| By Thomas Brett |
Having an efficient studio workflow is an extremely important factor when it comes to creating a viable business out of music production.
One of the biggest mistakes engineers tend to make when starting out is having to re-do tasks based on the fact that they screwed them up the first time, or simply didn’t take the necessary precautions to allow for a backup solution.
Thankfully, digital recording technology has produced some amazing tools which allow us to achieve maximum flexibility in the studio without having to start from scratch in order to change the core tonal characteristics of our raw recordings every time we want to change something.
In this ongoing series, I’ll be talking you through the amazing capabilities of 5 pieces of studio gear I rely on heavily in my productions in order to get great results fast.
This week, we’re taking a look at one of the most revolutionary pieces of audio gear to come about in the last few years: The Slate Virtual Microphone System.
PART 5: THE SLATE VMS
What is it?
The Slate Virtual Microphone System is a revolutionary microphone modeling solution which allows users access to an entire locker of expensive vintage microphones and preamps in an affordable, easy-to-use, compact package.
Rather than rambling on about the ins-and-outs of how the gear works in my own words, let me allow the main-main himself, Steven Slate, to give you an in-depth tour of the VMS in the following video:
Now that you’ve got a better understanding of how the gear works…
HERE ARE SOME OF THE AMAZING BENEFITS TO USING THE SLATE VMS IN THE STUDIO:
The Right Mic For The Source: As I’m sure most of you are already aware, there’s no such thing as a single “all-round” microphone that sounds perfect on every single source.
- For this reason, most commercial studios will have an extensive selection of high-end microphones at their disposal in order to find the right match for the job on a case-by-case basis.
- As awesome as having such tonal flexibility sounds, it comes at a ludicrously high price point, often amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Aka: Way beyond the budget league of most working-class studio owners…)
- The Slate VMS is basically a highly cost-effective solution to this problem, allowing users to accurately emulate several of the most classic and revered microphones in recording history at a comparably miniscule price-point.
Instant Comparisons/Accurate Shootouts: Let’s imagine a scenario in which you actually have the luxury of owning an amazing vintage microphone collection:
- You’ll still face the problem of trying to accurately and time-efficiently compare the microphones on a single source while trying to determine which one sounds best.
- Although there are a few methods of aligning multiple microphones side-by-side in an attempt to shootout which one wins-out on a particular source, certain variables such as directionality, proximity and placement make it virtually impossible to perform a %100 accurate comparison in any case.
- The VMS takes all variables out of the equation, allowing you to audition multiple microphone and preamp emulations instantaneously using a single pre-recorded take of a performance.
NOTE: Here’s an excellent video of the Slate VMS in action:
Quicker Recording Sessions: The process of selecting the correct microphone for a recording job can be quite time-consuming, but fret not! – Steven Slate has the solution.
- Rather than spending hours upon hours setting up and aligning multiple microphones, or back-and-forthing between multiple takes in a tedious effort to decide what works best, simply dive straight into the creativity of making music and worry about the technical details later on!
- Given the fact that – even without any modeling applied – the ML-1 sounds like a really great condenser microphone, I often opt for simply tracking my vocals “raw” through the hardware and applying the modeling software after the recording stage.
- Working in this way cuts the setup process for recording vocals down to a few minutes, and prevents the singer from twiddling their thumbs idly while you mess around with “boring technical stuff”.
Ultra-Clean Preamp: Although the VMS-One preamp is primarily designed as a low-noise, low-distortion, flat frequency response “gain-platform” to aid the ML-1 microphone’s modeling process, it’s basically just an ultra-clean microphone preamp that can be used for all of the same studio purposes as any other preamp.
- I often use the VMS-One in conjunction with the Slate “virtual preamp collection” as a standalone “preamp emulator” (with microphones such as the Shure SM7B and Neumann U87) in order to produce comparable results to my high-end external preamps.
Great Built-In DI: As if the microphone-related capabilities of the VMS-One weren’t already enough, the unit also comes with an excellent built-in DI input for capturing the raw sound of your instruments at the highest fidelity.
- PS. After comparing the VMS-One DI to my high-end external DI box, UAD Apollo instrument input and Apogee Quartet Instrument input, I can honestly say that the Slate was my preferred choice out of the bunch.
Reliable Modern Construction / Best of The Best: A few important factors which people seem to skip over when talking about classic vintage equipment are wear-and-tear, and the fact that no two microphones are created equally…
- The truth is, a lot of the vintage microphones being passed around on the 2nd hand gear circuits are often in less-than-perfect operational condition, and can actually sound worse than their “inferior” modern counterparts…
- Statements such as “you can’t beat a real vintage Neumann in the studio” are only valid in the case that the particular vintage mic you’ve got your hands on is actually one of the good ones!
NOTE: A scratched-up 2nd hand vintage mic from the 70s has most likely been exposed to a fair bit of cigarette smoke and spit/moisture, not to mention been dropped/banged-up at least a handful of times throughout it’s lifespan…
- The Slate hardware on the other hand, is brand new, reliable modern technology.
- Not only that, but each of the vintage microphones which were modeled for the VMS were handpicked out of a large selection after being determined to be “the best sonic representation” of said microphone model.
Absolutely Affordable: One of the major selling points of the VMS system
Is the fact that it’s such great value for money at only $1000!
- Think of it this way: If I was tasked with purchasing an equivalent “conventional” setup with the same budget, I would probably buy an Audio Technica 4040 Microphone, a Warm Audio WA12 preamp, and a Radial J48 DI box.
- Although this would still be a pretty good setup, and cover the same basic needs, it’s not quite the crème de la crème recording setup which most engineers “only dream of owning”…
NOTE: To top off this section, here’s a great comparison between a real Sony C800G microphone (worth $10,000) and the Slate VMS emulation of the same mic:
WHAT ABOUT THE “DOWNSIDES”?
As is the case with all of the gear I’ve reviewed in this series, there aren’t really any actual downsides to the VMS. Although… there are still a few things you should be aware of before making the purchase:
Single Polar Pattern: The only slight drawback of the VMS, in my opinion, is the fact that the ML-1 microphone is cardioid-only.
- Although this is in no way a deal-breaker (based on the fact that cardioid is the preferred polar setting for %90 of studio applications anyway), I do wish that the microphone offered omni and figure-8 configurations to better suit “room-capture” and “multi-mic singer-songwriter” recording applications respectively.
A Few Extra Steps: One factor which could be considered a slight hassle by some, is the fact that rather than “embedding” the final microphone + preamp tonality directly onto tape as you would in a conventional recording scenario, you’re capturing the “raw” or “flat” sound of the source to tape, and still need to process it further via the Slate software within the box before reaching an equivalent point of “mix-readiness”.
The Slate VMS, is without a doubt, the best studio purchase I’ve ever made. Period.
This product simply has so much to offer, and when you consider how affordable it is, it’s an absolute a no brainer!
Sure, you could argue that it doesn’t sound “exactly” like the real thing, but who cares?!? I’m definitely not hearing a $10,000+ difference between the Slate 251 and the real-deal Telefunken…
To say the very least, the recording equipment we have at our disposal nowadays is simply astounding when compared to what was available to previous generations of engineers.
This being said: Be thankful for the amazing creative opportunities we’ve been given by the smart people developing incredible tools which make our lives easier.
Stop whining about subtle gear comparisons and simply do whatever it takes to make some cool music!
This concludes “5 Pieces Of Gear For Maximum Recording Flexibility – Part 5: Slate VMS.” I hope that this article has given you some new ideas to try out during your next project. Be sure to comment below if any of this information has helped you out, or if you have any questions.
Stay tuned for more production/mixing related articles in the not-so-distant future!
Thomas Brett is a producer, mixing engineer and songwriter at Brett Brothers recording studio in the UK. Check out the Brett Brothers studio website for more information and articles on all things mixing www.brettbrothersstudio.com
Read Part 1 of this series here!
Read Part 2 of this series here!
Read Part 3 of this series here!
Read Part 4 of this series here!
Want mix tips from Thomas Brett? Read them here!
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