Samson Audio VR88 and CL2

TapeOp Issue #60/July, 2007 | by

Here’s a couple of new and very affordable mics from Samson. First up, the CL2s are sold as a matched pair of small-diaphragm pencil-style condensers with high-pass filters and 10 dB pads. The mics come very handsomely packaged in a tough little aluminum case that holds the two mics, plus just about every mic accessory you’d ever need: two standard mic clips, two well-built shockmounts, pop filters, windscreens, even a stereo bar! You also get cardioid and omni capsules for both.

I’ve used these as one might expect — stereo drum overheads, acoustic guitar, upright piano, percussion, etc. — and they have been solid on every source. I was particularly stoked on the X/Y drum application of these mics; I ended up with a surprising amount of detail, range, and really nice “air” from the cymbals.

The CL2s did not disappoint when used as a cello mic in conjunction with a UA 610 preamp. A single CL2 with no filtering, placed about 3 ft away, kinda between the bridge and f-hole, returned a perfectly natural, resonant tone. Hey, I even used the CL2s to mic up a play at my son’s school, and I can say with confidence that the second and third–graders never sounded better. The parents all started using descriptives like “punchy” and “warm”. (They usually ask me to make their kids sound like The Beatles — weird, huh?) Anyway, great little mics; a steal at $299 for the set.

The VR88 is one of a number of new ribbons that have cropped up lately, and while it won’t be replacing my trusty Royer, it definitely has its own character and is a flexible and durable “entry-level” ribbon. I use the term entry-level without any condescension, but only to illustrate how easy it is to screw up a ribbon mic, either by accident or blatant abuse.

The VR88 is actually pretty tough and can withstand higher SPLs than most ribbons; I used this thing on a rock kick drum, and it weathered the beating admirably, and it sounded great! I would never subject my tender Royer to that kind of brutality. It’s also phantom-powered (no more “did I just blow the ribbon again?”) so you don’t need a high-gain preamp. It comes with a massive spider-style shockmount, so it’s a bit of a thug, really. Furthering its thuggish profile is the industrial design of the VR88, which is somewhere between that of a flattened RCA 77A and R2D2’s mug shot. Like the CL2s, it has its own tough aluminum case, plus a cheapish-looking right-angle XLR cable (didn’t trust the cable, but that’s probably just my long-standing cable snobbery).

For rock music, I really liked it on kick drum and bass amp; it seemed to consistently return an articulate and “tight” low end. I also noted exceptional results with it in front of an upright acoustic bass placed 3 ft from the bridge. Conversely, I didn’t care for it as a vocal mic at all, as I found it a shade too dull-sounding and lacking in clarity. This may, however, be a result of a pronounced proximity effect, as I tend to record vocals up close, usually at distances of less than 10'' away from the mic. If you are looking for a percussive or woody sound for acoustic guitars, the VR88 could work well here too; on the other hand, I generally prefer a brighter acoustic tone.

If you’re ribbon-curious, on a budget, and are into the droid look, pick one up. (CL2 pair $299 MSRP, VR88 $499; Samson Technologies )

Read more about the Samson Audio VR88 ribbon microphone.

Read more about the Samson CL2 pencil condenser.

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