I was first introduced to Vanguard Audio Labs before they even brought a microphone to market. The gentleman who tipped me off about this company was a trusted friend in pro audio. He told me repeatedly over the course of 18 months that “something very exciting is happening with a new microphone company. They are introducing microphones with cryogenically frozen components that will give consistency in production and lengthen the life of the units. And these mics perform at more than three times their price point!” Since I had never heard of this technology being used with a mic, I was intrigued – especially with such a financial claim.
After they started Vanguard Audio Labs, I inquired about reviewing their V4 large diaphragm multi-pattern FET condenser [Tape Op #130] and was incredibly impressed – so impressed that I bought one and later an original V13 tube mic [#119] after using one during a vocal session at a mate’s studio. Vanguard has recently released their gen2 line that replaces their previous models. Because their first generation V13 had become one of my go-to mics for vocal production, I reached out to the Vanguard team to see about auditioning the gen2 version for this review.
There are a few things that remain consistent with the original design, but also several upgrades that have been implemented. The same cryogenically-treated tube circuitry is in place, but they are now using U.S.-made audiophile grade resistors. Vanguard Audio Labs has also upgraded to Neutrik connectors, and added a dual 34 mm, gold-sputtered, hand-tuned capsule with a European-sourced tube and a custom-wound dual-bobbin output transformer. The V13 gen2 has an insanely low noise floor, with more headroom than its prior incarnation. It can handle 134 dB SPL with a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz while retaining an output impedance of 200 ohms (allowing for long cable runs). For all of us oenophiles, their signature pinot noir color code’s a bit more like a proper merlot hue in the gen2 version (which I find much sexier and refined). A beautifully-polished nickel trim and head basket finish off the V13 gen2’s look.
One massive perk is the included VLSM shock mount. It is heavy and beyond robust – made of aerospace-grade suspension rings that “won’t break, sag, crack, or stretch over time.” It has an open-faced design so that there is nothing between the mic’s front address end and your audio source. This is a massive help when close mic’ing guitar amps, for example. The ever-forward-thinking Vanguard Audio Labs designed the shock mount to fit any microphone with an M22x1 thread dimension. So, you can use it with many mics from other manufacturers, and it can be purchased separately. The V13 gen2’s updated power supply now comes in an attractive black matte finish and delivers increased headroom (when there’s significant power draw from the mic) with nine polar pattern options on a chicken head knob. The back of the microphone has a 6 dB/octave roll-off switch at 125 Hz and a -10 dB pad switch. Lastly, everything ships in an attractive black aluminum carrying case and comes with a 5-year warranty.
As a producer who is also a vocalist, I’m relentless when it comes to how a mic “talks back” to me when I’m in the vocalist seat. Is it inspiring, and does it make me feel something beyond simply hearing myself in my headphones? I wanted to feel the difference between the two versions of this mic in both real-time and while hearing it back after tracking in the control room.
For this review, all tracking sent the V13 gen2 through an AMS/Neve 1073 DPX [Tape Op #115] without any EQ, then into an Empirical Labs EL-8X Distressor [#32] – just to catch peaks if necessary. When I started singing on a track that I had performed many times, I was immediately greeted with all the elements about my gen1 that I liked so much: an airy top end that had good presence while maintaining a subtle warmth. I also love that the original V13 microphone has elements of an AKG C12’s sheen while also giving me some mid and low mid weight, similar to a Neumann U 47 or U 67. The V13 gen2 hasn’t lost these characteristics at all.
While continuing to sing through the V13 gen2, I noticed an additional round clarity that was really inspiring. The highs were pristine yet without any harshness. There also seemed to be a slight bump in the midrange that made my vocal sit extremely well in the track. On a female vocal, the V13 gen2 was also lovely. Its sparkle genuinely complemented the alto singer and positioning her closer to the capsule provided the weight I was looking for.
I enjoy the ability to get this mic close to the grill of an amp with the VLSM shock mount. With some purposeful proximity effect, I could coax a bit more low mid information from my Fender Telecaster that I frequently find myself having to EQ in later. Electric guitars overall displayed some pleasant thickness while maintaining a forward presence – all without any harshness that I find typical of condensers that can’t handle high SPLs. I prefer using tube mics on acoustic guitars because they provide a smoother, more British sound to the instrument when tracked compared to small diaphragm condensers. At 18-inches back (between the neck and soundhole), my Takamine Santa Fe acoustic guitar sounded warm and detailed without getting pokey in the highs or high mids.
With drums, I preferred the V13 gen2 as a room mic instead of an overhead – perhaps because I like my drums a bit darker, and the unsullied highs this mic provides gave me a bit too much from cymbals and hats. This, of course, can be solved with a slight notch in the high end. Because of the way the V13 gen2 was performing across so many sources, I would have loved to audition a pair on a larger grand piano – I’m willing to bet they’d sound outstanding!
I was incredibly impressed with this mic. The build quality, its visuals, the overall sound – and the mind-blowing quietness of the V13 gen2 left me needing to add this mic to my kit. Be aware that this isn’t a flat-sounding mic, which is rarely what I want from a modern sound anyway. The versatility of the V13 gen2 is fantastic and would easily be one of my go-to vocal mics for all singers. It truly baffles me that Vanguard Audio Labs has created a proper tube microphone with this much versatility in such a beautiful package – all for about $1000.
If you asked me to recommend one microphone that could tackle several tasks under $5000, I would definitely point to the V13 gen2 right out of the gate – even though it’s a fifth of the cost! At this price point, I would suggest getting a pair of V13 gen2s plus two extra VLSM shock mounts (whose muscular fittings will last a lifetime and fit almost any studio microphones you have on hand). This still keeps you way below your budget and allows for a case of 2016 Le Dôme Saint-Émilion Grand Cru to enjoy with your mates after that award-winning session.