We’ve had the Bluetube DP stereo mic preamp around for a few weeks now, and I’ve had a chance to use it in several different recording situations. It’s a pretty sweet-looking (the visible tube glow is cheesy but cool) little tabletop unit with two analog inputs/outputs and a solid-state gain stage on each channel that can be augmented with a tube-based circuit to varying degrees using a front-panel knob. We’ve always just used our board’s built-in pre’s since I’ve been around Pipeline, so the ability to swap in something else adds an interesting new degree of freedom to recording. It’s a nice piece of equipment overall, but I’ve found two situations where I really like this thing:
– For quiet singers/instruments that really need a high preamp gain, the Presonus doesn’t exhibit any of the “graininess” (Nick’s word, but it’s pretty accurate) or audible noise floor that our built-in pre’s are notorious for when you turn them past about 3 o’clock. I had the tube drive bypassed in most of these situations (it was just adding distortion that wasn’t appropriate), and the amp was smooth and, at least for our purposes, basically transparent. The VU meters on it are a little bit strange; they almost never seem to match up with the pre-fader input level on the board, and not really in any consistent way (sometimes higher, sometimes lower). I don’t know if that’s the fault of the unit or just some subtlety about the two indicators that I’m missing.
– The second application, and the one that made me fall in love with it, was something Nick and I discovered while recording the Black Clouds set last night (archive). They’ve got two guitars (one basically used as a bass) and a drum kit, and I initially had the two Presonus channels hooked up to each guitar, thinking the tube distortion might enhance that filthy garage-rock sound that I never seem to get tired of. Which it did, but not to any really interesting degree; a cranked-up amp and/or an overdrive pedal will generate a perfectly usable level of distortion if that’s what the band’s looking for; there’s really no need for any at the preamp stage as well. When the band listened to their first soundcheck and asked if we could make the vocals sound “more dirty” though, we switched the Presonus over to the two vocal channels and cranked the tube overdrive as high as it would go. The result was insane, almost unintelligibly distorted vocals (think Pussy Galore or Teengenerate) that fit perfectly with the band’s messy garage-punk sound; they loved it, we loved it, and overall I think it was the main contributor to one of the best sets I’ve recorded in awhile. When they were singing quietly or talking, the vocals were smooth and distortion-free without any knob-twiddling on my part, which is probably standard but I thought it was nice.
Conclusion: the Bluetube DP is awesome for adding clarity to quiet things when they need to be amplified above the noise floor of our stock pre’s, but even more awesome for adding nice-sounding distortion to things that need/want it (I’d imagine you could get the same effect on a DI’ed electric guitar or similar, but haven’t tried yet). The levels it comes into the board at don’t seem to be very consistent, as I mentioned, but that could be because the sets I’ve used it on have all been very different types of music (the Black Clouds were the loudest band we’ve had on in ages). Since geography dictates that we record an awful lot of messy garage-punk, I’d really love to keep this guy around when we’re done reviewing it.