In this day and age, large diaphragm vocal microphones can be purchased for as little as $99, and as high as $10,000. And although very few studios can afford the latter, some do have the budget for similarly-designed but slightly less expensive newly-built, vacuum tube vocal mics.
Product PointsApplications: Studio vocal recording, high-end voiceovers
Key Features: Cardioid pattern; large diaphragm; frequency response tailored for voice recording, Class A vacuum tube amplifier stage; ships with road case, integral shockmount/cradle, separate power supply and cable
Contact: Brauner/Transamerica Audio Group at 702-365-5155, Web Site.
It was in that context that I was interested to hear the made-in-Germany, Brauner Valvet Voice microphone, a specially-produced, handmade, limited edition (500 units) of the standard Valvet mic, specifically tweaked for voice recording. It is priced at $2,695.
Referring to the photo, you’ll notice that the Brauner Valvet looks sort of like a shortened U 47 – although its cradle/shockmount is way cooler looking. Its output is on a 7-pin Tuchel connector ù just like the vintage KM or Schoeps M221b small diaphragm mics. Its power supply, however, looks nothing like an old one. Rather, it is a beautiful brushed silver metal unit, about 6 inches x 4 inches x 2 inches, with integral polarity reversal and RF filter switches.
Inside the mic is the sort of expensive parts one would find in high-end audiophile gear, including a custom Lundahl output transformer. The tube itself is a selected EF 86, and is rated for 10,000 hours of use! The self-noise figure is spec’d at an extremely low (for a tube mic) 10 dB A, and the mic is said to be able to handle 142 dB SPL with low distortion.
I listened to the Valvet Voice’s vocal character and compared it with several similar large diaphragm mics I normally use on my vocal sessions; Most of them are way more expensive (or valued higher) than the Brauner. But for my purpose, they were useful in judging the Brauner’s own unique character.
Mics used for comparison included my 3-micron capsule Stephen Paul/Neumann M 249 and U 47s, one half of my 0.9 micron Stephen Paul/Neumann SM 69 stereo mic (same capsule as a U 67 or M 269) and one side of my AKG C 24 stereo mic. I monitored through the preamp section of my Apogee Trak2, since its warm, but neutral, solid state circuitry seems to flatter just about every mic I plug into it.
My impression of the Brauner Valvet Voice mic was that it had a strong, clear, lean sound, with a bright, upper-midrange character that is great for cutting through a mix. It most closely matched the sound of my SM 69 which, to me, indicates that Dirk Brauner voiced it to emulate the best characteristics of a vintage Neumann U 67.
My own special stereo member of that KK-67 family, with much thinner Mylar diaphragms than the Brauner, sounded clearer and brighter on the extreme top, while the Valvet Voice was a bit stronger in the lower highs/upper mids (and thus, on some voices, actually sounded brighter). Their low ends were similar, but my Neumann’s was a bit warmer, while the Brauner sounded a tad drier.
When compared with my members of the Neumann M 7 capsule family, the Brauner’s bright characteristic became even more evident. My M 249 sounded much warmer but the Brauner had less proximity effect. The Brauner sounded a little closer to the 47 but it was still leaner sounding.
The CK-12 family of mic capsule diaphragms – represented by my stereo C 24 – are tensioned quite differently from those of Neumann, thus giving the C 12 and the Ela-M 251 their characteristic upper midrange and high-end “sheen.”
The Brauner’s bright and slightly edgy (in comparison with the AKG) sound was different than the glassy smooth lift of the C 24. This test served mainly to confirm that Dirk Brauner emulated the Neumann “sound” rather than that of the AKG C12/Ela-M 251 when designing the Valvet.
All in all, The Brauner Valvet Voice’s upper midrange peak was a desirable addition to most voices. In my tests, it sounded closest to a high-quality example of the Neumann U 67 family. It is much brighter in the upper-midrange, and considerably leaner and dryer in the low end. But remember, all 67s alive today were originally built about 40 years ago, so it’s really hard to know exactly what the best ones actually sounded like when they were new.
Any studio desiring the Neumann 67-type vocal sound – and requiring a little extra brightness in the upper presence region than a vintage 67 offers – should definitely audition this mic. It is beautifully made and should last a long time.