Hands-On Review:A.R.T. TPS II, DPS II, and TCS II
A triple-tube ART aural attack!
By Del Phian
Why Tubes? Far from being as magical as some valve worshippers might suggest, there are some very practical reasons why gear with quality tube circuitry sounds better to most of us. Tubes have a knack for enhancing the even-number harmonics in an audio signal, adorning it with full analog characteristics. Using tube mics and tube mic preamps is a great way to warm up just about any audio source when recording digitally.
ART has a well-earned reputation for providing pro-level hardware at budget-conscious prices, and their tube microphone preamps have been popular additions to many studios. In a defining move for the company and recording engineers of all levels, ART introduced the Tube MP in 1996. The affordable black microphone pre quickly became a favorite, and Mix magazine even nominated it for their prestigious TEC Award.
TPS II & DPS II
The D/IO Preamplifier System II (DPS II) and Tube Preamp System II (TPS II) are not only worthy successors to their forebear, but provide a new level of usability and versatility. In short, these are some very recording- and microphone-friendly units.
While dialing in settings for each situation can be trying, ART's Variable Valve Voicing (V3) feature makes it a little easier to get the preamplifier tones you seek. Each notch on the V3 knob will cause a different saturation level in the tube and implement a unique EQ profile and output level. The changes to frequency response, gain, and distortion characteristics provide a wide palette of color for recording, and the best part is you're never locked in-the presets are just shortcuts that make sense.
Output Protection Limiting (OPL) is another feature that has hit its stride. The newest enhancements include modifications that allow the compressor to react more musically with a wider range of sources. Worried about pumping? ART's engineers tempered the circuitry in OPL to fight pumping even more. Sweet. Not crazy about compression? That's okay, OPL is selectable from the V3 settings.
The TPS II is a step-up tube microphone pre with a very friendly I/O setup that will keep it permanently mounted in racks everywhere. The front panel houses dual-purpose 1/4" and XLR input jacks. The XLRs are 48V phantom powered and have variable input impedance, a feature not usually found on preamps in this price range. The impedance is extremely flat over a wide frequency range, which allows the preamp to be matched with microphones from condensers to ribbon mics. This is a huge benefit, making the TPS II extremely flexible.
The high input impedance 1/4" jack has an awesome feature-front input override. When you plug into the front 1/4" input jacks, the rear inputs are ignored so you can keep them connected. On the flipside, the TPS II houses standard balanced XLR and 1/4" inputs as well as balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4" outputs to make patching simple. The balanced and unbalanced outputs can be used simultaneously, useful when using the TPS II as a direct box.
Another artful inclusion to the TPS II (and another you won't see on similarly-priced units) is ultra-precise individual channel level monitoring. With two analog meters as well as two input monitoring LED meters, inputs are well-watched and easily observable no matter how you have things routed.
Got a serious need for digital in your setup? There's good news. ART's first generation preamplifier with digital I/O has been updated. The DPS II is incredibly versatile, with a range of I/O options and easy-access A/D converters. Wanna know what makes it really killer? Sidechain inserts between the analog and digital sections. ART has made their A/D converters completely unrestricted and open, giving customers the freedom to utilize the converters directly. Rarely does a piece of gear come along that is so friendly to outboard units.
While the name might be Twin Compressor System, the TCS is in fact four quality compressors in a single package. Twin isn't a misnomer, it refers to the fact that each channel on this signal-wrangling compression all-star contains two separate compressors: a feed-forward solid state compressor for VCA-based limiting and optical compression based around tube circuitry for smooth transparent compression. With stacked operation both channels and all four compressors can used on the same signal. It's a stunning amount of available compression capable of producing incredible sustain without low-frequency distortion and supplying highly variable compression levels.
Adapted V3 technology provides automatic adjustment of attack and release settings, as well as the de-esser, expander, and noise gate. ART leaves you free to fine tune their settings, which are not really presets as much as they are basic starting points. Some of the truly pro-level features the TCS houses are twin analog VU gain reduction meters, and LED output meters that indicate average levels, as well as hold the peak level to indicate true crest factor.
Whether you're recording analog or digital, ART has a preamplification and compression solution for you. Not only do the TPS II, DPS II, and TCS include some of the hottest technology, pro-level features, and discrete signal routing circuitry around, they do it at prices that most aspiring recordists can afford. You owe it to your recordings to check them out.
Features & Specs
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