Field Test: De Medio DME103 Mic Pre

Dec 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Erik Zobler

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The DME103 Microphone Preamp is manufactured by Frank De Medio, who has a long history of circuit and console design. In the late 1960s, he partnered with Wally Heider to design and install numerous consoles in Heider's Los Angeles and San Francisco studios. His console at Sunset Sound in L.A. is one of the best-sounding that I have ever heard. With this in mind, I was very interested to hear his new outboard preamp.

Microphone preamplifiers seem to come in two flavors these days: modern designs with lots of bells and whistles (such as EQ, dynamics and A/D converters) and vintage designs, which tend to take a more minimalist approach. The DME103 falls firmly in the vintage category with its large knobs, simple chrome switches (for phantom power) and very familiar-looking VU meters. However, the DME103 is not a replica of any other preamp. It is a modern design delivered in a vintage box.

The 103 uses a Jensen input transformer and a differential output. It has a maximum output of 28 dBu (i.e., 24 dB of headroom above “console 0”). The frequency response of the amp is 10 Hz to 50 kHz, ±½ dB. The unit I reviewed has a maximum gain of 67 dB. It has a four-position stepped attenuator, providing 0, -10, -20 and -30 dB of input padding. However, based on feedback from his clients, De Medio has added two more attenuation positions at -40 and -50 dB. It has a variable level controller with 14 dB of gain. One nice “modern” accent is the LED illumination of the meters — no more replacing incandescent bulbs.

Operating the 103 is simple: Set the attenuator and gain control so that the VU meter is operating in its normal range, and you're done. The first test I put the DME103 through was at Sunset Sound. Unfortunately, the room with the De Medio console was undergoing cosmetic renovation, so I was not able to compare the new preamp to the console preamp. Working on Studio 2's 8088 Neve, I set levels and EQ on drummer “Little John” Roberts' overhead mics and got a pretty nice sound; how can you go wrong with a pair of C-12s and a Neve console?

When I changed over to the 103 preamp, the first word out of my mouth was, “Wow!” I was particularly impressed with the smoothness of the upper midrange. When I went back and forth, the Neve preamps sounded as if they had sandpaper in them. Don't get me wrong, I liked the sound I had dialed up with the Neve pre's, but the 103s sounded much clearer and more transparent. I also noticed that I was able to back off the high-end EQ that I was adding to the Neve mic preamps. Because the DMEs already sounded cleaner, I didn't need as much EQ to “open up” the mics.

De Medio claims that he designed his preamp to be completely transparent, no matter where the input attenuator is set, and that it does not color the sound in any way. With the help of a nimble-fingered assistant, I listened to different settings on the 103, each time matching the volume (with different pad settings) as quickly as possible. The DME103 input pad is the first I have heard (or not heard) that did not sacrifice audio quality when engaged.

Additional listening tests involved recording a cello and a violin with a matched pair of Microtech Gefell 296s placed as closely to each other as possible. The preamps were then level-matched and recorded directly to Pro Tools|HD at 192 kHz. I recorded multiple passes, each time comparing one channel of the DME103 to one channel of a GML, a Millennia STTI and a Mastering Lab mic pre. The STTI (set on vacuum tube and transformer input) was more pronounced in the upper mids. The GML was a little warmer or fuller, and the Mastering Lab seemed a bit more colored, albeit in a good way. All of these microphone preamps are top-quality units, and the 103 compared very well to them. If I made the analogy that preamps are like windows through which you view the sound of your mics, I would even go as far to say that De Medio's preamp is like a window without the glass.

Some things I would like to see on this unit are phase invert switches and an overload indicator. Although the aluminum case is certainly strong enough, the unit is quite light and a beefier case wouldn't hurt.

De Medio calls his preamplifier “nondigital.” The 103's frequency response goes well beyond the limits of the brickwall filters used in A/D converters when operating at standard sampling frequencies. It is designed to faithfully reproduce and amplify analog signals well beyond the normal audio frequency range of 20 to 20k Hz.

De Medio describes himself as belonging to the old guard. “We listen to the high end,” he says. “It has to be clear, it has to be there and it has to be clean.” After listening to his DME103, I have to agree that his preamp has achieved those goals.

The DME103 has a suggested list price of $2,500.

De Medio Engineering, 818/768-2296, www.demedioengineering.com.


Erik Zobler grew up in New York, partied in Boulder, Colo., demonstrated in San Francisco and eventually migrated to Los Angeles, where he learned the ancient art: “The Way of the Tonemeister.” You can meditate with him at ezobler@socal.rr.com.






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