Recording

Brauner VM1, April 1998

VACUUM TUBE STUDIO CONDENSER MICROPHONE 5/13/2004 8:00 AM Eastern

A year ago, in Munich, I met a studio owner/engineer who had turned his passion for electronic design into a business called Dirk Brauner Röhrengerätemanufaktur (“tube equipment manufacturer”). Brauner is very serious about audio, and I was struck by the spectacular attention to detail in his VM1 microphone. Now that the VM1 is available here, I wanted to check it out.

The VM1 system retails at $4,995, with mic, flight case, power supply, cable, shock mount and windscreen. The model number and logo are engraved into the 8.75-inch body, for an heirloom look that’s akin to vintage Leica cameras. The mic has a large grille and two layers of steel mesh, beneath which is a hand-built, large-diameter, gold-sputtered capsule soldered directly to the control grid of a vintage Telefunken EF 806S vacuum tube. The amplifier uses a non-feedback Class-A design, and in keeping with Brauner’s minimalist approach, the VM1 has no internal filters or bass roll-off controls.

The power supply rear panel has an AC switch, standard IEC AC socket, Tuchel mic input, XLR mic output, and a three-position ground switch with a choice of ground lift, “hard” ground to XLR pin 1 or “soft” ground (routed through a capacitor). On the front panel is a bicolor LED indicating -10dB pad switch in/out. A continuously variable polar pattern control offers omni, cardioid, figure-8 and anything in between.

Two large rings lock the VM1 into the shock-mount, which is suspended with elastic cording. A long lever allows precise angle adjustments and a secure hold. This is appreciated, as the mic, mount and windscreen weigh in at 54 ounces! A clever—if slightly over-engineered—windscreen encircles the mic with a band of wide metal mesh/fabric screening. This must be taken off before inserting/removing the mic from the shock mount, but be warned that aligning the windscreen’s two mounting screws with the shock mount might be dicey in dim studio lighting. The pop filter is acoustically transparent and does a good job of handling breath noises and plosives from close-miked vocals.

I plugged the VM1 in and listened to the familiar crackle of tube gear warming up. After 15 minutes, the mic settled in and I tried it on a narrator who specializes in strange character voices. This performer was somewhat disappointed by the accuracy of the VM1’s faithful reproduction, as the mic exhibits minimal proximity effect in cardioid setting. Also on this session, I could distinctly hear an audible—though faint—clicking noise. It turned out I was hearing a small 2x2-inch travel clock, which we mount to music stands whenever a client is working under time constraints. Normally, these clocks are inaudible, even when placed next to vocalist’s scripts, but in this case, the VM1 was reproducing clock ticks from eight feet away.

One reason for this detail is the VM1’s exceedingly low noise: S/N ratio specs at 79 dBA; EIN is 13 dBA. This performance is exceptional for a tube mic, and here Brauner’s attention to circuit design and quality components really shines.

The VM1 has a slightly rising top-end, and, on a duet with male and female vocals, it was just enough to add some sheen and clarity to the tracks without being overwhelming or harsh. On both male and female voices the VM1 was exactly what I needed, providing clarity, transparency and detail, with a balanced mix of lows, mids and highs, free of strange peaks or valleys. The mic’s response is consistent in any polar pattern.

Over the period of a month, I used the VM1 on everything from amp stacks to viola, with superb results. The VM1 is wonderful on strings, either as a spot mic or at a distance from an ensemble. I liked the VM1’s natural quality—just the right blend of rosin and bite. On percussion (temple blocks, triangle, congas and claves), the VM1 tracked transients perfectly with power and delicacy, while handling loud sources effortlessly. Speaking of high SPLs, the VM1 is ideal on horns and reeds, and captures punch without becoming shrill on sax, trumpet, trombone and French horn.

From its meticulous construction to its linear response and low noise, the Brauner VM1 is a major new contender in the field of world-class studio mics. Its natural sound and versatility will surely appeal to professionals in all areas of recording, from Foley and scoring work to pop and classical sessions. Anyone serious about state-of-the-art performance should give the VM1 a listen.

Brauner, dist. by Transamerica Audio Group Inc., www.transaudiogroup.com

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