Technology

Field Test: Buzz Audio MA 2.2 TX Class-A Mic Pre

VERSATILE MODEL OFFERS TRANSFORMER-COUPLED, TRANSFORMERLESS OUTS 6/01/2006 8:00 AM Eastern

Buzz Audio might not be a familiar name to recording engineers in the U.S., but the New Zealand — based pro audio manufacturer has been cranking out high-end mic pre's, compressors and equalizers since its formation in 1985. The company's MA 2.2 TX dual-channel, solid-state mic preamp offers two outputs for each channel: one transformer-coupled, the other transformerless, and each provides a slightly different timbre.

LET'S BE UPFRONT
The rackmountable (1RU) MA 2.2 TX features the same front panel controls for each channel. A rotary gain switch delivers from 16 to 65 dB of gain in 41 steps. Five toggle switches execute the following functions: 20dB pad, phase reversal, input-impedance switching, 48-volt phantom power and channel mute. The channel mute function is particularly handy when the engineer is switching the MA 2.2 TX's phantom power on or off, as it prevents loud level spikes at the channel's output. The input-impedance switch toggles between 1.2 and 3k-ohm settings, producing subtly different timbres.

A clip LED for each channel lights to indicate that the output level is within 6 dB of overloading. An internal adjustment can be made to raise or lower the LED's level threshold for lighting. A power switch and associated status LED finish off the unit's front. All controls have a sturdy feel and positive action.

ON THE FLIPSIDE
The MA 2.2 TX's rear panel provides three I/O connectors for each channel: a female XLR for balanced mic input, female TRS for unbalanced output and male XLR for transformer-coupled (balanced) output. The preamp uses unbalanced internal audio paths, and the Sowter Type 8403-A line output transformers simply balance the output signals using a 1:1 ratio (providing no additional gain boost). On the preamp's unbalanced TRS outputs, the tip provides positive (hot) signal, ring carries signal ground, and sleeve provides chassis ground. A transformerless version of the preamp, the MA 2.2 (no “TX” in the model name) offers only unbalanced outputs using the same type of connectors.

The MA 2.2 TX's maximum output level is +24 dBu — not huge, but respectable. The unit's THD (0.005 percent at 1 kHz), bandwidth (response out to 250 kHz at 64dB gain) and EIN (-133.5 dB, A-weighted) specs promise super-clean audio.

MUSIC TO MY EARS
My first test of the MA 2.2 TX was recording a sweet Santa Cruz Orchestra Model acoustic guitar, miked with a spaced pair of B&K (now DPA) 4011 condensers. The Sowter outputs rounded the guitar's transients and made the low-midrange band sound slightly veiled compared to what I heard using the transformerless outputs, which were superior for this application. Comparing results obtained by using the preamp's transformerless outputs to results achieved with my trusty Millennia HV-3D preamp, I was surprised that the Buzz Audio unit lent slightly more open mids and more sparkly and detailed highs. I can't remember the last time my HV-3D didn't win an A/B test with another pre on acoustic guitar.

Next up was the stellar Euro-American jazz quintet Labirynt. The MA 2.2 TX's Sowter outputs provided warm, wonderfully balanced kick and snare drum tracks. I always record traps using my SPL TD4 Transient Designer to fine-tune attack and sustain envelopes, and the combination of the TD4 and MA 2.2 TX's Sowter outputs was magical. The snare drum needed absolutely no EQ, while the kick (miked outside its closed front head) benefited from some boost at 4 kHz, but had all the bottom end I desired.

Recording male lead vocals using an AKG TLII mic (in omni mode) patched through the Buzz pre's transformerless output and then through my Universal Audio LA-2A, the sound was clear and articulate, but a bit too clinical for my taste. I much preferred the Sowter output's fuller, richer and more musical timbre for recording vocals.

Miking up my Roland MicroCube amp with a Royer R-122 ribbon mic, the preamp's Sowter output lent my '62 Strat's tone a wonderful balance of low-midrange body, upper-midrange crunch and beautifully tapered highs. I needed to boost my Apogee Rosetta's (A/D) trims to a +4dBu reference level of -12 dBFS (i.e., nearly max) to preclude the preamp's clip LED from lighting on peaks below digital full scale.

Next, I used my Aguilar DB900 tube DI box to feed electric bass to the preamp (which lacks DI inputs). The Sowter output gave a nicely balanced tone, but I thought it sounded too ordinary. But by boosting the preamp's gain so that the clip LED lit up on almost every note played, the sound came alive with colorful, burpy overtones that made for a huge-sounding track.

On the downside, the MA 2.2 TX's titling is very hard to read from a moderate distance or in low light, and there are no status indicators for the phantom power switches. I found myself constantly shoving my face in the unit's front panel to confirm status when I was using condenser mics on rotating overdubs.

The ability to use either transformer-coupled or transformerless outputs on any channel makes the MA 2.2 TX a versatile recording tool. If you're looking for a mic pre that can produce both pristine and subtly colored tracks, check it out! Prices: MA 2.2 TX, $2,975; MA 2.2, $2,600.

Buzz Audio, dist. in the U.S. by Atlas Pro Audio, 866/235-0953, www.buzzaudio.com.


Michael Cooper recently engineered Academy Award-winning actor William Hurt's narration of Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises for Simon & Schuster Audio.