7 Best Vintage Microphones (Classic Sound, Legendary Status)

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  • Vintage mics provide that special warmth and character you can’t find anywhere else.
  • We’ve rounded up the 7 best vintage microphones you can buy!

Each vintage microphone has a deep and unique history. They’ve all been used in different ways in countless recordings over the years.

Many of the most sought-after vintage microphones had a limited amount of models made, and have since been discontinued. In return, these characteristics made their prices soar as collectors and engineers search the internet trying to find some of the originals.

Today, we’re going to talk about the 7 most legendary vintage microphones so you too can get a taste of recording history.

What Are The 7 Best Vintage Microphones?

Perhaps the most legendary brand in microphone history is Neumann. This German microphone maker is one of the most reputable and respected builders of mics, and we’ve included two of their most iconic models in this list: the U47 and the U67.

Another giant in the microphone business is Telefunken, and you’ll find our review of the ELA M251 in this article. Other models like the RCA 77-DX and AKG C 12 are also deeply intertwined in recording history and thus included here as well.

In all honesty, we’re going to talk about six vintage mics, and one modern mic with vintage looks. This last one is the Shure 55SH Series, the only modern and affordable microphone on this list that offers a vintage look and feel.

Here are our candidates for the 7 best vintage microphones of all time…

  1. Neumann U47
  2. AKG C 12
  3. Telefunken Ela M 251
  4. Neumann U67
  5. RCA 77-DX
  6. Coles 4038
  7. Shure 55SH Series II 

1. Neumann U47

Neumann U47 FET

Neumann went back to the schematics and production notes from the original U47 FET to bring you the wide dynamic range, detailed sound, and fast transient response of the original. 

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Few microphones throughout history have the pedigree of the Neumann U47. For many, this mic is THE studio microphone and has been used in countless recordings by some of the greatest musicians ever, produced by one of the most respected microphone brands ever.

It is still being sold today, over 70 years after it was first released. The original series was manufactured by Georg Neumann GmbH between 1949 and 1965, with this early version employing a tube design (the early U47s used an M7 capsule).

Units produced before 1950 were distributed by Telefunken and display the Telefunken logo. Telefunken stopped production of VF14 tubes in 1957, and so the U47 was discontinued in 1965 and followed by the U47 FET in 1969.

This new version employed the same capsule (K47) and a similar head grill but used solid-state circuitry. That’s quite a history!

You can also have a piece of history in your house with the Neumann U47 FET Collector’s Edition (used for the features here). The only real downside here is the high price, but it’s fair enough for what many consider to be the ultimate vintage microphone.

Features

  • Clear, detailed sound
  • Fast transient response
  • Wide frequency response captures bass instruments with outstanding power, punch, and focus
  • Created using original U47 FET schematics and production notes to bring you the real deal
  • High-quality Collector’s Edition wood box and Certificate of Authenticity included

Review

The Neumann U47 is a large-diaphragm condenser vintage microphone that became renowned over decades for its outstanding and unique sound.

Its most appealing point was the synergy of its three sound-shaping components: capsule, tube, transformer. The U47 was especially popular in professional recording studios.

Countless legends have recorded iconic music with this mic, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, and the Beatles.

As a matter of fact, the Neumann U47 became so popular in the studio that you’d have a hard time finding an album recorded in the 1950s or 1960s that didn’t employ a U47 in its recording process.

The Beatles used it for basically every track they recorded from 1962 through 1970. Try to top that!

2. AKG C 12

AKG C12 VR

Handcrafted in Vienna, today's C12 VR uses the original 6072A vacuum tube and dual-diaphragm design but incorporates an updated, edge-terminated CK12 capsule and state-of-the-art componentry for lower noise and distortion and reliable operation.

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The AKG C12 is one of the most celebrated tube condenser microphones in history, with the original CK12 capsule universally recognized to be one of the finest condenser microphone capsules ever.

The AKG C12 capsules were made by hand and were far more involved than those fitted to equivalent Neumann mics in the 1950s, including more than 120 individual parts.

These capsules are known as ‘brass’ capsules due to the brass housing, although their coating features sputtered gold. And yes, you can also purchase an AKG C12 today. Or can you?

Features

  • Edge-terminated CK12 capsule and original 6072A vacuum tube
  • Selected state-of-the-art component for low noise and reliable operation
  • Dual-diaphragm, 1″ diameter gold-sputtered mylar foil
  • 9 remotely selectable polar patterns for maximum flexibility
  • Multiple patterns with silent switching, remotely controlled from the power supply

Verdict

The AKG C12 is another vintage microphone that helped build the history of western music in the last century.

It was consistently used as a bass mic on many Beatles sessions, and it became legendary for this reason.

Seminal Beatles record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band employed the AKG C12 quite a bit for the bass. For the remainder of the group’s sessions at Abbey Road, the C12 would be the primary choice for recording Paul’s bass.

The C12 was also frequently used to record both strings and piano on Beatles records. It was used on the orchestral session for A Day In The Life, and Something. Talk about history in the making!

The AKG C12 is still considered a classic to this day and remains very popular amongst both classical/film and pop engineers alike.

For many, this mic is an all-around workhorse that is still being employed on everything from orchestral applications to pianos and doubles basses to vocals. In short, it’s one of the most sought-after vintage microphones today. Classic sound and legendary status? You bet!

3. Telefunken ELA M 251

Telefunken ELA M 251E

The Telefunken ELA M 251E large-diaphragm tube condenser mic is a faithful rendition of a legend. The original, introduced in 1960, is considered to be one of the most gorgeous sounding mics ever made.

Why We Love It:
  • Glorious sounding reissue of a classic
  • Meticulously crafted to historic detail
  • 138dB maximum SPL
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The Telefunken ELA M 251 has a rich history, and now you can get a faithful reissue of this incredible mic…assuming you have the budget!

Its amplifier circuit was originally built to comply with the standardized requirements of the German and Austrian national broadcast systems after World War II. The ELA M 251 has achieved legendary status and is an extremely sought-after and desired large-diaphragm tube contender mic today.

It uses a Telefunken AC701 tube, a CK12 capsule provided by AKG Acoustics GmgH and a Haufe made T14:1 ratio output transformer.

You can still find old editions of this mic on the market, although they usually sell for tens of thousands of dollars. You could also buy the Telefunken ELA M 251E, which is a meticulous reissue of the original… if you have 10k lying around that is.

Features

  • Reissue of a glorious sounding classic
  • Meticulously crafted to historic detail
  • Edge-terminated, dual backplate CK-12 capsule
  • 1″ dual-sided gold-sputtered membrane
  • 3 polar patterns: cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8

Verdict

The Telefunken Ela M 251 was produced from 1960 to 1965 with an estimated total run of 3650 mics. No wonder these models are so expensive!

Rare working-condition vintage examples sell well into the five figures if you can even find one. With that in mind, Telefunken produced a meticulous reissue for a fraction of the cost. And the results are quite impressive and can be best described as “pure sonic opulence”.

The Telefunken ELA M 251E features three polar patterns making it ideal for a range of stereo recording techniques if you have two, including Spaced Pair (A/B), XY (including Blumlein), ORTF array, and Mid-Side (MS).

The Telefunken ELA M 251E can work beautifully on a number of instruments, in part thanks to its 3 polar pattern options. You can record vocals with stunning results, and you can even set it up on a figure-8 pattern to record two singers for a beautiful duo sound.

Yes, these microphones are indeed costly, but those that are able to afford them love the classic sounds and fantastic results that Telefunken M 251 E can offer.

4. Neumann U67

Neumann U67
$7,225.00

Introduced in 1960, the U67 was the quintessential studio workhorse throughout the formative years of modern music. Today, more than ever, its inimitably smooth sound continues to be in high demand.

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09/23/2021 02:23 pm GMT

Neumann released the U67 in 1960 and became its flagship large-diaphragm condenser, as a replacement for the U47.

The U47 used a vacuum tube that had ceased production, so Neumann had to find another option. The U67 was based on the readily available EF86 pentode tube and incorporated a K67 capsule and transformer-balanced tube circuit along with other mother innovations.

This in turn produced significant sonic and operational improvements from the U47. The U67 was quickly put into use by the best studios worldwide, and it defined the sound of the ’60s.

This vintage microphone also has a reissue that was done meticulously and is sold for those that seek that unique sound and vibe from the Neumann U67.

Features

  • Meticulous reissue of the Neumann U67, reproduced to original specifications
  • Beautifully balanced sound with a truly flat frequency response
  • Superior vocal microphone for both male and female singers
  • Exceptional versatility; suitable for virtually any source
  • Classic transformer-balanced tube circuit

Verdict

The Neumann U67 features three polar pattern options as well as a switchable highpass filter and 10dB pre-attenuation pad and 200 ohms of output impedance.

These features make it ideal for capturing the dynamics of drums and taming electric guitar amps as they became progressively noisier during the ’60s.

Today, the U67’s warm sound is a highly desired asset known for its unique tone.

Another great feature of the U67 is its versatility. You can mostly use it on any source imaginable.

It has a high SPL handling, flat frequency response, detailed midrange, and sweet, velvety character with a touch of airiness.

These traits make it a go-to mic for drums, piano, acoustic and electric guitars, strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and vocals.

Moreover, the U67 never becomes strident and has the ability to domesticate shrill, close-miked sources with its creamy sonic richness. This is a true workhorse with vintage greatness.

5. RCA 77-DX

RCA 77-DX Ribbon Microphone

Easily some of the most iconic microphones to ever grace this earth, known not only for their bold appearance but also for their classic tonality, the RCA 77-D, and 77-DX mics were a staple in the broadcast and recording industry from the 1950s onward.

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The RCA 77-DX is perhaps the most iconic-looking microphone on this list. It is a poly-directional ribbon mic, introduced by RCA in 1954.

Its predecessor is the Type 77-D, introduced a few years earlier in 1948. The RCA 77-DX was widely used by broadcasters, and therefore instilled in the minds of the common folk. Legendary late-night show hosts such as David Letterman and Larry King used it on stage for years.

Features

  • Legendary ribbon microphone
  • Frequency response from 30 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Output impedance can be set to 30, 150, or 250 ohms
  • Rich lows, silky smooth mids, and highs
  • Originally designed for both television and broadcast studio use

Verdict

The RCA 77-DX is known not only for its classic tone but also for its bold and iconic appearance. It has been used in a vast number of recordings by legends such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Al Green, and Jonny Cash.

These legendary RCA ribbon mics features are quite unique. At 1 kHz, the 77-DX has an output of -50 to -56dbm, depending on the pattern selection.

The output impedance is selectable by the user, with the factory preset at 250 ohms, and changeable to 30 or 150 ohms. The RCA 77-DX is known for having a fairly flat response, part of the reason it was so popular for so long.

When used in cardioid polar pattern, it is level from approximately 150 Hz to 2 kHz, with a slight rise peaking at just under 5 kHz, then dropping approximately 3dB/octave to 20 kHz.

(To learn more about polar patterns, check out 4 Types Of Microphones & Polar Patterns (Explained Simply!))

6. Coles 4038

Coles 4038 Studio Ribbon

The 4038 Studio Ribbon Microphone is of British Broadcasting design and used for broadcasting and recording such sounds where a clear smooth wide range frequency response, absent of transient distortion and relatively high sensitivity is essential.

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The Coles 4038 is a ribbon microphone that was initially produced by the BBC as a broadcast microphone.

With time, this vintage microphone became recognized for its wide, flat frequency response and high sensitivity, and became a very valuable tool in the studio.

Features

  • High sensitivity and SPL handling
  • Flat and wide frequency response of 30 Hz to 15 kHz
  • Figure 8 polar pattern provides an even pick up response
  • Low Hum and Noise Floor
  • Impedance of 300 ohms

Verdict

The Coles 4038 features a pressure gradient ribbon transducer that is capable of withstanding high sound pressure levels without distorting.

This made it a workhorse mic in many studios as it was used in a variety of sources. This mic also features a bi-directional (figure 8) polar pattern that provides a uniform pick-up response at either side of the diaphragm.

The figure 8 pattern became very useful for recording two singers at the same time, as well as other applications with musical instruments, ambiance capturing, etc.

The Coles 4038 is renowned for its smooth, rich sonic detail, and it is a classic among some of the most celebrated engineers in recording history.

This ribbon microphone became a favorite among British recording engineers in the 50s and 60s. It was used on several Beatles and Led Zeppelin recordings mainly as overhead microphones on the drum kit.

7. Shure 55SH Series II

Shure 55SH Series II Microphone
$179.00

This cardioid dynamic vocal mic updates Shure's UNIDYNE series with classic looks and thoroughly modern performance characteristics. Vocals sound incredible through this mic! 

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09/23/2021 02:10 pm GMT

The Shure 55SH Series II is a dynamic microphone for those of us that want a bit of a vintage flair but don’t have thousands of dollars to spare.

This mic was made for vocalists in live situations but can also be used in studios. Needless to say, chances are you won’t be bringing any of the other mics mentioned on this list to any gigs, as they are prized possessions that need to be handled with uttermost care for studio-only use.

The Shure 55SH Series II fills that gap and lets you have a vintage-looking mic onstage, with great sound and fantastic features for the money.

This retro microphone has been used extensively by Metallica’s frontman James Hetfield for live performances.

Features

  • Dynamic mic made especially for stage performance
  • Vintage look with modern-sounding performance
  • Great noise rejection via a cardioid polar pattern
  • Frequency response of 50Hz to 15kHz
  • Stand mount built into the mic

Verdict

The Shure 55SH Series UNIDYNE dynamic vocal microphone features low impedance, a frequency response of 50Hz to 15kHz, and an on/off switch.

It has the look and flair of a vintage microphone but in reality, it’s a modern vocal mic that produces great results.

The SH55 UNIDYNE II was designed with a cardioid polar pattern. This ensures that your vocals make it out to your audience without the rest of your band bleeding through.

In other words, the Shure 55SH Series will give you great vocal sound with fantastic isolation. It comes with its stand mount built into the mic and you can connect easily via an XLR cable, just like you would with any other dynamic microphone.

However, the SH55 offers superior audio quality for the stage. Overall, this is a fantastic vocal microphone for the stage, for all of those that want a vintage-looking mic with a modern sound and an affordable price tag.

(If you’re after a mic for podcasting, the Shure MV7 is a top contender. Read more in our Shure MV7 review.)