The Black Lion Auteur is a two channel preamp with XLR ins, balance TRS outs, continuously variable volume knobs, 48v phantom power, phase reverse, and 10dB pad switches. Black Lion lists the preamp as having 66 dB of gain on their website. It also has a toggle switch for the power, and LED light indicating the phantom power is active, and a wall-wart style power supply.
Apparently there are two versions of this preamp. The older one I have pictured that's in a stand alone box and a newer one housed in a 1U high 1/2 rack space. While I am unaware of any internal differences between the two, I am specifically reviewing the older one in the stand alone box.
I would consider this preamp to be in the lines of a "clean" pre with some light coloration to the sound. BLA says they integrated a fast, fully balanced, transformer-less input with a high current output stage. The result is a preamp that has both excellent transient detail and headroom, while also giving some girth and warmth to the bass region. This preamp excels on any source where the extreme ends of the audible frequency are being used. It's fast reaction times allow it to easily keep up with the transients of acoustic instruments like guitars and mandolins, and helps to keep cymbals clean and clear, without sounding harsh. Because the high frequencies are so faithfully reproduced with this preamp, some microphones, especially value priced LDCs, may have their high frequency harshness exposed, where as on a more colorful preamp, these traits could be masked by some of the characteristics they impart on the sound. The 10 dB pad can be enacted to get a bit more character out of the preamp, but it doesn't change the overall sound much.
While the fidelity of this preamp is amazing for it's price, it does have some problems with noise, especially near the upper limits of it's gain. Running condenser mics through this preamp shouldn't bring the noise issue into play, however micing a quiet source with a ribbon or other dynamic mics with relatively low output could cause the noise floor to become an issue.
From a reliability standpoint this preamp seems to be very reliable as not only have I not had any problems with mine in the last 3 years, but I've not heard of anyone else having any issues.
Overall, this preamp is an amazing value. Clean and crisp with just a touch of mojo, it excels on just about any source where high fidelity is desired provided that large amounts of gain aren't being required.
I was able to grab what was probably the first one of these to get out the door from BLA's shop. Very nice 2 channel pre with a combination of characteristics due to its high speed input and transformer based output stage design. It captures fast transients well, is detailed and has a pretty smooth high end. It also has a nice low/low mid girth, some warmth and a bit of color due to the silicon steel transformer based output. Features are nice with 48v phantom power, 10db pads and phase reversal on each channel. Construction is pretty robust. Mine is housed in the original enclosure although the newer units, while essentially the same, are housed in a half space rack enclosure.
The Auteur has found great use on drum overheads, kick & snare as well as electric guitar. It excels on solo acoustic guitar but sometimes can get just a little bit too wooly in a crowded mix for my tastes. The Auteur also performs well on vocals and can be very useful on thinner voices where you may want to bring a little more body to the track.
It's got a fair amount of gain but does get a bit noisy at the upper limits. Not a deal breaker though and depending on the source volume it may never be an issue, just be aware of that on very soft sources.
In all it's a steal at the price and a useful addition to the toolbox.