It seems like I'm always raving about Radial's product line. So far, I've purchased and reviewed Radial's Reamping Pack, JDI passive DI, J48 Mk2 phantom- powered DI (Tape Op #49); X-Amp active re-amplifier, and JPC stereo PC-AV DI (#45). All of these products feature the same tough and completely functional form factor, and they all sound great. (And plus, they look cool too.) My latest Radial acquisition is a J33 Phono Preamp DI. It too shares the same bulletproof construction and great sound as its siblings. As its name implies, it's a stereo phono preamp, meaning it takes the output of a phono cartridge, amplifies it, and applies the proper de-emphasis to the RIAA-EQ'ed source. The multiple line-level outputs (RCA, 1/4'' stereo, 3.5 mm stereo) make it easy to hook up the J33 to any gear that accepts signal at -10 dBV level (home stereos, small- format consoles, computer soundcards, laptops, MP3 recorders, etc.), and XLR outputs allow you to connect it to the mic inputs of a console or mic preamp. With the J33, you can easily use vinyl records in your live or studio productions, or you can use it to simply transfer your vinyl to other formats.

I have a Technics turntable in my studio, and having no phono preamp inputs on any of my professional recording gear, I was using a $100 Music Hall MMF-1 moving magnet phono preamp (not to be confused with Music Hall's turntable that shares the exact same model name) to interface the turntable to my patchbay. The MMF-1 has two problems: because it's housed in a cheap plastic case, it's susceptible to RFI; and although Music Hall is known for making extremely-affordable, entry- level audiophile gear well-regarded even by gear snobs, I think the MMF-1 sounds "pinched." Before I replaced the MMF-1 with the J33, I did a quick phono preamp shootout at home utilizing a new-old-stock Shure V15VxMR cartridge (note to vinyl junkies: this top-rated cartridge is no longer made; I managed to find some on for $200 a few months back) on a Rega Planar 2 (with stock RB250 tonearm). The J33 has a huge bottom to it. Compared to my midrange-forward, early- 80's Yamaha Natural Sound A-760 amp, the sound of the J33 seems bigger than real life. Its high frequencies aren't as pronounced (or prone to sibilance) as they are on my new Rotel RC-1070 preamp. And of course, it pretty much kills the aforementioned MMF-1. Also, keep in mind that the J33, being a DI, can be connected to whatever mic preamps and gear you've got so you can add more character to its already bigger-than-life sound. The XLR and line-level outputs are always active, so both can be used simultaneously; imagine sending the former directly to the main console and the latter to a DJ/CD mixer for processing before feeding the main console, providing the engineer both audio paths to work with.

There are two other features of the J33 worth mentioning: you can power it from the included wall-wart or with phantom power (the J33 switches automatically); and a switchable low-cut filter helps reduce rumble and low-freq feedback. As with other Radial products, I think the J33 is an awesome product, and it pretty much has no competition in terms of features and sound. ($200 MSRP;

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

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