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Monday, December 22, 2008

Sebatron vmp-2000e

Sebatron vmp-2000e mic pre has character to the bone

The Sebatron vmp-2000e is a two channel tube mic preamp, which is made in Australia. I've had a unit in for evaluation for about 90 days and it's sort of grown on me in some ways and alienated me in others.

I think the Sebatron is suitable for all music idioms with the exception of legit or what the music buying public refers to as Classical. For all other types of music, I think the Sebatron presents an interesting color.

The Sebatron vmp-2000e is a 2U piece of gear in a full width steel chassis. On the front, there are controls for each of the two channels as well as the on/off switch with its green indicator light. There are bits of standard mic pre fair with a switch for a -15 dB and -30 dB pad, a phase switch and a phantom power switch with indicator light. There is also the 1-10 output level and DI input.

The quirky thing about the Sebatron's controls is the EQ switches. There is a switch for the high end and one for the low end of the sonic spectrum. The high end switch is a three way switch with settings for bright, flat and air. The low end switch features settings for flat, deep and low cut.

The back of the unit features an XLR input for each channel as well as balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4 inch outputs. Inside there are two 12AT7 tubes and a mixture of circuit boards and point-to-point wiring.

I tried the Sebatron as a bass DI on numerous occasions. I liked the sense of presence even if the sound didn't seem absolutely tight. The deep switch gave some tasteful emphasis on the low end. At times, some of the EQ switches seem to be pure genius. At other times, a couple seemed to be huge question marks.

As an electric guitar DI, the Sebatron put across the character of a quality tube guitar preamp. Yes, things stayed on the clean side of guitar sounds. But, I wouldn't mind tracking through the DI for electric guitar. As player, I liked how the Sebatron responded to what I gave it.

I'd heard one complaint about the Sebatron not supplying enough gain. So, I gave the mic pre my Electro Voice RE20 test. It did not supply enough gain for dialog. It did possess enough for singing, amps and drums. Personally, I would want more gain and this came up again with the EV 635A, which a dynamic omnidirectional mic. The 635A is perhaps the most popular stick mic used in television. However, it's also one of the most versatile studio mics. When I plugged the 635A in I did notice that again I wanted more gain for dialog while the Sebatron gave the mic enough juice for all other situations.

The vmp-2000e did show itself off well with the 635A in terms of putting across good fidelity and a musical sound. To me, the true test of a quality mic pre is how it performs with dynamic mics like the 635A or the Shure SM57. As I continued using the vmp-2000e with mics like the SM57 and SM58, the mic pre started hitting me as creating a stylized moody sort of sound consistently from mic to mic yet each mic retained the the essence of its sonics in most all respects but being a little more dark and more rounded on the top. The bright switch and the air switch were useful to add different flavors of top end.

One mic that loved the Sebatron was the Oktava MK012. This small condenser doesn't always get the respect it deserves. I like it but it sometimes gets a little flabby at certain frequencies. With the Sebatron, the MK012 never sounded flabby.

I tried the Sebatron with the Blue Dragonfly. I like the Dragonfly for its complex high end. The vmp-2000e totally zapped this high end and made the mic more than a little boomy. The air switch and the bright switch made things sound agreeable again but they did not return the sonic complexity to the high end. The mic's character went AWOL. Dan Valencia, the former American distributor of Sebatron, suggested that I try a couple things. First, he suggested I engage the pad on the channel. I adjusted the gain and I got some of the missing high end as well as got rid of the boominess. Second, he suggested that I daisy chain the 1/4 unbalanced output of one channel into the DI of the other channel. I found the sound again put back part of that high end and did not contain any boominess. The mic never sounded right, though. Each of these fixes imparted a slightly different coloration to the sound. I did find from engaging the pads and the daisy chaining that different variations of color could be achieved.

I went back to the power hungry EV 635A and the EV RE20. I tried the daisy chaining trick. The Sebatron could now give me power to spare for dialog. I recommend using a 1/4 inch unbalanced patch cable for the daisy chaining trick.

On vocals, the Sebatron generally imparted a certain air of darkness to the sound. It's not heavy. I'd say the preamp is a moderately colored preamp in sound. If you want high end and super clean fidelity then look elsewhere. The Sebatron's color seems sort of organic. I've been told that one of the goals of Sebatron is to produce tube gear with soul. I'd say in a way that's been achieved but the soul is a melancholy one. Given its bone color exterior, the sound is fitting.

I found the vmp-2000e's strength to be in creating mood. I also found it rounded off the top end on more strident sources, such as female vocalists and higher pitched male singers. I never truly felt it to be a high end piece of gear. Something seemed missing in the build. Something seemed missing in the sonics. However, I did like the quirkiness and I would not mind owning one. I'd probably say that you'd probably go with a Sebatron as a second, third or fourth pre in your rack. It's a complimentary color to lots of pres.

The Bottom Line: Despite my misgivings about the unit, I do think many project studio enthusiasts will find the Sebatron vmp-2000e to offer enough flexibility to keep them satisfied with only one pre in the rack. However, most pros will view the vmp-2000e as a character piece to work alongside more worthier pieces. Recommended.

--Steven Langer



Mark said...

Really appreciate the review but there is an error...You will find that some mics (ie Dragonfly) cant deal with the 600ohm load of the Seb. Meanwhile, dynamics such as the 57 will love the load. The Dragonfly specs are min 1k load (and remember its logrithmic); this is why the high end was zapped. I purchased the Seb regardless of this review, and it has revamped my understanding of dynamics. It has become my go to for vox now with dynamics...you should really test a 57 against eg 103 and mics that are designed for old school impedances. Suddenly a new playing field. This pre really puts meat on.

Steven Langer said...

Mark, appreciate the information. Sebatron was allowed to fact check the review as a courtesy.

Mark said...

Hi Steve...an easy one to miss I guess. Its (pre/mic impedance matching) an aspect of gear relationship that is very easily hidden and its only since quite a bit of a study on it that it all makes sense (esp with lots of A/B). Even cables make a huge diff in my mind. Analysis Plus Pro Oval seem to be the best match to the Seb (Litz type open pipe to audio). On solid state, seems to prefer high silver ie Vovox to smooth things a little. I must check those dragonflies! I have a blue bottle in the collection...it actually prefers the seb as apposed to eg an ISA. All the best.