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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Langevin Dual Vocal Combo

Langevin does vocals in style with its Dual Vocal Combo

Beautiful. I just had to start out my review by saying this. The box is absolutely stunning to look at in my opinion. The face is a 2U 1/4 inch thick slab of brushed aluminum and is raspberry red in color with white screenprint. The black knobs and chrome switches complement the look of the unit as well, and the VU meters (while I'm not a huge VU fan) do add a cool vibe. Top and bottom are a nice black mesh that offers good ventilation as well. So yeah, anyone who was around while using the Langevin Dual Vocal Combo (DVC) commented on how cool it looked.

Manley Labs of Chino, California, (headed up by EveAnna Manley) owns and produces the Langevin line. Manley acquired the Langevin name brand in 1992 and has relegated the brand exclusively to Manley's solid state products. The line includes their Dual Mono Micpre, the Dual Mono Micpre with EQ, the All Discrete Pultec EQ P1A, the Stereo Electro Optical Limiter, and now the Dual Vocal Combo (which essentially combines the Dual Mono Micpre with EQ and the Stereo Electro Optical Limiter). The Dual Vocal Combo offers ease of use with few limitations at an attractive price.

The unit features two transformer coupled Class A micpreamps with 50 db of gain. Phantom power is switchable via separate locking switches. There are two 1/4 inch instrument inputs located on the face, providing about 40 db of gain. The EQ section is comprised of low and high band shelves which can be selected at 40 Hz or 80 Hz (low band) and 8 kHz or 12 kHz (high band). There is +/- 10 db of gain or trim available to each band. The EQ can also be completely bypassed. The limiter controls available are reduction and gain makeup, and a separate/link switch located between them as well as an in/bypass switch. I found the face slightly aggravating to learn because the EQ section is laid out identically on both sides yet the limiters are mirror imaged. I consider this a small complaint, but I would have preferred identical layouts on both sides to cut out a little confusion in a dark studio.

On the rear, there are "limiter in" (TRS 1/4 inch) and "mic in" (XLR), and "preamp out" (TRS 1/4 inch) and "balanced line out" (XLR). There is also an "out balanced only" to offer greater connectivity to various pieces of gear.

First up, I tried bass guitar into the DI. Extended lows and a strong midrange make this unit pretty darn nice for a standout track. The sound was well defined and basically meaty with nice presence, with a bit of a "John Paul Jones" vibe to it. There was a fair amount of noise coming from the unit when using the DI section though, but this should not be much of an issue at all when mixing rock music. Using my Alesis QS8 keyboard into the DI also produced good results.

As a microphone preamp, the DVC certainly excels in most applications. The overall sound is clean and open, but the transformers offer a nice bit of tractionlike sheen to it. It's not a real in your face sound, it's a slight bit of character that works particularly well on vocals. Traction is the best word I can come up with when describing a nice transformer sound, to me it's a very slight "edge" that helps define the space in a mix if that makes sense. The DVC's preamps aren't going to radically change the sound of any mic. The max 50 db of gain could be somewhat of an issue with low output dynamics and certainly with some ribbon mics (you can adjust the gain some internally and also jack up the limiter's output for some extra heat).

The EQ section is firstly transparent, but it's also hit or miss. The two shelves available are obviously somewhat limited in range but certainly have their uses. The low shelf can be just perfect for sculpting the low end of a bass guitar, but it isn't going to help much on a guitar cab mic or a vocal. The high shelf can be stunning on vocals when adding a little air, but it won't offer much of an adjustable range on bass tracks. When it hits, the EQ is downright beautiful. The EQ is certainly transparent and natural, and doesn't impart an obviously EQ'd sound or artifacts.

The optical limiter section is very useful as well, enabling real control of vocals with an old school vibe squish going on. The available "reduction" and "gain" (make up) controls are very easy to dial in on vocal use. They are fairly fast and clamp down tighter the harder you come at it, which again works well on vocals. On bass I couldn't find any settings that I loved. The attack wasn't as natural with bass guitar and changed the dynamic substantially and tended to darken things a little much. I found some pretty tight sounds with electric guitar tracking, but acoustic guitar was a little more difficult to dial up as it had a tendency to pound things a little too heavy when strumming. I really liked the limiter during vocal tracking and mixing.

So what's not to like? Manley's probably sick of hearing it but the lack of phase reverse on at least one channel is greatly missed. Also, the plastic knobs feel a little bit cheap but that's nitpicking in this price range. The VU meters are nice for vibe but I've never been a huge fan of them myself as LEDs offer more accuracy and consistent results (the VU's tend to float a little out).

The Bottom Line: The Langevin Dual Vocal Combo performs admirably on vocal duties as its name suggests. As mentioned, it does many other things well in addition to being a great all in one (or should I say dual?) vocal channel strip. Recommended.

--Warren Dent

Manley Laboratories

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