New at the 500-series lunchbox cafe this week is the PT2-500. TRUE Systems' Tim Spencer has managed to take the clean, full sound of his P2analog (Tape Op #44), create an even more full-bodied, high-resolution mic preamp/DI with his new "Type-2" circuit design, and shrink it down to fit into one slot of a 500-series rack. This was no easy feat, as there limitations in the voltage and current standards of the 500-series format.
Of course, those who read "Behind the Gear" with Tim Spencer in Tape Op #72 will know that Tim is a meticulous guy who utilizes modern components and innovative design principles to obtain higher gain and lower noise in his circuitry. I personally know how Tim worked hard to get the most robust output possible from 16-volt power supply rails, and how he iterated the design until he was satisfied that it met his goals. At WaveLab Studio, we were lucky enough to test various prototypes of the preamp, and we helped evaluate the final sonics of what has become the production circuitry.
The supplied specs for the new Type-2 design show that the unit is capable of +29 dBu of output, and when the Hi Gain switch is engaged, the module boosts the signal from 18 dB at its lowest gain setting up to a whopping 70 dB at the highest setting. It can handle up to +21 dBu of input in the standard gain mode (6-58 dB), which is good because there is no pad on the input. Instead of being able to pad down, the PT2-500 has boost capability which extends the output-driver gain cleanly enough to provide plenty of gain for low-output mics (like passive ribbons), without additional coloration or noise. In fact, it might be that Tim Spencer has managed to design the highest headroom, highest output preamp that fits in a single 500-series slot. TRUE preamps are transformerless, using modern solid-state components built to last, requiring no biasing or adjustments.
The PT2-500 is clean and straightforward and comes in the familiar red color of the brand. It has a nice, large, easy-to-turn detented gain knob that feels great; it's great to know that you can use one preamp with multiple mics and instruments, and with confidence, go back and forth between settings quickly. The module has buttons with corresponding LED indicators for high gain, polarity, high-pass filter (80 Hz), and phantom power. Also included is an unbalanced DI input and, in a stroke of genius, an unbalanced parallel thru jack. Finally a mic preamp that understands that a DI should have a thru source to be a usable DI!!! It's always amazed me how that simple feature is left out, when the things you use a DI for the most (like bass!!!) often cry out for that thru jack to go to an amp or make a split into another preamp or effects unit.
When Tim first asked me about the idea of taking up what little precious space there is on that little faceplate with the extra jack, I said he should do it because that is what a DI should do. Two weeks later, he came back with another prototype with those double DI 1/4" jacks, and we used it to run a bass DI straight to Pro Tools and also thru to an amp. That was enough to convince him to make it part of the final design.
A few weeks later, Tim came back with two more prototypes and asked us to evaluate which one sounded better. He felt that the new design was closer to his goals for the Type-2 design, and he wanted to know if we could hear the difference. We set up the two units in our lunchbox, hooked them up to our Red Type A bottle mics with matched R6 (C 12 reference) capsules, and placed them facing flat down over our piano, end-to-end with the two capsules almost touching each other. It looked like a pair of goggles on the same centerline of the piano soundboard. The piano lid was removed to prevent
uneven reflections. We recorded some basic chords on the piano to Pro Tools, being very careful to match levels (pretty easy with those detented pots), and then switched the respective mic preamps and played some more in case there was more bass or treble being heard by one mic position versus the other. Not exactly rocket-science perfect -but we felt we had covered the variables well enough to evaluate playbacks.
Chris Schultz, our intrepid engineer, went first. In blind tests, he immediately noticed a subtle but noticeable difference, and he picked the new design every time. Next we asked our part-time intern Ricky, who happened to come in during this little test; he had no idea what we were doing. We played the second-pass recording with the mic preamps swapped, and he too consistently picked the new prototype. Since I conducted the tests, I was closer to the monitors and what my ears observed was a tightening of the bottom end that made the piano less muddy, a bit more midrange presence that gave it more authority, and a really clean and beautiful top end that made the upper harmonics of the piano sound very sweet. We called Tim and let him know to go with design two. So, for awhile, we had the original design and the soon-to-be final design prototypes in our lunchbox and got to use both of them. The Type-2 prototype was the go-to preamp of course, and the original prototype was used occasionally. During that time, we got to use the PT2-500 on acoustic guitar, piano, Hammond organ, marimba, and lots and lots of bass DI setups. On a mix session, I needed a little Moog love to add some low tones and hooked our Micromoog up to the PT2-500 DI input and ran the thru jack to my RE-301 Space Echo to get a track of clean synth and a companion track of delayed and intensely-swept feedback/echo craziness. One instrument split to two sources via one preamp is a beautiful thing.
We have since given back the non-production unit and now have a final version installed in our rack, and it's getting used every day. We love our P2analog for our Royer SF-12 (Tape Op #25) but now have its little buddy in the 500 rack for another ribbon -a very welcome addition. Like its Precision 8, P2analog, and P-SOLO preamps, TRUE Systems has made another great, reliable preamp that adds that extra detail in both design and sonics. If you have any open 500-series slots in your studio, and you are wondering how to fill them, I recommend you check out the PT2-500. Oh, did I mention that the list price is only $695? Wow! ($625 street; www.true-systems.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.