Technology

Mini Review: Samson VR88 Ribbon Microphone

Active Dynamic Transducer Brings Large Value for Small Dollars 4/20/2009 2:04 PM Eastern

Samson VR88 Velocity Ribbon Mic

The Samson VR88 is an active ribbon mic available for a street price of about $399. By active, I mean it needs 48-volt phantom power to operate, something that can cause the death of some passive ribbon models. Onboard active electronics boost the VR88’s output and stabilize its impedance, which on a passive mic can greatly affect the tonal character if it isn’t paired with a preamp that has a high enough input impedance. (For more information, see Mix’s feature on ribbon mic technology, “Ribbon Renaissance.”)

This well-built, die-cast constructed mic comes in a sturdy aluminum case, with a versatile shock-mount and a 20-foot right-angle mic cable. Pricewise, it sits in the middle of a group of about 25 other ribbons under $1k. (For a full list of products in this price range, click here to download the comparison chart “Ribbon Mics Under $1,000.")

First, I tried to get a feel what the VR88 could offer by setting a pair of them over a drum kit. I instantly liked what the VR88s had to offer sonically in such a high SPL environment by rounding out the attack of tom hits, but the sound of the stick hitting the heads and cymbals lacked sparkle—making this mic a no-go for this situation. I next put them five feet in front of the kit, knee high, as a spaced pair. This was just the ticket as the VR88 exhibited plenty of bottom from the kick drum, and other great sounding energy from bottom of the rack toms and the room.

Next, I placed the VR88s up close as a spaced pair on a Hammond Leslie cabinet, but I much preferred other condensers that I’d previously heard in this application. Once again the VR88 was a bit too dark for what I was looking for. They did however sound great when used as a pair for recording wooden hand percussion blocks and goat hooves, which tend to have a nasty attack when captured with a condenser.

I also tried a single VR88 across a range of horns including sax, trumpet and tuba with mixed results. It was adequate and handled the SPL very well, but once again I was lacking the top end that made the horns sit up in the mix, necessitating the need for some sweetening via EQ.

The bottom line? With this mic, you’ll need to use your ears and be picky when assessing the results. When they work, they work well but you have to listen carefully to your tracks in context with the rest of the mix.

Overall, you have to give Samson an “A” for its first effort in the ribbon category. Everything about the mic speaks quality. The fact that the VR88 is active negates the need for an exceptionally quiet preamp that is capable of providing a ton of gain, which makes the VR88 even more affordable. On the downside, I found that while it isn’t a one-trick pony, it is limited in its application. This is due to its lackluster tonal character. Although ribbons as a group aren’t the brightest mics in the universe, there is a definite personality that can be covered up by the tuning, electronics and/or enclosure.

Despite that assessment, the VR88’s value-for-the-dollar brings its star rating up to a 3 out of 5. Anyone who wants to dip a toe into the Ribbon mic pool—even with the intention of tinkering with the electronics a bit—should feel comfortable at this price range.

For more product information, visit Samson’s VR88 page.

Kevin Becka is Mix’s technical editor.


Samson VR88 product summary