Universal Audio just keeps on coming up with great products for both the pro and home studio. Their latest entry is the 4-710d microphone preamp. It’s basically four channels of UA’s 710 preamp, which allows you to blend between tube and transistor–based circuitry, in a 2U-height chassis with the addition of some new features: 1176-style compression for each preamp, and four additional balanced line inputs. All eight inputs go to a robust digital card for A/D conversion and connectivity to your DAW. Having already reviewed the 710 preamp (Tape Op #70), I won’t retread that water but instead focus on the new features.
The addition of some simple compression parameters on all four preamps is a very nice feature. It’s a very simple “in” switch with a selector for fast or slow mode. The fixed ratio is 4:1 with a set threshold of 10 dBu. The fast setting yields attack time of 0.3 ms and release time of 100 ms, and the slow settings are 2.0 ms and 1100 ms respectively. Since the compression is also input dependent, it’s pretty easy to dial in the amount of compression you want at input by playing around with the two settings relative to the input/drive level. I basically would look at the meter on its drive setting, get that up where I felt comfortable, check the meter on its output setting, then put the meter switch to show gain reduction and try either the fast or slow compression switch and listen to the results. If I heard too much compression, I just lowered the input knob and raised output accordingly. While I’m not going to say it’s exactly like gaining four 1176s in your rack, it is very much an 1176-style of compression that is quite musical and will definitely impart as much squash as you desire and is real handy for controlling very dynamic content — like screaming metal singers and hyperactive bass parts on the way into your DAW. In its more gentle settings, I found the compressor circuit provided a nice little tuck-down on dynamic content I was worried would peak the digital side; and I could use that 4 dB of fast compression to drive up my record level nicely to the DAW — very handy for acoustic instruments and back up vocals.
All this combined with the 710 transistor/tube topology and you have a winner already, but Universal Audio went the distance, proving they understand how recording is being done these days by including the eight channels of A/D conversion that has all the digital output modes covered. Its most simple setup is ADAT lightpipe straight into your audio interface. Since UA included a great clock as well, the 4-710d becomes an awesome front end to anyone’s older rig. Our Digi 002 sounded better with the clock set to optical, and getting the preamp’s input to Pro Tools was as easy as selecting channel 9 to 11 on the input of the track we wanted to record to. You can also benefit from the 4-710d’s superior conversion by running your outboard preamps into extra line inputs of the 4-710d. BNC word clock I/O is also very nice. With our HD rig, having the 4-710d sync via word clock to our master clock was great, and using the AES/EBU digital outputs made hooking up the Pro Tools 192 I/O interface super easy. The clock options cover all current sample rates up to 192 kHz. There’s a handy LED that goes from yellow (not locked) to green (locked), giving you the visual confidence that everything is synched and happy. The eight channels of digital metering is also a nice feature. And just in case you are worried about clipping, there is a limit switch that puts soft limiting in front of the digital converters for all channels globally. The parameters of the limiter are a threshold setting of –3 dBFS (17 dBu), an attack time of 0.075 ms, and a release time of 100 ms.
My students at Scottsdale Community College are very excited about this preamp as its features and affordability make it a great addition to the budget-conscious digital studio, and now that they have heard and played with it, I know that four of them are saving up their money to purchase one as soon as possible. Since it’s so equally at home with any setup, it’s a great mic preamp for the big boys and girls as well. I think having four 710 preamps is a great upgrade to any studio. When you combine that with the simple but musical compression, great metering, ability to blend between tube and transistor sound, great A/D conversion, and a robust clock, you have an amazing product that is well designed and built from inside to outside with care — just like we have come to expect from Universal Audio. I give this product five stars. It’s truly an amazing piece, and you won’t regret owning one. At its affordable price, it’s like getting four great preamps for $500 each, and the rest is all free!
($1999 street; www.uaudio.com)
–Craig Schumacher <email@example.com>
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