Do you ever wonder if some people truly have a vision or whether they just get lucky? I still haven't figured out what attribute to apply to Lynn Fuston, perhaps a little of both. Last year, just around April Fools Day, he assembled the largest assortment of currently manufactured microphone preamps - 33 to be precise - from Mackie to Millennia, Grace to Great River, D.W. Fearn to Crane Song. This was not intended as a shoot- out but it did generate two CDs worth of material - 3D Pre CD Volume 1 featured female voice, male voice and acoustic guitar and Volume 2 featured drums - so that the listener could do the evaluation. Each CD is $34.95 (list). Certainly there were more preamps assembled for these two CDs than might ever be found at any audio store or rental house at one time - if you happen to be lucky enough to be near either. Understand that it was not possible to feed all of these preamps from one microphone at once without compromising quality, but after extensive consulting and with geek support from Dan Kennedy of Great River electronics, the resulting CDs truly are testimony to Lynn's patience and persistence. Each preamp was tested in quick succession by the same singer. Together Dan and Lynn did a brilliant job of matching levels so as to minimize the difference amongst the various preamps from performance to performance. (The singers deserve equal praise. Level differences could have easily confused many listeners.) If like me, you find the results subtle, keep in mind that each preamp was operated conservatively. There was no attempt to measure noise or red line the preamp to see how it behaved under adverse conditions.

AUDITION 49 MICS, NOW! In November, Lynn collected 49 microphones for a new CD available now. Included are current production models as well as a few classics - each tested with male and female voices. Imagine having $15,000 of mics to play with for a week. What a great excuse to cut some tracks! The Microphone CD is $49.95 list. Purchase before June 30th, 2001, and it's only $44.95 plus you get a chance to win one of four microphones: The Neumann TLM-103, KSM-32 or KSM-44, the ADK Area 51, a Great River preamp or 5 cables from BLUE. Compared to the preamp CDs the differences amongst microphones are far more obvious. On the first casual listen, I noticed differences a room away while washing dishes! And this, on my living room "system" consisting of Radio Shack Minimus-7 speakers driven by a vintage Lafayette Receiver fed by a Panasonic DVD player.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES There are more microphones on the 3D Mic CD than preamps on the 3D Pre CDs. Microphones range from the most affordable and omnipresent (Shure SM-57) to the most desirable and rare, tube (AKG, Elam, Neumann) and custom mics (Sheffield). All of the newer boutique manufacturers are well represented from Blue, Brauner, DPA, Groove Tube, Lawson, Lucid-by Stayne, Manley and Soundelux as are affordable models from Audio-Technica, CAD, Earthworks and Rode. Familiar names like Electro-Voice, Sennheiser and Sony are there along with Sanken and Telefunken. All are large diaphragm condenser, dynamic or ribbon mics. I found the easiest way to audition was to use the skip feature on the remote control, listening to the first line of each song then moving on. When a mic stood out for being different from its predecessor, I stopped, checked the cross reference and listened further. While I would never have even attempted to guess a mic preamp, it was pretty easy to spot a ribbon mic. Three are represented here - the AEA R-44C, Coles 4038 and Royer R-121 - each having a smooth, understated top end. Again, you be the judge. All of these CDs remove the pressure you might be feeling from marketing hype, gear envy or the desire to compete with "world class" taste on a non-micro-brew beer budget. You will be absolutely surprised at how well the affordably priced mics and pre-amps compare to the most coveted. While it is not possible to judge a product solely on price OR predict the future, keep in mind that higher priced models should be more consistent, have better noise specs and headroom, maintaining same for a longer time. This is especially true of the preamps, microphones should always be treated with reverence and care. If you are looking for something truly different, the 3D Mic CD is an excellent opportunity to try a ribbon mic. For more information, surf over to - the picture is worth $20 at least (as a poster).

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

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