Recording Magazine – LE10 Microphone Preamp Review

Recording Magazine – LE10 Microphone Preamp Review

By on Aug 19, 2013 in Reviews |

BY PAUL VNUK JR.

Microphone Preamp Review by Recording Magazine

“A new name in audio design delivers a remarkable debut product.”

Edwards Microphone Preamp LE-10 Front and BackThe LE-10 Microphone Preamp is a new 2- channel vacuum tube mic pre from Edwards Audio Research, a brand new company. The LE-10 comes in both single- and dual-channel configurations; it was designed by Bill Bruins and Paul Edwards and is hand-built by Paul Edwards in Norwalk, CA. This is about as boutique as it gets!

Its Got Looks and Features You Expect

I received the 2-channel unit for review. It is a 2-space rack unit with a pair of ultra-large, backlit vintage-style VU meters in its center. If you look at the picture of the LE-10 you may think, as I initially did, that it has a stained cherry wood face- plate. However, looks can be deceiving, it is actually etched Formica. According to a conversation I had with Mr. Edwards it is much more durable in the long run, and easier to consistently reproduce than wood would be. Ah, well, it still looked pretty cool in my studio desk, which has a visually similar light alder finish.

Each channel is identical and starts with an independent 1/4″ instrument input on the left, followed by a –20 dB pad switch, and then a pair of matching black knobs, each labeled 1–10. The first is a 10 dB variable Trim knob and the second is the output Gain. I am not sure of the second knob’s relation to decibel level, but the unit’s spec sheet lists a total output gain of +58/+64 dB. The first switch to the right of the VU meters, labeled High/Low, chooses said output level. While I initially assumed this was a high/low impedance switch, it is probably best considered a +6 dB boost.

In the middle of the VU meters is a 6 dB/octave (–6 dB @ 50 Hz) bass-cut switch, and back on the far right, the unit is rounded out by a phase switch and a phantom power switch complete with a vintage ruby-gem style phantom power indicator (one per channel), and a power switch. The rear of the unit contains standard balanced XLR ins and outs for each channel and a plug for an included 24V AC supply. The 24 Volts AC is boosted and rectified internally to provide the high DC voltage required to properly operate the tubes.

Internally the unit uses 12AX7 tubes on the input stage and 6267 EF86 tubes on the output. Its frequency response is officially listed as 20 Hz to 20 kHz, but the Audio Precision plot given on the company website goes a bit farther: 3 dB down at 10 Hz and 50 kHz and pretty much ruler-flat in between! In other words, this is not a preamp made to push, highlight or hide any frequency. It has an 80 dB signal-to-noise ratio and only 0.05% harmonic distortion. From that alone you can tell this is designed to be a clean and opulent preamp rather than a fuzzy, vintage tube emulation.

Big Warm Sound and Incredibly Hi-Fidelity

When I first got the LE-10, I hooked it up and hit the ground running on sessions for a singer/songwriter/indie rocker that ran the gamut from heavy chorded grunge guitar to aggressively strummed acoustic and vocals. I also used the LE- 10’s DI for bass overdubs.

This will sound like a backwards compliment of sorts, but the LE-10 just did its job and stayed out of the way so well that I forgot it was there. But it is actually a compliment, as never once was I forced to second-guess my preamp choice or its sound; the LE-10 just sounds so darn good that you get on with making tracks, without stressing about the sound!

A few weeks later I had some folk-style sessions with acoustic guitars, drums, percussion and banjo. I initially used the LE- 10 with a pair of Milab microphones (reviewed June 2012) as room mics when the instrumentalists tracked live. Then I used it with a BeezNeez T1 Tribute mic (a U47 clone) for vocal overdubs.

As a tube preamp, the LE-10 is not your stereotypical thick vintage-like tube pre that imposes a sonic stamp on your sound. While it is quite big and warm sounding, it is an incredibly hi-fidelity preamp. I found the DI on the LE-10 to be well suited for bass, Fender Rhodes, and synthesizers as well, especially analog.

When compared side by side with a Universal Audio SOLO/610 and a pair of Blue Robbies, all with upgraded tubes, I would say the LE-10 is not as mid-for- ward or drivable as the 610; in fact, while it’s easy to push the 610 into over- drive, it’s next to impossible to do that on the LE-10. The Robbie has more of a mod- ern bright top end for a tube pre, but it cannot come close to matching the full low end capable on the Edwards. You don’t think of “tube preamp” and “flat from subsonic to hypersonic” in the same sentence, but that’s what the LE-10 gives you, and it’s a pretty startling experience.

Conclusions

This is a boutique piece all the way, and for the asking price it had better sound stellar—the good news is, it does! Congratulations to Mr. Edwards for see- ing through his vision of a remarkable new preamp into a product that sets the bar high in pretty much any studio.

Price: $2495 stereo, $1795 mono (direct)

More from: Edwards Audio Research,

www.edwardspreamp.com 

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