Phoenix Audio DRS-Q4 by benpasley
Hey, at $2,700 for a two channel mic pre this thing sends most audio creatives into immediate sticker shock (me included), but several years ago I bought one before Phoenix Audio moved its production to California and I got a great deal from Shaun Leveque who was selling off B-stock from the UK during the move. At the time I auditioned the ADL600, the Great River MP-2NV, the Langevin Dual Vocal Combo, and some of my review notes were posted on that "shootout" way back in 2006 here in this thread. I bought an ADL, the Langevin, and the Phoenix at that time, because I was in a big project and I wanted something from each one. Guess which one I still own 8 years later? ... yep, the Phoenix DRSQ-4 ... and here are some of the reasons why:
It is MORE than a mic pre:
1. You can run any bus or full mix through it for some amazing transformer tone. You can simply hit the Mic/Line switch and change the rear balanced XLR inputs to line level inputs. This gives you the chance to get some great transformer coloration, and in my tests, no noise to speak of. Drive it lightly and you get a subtle roundness, better depth and a nice hug on the 2-Bus, but if you drive it you can get some real depth in the program all the way up to a Motown kind of crush that gets very, very vintage sounding.
2. I own a 16 channel summing device from Phoenix, the Nicerizer, but I usually insert the DRSQ-4 into the main output bus (bypassing the internal output transformers which are the exact same as the DRSQ-4) so that I can better adjust the drive levels with more precision (because then I have both a Pre and Post gain for the transformers!) and I can also add the EQ for additional coloration and tone shaping.
3. You can engage the EQ on a mix/sub bus (or any line level signal) and then some very creamy, magical things happen. At first I didn't understand why this changed the overall texture of the mix, but after chatting with Robin Ashley at Phoenix I learned that when you engage the EQ it puts even the line level through the mic preamp section of the circuit. This is normally bad advice, but in the case of the DRSQ-4 I found it to add a kind of soft kind of thickening that I really love. (My friend David Wilton who has a song on the recent Twilight film also loves this trick as well.)
4. The EQ is really, really wonderful. No, you can't sweep every frequency as those are chosen for you, nor can you control the Q, but the bandwidth of the EQ is so musical and soft, that I think it is better for basic shaping--like on a mix bus--than it may be for tracking where you might want to notch something specific out.
As a mic pre it is still killer.
The reason I preferred it over all my other options were:
1. It has so much gain that it is ridiculous. The input section sounded great on my ribbon microphones, and the additional output gain knob allows you to get the level you need whether you barely drive the input stage or crush it into distortion mode.
2. The input stage can either be super clean at low input levels, or mid-forward thick as you turn it up, or trash-town distorted when you really hit it. I have never used a pre that had such a wide range of color. No knobs to push to add some other circuit, it is just like a tube amp on a guitar head: roll it back for clean, turn it up for balls. Easy.
3. It has two balanced outputs on the back, one TRS and one XLR, both able to drive separate loads which makes wiring for Mid/Side, monitoring, or creative signal paths a breeze.
4. The circuit is lively and can be colorful, but it is not bouncy like some tube gear that has to be compressed to death to sit in a mix. It seems to hold tracks together like a mild kind of compression. Vocals, drums, and so far everything I have tracked with it sits in the mix so well, with very little post processing, that it makes my post work so much easier.
The Cons IMHO:
1. There should be some unbalanced inserts on the back.
2. The LED lights on the front are abusively bright, ouch, so much so that you can't read the labeling (which are terribly positioned under the buttons when you look at them). And why does my Mic/Line button stay illuminated regardless of position?
3. The red knobs need a more intensive marking (paint?) so you can distinguish the position better. They feel the same top to bottom and the indicator side just has a little notch in it, strange. I replaced the knobs on mine to make my life easier.
4. I gave the unit a 4 instead of 5 on "Ease of Use" because of these cons that I just listed that have become solid "dangst!" for me over the years.
I took the time to rant on this gear because it has stayed with me for so long and I realized how genuinely impressed I am. It is my one preamp--that is more than a preamp--that can never be trade or upgraded. Hope this proves useful to some of you guys who like to have gear that can do more than one job in your creative work.