Here's a funny story. Some years ago, the only outboard mic preamps I owned were Brent Averill-refurbished Neves and APIs. I recorded direct to a TASCAM MS-16 1'' 16-track and mixed on a Panasonic DA7 digital console. When Larry Crane recommended that I check out a Hamptone Silverbox 4, I talked to Hamptone owner and designer, Scott Hampton, and he promptly sent me one of his 4-channel tube preamps to demo. I used it for one tracking session, and I was underwhelmed. I was expecting some kind of elusive "tube magic", but all I got was squeaky clean signal. To my naïve ears, it wasn't bigger-than-life, especially compared to my Neve and API preamps. So I contacted Scott and told him what I thought. He pretty much told me that I didn't know shit about mic preamps. Well, long story short, I took the Silverbox over to Mercenary Audio, and Fletcher and I did A/B tests with all the preamps he had lying around (while sipping some bourbon). Over the course of a couple hours, Fletcher schooled me on tracking (and then mixing) lots of tracks successfully, so you don't end up with a hazy mess. That's when it became clear to me that the Silverbox is an ultra-fidelity mic preamp with incredible clarity-not a distortion pedal or outboard effects box. No matter what mic I plug into it, no matter what source I try to record with it, I get more focus and detail out of this preamp than anything else I've tried. Sometimes too detailed to the point that it's not flattering (which is when I reach for a colored preamp). 

It also has the clearest low end of any preamp I've heard. It's like the humidity lifts, and you suddenly see more than just the outlines of the mountains in the distance; you see the rocky crags, the trees, and the shadows on the snowcap too. Furthermore, even at the highest gain settings, it sounds really solid, not like some preamps that seem like they're about to start resonating and take flight. And speaking of solid, this thing is huge. It weighs a ton and generates a bunch of heat. You know it's got some serious iron and glass in it. The Silverbox is no longer available from Scott, but knowing now how passionate he is, I have to assume that the currently- available HVTP2 tube preamp (a bang-for-the-buck version of the Silverbox, available assembled or in kit form) has the same smooth and transparent nature as my Silverbox. ( 

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

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