I have always been curious about the Brauner microphones. I have seen the name for a while now, and the fact that Klaus Heyne got involved with this company, when any company would probably be glad to collaborate with such a man on a microphone, really piqued my interest. Brauner seems to make microphones not to a price point so much as making a microphone that is great and as fully realized a design as they can at a price point. Maybe. I don't know. What I do know is that the VMX is very, very nice. It's a large-diaphragm condenser with a freely adjustable pickup pattern, Class-A tube amplification, and VOVOX conductors (Tape Op #59).
I happened to get the mic the day that Bernie Worrell of Parliament fame loaded into Studio G in Brooklyn to do some stuff with me engineering and playing with him. This was something I was freaking out about. I love everything that this guy has ever played on. He turned out to be an amazing person, which was icing on the cake. I was recording some drums, some organ, some bass, some guitar, and some vocals. We didn't have a ton of time for all this, so I started out with the mics I rely on all the time: Neumann U 47s, Neumann M 49s, and a few more obscure modern gems like the Sage Electronics Bova Ball. Drums were mic'ed up, and I usually use one of the 47s for a center ambient microphone about 4 ft back from the kit, dead center, at chest height. I decided to replace that mic with the VMX for this session, just to start out trying the thing on drum room, in a position I know well, in a room I know well, and where a U 47 normally sits on almost every session I do these days. First things first, I take the thing out of the beautiful case, and everything looks amazing. Even the way the thing sits in the box commands respect! The shockmount is a thing of beauty... so I thought. Everything is really well made, just like you would expect from German engineers... then I tried to put the mic up. Tried.
The shockmount is totally weird. I couldn't figure out how the frig to get the damn microphone into the shockmount! Awesome-makes you feel cool when one of your heroes is on the couch, and you are like wrestling for your life out in the live room. I actually moved the stand to where nobody could see me swearing and poking at the shockmount like an ape with a robot in the room. I finally figured it out; the two dots on the weird tension ring thingies at each end of the shock have to be lined up for the mic to slide in. Clever? Annoying. It worked well once the part of my brain that enjoyed Rubik's Cubes in seventh grade kicked in. Then I realized that the lever arm on the shockmount was spring loaded, so no matter where I put it, I could then move it ten more times to try and get a good grip on it to reposition. It does hold the mic really, really well; I just didn't bank on such a steep learning curve to put a mic on a stand. I was bumming on how overly clever everything seemed to be... but I was still unprepared for the pop screen, which I wanted to have ready in preparation for tracking vocals immediately after the basics.
The pop screen is beautiful. It looks like a mid-century modern lampshade that could have been designed by Herman Miller and Gyro Gearloose in a first-ever cartoon-character, furniture-designer collaboration. This thing drove me mental. It looks awesome, but then I realized that I had to take the little thumbscrew thingies all the way out of the screen just to push the two leg things into the shockmount and then thread the two little thumbscrew thingies back in through the
shockmount into the pop screen leg thingies. I instantly dropped one of the thumbscrew thingies and was swearing again. I knew that I would lose at least one of the little thumbscrew things if I had to use this mic over and over.
So then I patch all the preamps and finally start feeling like I kind of know what I am doing again when I hear the sounds I am getting-all fun to listen to, and something that appeals to the lizard brain that seems to have taken over in me. Then I push up the Brauner.
It really sounds good. Really. It was more balanced across the entire spectrum than my U 47 and more "gleamy" and open. The transient response felt fast and light, like you might expect from something with a little less mass swinging around inside the basket than a U 47. (I don't even know if this is true, but it feels that way.) As I reflect on this microphone, and its possible audience and user, I can't help but think that an investment of this type-$6000 for a top drawer microphone-is a tough decision. This is why so many people wind up with a bunch of classic Neumann mics in their locker and collection. You can count on a classic Neumann to accrue value, even sitting on the shelf. The Brauner VMX is beautiful and sounds amazing, but will it hold its value? Will you be able to use this amazing tool for recording, knowing that in a darker time, you could sell this thing and get out of it what you put in? I personally wouldn't freak out about that too much, but I can see why the $1000-$2000 condenser market has gone cuckoo; it does not require a lifelong quest for quality, or a dedication to having the best tools for your recordings. A $1500 microphone is an upper-level hobby purchase. With that said, the VMX may be one of your favorites on a day-to-day basis in the studio. It sounds good on lots of things, and it's very well made. Are you an artist? Are you truly passionate about recording? If you are, this could be one of your favorite tools. I love recording. I love music. I love great tools for recording, and I like this mic. If you want an emotionally engaging experience, and not an academic treatise on frequency response, you probably will like it too.
The VMX sounds like whatever you put in front of it, only more flattering. I liked it everywhere you would expect to like a tube-based LDC. The quality of the sound is really cool-like a smooth, flattering, 3D picture of the event in progress. In front of a very nice vocal, it really sounded great. It was not the mic for that vocal because I wanted the vocal to sit in a different way than the VMX was gonna give me. I went with an M 49 instead, because it wasn't so gleamy in the top end. For acoustic guitar, however, the Brauner made the cut evenwithaC12,aU47,anM49,andaCMV563upon stands. I am pretty lazy, and sometimes I will record every overdub with whatever is on stands from the basics, especially when it is me doing the playing, but I wanted to put this mic through some paces. On the Leslie cabinet, I thought the VMX was also a bit gleamy. I don't like "toppy" mics, and I wouldn't call the Brauner toppy, but I would say it has a sheen to it on top that can really give an acoustic guitar some shine in a dense mix, or could poke a male vocal out past some hefty guitars. When I tried it for a male vocal in a dense mix, I felt it was a little too shimmery for that track-like too much breath-though not too much "ess", which was interesting. This is a microphone of quality, and it's a great choice as your one big bruiser of a LDC, especially if you hear things in a gleamy way. This mic can put sparkly lip gloss on a gorilla, and what else can be said after that? ($6259 MSRP; www.braunermicrophones.de)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.