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Hands-On Review: ART Tube MP Project Series Preamp

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Upgrading a legendary tube mic preamp

By Sarah McEwan

ART Tube MP Project Series Tube Preamp

I remember when only the bigger studios could afford tube preamps and for those of us with home studios, the only option was solid state. Then ART revolutionized home recording in 1996 with the Tube MP by making an affordable, quality tube preamp. Mix magazine gave it their prestigious TEC Award and it became the most popular tube mic preamp ever. Now they've taken it to the next step with the new Tube MP Project Series preamp.

Though I have heard good things about the original Tube MP, I was skeptical that a tube pre this inexpensive would really give me the warmth it promised and wasn't just another gimmick. Nowadays it seems like everything has a tube--I've even seen footpedals with tubes inside. Don't get me wrong, one of my favorite folk songs was recorded with a high-end tube preamp and I love the warm, fluid sound it gave the track. I just wasn't sure that the affordable ART Tube MP Project Series Preamp could perform as well as the expensive preamps large recording studios use, so I was glad to really put this economical preamp to the acid test.

Well, the Tube MP Project Series passed the test with flying colors. It really gave my recordings that pure, rounded warm sound. I was amazed that ART could sell this tube preamp for well under $100 while most other tube preamps go for well north of $1,000. It really is a dream come true for home and project studios everywhere. That's why the ART tube preamps are so successful--not only are they inexpensive, they actually work as advertised.

Packed with the right stuff

The Tube MP Project Series has a 12AX7A tube inside for pro-quality sound at an unheard-of price. It's made to enhance a microphone, instrument, or line-level signal for input directly into your audio system. Simply put, this remake of the popular Tube MP will really warm things up.

Every aspect of the legendary Tube MP design has been upgraded from the inside out for the Project Series. New features include precision LED level metering circuitry and a stackable aluminum chassis. An FET limiter prevents succeeding gear from overloading while maintaining a clear, uncompressed sound. A phase invert control switches signal polarity.

ART Tube MP Project Series Tube Preamp Face

The day the Tube MP Project Series arrived at my door, I was planning to work on a recording of an acoustic folk song with my backup singer. I got the Tube MP Project Series out of the box and gave it a going over. It has 48V phantom power plus 1/4" and balanced XLR (female) inputs and 1/4" and balanced XLR (male) outputs. The 1/4" input bypasses the preamp circuitry, producing a clean signal path for high-impedance instruments. It also has an external power supply, which really kept AC line noise and hum out of my sound.

Test drive

I decided to go ahead and use the Tube MP Project Series for a trial run that day, even though my backup singer was wary of trying a new tube preamp and I wasn't certain the Tube MP Project Series would even have the warm sound I was looking for. But we agreed we should at least give it a try.

I ran our vocals through an ART TPS II Tube Preamp I already had in my rack. I then plugged a vintage ribbon mic that always sounds a bit thin through my mixer into the Tube MP Project Series to track the acoustic guitar accompaniment. Using the input gain control and switchable input impedance, the ribbon mic sounded great.

Next we overdubbed the bass track using the Tube MP Project Series as a bass DI before sending it to the mixer. We used the built-in compression to smooth out the bass sound. We also engaged the switch-selectable high-pass filter with 40Hz roll-off to get rid of the low-frequency rumble.

Thumbs-up

We were amazed at the smooth warmth we got with the Tube MP Project Series. Our song sounded amazing with the fattened signal and, as I said earlier, I just couldn't believe such an affordable tube mic preamp could sound so good. Similar tube preamps can cost many times as much, and the warm tone the Tube MP Project Series puts out is fantastic. I think my backup singer has been converted to a Tube MP junkie--she loved the openness and warmth it gave her voice.

ART set a high standard for affordable, quality tube mic preamps back in '96 that no one has come close to beating to this day. Except ART, of course. The new ART Tube MP Project Series raises the bar yet again and is a must-have processor to add to your home or project studio rack. I kept the demo unit and I am very happy to have it.

Features & Specs:

  • Low-noise discrete front end
  • Up to 70dB of clean musical gain
  • High-output signal drive capability
  • Fast FET limiter to prevent overload
  • Switch-selectable input impedance
  • Precision LED metering
  • Low-noise 48V phantom power supply
  • 12AX7A hand-selected tube
  • Compact, stackable all-aluminum chassis
  • XLR and 1/4" I/O
  • Phase invert switch
  • High-cut filter switch
  • Variable input and output controls
  • Frequency response: 10Hz-40kHz, +/- 1dB
  • Dynamic range: >100dB (20Hz-20kHz)
  • THD: <0.05% (typical)
  • CMRR: >60dB (typical)
  • EIN: <-130dB (XLR to XLR A-wieghted)
  • 5-9/10"W x 1-3/4"H x 6-1/2"D
  • 2-1/2 lbs.

Tags: Recording Preamps

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