Skip to main content

hi guys, i'm slowly nutting out exactly what stuff i want for my studio, and in terms of mic preamps, there's a lot of "must have" vintage classics, but i don't see a lot of discussion on nice clean modern units. so i was wondering what you guys consider the ultimate pre of this kind. the one i was considering was the Avalon ad2022, but i've since heard some bad things about it. this thing should be very transparent and although i don't have unlimited funds, i want the "if money is no object" response from you guys. ideas anyone?

Topic Tags


KurtFoster Sun, 03/27/2005 - 15:49

Look for pres that do not have transformers on the inputs or outputs if you want "transparent" (uncolored) performance. Transformers bump the low end a bit and can introduce tiny amounts of distortion. I like that but I would hardly call them accurate, uncolored or "modern". I call them mic pres "that sound good", meaning they add a sonic signature.

The vintage and boutique type pres like the Neves, Daking, Focusrite Red and in some instances John Hardys all use at minimum, transformers to accept a balanced input. Some also have transformers across the outputs as well.

The Daking is a "Trident type", the Focusrite Red is Neves answer to the API approach and some of the more desirable Hardys have Jensen transformers across the input.

It's the electronically balanced pres like GML, True System, Millennia and the Grace 201, that are usually considered to be "transparent" uncolored or as you put it "modern" designs.

JWHardy Mon, 03/28/2005 - 12:36

...and in some instances John Hardys all use at minimum, transformers to accept a balanced input.

My mic preamps always have an input transformer, the Jensen JT-16-B. This is Jensen's best mic input transformer, and I consider it the best mic input transformer on the planet.

Thank you.

John Hardy
The John Hardy Co.

JWHardy Mon, 03/28/2005 - 15:24


Yes, it is the output transformers that are optional. I use the Jensen JT-11-BMQ, their best output transformer. I consider this the best output transformer on the planet. They don't list this particular model on their site (long story), but it is essentially the same as the JT-11-BMCF:


John Hardy
The John Hardy Co.

KurtFoster Mon, 03/28/2005 - 15:34

I have just spent the last hour going through the article links on John Hardys web site, .

There's some very good stuff there explaining all the things I have been so woefully inadequate at relating for quite a while.

I heartily recommend that anyone really interested in what goes into the make up of great mic pres take a look, especially the article titled; [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]"Outboard pre amps. What's the deal?[/]="…"]"Outboard pre amps. What's the deal?[/] 8-) :!:

That all out of the way, .... John, if you are still following the thread, I would love to do a review of your pres .. I have been trying to get an e mail to you but I keep getting failed message reports.

anonymous Tue, 03/29/2005 - 02:49

thanks for all the replies guys. i've been reading that different pres are good for different mics on different sources, which makes sense. so i've been thinking about what mics i'll be using for what, and i came up with this:

kick: m88
snare top: sm57 + one pencil from a pair, not sure what kind yet
snare bot: sm57
hats: the other pencil
toms: md421
overheads: b&k/dpa 4011s or 4003s
room: korby kat4
bass cabs: m88
gtr amps: r121/421/57
acoustic gtr: b&k/dpa 4011s or 4003s
vocals: korby kat4/rode k2

based on this, can anyone recomend a type of pre for each of these mic and source combos? i'm pretty sure i'll get some of the chandler gear. maybe the tg2 and ltd-1? i'm pretty well read on the kinds of pres available now, but the studio i worked in had only the console pres, and one n72, so my hands on experience is practically non existant for picking and choosing them for specific sources. any suggestions at all with this would be greatly appreciated.


KurtFoster Tue, 03/29/2005 - 11:42

kick: m88
snare top: sm57 + one pencil from a pair, not sure what kind yet
snare bot: sm57
hats: the other pencil
toms: md421
overheads: b&k/dpa 4011s or 4003s
room: korby kat4

API / JLM TMP 8 / Sebatron vmp

bass cabs: m88
gtr amps: r121/421/57

GR MP2NV / Neve 1076 / 1081 / Sebatron vmp

acoustic gtr: b&k/dpa 4011s or 4003s

Millennia HV-3 or Origin / Earthworks / Amek/ Neve 9098 / Sebatron vmp

vocals: korby kat4/rode k2

GR MP2NV / Millennia Origin / 9098 / API / JLM TMP8 / Sebatron vmp

Really almost any decent pre can be pressed into service on many different things. It really depends more on what the instrument sounds like, rather than what instrument it is.

A dark guitar might need something very transparent, while a brighter guitar would call for something that might warm it up a bit.

The most important thing is to just have some very good pres .. a few with color and a few that are more transparent. How much color or transparency you want, is really your call.

BTW, I think you will have a lot of phase problems with 3 mics on the snare .. I try to keep from even using a bottom mic if at all possible. Less is more, the fewer mics used the more solid the sound is. Even with tom mics, I draw out or gate everything except the actual hits, allowing the kick, snare and ohs handle most of the chores. I don't like multiple mics on the kick either and I do not use room mics when tracking. If you have a good sounding room, you can always run a feed to some speakers and re mic that. This allows much more control over what is in the "room" tracks and affords the chance to process them as you record them, with compression or supplemental reverbs / delays.

KurtFoster Wed, 03/30/2005 - 16:21

Actually the Hardy is not considered a "clean" pre .... seeng as it has a Jensen transformer on the input and the option for a jensen on the output.

The Hardy is an op amp type with a lot in common with other op amp types like the MCI pres in my old console. In fact, there was a Hardy pre designed as a direct replacement for the pres in the MCI 500 & 600 series consoles as well as the later SONY version of that design. APIs and JLM TMP 8 I liked so much are also op amp types with transformers.

I do like pres with color but I also like and have some "clean pres" like the 9098's and my Millennia ORGIN (which has the HV-3 pre).

KurtFoster Wed, 03/30/2005 - 17:44

That's an easy conclusion to arrive at and very understandable. A lot of pres with transformers and or tubes can sound clean. In some cases, preamps and even guitar and bass ampsthat actually add a tiny bit of distortion will be percived as clean sounding because of the crispness that the distortion adds... That's the principal behind sonic maximizers. This is one reason I like pres with sonic signatures ... they just have a lot more "life" in them and IMO "sound good". 8-)

JWHardy Wed, 03/30/2005 - 20:37


Actually the Hardy is not considered a "clean" pre .... seeng as it has a Jensen transformer on the input and the option for a jensen on the output.

You seem to be saying that since the M-1 has a Jensen input transformer (and, optionally, a Jensen output transformer), it CAN'T be clean.

First of all, there are transformers, and then there are Jensen transformers. I have always used Jensen transformers because I believe that they are superior to all others.

Then there are the two specific models of Jensen transformers that I use in my preamps, the JT-16-B input transformer and the JT-11-BMQ output transformer.

The Jensen JT-16-B input transformer is a very special input transformer. It has the lowest impedance ratio of all the Jensen mic-input transformers. It has a 150:600 ohms impedance ratio, compared to the 150:3.8k ohms of the JT-13K7-A transformer and the 150:15k ohms of the JT-115K-E.

In the case of a mic input transformer, the lower the impedance ratio, the better it will perform. Therefore, the JT-16-B has the widest bandwidth, most linear phase response, lowest distortion, etc, of all the Jensen mic input models. Therefore, the JT-16-B has the widest bandwidth, most linear phase response and lowest distortion of all the mic input transformers in the known universe (IMHO). The low impedance ratio is an ideal match to the noise characteristics of the 990 discrete op-amp, making the M-1 and my other preamp products among the quietest preamps available. The only trade-off is that the low ratio only provides 5.6dB of voltage gain, compared to 20dB for the high-ratio JT-115K-E.

The JT-11-BMQ output transformer (essentially the same as the JT-11-BMCF) is the very best of the Jensen output transformers. That makes it the very best output transformer in the known universe (IMHO).

Jensen uses an 80% nickel core material, not steel as so many other transformer companies do. Even then, there are stringent tests that each batch of core material must pass to be accepted by Jensen. There are several sources of 80% nickel laminations, but they are not all equal. Nickel is far superior to steel, but requires a larger core to handle the same maximum signal levels as steel, and nickel is much more expensive than steel.

I often get compliments along the lines of "The M-1 is a very accurate preamp, but it has a certain character that I really like." More often than not, a customer prefers the sound of the preamp with the optional JT-11-BMQ output transformer.

You've been listening to too many Neve and API preamps!

John Hardy
The John Hardy Co.

Davedog Thu, 03/31/2005 - 00:30

John SURELY likes his transformers! As do I. The unit in question that I heard and used was incorporated into a Sony MXP-3000 console.I heard it side by side with the stock pres there, and while I did NOT say it didnt have some 'color', it was certainly accurate and in my ear this relates to 'CLEAN' can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay,.....Words used in the description of sonic events are pretty much restricted to the ear of the beholder.....I stand ready, as are others, for the forthcoming revue.

So Kev, what does your JLM do for your sound? I wonder if John has heard or tested a JLM?I certainly liked everything about them that I got to hear....Seemed to be on the 'very well done list'.

KurtFoster Thu, 03/31/2005 - 09:15

JWHardy wrote: Kurt;

You seem to be saying that since the M-1 has a Jensen input transformer (and, optionally, a Jensen output transformer), it CAN'T be clean ..... You've been listening to too many Neve and API preamps!

John Hardy
The John Hardy Co.

Oh, not at all. I haven't had the chance to hear your pres yet so I'm not making any assumptions. I have heard them discribed by an associate as "organic" however. I am looking forward to hearing the M-1 in action.

I wanted to ask you how similar / dis similar are the M-1's to the stock pres in the MCI 600 consoles?

Thanks , KF

Kev Thu, 03/31/2005 - 12:25

Davedog wrote: So Kev, what does your JLM do for your sound? I wonder if John has heard or tested a JLM?

I don't think John would have any JLM stuff as he may be too busy looking at his own development work.

As for me, I do have a few pieces BUT no complete single JLM product. AS you know , I tend to DIY a lot.

So I have a few of the JLM99v opamps and a few of Joe's PCB's and am currently putting a few Mic-pres together that are as near as possible TOTAL JLM product.
... some DI and switch kits.
the DI project
I also have 4 of the new output transformers.
These look very cool and will probably suite a few configurations and projects.

For some reason I missed out on the input transformer in my last delivery ??

It will take me a while but there will be a good run down of ALL that I'm up to, at my main DIY web site .... soon to be open. Much is there now but you have to know the direct links.

JWHardy Thu, 03/31/2005 - 12:44

I wanted to ask you how similar / dis similar are the M-1's to the stock pres in the MCI 600 consoles?

Actually, I'm having trouble recalling exactly what the stock MCI 600 series preamps were like. I may have one here, but it would take days to find. Same with a schematic for it. If I find one or the other, I will comment further.

But I will speculate. I THINK the stock MCI 600 series preamps are transformerless. I think they use 5534 op-amps, or perhaps 5532. There may be an LM394 supermatched transistor pair at the front end of the circuit. There are coupling capacitors in the signal path, including blocking capacitors at the inputs to block the phantom supply from getting into the preamp circuitry, a gain-pot coupling capacitor and an output coupling capacitor. So, the stock cards are very different conceptually from my M-1 and MPC-600 card (direct replacement for the stock MCI preamp) which use the Jensen JT-16-B input transformer, the 990 discrete op-amp and have no coupling capacitors.

On the other hand, the stock MCI 600 console preamps may have used a Jensen JE-115K-E input transformer (the highest impedance ratio model that Jensen makes), 5534 or 5532 op-amp and coupling capacitors. If that is the case, there would obviously be differences in the performance of the transformers, op-amps and the presence/absence of coupling capacitors. I'm still leaning toward the previous description.

I also make a card for the MCI 500C series consoles. I know that the stock preamps use the JE-115K-E and 5534 op-amp. The 500D series consoles have two variations, one that uses the "C" series preamps and another with a different connector arrangement and a transformerless design. My MPC-500C card works in the 500C series consoles and SOME of the D series consoles, those that have the "C" type of mic preamp. Since MCI was making a transition from transformer coupled to transformerless in the 500 series, it may be that the 600 series was destined to be transformerless as well. But they may have been offering more choices.

But, I don't have total recall with the MCI 500 series either. Anyone else is welcome to correct me or fill in the gaps. Thank you.

John Hardy
The John Hardy Co.

anonymous Thu, 03/31/2005 - 15:46

Posted: Thu Mar 31, 2005 2:08 pm

I would like to know what changed your mind about the avalon ad2022 pre?

the advertising literature calls it the rolls royce of mic pres, so i thought, well if it is, i'll get one. so i started asking around, and an engineer whose opinion i trust told me the only thing avalon make worth having is the U5 DI. that same day i got home and read on one of these forums about someones gear choice, or a studio upgrade or something, and out of quite a modest setup, someone pointed out the ad2022 as the weak link. since that day i kind of forgot about the 2022. what i wanted was a pre as pure as snow. i asked around again, and now i'm looking at the gordon model 5. going from memory, it's a similar price, and i've not heard a bad thing about it. of course...i could find out something that would screw it up for me again...anyone?

anonymous Sun, 06/05/2005 - 19:17

Ahh yes...the power of reviews.

As Kurt has said before, this internet thing is very powerful, and can make or break a before it has even been experienced by any number of people.

Reviews are so valuable as a starting point, but it's when people start making rash decisions and not trusting their own (trained) ears that the 'review' can start to get in the way of an otherwise sound purchase.

I've certainly been a review junky here and there...but I've spent a few years weening myself off just reviews, and only use them as a very broad starting point now. Everyones ears and tastes and levels of operation are different, and there are so many variables that come into the equation, that it is almost impossible for a single review to work for more than a number of people.

Not getting me are incredibly handy, especially when multiple reviews concurr. Even then, you have to be careful of who wrote the review, their level of expertise, and whether they too are just following the general consensus on a product.

Here for instance, we have different levels of expertise. Kurt for instance most people can trust not only because he sound like he knows what he's on about :) , but mainly because he has a BIO / Resume that we can all see in the moderator section that tells us his credentials and the level his ears and experience have reached. The same might go for say Paul White of SOS, or any number of people who review products in publications... we can have a certain amount of trust placed there due to their experience and standing in the industry.

There are so many anonymous reviews's easy to get mislead. And there are so many reviewws full stop, it's easy sometimes to get bogged down reading, and not listening...which is ultimately the only real way to decide if you like a piece of AUDIO gear that makes NOISE. or at least allows noise to pass through it. i.e: You don't read signal, you hear it.

sorry to rant off topic... back to pre's

TeddyG Tue, 06/07/2005 - 08:19

The John Hardy have been on my wish list for some time now - recommended by my long-time friend Helena Schroyer, at Creative Sound Studios, in PA... I need only a single channel, but I do still wonder..?

There are quite a few options for the JH pre's.

What I "think" I want is a single channel JH/Jensen, with "the best" Jensen xfmrs on both input and output - sometimes... Inotherwords I would like "one with everything to go", with the OPTION of switching out(out to what?) the fancy Jensen output xfmr if I like - feeling that that might be the most "colorful" part..? The output xfmr seems to be the big difference between the JH and the Jensen branded models on the site. I would like to be able to switch between the two "concepts" as I desired.

I also believe I'd like to have the "stepped" pot, as I need repeatability more than I need the ultimate in versatility(I think I do..?). I do voiceover exclusively.

Do I want the 20db mic pad or the "20 ohm mic" switch? I'm not exactly sure what that is..? I use no ribbon mics currently, though I'd like to eventually have one. Is that what it's for?)

I would sure value your properly xfrmd input, Mr. Hardy.

Teddy G.

anonymous Tue, 06/07/2005 - 09:15

Hey Kurt, if I'm not too late on this one I'd love to hear some valve mics through the JHD (did you end up getting the review model?) Specifically the U87, Rode Classic or Classic II and Rode K2.

Just a wish list, feel free to ignore it completely but since you asked.. ;-)

I always loved the Yamaha DM2000 mic pres for "transparency" so when I heard that they were flogging 2 of them on the i88x I/O box I got one.. and since the mLan thing seemed cool I got an 01x too, but that's another story... anyway, the i88x is going for about $400USD for you lucky buggers in the US of A and you get heaps of other I/O as well as the 2 DM2000 derived mic pres. These are now my reference for "clean" mic pres, I use it mostly with my valve mics and the sound is unbelievable.