Pro Audio Review (October 2004)

Pro Audio Review (October 2004)
By Russ Long

How times have changed. In 1985 the Demeter VTMP-2 was the only production tube microphone preamp available. Now, nearly 20 years later, there are probably two dozen or more preamp options that include at least a tube stage at some point in their circuit. The VTMP-2's user list reads like a who's who in the music industry. Alanis Morisette, Stone Temple Pilots, Sting, Seal, Suzanne Vega, Walter Becker, Joe Chiccarelli, Glen Ballard, Hugh Padgham and Ry Cooder are just a few of the long list of users. If you've ever had the opportunity to use the VTMP-2 you know why. The mic pre perfectly compliments vocals and acoustic instruments.

In celebration of the VTMP-2's 20th anniversary, Demeter Amplification has released the new VTMP-2c Classic Limited Edition ($1,899). The VTMP-2c is a hand-built limited edition mic pre that has been tested, signed and numbered by none other than the designer, James Demeter, himself.

Features

The two-channel, 2RU VTMP-2c incorporates a classic tube design that includes two 12AX7a, one 12AT7a and two 12BH7a tubes. The box's design is complimented by the finest modern components including Jensen JT-13K6C input transformers, polypropylene capacitors and metal film resistors. The power supply features full regulation of the B+ voltage (250V) and the filament voltage (12.6V) for low noise and quick response. The box features an output impedance < 50 ohms source and the total harmonic distortion (measured @ 40 dB gain with -30 dB in) is .06 @ 20 Hz, .03 @ 1 kHz and .03 @ 10 kHz. TheVTMP-2c is 0.06 dB @ 20 Hz, -0.34 dB @ 10 kHz and -3.00 dB @ 65 kHz and the box features a signal to noise ratio of -124.72 EIN.

The rear panel of the VTMP-2c includes two F-XLR jacks with an input impedance of 1 kohm for microphone input. A pair of M-XLR jacks and 1/4-inch TRS jacks provides balanced output and a pair of 1/4-inch jacks provides unbalanced output. The maximum output is +20 dB @ 600 ohms. An IEC connector provides power input and a voltage switch allows the operating voltage to be set to either 120 or 230 volts.

On the front panel, a power switch activates the unit's power and a bright LED glows to confirm that the box is powered up. The controls for the two channels are identical. The Low Cut switch activates the high-pass filter and the slope switch sets the filter to either 6 dB or 12 dB per octave. There is a phase switch for phase inversion, a switch for a 20dB pad and another for activating +48V phantom power. The gain knob adjusts gain from 30 dB - 65 dB. The volume knob (adjustable from 1 to 10) determines the output gain. Nominal gain is approximately 7. Running the volume lower allows the gain to be run at a higher level providing more tube saturation or vise versa. Instrument input is provided via a 1/4-inch jack. The instrument input impedance is 1 mohm. When something is plugged into the instrument input it automatically overrides anything plugged into the microphone input. A 10 segment LED meter provides output metering. The meter switch selects either dBu or peak metering. An Overload LED illuminates when the preamp is overloading.

In Use

After using this box for several weeks I have come to the conclusion that the VTMP-2c is simply a fantastic sounding mic preamp. As expected with any tube pre, it does color the sound but it does so in a wonderful way. While remaining extremely quiet, the pre exposes a totally unexpected warmth, clarity and depth.

Recording vocals is my favorite application for the VTMP-2c. I had exceptional results coupling the box with a Sony C-800G, a BLUE Cactus, a Brauner VM1-KHE, an AKG 414 and an Audio-Technica 4047. In each occasion, I was surprised at the amount of warmth and smoothness that the pre added without sacrificing any clarity whatsoever. I found that the pre provided a tube character to solid state mics making them nearly indiscernible from my tube mics. Through the VTMP-2c, a $750 AT4047 sounded nearly as good as the $3,300 BLUE Cactus.

I also had good results using the VTMP-2c to record drums and percussion. On a tracking session I used the box on kick (AKG D112) and snare (Shure SM57) and had excellent results. On another occasion, I used the box on overheads (Royer SF-12) and had fantastic results. I used the pre to record tambourine and shaker (both with a Royer SF-1A) and again had superb results.

The box, coupled with a pair of Earthworks SR-77s, did an amazing job of capturing the sound of a Taylor acoustic guitar. I had sufficient results using the mic pre along with a Royer R-122 to record electric guitar although I wasn't able to get the lower frequencies to sound as tight as I'm accustomed to when using the Gordon Instruments mic pre. The results were still first-rate.

Recording keyboards through the direct inputs work extremely well. The tube warmth smoothes out the harshness found in so many digital keyboards. I had fantastic results recording bass direct through the VTMP-2c. I plugged a Fender Jazz bass into the box and it immediately sounded perfect. The only thing it lacked was some slight compression which I attained through a Tube-Tech CL-1B.

Summary

The VTMP-2c offers the same quality sound as the VTMP-2 with a handful of additional features and with a price tag of only $1,899. At $950/channel, I think the box is truly a bargain. Any studio, engineer or producer in search of a non-compromising tube mic pre-amp should give the VTMP-2c a listen.

Product Points

Applications: Studio, project studio, broadcast, post production, sound reinforcement

Key Features: Two-channel; all tube circuit; 48V phantom power; 20 dB pad; high-pass filter

Price: $1,899

Russ Long, a Nashville-based producer/engineer, owns The Carport recording studio. He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.