What is the SPL handling of the VMS ML1? I'm considering using it on drums or other loud sources.

A great question. I get a lot of people asking about using the VMS with drums and I'd like to offer an expanded answer. I think the VMS is fantastic on drums and sometimes specs can be deceiving.

Since SPL handling is a characteristic of mics alone, I'll mostly discuss the ML-1 microphone as an independent component of the VMS. (The VMS-1 preamp can handle up to +18 dBU with the pad engaged, which is far more than the mic can put out.)

Large diaphragm condensers designed for maximum sensitivity such as the ML-1, are by their nature not high-SPL devices. Higher SPL handling usually reduces the dynamic range that is crucial in getting the big, open drum sounds that many engineers love LDCs for. This is one of the most important factors when choosing between large and small diaphragm - a small diaphragm can handle more SPL but is significantly less sensitive and has higher noise. The size of the diaphragm affects it's rigidity, which is largely the cause of these phenomenon. It's for this reason that SPL is not typically a spec that LDC's are judged on, as what we want in an LDC is high sensitivity and wide dynamic range. Typical SPL of an LDC is in the neighborhood of 115/120 dB, with the 414 being on the high end at 130 dB, or the FET 47 at 137 dB. Conversely, small diaphragm mics may sometimes get above 160 dB if the internal pad is used. The ML-1 is in the range of 120/125 dB, safely on the higher end for this type of microphone. For reference, a chain saw is about 120 dB and a jet engine is about 140 dB. The transient of a snare drum at close range may get close to 150 db, but the overall drum kit at medium range, like near the drummer's ear, is going to be closer to 120 db or as low as 100 db. The inverse square law would say that 150 db at 1.5 inches is down to 123 db at 3 feet.

Even though small diaphragm mics exceed large diaphragm mics in SPL handling, most engineers would agree that large diaphragm mics sound great on drums. The high-SPL zones very close to individual drums and cymbals are not often places we see the high-sensitivity mics that the ML-1 models, like 47s, 251s, 67s, etc., but depending on the style and volume of the drummer I've seen them used with great success. If you are considering an ambient technique like the "Glynn Johns" technique or something similar, or using the VMS system as overheads, this would work great and except in louder circumstances would not be considered a high-SPL zone. I don't recommend the VMS system for close-mic'ing a snare drum, but then I wouldn't usually put a 47 there either. When used in places that classic LDCs are typically used with drums, I will say confidently that the ML-1 will handle the SPL and sound amazing.

You may ask about the mic's pad. The pad inside some mics is typically between the capsule and the input circuitry, so that whatever the capsule can cleanly output can be handled by the mic's internal preamp. In the case of the ML-1 we decided to keep the circuit as clean as possible, and matched the handling of the capsule to the input circuitry very closely to eliminate the pad. Since the VMS-1 mic preamp has fairly high input handling, the system should be able to take a healthy amount of input signal without a problem.

We wholeheartedly encourage using the VMS on drums, as well as almost everything else, and from a technical standpoint I feel confident saying that in typical use scenarios the 120/125 dB handling of the ML-1 will perform very well. Experimenting will always be key as with most things audio, and I'm very happy to provide any technical info that may help you or your customers find the sound you're going for.

Thanks again and feel free to send any further questions you may have.


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