If the multipattern, large-diaphragm, tube condenser Avantone BV-1 microphone was a $3,000 product, this review would be quite positive, focusing on its useful sonic qualities yet tempered with a touch of “I’ve seen it all at this price point” market-watching savvy.
However, the BV-1 is a $1,000 microphone, so this review will praise its sonics while trumpeting the impressiveness of its unprecedented price-to-performance ratio.
The BV-1 is presented in a classic form, a LDC tube microphone with high-pass filter and -10 dB pad in a padded wooden box; power supply with a 9-position multipattern switch (omni, to cardioid, to figure 8); 15-foot, Swiss-made Gotham GAC-7 tube mic cable; shockmount; removable nickel-plated pop filter; all contained in an elegant and plush tweed road case. The BV-1 weighs in at 46 ounces; the total package is 25 lbs.
Manufacturer-provided specifications are as follows: the BV-1 offers a 34mm, gold-sputtered Mylar capsule with 3-micron-thick diaphragm; frequency response is 25 Hz to 20 kHz; maximum SPL handling is 134 dB, 144 dB with pad; and signal-to-noise ratio is 78 dB (ref. 1Pa, A-weighted). The tube is a “select low-noise Russian 6072A.” Output transformer and connectors are U.S.-made by CineMag and Switchcraft, respectively.
Although built of primarily Chinese-manufactured components in China, the BV-1 was designed by Avant Electronics’ design engineers at the company’s California headquarters. “Final assembly and QC testing” is also conducted at Avant’s U.S. office.
Over the long term of this review, I included the BV-1 in quite a lineup of applications: a wide variety of vocalists, spanning gruff baritones, clean tenors, throaty altos, and piercing sopranos. Artist after artist chose the BV-1 for their vocal tracks. I know that part of this has to do with “listening with your eyes” — the phenomenon of a performer, especially a vocalist, feeling special by using visually classy gear, therefore performing especially well. While in full effect here, that’s hardly all of it.
Another part of it (also aesthetic) is the unique little chrome pop filter, which always elicits comments from the talent and does admittedly look cool and Art Deco. This filter is only about 1.5 inches from the diaphragm and is small in diameter, so one may have to be careful about restraining plosives or rotating a little off axis. The filter may work for bigbottomed voiceovers, but isn’t sufficient against aggressive heavy breathers or yelling rockers, so you might need your usual pop filter in addition.
But the biggest reason for the BV-1’s popularity was its “flattering neutrality,” based on a response curve that worked well with all voices. It sounds flat and uncolored on the bottom end (with workable proximity effect at four inches and deep hugeness at two inches) with just a hint of pleasant brightness on the top and a small, well-placed dip between 400 Hz to 600 Hz; this response tends to nullify any nasal problems and offers a very musical, yet realistic recording.
I found the cardioid pattern to be fairly tight, with a slight sensitivity to high frequencies at 180 degrees off axis. In figure of 8, the BV-1 was usable, if typical for a multipattern LDC: typical in that it’s not quite as flat on the front side as it was in cardioid, a little nasal and midrangy on the back side, with nulls on the sides. In omni, the BV-1 is flattest (again, typically) with too little sensitivity on the sides, sounding duller and carved out from those directions. My personal favorite vocal position was one click towards omni from cardioid, achieving the BV-1’s flattest response and most utilitarian reproduction.
The -10 dB pad is clean and effective, but mute your channel before switching: it’s a popper. The high-pass filter switch is quiet and placed at a low frequency of 80 Hz, as compared to the often-too-high positions of 150-200 Hz that some mics offer.
On electric guitar, the BV-1 sounded great, but required careful use. The BV-1 has a typically hot LDC output, so the pad may be needed. That proximity effect that was always useful on vocals can overwhelm here, so either back off the amp or try out the high-pass filter, or both. Things can get a little brittle here with a distorted tone, so avoid the center of your speaker cone and try angling a little off axis. When paired with a SM57, BV-1-based guitar tones were pleasantly full bandwidth and concise, still with a meaty low-mid and fullness. Round, bell-ish clean tones from an Egnater and throaty sounds from an old Marshall were especially impressive.
On acoustic guitar, the BV-1 gets the classic, full-bodied LDC sound, with a touch of tube compression. Strumming offered guitar top resonance and was slightly compressed, while finger picking translated with reasonable detail and delicateness (selfnoise wasn’t a problem here, but could be with really quiet, soft finger pickers). One might need to try the HPF, then EQ if some thing more like a SDC’s tight focus was desired.
On drums, it is going to be hard to get the BV-1 mounted anywhere in close due to its bulk and the size of the shockmount. For that matter, the shockmount has some trouble properly supporting the BV-1, so placement options can be limiting. I have mostly used it upside down, self-bracing, suspending the BV-1 from above. I did like the BV-1 on ride cymbal (omni), where it was smooth enough to avoid stridency, and it was pretty sweet on the hi-hat side, too. For drum ambience and room miking, the BV-1 sounds like most LDCs, loaded with detail but with comparably heavy cymbal emphasis.
The BV-1 sounds great and offers plenty of versatility with its multiple polar patterns and curve-tailoring interplay, the useful HPF and the pad. The accessories are all top notch except for the shockmount — well built, but a bit finicky.
So how does Avant Electronics offer a microphone that performs like, and is accessorized like, a $3,000 one for only $999? The obvious answer is Chinese manufacturing, but I think that Avant’s engineers were very wise to carefully cut corners to just the right degree. For example, the brass mic body and the power supply chassis are slightly thinner, lighter weight and less robust than a premium mic, but still thicker than budget models I’ve disassembled (where I could hear the sacrifices).
In fact, a careful inspection of the BV-1’s insides revealed good bones around its Cinemag transformer, 6072A tube, and premium caps. It confirmed for me that this mic is built well enough to parallel a top-shelf mic in performance while saving two-thirds of the price. The sacrifice is that the BV-1 is not a long-term investment in the traditional sense, with guaranteed high resale value or big/commercial studio prestige. However, I am going to buy this one lest my vocalist clients protest.
Rob Tavaglione owns and operates Catalyst Recording in Charlotte. He invites your questions and comments email@example.com.