Aurora Audio GTQ2 by steveschizoid
Though it wasn't my first expensive mic preamp, this one was my gateway drug to high end equipment in general, and the cause of much money being spent at Aurora Audio specifically. The first time I heard an acoustic guitar recorded through a friend's GTQ2 (in comparison to a few other decent alternatives), I said to myself: "ahh, so that's how it's done!"
This preamp seems to get lumped into the Neve "clone" category, but, though its designer Geoff Tanner did spend many years designing classic gear while working for Neve for 14 years, it is not intended as a clone. It is intended as a better idea.
It is capable of 80 dB of gain, but I usually need no more than 20 or so, maybe 40 with my ribbon mics. It has the usual balanced I/O, a DI (that sounds great!) and phase switch. It also has convenient set of unbalanced outputs for use in connecting to unbalanced destinations.
The EQ is simple yet amazing. It has a HPF, low shelf, high shelf, and mid range with selectable 400 Hz, 1.6 KHz, and 3.2 KHz options. It has a sound that no plug in can offer. Eventually I will sell my GTQ2...but only when I can afford to purchase my second GT4-8 :o)