Slate Dig­i­tal VMS1

£1,099

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

In a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally bold move Slate Dig­i­tal re­lease a mi­cro­phone with mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties. Stu­art Bruce dons his white coat…

Clas­sic large cap­sule con­denser mi­cro­phones are with­out a doubt amongst the most sought-af­ter and ex­pen­sive items on any­one’s wish list. With an orig­i­nal Neu­mann U47 com­mand­ing up to $10,000, most of these mics are out of reach for the av­er­age stu­dio owner, and cer­tainly only pos­si­ble for a tiny mi­nor­ity of home stu­dios. So in the­ory, if you can em­u­late them with soft­ware then you should be on to a win­ner. There have been a few plugs over the years which have claimed to give one mic the char­ac­ter of an­other but, given the lim­i­ta­tions of the orig­i­nal mic, cou­pled with any num­ber of mic pres that could have been used, plus the qual­ity of the in­ter­face that recorded it, most of them have been pretty dis­ap­point­ing.

Slate Dig­i­tal have taken that idea and built a com­plete sys­tem which re­moves as many of those vari­ables as pos­si­ble. What you get with the VMS is a high-qual­ity, large cap­sule con­denser mic, a ded­i­cated ‘ul­tra lin­ear’ mic pre and a plug-in which con­tains the mod­elled mics. The only vari­able is that you have to use your own A/D con­verter to get it into your DAW. So, given that you have an A/D of rea­son­able qual­ity, you should be able to get the re­sults that Slate in­tend. For the pur­poses of this re­view I have used a Prism At­las, so qual­ity of con­ver­sion is not an is­sue.

On the mic

Start­ing with the mi­cro­phone it­self this all black af­fair is, in shape and size, some­where be­tween an AKG C12 and a Brauner VM1. It comes with a very well made sus­pen­sion mount which it screws into (that al­ways feels bet­ter to me than mounts with clips) but I think it could be a tiny bit slacker as there is still a higher de­gree of trans­mis­sion noise than I would ex­pect. The mi­cro­phone con­nects to the preamp via a stan­dard 3-pin XLR ca­ble. The Pre is a com­pact unit which has a dual XLR/1/4-inch jack in­put and can be switched be­tween in­stru­ment and mic. There are switches for phan­tom power, phase and a pad and a sin­gle large level con­trol. The ex­ter­nal power sup­ply con­nects via an XLR and there are XLR and TRS Au­dio out­puts.

As far as me­ter­ing is con­cerned there is a ‘level’ LED but I can’t help think­ing it might have been bet­ter to have some­thing a lit­tle more so­phis­ti­cated as it is al­ways good to know how hard you are hit­ting a pre. For many ap­pli­ca­tions the pre could be kept close to the mic keep­ing the longer ca­ble runs at line level and thus less sub­ject to noise, and in that in­stance a bit more level in­di­ca­tion would be handy. On the sub­ject of build qual­ity both the mic and the pre are con­structed to a very high stan­dard, met­al­work and fin­ish

Both the mic and the pre are con­structed to a very high stan­dard, and met­al­work and fin­ish are ex­cel­lent

are ex­cel­lent and, un­like on some ex­pen­sive modern mics, the sus­pen­sion mount is smooth to ad­just and holds firm with­out hav­ing to have a grip like a vice.

The soft­ware comes as part of the Slate Vir­tual Mix Rack and is very straight­for­ward. It dis­plays which mic it is on un­til you press the MICS but­ton at which point you get the list of eight cur­rent mod­els (there will be more) to choose from. These are the FG-47 (the in­fa­mous U47), FG-800 and 800G (af­ter the big Sony), FG-251 (Tele­funken), FG-67 (Neu­mann), FG-12 (AKG), FG-M7 (Shure, beloved of Michael Jack­son), and the FG-269 (Neu­mann). The only other con­trol on this mod­ule is the Char­ac­ter slider. This goes from 100% to 150% and gives you the op­tion of di­alling in a bit more of the in­her­ent char­ac­ter of each mic and even with ex­treme set­tings it doesn’t sound like too much, just more.

Of the soft­ware that comes with the mi­cro­phone you also get two mod­elled pres, these be­ing the FG-73 (Neve 1073), and the FG-76 (based on a valve Tele­funken). In or­der to get the sound that Slate in­tend, you then need to go through one of these. They are both very good and son­i­cally most cer­tainly do what I would ex­pect of the hard­ware units, but I par­tic­u­larly loved the 76. It has a warmth and clar­ity that I have al­ways loved. The 73 has that fat­ness I al­ways as­so­ciate with the Neve, mak­ing it per­fect when you want to add more depth, es­pe­cially on a thin­ner voice or low-end in­stru­ments like bass and bass drum. You can push both the pres right up to dis­tor­tion and there is a broad range of us­able tones just from them. Of course, if you have other Slate li­cences you can pull in dif­fer­ent EQs and com­pres­sors to build up a chain – very use­ful if you reg­u­larly record the same in­stru­ments and voices as you can have a li­brary of record­ing chains and go straight to them when you want to keep the cre­ative flow go­ing.

If you want a sparkly Pop high-end on a fe­male voice the 800 mod­els and FG-12 will cer­tainly get you there

The sin­gle is­sue I have with the sys­tem so far is that there is no high-pass fil­ter in sight. Per­son­ally I pre­fer to see one of these in the preamp stage as it’s al­ways good to deal with ul­tra low-end is­sues be­fore you go through too many elec­tron­ics, even vir­tual ones.

Clas­sic char­ac­ters

So, it’s sim­ple and straight­for­ward to set up mak­ing the big ques­tion what does it sound like? I tried it on vo­cals, guitars, double bass and per­cus­sion. The mic and pre are quiet and su­per clean. As an ex­per­i­ment I did try the mic through some dif­fer­ent pres, a valve EQ and com­pres­sion with­out us­ing any mod­el­ling and the re­sults were very good. It’s a high-qual­ity mic and, although with­out some help it sounds a bit ster­ile, you may well find that for cer­tain mo­ments that is ex­actly what you want. The ‘steril­ity’ is ex­actly what I ex­pected as you are sup­posed to add the char­ac­ter later, but it is cer­tainly an­other pos­i­tive as­pect to the sys­tem as a whole, and it hasn’t harmed com­pa­nies like DPA who have built an ex­cel­lent prod­uct range based on the neu­tral­ity of their mi­cro­phones.

Go­ing straight into the soft­ware and flick­ing be­tween the mic mod­els opens up a whole new world. Start­ing with vo­cals, as I switched be­tween them the char­ac­ters were very dis­tinct and en­tirely in keep­ing with what I ex­pected. Par­tic­u­larly fine on male voice are the 67, the 47 and the 269, although it’s re­ally pro­gram de­pen­dant. If you are look­ing for a sparkly Pop high-end on a fe­male voice the 800 mod­els and the FG-12 will cer­tainly get you there. On acous­tic gui­tar the FG-12 and the FG-251 re­ally shone. Sweet highs with real depth. Double bass sounds great with the clas­sic 47 or 67 and pretty much ev­ery­thing for per­cus­sion as there are so many dif­fer­ing high-end colours.

And that is the beauty of it. Those sub­tle dif­fer­ences are per­haps less ob­vi­ous out of the track but once you start to add EQ and com­pres­sion and blend the sound into the mix they make all the dif­fer­ence. And of course as you are record­ing the orig­i­nal sig­nal flat and do­ing all the work on the back end, if you should find you want to change things later you can, with­out hav­ing to try and undo work you al­ready did. It’s very of­ten the case that record­ing gets done dur­ing the writ­ing process these days and so it is harder to judge the ex­act sound you want as the track around it may change quite rad­i­cally as you go through the process.

The VMS is fixed car­dioid so, while you may not have the flex­i­bil­ity of an omni or fig­ure of eight, it is a very use­ful mi­cro­phone to try on am­bi­ent sources too. In fact dis­tant mic’ing of a source of­ten shows up the in­her­ent qual­i­ties of mi­cro­phones in a more ob­vi­ous way than close mic’ing. Those char­ac­ter changes again fol­lowed my ex­pec­ta­tions with no ob­vi­ous surprises and a pair of them would be a very in­ter­est­ing propo­si­tion for drum am­bi­ence, choir or quar­tet.

If you are look­ing to make your first se­ri­ous mic pur­chase this has to be a ma­jor con­tender. Aside from the M7, the Slate is prob­a­bly one third of the price of the cheap­est of these vin­tage beau­ties, will cer­tainly re­quire far less main­te­nance, and you cur­rently get eight dis­tinct char­ac­ters with more to come. For many ed­u­ca­tional es­tab­lish­ments this could be a won­der­ful teach­ing tool too, as it’s one thing to dis­cuss the rel­a­tive mer­its of all these mi­cro­phones, but an­other to ac­tu­ally hear what the dif­fer­ences are.

This is a very well thought through sys­tem; from de­sign to de­liv­ery Slate Dig­i­tal have con­sid­ered ev­ery as­pect of how to make this work and they have suc­ceeded. When you look at what you get for the price – the mi­cro­phone, a mic pre that can be used on any mic and as a DI, plus those great sound­ing mod­els – it has to seen as a bar­gain.

CON­TACT KEY FEA­TURES WHO: Slate Dig­i­tal TEL: +44 (0)1447 765765 WEB: www.slate­dig­i­tal.com A high-qual­ity, large cap­sule con­denser mic with vin­tage mic mod­el­ling soft­ware and pur­pose built pre amp

CHOICE There are cur­rently eight mi­cro­phones to choose from and more to come. CLAS­SICS There’s also a choice of two clas­sic mic pres BUILD With its ex­cel­lent build qual­ity and sim­ple de­sign it looks great.

FLEX­I­BLE The mic pre can also func­tion as a DI and works with any other mi­cro­phone.

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