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Speck Electronics MicPre 5.0
Reviewed by Dan Richards

California-based Speck Electronics, founded in 1973 by Vince Poulos, makers of the highly successful XTRAMIX line mixer and Model ASC equalizer, have released the new MicPre 5.0 Microphone Preamplifier/Mix Node. The MicPre 5.0 is an original design and packs a lot of features into a compact half-rack space and can be rackmounted and combined with the Model ASC 4-band equalizer for a powerful and versatile channel strip.

I received the MicPre 5.0 for review, and the more we use it the more we like it. I had initially thought the MicPre 5.0's price might reflect that of the Model ASC EQ, which is in the $500 - $600 range. The MicPre 5.0 lists for $998 and has been seen with a street price of $750. Considering that the MicPre 5.0 has so many features and includes its own internal power supply, the price range is more than acceptable — especially when you hear it and spend time using it. It took me a little time to get used to the white faceplate, and when I spoke with Vince Poulos about it, he said he'd never had anyone mention they'd had a problem with the white color on the Model ASC EQ. Poulos also added, "The color of the MicPre 5.0 is light gray, not white. Put a white sheet of paper beside the unit and you'll see what I mean." So, maybe I'm in the minority and it's a non-issue. One thing I find important in the design of audio equipment is that visual and tactile interaction is easy and comfortable. Visually, the MicPre 5.0 is a breeze to work with and everything is clearly marked and the metering works well. It also feels good in the hands — the knobs turn well and firmly as would be expected on quality equipment and everything is well laid out.

Look around at what's on the market and you'll be hard-pressed to find another mic pre that has the features and specs of the MicPre 5.0. When using a mic pre, you often find yourself thinking, "It'd be great if it had...." Well, in the features department the MicPre 5.0 delivers in spades. First, it's truly a high-gain mic pre with 70 dB of gain — great for low-output signals and ribbon mics. The front panel of the MicPre 5.0 includes a 1/4" DI jack, input gain knob that steps up in 5 dB increments, output trim from -10 dB to +10 dB, -20 dB pad, mic/DI selector button, 48V phantom power selector, phase reverse selector [after preamp gain stage], output switch that toggles between transformer-balanced out and active-balanced output, variable high-pass filter from 30Hz to 250Hz, high-pass filter bypass switch, 10-segment LED VU meter — and on the Mix Node section, a level knob, pan knob and a mute button.

On the rear panel is an IEC socket with 115/230 VAC voltage selector, on/off power switch, Aux DC out — for powering the Speck Model ASC EQ, Mix Link connector — for combining other MicPre 5.0's together, balanced TRS insert send and insert return, line input, balanced TRS left and right mix outputs, XLR preamp output, XLR mic input and — if that weren't enough — an O.S.P. (output signal path) switch that allows for normal operation or bypassing all non-essential circuitry to the XLR pre out.

Several engineers have been testing and using the MicPre 5.0 in real-world sessions. I think when the MicPre 5.0 first arrived a few months ago it might have gotten lost in favor of more expensive mic pres, but after a while it has gotten more and more use. Now the MicPre 5.0 gets used a lot — on almost every session.

The MicPre 5.0 is not overbearing with its own particular sonic personality; instead, it lets the source come through clearly and well-presented. It was a surprise to us when we found ourselves often reaching first for the MicPre 5.0 for a bass DI. The frequency response down to 10Hz [and up to 200KHz] certainly lends itself to a nice round and very low bass. This pre excels at capturing the nuances of acoustic guitars. I recently had a session tracking sequenced songs from a Korg Triton to RADAR, and the MicPre 5.0 was just the ticket for some of the tracks that were more bell-like and clear in tone and needed to be presented in the mix with a minimum of sonic color from the mic pre. On vocals in which an uncolored mic pre is preferred, the MicPre 5.0 sounds accurate and musical.

Features such as the variable high-pass filter and the selection of either transformer-balanced output or the active-balanced output are a pleasure to have on this mic pre and really assist in fine-tuning the sonic shape of the input signal.

The Mix Node section of the MicPre 5.0 makes this pre particulary attractive for location recording and for desktop DAW users without the need for an additional external mixer. If you're involved in A/V production or voiceover work, the MicPre 5.0 would make an excellent, economical and expandable addition to your system. If you don't need the extra capabilities of the Mix Node, don't worry about it. The mic pre section is where the business end of this box is and why you should seriously consider adding this pre to your studio. In fact, there are so many signal routing possibilties on this pre, I doubt many users ever would get around to using all of them.

If I had to make my list of things I'd change about the MicPre 5.0, I'd put a power switch on the front and — for my eyes — change the color. On the other hand, the list of what I do like about this pre is as long as my arm. I highly recommend the MicPre 5.0 and would place it as the most feature-laden mic pre available under $1,000.

For more info, visit speck.com

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