I have to say that as an engineer and producer, I’ve been blessed with being able to work with many talented singer/songwriters. The one thing I’ve discovered is that the best performances come from letting the artist perform naturally with guitar in hand while the rhythm section tracks along to the emotion, mood, and tempo of the artist. This is of course a microphone placement challenge as phase incoherency rears its ugly head when mic’ing up the guitar and the voice. One of our go-to solutions to reduce this effect is to place ribbon mics on the guitar and use the figure-8 null points to our advantage. Of course, even the most anal mic placement is negated by the slightest movement or repositioning of the performer, and you have to strike a balance between engineering needs and artistic needs, so oftentimes, what phase problems are in the track need to be corrected at mix with our trusty Little Labs IBP ( Tape Op #33). Sometimes we wish we could get a little tighter sounding on that guitar with the ribbon mic, and now we have found a way to do it.
During a recent session for an album we were producing with singer/songwriter Adrian Brannan, we got a chance to try out the SE Electronics Voodoo VR2 for the first time as the acoustic guitar mic, and it was quite the eye opener. To begin with, I was skeptical of the brand as I had limited experience with their products. My friend and bass player on the session, Chris Giambelluca, had borrowed it from Jim Pavett at Allusion Studio (who also distributes SE through Pure Wave Audio), and Chris was raving about how well they were working on a session he had been on the day before.
Now, I’m used to ribbons where the magnet/null ears are solid metal and closed and the only openings on the mics are the grills for front and back of the ribbon. Since the VR2 is in a rectangular housing, the sides are open and covered with a mesh screen that lets you see the magnets of the ribbon assembly. The front and back grills have holes drilled into the flat metal faces revealing the same mesh screens as on the sides. The mic is compact but feels hefty, and the rectangular design gives your eyeball clear angle lines when setting up the microphone. The VR2 was easy to position, and we found that when placed properly, we were getting better rejection of the voice than we had been experiencing before. This could be due to the 20 Hz to 20 kHz response the ribbon produces, or it could be due to the re-engineering and design SE has incorporated since working with Rupert Neve on the RNR1. Or it could be that with the VR series, the CEO of the company, Siwei Zou, a classically-trained bassoonist and conductor of the Shanghai Orchestra, is the ears behind this new design. Whatever it is, we were hooked. We got a hold of Andy Hong and found out if they had been reviewed, and we set about getting a pair.
Jonathan Pines of SE was of course an engineer, musician, and drummer himself, so we hit it off pretty quickly once we spoke on the phone and through email. We got two of the VR2 active mics and put them to work straight away. I took them up to Scottsdale Community College for my Saturday Recording 2 class and got to use them as drum overheads in the music department’s really funky ‘70s band room, which has the greatest recording acoustics. It’s a big room with a high, rolled ceiling; risers for the band; and the storage closets taking up the whole back act like huge bass traps. It is an amazing room in which you can record a live band, and with the proper mic and instrument placement, have virtually no bleed. It blows the kids’ minds when I solo the tracks back in our control/studio room. We have used many mics in that room — Neumann KM 184, Mojave MA-100 ( Tape Op #62), Coles 4038 (#15), Royer SF-12 (#25) — and all have worked well. The VR2s were definitely something new though. They had the openness of the Royer, the richness of the Coles, the sheen of the condensers, and a killer stereo image.
We set up the mics by putting each VR2 in its basic mic clip (a shockmount is also included) and bringing in two boom stands at the same height. Positioning the mics was a simple matter of getting the two rectangular tops to meet in a perfect X, and we had a fantastic stereo drum overhead that really brought out the cymbals as you would want overheads to do. The depth of the tom thwacks was also very pleasant, and with the right drummer, the close tom mics were not needed. Over the course of the next few weeks, we got to try them on a very busy too-many-cymbals metal track, a standard jazz setup, and a somewhere-in-between indie band setup. In all cases, the VR2 was easy to get sounding great and really helped all the different drum tracks. Back at WaveLab, for Adrian’s record, we also used them on lead guitar overdubs, and again, the full frequency response of the ribbon could really be heard. It was also great-sounding on banjo and mandolin overdubs as well as on some electric autoharp I added to a track. Everyone who heard the mics in the respective sessions was pleased with the mic’s natural sound and how you did not need to treat it in the mix. You could just put up the faders and be happy — the way it’s supposed to be, simple and easy.
We loved the VR2, and for its quality, it’s priced fairly. We are happy to add a pair to our mic collection. ($999 street; www.seelectronics.com)
–Craig Schumacher <email@example.com>
Let me start out by saying that my experience with small-diaphragm tube condensers has been limited. I've never owned one but had on occasion used the McHugh Military tube pencil that The Hangar owns....