ART Pro Audio TubeOpto 8 by travisbrown
It's hard to disparage this preamp/interface combo for it delivers exactly what it promises, and for a price that is equally hard to complain about.
8 channels of 12AX7 mic preamps
8 line level outputs
2 DI inputs on channels 1 and 2 respectively.
low-cut and polarity reverse switches
+48 v Phantom power
It is a unit that really doesn't have more than it needs: plug in your inputs, dial in your input gain and output levels; plug into your ADAT interface. To go the other direction, plug your ADAT interface into the TubeOpto and utilize the 8 outputs.
The range of tone that is available is broad and really a factor of your input and output levels as you drive the tube. It can go from very clean to as overdriven as can be.
Like much mid and economy priced tube gear, the stock tubes are rather plain-jane. There is much to be gained by swapping tubes with your favourite flavour.
Having used this unit for live recording several times, I have experienced that it can be touchy in uncontrolled level environments. If an input level changes unexpectedly as a guitarist decides that his amp should be louder or a trumpet player bites too far into the mic, it's easy to get into overdrive territory with the tubes and you can end up with some breakup. Not that this is a problem unique to the TubeOpto; this is just the nature of tube preamps so is better suited to a more controlled environment where you have consistent gain staging.
- Built like a tank. Extremely heavy gauge steel chassis, solid buttons and pots and high quality connection jacks. This is Radial-type build quality.
- Good sound quality. Option to swap tubes out as desired.
- DI is surprisingly good on things like bass guitar and keyboards.
- Very well priced. Priced around $550, much lower than you'd expect of the build quality.
- Phantom power is engaged in banks of four
- There is no way to use strictly as a analogue preamp from front to back. Unlike its ART TubeFire predecessor, you have to jumper the ADAT conversion and go through a A/D/A stage to use the outputs in standalone mode. No latency or noticeable degradation, but for those who obsess about such things.... There are some accounts of mods to make this a true analogue standalone unit if you were so inclined and didn't need the ADAT i/o.
- No channel inserts. Not that there is really any room for a 1u unit that boasts 8 XLR combo jacks, 8 output phone jacks, ADAT I/O and power on the back, but something that I consistently would find useful if I wanted to slap on a compressor or EQ.
- There have been a few accounts of XLR plugs getting stuck in the jacks. It's never been clear if this is a fault of jack or plug, and the jacks are by no means proprietary. However, in the four units that I've had and the motley array of microphone cables that I use, I've never experienced this. I can only imagine there is some foul combination out there.