(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Studio
Key Features: Two-channel microphone preamp module; gain settings via }1 dB gain selector toggle switch and two-digit LED readout; optimized input impedances for ribbon, dynamic and condenser microphones; 10 dB pad; phantom power supply per channel
Price: $968 (preamp module); $3,498 (as tested)
Contact: Lavry Engineering at 206-842-3552, www.lavryengineering.com. Over the last two decades, engineer Dan Lavry earned a reputation as a converter designer extraordinaire. He has designed converters for well-known pro audio manufacturers including Apogee Electronics, Otari, New England Digital, as well as for his own company Lavry Engineering (changed from dB Technologies in 2002).
While many top mastering and recording engineers revere Lavry's high-end Gold series converters, the introduction of the modular and more-affordable LavryBlue series makes Lavry's innovative converter technology available to a much larger market. Last year's introduction of a two-channel microphone preamplifier module ($968) greatly expands the potential market and applications of the LavryBlue series.
The LavryBlue series is a user-configurable modular system based around a single-rack space chassis (model LE 4496). The chassis has five single-width module bays; modules are powered by the LE 4496's internal power supply, which interfaces with the outside world via a standard IEC power cable.
The LavryBlue series modules include the M‡”AD 824 two-channel A/D converter, M‡”DA 824 two-channel D/A converter, M‡”BY2 synchronous up/down sample rate converter, M‡”SYNC master clock sync, and the M‡”PREAMP two-channel microphone preamplifier. This review primarily focuses on the LavryBlue two-channel mic preamp module. The overall LavryBlue system and converter modules were covered in depth by mastering engineer Alan Silverman in the April 2004 issue of Pro Audio Review (the review can be found at www.proaudioreview.com).
The LE 4496 chassis can accommodate two of the double-width, two-channel mic preamp modules, yielding a total of four channels per rack unit. Lavry essentially treats the two channels within each module as a stereo pair – each channel has its own input gain setting but all other controls are global, affecting both channels in the module.
The M‡”PREAMP module employs a novel (and highly accurate) gain-setting scheme: each channel is equipped with a momentary three-position mini toggle switch that adjusts the input gain up or down in 1 dB increments, while a two-digit LED display indicates the channel's current gain value. The normal gain range of the preamp pair is 21 dB – 70 dB; a toggle switch on the left side of the module activates a 10 dB pad on both channels, resulting in a gain range of 11 dB – 60 dB.
The final control on the front panel of the module is a three-position toggle switch that selects optimized input impedance for ribbon, dynamic or condenser microphone pairs. Selecting "condenser" automatically activates 48V phantom power for the input pair. In a move typical of Lavry's technical excellence, a double-regulated phantom power supply is implemented on each channel to eliminate any cross-channel interaction that may affect separation.
Additional user-configured settings (via internal jumpers) include signal phase reverse, balanced/unbalanced output choice and a phantom-power defeat for mics that utilize external power supplies.
As I mentioned earlier, a single LavryBlue LE 4496 rackmount chassis can accommodate two of the M‡”PREAMP stereo mic preamp modules, but many other configurations are possible using the other modules in the LavryBlue range. For this review, I was sent a LE 4496 outfitted in a manner that exemplifies the flexibility of this modular system. The configuration included the M‡”PREAMP two-channel mic preamp module, an M‡”SYNC master clock sync module, an M‡”AD 824 two-channel A/D converter, and an M‡”DA 824 two-channel D/A converter.
This configuration provides everything one would need for a top-notch two-channel recording/monitoring system that would be ideal for critical location recording or as the centerpiece of a high-resolution digital production studio.
So how did it perform? Let's cut to the chase: I was tremendously impressed by the LavryBlue mic preamps, and the LavryBlue converter system in general. The preamps were extremely quiet and clean, and provided a gain range about as ideal as I could wish for. The preamps ably accommodated everything I threw at it, from very quiet ribbons to super hot condensers – I'd be hard pressed to name another preamp that matched so well in every instance.
I had the opportunity to use the LavryBlue on a variety of sessions and sources over the course of several weeks. Sources included male and female vocals, classical and jazz piano, a string quartet (stereo room pair), electric guitars and bass, and acoustic guitar. In all cases, the preamps felt true to the sources and mic choices, and yielded a wide and dynamic representation of the live performance. The piano, strings and acoustic guitar recordings really sold me on these preamps – crystal clear with plenty of dynamic depth and excellent channel separation.
To quantify the Lavry sound (or lack thereof): among the solid state crowd, the Lavry preamps definitely fall on the critical recording, super-clean (Millennia-ish) side of the fence, and away from the distinctive character set (API etc.). The Lavry preamps weren't always the best choice for every application in which they were tried – sometimes color and distortion were just the ticket. But if I were forced to make a desert-island choice, I would easily opt for the accuracy of Lavry.
From a utilitarian standpoint, the only criticism I can level at the Lavry stereo mic preamp is its inherent stereo (and not dual-mono) nature – the fact that input impedance and pad settings affect both channels. "Stereo" is right there in the name and I'm sure the global design helps keep it affordable, so I won't quibble too much. Although this review wasn't about the converters, I have to say that they are absolutely top notch and worth every penny. The LavryBlue series A/D and D/A converters in combination with the stereo mic preamp module makes a powerfully attractive and flexible high-resolution two-channel recording and monitoring system.