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What even is a Digital Modeling Mic?

Getting into the Slate Virtual Microphone System (VMS) was a decision that I had personally put a lot of research into. For months I had been going back and forth on what my first pro-grade condenser mic set would be. It started with the AKG C414, then at some point I thought I wanted a set of Neumann TLM-103's. I went back and forth on a few other mics and had almost purchased two Telefunken TF-29 Copperheads before I learned about modeling microphones. 

At first, I admit I thought the idea was kind of stupid - spend all this money on a microphone and you're not even getting the real thing? I pride myself on owning and advertising quality gear and I want my clients to know that they're getting a top notch product. As a guitarist and violinist who frequently works remotely and beams recordings to my clients, I realized that the process of building a reputable microphone locker would takes years. I'm not arguing that the Slate ML-1 is a replacement for a Neumann U87 or Sony C-800, but rather an alternative that'll get you in the ballpark of "that" sound for a fraction of the price.

I've since found that perhaps the biggest selling point of these microphones that isn't advertised is that they're a fantastic learning tool for those who haven't had the opportunity to work with the legendary studio tools that are so often out of the average musician's price point. Some day, when I pony up the cash for my "real" first set of condensers, I'll now at least have the experience of having worked with all these different sounds to know what tends to work well on which instruments, playing styles, vocalists, etc.

I recently put together a video meant to introduce the Slate ML-1 and virtual microphone system to new users. In it, I chose to focus on a situation that I often find myself in: recording acoustic guitars. I recorded a few samples on nylon-string classical guitar, a classic steel string Martin D-28 dreadnaught, and an Eastman solid carved archtop with flatwounds strings - three very different instruments.

I took each playing sample and painstakingly exported them with ALL of the different mic models available in the bundle that comes with the ML-1 (there are still more out there via expansion packs). Then I lined them up, imported Slate's icon for each mic, and stated the actual name of the microphone that was being modeled. For legal reasons, Slate can't advertise this. I however, have no connection to the company and since this review is completely independant, can do whatever I want ;)

Purchasing the Slate ML-1 gets you 8 mic models:

 - Neumann U47

 - Neumann U67

 - Neumann m269

 - Sony C800

 - Sony C800-G

 - Shure SM7B

 - AKG C12

 - Telefunken 251

And finally, the lossless audio files

I decided to upload the recordings from the video (and a bunch more!) because of YouTube's compression, and so you can flip back and forth to A/B all of the models. The differences are very subtle, and I highly recommend wearing a nice set of headphones if you really want to hear nuances.

Purchasing the Slate ML-1

If you found this guide helpful and if ever you wanted to check out the Slate Digital VMS ML-1 for yourself, you might consider purchasing through an affiliate link of mine. I earn a small commission on sales from zZounds. They are my preferred retailer of choice for their payment plan options, free 1-day shipping, and fantastic return policy. If the information above was of use, this'd be a great way to credit me for my time spent (the better part of 2 days) to make the video and audio files.

My recommendation would be to buy an ML-1 new so you get the software, then if you like it, find a used mic on the market to make it a stereo pair. The tolerances are pretty narrow so chances are likely that the used copy you find will complement your existing ML-1 pretty well. Slate also sells an interface that is supposedly idealized for use with the ML-1, however I've had success with my SSL 2+ and Focusrite Scarlett interfaces. I've also read that the Slate interfaces will never be able to be compatible with M-1 processor computers, so beware that if you're a Mac user. All the best.