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New ez1081 Mic Preamps

by | Oct 19, 2017

What is a Mic Preamp?

A Microphone preamp is a little gizmo that turns up the mic signal before you record it. You never needed to worry about them before. This was because they were built into every mixing console. But more and more studios are getting rid of their consoles so the preamp has become more important.
 
Preamps nowadays exist either in dedicated channel strips or as standalone units. Recording budgets and therefore studios are shrinking. As a result, the 500 series racks from manufacturers such as API have become very popular.
 
This attraction is no doubt due to the fact that you can squeeze lots of units into a small space. There are many preamps already available for the 500 series. Furthermore, there are a lot of good DIY options.

New AML ez1081 Mic Preamps

I recently finished building some new microphone preamps from AML (Audio Maintenance Limited). The kits are named the “ez1081 Mic Pre”. They pay homage to a well-respected line of transformer-based preamps! The grey metalwork and red Marconi gain switch is a bit of a giveaway of the inspiration. So how does this new offering from AML fare?
 
The ez1081 mic pre units ship either pre-assembled or as a DIY kit and it’s the latter that I opted for.
 
I should point out that everything required to build the preamp is included in the bundle. This is great because there is no need to source hard-to-find components. Compared with some of the other kits I’ve built this is a one-stop shop.
 
The metalwork is of excellent quality and the PCB fits the chassis like a glove. The resistors even come pre-cut. As a result this is an easy build for first-timers as well as seasoned DIY-ers.
 
I’ve built a kit from AML before: the ez1073 Mic Pre that I have documented in another blog post. AML build the best DIY kits available in the UK at the moment. Lastly, the documentation is very thorough and easy to follow. What’s more impressive is the gear sounds fantastic!
 
It took me almost 2 days from start to finish to build and calibrate 4 of these preamps. It is also worth noting that they fit in a standard API 500-series rack. I’m using the classic API 6B rackable lunchbox. The units sell for £179.95 + VAT per unit which is very reasonable and details of the units are on the AML website.
 
You can see a slideshow of images of the build process below:

The ez1081 Mic Pre on test…

The preamps built into my Avid C|24 console lack dynamic range and also transient response. As a result, I’m hoping that these new preamps will become my go-to choice for percussion. So I decided to road-test them to see how well they handle a drum recording.
 
I set up my drum kit and miked it up using 4 mics. I placed an Audix D6 on Kick – a common microphone in this application. On snare, I used a Beyer M201 – a nice contrast to the ubiquitous SM57. And finally, I used a pair of Coles 4038s as overheads because they shine in this role.
 
The Mic signals went through my ART S8 8-channel mic splitter. This meant I could compare preamps on the same performance. Tracks were then recorded via the ez1081 mic pres as well as the Apogee Mini MPs for comparison.
 
You can see a video of the process below:

So how do they sound?

I love these preamps – especially the 300 Ohm setting because this adds weight as well as openness. In contrast, the Apogees appear anaemic in this regard. This effect was far less obvious when switching the ez1081 units to their 1200 Ohm setting. As a result, it’s definitely going to be worth my while seeing how this affects recorded signals.
 
Above all though was that I could hear – especially on the kick drum – the beginnings of saturation. This is due to the two Carnhill transformers in the unit. In contrast the Apogees use a transformer-less design. This effect can be utilised even more by running the gain higher and padding the output. I was hearing some slight compression on the kick as well as some slight ducking after each hit.

Conclusion

It is annoying these preamps don’t come with an output attenuator like the ez1073. But despite this slight niggle I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.
 
To summarise though: at this price point, it’s very difficult to fault these units. They have a recallable gain switch, high-quality components and great build quality. Despite the odd niggle they seem built to last!
Threecircles Recording Studio
5.0
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Kieren Jones
Kieren Jones
2018-04-28T14:45:45+0000
Excellent recording facility and Adrian is a top professional guy! Thoroughly enjoyed it, will definitely be using your services again thanks for a great productive day.
Richard Simmonds
Richard Simmonds
2018-02-25T10:39:15+0000
Adrian, thank you for a great day and a half of recording finishing last Wednesday. Having been together as a group back in the 60s and now getting together 50 years on to record was a bit nerve racking but you made the thing so much easier with your professional advice and guidance. You've got a great set up and since we had Rog playing flute and drums [for some reason not at the same time!] the layering down of the instruments went really well. We had a great time and ended up with a CD and lots of happy memories. Martin living in France doesn't make it easy but we have all vowed to be back with something completely different for you to cut to disc. Thanks again and see you soon. Sam, Andy, Roger and Martin of Old Lemons fame.
Richard Ellis
Richard Ellis
2016-12-19T05:50:37+0000
This is a relaxed studio in a lovely location near the beautiful town of Saffron Walden. Adrian is a great sound guy, he listens and responds and adds enthusiasm to the day. Top recordings with the best equipment for a great price ... highly recommended ��
Ashley 'mAsh' Garbett
Ashley 'mAsh' Garbett
2016-12-17T12:19:23+0000
Having recorded at Threecircles several times, there's good reason why I keep going back... with such high end equipment, Ade's expertise and competitive pricing there's no need to go anywhere else!!
Andy Webster
Andy Webster
2016-12-14T22:55:28+0000
I first met Ade when a charity band event needed a sound technician and PA rig at short notice, he provided top notch sound for the event and also offered a very well priced live recording, which he would go away and mix at Threecircles Studio. The results were brilliant, I have never heard myself recorded live so well and the mixing was fantastic too. As a result, one of my bands then used Threecircles services again, this time at the studio to record a track for promotional purposes. We had a great time and were really happy with the results! Would highly recommend for both studio work and live sound.
Dan Mailer
Dan Mailer
2016-12-14T20:26:42+0000
Three Circles is excellent. Great studio that I have recorded at various times over the year. Ade is a hard working producer who gets great results.
Victoria Mills
Victoria Mills
2016-12-14T20:25:21+0000
I've both recorded and rehearsed at Threecircles and I can't recommend them enough! Nothing was too much trouble, the facilities are excellent and our demo sounds amazing! Thank-you!
Steve Watts
Steve Watts
2016-12-14T18:46:27+0000
Loved working with the chaps at Three Cirlces, they have all the gear and every idea! Super talented guys who get the very best out of you! 5/5
Rob Clark
Rob Clark
2016-12-14T18:20:10+0000
Very professional sound, genuinely listens to what you want and the sound you wish to create, and makes it better in every way! Highly recommend!
Stephen Ellis
Stephen Ellis
2016-12-14T18:19:54+0000
Recorded the last Kaine single at this studio; very professional set up, Ade is a great guy and the coffee is also good.
Gemma Marner
Gemma Marner
2016-12-14T18:04:48+0000
I've always loved recording at Three Circles - lovely, comfortable space and surroundings and Adrian is so easy to work with. Would recommend it in a heartbeat!
Joel Priest
Joel Priest
2016-12-14T16:57:59+0000
Great location as so close to London by road or rail. More mics than you can imagine and Ade has always done a highly professional job whenever I have used his services.
Kennedy Clark Herring
Kennedy Clark Herring
2016-12-14T16:42:36+0000
Truly professional attitude and highly capable. Recommending these guys for studio work as well as live sound... Cheers guys, appreciate the extra effort you put in,making us sound truly amazing. 5 stars : )
Chris MacKinnon
Chris MacKinnon
2016-12-14T16:41:46+0000
Ade at 3C is a true hero. Aside from having professional equipment, incredible understanding and knowledge of music production and a brilliant studio - he is a real genuine man. If I could I'd give this studio 6*, Ade recently recorded a single for my band completely for free because he knew we were doing it for charity.
Saxon Davids
Saxon Davids
2016-12-14T16:39:40+0000
Great recording facility! I've recorded at Threecircles twice now and enjoyed both sessions a lot, Ade is great to work with and has an set up of equipment and can produce excellent sound, and charges at a reasonable rate also! And the coffee is also a huge plus! 😉
Matt Milligan
Matt Milligan
2016-12-14T16:01:56+0000
Excellent recording studio, highly recommended!