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Vektor pickup review

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by Adrian Cho, Aug 27, 2005.


  1. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    This week I have been trying out the Vektor pickup. This pickup was developed by German luthier Tobias Pöhling and Sven Gawron who makes the Vektor electric upright basses. They originally developed it for the Vektor basses but it is now being sold for use with acoustic double bass and that's a damn good thing for us. I purchased the pickup and outboard preamp directly from Toby. The pickup is 150 Euros and the preamp is 50 Euros. In total that's about USD 250.

    In my opinion this is the best-sounding pickup on the market right now if you're looking for something that comes close to a mic. The sound reproduction is amazingly natural and consistent for both pizz and arco with none of the problems of bridge-mounted pickups that I've tried (harshness, excessively loud arco or finger noise). I think the key to its success is pretty simple - a) it's a contact mic, b) and it picks up the vibrations primarily from the top table of the bass but also to a much lesser degree from the bridge. In these respects, it is very similar to the Dyn-B. One key difference is that the Dyn-B relies entirely on vibrations from the table whereas the Vektor is also getting some vibrations from the bridge. Also, the Dyn-B's "acoustic chamber" is created by the putty ring around the pickup whereas the Vektor is housed snugly in the bass side bridge foot. At least on my bass, the Vektor is superior to the Dyn-B with less feedback (actually none), less reproduction of unwanted resonances (actually none), a more natural, focused, and less nasal tone, and greater clarity and consistency throughout the range.

    You can see photos of the pickup on Toby's site here.

    I have to say that I was scared about installing this pickup because firstly I sold my Dyn-B and had never heard the Vektor before and the only thing I had to go on was Piro's experience and for that I have to thank him for discovering this pickup and giving it a try and posting all his experiences which you can read here. And to try out the pickup I would have to have work done on my bridge. The only downside of the Vektor is the installation procedure and cost if you have your luthier do the work. Correct installation is critical. In my case, I had my luthier carve new bridge feet. We then reinstalled my existing aluminum bridge height adjusters but flipped them so that the threaded shafts were in the top half of the bridge instead of in the feet. Both the threaded and unthreaded ends of each adjuster also had to be cut shorter, and of course the pickup itself had to be installed. The total cost for that work (and my luthier's rates are extremely reasonable) was basically about the same as the cost of the pickup and preamp. So in all, the total cost was not that far off the cost of a new Dyn-B. Toby says he can fit the pickup into an existing bridge for 50 Euros. Problems may arise however if your bridge has height adjusters and there is not enough room in the bass-side bridge foot for the pickup (it requires about 15 mm of space). This is why I had my luthier carve new bridge feet. I'm really glad he decided to use some really nice twenty-year old Maple and the sound is better for it anyway. Cost for installation will likely be less if you don't have bridge adjusters or if there is already enough room for the pickup anyway. Of course you could always try and install it yourself. Toby supplies detailed instructions and he is extremely helpful and responsive via e-mail. You definitely need a drill press/pillar drill to do this work.

    The installation procedure for the Vektor is somewhat invasive but certainly no more so than the Turner, Wilson, or Barbera systems. The beauty is that once installed, the entire system is very inconspicuous - even less so than the Dyn-B. All you can see is a very thin neutral-coloured wire leading from the bass-side bridge foot to the tailpiece which is where I mounted my cable jack. It's a very neat system indeed and one I don't mind having on the bass permanently. I should also mention that once the pickup itself is installed, you have to solder the wire onto the cable jack. My luthier was setup to do that so I did it. No big deal although the wire is pretty thin so it's a little bit fiddly.

    I did all my testing initially into a mixer and listening through headphones and my studio monitors and then later through the Focus 2 and an Acme B-1. As I said before, the reproduction is very impressive.

    I don't know how this pickup would handle really loud volumes - I don't play at those kinds of levels so I can't say although I did crank things pretty loud - for me at least. I didn't experience any feedback at all. Comparing it to the AMT mic, the AMT definitely has a presence and clarity that I have not found with the Vektor or any pickup. No doubt about that. The mic is still the only way for me to get the true sound. However the Vektor has a strength of signal that the mic doesn't have - especially on the low end. Although in my opinion, the strong low end is actually artificial which is what I find with pickups in general. Even though my bass does have an strong acoustic low end right down to C, what you hear through the mic on the low end is definitely more accurate to my ears. However it is nice to have those strong low notes especially in the mix, as it is what a lot of people expect to hear and they like it. I don't mind it as long as I get the more natural, airy sound from the mic throughout the rest of the range of the instrument. In that respect, mixing the two signals works great just as it did with the Dyn-B and the AMT. And of course there are times when I can't use the mic (such as outside in windy conditions) and the Vektor by itself definitely sounds very good. It reproduced the tone and the attack of gut strings very well.

    I found the signal to require more gain than I expected and more than other pickups I've tried. I did take the bridge off three or four times to check the installation of the pickup and I experimented with different thicknesses of the little rubber pads/shims that are supplied to fit over the pickup so that the pad is almost flush with the bottom of the bridge foot. If there is not enough contact with the bass then the signal may be weak. In the end I found that what my luthier had done was perfect to begin with - the shim sticks out about 1/2 mm. With the Focus I usually have to have pickup channel turned up around 75% of max whereas on the mic channel (using the XLR output of the AMT preamp into the Focus 2's mic input), I have the level at around 35 - 40%.

    Like the Dyn-B, I think this pickup may not work too well with a plywood and it goes without saying that it won't make a crappy sounding bass sound any better. It's a very high fidelity pickup and will only reproduce what's already there.

    The only other (small) gripe I have is that I don't like relying on a preamp that uses a 9V battery as I don't want to be in a situation where the battery might go at a critical time. I'd rather use a DC adapter even though I know the sound should be cleaner with the battery. Then again, I use my AMT preamp with the adapter all the time and it works fine for me. Toby's preamp is nothing special and in theory you can use any preamp that can supply 9V phantom. Does anybody know of a small, inexpensive but clean-sounding unit that can supply the phantom and has a wall wart option?
     
  2. flatback

    flatback

    May 6, 2004
    Bolinas Ca
    Right on Adrian, I'm glad that the pick up works for you. I have found that it has LOTS of volume (Hot signal) coming off of my bass but there are probably a lot of factors that could account for that. I played a loud bebop gig last night and the Vektor (thru a WW M100 bridged) had plenty of everything.
    I am so into the simple easy plug and play thing right now...With the Vektor I can show up to a gig and with one cord from my bass to the amp I can be playing in 5 minutes with great sound. Yes a mic blended in gets you a really complete sound, but also a headache of plugs and connections. For bigger gigs I'll do it but, for most of the everyday stuff I love not having to get to the gig 45 minutes early so I can futz around with the mic. (of course if I had an AMT mounted on my tailpiece I might be feeling a little different...but until then)
     
  3. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    I agree that the convenience is a big thing. If I can have everything organised in the compartment in my LDS, I will only have to plug in power and plug in two cables to the bass and I'm ready to go. BTW, the AMT tailpiece mount works really well to also clamp down the Vektor 1/4" jack so both jacks are hidden behind the tailpiece - all very neat.

    Regarding the volume with the Vektor, I tried quite a few things and I am convinced that I could not apply any more pressure to the pickup without the shim sticking out so much that the foot is not sitting evenly on the table - I know because I tried it.
     
  4. jonas

    jonas

    Dec 9, 2003
    Frankfurt am Main/Germany
    Lando Music (Germany)
    Doensn't your AI Focus' mic channel provide phantom power? What do you need an additional preamp for at all?
     
  5. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    The Focus provides 48 V of phantom even though the manual actually says 38 V (I think that's a mistake). In any case, it's too much. Piro actually tried using the Solstice which delivers 15 V and it didn't work. I believe Toby thought it was too much. 9V for mini-mics is pretty common.
     
  6. A-Cho. Did your initial tests involve recording the signal and listening back, or listening as you played? Also, how can you evaluate the Vektor in comparison to the Dyn-B when a)You aren't listening side by side and b) You are using a different rig?

    It seems a shame to have a new Focus, which should provide you with gobs of headroom, and not be able to take advantage of it due to a weak signal. With my Realist, I get ample volume with the input AND master set to "BARELY ON".

    What about the Baggs preamps? Also, if you're interested I can email you instructions on how to gerry-rig a Radio Shack 9V adapter to connect right to the battery leads of the preamp. It is supposedly "hum-free".
     
  7. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Tom I didn't record it. I didn't have the Dyn-B to do a direct comparison to but I am confident I can compare them. I've played with the Dyn-B on my bass for a long time now and I know the sound well.

    I would definitely appreciate it if you could e-mail the instructions. I think that's exactly what I need. The one thing about the Vektor preamp is that it is small. I have also thought about using the LR Baggs GigPro.
     
  8. flatback

    flatback

    May 6, 2004
    Bolinas Ca
    The external preamp option is something to try yet especially with DC but Adrian should really be getting a fair amount of signal if everything is set up right. Make sure the RCA is firmly attached. If you did the soldering yourself, that might be a point to chheck. As I've said, I get a lot of signal, using the phantom jack.
    This pup and others like it, really require a nice sounding bass and good technique. Everything that goes on sound wise is amped. I bought one of those Vibramute (string afterlength mutes from lemur) and it really helps eliminate unwanted vibrations (that can be amped)
     
  9. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Regarding the strength of the signal - I am at a bit of a loss. I'm quite sure it's not the acoustic setup and I really don't want to have the pickup protrude any more from the bridge foot. I did solder the cable myself but the connection is good. The LR Baggs GigPro does have a lot more gain than the Vektor preamp so that may be the way to go.

    Piro, I wonder if the onboard and outboard preamps have the same amount of gain? I would think so. The other thought that occurs to me is whether there is something wrong with the particular preamp I'm using. I think of the Vektor as being similar to the AMT - it (unfortunately) requires a separate box to supply phantom and to boost it to a reasonable level that most preamps would expect. For example you can set the gain inside the AMT preamp by moving the trimpot inside the unit. If you turn it all the way down, the signal is pretty weak.
     
  10. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    By the way Tom, as far as evaluating the Vektor against the Dyn-B using a different rig, my comparison was based on playing through my studio mixer and studio monitors and headphones which I've always done with all my pickup/mic setups.

    In terms of comparing the Vektor to the AMT, when I'm doing this kind of testing, I also look at various signal meters that monitor the signal such as the FFT output on a spectrum analyser. I do this to compare the waveforms when I play notes across the range - comparing the mic and the pickup waveforms with one on either side of a stereo channel. The visual output often provides confirmation (or sometimes not) of what I'm hearing - e.g. the low end is being boosted, etc.

    It was only after doing all of this that I did any testing with the Focus and the B-1.
     
  11. flatback

    flatback

    May 6, 2004
    Bolinas Ca
    Of the recording I have done with the Vektor, I can say this, Nothing sounds good direct except a good recording mic. I think the Vektor is a pick up that can give you a more realistic picture of your basses sound, on stage thru a good amp/cab but it (like the AMT) is in no way meant to replace a good recording mic. In fact, for the blended sound (recording) I prefer a piezo to blend, because the Vektor is doubling the kind of sound spectrum that a mic does where (say a full circle) has that fat bass-y compressed sound that can fill out the bottom of the sound. We found recording with the Vektor that we just turned that channel off in the mix, it didn't add to the sound. I think this is actually a compliment to the Vektor, because it is covering so much ground for a live pick up (mic sound, no feedback, no piezo electric flat mids, complex full spectrum sound, very low profile)...I didn't do that much recording with it either so it might be possible to use effectively given some experimentation or different preamping.
    Just heard someone last night using the full circle/AMT into a EA 2x8 and it was a great sound though...
     
  12. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    I never used to be into blending but I have to agree that as Rufus Reid told me - the pickup (we were talking about the Dyn-B in that) and the AMT together are better than either alone. I'm talking about for live use here. The AMT has a clarity and a presence that you can't get with any pickup. Period. However especially in a loud mix, it can often lack the focus that one needs, especially in the bottom end.
     
  13. flatback

    flatback

    May 6, 2004
    Bolinas Ca
    Yea I'm actually waiting to see what you get into there (blending the V with th AMT) before I get all worked up about buying the AMT. I've heard it a few times lately though where it really sounded great. (always through a compact cab 1x8 EA or 2x8EA) I can see how the FC AMT combo would be very sweet, but I think that the Vektor with the AMT is gunna sound pretty true...
     
  14. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Well just to you know - the LR Baggs GigPro works just fine with the Vektor - I bought one today and tried it out very briefly tonight. For me, it also solves my signal strength issue as the GigPro has a whopping 28 dB of gain. What's nice to is that I can use the GigPro gain to basically have the AMT and Vektor enter into the Focus preamp at the same levels so that the same level setting on each channel means approximately the same volume level from each channel. I didn't have time to try it into my mixer but through the Focus and B-1, it sounded a little bit thicker than with Toby's preamp. Unfortunately that's all I have time to post right now. More later.
     
  15. flatback

    flatback

    May 6, 2004
    Bolinas Ca
    Adrian,
    Thanks for the advice about the gig pro. I just bought and hooked it up and not only is the gain great but the eq and low pass filter make it the perfect compliment to the Vektor. After 2 months with the Vektor and the built in jack, I fianlly got the Gigpro and it really makes a huge difference in the sound. Much less high end click and a lot more usable fat sweetness. A serious improvement. I keep the low pass almost all the way up and there is still lots of bass. I'll have to try it on the gig but My Woods can be set a lot lower with the increased gain.
    Toby if you read this you should check out the gigpro, and try one with the Vektor. It also makes me interested in seeing if I can get my hands on a used Schertler Pre II.
    Thanks again man,
    piro
     
  16. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Glad to hear you like it. You know, I don't think I am using the low trim on mine or I'm pretty sure I at least don't have it all the way up but I should probably do that because I get more than enough bass from the pickup. All those little LR Baggs units are fantastic including the Para-DI and the MixPro which is basically a two channel blender version of the GigPro. Very high quality sound in tiny packages. My only wish is that all came in the Para-DI form factor and they could all be used with an AC adapter.
     
  17. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Oh yeah, things are so much better using the low trim on the GigPro. I feel like an idiot because I forgot the control was there. It is much better than using the shelving-type EQ controls. Having said that I feel twice as stupid because I forgot that the Focus HP filter works on the instrument channel (only) so I could have been using it instead (I thought it was for the mic channel).
     
  18. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    I should also add that from what I can remember, the GigPro has a much sweeter and more natural sound than the Schertler pre.
     
  19. flatback

    flatback

    May 6, 2004
    Bolinas Ca
    Right on, man. It sure has made a huge difference in the sound of the pick up and I was really digging it before ( except that I really had to roll a lot of the high end off and I don't like using radical eq settings if I can help it..it ends up feeling as though you are pulling in both directions at the same time) and I'll stop thinking about the Schertler eq. I think this little preamp is gunna be just fine.
     
  20. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Just wanted to add this note to avoid potential confusion. The GigPro offers a high-pass (not a low-pass) filter. It is also sometimes called a low-cut filter. It attenuates (cuts) frequencies below a certain corner-frequency (cutoff frequency) allowing frequencies higher than the corner frequency to pass. Ergo, high-pass or low-cut.

    Just trying to help. :)