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DBX 386 Dual Channel Mic Pre

DBX 386

4.45 4.45 out of 5, based on 7 Reviews

An affordable way to add 2 inputs to your s/pdif equipped interface.


20th January 2012

DBX 386 by imagineaudio

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 4 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.25
DBX 386 Dual Channel Mic Pre

The Dbx 386 is dual channel starved plate tube mic pre with digital conversion built in. The unit boasts +48v phantom, phase reverse, pad, and low cut filtering on both channels. On the back, you have both mic and line inputs, line outputs, word clock bnc connectors, and digital outputs. Back on the front you have selectable sample rates up to 96khz with dither and noise shaping. The "type iv" conversion system uses a limiter-type function to prevent overloading the digital converters, which is nice for live applications where sudden input voltage spikes may not be noticed on the way in.

Sound Quality:

This thing is very capable. I preferred running the analog outs into separate converters as I noticed this gave a more natural and "3D" result compared to using the onboard converters. It's not a piece that sounds better than it's price, but it performs adequately for the relative bargain of $250 a channel.

Ease of Use:

It's a mic pre. If you've used other mic pres you can use this. Where it looses points for me is that it doesn't store the sample rate, dither, noise shaping settings you make on the front panel after powering down the unit. Every time you turn it on you have to adjust the settings as you had them. The other thing your going to want to do if using the onboard conversion the first time is check the manual and make sure you understand how the "type iv" conversion works so you can hit it with the right levels.

Features:

This thing has it all: Analog ins and outs, digital outs, word clock in and out, phase invert, phantom power, 20db pad, low cut filter, 44.1 - 96khz sample rates, dither, and noise shapeing, and tooooobs! Not bad for $500.

Bang for the Buck:

I'm not sure of any other product that packs as many features into one box for this price and still sounds good. It's not God's mic pre or anything, but I do consider it a professional product and it has never embarrassed me on a paying gig. If you have a sound card with s/pdif ins that are just going to waste, this is the perfect piece to take advantage of 'em.

29th January 2012

DBX 386 by mikedboh

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 4 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4
DBX 386 Dual Channel Mic Pre

I have owned this unit since 2004 and it has seen medium use over the years. I originally bought it to add 2 more channels to my rig through the digital outs, and it was perfect for my needs. I frequently used it for stereo drum overheads, bass guitar direct in, and years ago it was my go-to pre for vocal recording.

For the money this isn't a bad pre, but as the previous review mentioned the starved plate design doesn't offer much in terms of sonics(even swapping tubes to something more friendly does't seem to help much), but for a budget tube pre it gets the job done.

A few years back the digital section on my pre stopped working, limiting me to only using the analog outs. I have been using it less and less since then. Also worth mentioning, I contacted DBX and for $150 I can get a complete repair on the unit - including fixing any noisy pots or loose/faulty connections. I haven't taken them up on this, but it is a very good deal considering this unit is almost 10 years old.

All in all this is a good pre if you are on a budget and it can find one at a discount online. I wouldn't spend $500 in this day and age with all the good mid range pre's out there.

28th March 2012

DBX 386 by e12

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 2 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 3.75
DBX 386 Dual Channel Mic Pre

I have one of these extreme useful pieces of gear. The DBX 386 preamp is not the best sounding tube preamp in the market, but for its price it just kicks! With the street price at $399, it gives you access not only to a preamp, but also to a very nice analog to digital conversion with SPDIF or AES digital outputs. The DBX converters sound better than the ones found in most of the affordable home studio’s interfaces. It has dithering, 16 or 24 bits, 44.1 to 96Khz sample rate, word-clock and the option to use the converter only (without the pre) or the preamp only (bypassing the converter) through the insert in/out jack, which is very useful too.
I had a DIGI003 and the sound quality was very noticeable when I turned to use more the DBX converter then the Digi ones. I use the pres to anything from bass to percussion and I really like the flavor to record stereo keyboards and some room mics. They have a smooth tube sound and color, but not that much “attitude” you find in some preamps. I could say they’re very light for a tube gear. Of course, their kind of faraway from my UA 610’s, but that’s the minimum I would expect from something that costs less then twenty percent of the price and accumulate more than one equipment function.
I’ve dropped a few points in the “Easy to use” tab because the green/red led system they use to select the digital setup is kind of a pain in the a…
Anyway, very surprising piece of gear, specially for the buck!

20th June 2013

DBX 386 by chazhurst

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 3 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4
DBX 386 Dual Channel Mic Pre

I inherited this from a company that I worked for, that got sold off. So my opinion of it may be biased to the fact that it was basically free.

I've used it as DI for bass and acoustic guitar, and also for recording vocals and speech, and it does very well. It's my only tube mic pre and it does impart a subtle bit of extra character to the signal. Mainly those tasty musical harmonics.

There's quite a bit of gain on tap here too, with a Drive control that has up to +60db of gain plus an Output level control that can further boost the signal by +15db. All that can be brought down to earth by the 20db pad though.

Controls wise it has all the typical buttons that one would like to see on a good preamp. Buttons for Phantom, Pad, Phase and a Low Cut. and gain controls for both the input and output

Then there is the presence of the AD stage, which I've not actually used... Supposedly it sounds very good, and it certainly has all the functionality of a top end AD.

Negatives
- When you power the unit down, the DA section is reset to default on restart, meaning you'd have to set it every time you turn it on.
- The power button itself is on the rear of the unit... Which is odd for something that is likely to live in a rack all the time, as you'd have to go round the back to turn it on every time.
- It kind of hums... sometimes a lot sometimes not so much...

This is a very capable pre, which while it may not be the best tube pre out there, I think for the money you get something really useful and certainly an extra character. I like it!

10th October 2013

DBX 386 by PereGrinoz

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
DBX 386 Dual Channel Mic Pre

This is a great pre.
This is not starved plate Preamp, ...... 230volts runs right through the valve, OK? ...
I have it in a couple of years, I've used it for recording guitar, male and female vocals with excellent results.
You can get a clean as well prestine sound with character if you add more flavor valve.
I have a Art Pro Channel, Mackie, DMP3 .... and almost always end up using this preamp when recording clean vocals ...

Some Features:
Dual Pre,
Analog Output
Digital Output
Dither
Noise Shaping
A/D Converter
Balanced In / Out
XLR, TRS, Spif
Word clock in and out,
Phase invert
Phantom power
Pad 20db
Low cut filter

  • 1
24th February 2016

DBX 386 by chris1073

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
DBX 386 Dual Channel Mic Pre

I believe these pre's kick ass in terms of character. The drive on full sounds gritty and musical. The eq is smooth, can push the 3-8k on guitars all day long and never sounds harsh. I di bass with the 12k dialed full, doing this on other pieces of gear i have does not produce the same result. Makes the bass sound hifi to me. I have had a few pres come and go and stay, Aphex. RND, Warm, BLA, Lindell 18xs, UA, and the dbx is strangely my favourite pre. It just has mojo! I have experimented with outing to different ad/da with different results too and equally liked. I own the 376 as well as the 386 and i believe the 386 is more open sounding. TO me this unit is vintage character, vibey, gritty and clean if you want it to be. not quiet i guess but who gonna know that in a mix?

24th December 2016

DBX 386 by chris1073

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
DBX 386 Dual Channel Mic Pre

As you can tell this is one of my favorite processors. In my down time, my hobby is shooting out mic preamps and I have to say that the DBX 386 and 376 really impressed me. Alot of misconception about these units in forums and the like, they seem to cop alot of flack and I believe it is due to this history of these units. You can pick up one of these units very cheap these days, mainly due to being conceptual in the early 2000's I believe, and I think that is the main reason they get criticized, 'If it is cheap then it must be 'cheap'? Truth be known that upon release and nearly two decades later, these are not cheap preamps to build or buy. In its introduction this unit was out of reach for most project studio owners let alone hobbist home recorders etc. And it is today, still not priced as what would be considered low budget, and I for believe for darn good reason = these sound great!!!

In my down time of preamp shootouts, I always record a full track of vocals, guitars and bass, of say a verse of a song, and I might repeat that verse 5 times to shoot out 5 different preamps. This means that verse 1 for example will be using 'Preamp A' for everything, and verse 2 will be using 'Preamp B' on everything, and so forth. This gives me not only the audition of the preamp, but also how it sounds after multiple stacking of the one preamp on different instruments.

The DBX really astonished me. If i had to compare it a more known pre, I would say it instantly reminded me of an API. I believe this would be due to the bandpass effect of incorporating the tube, which rolls off some highs and lows making the sound a bit more midrange focused = great for guitars, it does not have the deep lows of say a 1073, nor do I want it to I have to say. I have to say that it is very hard to make the 386 sound harsh. Even bring the 376 into the equation that is the 'channel strip' variant with eq and compression, I found that even dialling the midrange and highshelf, it still sounded pleasing to the ears! Now thats a good thing!

Ok as I said, it does not have the lows of the 1073, and that is probably purposed here, because the DBX is tube driven, which does compress the sound, I guess if this tube pre did have tons of low end, it may sound flubby comming out of the tube stage when driven hard etc. What this preamps has going for it is total vibe and character. There is no denying that after a while playing with the drive section and abusing it, that there is definitely a vintage character. There is also a lot of SMACK/PUNCH especially for a tube unit. The input stage is transformerless, which does make it very 'quick and responsive' and snappy almost. Which for percussion is great. And great for all other instruments depending on the song/part. So the idea of this unit is to have a highly responsive input and then dial in the 'vintage charm' and laid back transient response with the drive tube control, and its perfect for dialling in the first stage of processing your sound.

In summary, Vocals are really hard to sound harsh. Alot of fun to be had with driving vocals. Same with bass. Alot of experimenting with the distortion of the unit, and the lows are really punchy. Anything from spanky clean to 'Muse' style distort bass. I believe the tube bandpass effect works well on bass making it fell more focused, like the bottom has already been eq'd if that makes sense, I guess cutting the 'low' lows makes it feel more forward. Guitars just sound great. Great midrange, and to me it is where this unit really shines. What has always baffled me is the guitarist you are recording has gone to alot of effort to dime in his sound how he likes it, and most likely it consists of tube tone/tube amps - so the hell someone would grab a solid state preamp to mic it up, i have no idea. My point here is that the 386 being tube driven takes care of the upper midrange and high frequency smoothness. Its hard to explain I guess, some will know what I am talking about. If you have an edgy sound, the 386 will still do that for you, but it just does not sound brittle or harsh in any way.

A few have commented that this unit sounds dark, and I just dont get it. Its a tube unit? And when you crank the highs on the way in, well that is where a tube unit comes in handy, it has the ability to sound brighter yet less harsh at the same time. Well if you add all this up and then throw in AD/DA, DBX's patented type iv conversion with tape like saturation and limiting with frequency loss this is was decades ahead of its time, and in my opinion still is. Great unit to mod and abuse, crank the drive to 11 and leave it that way, you will run heaps of elements through it when mixing for organic drive rather than plug in fake drive. I have had everything through from Neve to Grace to Manley, and only a few have made it on my buy list and stayed in my rack, and not due to money, purely for taste of audio. And I am proud to say I love these dBX units!

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