I think we can all agree that it’s better to capture tracks well with specialized tools than try to “fix it in the mix.” Most would contend that mics with built-in tonal options beyond just pads and high-pass filters are very useful. Many would say that affordably priced modern studio microphones have reached or surpassed the standards set by classic mics. Vanguard Labs’ V1S+LOLLI kit seems to prove all three of these points; this is a versatile system that is nearly a complete stereo miking solution, save a single exception.
Out of the Box
The whole kit ($1,199 direct or via retail) is based on V1 pencil FET condensers. They have a minimalist “straight wire” path, according to Vanguard, with only four components, including a precision-biased JFET, a custom-wound transformer, and cryogenic treatment of all components—the concept being that deep-freezing produces molecular stability, a longer lifespan and more consistent matching/performance. The V1s look sharp, with Vanguard’s usual pinot noir finish, nickel trimmings and attention to detail.
Each V1 comes with a VSSM shockmount, zinc-alloy construction, a powder coat finish, aerospace suspension bands and, best of all, an ABS pivot/clutch that works properly. This suspension should be the envy of other manufacturers, as it holds firmly, feels strong and is a pleasure to use, unlike so many others, especially those in the affordable mic category.
Each V1 body can be topped with a 22 mm, 4-micron, gold-sputtered Mylar diaphragm’d capsule in one of four configurations: cardioid, hypercardioid, wide-cardioid or omnidirectional. The diaphragms are mounted extremely close to the front of their housing, encouraging accurate frequency response and reducing comb filtering.
Matched-pair stereo kits, including a stereo bar long enough for ORTF configurations, are available as above, or with additional LOLLI large-diaphragm’d heads. This 34 mm, 3-micron diaphragm and capsule is housed in an aluminum body that looks very nice in an art deco kind of way and allows switching between cardioid and omni patterns.
As tested here, the V1S includes the two-mic chassis, eight small-diaphragm caps, two LOLLI caps, a stereo bar and wooden storage case for $1,199 direct from Vanguard, with an extended five-year warranty.
In a nutshell, the V1S+LOLLI kit performs as promised and as expected. (I reviewed Vanguard’s V13 large-diaphragm multipattern tube condenser mic back in December 2016.) Most importantly, the parts are machined precisely, allowing easy mounting of the capsules; I wouldn’t recommend this kit otherwise. The contact pin on the mic connection is spring-loaded, so you have to be careful, but I didn’t encounter any misthreading or difficulty in interchangeability. The shockmounts are superb, with a firm grip on the mics and a firmer clutch; I recommend buying these VSSMs ($39) for your other SDC mics.
I first tested the capsules when an organ re-amping job with a Leslie speaker cabinet/amp conveniently came my way. The consistent repetition of the spinning and swirling tracks and an ORTF stereo miking technique allowed me to find small but important details. The hypercardioids provided the tightest focus and the brightest tone, but with a smaller soundstage. The omnis provided the flattest frequency response, a lack of proximity effect and more air, but less detail. The cardioids offered a largely neutral frequency response, typical side rejection and ample detail. But it was the wide cardioids that I found myself coming back to again and again, with their reasonable directionality, a significant amount of air, a tonal balance nearly as flat as the omnis, and a sense of “being there” that approximates normal hearing.
I began using the kit in some way on every session and tried many combinations. I wish I had clients with infinite patience and budgets (I don’t) so I could run down all the potentially useful combinations. Sometimes I matched both mics as a true stereo or spaced pair; sometimes I would use mismatched caps (i.e., an omni and a cardioid) or patterns (two LOLLIs: one cardioid, one omni); and sometimes I would mix a small cap and a LOLLI. Here’s a condensed rundown of what I found:
Rain stick—Widely spaced pair, small cardioids. Plenty of excessive movement and detail just as desired; crisp but not harsh.
Clave—ORTF pair, small cardioids. Solid yet airy, very realistic.
Shaker trills in an arc—Doppler effect attempt; widely spaced cardioids. Nice detail in movement/placement without harshness.
Acoustic guitar—One small cardioid/one small wide, neither boomy nor crispy. Small hypercardioid as a nice neck-position option (to reject breathing/vocals), natural dynamics and a very realistic presentation.
Acoustic guitar—LOLLI cardioids, nicely full bodied, not bright, just slightly dark. A little bigger than life, but not as natural as the small caps.
African drum troupe (djembes, kinkinees and dun duns)—LOLLI omni in room center. Very full and warm, slightly dark, strong low-mids 200–250 Hz area, slightly compressed dynamics.
Drum overheads—Spaced pair LOLLI cardioids. Well matched, great low-mids, slightly dark, slightly compressed, really good imaging.
Drum overheads—Spaced pair, small wide cardioids. Flatter than LOLLIs, more focused soundstage, smoother off-axis than LOLLIs, more natural but less girth, not bright. Basically flat.
Lead vocals—LOLLI cardioid. Well balanced on baritones and altos, limited sibilance, strong low-mids, similar to TLM103 but thicker and chestier. Nice side rejection with group vocals (two LOLLIs in a live three-part harmony tracking session).
Distorted vocals—LOLLI cardioid via stomp box vocal processor pedal with plenty of digital distortion. Smooth top and ample low-mids but a little lacking in definition.
Backing vocals—Small cardioid and wide cardioid, not as big as LOLLIs but flatter. Nice, tight focus for doubling/stacking, good neutral balance for rap ad-libs.
Electric guitar—LOLLI too distorted when right up on speaker; had to pull back.
Violin/fiddle—Small cardioid overhead and omni in the room 4 to 5 feet out, nicely flat. Artist commented he liked them better than his usual tube mic. Good dynamics.
Flute—LOLLI cardioid, nice and full, overall neutral. Should’ve tried small wide cardioid.
Upright bass—LOLLI cardioid, high position, a little ticky/clicky on the slaps, smooth lows and low-mids. Should’ve tried the small wide cardioid.
Alto sax/baritone sax/flute—LOLLI cardioid, warm, smooth tops. Reached down low for nice bass extension on baritone without any single note emphasis.
Finger snaps—Small, wide cardioids in spaced pair. Great transient response, almost too bright.
The Final Mix
All things considered, the V1S+LOLLI kit met all expectations, including a stereo bar that worked nicely for numerous techniques. If only the LOLLIs had a figure-of-eight pattern, you could do the Mid-Side stereo technique and Blumlein, too, but at least you can do X/Y, ORTF and spaced positions. The wooden storage case neatly holds all the components, but it is large and needs a handle for convenient carrying.
I’m going to highly recommend the V1S+LOLLI kit (or the mono version at the very least) as a great way to get a full palette of mic options that are readily available and easy to implement. The overall balance of the kit leans toward fullness over brightness, which makes this kit a standout in its field right there. Nonetheless, it’s the small wide cardioid caps that seal the deal. These caps are slightly airy, and flatter and smoother than cardioids; they sound great in places where you might use standard SDCs. If you’ve got a room worth hearing, these caps inject a tasteful amount of it into your still noticeably directional signal, with better spatial cues than omni—buy this kit just to get these wide cardioid beauties. Well, the LOLLIs in omni, too, and the …
Vanguard Audio Labs • www.vanguardaudiolabs.com