Many companies are putting a lot of effort in to creating tools for getting good sound in and out of the computer. Enter DBX with their 386 dual vacuum tube preamp. They have combined tubes with some cleaver algorithms to create a box that acts like the front end of the tape machine for the computer. By means of their Tape Saturation Emulation (TSE) and the DBX Type IV conversion system, the 386 aims towards these ends. As a mic preamp the 386 covers all the basics. It provides 60 dB of mic gain, +/- 15 dB of output gain, 48 volt phantom power, phase reverse, 20 dB pad, 75 Hz low cut filter, an insert jack, and a line input. It even has an analog output if all you want to use it for is a mic pre. DBX has come up with DBX Type IV conversion system that uses logarithmic scaling from -4 dB to 0 dB allowing high level transient signals to pass through without clipping. Signals below -4 dB are uneffected by the scaling. This creates a system where, because of the mapping, the 386 can accept very hot signals and still not clip. Very much like how tape can handle hot signals with out causing undesirable effects. One of the benefits of this system is keeping the high frequency content in the system. When going beyond 0 dB in a standard A to D converter the low end tends to stay intact, but the high end signal is lost. The reason for this is that at the clipping points there is no recording of the high end signal. With the Type IV mapping the signal doesn't go into clipping and thereby keeps the high end signal intact. On the digital output of the 386 are lots of options. Bit wise it can handle 24, 20 and 16 bit words. Frequency wise 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96 KHz. It also can dither the signal to allow 24 bit inputs to be sent to lower bit level recording devices. Both AES/EBU and sp/dif are supported. User interface wise the 386 is pretty simple to work with. There are 3 easy-to-get-at detented knobs per channel. One that controls the drive of the tube, one for analog output and one for digital output. By having separate level knobs for driving the different types of outputs the 386 can easily function in systems where the signal from the digital output is fed to the computer and the analog output signal is monitored. This is important as many of the digital recording systems have a serious lag time outputing the incoming signal for monitoring. The DBX 386 is an easy to use, good sounding unit. At a street price around $500, the price tag keeps it within the reach of most studios. It has the ability to add character to the sound, or not. The noise reduction is a nice bonus that other units in its price range don't have. The DBX 386 is a unit that both the pro and project studios would find useful in their tool kit.

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

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