Originally Posted by soul&folk
I own the ART MPA Gold as well as a pair of Electro Harmonix 12AY7 preamps.
The Electro Harmonix is really a wonderful preamp. The MPA gold (I have it with a pair of good telefunkens) has yet to prove to me how special it is. I haven't tried it enough to judge properly.
If you're patient you can find the Electro Harmonix 12AY7 preamps on ebay for under $140 per channel. New they cost $189. They are a barebones preamp without any fancy colorful lights or buttons, but they are in a much higher league than the MPA gold IMHO.
The EH 12AY7 is special and has a sound and character unrivaled in that price range, seriously. A totally different sound than the ART unit. It's tight, focused, a little dark, with a slight roll-off in the high's which adds to it's discreet analog feel and it's not hyped anywhere in the spectrum. It accels with acoustic guitar's wind instruments, male vox and toms. It doesn't sound fantastic with every single mic (but no mic pre does really), doesn't give you a lot of gain for dynamic mic's or ribbons. Just make sure if you order a Whirlwind Little Imp to go with each unit you buy to help you interface with your equipment. Trust me, just do that. The little imp is pretty much a necessity I've found, but that's just my experience, not everyone's. The EH totally loves the MK012 mic's. One of the other cool things about the EH is it leaves a small footprint on your sound canvass leaving so much space for other instruments, allowing for better separation in your mixes.
The ART MPA is more open (not huge, but open), warm, and versatile. Nothing really "special" as mentioned above, but extremely useful. Easy to swap out tubes and tubes are like...the first plug-in. Makes it easy to change the voicing. It's reliable and trouble free, quality construction.
Same goes for the ART Pro VLA I and II for compression. Hard to beat for $299 or less. I'd recommend (on the cheap) a Behri compressor but they're so hit/miss because of QC...you just never know what you're going to get with them unfortunately.