(click thumbnail)Although the company have been around since 2003, Violet Design’s products have only been available in the US for slightly over a year. Violet Design manufactures all of its microphones in Latvia, and, although there are some exceptions, the majority of the mics are cardioid condensers and available as either a “Standard” or “Vintage” type.
The Flamingo Series is Violet Design’s flagship product, and is designed for uncompromised recording. The series is available in four different configurations: the Flamingo Standard, the Flamingo Vintage, the Stereo Flamingo and the Flamingo Magic Ear. The Stereo Flamingo is a phantom-powered condenser mic, while the other three Flamingo models are vacuum-tube designs. The Flamingo Magic Ear ($7,418) uses a large, oval-shaped capsule that provides a unique, full character that is perfectly suited for vocals.
Violet claims that the irregular shape of the Magic Ear’s transducer removes circular resonances and reflections, resulting in a warm, clean, natural, resonance-free tone. In comparison, the Flamingo Standard uses a sideaddress, dual-diaphragm electrostatic capsule tuned to provide the character of a modern tube microphone with an extended top end.
In addition to the Magic Ear, I had a Flamingo Standard during this review period. With exception to their capsules, the Magic Ear and the Standard are identical.
Ear-shaped capsule; gold-sputtered 6-micron Mylar diaphragms; fully discrete, Class A circuitry designs; 6267 vacuum tube; cardioid polar pattern; sequential power supply
Violet Design/FDW Worldwide | 608-227-2040 | www.violetusa.com
- Unique, full character, perfectly suited for vocals
- Minimized acoustic resonances
- Visually inspiring
- No selectable pickup patterns
This fledgling Latvian high-end mic manufacturer has established an uncompromising performer in its flagship product.FEATURES
Violet Design takes meticulous efforts when it comes to component selection, plus electronic and acoustical design; the computer utilizes its own handmade electrostatic brass body capsules with gold-sputtered 6-micron Mylar diaphragms. Every Violet capsule is carefully tensioned and tuned to provide an excellent transient response and high SPL handling capability. The microphone’s electronics are all fully discrete, Class A designs, resulting in a flat frequency response, high output and minimal noise and distortion.
The physics behind the Flamingo Series are unique, with an emphasis on minimizing acoustic resonances and reflections that color the sound, all in a beautifully crafted tool. The mic incorporates a hand-selected 6267 vacuum tube that is mounted inside a heat sink on an isolated internal shock mount. The Magic Ear’s large custom-wound Permalloy humbucking audio transformer balances the output signal, isolates the microphone from external interference and adds additional warmth to the sound.
The Flamingo Magic Ear has a cardioid polar pattern with a rated impedance of 1,000 ohms and an output impedance of 100 ohms (the suggested load is > 250 ohms). The mic’s frequency range is 20 Hz - 20 kHz with a sensitivity @ 1,000 Hz of 26 mV/PA. The signal-to-noise ratio DIN/IEC 651 A-weighted measures 87 dBA with an equivalent noise level of 7 dBA. The Maximum SPL for the mic (<0.5 percent @ 1,000 Hz) is 134 dB and the preamplifier’s dynamic range is 127 dB. The mic weighs in at just over two pounds.
The Magic Ear includes a power supply, XLR-7M cable (to connect the mic to the power supply), and a beautiful velvet-lined wood box. Its power supply is a sequential, soft-starting unit that protects the tube from excessive currents while cold and mutes the audio until the tube has stabilized. After being switched on, the supply provides stabilized DC voltage with limited current for tube heater’s protection. Only after heating the cathode, the stabilized plate and polarization voltages begin to rise from zero until full nominal of application voltages. The audio output of the microphone is muted until end of above sequential starting process. Sequence is under changing LED indicator control, but a digital display shows actual plate voltage. The supply’s output connector uses gold-plated contacts for noise-free termination.
The Flamingo’s large, acoustically transparent head ensures the source audio remains as unaffected as possible. The combination of massive body, internal capsule shock mount, integrated head shock mount and the included compact external shock mount works together to reduce rumble and outside infrasonic interference, as well as mechanical shocks. The Flamingo microphones can be purchased in matched stereo pairs to provide perfectly balanced stereo recordings.
In my mind, microphone capsules are supposed to be round; there may be a few exceptions — like the square capsule of the Milab 96b — but they’re at least supposed to be symmetrical. So, I was skeptical of the Flamingo Magic Ear. Upon close examination, I discovered the capsule was shaped as much, if not more, like a liver than an ear; my skepticism grew as I prepared to listen to the “Magic Liver.”
How surprised I was to discover that I actually love the sound of the Magic Ear, as it sounds shockingly good on virtually everything. I used it to record acoustic and electric guitars, violin, tambourine, shaker and the sound of eclectic musician Jason Goforth’s lap steel … and was never disappointed.
This said, the recording of lead vocals is clearly the strength of the Magic Ear. The mic has a slight upper midrange boost that tapers off in the higher frequencies; this adds a superb presence and air to vocals without increased sibilance. Its bottom end is tight and full. Overall, the microphone has a very natural sound. The microphone worked equally well with male and female vocals. Not only is the Magic Ear sonically pleasing, but it is visually inspiring — this truly makes a difference with many artists.
It wasn’t a concern on vocals, but on several occasions while recording various instruments, I found myself wishing the mics had selectable pickup patterns rather than being locked into a cardioid pattern. To me, this is the only negative of the microphone.
The Flamingo Standard proved to be a slightly different animal; it performed equally well in every instance — except for vocals. Depending on the singer, I occasionally had some sibilance issues with the Standard (these were easily resolved with the dbx 902 deesser). I found that the Standard had a bit more air than the Magic Ear, while the Magic Ear had a touch more upper-mid presence.
Physically, sonically and aesthetically, the Flamingo Magic Ear is a truly distinctive microphone. Although its price tag is steep, it is worth consideration for a studio looking to expand its audio pallet.