While Phonic is still a relatively new brand name in U.S. markets, the Taipei-based company has manufactured a wide range of project studio and pro audio-oriented products for over 25 years. Many of these products were OEMed for major industry players such as Yamaha, Roland, Phillips and Numark.
Two years ago, the company set up additional operations in Tampa to better serve the American markets. Around that time I reviewed Phonic’s second-generation audio analyzer, the PAA-2, which I found to be a very useful diagnostic and analysis tool.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, Project Studio
Key Features: Two-channel preamp; tube timbre processor; three-band mid-sweepable equalization section; high-pass filter; individual phantom power, phase reverse and output operating level switches; XLR and TRS 1/4-inch I/O.
Contact: Phonic at 800-430-7222, Web Site
Phonic’s latest line of pro audio products for the U.S. markets is the T-Series range of hybrid tube processors. Reviewed here is the Phonic T8100 Vocalmax, a dual-channel microphone preamp and equalizer retailing for an astonishingly low price ($269).
The T8100 Vocalmax is a two-channel hybrid tube/solid state microphone preamp and three-band equalizer. The preamp/processor is housed in a two-rack-space, brushed-aluminum case (19 inches x 3.5 inches x 11.25 inches) and weighs in at 10.1 pounds. Each channel of the T8100 features identical sets of controls and features as described below.
From the left of the front panel, the first controls are a high-pass filter toggle switch (100 Hz) and combined mic/line input gain knob. The preamp section features a DC-decoupled transformer input stage with impedance rated at 3 kohms, a 10 to 60 dB adjustable gain range and a maximum input level of +10 dBu. Line input impedance is rated at 50 kohms balanced and 25 kohms unbalanced, input gain is from 10 to 60 dB and the maximum line input level is +26 dBu.
Next on the front panel is a signal phase toggle switch and tube timbre knob. The timbre knob range is labeled from cold to warm and controls the amount of signal being fed through the channel’s tube circuit, and subsequently the amount of tube harmonics blended in with the solid-state signal.
In addition to the aforementioned high-pass filter, each channel features a three-band peaking equalizer. The low and high bands are fixed at 80 Hz and 12 kHz respectively, while the mid band is adjustable from 400 Hz to 8 kHz. All bands feature 15 dB of boost or cut with center-detented knobs; no filter width (Q) is specified.
Remaining front panel controls are a +48V phantom power toggle switch and an output level knob providing up to 10 dB of additional gain. Visual indicators for each channel are an analog VU meter (located post-EQ circuit but prior to the tube circuit summing and output gain) and a final output stage clip LED.
Rear panel connections include XLR mic/line inputs, balanced 1/4-inch line inputs and outputs, and XLR line outputs. The outputs feature a +4 dBu/-10 dBV operating level switch (per channel). Also on the rear panel is a standard IEC power inlet with fuse holder.
Overall unit specifications are an 18 Hz to 30 kHz bandwidth (±2 dB), signal to noise is greater than 90 dB, THD is 0.1% (at 0 dB/1 kHz), and channel crosstalk is greater than -80 dB.
In an effort to remain neutral during the hands-on part of the review process, I try to avoid learning the price of the item being reviewed until necessary. This was the case with the Phonic T8100 Vocalmax Ð in fact, I did not know the price until I looked it up to plug into the opening of this review.
My jaw dropped when I saw that it “streets” for $249. Having evaluated a number of similarly configured units over the years, I had it pegged for at least twice that price.
Now we jump back in time, before I knew the price.
The T8100 Vocalmax is a versatile dual-channel preamp with enough bells and whistles to make it useful for a variety of project studio duties. Sonically, it’s not the most clinically transparent of preamps (unlike the Prism preamp I recently reviewed) but then again transparent is not always the most sought-after characteristic when recording certain sources.
The unit is capable of imparting plenty of punch and edge unto the signal Ð not dissimilar to that which can be eeked out of Joemeek products. In other words, the Vocalmax has its own personality that may just be the perfect antidote to certain flat or limp sources.
For those who have struggled with the subtlety of (starved-plate, I assume) tube processors, Phonic provided plenty of range on the T8100’s tube timbre control. Users can easily push the unit from a clean signal to full-on tube fuzz effect by cranking the tube timbre knob.
The inclusion of a switchable high-pass filter with the three-band mid-sweepable equalization section results in plenty of control for shaping or tweaking the signal. Although the boost/cut knobs are center-detented, an EQ bypass switch would be a welcome addition.
I was pleased to see the inclusion of channel phase reverse switches, a near-necessity frequently omitted on similar models. Likewise, individual phantom power switches (as opposed to global) and channel output operating level switches (+4/-10) are welcome inclusions. In fact, with the addition of the output switches, the T8100 makes for a handy level matching interface in addition to its preamp and equalization functions.
Other appreciated touches are the fact that the EQ knobs are all indicated on the front panel as peak filters (though the frequencies for the high and low bands are not indicated, grrrrrÉ) and that Phonic included a soft mute circuit for power up/down.
The Phonic T8100 Vocalmax proved to be a highly capable and even fun (thanks to the wide-ranging tube timbre knob) preamp/processor to use on a variety of recording sources.
The unit excelled when used as a line processor to add some guts and life to otherwise flat signals. Likewise, male lead vocals were especially flattered by the preamp/tube timbre combo.