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Review: Violet Amethyst Vintage Dual Large-Diaphragm Condenser

This well-designed, carefully crafted Latvian mic is "a first pick for solo vocals of all kinds."

November 2007 - Its design elements may look vaguely familiar: a detached capsule housing, insectlike segmentation and well-made, Art Decostyled accoutrements. But the Amethyst Vintage is the pride of a relatively unknown manufacturer/designer: Violet Microphones, based in Riga, Latvia. Benefiting from the talents of Juris Zarins an original designer for pro audio neighbors Blue Microphones Violet now offers an extensive line of highend, condenser microphones at reasonable prices. I recently had the opportunity to use the Amethyst Vintage (and Violet's Grand Pearl, see accompanying mini-review), and I found both to be worthy of attention.

Features

The $1,295 Amethyst Vintage (AV) is a dual-diaphragm electrostatic condenser specifically designed to have a "warm, classic sound, not unlike legendary vintage studio microphones." (The Amethyst Standard uses one diaphragm for a "modern sound.")

The AV's two 26 mm by six micron Mylar diaphragms are sputtered with a combination of gold and aluminum to achieve better transient response, wider frequency response and higher output. The AV's wide-cardioid-only pattern (typical for dual-diaphragm designs), absence of filters or switches, and sleek styling (a distinctive detached-square capsule housing) makes for a straightforward experience in looks and function. Its specs are as expected: 20 Hz - 20 kHz frequency response, a low seven dB-A of self-noise, a 134dB maximum SPL and a 50-ohm output impedance.

In-Use

The AV allows direct mounting to a stand without a clip, but I tried the supplied shockmount. It's small but adequate, and this luxurious-looking elastic spider and the mic's visual appeal will help inspire timid singers and savvy clients. Despite the shockmount and wide rectangular body, the size of the AV and shockmount will allow some tight placements.

I first tried the AV on my own soft, husky backup vocals, and I found just what I had expected. A strong, full bottom was there, and as I leaned way in for proximity effect I found a very workable "zone" of musical, manageable bottom boost (again, typical for dualdiaphragm). The top was smooth, too, but with a noticeable bump around 10 kHz that helped definition without being too sibilant. The next day I had a very thin-sounding, sibilant soprano vocalist coming in, and the AV was put up next to her usual ribbon mic. She was immediately excited by the AV's present top (certainly, as compared to the ribbon); I was concerned, however, that we might be missing some much-needed bottom. A quick repositioning of my pop filter to allow closer placement got the AV's proximity effect in the game, and it added a nicely balanced tone. A touch of bass boost and de-essing was still required in the mix, but the AV's "classiness" shone through, lending a vaguely vintagemood to her '70s-inspired music.

The following day I recorded a wildly unpredictable female rocker (an alto), and was skeptical of the AV's ability to handle her extreme dynamics; I have heard many a diaphragm bottom out from her sustained crescendos. With a Manley TNT preamp (the tube side) and an Empirical Labs Distressor patched in, we got a gorgeous vocal that captured all the power of her loud passages, and all the subtle detail of the quiet ones, as well. In fact, this mic was more linear and consistent under such divergent conditions than just about anything I've used previously.

Solo acoustic guitar did reveal some Amethyst limitations, as its placement seemed unexpectedly very sensitive. Its healthy, flat bottom resulted in muddiness if I miked the dreadnaught guitar's body anywhere near the sound hole. I found a nice placement between the bridge and hole (for mono "middle"), but I required two more mics to get upper mids, string sparkle and harmonics. Electric guitar was similar, with the AV yielding a thick, warm tone that wasn't quite "modern" enough for me, but may work well depending on your source and goals.

Later I had a three-piece horn section come in for overdubs, and the AV's top boost at 10 kHz proved too much for trumpet, but it did nice things for both tenor sax and trombone. I finally settled on trombone with placement at about 18 inches on axis and received a strong, but un-hyped bottom end, as well as a clear pleasant top end (absent of unwanted hype). This mic can do many smooth things on horns that many condensers don't, in situations where you'd often reach for a ribbon.

Summary

Although capable of wide applications, I think the versatile Amethyst Vintage is a first pick for solo vocals of all kinds. This mic will shine where you may normally go with a U67: when fullness and presence are required. With quality construction, superior design, a "modern/vintage" sound and a reasonable $1k street price, I recommend this mic to update old veterans' closets, as well as the "my first great vocal mic" for aspiring professionals.

Rob Tavaglione owns and operates Catalyst Recording in Charlotte, NC.
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"To my ears, [the Flamingo] was perhaps the most linear microphone I have ever used. This mic is a must have for anyone serious about vocal production."


- Robert Jason
Producer/Songwriter

 

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