Field Test: Geoffrey Daking MicPreEQ

Jan 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Kevin Becka

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In the early 1990s, when Geoffrey Daking heard that many engineers were growing increasingly dissatisfied with newer audio gear, he decided to find out why. Most new equipment, he deduced, missed some of the basic ingredients that gave “vintage” gear its character, and with this in mind, Daking went to work on a line of products aimed at the high-end market. The theme behind his brainchildren became “Good design will not be overruled by bookkeeping,” and in the years since, there's been no looking back. I reviewed the newest member of the product family, the MicPreEQ.

INSIDE AND OUT


The MicPreEQ packs a lot of good, clean signal path into a single-rackspace unit. Inside, the box is all-discrete and Class-A, utilizing top-quality transformers, precision capacitors and low-distortion inductors. All switches and pots are PC board-mounted and have a tight, solid feel; Daking uses hefty anodized, engraved aluminum knobs of his own design. The board uses through-hole construction rather than surface-mount, and is housed in a stainless-steel chassis, providing maximum shielding from external nasties. True to form, no audio runs through the mute, phase, pad or bypass switches; those functions are performed through relays using gold contacts.

Frequency response is an impressive ±1 dB from 10 Hz to 42 kHz and is down -3 dB at 56 kHz. Both mic and line inputs are transformer-balanced, with the mic side's impedance set at 1,200 ohms, while the line side runs above 15k ohms. Even the faceplate screams quality: There's a 10mm polycarbonate layer between the printing and the operator's fingers, ensuring long-lasting labels.

A continuously variable output attenuator is located on the front-left, right next to a 10-position mic/line gain switch incremented in 5dB steps. I much prefer this layout rather than having the attenuator to the far right. Mic gain is from -15 to -60 dB, while line gain is from +1 to -35 dB. The EQ section has four adjustable bands, each providing ±15 dB of boost/cut. High-shelving EQ is notched at 8k, 10k, 12k, 15k and 20k with a switchable lowpass filter fixed at 20k (6 dB per octave). The choices for the high-mid section are 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 the whole section can be bypassed using the lighted switch to the unit's far 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 a recording project. I used the preamp by itself with a variety of mics and it was remarkable. The MicPreEQ especially shined when used with an AEA R84 ribbon mic, delivering all of the clean gain I needed, even on the quietest instruments. I used the unit on two different acoustic guitars and found that the highpass filter and low EQ section deftly pulled out any boom, leaving a nice, clean top that didn't need extra help. Upright bass was beautiful, percussion was perfect (especially with a touch of top from the EQ section) and vocals were vibrant. Time and time again, the Daking delivered.

What I liked most was that the preamp side was so clean, I didn't feel the need to use EQ as a fix. Mic placement solved a lot of problems, which is as it should be. When I did use the EQ, I noticed that a little goes a long way. I was surprised at how even a small adjustment made a large addition to any frequency I boosted or cut. I found myself backing it off a little and adding bits and touches, which in my book is a good thing. Finally, I used the box as a back-end analog sweetener for my mixes. I found myself adding just a touch of top and bottom for the last audio glance before I burned my mixes to an Alesis MasterLink. This application sold me on the idea that Dakings should 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 beefs about the MicPreEQ. There is no power “On” light on the unit. When troubleshooting, I had to reach over to pop on the lighted mute or bypass switch to eliminate the possibility that the unit wasn't powered. It's a minor issue, but a confidence LED designating power would make things easier for the user. The other item I missed was a direct instrument input on the front of the box. I would have loved to use the Daking as a quick bass DI/preamp box when tracking, but in the heat of the session, I found myself going with other more convenient options rather than climbing behind the unit to connect a freestanding DI.

All that aside, the MicPreEQ is a fine audio tool. The preamp sounded good everywhere I put it, offering lots of clean gain. Equally as nice was the absolutely sweet EQ section, which delivered tons of transparent top, bushels of big bottom and everything in between. I found that a pair of these on the front and/or back end of a DAW is to audio as Beluga is to caviar — truly first class.

Geoffrey Daking & Co. Inc., dist. by Transamerica Audio Group, 702/365-5155, www.transaudiogroup.com, www.daking.com.


Kevin Becka is Mix's technical editor.






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