Neumann V 402 Preamp: Review

There is a lot to be said for having a quality mic pre dialled in at input stage – even if your audio interface is excellent. In addition to cutting great vocals, instruments such as bass and guitars, synths, and even piano can benefit hugely from being run through something nice and analogue at the front end before hitting the digital domain. The V 402 is Neumann’s first mic preamp since the now iconic 476B – so it’s been a long time coming. But has it been worth the wait?

I’ve used a number of analog preamps with a variety of microphones – and there is a lot of quality out there. I have to say, just having something physical to get tactile with is enough to excite me, and although there are an abundance of superb plugins that not only emulate but sometimes improve on some analog circuitry, I prefer to add that stuff later, after the recording has taken place.

And when I do record anything, it always goes in as close to sound at source as humanly possible, so I’m not one for crushing anything or even giving it much of a squeeze before it’s in the box.

So today I’m trying out the V 402 with a Neumann TLM 49 microphone with an emerging artist in Headliner’s HQ studio. I’ve not tracked with the TLM before, surprisingly – my mic collection includes an Austrian Audio OC818, a Vanguard V12, a couple of AKG C414s including the one with the gold capsule, and a few more – all of them of course are great sounding, but considering this is a Neumann unit, I’m going with a Neumann mic.

The V 402 is a fantastically clean, rich sounding mic pre which literally allows you to get the best out of anything you put through it.

My audio interface is also right out of the top drawer – a Merging Technologies Anubis, and its pre is excellent, I should add. I find that it already allows for greater control of a vocal than most when I’m working with artists, and it’s excellent for any instrument recording. Where driving a Neve 1073 will generate color and offer character, the V 402 seems to have been designed with silky clean sonics in mind – so with an already very clean signal chain, I’m intrigued to see how much of a difference it will make to my sound and indeed workflow.

Aesthetically, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything as sleek and pro looking out of all the pres I’ve got hands-on with to date. A stunning anodized champagne colored housing with red trim, extremely sturdy knobs that you feel you can trust right away, a nice LED meter, and shiny chrome buttons make up the front panel. It’s a fantastically designed piece of kit which oozes class.

The V 402 has a sizeable 60dB of gain along with switchable phantom power, HI-Z, 20dB pad, phase, and hi-pass on each of its channels - nicely laid out for all to see on the front panel. It’s a transformer-less design, and it also has its own dedicated headphone amp which is a nice touch.

I plug the mic in at the back – there are two XLR mic in and outs, with HI-Z instrument inputs on the front – and feed the output to the Anubis, and turn the dial. The first thing that strikes me is how quiet this thing is. I get the vocalist to run through a take, and I begin getting the gain structure as I want it, also dialling in the hi-pass filter – and as I drive the pre a little, it remains really quiet.

There is a presence in his vocal that I wasn’t getting without it, that is for sure. It also has this remarkable instant warmth – the vocal seems bigger and wider just running through this unit, filling the soundscape. I’m also really impressed with the air that the TLM offers – I can tell already that I won’t need to do much to this vocal in terms of EQ, as the top end is just there already. Also, as I push the vocal a little closer to the danger zone, the bright LED does its job and lets me know exactly how close I am to clipping.

We double-track the main vocal – and the artist tells me he found it easy to deliver a performance going through the Neumann as his vocal was louder and fuller in his cans. Essentially, this is because headroom was no issue and I was able to give a loud mix with the vocal sitting nicely on top – not always easy to do without a good pre, which this V 402 quite clearly is. Very.

What you don’t need with this unit is a huge knowledge of how to use a mic pre – it’s very simple to get a great sound, and it’s just as easy to see when you’re driving it too hard. But the sound quality – that is the greatest thing of all about the V 402.

And it’s only really on playback in the track that I realise just how great it is. The vocal – without my standard compression chain dialled in – is just ‘there’, and I find myself doing quite a bit less tweaking than normal in the box. Less compression, less aggressive EQ, even less dynamics as I’m so keen to keep it up close and personal. The mic is most definitely a factor here, too – but this pre is very special, no question.

I decide to try a bass guitar through it – and this is another eureka moment for me. I don’t have a bass amp in the studio currently so have been relying on DI, and the Anubis, as mentioned before, provides a great signal; but with the Neumann, I have another level of control as soon as I plug it in.

There is no boominess at all, and my sub isn’t screaming at me as soon as I play the low B string. I should add that the bass – as nice as it is for what it is – is only a Fender Squier, so we’re not talking high-end – but what I am finding is that suddenly it’s sounding more like a ‘real Fender’ – I mean that with respect, because I love this bass, I’m just saying that this thing is now suddenly punching well above its weight, and that is definitely down to the pre.

There is more body, zero woolliness, and a little more punch – that’s the best way I can describe it. And as expected, when I come to dropping the bass into the mix, it’s sounding great before any further processing is applied.

Its transparency is remarkable, as is its surprisingly tight low end, and as cliché as this may seem, it just seems to make everything sound much, much better.

My third test is acoustic guitar – again using the TLM. I’m using a Fender Dreadnought for this, and this is the first time I’ve listened through headphones.

Once again I am drawn to the sound of silence within this pre – it is remarkably quiet, and also extremely clean. I then strum a few chords and play around with levels a little. Like it did with the bass, the V 402 provides a new level of control, as well as a natural warmth.

I always feel the urge to place the mic over the sound hole to get that perceived warmth when playing rather than on the 12th fret position, but I always end up rolling some low end off when I do! Here, a warmth and richness in tone is evident without sticking the mic over the soundhole which, I have to say, fills me with joy!

And there is no trickery at play here, just decent mic placement and good gain structure. Then hit record and you’re away. The difference in the way the guitar sounds on playback is really noticeable, and again is helping me get ahead in the mix.

In conclusion, the Neumann V 402 is a fantastically clean, rich sounding mic pre which literally allows you to get the best out of anything you put through it.

Its transparency is remarkable, as is its surprisingly tight low end, and as cliché as this may seem, it just seems to make everything sound much, much better. And that works for me.