Vertigo Sound VSP-2 Mic Preamp 1976 Review

Vertigo Sound unveils another product in its growing range of high-end studio gear. John Pickford puts it through its paces.

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Details
Price £2,250
Contact KMR Audio 020 8445 2446
Web www.vertigosound.com

Way back in the dim and distant past – well, three years ago actually – the very first unit your correspondent reviewed for MusicTech was Vertigo’s excellent VSC-2 compressor. We instantly fell in love with its superb sound, so when we heard that the company was launching a discrete dual-channel mic preamp, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on one.

The VSP-2 is a very elegant design without unnecessary bells and whistles, so there’s no EQ enhancement and only very basic signal-level metering. What you do get, though, is very high-quality components, some of which are in-house designs, and all of the features essential to serious microphone preamplification.

Each channel features two knobs to control gain, the first of which is a ten-position Grayhill rotary switch that increases gain in 6dB steps from +12dB to +72dB. The second, smaller, pot is an Alps design, which provides 0 to +6dB of fine-gain trim in 41 increments – this is gain-setting precision at its finest. Both knobs are very pleasant to use and the indentations make accurate recall of settings easy. Toggle-switches are provided for a low-cut input filter that operates at either 80Hz or 120Hz, 48v phantom power, phase-invert and a 20dB pad.

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Purists will be pleased to hear that the pad is switched out of the input stage when disengaged and, unlike in many cheaper designs, it doesn’t affect the input impedance when in use. A DI input is provided on the front and features its own toggle-switch; output is muted when switching to prevent unwanted pops and bangs coming through your monitors. A single LED provides basic signal metering, glowing green when a ‘reasonable’ signal level is reached and turning red when the unit is close to clipping. The power switch is sensibly located on the front while the rear panel features XLR inputs/outputs for each channel.

First Impressions
On removing the VSP-2 from its packaging, we were impressed with the unit’s solid build and handsome ‘British Racing Green’ finish. A peek under the hood revealed a very neat layout and top-quality components, further reinforcing our opinion that this is a very serious piece of kit.

To begin our tests, we set up two very different-sounding condenser mics – a Neumann U67 and an AKG C414 B-ULS – and recorded some speech; always a good test of a unit’s character. It was immediately clear that the VSP-2 has a very even response right across the audio spectrum, with no nasty peaks or suck-outs, allowing the character of each mic to be heard to full advantage.

The valve U67 sounded big and fulsome, with a rich and slightly dark midrange, while the C414 sounded very crisp and extended in the treble, with a nice, woody midrange. Comparing the unit against our reference Thermionic Culture Earlybird mic pre and the amps in our DDA desk, we could detect more body than our desk could muster, while a side-by-side comparison with our reference valve mic pre revealed the distinct sonic differences between valve and solid-state amplification.

Although the Vertigo has a very clean and glossy-sounding top end, it couldn’t quite match our valve unit’s silky-smooth upper registers. The VSP-2’s broad mid-band response reveals an almost holographic hear-through quality that captures fine detail superbly, if not as sweetly as our reference. Where the VSP-2 couldn’t be out-shone was in the lower registers, where the unit’s grip and authority allowed the full weight of bass instruments to be both heard and felt – a kick drum mic’ed with a Neumann FET 47 had considerably more low-end heft through the VSP-2.

Throughout our auditions, the unit impressed us with its expansive, warm nature – a testament to Vertigo’s use of the much-revered Jensen JT-16 mic transformers along with its own 1976 discrete op-amps. The VSP-2 offers an impressively open window to your mics without adding any unpleasant artefacts – but that’s not to say that it lacks character, it just doesn’t stamp its signature over everything you put through it. Rather, it seems to complement the nature of signals passing through it, whether the source is a high-end condenser, a cheap dynamic or a DI’ed instrument. Midrange and HF responses are excellent, while the VSP-2’s handling of the lowest registers is second-to-none.

If you want to treat your microphone collection to serious high-end amplification, the VSP-2 should be high on your audition list.

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