One of the joys of doing this mag is checking out recording gear from small companies that are just starting out... and doing so before anyone else! Bob Starr is connected with our friends at Zero Return Studio in Atlanta, and he's building some hot new equipment, with much brainstorming with renowned designer/engineer Rick Chinn. One result is the 9762 two-channel solid- state mic preamp. The Neve 1073-inspired circuitry provides up to 75 dB of gain. Lundahl transformers are on the mic inputs with Sowter transformers on the outputs. Muting logic ensures quiet switching, and mu-metal shielding (not cheap) isolates the audio circuitry from the power supply. There's the usual front-panel DI input, polarity, phantom power, LED output metering, two input impedances and output termination (flatter response in, "air" out), along with the stepped gain stage and output attenuation controls. Does this preamp rock? Yes. Putting the 9762 through the paces on a number of album sessions, I gave it the chore of recording kick and snare on many basic tracks. The transient attack was dead on- to my ear faster than some of my other solid-state preamps and able to deliver full, robust tones on these crucial tracks. The snare retained the crispness and attack that some preamps smear on a bit-a very good sign as far as over-design and headroom. On vocals, the sound was once again very clear, with the forward and present feel that a great solid-state preamp can have. On electric guitar, the preamp really showed off the positive characteristics of different dynamic, ribbon and condenser mics. This preamp has a lot of headroom (and gain); we'd push it really hard at times, the meters would be lit up all the way, and there'd be no audible distortion. In fact, the output voltage of this unit will go hotter than anything following it in the chain can deal with. It's a quality box, and you can tell Bob spent some time auditioning parts and making changes to the circuitry in order to get it sounding as good as possible. I'm sure his affiliation with Zero Return helped give the unit some real solid tests during the design process. The bottom line: after using it for weeks on many sessions, I do not want to send it back, despite the fact that I already have plenty of great preamps! Damn. ($1400 intro price through Atlanta Pro Audio,

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

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