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mid priced (or less!) tube gear
Old 1st August 2002
  #31
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

Just bought a Studio Projects VTB-1 mic pre, and it should arrive by mid week or sooner. Will let you guys know how I like it...

One aspect that's pretty cool is that you can keep it totally solid
state rather than being "forced" to use the starved tube path.
Having the option of adding it though is very clever though IMHO.

Chris
Old 8th August 2002
  #32
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

This mic pre has WAY exceeded my expectations.
Any feedback from the more experienced members here who check it
out would be appreciated regarding the VTB-1

Thank
Chris
Old 11th August 2002
  #33
One with big hooves
 
Jay Kahrs's Avatar
Well, that's great and all but how is it exceding your expectations? What do you like about it? What do you not like? What have you compared it to? And with what mics and sources?

Saying that you like a piece of gear is one thing, saying that it "rocks" without anything more is useless.
Old 11th August 2002
  #34
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

Saying "it rocks" was just to have a little fun with an expression
that tends to elicit less than profound respect with experienced
recordists (and those who think they are).

My mic pre listening experience is limited otherwise to;

1) Aphex 107 dual mic pre (hey it's got Tubessence/quiet)
2) Joe Meek VC6Q & VC3Q's ("rounder" than VLZ/lower S/N ratio)
3) Mackie VLZ Pro mixers (clinical sounding IMHO)
4) Behringer 802A mixer (wait it gets better!)
5) Bellari MP105 (AKA "the hum injector")

All world class (ahem) as you can see.

Having said that...

So far I've just spent time using the 421 and SM57 dynamics,
the Oktava MC-012 cardiod condenser, and AT 3527 omni
condenser.

The VTB-1 is very quiet in solid state mode, and it sounds like it
"opens" up each microphone quite a bit.
As an experienced acapella singer, it's made me very sensitive to
the tonal quality, or lack thereof in a given mic pre.
(judged at intermediate level BTW, getting ready for advanced
competitions in the future-don't mean to sound egotistical)
The degree of transparency was surprising for me.

The "tube blend" feature is so easy to overdo at an amateur
level that it's something I'll mess around with during mixing.

My understanding is that Harvey Gerst will be checking the VTB-1
out so we'll see how closely these impressions compare with
an expert.

Thanks
Chris

P.S. The "source" was just my big mouth!
Old 11th August 2002
  #35
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

I've also used the Presonus MP20, however, that was limited to testing
at a dealer with just a '57 and an AT4033. It was the best mic pre I
heard up until the VTB-1 IMHO.

Chris
Old 13th August 2002
  #36
One with big hooves
 
Jay Kahrs's Avatar
Quote:
Originally posted by chessparov
The VTB-1 is very quiet in solid state mode, and it sounds like it
"opens" up each microphone quite a bit.
As an experienced acapella singer, it's made me very sensitive to
the tonal quality, or lack thereof in a given mic pre.
(judged at intermediate level BTW, getting ready for advanced
competitions in the future-don't mean to sound egotistical)
The degree of transparency was surprising for me.

P.S. The "source" was just my big mouth!
It's really tough to judge what a mic or preamp is doing with your own voice unless it's recorded. How does it "open up" each mic? Is that in comparison to the other preamps you own? Is it an opening of the top end or just less compressed because it has more headroom? These can be sometimes subtle differences but when you can pick them up your ears are getting better.
Old 13th August 2002
  #37
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

Hmm...
That's a level of expertise in assessment not yet attained by yours truly.
My impression is that in solid state mode it's very detailed,
and it "loads" up well with various microphone impedances.

Harvey Gerst is getting one from Studio Projects for evaluation purposes.
It'll be interesting to see what he says.

Chris
Old 17th August 2002
  #38
Lives for gear
 
alanhyatt's Avatar
 

There is now another review of the VTB-1. I will re-post it here for you guys, since the HHB Radius was brought up, the reviewer Dan Richards, known as DOT and Teller on some other groups did an A/B comparison to the HHB with the VTB-1.


First Things First

It seems that $200 is buying more and more these days for project recording studio owners and home recordists. With great compressors and great mics now this side of dirt cheap, the audio-recording community has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a great mic pre that will deliver it all for a song. Last year, Alan Hyatt of PMI Audio in Torrance, California designed and introduced the Studio Projects line of C and T series microphones, and in plain view made it very known that he partnered with 797 Audio in China to bring these babies affordably to the masses. Praises of the large diaphragm condenser mics quickly spread over the internet. People called it hype until they finally gave in, tried the mics and joined the club.

The VTB1 currently retails for $229 and has been seen on the street for $179.

When I first received the VTB1 from Alan for review, I somehow didn't want to like it. Lucky me. There are some things I don't like. I don't like the name, and I can't remember it. VTB1 is stupid and doesn't sit well on the tongue when you're referring to it in the studio. Even Studio Projects can't decide what to call it. On their website the unit pictured has VT-1 on it, but yet it's called a VTB-1 right above the picture, and – if that weren't enough – it's listed as the VTP-1 on the top of the browser. I say we call it the V1 and be done with it. "Hey man, patch in the V1." Simple. Sounds cool – and you can remember it.

I also expected a little more from Studio Projects in the way of packaging and cosmetic design. It looks like a $200 mic pre. No more, no less. I'd like to see a 19" rackmount version with dual VTB1's in the near future, too. The V2.

In Use

I drove a couple of hours away to a studio I've been designing. I'd like to thank Mark L for lending his studio and another set of ears to test the VTB1.

The first order of business was to get this puppy hooked up. I still hadn't seen the unit powered on, and in hindsight, I would have liked to have "burned the unit in" by leaving it on for a week. One little "gift" from Studio Projects is that inside the VTB1 there's an indigo-bluish light that glows. Nothing wrong with a little atmosphere enhancer.

One thing I didn't like was that the XLR jacks in the back didn't seem to lock the XLR mic cable into place very well.

Although there are quite a few positions on the "tube drive", for the sake of economy, I recorded five separate passes for each instrument, one at SS – which sits at 7 o'clock on the dial, second pass at 9 o'clock, third pass at high noon, forth pass at 3 o'clock and the last pass cranked – which lands at about 5 o'clock. I'll be using these as references for this review.

We decided to add tracks to a song already in-progress to not only get an idea of the additive quality of the VTB1 over several tracks, but also to compare it to tracks that had been tracked with an HHB Radius 40 – which is a channel strip I have used and highly recommended over the past couple of years.

The first audition was with an acoustic guitar miked with an Oktava MC012 with a cardioid capsule running straight to the VTB1 and then into the console. No compression, no EQ. We recorded five passes, the first one at the "SS" solid state setting, as there is no tube introduced into the signal at this stage. The first thing I noticed – even though we were riding the gain levels pretty high – was that the VBT1 itself was dead quiet. No hum, no hiss, no RF noises. As we made each guitar pass and cranked on the tube-drive knob, the presence and intensity of the tone and sound would increase. After we got to the passes that were near the end of the scale, things just started to sound dirty. Not unlike an amplifier that gives you about 80% of usable volume. Nonetheless, Alan leaves it up to you as to how much you want, and I'm sure there may be applications for the higher tube settings that I haven't yet investigated. Mark and I both agreed that the guitar sounded best around the 9 o'clock to 12 o'clock range.

Next up to bat were some vocal tracks cut with a Studio Projects C1 microphone. On the first pass on the SS setting, it was clearly apparent that this preamp is serious. We continued doing passes and cranking up the dial each time. Each pass was clearly different in texture than the preceding one. And, again, all the passes sounded stunning until we reached the last quarter of the dial. High noon seemed to be the sweet spot this time.

Number three in line was a bass plugged directly into the DI on the front panel. We tracked the bass with no compression and no EQ. Of course, the sound of the bass didn't sit as well uncompressed, but, nevertheless, it accurately brought out the tone of the bass on the SS setting and really came to life at 9 o'clock on the dial. In all fairness, I'd have to say the explorations into the bass going DI aren't conclusive as I'd need to better set up the entire chain for the bass, but I heard nothing objectionable, and the bass came through with nice, full frequencies.

Last up was a Yamaha grand piano miked with an AKG 414. More passes and dial cranking. In this case, the SS setting was the way to go. Again, beautiful. Nice and transparent.

We also listened to some additional passes with the 70Hz high-pass filter engaged, and, again it did the job. A high-pass filter can be an important tool to have at the preamp stage, and I'm glad to see Studio Projects included this feature.

Critical Listening

After we had all these passes recorded, it was time to listen back. We solo'ed tracks, listened to them in context with drums and other tracks recorded earlier, and also A/B'ed them with the same parts recorded with the Radius 40.

Auditioning every pass was like bringing up a different quality. All of the first three passes sounded great – so it's more of a matter of deciding which setting would help the track best sit in the song. After selecting what we felt were the best passes on each take, we did some A/B'ing. I must say, as much as I like the Radius 40, the difference of the VTB1 was surprising. In technical terms, it completely blew the doors off the Radius 40. No contest. I have been a long-time user of high-end and mid-range TL Audio products, and I have never felt the mic pre on the Radius 40 is outstanding, but still, as an overall tube-hybrid front-end for a project studio at $600 or under, it was the winner. After hearing the VTB1, I've changed my mind.

The difference in sound between the units could be likened to the Radius 40 sounding as a spilled drop of ink on a piece of paper with "bleeding" around the spot. The VTB1, on the other hand, sounds more like a defined, deliberate mark with little to no bleeding around the edges – even as the dial is cranked and the tube pushed harder. The sound of the VTB1 is warm without sacrificing definition.

I have never heard a mic pre under $1000 that sounds and acts like the VTB1! The missing link in the price vs. performance chain has arrived.

The next time we can get together, Mark and I will be raising the A/B bar by putting the VTB1 up against Neve and API mic pres – two of the heaviest hitters in the audio industry, and the definitive mic pres for "warm" (Neve), and "transparent" (API).

Conclusion

The gods must be smiling on Alan Hyatt. I know some of the high-brow audio people may dismiss my findings and the "starved-plate" technology employed in the design. But consider that Alan has recently struck a deal with legendary mic modder Stephen Paul to bring the first SP microphone to market. That is no small feat, and a huge reflection on Alan Hyatt's talent.

The VTB1 has got to be the "Swiss Army Knife" of mic preamps. Not only does it allow for a wide variety of sounds, from transparent to bordering on tube insanity, it also delivers a killer direct box and an insert that acts as a splitter box. Record two tracks at once, one with with the dialed-in tube sound of your choice and the other completely bipassing the tube circuitry. The age-old project-studio owner question, "should I get a tube mic pre or a solid state pre?" – is history. With the VTB1 you get both and then some.

This box offers so much versatility, that if I was somehow limited to recording an entire song with only one pre, I would seriously consider the VTB1 for the task. I know of no other mic pre at any price that offers this kind of flexibilty and tonal range. The VTB1 is certain to join the ranks as one of most innovative audio products of the year.
Old 26th August 2002
  #39
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

O.K. Alan, enough about the pre.
Let's talk about more important matters like which beer the
squirrel preferred! (looks as if he likes staying "domestic")

Chris
Old 28th August 2002
  #40
One with big hooves
 
Jay Kahrs's Avatar
Quote:
Originally posted by alanhyatt
There is now another review of the VTB-1. I will re-post it here for you guys, since the HHB Radius was brought up, the reviewer Dan Richards, known as DOT and Teller on some other groups did an A/B comparison to the HHB with the VTB-1.
Alan,

While that's a good example of a review in the future I'd appreciate it if you just put up a link. While I really like having reps and manufacturers post here because it keeps things balanced and sometimes you set us straight about things, that post was borderline spam. I won't delete it or anything but next time ask me first or just post a link.

Thanks,
Old 29th August 2002
  #41
Lives for gear
 
moon_unit's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by alanhyatt
The VTB1 has got to be the "Swiss Army Knife" of mic preamps. Not only does it allow for a wide variety of sounds, from transparent to bordering on tube insanity
Tell us more about this "tube insanity." Is this a new technology?
Old 29th August 2002
  #42
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

Tube insanity means it gets so gnarly the sound wave becomes SQUARE dude!

Seriously, the "tube blend" is very useful if you're looking to experiment
with adding some low mids to the sound.

Like any justifiably proud parent, surely any of Alan's future links will include
a slide show and home movies! (and some beer for the squirrel)

Aloha,
Chris
Old 29th August 2002
  #43
Lives for gear
 
alanhyatt's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by chessparov
Like any justifiably proud parent, surely any of Alan's future links will include
a slide show and home movies! (and some beer for the squirrel)

Aloha,
Chris
No Beer, I would have to ask for ID!!!:eek:
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