sE Electronics — Voodoo VR1 Passive Ribbon Microphone
Over the short period that SE Electronics have been active in the pro-audio industry, they’ve been consistently lauded for their excellent microphones sold at an affordable price. Their strategy is simple: they sell their highly quality controlled British made microphones at the same price as their competitors, generally Chinese, made less quality controlled products. This strategy, as well as several major innovations rather than replications, have made the company grow at an impressive rate with some of their products. For example, the Gemini II, SE 4400 and SE 5 have become staples in many a top engineers’ arsenal.
So, when it became time for APT to review a new hybrid Ribbon microphone by SE, of course we jumped at the chance. It has been long thought that the Royer 121 was the king of the new breed of Ribbon microphones that could handle much higher SPL’s. Is it time for the king to be dethroned?
One thing to note about the VR1 and its big brother the RNR1, a collaboration between SE and Rupert Neve, is their true innovative nature, due to its rather secretive “new mechanical device”. This device allows you to capture full range sound with a ribbon mic for the first time.
This new development means that the potential application of these mics is almost endless. But would the top-end enhancement actually become a drawback on some sources?
Upon testing, the top-end extension does lose a little of that “classic Ribbon” vibe, but the microphone also responds well to EQ. However, the top-end extension does indeed lend itself well to a lot more instruments.
On drums, the VR1 worked just about everywhere. Close mic’ed snare drums and toms sounded warm and natural; the VR1’s low-end richness meant that it out-performed the usual pencil condensers and large diaphragms for Overhead and cymbal mic’ing. The only place I found the VR1 to be a little out of place was on the kick drum. It was neither hyped enough to get a more modern rock/metal vibe, or “boxy” enough to get a more old school tone.
The VR1 was also the perfect complimentary mic to be used with a nice valve mic for a double mic’ed acoustic guitar tone (maybe a dual SE combination: SE Gemini II and VR1).
When used on electric guitars, there was no doubt that the VR1 was a great performer, but the top-end extension was probably one of the only places where I felt it wasn’t necessary and slightly detrimental to the overall tonality (although only compared to the Royer).
The biggest shock for me was how great the VR1 sounded on male vocals, both warm and exciting. On a shoot out with the Violet Globe and the Shure SM7b, it was clearly the best microphone for the job. Obviously, I would always recommend doing a shoot out on each performers vocals before committing to a microphone, but in this case it really was what was required. In fact, it impressed me so much, that I decided to prepare some examples for you fine audiophiles!
But it would be no fun if I told you which mic it was would it? Yes, it is blind test time (cue quiz show suspense filled music). Listen to the four examples recorded with a Prism Sound Orpheus interface. All of these samples are level matched but NOT processed in any way. One of these samples is the VR1, another is the SM7b, and the Violet globe, with the fourth being a mystery guest.
So which did you prefer? If you chose B, then I like you even more. With a rich bottom and sparkly highs, the VR1 really shines and gives you that hyped yet warm modern vocal tone. It is also notably less “dynamic” and almost feels slightly compressed compared to the violet globe in particular.
Sample A was the Violet Globe, which had a great punch and tonal characteristics, although I couldn’t help but find it a little “grainy” compared to the VR1.
Sample C was the Shure SM7b, and although it had a rather pleasing “classic” characteristic, I still found it a little bit boxy and “mid-heavy” than the others.
Sample D is the great mystery guest and now I shall reveal the fact that it was actually the VR1 through an Avalon 737 valve pre-amp. After my thoughts on the guitar tone, I decided to see if the VR1 would sound more like a “classic ribbon” if it was used through the Avalon. The answer is yes, but maybe, just maybe, that isn’t right for this particular vocal!
To conclude, the VR1 is an extremely versatile microphone, it is priced attractively and it would be a great addition to almost anybody’s microphone cabinet. If you have the spare cash, reach for its big brother, the RNR1, for its more detailed bottom-end. However, if you have the budget and your only application is for that modern guitar microphone, stick to the Royer 121.
The SE Voodoo VR1 is available here:
PRICE = £529.00