WeissKlang V13 by Arthur Stone
WeissKlang is a new German microphone manufacturer who have paired the V13 linear cardioid mic with the colour of the Sonimus KlangFormer mic-modelling software.
Sonimus are famous for the Satson plug-in (and more!) which has many fans on Gearslutz.
Mic-modelling is not new; starting in the early 2000's with Antares pioneering the Microphone Modeller, often with mixed, characterful results. 20 years later and the processes have been refined and assisted by the developments in both computer technology and microphone manufacture. Several mic-modelling systems, to suit a range of pockets and ears, are currently available from different manufacturers: WeissKlang sits comfortably in the low-mid price-range. It is straightforward buy and own with no subscriptions or real-time authentication.
The V13 mic and Sonimus KlangFormer software operate independently and they only differ from a normal mic/plug-in operation in that they are matched in terms of the mic's frequency response and the frequency response the software expects to see. Apart from that the V13 operates as any other (linear) mic and the KlangFormer software can colour/tone any audio source as a DAW plug-in would; they are matched to achieve optimum performance though.
Price: 499 euros w/ 3 year warranty.
The V13 is hand-manufactured in Southern Germany. Delivery was super-quick. The microphone arrived well-packaged in a simple wood case and accompanied by a metallic cats-cradle shockmount, and documentation: registration details and manual.
My initial impression was of a thoughtfully-presented and zen-like simplicity: calm untreated smooth wood.
The mic is a little smaller 4/5th size of e.g. a Rode K2, but it had a good ergonomic form for studio applications because of this smaller size. Unobtrusive, especially in a small or cluttered workspace. It doesn't feature stylistic gimmicks.
The package contained a card with log-in details for the WeissKlang website to download the Sonimus 'Klangformer' plug-in (which adds colouration post capture). This was a smooth and straightforward process; I did get a security warning for the installer but IME this is quite common with smaller manufacturer software installers due to delayed feedback into antivirus databases. Sometimes we're often pushing the envelope with Gearslutz reviews I hot install. Naturally, any issues will be reported for a fix but everything works fine with no glitches.
Sonimus have created a great interface; simple mid-session; easy to use with enough variety to be tonally useful – from squeaky clean to fuzzy hot. The interface responded well to the mouse and it was CPU light with multiple instances – not one glitch or sense of latency even when tracking. The download and install was simple and smooth with minimum data collected. No dongle or online authentication needed for use.
V13 tested: During research a couple of questions emerged: was the mic preamp dependent (note though that KlangFormer is not modelling an actual emulation but rather a 'type' of mic)? Yes. Needs to be as linear as possible although WeissKlang define most regular interfaces and pre's as linear enough to work.
Would other linear-response microphones (e.g. KRK reference mic) work with KlangFormer? Yes. I used the KRK measurement mic but I think other types will work too e.g. Rode NT1-A. Perhaps some mics, even non-linear, will produce sterling results. Good for rainy-day experiments.
More questions emerged regarding off-axis response and proximity effect; did the V13 need a 'sweet spot' placement or was it more flexible? For general guitar/vocal use it's pretty straightforward but drums and bass need more consideration and experimentation regarding placement and proximity. The off-axis response is well-balanced with an emphasis on source rather than too much ambience.
Perhaps the most important question emerged: did it sound good enough or better? Was the mic-modelling authentic and pleasing or a bit funky? Bad funky?
In addition to testing the WeissKlang V13 mic and KlangFormer software as recommended, I tested with a control (mic-only) and also with the Focusrite Saffire and BAE 1073mpf (which have a little 'colour' as well as the neutral and clean Sound Devices 702 pre's – the main pre for the V13 review.
I wondered how the KlangFormer software, matched to the V13, would fare with another linear mic, the KRK Ergo measurement mic and other less linear mics such as the Sennheiser ME66, Rode NT1A and even the Shure SM58.
The audio file (originally WAV 48kHz/16-bit w/Ozone dither - now 256kB mp3) consists of a V13 speech recording (Sound Devices 702 preamp and conversion), looped and played through each KlangFormer model in sequence: Off; Modern, Vintage; Classic; Tube; and Ribbon. The accompanying visual spectrum is seen in the video. Haas delay and TSAR-1 reverb are added half-way through each segment.
V13/KlangFormer mic model comparison (Spoken word).
Clear as a bell: The spectrum charts clearly show the subtle sonic differences in a clearer visual form; the charts with the V13 recording pink noise (1m from monitor) and in comparison to the same capture via a KRK measurement mic. The charts also show that the Focusrite Saffire preamp follows the Sound Devices 702 closely so an expensive linear preamp, whilst preferable, is not necessary for decent results. The off-axis response struck a good balance between source and ambience.
I imagined the bassline next but decided to add the finger snaps or tambourine percussion prior to the bass and also some hand drums prior to the bass (an Ibanez SR500 into a V13-mic'd Orange Crush 50BXT via the Kongpressor pedal).
Having recorded those five tracks into Reason DAW – all via the linear V13 and clean, neutral Sound Devices 702 preamp (and stable phantom-power) – I would have the advantage of 'choosing the mic' post-capture: Off, Modern, Vintage, Classic, Tube or Ribbon. This was an appealing thought particularly as the spoken word test had garnered pleasing tonal results and revealed an authentic representation rather than a cheesy caricature.
Mixdown with KlangFormer: Off to a good start then with clear pleasant-sounding source material: but how would it stand up to some fx, reverb, or mix compression and limiting? Would this reveal flaws?
Reason mixdown of V13/KlangFormer tracks.
The Reason mix session was simply the five linear V13 audio tracks with the KlangFormer plug-in instantiated on each track. Mix output was through the Reason SSL-emulation mixer and bus compressor and finally through Izotopes Ozone Maximiser.
Any clangers? The label on the front of the mic (used for identifying 'the front') is obscured when in the mount. This led to a problem which delayed the review. I identified a room mode in the recording but I had to rule out that I'd recorded into the null side of the V13 by mistake. The V13 was accurate but my room isn't. The solution is simple – customise and add your own marker to the front (as pictured above).
The lack of filters and pads is necessary due to the need to match to what the KlangFormer software expects to hear; in practice it's not too much of an issue (as the mic has a healthy 130dB ceiling and is very quiet in terms of self-noise and body/character) but there will be situations where a workaround is needed e.g. recording bass. The V13 plot does show a smooth roll-off in the bass capture and this works well but it will take time to get to know the mic's proximity effect on bass and its best placement.
The bottom line is that audio capture is limited to the frequency curve of the V13 and positioning (or players technique to some extent); this is because the KlangFormer software expects to receive audio at the V13's frequency plot – the mic and software are matched. In practise there is some leeway (everything sounds good anyway) but any remedial, tracking-type EQ or compression/limiting must be done post-capture if 'authenticity' is to be maintained: the high-pass filter on your interface, being pre-capture, will skew the frequency plot from what KlangFormer expects.
The frequency plot/capture is well-judged though – there is a nice bass roll-off, and there's plenty of headroom and clean level.
When The Bell Tolls: Putting all my cards on the table: prior to the V13 review I was very, very sceptical about any kind of mic-modelling...partly based on analogue snobbery but also historical precedents. I was wrong. The V13/KlangFormer system produces beautiful results without anything funky (like phasing or latency issues). Significantly, no dongle or online authorization is needed to use the V13/KlangFormer combo!
The WeissKlang/Sonimus approach is different to other mic-modelling systems in that no specific mic-models are named – just the type of microphone. This system worked well for me particularly as the V13 sounds very good even without the KlangFormer software; so the V13 has a value outside of the software component too. The KlangFormer software can also be used with other mics perhaps with mixed results but who knows?
High-quality sound aside, one of the advantages of the V13/KlangFormer is that it replaces several mics or has enough variety of tone to effectively achieve that.
In conclusion, a stellar first microphone from WeissKlang - the V13 is a solid piece of engineering that will capture a great recording with a minimum of fuss. The Sonimus KlangFormer software is exemplary and perfectly matched to the workflow and V13’s linear but beautiful character.
Sound quality: 5/5 - I was surprised how good this sounded in default modes i.e. In/Out gain/attenuation at default and without any DAW processing. Even on my own voice I didn't feel the need to get surgical with an SSL-emulation channel or countless plug-ins. Maybe I was looking to shave a couple of dB's with a bass shelf to counteract proximity effect but I could also have moved back the mic a couple of inches to achieve the same result. Apart from that everything sounded great set at default: simply press each model button to choose whichever works best for the situation. There are no *dead parrots; all the models sound great.
Features: 4/5 - I liked the simplicity of operation: position the mic and record, monitor levels; make a decision about mic model later using KlangFormer's sweet, simple interface. The plug-in interface has a useful VU meter and I/O gain and attenuation of +/-20dB (total range 40dB). I added 40dB on the 702 preamp at capture and that put me nicely in the default settings range. The mic isn't 'hot' but very healthy in terms of it's 200 ohm output impedance and interaction with the 702 which has 7.5K ohm input impedance. The lack of high-pass filter and pads does affect workflow in the sense that placement is everything.
Ease of use: 5/5 - No dongle needed. Almost plug-and-play. The slightly-smaller body size, mic lightness, and flexibility of the suspension mount, allows for close placement in tight spaces or studios and visually it isn't dominant – but still looks the business. I noticed no CPU hit even when using multiple instances of KlangFormer; the software side was simple, unobtrusive and worked perfectly with no technical hitches.
My experience is that the V13 mic takes some time to learn in terms of placement on bass sources due to the mic capture curve bass roll-off and proximity effect. Nearly a point lost for that but it's more a design and features issue.
Bang-for-buck: 5/5 – Very good value given the sound quality and the design, materials and engineering. Definitely worth the extra outlay over similar-looking or similarly-specc'ed budget mics. The V13 sounds beautiful with and without the KlangFormer software although the high-quality plug-in is versatile enough to cover a lot of sources.
Credits and references:
WeissKlang.com - Welcome
All photos used with permission from WeissKlang; additional photos by Arthur Stone.
A BIG thank you to Voxengo for the fabulous SPAN used to analyse the audio.