Hands-On Review:ART Pro mic processors
Bringing warmth to the world of digital sound
By Chris Wood
Applied Research and Technology (ART) can put analog warmth back into your cool digital sound. ART, based in Rochester, NY, has been designing and building audio processors for over 20 years. The company is made up largely of musicians, recording enthusiasts, and audio pros who have designed and created a line of products that they take pride in using themselves. We’ll take a look at how four of ART’s recent innovative processors can give your sound the timeless quality found in classic recordings and performances.
Pro Channel Tube Preamp
ART’s Pro Channel gives you a single channel of sound that rivals that of the most elite high-end processors at a fraction of the cost of an entire console. Harnessing the power of three of ART’s pro audio processors–Pro MPA, Pro VLA, and Tube EQ–the Pro Channel delivers the goods.
You can select between ART’s award-winning optical/tube compression or a VCA tube circuit that produces the warm tone made famous by coveted vintage broadcast limiters. The tube circuit acts quickly and rather aggressively to produce classic sound quality–fat, beefy, and warm.
The four-band parametric EQ includes two sweepable midrange bands like the finer British-made consoles. Top studio and live-sound specialists were brought in to assist in the fine-tuning. If you’re looking for the ultimate in sound quality and sophisticated controls in the studio or onstage, Pro Channel is a good place to start.
Pro VLA Tube Mic Compressor
One of the most difficult tasks in music is managing the sound’s dynamics. Some sounds are invariably too loud and others are too quiet. The Pro VLA (Vactrol-based Leveling Amplifer) gives you two channels of tube compression to control dynamics by establishing a ceiling to limit the loudest sounds and a floor to increase levels of quieter signals. Pro VLA’s compression can also be used to add increased punch and presence to instruments and vocals.
Pro VLA circuitry uses a hybrid advanced tube and solid state design with optical (Vactrol) electronics for faultless signal integrity and extremely low noise. A 12AX7A tube gain stage keeps the effects natural-sounding and musical. The Pro VLA easily provides a "squashed," or extremely compressed signal, but is really designed for musical performances requiring subtle, transparent operation. Compression is also often used to make a signal louder and more "in-your-face." The optoelectronics allow you to add compression without making the signal sound too squashed. With Pro VLA you don’t hear the pumping and breathing effects found in heavier-handed compressors. The sound has a superb character found in no other compressor and is remarkably quiet.
MPA Gold 2-Channel Mic Pre
MPA Gold is favored by live sound and recording engineers for imbuing vocal performances with warmth, clarity, and presence. MPA Gold makes both dynamic and condenser microphones simply sound better. Three knobs on each channel respectively adjust channel input gain; vary the impedance from 150 ohms to 3,000 ohms; and control the analog output. Other switches control phantom power, high-pass filter, and the tube plate voltage. The variable input impedance changes the load against which the mic has to push, and variation here dramatically alters the sound. MPA Gold’s input impedance is infinitely variable, rather than stepped, allowing you to match the impedance of all kinds of different mics accurately.
The tube plate voltage control provides tonal variety, using a pair of 12AX7A vacuum tubes to put additional gain on the signal while preserving original tone and controlled overload. Tweaking the input gain and the tube plate voltage produces a round, overdriven sound that gives vocals and acoustic instruments more presence in the mix and enhances instrumental harmonics. Two large, vintage-style VU meters monitor output levels and LEDs monitor display peak history and average levels of tube saturation.
Vocalists, players, producers, sound engineers, and digital studio owners will love the MPA Gold for the warmth and character it brings to any signal.
Digital MPA Pro 2-Channel Mic Pre
The digital version of MPA Gold, DMPA Pro gives you not only analog outputs, but a full battery of digital I/O. These digital connections include AES/EBU, S/PDIF, TOSLINK, and ADAT interfaces, allowing you to connect all the latest digital gear. The Digital MPA provides 24-bit support or it can adapt to 16-bit applications with the push of a button. The A/D is front panel adjustable from 44.1 to 192K or syncs to ADAT or external word clock (32kHz to 100kHz). If you’ve got an all-digital studio, DMPA Pro is the one to pick.
Features & Specs:
- Tube mic pre, optical/tube compressor, and tube EQ
- Precision detented potentiometers
- Selectable VU metering
- Tube character and gain LEDs
- Balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4" I/O
- Insert points
- 3 tubes
- VCA-less design
- Variable threshold, ratio, and output controls
- Variable input and output Gain Controls
- Input/output level metering
- 10-segment gain reduction LED
- XLR and 1/4" I/O
- Mastering quality
- ELECTRONIC MUSICIAN EDITORS CHOICE AWARD
- Variable input impedance
- Selectable tube plate voltage
- Large VU meters
- Tube warmth LED meter
- Discrete Class A input mic preamp
- Lower noise, wide freq. response, and low THD
Digital MPA Pro:
- Precision detented potentiometers
- Selectable VU meters (mic pre out, compressor out, or main out)
- Tube character and gain reduction LED arrays