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Phoenix DRSQ-4 as Mic Pre and More Dual-Channel Preamps
Old 14th August 2013
  #1
Phoenix DRSQ-4 as Mic Pre and More

Hey, at $2,700 for a two channel mic pre this thing sends most audio creatives into immediate sticker shock (me included), but several years ago I bought one before Phoenix Audio moved its production to California and I got a great deal from Shaun Leveque who was selling off B-stock from the UK during the move. At the time I auditioned the ADL600, the Great River MP-2NV, the Langevin Dual Vocal Combo, and some of my review notes were posted on that "shootout" way back in 2006 here in this thread. I bought an ADL, the Langevin, and the Phoenix at that time, because I was in a big project and I wanted something from each one. Guess which one I still own 8 years later? ... yep, the Phoenix DRSQ-4 ... and here are some of the reasons why:

It is MORE than a mic pre:

1. You can run any bus or full mix through it for some amazing transformer tone. You can simply hit the Mic/Line switch and change the rear balanced XLR inputs to line level inputs. This gives you the chance to get some great transformer coloration, and in my tests, no noise to speak of. Drive it lightly and you get a subtle roundness, better depth and a nice hug on the 2-Bus, but if you drive it you can get some real depth in the program all the way up to a Motown kind of crush that gets very, very vintage sounding.
2. I own a 16 channel summing device from Phoenix, the Nicerizer, but I usually insert the DRSQ-4 into the main output bus (bypassing the internal output transformers which are the exact same as the DRSQ-4) so that I can better adjust the drive levels with more precision (because then I have both a Pre and Post gain for the transformers!) and I can also add the EQ for additional coloration and tone shaping.
3. You can engage the EQ on a mix/sub bus (or any line level signal) and then some very creamy, magical things happen. At first I didn't understand why this changed the overall texture of the mix, but after chatting with Robin Ashley at Phoenix I learned that when you engage the EQ it puts even the line level through the mic preamp section of the circuit. This is normally bad advice, but in the case of the DRSQ-4 I found it to add a kind of soft kind of thickening that I really love. (My friend David Wilton who has a song on the recent Twilight film also loves this trick as well.)
4. The EQ is really, really wonderful. No, you can't sweep every frequency as those are chosen for you, nor can you control the Q, but the bandwidth of the EQ is so musical and soft, that I think it is better for basic shaping--like on a mix bus--than it may be for tracking where you might want to notch something specific out.

As a mic pre it is still killer.

The reason I preferred it over all my other options were:
1. It has so much gain that it is ridiculous. The input section sounded great on my ribbon microphones, and the additional output gain knob allows you to get the level you need whether you barely drive the input stage or crush it into distortion mode.
2. The input stage can either be super clean at low input levels, or mid-forward thick as you turn it up, or trash-town distorted when you really hit it. I have never used a pre that had such a wide range of color. No knobs to push to add some other circuit, it is just like a tube amp on a guitar head: roll it back for clean, turn it up for balls. Easy.
3. It has two balanced outputs on the back, one TRS and one XLR, both able to drive separate loads which makes wiring for Mid/Side, monitoring, or creative signal paths a breeze.
4. The circuit is lively and can be colorful, but it is not bouncy like some tube gear that has to be compressed to death to sit in a mix. It seems to hold tracks together like a mild kind of compression. Vocals, drums, and so far everything I have tracked with it sits in the mix so well, with very little post processing, that it makes my post work so much easier.

I took the time to rant on this gear because it has stayed with me for so long and I realized how genuinely impressed I am. It is my one preamp--that is more than a preamp--that can never be trade or upgraded. Hope this proves useful to some of you guys who like to have gear that can do more than one job in your creative work.

Ben Pasley
Old 14th August 2013
  #2
Jai guru deva om
 
warhead's Avatar
 

The nice thing here is that I have also owned one for years and it's interesting how this could only be written by a long time owner who gets it. Every single word you've written is exactly how I have felt about the DRSQ4 for years. It's in my rack right now...and will never leave.

By the way we do a mod on these units that lowers the corner frequency on the hi-pass filter for those who want to use it on mix buss.

War
Old 14th August 2013
  #3
Lives for gear
 

I had one of these, also an "early" UK built prototype, problem i had was with the build quality, which was really poor to be honest.

Inside the PCB's had been roughly cut by hand (rough/chipped edges) the pcb cuts were done to accommodate the large front panel switched mic pots, which wouldn't have fit in the case otherwise as the back of the pot coming into the case was much too big and hit against the pcb by a lot.
They cut the pcb by about an inch by half inch to get the pot to (just) fit.
The one i had also had brown parcel tape(!) stuck to the pcb in that area in what i assume was to stop the possibility of one of the resistors on the back of the pot touching the pcb as the fit between pcb and back of pot (even after they cut the pcb) was still very tight- about 1MM or so! Wasn't pretty.......

Also annoyingly, all the front panel pots were rubbing against the front panel, all had to be adjusted which took a fair bit of time to get spot on.
Im surprised the last owner put up with it like that, unless he was the one who built it i dont know i got it off Ebay.

The serial number was 20 something, i was surprised that the build quality was still like that, having already built 20 or so units you'd think they would realize the problem, redesigned the pcb to be smaller so that everything fit rather than bodge it with the hand cut and parcel tape.....

Later Q4's (at least looking at the pictures of the Q4 on the Phoenix website) have redesigned pcbs that are indeed smaller so that everything fits inside OK.

But even worse than all that, sorry to say, was the very prominent ground hum on channel 2, this is the channel nearest the internal PSU, the other channel furthest away from the PSU didnt have this problem. The PSU nearest to channel 2 bleeds hum into the circuit.
Again one has to wonder if later units suffer with this and why they didnt put a shield around the PSU to stop this?

It was a shame as i got it for a nice price but i had to send it back.

Still having said all that...... the sound of the preamps cant be faulted!

Not deterred i ended up buying 2x used DRS-1R preamps, amusingly these were also prototypes built in the UK, but the build quality on those are fine.
I have them in an API 500V case, with the external PSU, so minimal chance of any PSU noise getting into the preamps circuitry.

The EQ on the DRS-Q4 seemed functional and fine, but seemed a little narrow and aggressive, not harsh but perhaps a broader Q would have been more flattering they did seem a bit sharp to me was expecting more a broad stroke neve style thing.

I dont know why they insist on potting their discrete opamps, because im guessing if they fail then you have to drop in a new one- hardly economical if you just need to replace a capacitor or such.

But i have to agree the sound of the preamps is really great....
Really detailed, with a lovely subtle sheen that just sounds great.
Im sure their summing boxes are wonderful, was thinking about getting one but got a good deal on a used Chandler mini-mixer.

I heard the build quality problems have been sorted out since production started in the US.
I spoke a little with Robin from Pheonix Audio in the US and he assured that QC is now stella, he seems like a good chap and was helpful. I got the impression that he's not overjoyed about the early prototype stuff being sold due to differing build quality of those older units.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the unit i bought was never intended for resale and was a pre-production unit (but wasn't clearly advertised as such) so i guess that explains the not so stella build quality, im sure the units being built today are fine.
Maybe best to just to avoid the really early units if buying used......
Old 14th August 2013
  #4
Lives for gear
 

Would also just like to add that i had a Nice DI too and again a great unit, no build quality issues with it, but it had hum on channel 2... the one nearest the internal power supply (channel one was fine)
Makes me think they need to shield their power supply away from the circuitry.......

Hope im not coming across as negative i really like their gear, but just pointing out some problems ive had with some of the gear.....
Old 15th August 2013
  #5
Lives for gear
 
jrod9900's Avatar
 

I love the Phoenix. It seems. Bit clearer and faster than a 1073. i definitely wouldnt call this a N clone, but it does its own thing greatly. Two thumbs up.

The eq section is great for tracking. I use it on drums and guitars all the time when tracking. I wouldn't kind another one of these for 4 channels.

I do need to try this on vox a bit more. For some reason it doesn't get tried much come vocal time. Dumb. Glad I made myself aware.

Jrod
Old 15th August 2013
  #6
Lives for gear
 
RKrizman's Avatar
 

I was an early adopter of the DRS-2 (I think the serial number was etched by hand), and after sorting out quality control problems over the years it's still my first go-to for any kind of stereo preamp needs, and a great alternative to my GR and BAE 1073.

THe OP's descriptions of the the preamp are right on the money, IMO.

-R
Old 16th August 2013
  #7
Gear Maniac
I used to own an early UK DRS-Q4 as well.

I experienced the same annoying hum on channel 2 near PSU, also some crackling noise (don't remember which channel it was). Phantom was not 48V, it was less (like around 30-40V only) so that I could not manage to work my condenser properly. Overall build quality was poor and at the time UK servicing was horrible. In the end I managed to get some servicing from Shaun Leveque then I sold the unit.

I hope the US production has improved. Myself anyway I'm not into Phoenix Audio anymore.
Old 16th August 2013
  #8
Company Rep
 
xavi's Avatar
 

Well just so you know Phoenix Audio UK died & disappeared as a company in around 2007-2008 and yes they did have some issues at times, though their designs were always fantastic.

The new US company (not that new - since 2009) is completely unrelated to the old company (different ownership & manufacturing) and I'd like to think we run a very tight ship in terms of support & produce a much better product in all aspects.



[email protected]
Old 19th August 2013
  #9
Lives for gear
 
RKrizman's Avatar
 

Robin,
As a positive suggestion perhaps it would be wise to distance yourself from the former company a little more. The following is from your website and the last sentence should perhaps be a little stronger. You surely underwent more than "somewhat of a change". I hate to see you continually get tarred by the plethora of problems that occurred with the English units.

Best wishes,
-R

<Phoenix Audio was originally formed in July 1996 to provide a British service for owners of pre 1980 Neve recording consoles. It has since evolved into a manufacturer of high quality Class A audio equipment, uniquely original designs to embody the classic British tone but with a modern twist. Our range of products are designed, built and wired in-house by professional wiremen and engineers with many years experience that take great pride in the quality of their craftsmanship. We aim to produce First Class, Class A, discrete equipment that is fully backed by a growing network of distributors based across Europe and the USA. In 2009 Phoenix Audio underwent somewhat of a change, as our manufacturing and our worldwide distribution were moved to the USA – Costa Mesa in Southern California.>
Old 19th August 2013
  #10
Lives for gear
 

it is called 'understatement', it is a british thing.
Old 19th August 2013
  #11
Company Rep
 
xavi's Avatar
 

Your right Rick, thanks good point that, we tried to stress more of a continuity point but maybe on reflection we should have shown more clear blue water and a distinct difference.

We've gotta hire you for these suggestions !! - What's you hourly ?
Old 19th August 2013
  #12
Jai guru deva om
 
warhead's Avatar
 

Rob, just state that the designs and company were carried on under new ownership and that production is now located in a new factory in the USA with a focus on long term build quality and performance.
Old 19th August 2013
  #13
Lives for gear
 
RKrizman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by xavi View Post
Your right Rick, thanks good point that, we tried to stress more of a continuity point but maybe on reflection we should have shown more clear blue water and a distinct difference.

We've gotta hire you for these suggestions !! - What's you hourly ?
Ha, least I can do after giving you guys so much crap in the past!


R
Old 19th August 2013
  #14
Lives for gear
 
RKrizman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by warhead View Post
Rob, just state that the designs and company were carried on under new ownership and that production is now located in a new factory in the USA with a focus on long term build quality and performance.
Bingo!
Old 25th May 2015
  #15
Lives for gear
+1 -- not too late to jump on the Phoenix bandwagon, right? The drsq4 has lived on my mix bus for over a year now -- it gives me awesome makeup gain and final EQ after summing. I love the EQ -- I can't get enough of that 40 hz which always sounds tight but huge on certain material. a touch of 15k always works too, never harsh. it's been a workhorse and knocked a few other pres out of its position. Robin has also bailed me out fast when I sent too much sound into it and blew out an amp or DI (I've blown it twice:(). it plays such a major role in my studio that I freaked when it blew out -- he answered his email within minutes late one Friday afternoon and the Phoenix was back on the mix buss by Tuesday

Now I'm looking to get some 500 EQ modules so get more of this tone on my mixes. great great stuff!
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