Name me any boutique, high-end, tube preamp that has been on the market for over 30 years. That's right, Demeter's VTMP is the only one that's been around that long. I remember using one in a local studio over 17 years ago, and while not having enough time to properly evaluate it, I recognized that there was some serious sound quality happening. These days, I'm spoiled at Jackpot! My (rare) Hamptone Silverbox 4 [Tape Op #55] is a tube preamp powerhouse, and the depth and response it pulls out of sources and mics is astounding. I've never heard a solid-state preamp that can come close, though I love solid-state for many uses. My Pendulum Audio Quartet channel strip [#32] also features a quality tube preamp, and pretty much every vocal I've tracked for the last 14 years has been through the Quartet. When James Demeter [#49, #108] sent over the VTMP-2B for me to check out, I took my time. By spending time with a new piece of gear, and integrating it into my workflow, I get a real sense of its value. I don't take any of my outboard gear for granted, nor do I blindly trust it, and lately I've been replacing a lot of equipment that has annoyed me due to sound quality, reliability, or functionality issues.

It took a while to warm up to the VTMP-2B, so to speak. The plain-looking, low-cost plastic knobs and the thin-metal front plate (that flexes every time you activate a rocker switch) don't necessarily give off a sense of quality build. James sent me his thoughts on this: "I was a very small, one-person company, so for the first units, I used an Instafab chassis that I hand-drilled. The first 20 or so all looked a little different. We kept the basic chassis design when we started our own fabrication, as the units were easy to store. The fact that almost all of the 3000+ preamps we made of this model are still in use gives a good idea of the real quality of the design."

Once I had gotten over my misguided prejudice and used it on a number of sources — vocals, upright piano, drum overheads, and acoustic guitars — I gained a massive respect for the quality of this preamp. Features include the usual: phantom power, high-pass filter, polarity reverse, −20 dB pad, and a 1/4'' DI with an input-selection switch. The overall gain is controlled by a three-step gain switch and a big, round, attenuation knob; and an overload LED provides warning of high levels (which I've yet to see light up). The back panel has the typical XLR I/O (plus a switch for pin-2 or pin-3 hot), as well as 1/4'' unbalanced direct tube outputs.

James filled me in on the history of the VTMB: "The original VTMP-2B was eventually replaced by the VTMP-2C in 2001. It was very pretty, with metal knobs, LED meters, chrome buttons, and a thick, metal front panel. It sold okay, but was never the hit the original was. A few years ago — after some requests from users and finding a stash of original parts — we started remaking a few of the original preamps. I have always loved this preamp. It was the first really complex original design I came up with, and it incorporated much of my love for true, tube hi-fi design, which I adapted for the pro recording market. Its use over the years on thousands of recordings by music legends, many Gold and Platinum recordings included, is a testimony to its timelessness."

In use, the VTMP-2B really did deliver in my studio, and is as close as anything gets to my prized Hamptone and Pendulum preamps, while delivering its own flavor. The classic tube circuit design works like it should, presenting clear tones, lots of depth, and a level of detail you honestly don't find in every preamp out there. When I think of this kind of detail, it's similar to the way tape decks work. A deck with an average playback head and electronics has a limit to what it can pull from a prerecorded piece of tape. Small details get obscured on a system like that, and it's not just frequency range or transient dynamics that are affected (though these sometimes get masked as well), but the overall quality of the tape reproduction is compromised. When the same tape is played on a higher-quality deck, with a better head and electronics, there will be more information pulled off the tape. Mic preamps act like this as well, and a quality preamp will pull details out of a mic that an inferior preamp might be masking. It's a simple fact of life, and I've spent over 20 years immersed in this quest. The VTMP-2B is a tool that will help you get more out of your current mics, and at a fair price. Don't ignore it just because it's been around so long, or because the faceplate isn't glamorous, or because Demeter lags on their pro audio marketing. You'll be making a mistake.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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