Applied Research Technology Tube MP Studio

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A.R.T. Tube MP

Intro

Thanks to a new output limiter and analog-style metering, the ART Tube MP Studio is a worthy upgrade to the original compact ART Tube Mic Pre.

Ratings

Ease of Use: 5
Value: 5
Functionality: 4

What's New?

Applied Research and Technology (a.k.a. ART) is at it again. The original Tube MP put a tube microphone preamplifier in the hands of musicians everywhere. And I mean that literally: this little unit, not much larger than a guitar stompbox, fits right in your palm. Just make sure to keep it on your desktop and not under foot! But size was only part of the MP's appeal: a 12AX7A dual triode vacuum tube helped shape the little pre's unique sound, and its price was in reach of even the most modest studio mogul.

Like the original MP, the MP Studio is a one-channel microphone preamplifier with both XLR and 1/4" input and output connections. Powered by a nine-volt AC wall-wart, the MP Studio is all you'll need to record any microphone or instrument directly to your tape deck or hard-disk computer recording system.

The Tube MP Studio adds two new features to the original design. There's a lighted VU meter, which monitors output level. The meter also tracks the action of the second new feature, the Output Peak Limiter circuit (or OPL).

The MP Studio's control layout is pretty basic. Input Level sets gain from +6dB to +40dB. The Gain switch adds a 20dB boost, bringing the input range up to +26dB through +60dB. It's good to know that there is up to 60dB of gain for boosting low-output mics and recording very quiet sounds. The Equivalent Input Noise (EIN) is -129dBu (A-weighted). Additional controls include +48volt phantom power (required for powering condenser mics and some direct boxes) and a Phase-Reverse switch. The latter, a common feature on "pro-level" devices, can come in handy when using the Tube MP Studio in a multi-miking setup.

The OPL uses an FET (Field-Effect Transistor) -based circuit to guarantee full control over output peak levels. This is an insurance policy against overloading and clipping your recorder's inputs with a signal that's too hot. When the OPL push-button is engaged, the output level is limited to 0dBu at the unbalanced 1/4" output jack, and +6dBu at the balanced XLR out. Attack time is program-dependent, ranging from less than 1ms up to 30ms. Release time is also variable with the shortest time set to 200ms. These presets work well for most situations.

Good Metering

The bi-colored LED helps you find optimal levels. It glows green when the unit is powered up and when it receives a low-level signal. (This "signal present" indicator is very helpful when trouble-shooting a studio setup.) When OPL is not active, the LED turns red if the tube's output is near or over the point of clipping. When that happens, you have the option of turning down the Input Level or activating the OPL. When OPL is engaged, a red LED indicates that the signal has exceeded the OPL's threshold level and that gain reduction (limiting) has begun.

The VU meter indicates output level and not gain reduction of the limiter. When the meter reads 0dB, it corresponds to a +6dBu output level at the 1/4" jack (into an impedance of 300 ohms), and a +12dBu level at the XLR jack (into a 600 ohm load). The maximum output level for the unit is an impressive +28dBu.

I was surprised that the MP Studio offered an Output control; many pro units costing thousands of dollars do not. The Output control is great for setting the final level going to your recorder. And if you want to pump up the input to overdrive the Tube MP's tube, you can use the output control to compensate.

Inputs

The MP Studio offers two input connections: 1/4" unbalanced, for instrument and line-level signals such as synthesizers, with an impedance of about 1kOhm and handling levels up to +22dBu and XLR balanced, designed for studio microphones but able to handle levels up to +14dBu. Both inputs can be active at the same time, but I don't recommend using them this way, since the level drops on both inputs as they mix together.

In The Studio

I ran a Neumann U-87 microphone through the MP Studio, which performed well with this demanding microphone. I was also happy with the results of plugging an an electric guitar into the 1/4" jack, and found the MP Studio to be a great sounding direct box.

Using the OPL is about as easy as it gets. As you crank up the Input control, you'll see the red LED light up more and more. The limiter action is very affirmative: an absolute peak stopper. I actually used it as an effect on one recording and loved it. This is called "brick wall" limiting, and the sound of it proves out the slang.

The Tube MP Studio is small enough to be set next to your computer keyboard for easy access, but be warned: I noticed increased noise and interference in the sound when I had it too close to my computer. It turned out to be my computer monitor radiating into the MP, causing a buzzing sound whenever I used the higher gain position. After I moved the MP Studio a little further away, all noise stopped.

Compact and affordable, the ART MP Studio is a great, user-friendly microphone preamplifier that anybody can use. It's just the tool for quick and foolproof recording.

The Tube MP carries a three-year warranty and sells for $159 MSRP. Applied Research & Technology at 215 Tremont St., Rochester, NY 14608. Telephone: 716-436-2720 or Fax: 716-436-3942. Web to: www.artproaudio.com



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