Top-of-the-Line Mic Preamps
by Roger Maycock
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Mic preamps are unquestionably one of the recording studio’s “essential ingredients” for capturing the best sounding signal. Whether you’re looking to improve upon those mic preamps offered by your existing recording console or as a means of directly feeding a digital recorder or DAW, there’s a model to suit just about every possible application and budget.

When Mix researched the subject, we were surprised to discover just how many such products are now available. Most manufacturers make more than one model, so in the interest of having a manageable amount of information, we focused on their top-of-the-line models from the various companies. We’ve also included a list of company Web sites and phone numbers, should you require more detail about the preamps listed or want to check out a manufacturer’s other offerings.

Many of the products detailed here are dedicated mic preamps while others are tied to some form of signal processing. A few products are channel strips that incorporate a mic preamp. And all the preamps include onboard phantom power. Whatever type you’re looking for, the material listed here should provide a good starting point for your explorations.

Amek Channel in a Box
The Amek Channel in a Box is a single-rackspace channel strip that provides transformer-balanced line inputs and outputs, a 4-band parametric EQ, variable bass filters, output faders and a level meter. Using a TLA mic input with transformerless output, the Channel in a Box incorporates all the features found on the 9098i in-line recording console. Retail: $3,250.

Amek 818/973-1618;

Aphex 1100
A discrete Class-A tube design offering 24-bit/96kHz digital outputs and Aphex’s Mic Lim protection circuit, the dual-channel 1100 can lock to word clock or AES/EBU clock. The internal clock supports 44.1, 48 or 96kHz sample rates. A MicLim function detects and limits the microphone signal prior to preamplification to prevent clipping. The unit’s low-frequency cancellation filter allows as much as 20 dB of low frequency cut without using any headroom. Both channels have a tunable low-cut filter (30 to 195 Hz) and tunable gain from 21 to 65 dB. Retail: $2,495.

Aphex Systems 818/767-2929;

API 512C Mic/Line Preamp
The API 512C is a mic/line instrument preamp with 65 dB of gain. The unit’s line/instrument preamp offers 50 dB of gain and includes both front and rear panel inputs. The unit has an LED VU meter for monitoring output level, and there is a 20dB pad switch that can be applied to mic, line or instrument signals. The 512C employs API fully discrete circuit design and incorporates the API 2520 Op Amp. Retail: $825.

API Audio Inc. 703/455-8188;

Apogee Trak-2
Unveiled at this month’s NAB show, Trak-2 combines a high-performance mic preamp with SoftLimit, SoftSaturate (analog tape compression simulation), Apogee 24-bit/96kHz A/D converter and UV22-HR encoding for retaining improved performance even when reduced to lower bit resolutions. The unit also includes analog insert points for patching compressors or taking the analog preamp outs directly; alternatively, users can patch into the digital inputs at line level. A backlit LCD and datawheel allow recalling/storing parameters or setups, and two AD-8000 style expansion slots accept TDIF, ADAT or Pro Tools interfaces.

Apogee Electronics 310/915-1000;

ART Pro Channel
Applied Research & Technology’s Pro Channel is a tube-based mic/line recording unit with three independent circuits: mic preamp, optical compressor and parametric tube EQ. The Pro Channel’s Variable Mu compressor has selectable attack/release time, adjustable threshold/ratio, output level controls, 70 dB of gain and a 20dB pad. Also included is a 4-band EQ with two sweepable mid-bands, selectable high/low shelving filters, ¼-inch insert points, a backlit VU meter and tube character/gain reduction LED arrays. Retail: $799.

ART (Applied Research & Technology) 716/436-2720;

ATI’s 8MX2 is an 8-channel mic preamp and mixer for live sound or multitrack recording applications. The solid-state, single-rackspace 8MX2 is a full-featured mixer with cue circuit; headphone and monitor outputs; tape outputs and returns; gain, level and pan control for each input channel; plus proprietary inputs and outputs for linking multiple units. Each high-voltage mic input offers a limiter with adjustable threshold, phase reverse and ground lift. Retail: $1,899.

ATI (Audio Toys Inc.) 410/381-7879;


Reprinted with permission from Mix Magazine, April, 2000
© 2000, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved

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