True Audio Systems Precision 8 Microphone Preamplifier
by J. Arif Verner
The world of microphone preamps has become fairly crowded in the last few years. Prices range from a couple of hundred bucks to well into the thousands. There is, however, always room for a new product from a new manufacturer with a new idea. The case in point is True Audio Systemâs eight-channel microphone preamp.
Many companies have addressed the growing MDM and DAW markets with eight-channel preamps. In addition to studio recording, these units serve double duty as live sound reinforcement. Surprisingly, the amount of money to manufacture an eight-channel unit is not four times that for a dual-channel unit.
Hand-built in Arizona, the Precision 8 ($2,695 retail) uses a high-voltage composite architecture with discrete matched transistors and premium integrated circuits. By using a balanced twin servo design, the preamp eliminates nearly all capacitors from the audio path. Many of the components are military-grade and hand-matched for optimum performance.
The Precision 8âs front panel has a slick metallic-red finish. Eight smooth rotary knobs adjust the gain for each channel. Settings range from 16 dB to 64 dB. The knobs are labeled in 5 dB increments. While helpful, the increments are only approximate and make the front panel look crowded. Many manufacturers do not put numeric values on the face of their preamps. On the plus side, these are not stepped gain control knobs. It is possible, therefore, to ride the level in a session.
To the left of each knob is a five-segment LED meter with selectable peak hold. These meters provide a means for optimizing level settings and headroom when the Precision 8 is connected to a remote device (multitrack recorder, mixing console, DAT, etc.).
The bottom two green LEDs light sequentially when audio hits -24 dBu (signal present) and when signals rise above +4 dBu. The next two yellow lights activate when signals rise within 6 dB and 3 dB of the level selected for the top red LED peak indicator. The level for the peak indicator is set by adjusting a small peak reference rotary knob. Incremental settings are in five steps from +18 dBu to +26 dBu. The knob can change the preampâs operating level indicators from +4 dBu to -10 dBV. A reset button clears the peak hold and overload indicators on all eight channels.
To the left of each meter are two square buttons that handle 48 V phantom power and polarity reverse. Above the buttons is an overload LED indicator. This illuminates and stays lit at +26 dBu (5 dB below the actual overload). Also on the front panel is a circular M/S (mid/side) decoding button for Channels 1 and 2.
All in all, the front panel is a bit busy. At first glance, it is hard to differentiate which button goes with which channel ÷ if there were vertical lines separating each channel it would clarify which controls are included in each channel.
Spin the box around and there are a plethora of input and output connectors. Eight inputs support balanced XLR microphone cables. Channels 7 and 8 also have 1/4" unbalanced phone jacks for direct input instruments. Guitar players rejoice! I wish all preamps had DI inputs. The gain on the direct input ranges from 4 to 44 dB. And yes, they are very clean.
Outputs include eight balanced 1/4" TRS and a DB25 eight-channel connector. Both output connectors function simultaneously. With all these outputs there is a lot of flexibility. An AC power entry connector with fuse drawer and a signal ground lift switch completes the preamp.
The built-in M/S decoder is a unique feature of the Precision 8. Basically, M/S is a specialized stereo microphone configuration. The first microphone is positioned in the center using an omni or forward-facing cardioid. This is the midposition. The second microphone is a coincident, side-facing figure-eight mic. The signals from both microphones are routed through the Precision 8âs matrix circuitry. Accurate phase and level relationships are assured by a proprietary matrix circuit that uses no additional active circuitry or transformers.
M/S miking is nothing new. It was originally used to provide mono compatibility to stereo images and film production. By adjusting the gain of the side microphone in relation to the mid-microphone, the width of the stereo image can be expanded or contracted (without changing the microphone placement). In fact, many engineers prefer the sonic quality of an M/S configuration to the traditional X-Y position.
My main test was to A/B the Precision 8 with a Millennia Media HV 3B (roughly the same price). Interestingly, certain microphones sounded better on each preamp. For example, an AKG SolidTube microphone and a 414 sounded better on the Precision 8. The AT 4050, however, sounded better with the Millennia Media, while Neumann 184s sounded great on both. I also compared both units to the Earthworks Lab 102 preamp with its QTC1 microphones. While the Earthworks mics and preamp are an excellent combination, I liked the Millennia Media and the Precision 8 better.
Sonically, the Precision 8 displayed a warm, round and slightly tube-like quality, while the Millennia Media was transparent and airy. Both preamps have an accurate 3D soundstage. On the plus side, the Millennia Media had a hotter gain structure, which I liked. On the downside, the Millenniaâs knobs are detented and there are no phase switches. As for the Precision 8, I liked the eight channels, the M/S decoder and the two DIs. I was a bit surprised at how much heat it cooks up ÷ allow extra space for it in the rack.
I put the Precision 8 to work on a variety of acoustic instruments, church organs and lead vocals. It was always clean and accurate. We also recorded a large vocal ensemble. Five mics were positioned in the auditorium. Two of the mics were set up for
M S tracking. The results were simply stunning. The head engineer on this project said the Precision 8 was in the same league as the preamps in his Neve VR console.
The Precision 8 is currently being distributed by Neumann USA. This should create name recognition for True Audio Systems. The bottom line for any piece of audio gear, however, is the sonic quality, and the Precision 8 excels. At a retail price of $2,695, it is quite a bargain. This divides out to $336.88 per channel ÷ hard to beat. But donât just take my word for it, audition the Precision 8 for yourself.
J. Arif Verner is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.
True Audio Systems Precision 8 Mic Preamp
Applications: Recording studio live sound reinforcement
Key Features: Built-in M/S decoder; two active, high-impedance instrument inputs; five-segment level indicators with peak hold feature and selectable peak reference
Very clean, detailed and articulated sound
M/S decoder circuitry
Two FET direct instrument inputs
Integral power supply (no wallwart)
No attenuation pad
Busy front panel; hard to see which button goes with which channel
"The Precision 8 offers great bang for the buck and awesome sonic quality."