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Studio Projects VTB-1 V Series Tube Microphone Preamplifier

Solid state design with a totally discrete circuit makes for a winning sound By Dan Richards
Studio Projects VTB-1 (Click image for larger view.)
Every day that goes by it seems that a couple of hundred bucks buys more and more for recording studio owners and musicians. In the last two years, Alan Hyatt of PMI Audio in Torrance, Calif., has been designing and introducing award-winning Studio Projects microphones, and has made it clear from the start that the company is partnered with 797 Audio in Beijing, China to deliver affordable quality audio products to the masses. High praises of the large-diaphragm condenser mics quickly spread and continue to be the biggest microphone buzz on the internet. Even many of the skeptics, wary of hype, have themselves been converted into satisfied customers who turn around and spread the good news. With stunning microphones and compressors this side of dirt cheap on the market, the missing link in the low-cost signal chain has still been a truly great microphone preamplifier.

Out of the Box
The VTB-1 currently retails for $229 and has been seen on the street for $179.

When I first received the VTB-1 from Alan Hyatt for review, I somehow didn't want to like it. Lucky me. There are some things I don't like. I don't like the name, and I can't remember it. Something like the V1 would have been more fitting and in line with the company's other products. I also expected a little more from Studio Projects in the way of packaging and cosmetic design. It looks like a $200 mic pre. No more, no less. As we were patching in the unit to the DAW, I didn't like that the XLR jacks in the back of the VTB-1 don't lock the XLR mic cables into place. I'd like to see a 19" rackmount version with dual VTB-1's in the near future. The V2, perhaps. A quirky perk is an indigo-blue light that glows inside the VTB-1, which is quite apparent in low-level lighting. Nothing wrong with a little atmosphere enhancer.

I spoke with Alan Hyatt recently and he said, "When I approached the designer, my request was to build the ultimate low-cost microphone preamplifier." The VTB-1 is solid state using a totally discrete circuit. What is surely to make high-brow recordists scoff is the "Tube Drive," featuring a variable drive to a 12AX7 tube utilizing a starved plate — the same technology used in your good ol' stomp box. About the tube option, Alan said, "This was something we wanted to include to give more options and not limit the mic pre to just one sound."

An important feature not to be overlooked is a mic loading switch on the back which offers switchable impedance between 50/200 Ohm. We didn't have a ribbon mic handy, and we totally phased testing a dynamic, but I'm hearing from respected engineers that the switch actually works quite well. Also crammed into this mighty mite is a front-panel DI and a rear-panel 1/4" TRS insert that acts as a splitter box allowing for simultaneous output of one solid-state signal and one post-tube signal.

In Use
I drove on a beautiful day along the shores of the east coast to a studio I've been designing. I want to thank Mark L for providing his studio and another set of ears to test the VTB-1. In hindsight, I would have liked to have had a chance to "burn in" the box by leaving it powered on for a week.

Although the Tube Drive is variable, for the sake of economy, I only recorded separate passes for each instrument in five different positions. One at SS, the solid state position — which sits at 7 o'clock on the dial. The signal is not introduced into the 12AX7 tube at this stage. We took a second pass at 9 o'clock, third pass at high noon, fourth pass at 3 o'clock and the last pass cranked — which lands at about 5 o'clock.

We decided to add tracks to a song already in-progress to not only get an idea of the additive quality of the VTB-1 over several tracks, but also to compare it to tracks that had been recorded with an HHB Radius 40, a channel strip I have recommended highly in the past couple of years.

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Related Keywords:Studio Projects, VTB-1, Microphone, preamp, VTB1, mic pre


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