Let’s say you had a really tough problem, you had somewhere between twenty-five and forty thousand dollars to spend on a console. Only, you didn’t want to buy a used console because you were afraid of the potential maintenance headaches. You could spend thousands of dollars on replacement parts or days and days recapping it. Not for you.
You knew that today’s mid level digital consoles were starting to sound pretty good and had really impressive automation features. But a digital console just wasn’t in the picture for you. Perhaps you might be afraid that it wouldn’t play nice with your analog multitrack and your collection of outboard gear.
Okay then, what’s left? Not a whole lot, as the mid-level analog console is a dying breed. Even some of the old-line manufacturers have set their sights on digital or lower end consoles. The rest of them continue to manufacture great analog products that are simply out of the mid-level price range. TL Audio has developed a console that offers something different for the mid-level console buyer. What salient feature sets the VTC apart from the other surviving mid-level consoles? (I love one-word answers.) Tubes.
TL Audio states that tubes are an integral part of the VTC, rather than just a token addition, as seems to be en vogue these days. I think that this is a fair assessment considering that vacuum tubes are utilized in the channel, monitor, group and master section signal paths. The VTC is, of course, a hybrid solid state/tube design. Space, heat, and cost factors make the prospect of an all tube console (that provided modern functionality) impossible to achieve in this price class. The VTC uses the ubiquitous 12AX7A small signal tube, which finds a home in a wide range of devices. For those that like to experiment, a wide variety of new old stock, and current manufacture tubes are available. As an aside, I have found that 12AX7A’s vary widely in their sound, and one’s choice of tubes can change the sonic character of the device in which they are used.
The VTC utilizes the familiar in-line console paradigm; with the monitor section having it’s own linear fader (albeit a short travel 60mm fader) rather than the typical rotary pot. All input channels include the following features: a solid state/tube hybrid microphone preamp, switchable phantom power, mic/line selector, phase reverse, input gain, monitor trim, main/monitor flip, 90hz high pass filter, 6 available aux sends as well as a dedicated stereo send, 4 band equalizer (more on this later), a switch to split the eq between the main and monitor paths, pan, mute, and solo switches, 60mm monitor fader, 100mm master fader, buss assignment switches, and some soft switches that may be used if an optional automation system is fitted.
The master section contains the left-right master as well as group faders, the aux returns, control room monitoring selection and level pot, studio monitoring selection and level pot, talkback assignment and microphone input, two frequency oscillator (1kHz and 10kHz), dual headphone matrix, and solo mode assignment switches. XLR microphone inputs and master outputs are provided, all other i/o’s are on ¼” balanced connectors. The console features attractive oak side panels and handrail. A meterbridge which provides analog vane VU metering for the main outputs as well as buss outputs is standard. The VTC is available in configurations ranging from 16 to 56 channels. Options include a supplemental 16 segment LED meter overbridge which provides individual metering for each input channel, console stand, factory fitted third-party automation system, and an onboard bantam tt patchbay.
I put the VTC through its paces mixing a wide variety of material ranging from hard rock to country ballads. I found the tape return amps to have a nice full-bodied sound, with a fairly rich fundamental tone. The equalizer section of the VTC consists of four bands. There is a two band fixed frequency shelving type eq, with the low band centered at 80Hz and the high band at 12kHz, and a two band parametric with the sweep ranging from 50Hz to 2kHz for the low/mid band, and 500Hz to 18kHz for the high band. I found the equalizers to be a bit brittle and boxy sounding, and as with any console, applying boost tends to eat up headroom rather quickly. I also would have like to have seen a greater sweep range of both lower and upper eq bands.
I found that the grouping channels and sending them to the subgroups could have a euphonic effect, sometimes adding a pleasing “thickness” to the overall tone. For a design that implements tubes, the VTC is definitely on the quiet side possessing a noise floor that was not objectionable even at elevated levels. The master section sounds reasonably good, and there is a definite sweet spot where the mix would seemingly bloom, gaining in apparent girth as the harmonics of the tubes started to kick in. Past that sweet spot though, lies some pretty nasty clipping, more solid state than tube sounding in character, so it pays to pay attention to your levels!
As one of the lone contenders in an all but abandoned market, the VTC could be a good choice for the studio owner who wants a new analog console. The fact that the VTC integrates tubes into its signal paths should neither encourage nor discourage potential buyers. Tube, solid state, and/or hybrid devices may sound warm or cold, good or bad. Indeed the topology of a specific device is no guarantee in and of itself. The ability to substitute a different variety of 12AX7A tube could very well allow each purchaser of the VTC to personalize it to his or her particular vision of sonic performance.
It is one of the few new mid-priced analog consoles available
Compact for density of inputs
Equalizers sounded a bit brittle
Somewhat indifferent metalwork