Schoeps VSR 5 Analog Reference Mic Preamp Review

Mar 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Joe Hannigan



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Top: The VSR 5 features six function buttons for phantom power, polarity, mute and three low-cut filters.

Top: The VSR 5 features six function buttons for phantom power, polarity, mute and three low-cut filters.

The VSR 5 is Schoeps' commercial version of its custom test mic preamp with essentially the same circuitry: two independent preamp circuits in the same chassis with a common power supply. Although tight-lipped about what's actually in the Core SVM amplifier modules, Schoeps was inspired by the TransAmp LZ modules from Valley People, famous for its low-noise circuits. With its rugged steel chassis and gray Nextel-finished front panel, the unit continues the impressive look and feel of Schoeps' mic line.

High-End Design

The VSR 5 has a no-nonsense, uncluttered layout with the basic essentials. Each input section has easily viewable, fast-acting LEDs displaying overall gain from -48 dB to +9 dB, with a clip indicator at 20 dB. Firm detented stepped gain controls offer up to 60 dB of gain in 3dB increments. These are solid and don't easily slip; you know when you're making a change — no accidental bumping will happen with these.

Each channel has six function buttons, including lighted phantom, phase reverse and mute switches and three low-cut (40, 80 and 120Hz) settings.

Two very handy features include automatic sensing of condenser microphones (yellow for power-up and green for active on the phantom 48-volt switch) and automatic muting. Internal relay-controlled muting occurs whenever the unit is powered on/off — ideal for accidental power interruptions — and whenever phantom power is applied to either channel.

Interior view of the VSR 5, with power-supply transformers at top/center.

Interior view of the VSR 5, with power-supply transformers at top/center.

Rear audio connections include gold-plated XLR in/out and two 50-ohm balanced/floating independent outputs per channel. This is another handy feature, with one output set for direct monitoring and the other for an independent feed to an A/D converter or other recording device.

Life on the Inside

Popping the top reveals a sturdy, well-laid-out design. A center steel reinforcement panel prevents any chassis flexing. Metal standoffs provide extra circuit board and component reinforcement, with multicolored, flat-wire connectors from module to module — very nice. (All circuit boards are modular for easier service.) Each channel is physically separate and discrete, with its own Core SVM module. Gold-plated contacts on the XLRs and input trim pot contact (with precision resistors setting each gain step) ensure long-term, noise-free use. The power supply has three custom toroidal transformers, tested for lowest electromagnetic fields. The rear panel has a 120/230VAC operation switch, detachable AC cable socket and a three-position ground-lift switch (ground, lift and hi-Z).

In the Studio and Beyond

I used the VSR 5 on a near-daily basis on numerous projects. It's recommended for studio use, but was very much at home and performed admirably in my live/remote recording rig, directly interfaced with a variety of digital I/O boxes, in most cases through an RME Fireface 800. In a wide range of sources — from classical piano to jazz vocal to operatic casts to larger and small orchestral ensembles — the VSR 5 effortlessly handled everything in its path.

First up was a performance of the rarely performed piano monster-piece “Hexameron” (Bellini/Liszt) with the Philadelphia Classical Symphony and pianist Kenneth Hamilton on a 9-foot New York Steinway grand, arguably one of the loudest works in the piano repertoire. With a pair of DPA 4023 mics inside the piano, this initial test showed just how much headroom and smooth, clean gain — especially in such a highly percussive and punishing environment — the VSR 5 circuitry offers. Any concerns about overload or pinched sound were quickly abated. I deliberately drove this particular piece the hardest, expecting to find some harshness or limits. Essentially, there were none until driven into clipping at the +51 mark on the input dial.

Next was a live recording of Chicago-based jazz vocalist Kurt Elling in Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for a delayed radio broadcast. Taking a direct feed from a Shure Beta 57, the VSR 5 captured all of Elling's nuances and far-ranging details, from scat to crooning, bopping and bellowing, even some near-whispered poetry recitation. I was glad to have the VSR 5 onboard for this one; the result was stunning and the broadcast turned out to be a real keeper.

A variety of other demanding projects quickly followed: stereo ORTF vocal pairs on operatic and choral performances with Audio-Technica 4050s; large ensemble orchestral mains with DPA 4006s; solo spot mics with vintage Neumann KMi-84s; and a U87 male voice-over session for ice-skating and holiday announcements at nearby Longwood Gardens.

The VSR 5 also proved useful with various ribbon mics (Cascade Fathead, AEA R-84, etc.), with more than enough clean gain to get the job done. The front panel defeatable phantom switch was a welcome option for safety's sake.

Sonic Superstar

While touted as an in-studio device (and at $3,499, understandably so), the VSR 5 will find a home with those who want to invest in something at the same quality level and cost as Grace, Millennia, D.W. Fearn and other high-end preamps. Few may have the luxury of using the VSR 5 on remote recordings, yet it's equally suitable for on-location work. Its solid build is much better than many other so-called “live” units I've seen, and with reasonable care the VSR 5 could easily be the main stereo pair pre of choice for audiophile location recording or broadcasting. The unit's clean, uncolored gain, with all the basics and a few additional handy features (including excellent RF rejection), make it one serious contender in either setting — live or studio.

Joe Hannigan's company, Weston Sound, is in its 21st year of production.

Click the Product Summary box to view the product page

Click the Product Summary box to view the product page

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