capsule at the heart of the design. In 1959 the ELA M 251/251E was introduced to the world.
Though only in production from 1959 until 1962, the TELEFUNKEN ELA M 251 is thought to be one of the best sounding microphones ever created. While many more microphones were distributed and designed by TELEFUNKEN, the U47 and ELA M 251 remain their most famous contributions to the world of recording. In conjunction with microphones, TELEFUNKEN vacuum tubes were considered to be among the highest quality vacuum tubes, and many variations are highly sought-after today. TELEFUNKEN went through a number of ownership changes and company iterations, and ultimately ceased any production or new developments in 1985.
Over the four decades that the ELA M 251 was not in production it gained legendary status as one of the finest microphones ever. The combination of the mic’s limited original production quantity and fragility led the good working-condition units to become increasingly rare and exponentially more valuable. To illustrate this, the Wall Street Journal wrote an article in the 1990’s citing the original ELA M 251 to be one of the best overall investment holdings of the 21st century. As with any vintage piece of electronics, certain parts began to fail on these original units, making some of them unusable. Seeing the potential and need for this microphone, TELEFUNKEN was reborn.