Zen of Recording

The One That Got away

Not that I’m complaining, but there are a few drawbacks to writing a music gear review column. Along with the scads of new stuff to check out, there is also a tendency to form a sort of bond with whatever you’re using, but you also can’t afford to buy, much less cover everything you’d like to. So there I was, tearfully packaging up another studio friend and attempting to eulogize a good old-fashioned microphone preamp, which is exactly what the Langevin Dual Vocal Combo (Originally $2000, retail) was and still is, albeit via eBay auction: Two pristine Class A channels of mic pre, with eq and limiting thrown in for good measure. Like so much competitively sought-after vintage gear still in vogue, it is sleekly designed with simplicity inside and out, allowing it to accomplish its assigned tasks most efficiently, with the highest regard for sonic fidelity.

Old school yes, but also attractive with its “vintage”-style knobs, switches, and VU meters being tastefully offset by the front panel’s stunning metallic maroon. This makes for a particularly inviting appearance, which is why I tried the thing on just about anything I could stick a mic in front of during my brief but torrid love affair with it. The previously mentioned knobs and switches control each channel’s Input, Low Frequency EQ (40 Hz or 80 Hz), High Frequency EQ (8 KHz or 12 KHz) and Phantom Power, as well as Reduction and (post reduction output) Gain. Additional switches allow the eq or limiting sections to be bypassed, choose whether the VU meters monitor Output or Reduction levels and select between the limiter’s Separate (independent limiting) or Linked (stereo) modes. In another apparent (although not entirely welcome) homage to its ancestors, the controls are symmetrically laid out so that what is left to right on the left side of the Dual Vocal Combo’s face is represented right to left on the other, leading to quite a few instances of engineering dyslexia on my part. Wisely, the Power knob is situated on the top-middle of the unit’s front panel. Two 1/4″ instrument jacks are also provided. At the rear of the unit are XLR Mic Ins and Balanced line outs as well as 1/4″ jacks provided for Unbalanced output, Preamp Outs (for using the mic pre separate from the limiter) and Limiter Input, in case you’d like to use it as an insert effect. The detachable power cord connects here, and there is a grounding section as well as a replaceable fuse.

Being that this is called a Dual Vocal Combo after all, I first tried this on a session where two vocalists would be singing simultaneously. After placing two identical condenser mics back to back so that the vocalists would be facing each other and switching the phantom power on, I immediately realized that there is no “phase reverse” switch. This meant slightly moving the mics apart until the flange-like phase cancellations were minimized. This could have also been accomplished by using an easily found “phase reversing” mic connector.

The first thing that impressed me about this unit is how subtle and transparent it sounds. Many other mic preamps, eqs, and limiters have a very distinct effect upon what goes through them, whereas the Dual Vocal Combo left little or no audible “fingerprints.” In this particular instance, that was a very good thing. I switched the low eq frequency to 80 Hz and rolled off the lows to reduce plosives and rumble, then switched the high eq to 12 KHz and added a little “air” to the sound. Neither of these eq adjustments would ordinarily call attention to themselves, but comparing the sound by turning the bypass switch on and off showed a definite and palpable improvement in the sound, even it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what that was. The limiter showed similar “non” characteristics, although it took a while to check it out. This was because in order to even get it to “kick in,” I had to crank the input level knobs to the 4:00 position! While I’m no stranger to throwing things “hard to starboard,” I didn’t feel entirely comfortable having to pump the gain that hard. After a bit of experimentation, I found the limiter to be very flattering when used very discretely. In other words, this ain’t no vintage tube compressor, so don’t think it’s going to “fatten up” the sound of what goes through it. It’s more apt to help you to maintain a consistent tracking level, with an invisibility to its processing.

Speaking of level, be prepared to throw that post reduction gain knob pretty hard as well. At the time, I contacted the manufacturer (Manley Labs, Inc.) and the lovely and considerate EveAnna Manley herself informed me that there was an internally located trim pot that could be tweaked to provide more signal gain, if necessary. That definitely did the trick and that prized unit subsequently saw a lot of action during its all too brief tenure with me, I can assure you!

While the Dual Vocal Combo fittingly showed best results on vocals it also did quite well with direct bass guitar, miked guitar amps, overhead drum mics, and even stereo mixes. Again, a little goes a long way with its limiter, but the cleanliness of its signal path and transparency of its eq are unsurpassed.

All in all, it was a very solid (if a tad finicky) piece of equipment. Over time, I’ve run into several situations that I thought it would be the perfect solution for. Recently, I saw one on eBay for $1400 and realized I still definitely miss it… a lot.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer and songwriter. Catch him at Adams Avenue Unplugged on April 29 (http://www.adamsavenuebusiness.com/event-info/adams-avenue-unplugged/)

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