Telefunken USA's first success was a historically accurate replica of one of today's priciest vintage microphones, the Telefunken Ela M 251. Although
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FIG. 1: The Telefunken USA M16 Mk II has a vintage look and is ruggedly built.

Telefunken USA's first success was a historically accurate replica of one of today's priciest vintage microphones, the Telefunken Ela M 251. Although the company has since cloned other vintage mics — ranging in price from $4,000 to $16,000 — it has also created the R-F-T line for those of us who cannot afford a vintage prize or a spare-no-expense replica. The first two mics in the line are the M16 Mk II and the AK 47.

Past, Present, Future

The M16 Mk II and AK 47 are large-diaphragm tube mics with vintage visual appeal (see Figs. 1 and 2). The M16 Mk II is sonically styled after the AKG C 12 and Neumann U 67, and the AK 47 is designed with the Neumann U 47 in mind. Both Telefunken USA mics share the same thin, cylindrical shape — similar to a C 12's — with a powder-coat finish and chromed accents on both ends. The M16 Mk II is light gray, while the AK 47 is a darker charcoal gray. Antiqued Telefunken logo badges adorn the front-address side of each mic, and an engraved model and serial number appear on the back of the bodies.

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FIG. 2: The AK 47 is a multipattern tube mic that pays homage to the sound of the Neumann U 47.

The hardwood storage case that comes with each mic is one of the handsomest I have seen. With its sturdy latches and round edges, this box could easily be mistaken for an original case brought out of storage after 50 years. Each mic comes with a shockmount, a 25-foot multipin mic cable, which connects the mic and the power supply, and a limited five-year warranty.

Nine pickup patterns — from omnidirectional to figure-8 — are available from a switch on the power supply. This arrangement allows the pattern selector to be located in a control room and adjusted remotely by the engineer. There are no attenuation or filter switches on the mics or the power supply.

Full Metal Jacket

Telefunken USA's quality-oriented approach to manufacturing is evident inside and outside these mics' hefty all-metal bodies. In the tradition of classic European transducers, the parts are heavy-duty and precisely machined, and fit tightly with no visible screws. Inside the M16 Mk II, a new old stock (NOS) GE 6072a JAN tube — the same model used in Telefunken's Ela M mics — is held securely in place, shockmounted with rubber collars. The AK 47 is outfitted with an NOS Telefunken EF732 subminiature tube. Upon initial inspection, it's hard to see how Telefunken USA has cut corners to make a mic that lists for less than half of its other models.

Although these mics are hand-assembled and checked at the company's U.S. facility, Asian parts used for the capsule and accessories help make the lower price point a reality. The supplied shockmount is similar in design and quality to Asian-made shockmounts used by other mic companies. Although the suspension and locking swivel mechanisms are built to last, the inner collar holds the mic in by tension, without latching. This arrangement doesn't grip the heavy Telefunken USA mics, each of which weighs in at nearly two pounds, as securely as other mounts would. Still, the inclusion of any shockmount at all is generous, and it makes the packages more attractive. (A sturdier version of the shockmount is available directly from Telefunken USA for $99.)

To get an idea of how the M16 Mk II and AK 47 perform, I did a series of measurement tests, followed by real-world listening tests, using a Digidesign Pro Tools workstation at Guerrilla Recording. Two models of each microphone were provided by the manufacturer: M16 Mk II serial numbers 093 and 095, and AK 47 numbers 037 and 043. For the measurement tests, I used test tones and music mixes played through an E-mu PM5 powered monitor. I tracked one mic at a time from a fixed distance of 18 inches, through a Grace 101 mic preamp and an Apogee Rosetta A/D converter.

In a listening comparison between cardioid and omnidirectional patterns of the M16 Mk II, there was a dramatic timbral shift. In particular, omnidirectional pickup of both low and high frequencies became more pronounced. To my ear, the fuller bass brought the mic's timbre closer to flat response, while the treble range became overbearing. In addition, the upper mids of the music mixes were dramatically attenuated in omnidirectional mode, affecting the placement of vocals, guitars, and snare drum in pop mixes.

The cardioid pattern gave a pleasing focus and punch to the midrange and upper bass. The figure-8 response was concentrated almost entirely in the midrange, with much less bass punch and high-end sizzle than what the two other patterns provided.

Pattern comparisons of the AK 47 revealed similar characteristics, although the differences were less dramatic. This mic, which has a fuller and flatter sound in general, became quite warm and even a bit bass heavy in omni mode. A slight increase in high-end response above 5 kHz kept this mic from losing focus in its omnidirectional setting. In figure-8 mode, the AK 47 also gained more of a midrange edge but didn't sacrifice too much bass or treble response.

It should be noted that these types of timbral differences are to be expected with multipattern mics, although the M16 Mk II's variation in response is more evident than most. When clicking through the nine polar patterns at the power supply, I heard no switching noise or muting in the audio with either mic.

Published frequency traces for the M16 Mk II show a rising curve from 80 Hz up to 200 Hz, a fairly level response from 200 Hz to 2 kHz, and a gently rising treble response that peaks at about 16 kHz. The response at 100 Hz is about 8 dB down relative to 1 kHz, and 10 dB lower than it is at 10 kHz, suggesting a timbre that is bright, airy, and bass lean.

The AK 47's published frequency chart, though somewhat bumpy, documents a different response for this mic throughout the bass and midrange. Response at 100 Hz is still down about 8 dB relative to 1 kHz and 10 kHz. But the mic's output from 200 Hz to about 15 kHz is flat within ±2.5 dB. The broad dip of -3 dB centered around 7 to 8 kHz promises a smooth high-end timbre without excess sibilance.

During the review, I compared the M16 Mk II and AK 47 to three tube mics I know well: a similarly priced Neumann M 147, and the more expensive Lawson L47 MP and Manley Cardioid Reference microphones. Output level measurements showed both Telefunken USA models to have output comparable to the M 147's, ranking them as very hot mics indeed. But they couldn't match the other microphones' low noise specs.

At the same preamp gain settings, the M16 Mk II and AK 47 in cardioid mode exhibited a noise floor 5 to 6 dB higher than the other test mics. In omni mode, the M16 Mk II had a noise floor about 3 dB higher than in cardioid. I'm sure these specs are well below the noise of some vintage and lower-cost tube mics, and I wouldn't expect their self-noise (20 dB A weighted) to be a problem in most circumstances.

On Voice

Singer-songwriter Kim Boekbinder from the band Vermillion Lies was a willing subject for two afternoons of Telefunken testing. Boekbinder sang and played guitar in the live room at Guerrilla Recording, about three feet in front of the test pairs. Grace 101 preamps were used for this test, along with Blue Kiwi and Monster cables, and the results were recorded into Pro Tools.

In cardioid and figure-8 modes, there were minor differences within each mic pair in terms of timbre and self-noise, as is typical with tube mics. Frequency traces for each of the M16 Mk IIs showed minor differences of 1 to 2 dB between 900 Hz and 4 kHz. Nonetheless, the two microphones were matched closely enough throughout the audible range to reliably demonstrate the M16 Mk II's character. The AK 47 models did not come with individual frequency traces.

In omnidirectional mode, the M16 Mk IIs were more closely matched. While I do occasionally use omni pickup for close-miking acoustic guitar, at this distance the sound was too roomy and diffuse for practical recording purposes. Comparatively, the AK 47 worked better for me in omni, although it was still less than ideal. The cardioid and figure-8 patterns of both models gave clarity and focus to my performer, and balanced the guitar and voice nicely. The robust output level of these mics made it possible to record fingerpicked acoustic guitar and quiet vocals without undue noise.

When it was compared with the M 147, the AK 47 sounded smoother and less aggressive in the upper mids, with a little less low-bass clarity and fullness. On vocals and guitar, the AK 47 also sounded more hi-fi due to an extended high-end response, and it benefited from the intimacy of a tighter pickup pattern.

The M16 Mk II was comparable to the M 147 in terms of pickup pattern and output gain. The M 147 conveyed less brightness and yielded a more focused and prominent bass on the guitar, with the mix favoring the guitar over the vocal. But on solo acoustic guitar, recorded at a distance of 18 inches, I preferred the brighter tonality of the M16 Mk II over the M 147.

The AK 47 was remarkably similar to the Lawson L47 MP tube mic, another Neumann U 47 emulation and a personal favorite of mine for the last ten years. When comparing them, I was really surprised by the equally robust, mellow tube quality of both mics. In addition, the AK 47 scored points with me by delivering more incisive highs than the Lawson on quieter material, while never getting sibilant or harsh.

Predictably, a comparison of the AK 47 to the M16 Mk II showed the former to be superior in low-end and midrange pickup, as well as smoother and less sibilant. In cardioid mode, the AK 47 also had a tighter pattern than the M16 Mk II, sounding closer, bigger, and less roomy.

In the Field: M16 Mk II

During the review, I was fortunate to be able to audition the M16 Mk II on a variety of vocalists in a range of musical styles. Jazz vocalist Pyeng Threadgill sounded good through the M16 Mk II, and the upper ranges of her voice were definitely highlighted. Threadgill told me that she felt the mic may have emphasized her airy highs and breath sounds too much. Being very familiar with her voice from a previous album project, I didn't agree with that assessment. But I did feel that the Telefunken USA lacked smoothness in the crucial 3 to 5 kHz range, compared with other tube mics I have used on her.

For a project by Bay Area band the Unravellers, I used the M16 Mk II on two background singers. The M16 Mk II was predictably bright and airy on the female singer, allowing her to cut through a dense mix with ease. On the male singer, the mic still had plenty of edge, but sounded hollow or thin when the vocalist dipped into his lower range.

On a jazz tenor saxophonist with a bright, contemporary sound, the M16 Mk II delivered an even, pleasing tone with plenty of high-end gloss. As expected, there was not an abundance of low-end tone, and occasionally the sound was grittier than what I heard in the room.

In the Field: AK 47

The AK 47 also got a thorough workout on an assortment of singers. In general this model was much closer to my ideal of how a tube mic should sound on vocals, with lots of rich tonal character and just the right amount of high-end cutting power. The mic's timbre was perfectly balanced on a pair of female singers, capturing rich resonance without getting overly bright. On a pair of male singers the AK 47 also got high marks, although at times it was just a little too crisp in the 4 to 5 kHz range. But sibilance was never a problem.

This model seems particularly sensitive to placement when close-miking vocals. Often I found that moving the singer 1 inch closer or farther made a significant difference on high-end clarity or proximity-induced lows. With singer Scott Rosenberg of the band P.A.F., I set the pattern selector one notch to the left (subcardioid), yielding a more balanced sound with less proximity effect. On Rosenberg's whisper-to-a-scream dynamic range, the AK 47 also delivered smooth tube compression, and even a bit of classic overdrive distortion.

In addition to vocal applications, a good test of a tube mic is how well it works with wind instruments. In this regard I was very impressed with the AK 47's ability to deliver both tone and clarity. I used it on B-flat and bass clarinet, flute, oboe, English horn, and tenor and alto sax. It performed admirably on every track and often reminded me of the smooth tonality of my Lawson tube mic.

Engineer Bart Thurber, who shares the Guerrilla Recording facility with me, was enthusiastic about the sound of the AK 47 on his rock projects. He cited its ideal coloration on electric guitar and its ability to handle high SPLs when placed up against a guitar cabinet.

He also used a spaced pair of AK 47s (in subcardioid mode) in a variation of a 3-mic drum recording technique. Listening to these tracks, we were both favorably impressed by the big, spacious sound the mics provided. The cymbals were crisp yet not overbearing, and the toms, which were not close-miked, had an excellent blend of tone and presence in the mix.

Two Distinct Personalities

The M16 Mk II tube condenser mic has a strong personality, not to mention impressive vintage looks and build quality. Around the studio it delivered a useful presence enhancement on a variety of tracks and never sounded muddy or undefined. However, the mic possessed little of the harmonic richness or smooth, silky highs that top-dollar tube mics are known for.

Of course, strong timbral coloration on a vocal or instrumental source guarantees success in some settings and a mic change in others. Recordists favoring a bright pop timbre — particularly on female vocals and lead instruments — may take a shine to the M16 Mk II due to its glossy highs and gradual bass rolloff. The tonal variation provided by the multiple patterns adds value and versatility to this affordable tube mic.

For general use I prefer a large-diaphragm condenser with more midrange and low-end warmth, and that's just what the AK 47 delivers. I was consistently impressed by this mic's rich tone, graced by an extended high end that kept it from being too warm or undefined.

Despite minor problems with the shockmount and self-noise, in the ever-expanding realm of tube mics under $2,000, the AK 47 is a worthy contender.

Myles Boisen picks a peck of pickup patterns at his Guerrilla Recording studio in Oakland, California.


R-F-T M16 Mk II

tube microphone



PROS: Affordable. Vintage quality in looks and build. Nine remotely selectable pickup patterns. Wooden case. Five-year warranty.

CONS: Shockmount doesn't latch. High-end response of cardioid pattern is sibilant or gritty on some sources.


Telefunken USA


R-F-T AK 47

tube microphone



PROS: Affordable. Vintage quality in looks and build. Nine remotely selectable pickup patterns. Wooden case. Five-year warranty.

CONS: Shockmount doesn't latch.


Telefunken USA