At least once a year, a studio will usually make an investment in a piece of gear which is supposed to make their recordings jump light-years in quality. This typically comes with a high price tag, which is why a small studio doesn't do this often. The Pendulum Audio MDP-1 ($2495) is one of these pieces - it can be used for a wide variety of tasks better than anything else on the market. My first encounter with the MDP-1, before I became an owner, was when I started working at the mastering studio where I currently work. My boss was running some particularly cold mixes through it to get some extra harmonics and I thought that maybe he hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before since I had never seen this done. When he showed me the difference I was astounded. Even though the mixes were already going through a variety of tube gear, including the impressive Pendulum 6386 Variable Mu Limiter, they just weren't as open or harmonically rich without the pre in the chain. About a week later he used it again, this time as a distortion unit on some drums. When I did a tracking session in the studio a week or so later I put an acoustic guitar through the MDP-1's "full" transformer (the MDP-1 has two transformer options, one being the Full which presents a more full, airy sound, and the Focused presents a sound that is more present in the mids and focused). This was the first time in my life I had an acoustic guitar sound right. When using tube preamps I was used to things getting a little too tubby for my tastes, as well as having that nice harmonic cloud in there. I always had some issues with the noise floor, but this time there was no noise to be spoken of. With the Pendulum I got the most accurate sound compared with any of the tons of high priced and high quality mic pres I have tried. When taking things up "into the red" I got very clean harmonics, not smooth like a V72's, but just accurate and warm. I am a very big fan of tubes in a vocal chain but not usually of a tube mic into a tube pre. The focused version of the MDP-1 changed my opinion about this. There are plenty of mic pres on the market that do great jobs, but what really blows me away is that compared to other pres I have used, the MDP-1 works better for the more esoteric uses of a mic pre than any other I have comes across. When using the DI for bass the MDP-1 opens up that extra harmonic which makes a bass cut right through the mix. When I get vocals recorded through cheap condensers and lousy mic pres I'll run it back through the MDP-1, and typically get a great result. In this age there is a lot of hype over tubes, and many manufacturers are making products with tubes that don't really honor what a tube pre can really do. When you hear an MDP-1 you finally won't be hearing hype, you'll just hear reality. (

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

Or Learn More