I recently moved into a new control room, and because of this much of my gear, interface, monitoring, and general workflow changed drastically. My new mantra was to scale down the physical footprint of my overall setup, but I still needed some robust preamps that would serve me well in a variety of applications without taking up too much space. I’ve been an admirer of Daking products from early on in my career, and I decided that I should try the newly updated Daking Mic-Pre 4T as it checked many boxes for what I was looking for. In use, I found the Daking preamp has much to offer, especially for its compact format.

The aptly named Mic-Pre 4T houses four transformer-coupled mic preamps, featuring Jensen transformers and discrete Daking amplifier circuits. I have always appreciated Jensen transformers in other products, so the 4T’s twin-Jensen design intrigued me. They offer much of what I like about transformers in the context of a mic preamp, yet they are remarkably clean compared to other transformer-based pres, making them broadly applicable for various sources and microphones.

The Mic-Pre 4T offers a breadth of connectivity, featuring not only mic inputs but line and instrument inputs, adding to the unit’s flexibility and value. The front panel provides buttons for phantom power, pad (-20 dB), polarity inversion, and a switch engaging the faceplate’s 1/4-inch instrument input. Gain control is fully variable, with 75 dB of gain and +30 dB of headroom – suitable for pairing with a wide variety of sources and destinations. The concentric control around the gain knob adjusts the frequency of the variable high-pass filter, from zero to 200 Hz. I have come to appreciate this feature as fixed filters are often not where they need to be for any particular project or application. Rotating the filter knob fully counterclockwise bypasses the filter entirely if it is not required or desired. Sometimes a touch of filtering can drastically increase the available headroom, and often the removed content is undesirable.

One of the significant improvements in the Mic-Pre 4T is the faster, more detailed 20-segment LED metering. It’s not uncommon for preamps in this compact format to go with shorter meters or omit metering altogether for cost considerations. However, in specific applications, these meters quickly become indispensable. Certain projects often call for stacking a preamp, EQ, and/or compressor in line before the AD converter – and while a DAW may have very comprehensive metering, it can sometimes be hard to tell if I’m pushing a particular part of the chain too hard when I’m using meter-less preamps. Having this at the head of the chain made gain staging much easier in stressful or time-sensitive situations.

I first used the Mic-Pre 4T in a basic tracking session with a local funk band. We were doing live tracking with six performers, and the 4T ended up on the AEA R88 [Tape Op #96] that I had on room mic for the drums and two AEA KU5s [#133] on guitar amplifiers. The R88s often need a Maag EQ [#113] to add a touch of brightness, but I felt that this was unnecessary with the Mic-Pre 4T at the head of the chain. There was no shortage of gain on the 4T for ribbon mics, so I could leave the Cloud Microphones Cloudlifters [#123] in the closet.

The two guitar players were floored with the guitar sound we got through the Mic-Pre 4T paired with the KU5s. I found this combination to be an instant favorite. Since the KU5 is active, it generally pairs well with most preamps, but the darker color of many transformer-coupled preamps often requires corrective EQ. The KU5s put smiles on faces with no EQ at all, with only some judicious filtering to remove unwanted low frequencies. We had Shure Beta 57s on the guitar amps to complement the ribbon mics, but I honestly feel I could have achieved great results with the Mic-Pre 4T/KU5 pairing alone.

When an acoustic guitar was needed for the last song, we used the built-in DI for basics, as having the acoustic in the control room was the only way to keep it isolated from the rest of the large ensemble. The front input on the Mic-Pre 4T came in handy, and with the push of a button the preamp went from KU5 duties to serving as a DI. I’m sure we all know that a built-in acoustic pickup sound is a bit limiting, but I can honestly say the 4T was gratifying and forgiving in this context. Later, we overdubbed the acoustic DI with a Lauten Oceanus feeding the 4T. Again, fantastic results.

For vocal overdubs, we went with the Chandler Limited REDD and TG [Tape Op #131] mics, and we applied the Mic-Pre 4T on both. These are already very colorful mics, so preamp choice can be critical, as too much color on the signal path often yields undesirable harmonics. I really appreciated the vibrant results I got with the 4T, enhancing the Chandler mics but not shifting their color too far into the red. Feeding a pair of Empirical Labs Distressors [#32] was a cinch with the 4T’s snappy metering, and, in general, I found the meters to be much more helpful than expected. The band was loving the vocal tone we ended up with, so we continued using the 4Ts for the whole album.

Later that week, on a different project, I was tracking piano and Hammond organ overdubs for an alternative rock album I’d been working on and off for the past six months. With such fantastic results achieved in the previous session, I decided to apply the Mic-Pre 4T on both the piano and organ. I love Earthworks mics on piano (in this case, the SR30s), but sometimes finding the proper preamp can be challenging. I want a touch of character, but many preamp classics in our collection sometimes get too forward and edgy for certain styles. The 4T offered some subtle enhancements without sticking out in a bad way, and did wonders for the transient detail – slightly smoother than a transformerless pre, but with the detail that is often lost on rounder preamps.

Hammond organ can also have a similar challenge, where more colorful options are, at best, hit-or-miss. Achieving clarity, punch, and snappiness from a Leslie speaker without brittle, noisy, or glassy results can be tricky, especially with condenser mics. So, I decided to try a novel approach: A pair of Josephson E22s for the top of the Leslie and a Heil PR30 [Tape Op #56] on the bottom. Finding the sweet spot on the high-pass filter, cutting the low bleed out, and letting the top rotor shine felt magical. I can easily see this being one of my go-to configurations from now on.

While there are no dedicated line inputs, with the pad engaged line level signals can be fed to the XLR inputs, so I decided to apply some program material to see what results I would get. There are a handful of situations where this would be useful or desirable; either to impart some character from the 4T itself, or when a separate gain stage is needed to hit another piece of gear that might not have adequate input or output trims. Some of my esoteric spring reverbs benefited greatly by feeding into the 4T’s line-level input before returning to the DAW.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time using the Daking Mic-Pre 4T. It served its purpose well as an indispensable, go-to preamp for my studio. This pre could easily find a home in virtually any studio application or context, with a quality of design and construction that assures it will perform dutifully for decades.

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

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