We studio geeks love our toys, and the Tampa mic preamplifier ($799) is a great one. With its retro knobs and VU meters, it looks cool, and more important, it sounds wonderful.
Product PointsApplications: Studio
Features: Mic preamp/DI input; 20 dB pad; low-cut filter; switchable mic impedance; compressor; 24-bit/96 kHz A/D converter
Contact: M-Audio at 626-445-2842, Web Site.
The Tampa provides a full-function recording chain between a microphone and a recorder input. It is a solid state, mono mic or instrument preamp with switchable phantom power, low-cut option, compression, polarity switch, output pad, and variable input impedance. An extra feature is “Temporal Harmonic Alignment,” which is claimed to align the phase of harmonics with fundamentals in a natural sounding way, over the entire range of audio frequencies.
Powered by its own 12V AC adapter, the Tampa offers both analog and digital outputs. Fortunately, the adapter comes with a power cord so it does not take up unnecessary space on a power outlet strip.
The front panel includes a combination XLR/phone connector that accepts a balanced mic signal or a balanced/unbalanced instrument signal. A mic/instrument switch selects one or the other and 48V phantom power is switchable.
You can set the mic input impedance to 2,400 ohms, 1,200 ohms, 600 ohms or 300 ohms. While 2,400 ohms is the normal setting for modern condenser mics, vintage condensers might sound better with other settings. The instrument input will not load down a pickup because it is 200 kohms balanced and 100 kohms unbalanced.
A gain control provides 12 dB to 46 dB of gain, and a +20 dB switch gives 20 dB more gain if needed.
A useful feature is the compressor, a dual optical servo design that is superior to the usual VCA type. Compression is switchable in or out (bypass). The usual controls are included: threshold, ratio, attack and release time. Attack time is variable from 1 to 11 msec (on the short side), while release time is 250 msec to 5 sec. There is no make-up gain control. One VU meter shows the amount of gain reduction provided by the compressor, and the other indicates the output level. A clip light flashes if the output signal reaches +26 dBu (about 0 VU on the output meter).
I was surprised to see that the unit has no input clip light. But if the various gain controls are set correctly, no input clipping occurs. A polarity switch is included.
A 20 dB pad prevents overloading the input of following equipment. Also, engaging the pad lets you turn up the input gain to drive the preamp harder, causing “tube-like” soft clipping.
Finally, a sample rate knob selects the sampling rate on the digital output: 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz.
I like devices in which the controls are accessible and obvious in function. The Tampa is like that. It invites you to turn knobs and flip switches. The control-setting labels, however, are tiny and somewhat hard to read because of their tightly spaced text characters.
I connected the analog and digital outputs of the Tampa to a DAT recorder and plugged in a low-noise condenser mic. Then I recorded voice, guitar and drums while adjusting the Tampa’s controls. I also recorded those signals through a mic preamp built into a popular mixer. During playback of the recording, this is what I heard:
• Analog sound quality: The Tampa sounded slightly less harsh and had less HF hiss than the mixer’s preamp. With acoustic guitar, the Tampa gave a more detailed sound with more “air” (extreme highs).
• Digital sound quality: The Tampa’s A/D converter sounded a little smoother than the one built into the DAT recorder, and also smoother than the analog output.
• Soft clipping: Indeed, it is soft or subtle. When I drove the Tampa hard, the result was a pleasantly mild grunge or smearing effect.
• Compressor: Transparent, with gentle action. Hardly any pumping or breathing effects. A truly fine compressor, one of the best I have heard.
The M-Audio Tampa is a fine-sounding preamp: clean, clear and gentle on the ears. I think its compressor alone is worth the price. The unit is packed with many useful features that will enhance and pamper your mic’s signal on its way to the recorder.