Millennia Media Origin STT-1 Recording Channel

Millennia has not only repackaged its fine components into one chassis for easy setup and use, the company has made it possible to select from ultraclean and quiet to a palette of colors ranging from vacuum tubes to transformers, and at any stage in the signal path.
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I have reviewed many of Millennia's products over the last several years, including microphone preamplifiers, the Twin Topology equalizer (PAR, 6/99, p. 42) and compressor and the Mixing Suite (PAR, 1/98, p. 20), all of which have become regular players on my recording projects.
Product PointsApplications: Studio

Key Features: Single recording channel; switchable tube and solid-state signal paths; mic/line/instrument preamp with compressor/de-esser and parametric EQ

Price: $2,895

Contact: Millennia Media at 530-647-0750 www.mil-media.com
Recording channels have recently become popular due to large numbers of workstations in use. With contemporary music, often only one or two tracks are recorded at a time. Having a recording channel or two may be all that is necessary as far as analog front-end gear is concerned. Since most large-scale mixing desks have a pretty dreadful signal path (way too many 5534 op-amps), it seems strange to me that someone would want to buy these recording channels, which are essentially the equivalent of a console strip with all the sonic shortcomings.

The better engineers have found that outboard microphone preamplifiers can get the signal directly to tape or disc with less corruption than any of the so-called high-end consoles, bypassing the big desks in the recording process.

Millennia has not only repackaged its fine components into one chassis for easy setup and use, the company has made it possible to select from ultraclean and quiet to a palette of colors ranging from vacuum tubes to transformers, and at any stage in the signal path.

Features/In use


The Origin STT-1 ($2,895) is a mono recording channel offering a selection of Class A vacuum tube or Class A solid-state JFET circuits at every function, including mic preamps, line inputs with gain, opto-compressor/limiters, parametric equalizers, direct instrument input with gain and opto-de-essers.

At the front end, Millennia has taken its popular HV-3 solid-state microphone pre-amp and its M-2b transformerless vacuum tube microphone preamp and made it possible to switch between them with the push of a button. Separate gain controls allow for precise level matching so that fair comparisons can be made when switching between solid state and tube. Because switching microphone preamplifiers at high monitor levels could be a dangerous proposition, a momentary mute is applied while switching. Phantom power is also switchable.

Mic, line or instrument inputs are selectable with a three-position rotary switch. The line input is either XLR or 1/4-inch while the instrument input is a front-panel 1/4-inch jack. The instrument input is routed directly to the grid of a dedicated 12AT7 with a 1 Megohm input impedance; passive pickups on electric guitars and basses love this no-load type of input.

Like the Twin Topology EQ and compressor/limiter, the Origin has the ability to switch between Class A solid state and Class A vacuum tube with the push of a button.

A custom-built interstage-coupling transformer - designed solely for the purpose of adding color and that bigger-than-life sound - can be switched in and out with any input and any solid-state or tube-selection combination. John La Grou, president of Millennia Media, told me that extensive listening test using the sought-after Neve transformer sound as a point of reference, resulted in the MIT-01 transformer, which produces a very attractive coloration.

With the input and output controls you can hit the transformer harder for more coloration or softer if more restrained coloration is desired. This is very cool.

The line input is routed through the input amplifier so the gain controls both for vacuum tube and solid state are active. This makes it possible to deal with -10 levels but does compromise +4 levels somewhat due to the unavoidable line input pad.

Unlike polarity reverse switches in most pro gear where additional op-amps are used to change phase, the STT-1 does it the right way, passively, with a high-quality, gold contact relay. The equalizer is four-band, with switchable high and low frequency bands and continuously sweepable mid bands much like the NSEQ-2. Equalization Q is continually adjustable from a narrow 4 to a very broad 0.4. The range switch, providing greater resolution for boost and cut, is absent on the STT-1.

The compressor/limiter is essentially the same as the TCL-2, but with the addition of a de-esser section. Five switch-selectable de-essing frequencies from 4.9 kHz to 12 kHz set the band for compression or limiting. When the de-esser is switched in, the normal compressor/limiter is inoperative. The compressor/limiter can be flipped to operate in either pre- or post-EQ. An RCA connector is available on the back to link two units together for stereo operation.

A master output control offers an additional 10 dB of gain relative to the front-end amplifier and is fully off in the CCW position. Two o'clock is unity gain, which is not marked (According to the manufacturer, on newer versions the unity gain is now marked-Ed.). The STT-1 has three separate outputs, the #1 main output is balanced XLR and requires the signal to pass through an additional op-amp (not a 5534) to accomplish the balancing act.

The #2 output is unbalanced. Both XLR and 1/4-inch outs are fed directly from a discrete Class A JFET; it is my output choice. I have used this output in many situations into balanced and unbalanced inputs of other equipment and have never run into any hum problems.

A front-end direct output (#3) is configured before the EQ, compressor, de-esser and main output, and is balanced XLR.

An output mute, when depressed, switches off both the balanced and unbalanced main outputs but does not affect the direct output.

A large lighted VU meter can be selected to either show the balanced output level, where 0 VU is +4 dBu, or gain reduction for the compressor/limiter.

Summary


The STT-1 Origin recording system is probably the most flexible, high-quality signal path from microphone to tape that I can think of. Over 130 combinations of vacuum tube, solid-state, transformerless or transformer coupled settings give the engineer a vast palette of quality options without patching.

Having used the HV-3 and M2b mic pres, the NSEQ-2 equalizer and the TLC-2 compressor many times with great success, I can't wait to use a few STT-1s on my next project.

Packaged in a 2U high-gloss, black rackmount (optional platinum finish available) with lighted pushbutton switches throughout, the Millennia STT-1 Origin is just about as cool-looking as it is functional. By the way, STT stands for Straight to Tape.