photo by Ty Ford
The Schoeps VSR 5 is a discrete, 2-channel analog reference microphone preamp that caused more than a few heads to turn at last year's 125th AES Convention in San Francisco. Conceived as a marketable version of the preamp Schoeps has used for some time to bench test their own microphones in-house, a pre-production model of the VSR 5 — serial number #0103 — arrived at my studio not long after its AES debut. Now, nearly a year later, this review heralds Schoeps' full commitment to the production of this world-class mic amp.
The exterior design and controls on this 2U box are very clean. It's "Schoeps gray" and brushed-metal, front-panel controls consist of two separate control surfaces, one per preamp. Each channel has backlit phantom power, polarity and mute buttons to the left of a detented gain pot calibrated in 3 dB increments from 0 to 60 dB. To the right of each pot are three lowcut buttons at 40, 80, and 120 Hz.
The VSR 5's two electronically floating, balanced inputs are rated at 8k Ohms; input CMRR (common-mode rejection ratio) at 60 dB gain is >90 dB at 1 kHz and >80 dB at 15 kHz. Maximum input level at 0 dB gain is 25.4 dBu (23.2 dBV). THD+N at 1k is an infinitesimal 0.0006 precent (-102 dB) at 30 dB gain and 27.5 dBu output level. Frequency response at 30 dB gain is 12 Hz to 90 kHz at 0/-0.1 dB and it is only down 3 dB at 2.5 Hz and 400 kHz. Internal bandwidth is 555 kHz at 60 dB of gain. Maximum output level is 28.5 dBu (26.3 dBV). Each channel has a pair of isolated, electronically floating XLR balanced, 50 Ohm outputs. Output CMRR is >60 dB (20 Hz - 20 kHz).
I tried a half-dozen different mics with the VSR 5 preamp, beginning with the least sensitive of the bunch, my RCA 77DX ribbon mic. Cranked at full gain, the VSR 5 and 77DX sounded quite good, and while there was a slight amount of circuit noise, I found it acceptable for all but extremely quiet sources where a ribbon mic would not be my choice anyway. For louder sources, like guitar cabs, I backed off the gain and noise was not an issue. Next, I auditioned an AEA R84 ribbon mic alternating between the AEA TRP preamp and the Schoeps VSR 5. The TRP was slightly "bigger" on the low end, but the overall HF noise levels were virtually the same and the R84 sounded extremely good though the VSR 5.
The Neumann U89 and AKG C414 BULS also matched well with the VSR 5, as did the Sennheiser MD 421. Even in the "music" position, the 421 has a frequency "peak" that some preamps don't handle very well. As with my GML mic preamp, the VSR 5 reveals the peak without overemphasizing it.
In the studio, I tracked finger- and flatpicked acoustic guitar parts with my D28S Martin using medium strings, a Schoeps CMC641 supercardioid mic, and the VSR 5 with no EQ. Upon playback, what I heard was a recording of my guitar as it really sounds, maybe with just a bit more top end: Understandable, since that is probably what it sounds like if my ear was five inches in front of the guitar. The combination of CMC641 and VSR 5 offered transparent and smooth performances with no nasty artifacts. Next, I tracked vocals using both the U89 and R84 and was similarly pleased with both.
The VSR 5's 40 Hz, 80 Hz, and 120 Hz highpass filters are very gentle. Although the mute can be manually engaged, Schoeps thoughtfully included an automatic mute on the Phantom Power switch that momentarily mutes the audio during engagement and disengagement of the phantom power circuit.
The Schoeps VSR 5 deserves a spot on the top shelf. It's quiet, smooth, and has a well implemented feature set.