I first saw a TRUE Systems mic preamp when Roger King, our Tape Op Conference Technical Director, got the 8- channel Precision 8 right before TRUE Systems went national. As it turns out, Tim Spencer of Sunrise Engineering, the designer, lives in Tucson and was building these units right in my own backyard. Since that time, TRUE Systems has joined up with Neumann USA and Sennheiser USA for marketing and distribution. As all gear designers I've met are constantly experimenting with new products, it was inevitable that True Systems would release a follow-up product to the Precision 8. Enter the P2analog.
The P2analog is a straightforward 1RU preamp whose controls are well laid out. Facing the unit, starting on the left, are the two DI inputs. These are unbalanced inputs for guitar or bass or any other instrument-level source and automatically override the respective mic input in the rear-so no need to switch anything when plugging in. Next are the selector buttons for phase reversal, HPF, gain select, and phantom power, followed by the gain adjust knob for the left channel. After the left-channel controls are the LED gain meters running horizontally, one channel above the other. Next is the right-channel gain knob followed by its control buttons. This makes the right channel a mirror image of the left channel. After the two channel sections, there are buttons for the MS decoder, the stereo phase-correlation meter, and the button to engage that meter. More on these later.
As would be expected, the phase switch is really a polarity reverse switch and allows for quick changes for funky wiring on the DI or correcting phase problems when using two mics on the same source. The HPF selector allows for either a 40 Hz or 80 Hz setting, depending on the amount of roll-off you need. The gain switch sets the amount of gain available at the gain knob: -4 dB to +44dBontheDIsettingand15.5dBto64dBonthemic side when the gain switch is engaged. This can be a bit confusing at first if you are used to using the more typical pad selector. If I wanted to calm the signal down, it meant pressing the gain button to turn the indicator off. This is because this switch is not a straight up pad on the input side of the preamp; rather it changes the gain level on the output side. It has no effect on the sound of the source at input so it does not mess with the sound of the mic. With the switch disengaged, the gain is -16 dB to +32dBontheDIand3.5dBto52dBonthemicside.I found the choice of range available between the two gain positions ideal as it was low enough for my crazy- hot LC-25 Milab condensers with the gain selector off, but the preamp had plenty of oomph for my ribbons with the gain switch engaged. All of the front panel button settings are stored to internal flash memory when the unit powers off and restored when the unit comes back on. Perhaps that is because Sunrise Engineering is here in lightning-prone Pima County, where sudden summer power outages are common. So, even if you don't remember where you ended up setting the unit and the power goes off, the P2analog resets by itself.
Ok, so far maybe you're thinking this does sound like a pretty straightforward mic preamp and has all the basic features expected. So what's so special about it? Well, for starters, it sounds really great. It's clean and noise-free and very transparent. I can see why a company like Neumann would want to be associated with this product as it is a great front end to Neumann's mics. In fact, it makes any mic sound very nice. I've used it now with all manners of dynamics-like the ubiquitous SM57 on guitar cabs to my D12 on kick drum-and it behaved nicely. It handles ribbons very well with headroom to spare. Condenser mics like it too. Set up is fast, and the metering is accurate, allowing for confident level setting on every application I tried it on. This is what one would expect of a mic preamp of this class, and indeed, for many pre-amps, this is where the story would end.
Not so with the P2analog because there are two special features that set this unit apart from many others. The first is the inclusion of a stereo phase- correlation meter located to the far right on the unit. Now I know we are supposed to use our ears, and you should be able to recognize phase incoherencies when you hear them, but in the heat of set-ups, oftentimes a two-mic setup can be tricky. When using two mics on the same source, being able to look over and see that the mics are behaving in phase is a very nice feature. The cool part is you can run a stereo signal from a parallel source of your mix into the DI inputs and use the meter to check on your mix. I use the analog output of my HHB CD writer that is connected by SPDIF to my DAT to send to the DI inputs on the P2analog. I don't think Tim had this in mind when designing the unit, but it's a nice way to get more out it.
The really exciting part of the P2analog is the built in MS mode selector. Having spent years working with X/Y stereo mic configurations, I always felt less of an engineer for never having done any stereo mic'ing using the Mid/Side technique. For those of you not familiar with this approach, it requires one mic in omni or cardioid and a second in figure-8. You basically point the first mic towards the center of the source you wish to capture and position the figure-8 mic so its pattern is aligned sideways of the source, thus placing the null side of the figure-8 mic in the same direction as the first mic. Think of two mics placed so the center mic is directly above the sideways figure-8 side mic. You plug the front- facing mic into the first channel (conveniently screened with a "Mid" below the gain knob) of the P2analog and the figure-8 into channel two (labeled "Side") and then engage the MS switch. When the switch is engaged, channel one's gain knob controls the strength of the image center, and channel two's knob controls the amount of stereo image. [You can achieve the same effect using any normal preamp feeding one channel of a mixer and a second preamp mult'ed to two more channels of the mixer panned full left/right, with the channel panned right polarity reversed. With the P2analog, no mixer is necessary. -Ed]
The first time I tried the P2analog in this mode was on a string session. I was blown away upon first playback, as was my customer. I was doing string overdubs with four violins and set the two mics as overheads, with the mid mic looking down at the center of the performers. The stereo image was amazing and the field was as wide as I wanted it. By pushing up the side gain, I heard the stereo field expand; or I could focus the image more in the center by favoring the mid gain. The smoothness of the gain knobs was quite handy as this particular configuration will reveal every little noise in your studio. Shuffling feet, squeaky chairs, page turning, and rustling clothes all came to life in true stereo. Oh yeah, the violins sounded fantastic as well. Having the two gain knobs close together in front of the unit were very handy as I became the auto gain control and rode them up and down between the passages to keep all the unwanted in-between noise off the tape. Thankfully, those knobs are not incremental.
In conclusion, at its price point, the P2analog is a great deal. You get a solid-state mic preamp with lots of headroom that is clean sounding, intuitive, and feature packed. What sets the P2analog apart from the myriad of mic preamps available in today's market is the phase meter and MS selector. If you're a fan of open dynamic recording like I am, this product will not disappoint you. Tim, I'm not giving this back. You know where to find me! ($1999.99 MSRP; www.true-systems.com)