The Thermionic Culture Vulture is a unique distortion unit that uses all-valve circuitry to impart anything from a subtle warmth and thickening to raucous mangling of the sound. Used with discretion, it can work on just about anything whether it be an acoustic guitar or mastering session and as such is an ace in the hole for many engineers.
The Culture Vulture’s inspiration comes from the distortion flavour of valve amps. While many harmonic saturation boxes simulate these characteristics, the Culture Vulture stakes its claim as the only dedicated studio distortion unit that uses an actual valve-based design. First hitting the market in 1998, it has seen a few different versions follow, thought little has changed from the original design.
Setup fairly simply, the Culture Vulture offers two identical channels, so is suited to both stereo and mono material. A Drive control increases the input to the device and subsequently, the intensity of the distortion. This works in sympathy with the Bias control, which adjusts how much current gets through to the valves. Working together, these two controls can tune in a whole range of effects. In the standard version, three distortion settings are on offer – a triode mode and two pentode modes. As well as altering the voicing, these modes increase the amount of gain on tap. The 11th anniversary edition of the Culture Vulture – the Super 15, adds further options to the same basic design, with seven extra distortion modes and mid-lift section.
Despite its fairly minimal set of controls, the Culture Vulture has a wealth of sounds lurking inside it. With a conservative approach, it can impart just a touch of valve warmth that increases body and apparently volume, subtle enough even for mastering. Pushing things along, it can bring a vocal to life with grit and authority, add an explosive punch to drums, or, in one of its strongest applications, place a bass firmly in the mix. For those not faint of heart, the more extreme end of the settings, kicked further along by the Overdrive switch, can produce sounds like that of a guitar amp, completely transforming a source with thick and heavy distortion.
The Culture Vulture is a one-of-a-kind unit that simply doesn’t sound like anything else available. Amongst studios dominated by compressors and EQs, tools for harmonic saturation are sometimes forgotten and The Culture Vulture demonstrates just how important and powerful that kind of processing can be.
Maximum Output level: +17dBV (M.O.L)
Distortion: 0.2% to 99.5%
Noise: better than 75dB below M.O.L at typical settings
Input impedance: 30kΩ
Output impedance: 2kΩ (should ideally drive a 10kΩ + input impedance)
Frequency response: ± 1.75dB over 50Hz to 15kHz (at low distortion)
Max. gain (clean): 35dB
Max. gain (overdriven) >60dB
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