The wonderful mind of Bob Heil has produced the “Heil USBQ” - an inline microphone pre-amplifier. “Why?” one might ask, since Shure, BlueMic, CEntrance and others already produce inline mic preamps. But the USBQ has something none of the others have ...
The USBQ inline unit is not meant to replace your digital audio workstation. But if you are a podcaster ... or in the field without AC power ... or if you’re really on a tight budget at the moment - then the format and features of the USBQ are very desirable.
SO ... What does the Heil USBQ offer that the other current inline mic preamps don’t? EQualization! You have +/- 12dB at both 80 Hz and 10k Hz - adjustable with thumbwheel controls.
Physically, the Heil USBQ is five inches overall in length and one inch in diameter. Solid, aluminum housing. Four thumbwheel dials along one side for headset volume, high and low EQ, and mic gain. Also on that side is a multi-color LED, which is red when attached to and powered by your computer’s USB port - and the LED turns blue if you engage phantom power. 3-pin balanced XLR female at one end. The other end (photo above) has a 3.5mm 3-conductor headphone/earpiece monitoring jack, USB Mini-B jack, and a tiny pushbutton switch to activate 48VDC phantom power.
First impressions/notes ...
1. Sturdy aluminum housing, anodized purple.
2. Quality 3-pin XLR female jack, firmly secured to the end of the housing
3. No way to accidentally actuate the 48V phantom power switch - it is a tiny button, and not a slide switch. You really have to "want" to actuate it. Great design.
4. Did I mention that it is purple?
5. Mini-B USB jack - all three of the cords I used (and one is included in the USBQ’s box) fit firmly in its Mini-USB jack - unlike a few problematic jacks on other devices I have run in to that are not as tight a fit. All is secure here.
6. What sets the Heil USBQ far apart from other inline mic preamps (like the Blue Mic Icicle*, MXL MicMate*, CEntrance MicPortPRO*, and Shure RPM626* / X2u*) is its built-in equalization.
7. You have +/- 12db of bass equalization down at 80 hertz.
8. You have +/- 12db of treble equalization at 10K hertz.
9. The center of the EQ dials are scored with a white line at the mid/zero point.
10. Also on the end is a 3.5m 3-conductor jack - for realtime monitoring with earpieces or headphones. Its gain/volume control is the closest one to that end - logical.
11. The unit provides up to 40db gain, adjustable with the thumbwheel GAIN control.
I have informally tested my USBQ on a 17” MacBook Pro (Mac OS 10.6.8 Snow Leopard) using Skype, Garage Band and Audacity. The MacBook Pro and the programs “sensed” the USBQ as an input device without a hitch. For whatever reason, programs “sensed” the USBQ as an audio output device, too - but that is not a problem, as most users will be at the “Preferences” or “Audio Setup” screens to see levels and make adjustments.
I also plugged the USBQ into a Win98 netbook (2GB RAM, dual-boot system, also with Ubuntu Linux 12.04). And all was “plug and play” there, too, under both Windows and Ubuntu - as Audacity, Skype, and a couple recording apps “saw” the USBQ. Same quirk with the USBQ being “sensed” as an audio output device here, too. But, as before, not a problem.
I also tested the USBQ with my Marantz PMD660 digital audio recorder.
For mics to test, I used my Heil PR40, Sennheiser MD46, and Heil HM12. For a condenser to test out the phantom power capability of the USBQ, I used a Behringer C1.
I also used not only the included cable, but a longer (3-foot) one - just to see if I could introduce undesired electrical noise into my test recordings. I also used the computers both plugged into AC and just on battery power - to see if there were differences in the results.
Through all the testing, there was no “scratchiness” from the thumbwheel controls while adjusting. Maybe not an important point - since once you get all set, you’ll leave them alone. I just mention this because I *was* listening for any such noise.
Although I have seen videos of podcasters using these devices plugged directly into their microphones, that sure isn’t how I think of using them. I want it closer to my computer or recorder ... and do not want to extend the length of a mic by plugging it in directly.
RESULTS: I will post an audio file or two here soon. But with all my configurations of mic / computer power source / audio program that I threw at the USBQ, the results were all supportive of what Heil claims:
“The Heil USBQ brings professional quality, low-noise microphone preamplification - complete with two-band shelving equalization, on-board headphone amplifier, and D/A converter in a compact, portable, cool-looking package ... “
In my home office voice recording/VOIP setup, I have been using a PreSonus TubePre (with Tung-Sol 12AX7 tube). Using the PR40, I have been told that I sound fine - and I have never desired any EQ from my preamp. But even without a need for EQ, I sure see a need for the USBQ for field recording: I can “re-create” the slight warmness I achieve with the TubePre/Tung-Sol unit by just bumping up the USBQ’s 80Hz EQ a touch.
Unit comes in cardboard, windowed box, with features printed on the back. Also ships with Mini-USB - to - USB cable.
Jurupa Valley, CA US Heil USBQ Inline Mic Preamp