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Why I Love the Slate Digital VRS8 Bundle

Slate Digital has been making amazing audio products for a while now, but with the VRS8 & VMS Bundle, they’ve managed to create something truly revolutionary.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, chances are you’ve heard of the Slate Digital Virtual Microphone System: a microphone, preamp and plugin package that allows the user to realistically simulate an entire mic locker of expensive vintage microphones at only a fraction of the cost.

The new VRS8 Thunderbolt Audio Interface is the next chapter in Steven Slate’s “Virtual Recording Studio” saga, offering engineers an affordable, all-in-one, audiophile-grade recording and playback solution in the form of a slick $2000 interface.

After purchasing a VRS8/VMS bundle (including the VRS8 Interface, 1 x ML1 Microphone, & 5 x ML2 Microphones), and thoroughly putting it through its paces over the last few months, today, I’m here to share with you five things I love about the “Virtual Recording Studio” concept.

1. Record First, Choose Your Microphones Later

Choosing the right microphone for the source is key to capturing recordings that sound great from the get-go — the more suited the microphone is to your particular source and musical context, to begin with, the less after-the-fact processing you’ll have to apply during mixing to get it playing nicely with everything else.

This being the case, a lot of engineers/producers will start a new project by going through a rigorous “microphone shootout” process on a per-instrument basis, trying to determine the best possible combinations of gear to use before even starting on an actual recording.

As you can imagine, getting a vocalist to sing the same lines over and over again while you switch out microphones and nerd-out over minute EQ curve differences isn’t very conducive to an exciting studio environment, and has the potential to kill their vibe before you’ve even started!

Probably the most significant selling point of the VRS8/VMS bundle is the fact that it completely eliminates the need for you to make your final microphone decisions during recording, freeing you up to to get straight to work and focus on merely capturing the best performances.

Although some people might point out the subtle sonic differences between the Slate emulations and the real deal, the ability to audition your instruments through studio classics such as the U47, C12, ELA M 251 and C-800G in the context of a full mix, while listening to the final edited performances, with nothing more than a few clicks of a mouse button is nothing short of amazing, and in my opinion, absolutely makes up for the few % of difference in question!

2. Clean, Low-Distortion Preamps

The VRS8 offers eight channels of VMS-ONE preamplification, the same technology used in the standalone, single-channel Virtual Microphone System units.

The basic idea behind the VMS-ONE is to provide the user with crystal-clear, ultra flat, ultra linear recordings which can be used in tangent with Slate’s brilliant “Virtual Preamp Collection” software to accurately simulate the tonal characteristics of the real deal.

Think about it … A $2000 interface which allows you to track through 8 channels of Neve 1073 simultaneously, a setup which would cost you over $20K in the analog domain — now that’s awesome!

As a VMS-ONE user of a few years, I already knew exactly what I was getting with the VRS8 — a fantastic preamp in and of itself that you don’t even necessarily have to use with the software to achieve great sounding results.

3. Excellent JFET Instrument Inputs & DI

Let’s be honest, the instrument inputs built into most audio interfaces leave much to be desired, leading a lot of people to just avoid them in favor of external DI boxes.

The instrument inputs built into the VRS8 are a total breath of fresh air on that front, delivering punchy lows, clear highs, an excellent transient response, and more than enough headroom to handle even the hottest of pickups.

Some of the best bass tones I’ve ever recorded were merely the result of plugging straight into a VMS-ONE preamp with no additional amp or cabinet simulation processing after-the-fact!

P.S. I actually ended up selling my expensive DI box after getting my hands on the VMS-ONE a few years back, as it simply sounded just-as-good, if not better, and meant I would no longer have to spend the extra time setting up every time I wanted to record an instrument directly.

4. Crystal Clear Monitoring

If you’ve ever compared a cheap interface to an expensive one, you know how much of a difference some decent converters can make when it comes to playback fidelity.

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Although not the most expensive interface on the market, the VRS8 comes loaded with high-quality mastering grade components, resulting in a listening experience which oozes depth, width, definition and overall “size”.

The built-in headphone amplifiers are also of the utmost quality, offering a low noise floor, absolutely no distortion to speak of, and enough juice to easily power even the most demanding of headphones.

5. One-Year Slate Everything Bundle License Included

As if the fantastic specs I’ve talked about above aren’t enough to sell the VRS8, the deal also includes a one-year membership to Slate’s “Everything Bundle”, a vast array of awesome analog-modeled plugins which I’ve personally been using in my productions for years to great satisfaction.

From EQ’s to Compressors, Reverbs to Delays, De-Essers to Amp Sims, the Everything Bundle includes all of the tools you could possibly need to produce professional mixes in-the-box.

A few of my personal favorites from the bundle include:

Verbsuite: 10 of the most popular hardware reverb units in studio history including the Bricasti M7, Lexicon 480L and EMT 250, all accurately captured in a single plugin. Tons of presets to choose from. Great additional functionality including a built-in EQ, chorus and stereo-width knob.

FG-116 Blue: An accurate recreation of the classic 1176 “Bluestripe” Compressor/Limiter. Excellent for pinning vocals. The built-in “mix” knob allows you to blend the processed and unprocessed signals in a “parallel” configuration without having to leave the plugin interface or create duplicate channels within your DAW.

Custom Series EQ: A brilliant hybrid equalizer which combines the unique curves of several industry favorites under a single roof. Each band is modeled after a different hardware unit: A bit of Pultec for the highs, a bit of API for the mids, and a bit of Mastering Grade EQ for the lows.

Conclusion

The VRS8 is a great bang-for-buck interface which packs in a whole lot of quality at an affordable mid-level price point.

When paired with the Virtual Microphone System and Everything Bundle, the VRS8 offers the user a level of analog realism and tonal choice which was previously only accessible to top industry professionals working out of big-budget studios.

Last, But Not Least My Only Complaint …

As much as I’ve praised the VRS8 in this article, I do have one fairly significant complaint, which is one of compatibility.

Upon installing the VRS8 system in our studio, we realized that it simply wasn’t compatible with two out of three of our MacBook Pros due to hardware discrepancies on the older computers. We tried every trick in the book, including contacting Slate support to no avail and are still no closer to a solution.

Hopefully a future driver update will resolve the problem, but for now, just be aware of the potential issues that may arise if you’re on an older Mac system and are looking to go down the VRS8 route.

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Thomas Brett

Thomas Brett

Thomas Brett is a producer, engineer and professional writer currently working for PDND Music, a successful record label & recording studio based in Istanbul, Turkey. Thomas has worked with well known Turkish pop artists such as Soner Sarıkabadayı, Beyza Durmaz and Alper Erözer.
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