Bucking the trend towards expensive, high-end mic- preamps, the folks at M-Audio have recently released two affordable models that caught my eye.
DMP3 Mic Pre First off, the DMP3 dual mic pre ($249 retail) is a straightforward, half-rack device that offers 2 independent channels and sports XLR mic and 1/4" instrument inputs, VU metering, phantom power, phase reversal switching (on both channels), Hi/Lo gain switch (allowing variable gain at ranges from +6 to either +36 or +66 dB), Lo cut @ 75 Hz, clip LED indicator and balanced line outputs. Beyond the retro look (the cool VU meters remind me of a PT Cruiser's dashboard) the DMP3 has a smooth, present sound that might be expected from a more expensive preamp. Given that M-Audio proudly publishes the frequency response as falling between 20- 100 kHz (+0/-1 dB), this small, lightweight box is definitely worth checking out as an alternative to blowing all your budget on a mega-buck pre.
Duo Mic Pre/USB Audio Interface The Duo ($349) is a bit of a different animal, in that it's both a 2 in x 2 out USB audio interface (PC/Mac) and a standalone pro- quality mic pre. As an interface, the Duo works at rates up to 24-bit/96 kHz, offers various +4/-10 dB level options for the line I/Os and has a "direct monitor" feature that can route the input directly to the monitor output (so as to eliminate latency delays that can be introduced by the computer and/or editing software). As a bonus, this multifunctional toolbox includes a pair of high-quality mic pres that offer XLR inputs, switchable phantom power, independent 20 dB pads and signal/clip LEDs. In its normal mode, the mic or line inputs are directly routed to the audio editing application's input, however, when the front panel "Stand Alone Mode" button is pressed, the Duo becomes a stand-alone mic pre that can be used without a computer. In addition to this, the amazing dynamic Duo can also be used as a standalone A/D converter, which lets you stream either the mic or line inputs through to its S/PDIF digital outputs at selectable rates of 44.1, 48, 88.2 and 96 kHz! I also found that the duo can be used as a handy-dandy "stand alone" headphone monitor amp. Basically, the term "Duo" doesn't do this little, half-rack box justice. You'd be hard pressed to find such a small, affordable tool that leaps through more hoops in a single bound than this one. (www.midiman.com)