There’s a trend afoot, and it’s an important one: In 2017, we are witnessing many practical recording engineers moving away from the fetishization of vintage vocal microphones. One could say the same for vintage instruments, too, but it’s on the “money channel” where this seismic move is viewed as the most profound. Instead of investing thousands of dollars into just one premium yet old microphone (which can actually sound quite different from another of the very same make and model, as everything ages differently), more engineers are buying new “boutique” microphones. By and large, they are picking modern-featured and ultra-versatile models, even mass-produced ones. Others are discovering budget-priced models that actually measure up (e.g., they are not only cheaper and aesthetically similar) to their vintage inspirations. Vanguard Audio Labs’ V13 multipattern tube LDC is a perfect example of the latter. The company is apparently seeking a good first impression by offering this complete and fully featured microphone kit.
The V13 employs a 34 mm edge-terminated, gold-sputtered 3 μm Mylar dual-capsule assembly with a total of nine polar positions, including those useful in-between cardioid, omni, and figure-8 positions. Vanguard notes its “European” tube comes stock, with users able to install 12AX7, 12AT7 or 12AY7 tubes to taste. On its body are switches for the high-pass filter and -10 dB pad as well as a polar pattern switch on the power supply. Output passes through a custom-wound transformer. The VLSM shock mount has an open front and suspension rings that promise to be sag-free, and would even fit a number of other mics. In all, the V13 kit comes with microphone, power supply, shock mount, multipin cable, mic box and aluminum carrying case.
All the above is available at a shocking $799 street. At this price point, allow me to assume I know what you’re thinking: “This is just another overly-bright budget LDC.” And you’re wrong. In fact, it is more of a warm, thick and classy presentation than you’d ever expect.
In use, I christened the V13 via male vocals with no HPF or pad engaged, placed about four inches out with a pop filter employed, amplified via my standard-bearer microphone amp, the Millennia Media STT-1. There were no sibilance issues, plenty of low-mids, just enough top-end and a lack of distortion, all with very pleasant (not too jumpy) dynamics.
Liking its strong bottom-end, I tried the V13 on a cajon, particularly trying to grab the boom whilst a small diaphragm condenser (SDC) grabbed the slap. It worked nicely with a satisfying belly thump to each downbeat. For drum room, I placed the V13 behind a drummer’s throne, about three feet off the floor and received some useful tone with un-scooped low-mids and enough bottom to add fullness, especially following some firm compression.
Wondering now about the V13’s high-frequency response, I placed it on acoustic guitar in a position that can be a little dark or inarticulate. Conversely, I placed the V13 up where neck meets body, too. In both positions, the V13 grabbed sounds I liked. Its smooth high-end response was ample, but never too bright. Excessive peaks seemed to get just a little compression massage; all that strong mid-response wasn’t too muddy like I thought it might be.
Vanguard Audio Labs’ V13 LDC microphone.
The V13’s pattern selections behaved in typical fashion for a dual diaphragm LDC. Cardioid was directional with a reasonably smooth sound to the off-axis leakage. Omni was a bit thinner than cardioid and a touch directional at high frequencies, with no proximity effect. Figure-8 was typically midrange-sculpted with a little waist built-in, but comparably with more bottom end and a bit more output level overall, with side nulls as deep as a ribbon. Personally, I love the V13’s patterns one or two clicks away from cardioid—they get colorful with personality-plus, all kindly forgiving.
My not-that-grand Yamaha upright piano was quite accurately reproduced by the V13, or should I say “pleasantly reproduced,” as the V13 effectively softened dynamics, rounded out its weak low-mids and warmed it all up—not completely unlike a trip through analog tape.
The V13’s much-touted shock mount did indeed securely hold its cargo (and looked good while doing it), but it is slightly saggy at the tension point; it’s okay if untouched, but vulnerable to sag if bumped. The power supply feels properly sturdy and operates to spec, but the 7-pin cable is marginal in quality, with thin construction and barely enough length; in fact, I tripped over it repeatedly as it needs about four more feet to drape sufficiently in most applications.
At this link, you can hear a song by Grey Revell featuring the V13 capturing all tracks. In particular, the verse vocals are cardioid (with no HPF) up close; pre-chorus vocals are in omni (with no HPF) and backed off about 1.5 feet; and the chorus vocals are in omni (with HPF), right on top of the mic. As such, the V13 shows overall vocal versatility.
I found the V13 to be, in a word, “flexible.” Its inherent frequency-balanced neutrality, pleasantly contained dynamics and multi-pattern “in-between” settings allow it to recreate seemingly any source with a natural, light euphony. Few mics I’ve used sound so pleasant, warm, full and bright without hype. And I’ve never encountered a microphone that’s so expensive-sounding at this price point.
So there you have it: This is a top-performing and fully featured, multi-pattern, large diaphragm, tube-condenser microphone in a complete kit for only $699. The writing is on the wall, vintage microphone royalty: Your reign is coming to an end.
Vanguard Audio Labs