In the early 1990s, when Geoffrey Daking heard that many engineerswere growing increasingly dissatisfied with newer audio gear, hedecided to find out why. Most new equipment, he deduced, missed some ofthe basic ingredients that gave “vintage” gear itscharacter, and with this in mind, Daking went to work on a line ofproducts aimed at the high-end market. The theme behind hisbrainchildren became “Good design will not be overruled bybookkeeping,” and in the years since, there's been no lookingback. I reviewed the newest member of the product family, theMicPreEQ.
INSIDE AND OUT
The MicPreEQ packs a lot of good, clean signal path into asingle-rackspace unit. Inside, the box is all-discrete and Class-A,utilizing top-quality transformers, precision capacitors andlow-distortion inductors. All switches and pots are PC board-mountedand have a tight, solid feel; Daking uses hefty anodized, engravedaluminum knobs of his own design. The board uses through-holeconstruction rather than surface-mount, and is housed in astainless-steel chassis, providing maximum shielding from externalnasties. True to form, no audio runs through the mute, phase, pad orbypass switches; those functions are performed through relays usinggold contacts.
Frequency response is an impressive ±1 dB from 10 Hz to 42 kHzand is down -3 dB at 56 kHz. Both mic and line inputs aretransformer-balanced, with the mic side's impedance set at 1,200 ohms,while the line side runs above 15k ohms. Even the faceplate screamsquality: There's a 10mm polycarbonate layer between the printing andthe operator's fingers, ensuring long-lasting labels.
A continuously variable output attenuator is located on thefront-left, right next to a 10-position mic/line gain switchincremented in 5dB steps. I much prefer this layout rather than havingthe attenuator to the far right. Mic gain is from -15 to -60 dB, whileline gain is from +1 to -35 dB. The EQ section has four adjustablebands, each providing ±15 dB of boost/cut. High-shelving EQ isnotched at 8k, 10k, 12k, 15k and 20k with a switchable lowpass filterfixed at 20k (6 dB per octave). The choices for the high-mid sectionare 1.5k, 3k, 5k, 7k and 9k, while the low-mids can be set to 125, 250,500, 1k and 2k Hz. At the very bottom, the lows can be set to 30, 50,80, 100 or 150 Hz with a switchable highpass filter set at 25 Hz and a-12dB/octave slope. Each EQ band can be individually bypassed, or thewhole section can be bypassed using the lighted switch to the unit'sfar right. Above that, a lighted Mute switch quiets everything.
THE PROOF IS IN THE TEST
I had two units for my test and used them extensively during arecording project. I used the preamp by itself with a variety of micsand it was remarkable. The MicPreEQ especially shined when used with anAEA R84 ribbon mic, delivering all of the clean gain I needed, even onthe quietest instruments. I used the unit on two different acousticguitars and found that the highpass filter and low EQ section deftlypulled out any boom, leaving a nice, clean top that didn't need extrahelp. Upright bass was beautiful, percussion was perfect (especiallywith a touch of top from the EQ section) and vocals were vibrant. Timeand time again, the Daking delivered.
What I liked most was that the preamp side was so clean, I didn'tfeel the need to use EQ as a fix. Mic placement solved a lot ofproblems, which is as it should be. When I did use the EQ, I noticedthat a little goes a long way. I was surprised at how even a smalladjustment made a large addition to any frequency I boosted or cut. Ifound myself backing it off a little and adding bits and touches, whichin my book is a good thing. Finally, I used the box as a back-endanalog sweetener for my mixes. I found myself adding just a touch oftop and bottom for the last audio glance before I burned my mixes to anAlesis MasterLink. This application sold me on the idea that Dakingsshould always travel in pairs. Although it's not a true mastering EQ,it's a great way to give your mixes a final finish.
THE FINISH LINE
It's amazing that a product of this quality can come in at $1,995,and although Daking has found a new fan in me, I do have a few beefsabout the MicPreEQ. There is no power “On” light on theunit. When troubleshooting, I had to reach over to pop on the lightedmute or bypass switch to eliminate the possibility that the unit wasn'tpowered. It's a minor issue, but a confidence LED designating powerwould make things easier for the user. The other item I missed was adirect instrument input on the front of the box. I would have loved touse the Daking as a quick bass DI/preamp box when tracking, but in theheat of the session, I found myself going with other more convenientoptions rather than climbing behind the unit to connect a freestandingDI.
All that aside, the MicPreEQ is a fine audio tool. The preampsounded good everywhere I put it, offering lots of clean gain. Equallyas nice was the absolutely sweet EQ section, which delivered tons oftransparent top, bushels of big bottom and everything in between. Ifound that a pair of these on the front and/or back end of a DAW is toaudio as Beluga is to caviar — truly first class.
Kevin Becka is Mix's technical editor.