Phoenix Audio DRS-2 Mic Preamp/DI
Reviewed by Dan Richards
The DRS-2 is a Class A dual microphone preamplifier and DI. I've seen this unit in forums and discussions often being confused with the crop of Neve emulators now on the market. For the record, the DRS-2 is designed from the ground up and is a completely original concept. Phoenix Audio established the company in 1996 to provide a British service for owners of pre-1980 Neve recording consoles. From this comes an awesome heritage and a stage well-suited to launch original Class A designs. Phoenix Audio is now an American company, with all manufacturing and distribution done in California.
The DRS-2 lists for $2,199. The first thing I noticed when pulling the DRS-2 from its packaging is that this unit is built like a tank. There's even a "mystique" to the DRS-2 that I usually find only on more vintage gear.
The input gain knobs are stepped up in 5 dB increments from 30 dB to 70 dB with fine adjustments being made on the output-gain knob. A great touch and convenience on the DRS-2 is the inclusion of XLR mic inputs on the front, not just the back. Also included on the front panel are a -30 dB pad and an Earth lift button, as well as 1/4" TRS DI inputs and a power switch. My only initial gripe about the DRS-2 is the metering LEDs, which consist of a single green light and a single yellow light. But after further use these proved surprisingly informative and more accurate than a VU meter. The LED metering is a true PPM approach, with the green and yellow lights corresponding with the BBC's meter at "4" and "6".
The DRS-2 is large and heavy for a single-rackspace unit, and is almost 12" deep. The paint job alone is serious and caught my attention.
The DRS-2 started life as a design for a DI. With a Dsop2 output stage and transformerless input stage, the DRS sounds open with its increased frequency response, and unlike slower transformer-based inputs, the DRS-2 is fast and yields rich details in the imagery and depth of the tracks recorded. The DRS-2 also has a "valve-like" quality to it, and when I commented about that Phoenix Audio replied, "The "valve-like" qualities of the DRS-2 are far from accidental. An appropriate design with Class A discrete circuitry can achieve this type of sound."
The overall sound of the DRS-2 is big, warm and airy. The extended frequency response shines on vocals and when used with mics that aren't shoved right up to the source. It gives the recorded tracks room to breathe. The DRS-2 was full and round on our DI sessions with a Lakeland P&J bass. A design specification that shouldn't go unnoticed is the truly balanced input stage, which allows for the grounding of either leg with no loss of dB. We normally find a 6dB loss on most other discrete and IC-based input stages, but not with the DRS-2. On guitar amps it brought out the "crunch" with a Shure SM57 in the cone and also the "tone" and "air" from a large condenser placed a few feet back and off-center from the speaker. The DRS-2 perfectly complements our collection of punchy API pres. We found the transformerless input stage more than ample even for signals with inherently fast transient attacks, such as drum overheads and percussion. Even with ribbon mics, the gain is more than enough while still remaining quiet and crytal clear.
Another plus is that the gain input knobs do not make an audible clicking sound while in use. The DRS-2 has been nothing but a pleasure to use on every session since we received the unit in for evaluation.
An interesting "quirk" of the DRS-2 is that both the sets of XLR inputs in the front as well as the back remain active, making it possible to run two mics into the same channel simultaneously. Of course the loads will change, but there's no reason you couldn't run four mics at once if it strikes your fancy. Phoenix Audio commented, "We saw no reason to not leave them open. Perhaps someone will find some interesting applications."
For a single-channel version, see the DRS-1. I offered some criticism to Phoenix Audio on many of the half-rack and third-rack units available that I, and many others, couldn't rack up in our 19" rack cases. Based on that suggestion the new DRS-1 also offers an optional 19" rackmountable faceplate.
The DRS-2 is one the smartest and most original designs I've seen in a microphone preamplifier/DI. The exceptional frequency response and faster slew rate of a transformerless input stage coupled with a Class A discrete output stage sporting a custom-designed output transformer is truly a perfect marriage of different worlds and proves more versatile over more applications than most mic pres on the market.
The more I use the DRS-2 and the more I learn about Phoenix Audio, the more I become a fan of this company and their products. We've had many preamps in for review, and I was so impressed with the DRS-2 sent for evaluation that I bought the unit.
For more info, visit phoenixaudio.net