Following on the heels of the success of the ViPRE, Groove Tubes has created another fantastic tube-based microphone preamplifier. Called the SuPRE, it looks like the twin little brother of the ViPRE. It is a two-channel preamp that delivers a healthy 72 dB of wide open gain. With a three-position Ohm selector (300/600/1200), the SuPRE gets along well with condenser mics of all shapes and sizes as well as both new and classic vintage ribbon mics. Dynamics like it too, and an SM57 on a loud guitar sounds very big as the SuPRE brings out a nice round bottom in the mic that most solid-state preamps ignore. Perhaps this is due to the fact that you have the ability to drop the input gain by 15 or 30 dB and that allows you to push the channel gain up nice and hot, and get the tubes to add some more compression beyond what the amp and speaker and mic are already doing.
We got the SuPRE prior to this year's TapeOpCon and put it to work right away. We had just begun tracking the latest Devotchka record and also had just gotten a pair of Mojave MA-100s to try out and a pair of Royer R-122Vs. It was tube heaven all of a sudden. I'll get to those mics in my other reviews, but the pairing of the SuPRE with the R-122Vs was magical. We put them up on the piano and could not believe how huge our little baby grand piano sounded. Certainly the ribbons were a big part of that impression, so we made sure to try the same setup with some other two-channel preamps and discovered that the SuPRE was in fact adding to the sense of width and depth we perceived. Later, on a trip to Denver for a string session, we took the SuPRE along and used it with our Red Microphones Type As with the R0 capsules, and again, the sound captured by the preamp was much larger sounding than expected. The strings we were recording consisted of a classic quartet that had to layer four different charts together. Much of the arrangement lay in a rolling pizzicato that would then be overtaken and enveloped by the bowed sections. The arrangement got very dense, and we were committed to doing it as stereo pairs as we had input and output limitations due to the fact that we were now working at 24-bit, 48 kHz and would be on Pro Tools LE setups until the mix. We had one day to do this song plus four others, and having the SuPRE along really allowed us to concentrate on the performers and not the equipment.
Since our great re-rack and patch of 2007 for TapeOpCon, we have continued to use the SuPRE for all kinds of applications. On kick drum, snare, vocals, organ, vibes, marimba, acoustic guitar, and even toy piano, the SuPRE added a nice quasi-saturated sound that was very musical. When pushed, and as the tubes saturate, the SuPRE will limit the dynamic range of the source, and yet we never heard it make any undesirable distortion even when we were
banging the meters with transients. At less than $1000 per channel, it's a great value when you look at its build quality, tube topology, and flexibility. Plus, as a DI, it's fantastic and great for bass, synths, guitars, loops, drum machines, and anything you can think of that could stand a little transformer and tube-action to give it some life. Running an in-the-box mix through the SuPRE's line inputs also can make a thin digital recording sound very analog (duh!), so as a front-end preamp to a basic DAW setup, it's really Groovy! The SuPRE is a welcome addition to our preamp selection at WaveLab. ($1,999 MSRP; www.groovetubes.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.