Phillip Victor Bova, along with his wife Janet Kirby and their son, Philip Shaw Bova, have a recording studio called Bova Sound in Ottawa, Canada, and their company Sage Electronics makes wonderful audio products, sold directly. Already familiar with them through the purchase of my indispensable SE-BB1 Bova Ball microphone, I was eager to check out the Sage SE-Pre1 mic preamp.
The Sage folks are some of the nicest people that I've encountered in the audio industry. Their communication is most amiable; after I bought my microphone, Mr. Bova himself called to discuss it, and I still have the picture they sent of it, recently completed, posing on a porch in the snow. It feels good to be able to support folks who conduct their businesses in a way similar to ours.
The SE-Pre1 uses all-discrete, solid-state, Class A circuitry, hand-wired, assembled, tested, and signed by Phillip Bova, Sr. Construction is top-notch throughout, and the unit has a three-year warranty. On the rear are three gold-plated connectors: two XLRs and the power supply connector.
The front panel sports a large chicken-head knob on a Vishay gain pot-silky feeling and smooth in its taper. There is a large switch, and a bright amber bezel light for phantom power. The face plate is purple heart wood, and in addition to being beautiful and comment-provoking, it provides a welcome break from the usual Darth Vader school of industrial design.
I used the preamp in a variety of situations, and it shone in all. The SE-Pre1 has no pad, and doesn't seem to need it, as it is able to handle a wide range of levels. It had enough gain for an RCA 77 DX microphone and is quiet enough to use in high gain situations. It passed the brutal "jingling keys through a condenser mic test" with ease.
How does it sound? Great! It is always hard to describe sonic character verbally; if we were to draw a line between the marvelously accurate and open Millennia preamplifiers and the robust and forward sounding preamps on our API, sonically the SE-Pre1 would be about in the middle. Very sweet and true sounding on acoustic guitar and vocal; and clear and strong on drums, electric bass, and guitar. High-fidelity, but not colorless, with an extended range and tons of headroom. This very well-built amplifier is housed in a rugged aluminum enclosure, and there's a power supply in the same sized box. Two power supplies are available. The SE-PS 2 ($299 CDN) will power one or two modules and the SE-PS 8 ($499 CDN) up to eight. The company will provide guidelines for building your own +/-24 V supply if you prefer. A pair of modules can be mounted horizontally in a 19" metal or plexi 2U rackmount panel ($89 CDN), or in an aluminum case ($139 CDN). Up to eight modules can be rackmounted side by side in a 19" 4U metal rack ($189 CDN) or in a nice road case ($189 CDN). The modules themselves are just over $600 USD each. As good as these gems sound and look, this is a bargain. They will likely appreciate in value rather than depreciate like a mass-produced product and will doubtlessly give you years of gorgeous sound.
(Each module $679 CDN direct; www.sageelectronics.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.