Sebatron Axis 200VU by terraamb01
I've been in consolidation mode in my little studio over the past year, especially with my mic pres. The idea of having gear hanging out in my rack "just in case" didn't agree with me. In an extreme fit of purging, i got rid of everything except my faithful Phoenix DRS-1Rs. Insanity I know, but these are days of extreme makeover.
Of course after a few weeks, i realized that i do need at least one other flavor to work with. But what? I have had pres that ranged from super clean to very colored and vintage sounding. All were very good at what they did, but none of them really had any flexibility beyond their inherent sound. After discussing it with a friend, he suggested a tube pre.
I grimaced at first because my experience with tube pres previously has been that you either have to pay a fortune to get GOOD tube sound, or you have the more cost effective tube pres that are generally dark, muddy, crunchy sounding... cheap sounding in other words. Thats when he shook his head, smiled and said, "check out sebatron." A brand I had admittedly not heard of before. After looking around online and seeing some demos, i was really intrigued. Here was a tube pre that genuinely seemed to be filling the void between good tone and reasonable pricing.
The Axis is a pleasantly retro looking/feeling device. And its very well built... in fact, its a tank. Surprisingly heavy for its size (always a good sign by pro audio standards.) The knobs and switches are all firm and tight feeling and the VU meters have a pleasing green backlight, giving it sort of a 1960s sci-fi feel when its powered up. My only gripe with the unit is that the smaller knobs don't have indicators painted on the sides of them, so it can be a little hard to tell where the dial is actually sitting unless your looking directly at it.
The Axis is a dual gain stage pre with your typical fare: 48v power, phase, line level and DI, although there is no mic/line switch. Line level is just the input stage set all the way to the left (-15dB). The unit switches automatically to DI when you plug into the DI jack. The AXIS also has the addition of a variable 40 to 400KhZ High Pass filter, convenient for dialing out low end mud/noise from your favorite mic. It is all class A circuitry and uses high voltage rails with 12AT7/ecc81 tubes.
As I mentioned, the unit is dual gain. The input stage is what drives the tubes and controls the color of the unit, the output stage is just that. Output gain. Overall a very easy unit to use, though getting used to the relationship between the input and output does take a little getting used to, which i will get to.
What makes this box special is its tonal range and its ability to hold together throughout its spectrum of sound. As I mentioned, the input stage controls the tone and drive on the tubes. The users manual suggests pushing the output stage all the way to max and then dialing it back depending on how hard you push the input stage.
Starting with the the output at max and the input at its minimum (-15dB) i recorded some acoustic guitar through both a pair of LDCs (Charter Oaks e700) and a pair of SDCs (Miktek C5s.) The the signal at this level was very flat and even a touch hifi sounding. Natural would be a good word for it. Definitely not hyped and surprisingly NOT tube sounding. Not completely clean like you'd get from a millennia, but surprisingly articulate and natural sounding. However, as you start to roll the input up, the unit really starts to take on a whole other level of character.
Dialing up the input to 9 o'clock brought some tube warmth and richness to the signal, while still completely holding onto its clean, open articulation. Dialing it up to 12 o'clock (0dB) was this magical place where you were definitely hearing a tube pre, but not sacrificing any detail or definition. Lots of color, a full rich mid tone that you'd expect from a good tube pre and a slight roll off on the high ends, smoothing everything out wonderfully. Dialing up the unit to 3 o'clock and dialing the input way back gave you more of a classic tube sound. More roll off on the high end, more warmth in the mids and a slightly compressed sound that comes with pushing a the tubes harder. At this level the performance really came alive and started to get punchy an vibrant sounding. But agin never loosing its open and surprisingly fast articulation.
Other sources were some hand percussion that reacted great to the tube saturation, and yet never got muddy or thuddy sounding.
Also, i ran my pedalboard through the DIs and I did the same with the DRSs. I shared the A/B comparison with a friend/engineer blind and his reaction was that A (DRSs) sounded like "pedals run through a good DI"... B (AXIS) sounded like "music."
The only down side to the AXIS that i came across is that the output gain is rather low when the tubes are set to their cleanest positions. I had to use the gain boost on my mics to accommodate for the lack of gain on anything below -9dB on the input, so using something like a ribbon mic or low output mic could be a potential problem.
Another slight problem is the level metering. The VU meters seems to be calibrated in such a way that hitting the inputs moderately hard results in the meters slamming all the way to the right, even though the signal is not at all distorted. This is not the first time i've come across this with VU meters on a mic pre and says more about that style of metering on a mic pre, as opposed to led meters. But it it can be disconcerting and you have to spend a little more time listening, rather than looking, to make sure your signal is where you want it to be.
The AXIS is a unique little beast. It offers a variety of tone and it does that range very well. Surprisingly open and articulate at its cleanest, rich and smooth with very pleasing roll off at the top in its most saturated settings, the Sebatron AXIS is definitely not a one trick pony. And for the price point, it goes WAY above and beyond. If your looking for that Chandler sound, this probably isn't the box for you. The AXIS is definitely in the "clean" camp of tube preamps. But if your looking for a tube pre that can fill many rolls and do it remarkably well, this is the pre for you. Exceptional sound and very reasonable pricing. This will get a lot of use in my studio, I can guarantee that.
- Outstanding sound
- Well Built
- Wide variety of tone
- low output at low input gain levels
- dials can be slightly hard to read
- VU meters seem a little imprecise