When Andy Hong asked me to write a review of the mic preamps currently-available from Hamptone (the tube-based HVTP2 and transistor-based HJFP2), I got a weird sense of deja vu. Haven't these already been reviewed? By me, in fact? Actually, no-what I was remembering was the approximately 500 times I'd shot my mouth off about these wonderful preamps on the Tape Op Message Board. Andy thought it was time to put all these snippets into print, and I'm happy to oblige.
The HVTP2 and HJFP2 are both high-quality 2-channel preamps with mic and DI inputs, 48 VDC phantom power, phase switching, pad, and gain controls. They are both built into the same heavy-duty vented chassis and are sized so that you can fit two of them next to each other on a 2RU-height rack shelf. You can also attach a provided handle for easy transport, and there is no external power supply to compromise their portability. That said, there is some major iron in these things; they feel solid, substantial, and reliable. The preamps include custom transformers on the inputs and outputs, and clear, attractive legending on the straightforward front panel.
Specs are similar for the two units, with S/N at 88 dB or better and 1% THD at +4 dBm. The HJFP2 has a little more gain, but both will give you more than 60 dB, and I use them for ribbons and SM57s with no trouble. The sound, on the other hand, is quite different. The HVTP2 is, I presume, a similar design to the old Silverbox 4 that Andy reviewed (Tape Op #55), and if you remember that review, you'll have a good idea what to expect from it. It is robust, clean, and incredibly detailed, especially in the low end, where it is way, way larger than life. Baritone and bass vocals, kick and toms, acoustic guitar-this preamp flatters the hell out of those sources, and even at high gain you get a nice, clean signal that's full and rounded. The HJFP2, on the other hand, is more of a
"color" preamp; there's ample clean gain, but turn that knob past 60% or so, and stuff starts growing hair, subtly at first, then with increasing urgency. This preamp kills for bass DI and is equally good on bass cab; I turn to it for cymbals too, as it smooths out harshness and surrounds loud transients with a kind of honeyed glow. Loud vocals are great through it; if you're trying to make your own Stax single, or you've got an aggressive singer who might sound like a solid-gold icepick through the HVTP2, the HJFP2 is your preamp. I also think of it as my "fun" preamp; I like to throw amped-up drum machines and synths at the DI for a very present, naturally-distorted sound.
Both these units sound BIG. Sounds that need to be heard-that need to dominate the mix-are a no-brainer for these preamps; that said, I've done songs with twenty tracks all recorded through the Hamptones and never felt like the mix was cluttered or overhyped. I'd be tempted to think there was nothing but magic dust inside, but as it happens, I know exactly what's in there-because I built them. This was a major advantage for me when I was shopping for preamps. Like everyone else, I wanted bang for the buck, and the Hamptones are available at a deep discount when you buy them in kit form. If you're somewhat handy with a soldering iron, there is no better value out there. Scott Hampton provides detailed construction and testing directions on his website and is extremely responsive to phone and email queries. The PCBs are large and sturdy, and there's nothing weird or unusually challenging involved in the building process. They took me two days apiece.
I really can't praise these preamps enough. The designs are fantastic, the parts quality is superb, and if you are a home recordist like me, they are all the preamp you'll ever need. Crack your knuckles, warm up the Weller, and get to work. (HJFP2 kit starts at $699, HVTP2 $799; assembly $300; optional step attenuators available; www.hamptone.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.