Grace Design m201 by Enlightened Hand
At it's heart a mic preamp is just a tool to amplify the signal from a microphone to usable levels. How it does this can affect how the resultant signal sounds. Traditionally most designers have had preamp designs that add something to the signal besides gain. That "something" can be called "character", "mojo" or whatever. But often it was appreciated. Sometimes it wasn't. The Grace Design m201 is one of those pieces for those that don't want the extra sound to their signal. They just want the gain, lots of it, pure as the driven snow.
As a rather large two-channel preamp the m201 comes in a 2 rack space case that I must say is a stunner. It's a beautiful piece of kit. It's elegantly styled and it's heavy and substantial and feels like it costs a million bucks. There are two channels each with a large rotary gain switch, a mode select switch from regular mode that allows phantom power to, ribbon, high impedance and 130v mic input (useful if you have that option installed). There are also three buttons for each channel that toggle the phantom power, polarity invert and a -20dB pad. A high impedance instrument input for each channel resides on the front panel. There is also a mid-side matrix control (which I have never used). On the rear there are XLR mic inputs and dual parallel XLR line outputs for each channel, as well as a pair of mid-side outputs. I don't have the A-D option installed, nor do I have the high voltage mic option.
What I love about the m201 is the sheer size and detail of the sound that comes out. The sound is honest, no hype, no "extra", no missing details, no noise, no loss in fidelity at all. It is truly a no-holds-barred audiophile sound. It is clean and clear and with ridiculous headroom. What you put in is what you get out only magnified and without coloration. It's what you want if you need to know how your mics sound. If you need to see into the positioning of a mic set up. If you want to hear the player and the room and the magic that is being made from the source. It's NOT a transformer based rock fest. But it's fast, it's clean and it will sound good if what you put through it sounds good. There is no harshness on the top end. There is no thinness in the low end. It's what you give it, completely without loss. I have heard plenty of clean preamps and this is among the finest of ANY era. It is just that good. The greatest virtue of using the m201 is becoming much more familiar with how your mics sound and how to position them. After extensive use of one and then hearing the sound of other preamps, even famous, big name ones, all but the cleanest sound veiled and/or hyped. It's amazing how much reality can be captured by using really high quality clean input gear. With build quality that will last forever, and a sound that is always useful I think everyone needs a preamp like the m201 in their collection.
My only reservation is that clean is what it does and that's all it does. For a piece this pricey you need to really want clean. Otherwise I highly recommend it.