Universal Audio 4-710d Preamp/DIs Review

May 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Kevin Becka

FOUR TUBE/SOLID-STATE UNITS WITH 8-CHANNEL A/D CONVERTER

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The 4-710d preamps offer all the features of Universal Audio’s 710 Twin-Finity, plus compressors on each channel.

The 4-710d preamps offer all the features of Universal Audio’s 710 Twin-Finity, plus compressors on each channel.

I first had the opportunity to review Universal Audio’s 710 Twin-Finity in the summer of 2009. I found it to be a versatile, affordable and innovative take on the tube vs. solid-state preamp. The only complaint I had at the time was that it didn’t come in stereo. Well, I got my wish and more in the 4-710d. This 4-channel preamp offers all the features of the 710, but adds compressors on each channel; switchable inserts; an 8-channel, digital A/D converter with ADAT optical and AES/EBU DB-25 outputs; an ultra-low-jitter clock subsystem; word clock I/O; soft limiting; and variable sample rates up to 192 kHz, 24 bits.

The 4-710d has all the bells and whistles of its single-channel predecessor. Each preamp has a DI input and six switches bookending the analog meter for phantom on/off, -15dB pad, mic/line, meter switching (output/GR/drive), low-cut (75 Hz) and polarity. Two switches below the meter engage the insert and compressor with either slow or fast attack/release. As on the 710, there are pots for input and output gain, and blend between solid-state and tube. The back panel carries XLR mic in, line in, line out and balanced insert send/returns on TRS plugs. There are also four extra TRS inputs for the extra line inputs. In my sessions, this offered a handy way to get other line inputs into the digital back end of the unit. The digital side of things has AES/EBU outs on a D-Sub connector, word clock I/O and twin ADAT outs that are mirrored at 44.1 and 48 kHz, 4+4 at 88.2 and 96 kHz, and 2+2 at 176.4 and 192 kHz.

ALL AROUND THE STUDIO
I first used the 4-710d in a surround recording session. As I needed five preamps, I brought a 710 Twin-Finity along and ran its output into one of the first of the four extra line-ins in the back of the 4-710d. My hookup to Pro Tools used the optical output of the 4-710d, which I ran into the optical input of an Avid 96 I/O interface. To lock the system’s clocks, I ran a short 75-ohm BNC cable from the clock output of the 96 I/O to the word clock input of the 4-710d and the “lock” light on the front of the unit immediately confirmed all was good.

Five sE Electronics sE3 microphones were patched into the preamps, and Pro Tools saw all five on a single 5-channel track. Levels were set, and I used the rig to record acoustic guitar, conga and vocals. While I didn’t use the individual compressors (because I only had four), I did use the soft-limiter option with great results. These are set at a threshold of -3 dBFS with an infinite ratio and attack time of 0.075 and release time of 100 ms. The manual states, “Although the limiter will help prevent ‘digital overs’ [A/D clipping] during conversion, it is not a ‘brick wall’ limiter. It is still possible to clip the A/D input.” I’m usually conservative with my DAW levels anyway, but I did find that no matter where my levels went, they never showed red in Pro Tools, even when I tried to overload the input on purpose. All I know is that it sounded great when I set the limiter to “on” and I ran my levels moderately as usual.

What was most telling on this session was that I ran the same song and mic setup without the 4-710d earlier in the day. I used the preamps on the Avid C|24 and 192 I/O converters, and the difference was stark. The 4-710ds offered a much clearer picture of the high-end detail of the vocals and acoustic guitar. The sound of the player’s fingers on the strings sat higher in the track and the overall effect was more musical across all tracks. Vocals had more detail and hit the reverb better, but also had the body in the midrange that was needed to keep it from sounding thin. Whether it was the converters, preamps or a combination of both, it worked. Bravo on all fronts.






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