Grace Design Lunatec V3

Nearly 15 years ago, Michael Grace began building single order custom audio products for a small and devout following of recording engineers and artists. The demand for his products continued to increase and in 1994, Grace Design was founded.
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Nearly 15 years ago, Michael Grace began building single order custom audio products for a small and devout following of recording engineers and artists. The demand for his products continued to increase and in 1994, Grace Design was founded. Based on the Lunatec V2, Grace's newest product, the Lunatec V3, delivers two transformerless channels of accurate and musical microphone preamplification with high definition A/D conversion in a rugged and portable DC powered enclosure.
Product PointsApplications: Field, studio, live sound

Key Features: 48V phantom power; 24-bit A/D; 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz sample rates; ANSR noise-shaping

Price: $1,695

Contact: Grace Design at 207-839-7155, Web Site.

Plus

+ Portability

+ 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz sampling rates

+ Metering is accurate and easy to use

+ Sounds great

Minus

- No word clock input

The Score: Anyone needing a studio grade microphone preamp/A/D converter with the option of portability should consider the Grace Design Lunatec V3.
Features

The 2.6-pound V3 ($1,695) was designed with both portability and reliability in mind. The 8.25-inch wide by 5.5-inch deep by 1.7-inch high box works well in the studio or in the field and regardless of the environment, is capable of translating the most subtle, complex, low-level ambient information without noise or coloration.

All of the V3's I/O connectors are located on the rear panel. The V3 has three digital output connectors, two 110 ohm AES (M-XLR) connectors and one 75 ohm S/PDIF (F-RCA) connector. All three of the digital outputs are active any time the A/D converter is on. The AES1 and S/PDIF outputs transmit both consumer and professional format data (determined by internal jumpers) and the AES2 output always transmits professional format data.

The V3 makes use of Grace Design's new ultra-low distortion, 24-bit A/D converter which offers sample rates of 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz and 192 kHz. Both single and dual-wire 176.4 kHz and 192 kHz AES/EBU modes are provided via a pair of XLR connectors, which enable connection to today's high sample rate dual-wire digital recording systems as well as provision for single-wire systems that will likely become the standard in the future.

The WC OUT connector is a 75 ohm sample clock output that allows external equipment to be synchronized to the V3's clock. Two F-XLR connectors provide microphone input. These inputs can also be used as consumer line level inputs or professional (+4 dB) line level inputs with an internal jumper change. Alternatively, the V3 can be configured as an M/S (Mid/Side) unit with an internal jumper change. Two M-XLR connectors provide balanced analog outputs. These outputs can be used simultaneously with the digital outputs. The DC power jack provides power to the V3. The optional DC power cable is fitted with a locking plug that prevents accidental disconnect.

On the front panel, each channel has gain control, trim control, a phantom power switch, a high-pass filter switch and a level meter. The 11-position gain control adjusts the voltage gain from 10 dB to 60 dB in 5 dB steps. The trim control provides 10 dB of continuously variable gain trim. In the fully clockwise position, the control adds 10 dB of additional gain.

The phantom power switch provides 48V phantom power. Alternatively, the V3 can be configured to provide 12V parallel power with an internal jumper change. A three-position switch activates the high-pass filter. Position 1 is the higher cutoff frequency and Position 2 is the lower cutoff frequency. One set of internal jumpers selects either a 6dB/octave (passive) slope or a 12 dB/octave (active) slope. Another set of jumpers set the cutoff frequencies at Position 2 - 50 Hz/Position 1 - 100 Hz or Position 2 - 75 Hz/Position 1 - 125 Hz.

The power switch activates the V3's power. When the V3 is receiving adequate power, one of the sample rate LEDs illuminates. The low battery indicator flashes if the battery voltage drops below 5.75 volts (for the 6 volt model) or 11.5 volts (for the 12 volt model). An internal jumper configures the V3 to either a 6V or 12V operating voltage.

The "ANSR" switch activates Grace's new analog noise-shaping dither circuit, which allows the V3 to output 16-bit information on the digital outputs. The ANSR LED illuminates when this circuit is active. The peak clear switch clears the 0 dBFS/OVER indicators. Pressing and holding the Fs SEL switch allows the sample rate to be changed. When the off position is selected, the A/D converter is powered down to reduce power consumption. The ANSR and sample rate state are saved when the V3 power is turned off.

To conserve power, the level meters operate in dot mode rather than bar mode. The meter scale is calibrated in dBFS to indicate the amount of headroom at the A/D converter. The level 0 LEDs have two purposes, the 0 LED illuminates when the signal presented at the A/D converter reaches 0 dBFS and the LED latches on when an over has occurred. The LED will stay illuminated until the peak clear button is pressed. It should be noted that 0 dBFS also corresponds to an analog output level of +25dBu.

In Use

Transparency is the first word that came to mind as I began to put the V3 to the test. I enjoyed being able to actually listen to the sound source rather than listen to what my mic pre was doing to the sound source. During a tracking session I put the V3 to work on kick drum and snare drum (using an AKG D112 and Shure SM57 respectively) and in both instances had brilliant results. I was happy to find that both sound sources required only very subtle EQ to attain the desired sound.

Vocals sound fantastic through the V3. I had great results using the box to capture the sound of a female voice through a BLUE Cactus microphone. While retaining its accuracy, I found the V3 to be extremely musical. I also had wonderful results using the V3 along with a Brauner VM1-KHE to record male vocals.

I did some direct-to-DAT recording using the ANSR dither and had good results. Sixteen-bit never sounds as good as 24-bit but I was extremely impressed when I compared the sound of the V3's 24-bit converters dithered to 16-bit to the sound of my DAT machine's 16-bit converters. The V3 sounded substantially better.

To hear the V3's converters in high-resolution mode, I recorded acoustic guitar directly to my iZ RADAR hard disk recorder at 96 kHz using a pair of Earthworks SR-77 microphones, and found the results to be quite stunning. The V3's converters are extremely high quality, some of the best I've ever heard.

Ribbon mics often reveal a mic preamp's limitations and I was pleased to find that the V3 sounds as wonderful with my Royer R-121 as it does with an Earthworks SR-77. I used the R-121 to record an electric guitar and had first-rate results. I was also pleased to find that the V3 had enough gain to record an acoustic guitar using the R-121.

An optional battery pack, the Eco-Charge BP-50 ($85) will power the V3 for six hours.

The lack of a word clock input is my only real complaint with the V3. As someone who has invested in a standalone clock, I would like to have the option to clocking my V3 either internally or with my Lucid Gen-X-96 clock.

Summary

The size, weight and portability of the Lunatec V3 make it the perfect tool for sound designers, remote engineers, classical engineers or anyone who does remote recording. With its extreme depth, clarity and realism, the Lunatec V3 delivers a wonderful sound at a moderate price.

Russ Long, a Nashville-based producer/ engineer, owns The Carport recording studio. He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

Review Setup

Apple 400MHz PowerMac G4; ProTools Mix Plus v5.1.3; iZ RADAR hard disk recorder 24 w/Nyquest 96 kHz card; Lucid Gen-X-96 clock; Mogami cabling; Alesis MasterLink; TASCAM DA-30 DAT recorder; PMC TB1, Yamaha NS-10M monitors; Hafler amplification; GML 8200 parametric EQ; BLUE Cactus, Brauner VM1-KHE, Royer R-121, Earthworks SR77, AKG D112, and Shure SM-57 microphones.