This is going to be a short review. Pretty much everyone on the planet knows about Jeff Steiger's Classic Audio Products of Illinois stuff by now; these are DIY kits that began with a renewed version of the vintage API 3232 recording console preamp and then expanded out to include some unique 500- series modules. I've been using a pair of his VC528 ST2+ Missing Link modules on my mix bus for a long time, and I love the tone and functionality of those. The VP28 is a new two-stage preamp that essentially takes the front half of the VP26 preamp [Tape Op #77] and mates it to the back half of the Missing Link. So what does that mean?
I don't know what it means - literally. I'm sure there's some gearslutty audiospew out there if you like reading written descriptions of sound - Google it, I guess. I just know what it gets you - tone. This thing has a fantastic tonality to it, lots of different tones, actually. So much so, that I've taken to using this as a line stage on my mix bus. (Sorry, Missing Link!) But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I started with using this as a mic preamp on a tracking session at Echo Mountain in Asheville, NC. That studio has a fantastic complement of great mic preamps, and we used them all. When I ran the guitars through the VP28, the guitarist on the session yelled, "Stop! What's that?? That's the best I've ever heard my guitar sound!" Okay, cool. Guitars through the VP28 - check. They sounded fantastic, and I was happy to use them for the rest of the project.
One of the beautiful things about the VP28 is that all the controls are stepped. I love that. It's a cinch to recall, and the whole thing just feels solid. Plus, the preamp gain section has a notch marked Unity. When the VP28 is in line-mode and set to unity, you essentially have a line amp running through both the input and output transformers as well as both discrete op-amps. Plus, you get the filter section and the stepped output fader with 2 dB boost and 4 dB cut steps. This setup allows you to crank up the input for some transformer saturation and step down the output to compensate, or vice versa - a ton of tonal range for one mic/line amp. Pop the Mic button and you have the same functionality in a mic preamp with 72 dB of total gain - plenty for ribbons. Also included are the mandatory polarity, 48 V phantom power, and 20 dB pad switches, as well as the non-mandatory, but greatly appreciated, signal presence light. (Thank you!)
In my experience, the modules are very closely matched, and I believe if you buy them as a pair, Jeff will ensure that you get parts matched to within 0.03 dB - well within mastering tolerances. All the op-amps are socketed so you can experiment with API 2520; Scott Liebers' Red or Blue Dots; or any other pin-compatible 16 V op-amps out there.
My complaints are scarce. Some people won't want to build these themselves, but there are a few people out there that will build these for you. Some people won't like stepped controls, but these people are wrong. I wish that there were a version that offered 1 dB steps as an option, for line-amp mixing/mastering applications only. I would love to see a switch for cutting the filter frequencies in half, or an option to swap out those values for something lower (like 15 or 20 Hz, again for mixing/mastering purposes). These quibbles aside, the VP28 offers a ton of flexibility and tone for both mic and line applications, and I can say without a doubt that it will always find a place in my rack.