One thread that runs quite regularly through the PC-based recording newsgroups I monitor involves mic preamps. Not, so much pertaining to "which ones sound the best?" but more often- "uh, what do they do and why do I need one?" Desktop recording these days is increasingly made up of people who have little knowledge of basic recording practices (then again, maybe it's indicative of the sites I frequent). In any case, I see an obvious need for what I would term entry-level pre-amps designed for PC-based studios. M-Audio/MidiMan is addressing this opportunity with two, relatively low-cost, 2-channel models that merit your consideration if you're looking for basic improvement of your mic signal input situation. The 'baby' of this duo is the Audio-Buddy ($100)- a really diminutive unit approximately the size of a 'Walkman' style cassette player. I would call this more of a direct- box plus. With two pairs of line/mic inputs and switch-able phantom power it meets the minimum requirements for handling various input sources. The construction quality appears pretty high. I tested it with a Shure KSM32 large diaphragm condenser microphone and spun off a few vocal takes. It provides clean, mostly uncolored output but I detected a trace of harshness in the upper-mid frequencies. It's sibling is the DMP-2; ($200) same basic configuration but about the size of a paperback book with the added features of a phase reverse switch and a low-cut filter. The DMP-2 is a definite step up in sonic quality though. The vocal takes I A/B'd with the Audio Buddy demonstrated excellent clarity across the spectrum with just a hint of extra presence or 'liveness' that was most pleasing. I compared both Midiman units to my Joe Meek VC-3 Pro-channel which while slightly pricier is nonetheless aimed at roughly the same market segment. The VC-3 is actually a pre-amp/compressor/tonal enhancer. For the test I ran the VC-3 with no compression and all 'enhancement' controls turned to nominal. Running identical vocal takes through all three units I found that the DMP- 2 scored best in my "un-tampered clarity and presence" criteria. I also found that its output was considerably higher than the VC-3.

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