When I caught wind that Speck was working on a single-channel mic preamp, I was excited. I'm a big fan of Speck's reasonably-priced ASC parametric EQ. So I extrapolated and figured a Speck mic pre would be equally valuable. Speck was good enough to send me a 5.0 to play around with, and ultimately, my reaction is mixed. Part of the problem with the 5.0 is its price. I'd initially heard rumors that the 5.0 would cost approx $500. The street price is $850. Now, you get several features along with "just" the pre; but if you're like me, those features may not be that valuable to you. To that end, I'm going to list the various features the 5.0 offers and then describe their pros and cons, as I see them.
Selectable Balanced Outputs - Pro: Hey, two sounds out of one unit. Con: The transformer output sounds so much better than the active balanced output, I don't know why you'd bother switching it out.
Insert Points - Pro: Great, you can EQ or compress to tape (or hard disk). Inserts can also be used to buss other preamps if you're linking multiple 5.0s (see Mix Node below). Con: (see High-Pass Filter below).
High-Pass Filter - Pro: I'm a real fan of the high- pass filter, especially on bass (on which the Speck excels) and kick. Con: If you're using, say, the Speck ASC EQ on the 5.0's insert, then you've already got a more flexible HPF. Also, your desk may have a HPF.
Mix Node - Pro: The 5.0 can be linked to other 5.0s. Using the Mix Node feature, each pre can be panned in the stereo field and sent, via an electronic link, to the last 5.0 in the chain, which acts as a stereo buss for the previous pres. This can be great for location recording, doing submixes if you've got a board you don't trust, etc. It can also be used for M/S recording. Con: Well, none, really. But if the 5.0 is going to work as a mixer on more than three channels in the field or desktop, you'll need more of 'em.
As for the pre itself, as I mentioned above, I think it excels on bass. It's rich, muscular, and has a lot of presence-if not a lot of top. I found it perfectly adequate on lead guitar, and I could see it being particularly well-suited to thinner vocals, although perhaps too thick for others-it was fine on the recordings I made with it. So the 5.0 is definitely not a mic pre for all seasons, but it's certainly a useful one. If I had $850 to spend on a bass preamp, I'd buy it for that purpose alone! Did I mention it has a DI? ($998 MSRP, speck.com)