Vanguard Audio Labs' latest offering is the V1 small diaphragm condenser microphone. Each mic comes with four interchangeable 22 mm capsules: cardioid, wide cardioid, hypercardioid, and omnidirectional, whether purchased as a single mic or stereo pair. I found the V1s to be great on just about everything, outperforming other microphones far above their price point.

Everyone likes attractive tools, and Vanguard delivers here. The V1S stereo kit comes in a lovely pinewood box with brass hardware filled with custom foam to fit all the bits and pieces snugly: a matched pair of V1 pencil condensers, four matched pairs of capsules, two VSSM shock mounts, a stereo bar, and cutouts for a pair of Vanguard's large diaphragm lollipop capsules. The multi-pattern V34C "LOLLIs" can be purchased separately, or in a kit (V1S+LOLLI). For this review, we focus on the pencil kit alone.

The V1 bodies are finished in a glossy, pinot noir color and trimmed with a polished nickel. Vanguard is proud of the included custom VSSM shock mount, and rightfully so. Unlike most flimsy plastic shock mounts I've encountered, these zinc and high-impact ABS accessories weigh as much as the mic they're designed to support! The V1 capsules are custom-voiced and built specifically for Vanguard to their specifications, as are all included accessories – nothing generic here. Vanguard's Derek Bargaehr notes, "We're very proud of the capsules in particular, but also that everything we do is 100% original and custom – it took me nearly 18 months to get the small capsules right... the circuit design was a cinch by comparison." Though the included stereo bar isn't as much of an overachiever as the capsules perhaps, it is portable and performs the job for X/Y or ORTF set up. The only thing missing from the package is a handle on the box, but a trip to the hardware store might easily solve that.

With so many capsule options, I decided to start simple by close mic'ing acoustic guitar. I recorded multiple guitarists, setting up each mic in a mono configuration with a different capsule to compare. When close mic'ing with many SDCs, I find there is a buildup in the low register when the guitarist is playing loudly and letting chords ring. While tracking a forceful 12-string guitar shredder, the wide-cardioid capsule was a perfect in capturing the full-spectrum intensity of the instrument. I was able to position it close enough to represent intimate detail, but it never seemed muddied by proximity effect. Compared to the standard cardioid capsule, the wide cardioid really showed an ability to manage the drones in the lower registers while at the same time smoothing out the busy, chimey top end.

Vanguard doesn't publish frequency response data, but to my ears the wide cardioid capsule has a very natural response with decent off-axis rejection for such a large picture. In close mic'ing both guitars and percussion, the additional ambience of the wider polar pattern was minimal compared to the regular cardioid. In fact, I found the wide-cardioid capsule fairly magical – I kept choosing it on every source! It provided a wonderful balance of rich body with a touch of air. However, the standard cardioid capsule is no slouch, either. I found it to be the perfect solution for a different guitarist with a much softer, delicate playing style. The capsule really added support to the low mids, while providing a bit more bite than the wide cardioid.

The hypercardioid capsule was the clear choice for mic'ing both snare drum and hi-hats on a soft, jazzy tune with brushes. The increased rejection and smooth top end made the task of mixing hi-hats less painful than usual. When moving to regular drumsticks on a rock performance, the V1s showed their single weakness: the lack of a pad. As with most condensers, mic'ing the snare proved to be too much in the SPL department, resulting in distortion; the same was true on a loud guitar amp. In line attenuator pads can be had pretty inexpensively and would be a good accessory to keep handy in your studio for mic'ing loud sources with condenser mics. The omni capsule had a hard time beating out the others in most settings, except as a mono drum-room mic. Positioned 15 feet from the front of the kit gave a lively, complete picture, which for my use only required a small notch out of the 400 Hz range to really shine.

There are two mics in the kit, so what about stereo? On a funk drum track, I used the pair of V1s with wide cardioid capsules in XY as overheads alongside a pair of Neumann KM 184s for comparison. With their top end boost, the KM 184s sounded more detailed and immediately more exciting, but the V1s were sweeter and more natural sounding. "Natural" is sometimes used to describe sterile recordings, but that is far from the case here. During multiple sessions, I wrote down "super-natural" in my notes: the V1s provide a realistic but nicely enhanced picture of every instrument I recorded. There's very little upper frequency hype with a strong, balanced richness in the low end. At mix time, I found the V1 overheads could work as the sole drum mics, something the KM 184s (for all their merits) could not. The V1s definitely offered more of a vibey drum sound, and I was really happy after mixing in only a touch of direct kick and snare for added pop.

Having so many capsules on hand really opens things up for experimentation and makes it that much easier to get the right sound at the source rather than trying to fix it in the mix. The wide cardioid capsule is stellar, and worth the price of admission alone. With the V1S Kit, Vanguard again shows they're a company driven to make affordable products that can enhance even the deepest of mic lockers.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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