Mercury Grand PreQ15s

Mar 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Brandon Hickey

Versatile Old/New-Style Preamp With EQ


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Mercury PreQ15s

Mercury Recording Equipment Co. is the brainchild of David Marquette, founder of Marquette Audio Labs. Since 1994, Marquette Audio Labs has been giving new homes to classic console components in custom, rack-mounted housings, fit for the modern studio. Having a strong familiarity with vintage gear, Marquette began creating handmade, modern tributes to his favorite designs under the brand name Mercury. His first designs addressed popular classics like the Fairchild 660 and Pultec program equalizer, but eventually led back to familiar home turf in re-creations of console components.

The GrandPreQ15s gets its name from the console preamplifier/equalizer module that inspired its design, the Calrec PQ15s. Vintage Calrec consoles are known for their distinctly British sound, resembling a Neve-like tone, but with its own unique flavor and character. Mercury’s take on this classic console echoes the original with a single mic preamplifier with a 3-band equalizer, plus highpass and lowpass filters, all between transformer-coupled inputs and outputs. The new design builds upon the original, though, with a few bells and whistles of its own.

On the Surface

The GrandPreQ15s is a single-rackspace unit with a separate DC-1 power supply, which is connected by way of a proprietary cable with a 5-pin XLR-type connector on either end. Besides the power supply connector, the back panel of the unit features two standard XLR-type connectors, one for input and one for output. The front panel updates the ergonomics of the original console-bound unit.

The unit’s input section features a coarse gain control that is detented at 12dB steps, ranging from 0 to 60 dB of gain boost. While clicking between these settings, a relatively loud thud is produced through the circuit, however Mercury’s Dave Marquette promises this issue has been addressed in later production models. The fine-gain control rests in a groove at the 12 o’clock position, at which point it has no effect. A boost or cut of 8 dB is produced by twisting to the left or right. Given this effective 16dB swing, an overlap between the coarse gain settings is produced. At first, getting the hang of setting levels using this pair of controls was a little cumbersome, but as I got familiar with the preamp’s tone and how color changed as I applied more gain, it became a more intuitive process.

An EQ With Personality

The preamplifier circuit is followed by the equalizer section, which features three bands of fixed-Q equalization, as well as highpass and lowpass filters. The three bands—named Treble, Presence and Bass—are distributed from left to right in this order. Though this arrangement appears backward when compared with a modern, rackmounted equalizer, it is important to note that, were this a console channel strip, the highs would likely be on top, and thus, swung 90 degrees, they are now on the left. I’ll admit that more than once I reached for the wrong knob when attempting to make an adjustment, but I’m sure that purists would complain if it were any other way.

It took me a few tries to get used to the EQ. There is subtle overlap in the Presence and Treble, but a gap from 160 Hz to 350 Hz between the Presence and the Bass. A few times, I idly searched for something around 250 Hz and came up short. The two upper bands exhibited a bandwidth that seemed tight and focused, which made the effect seem subtle until the boost or cut became more pronounced, but there was more than enough boost or cut for it to get the job done. It didn’t feel like the API EQ, which has a fixed Q but narrows its bandwidth as gain is increased. Instead, the higher bands seemed consistently tight, while the Bass band seemed subtly wider. The equalizer’s character, however, had a distinct personality, producing interesting overtones and musical effects uncommon in a more sterile, modern, utilitarian equalizer.

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