Long renowned for what many regard as the finest digital audio converters available, UK-based Prism Sound’s analog-only Maselec product line is quickly gaining a similar reputation.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, broadcast, live sound, post
Features: Four-channel; precision stepped gain control; switchable phase; high-current phantom power; output mute; 10-LED PPM bar graph meters
Contact: Prism Sound at 973-983-9577, Web Site.
Prism introduced its Maselec Master Series several years ago to enthusiastic response from audio professionals and reviewers alike. Products in the discrete-component analog line include the MLA-2 Stereo Compressor, the MEA-2 Precision Stereo Equalizer and the MMA-4 ($3,160) four-channel microphone preamplifier, reviewed here.
Prism’s stated goal in the design of the MMA-4 was an audiophile pre-amplifier with a minimum of electronics in the signal path.
The company developed the MMA-4 in association with engineer/producer Leif Mases. Mases is best known for his work with top recording artists including Abba, Led Zeppelin, ELO, Jeff Beck, Scorpions and Black Sabbath. According to Prism, the collaboration with Mases resulted in a circuit design that is of the highest quality and a user interface aimed squarely at the working engineer with regard to ergonomics and ease of use.
The single rack-space front panel is divided into four identical control sections, with the exception of a master power switch and power status LED at the far left. Each of the four preamp sections are comprised of a large, stepped rotary switch, three mini toggle switches and a vertical bank of metering LEDs.
The oversized gain control switch features 21 discrete positions, allowing settings from 0 to 60 dB, in 3dB steps. The three horizontally oriented toggle switches engage 48V phantom power, channel phase reverse and output mute functions. The ten-segment PPM bar graph meter indicates output levels from -30 to +20 dBu with seven green LEDs, two yellow LEDs and a single red LED to indicate clipping.
The rear panel of the MMA-4 includes a set of silver-plated male and female XLR connectors for each preamp channel. A “ground lift” mini toggle switch disconnects the audio ground from the chassis ground. A binding post/banana jack allows the unit to be connected directly to an external grounding point.
The MMA-4’s power supply can be switched for either 115- or 230-VAC operation and is rated for 50Hz – 60Hz use. A standard IEC detachable power cable receptacle and integrated fuse holder complete the unit’s rear-panel connections.
Spartan and simple – just the way I like it! I am a big believer in ‘less is more’ when it comes to microphone preamplifiers used for critical recording. The Maselec MMA-4 is the poster child of such preamps.
The signal quality of the MMA-4 is extremely consistent across the gain range and as transparent as one could hope to expect from a high-end, test measurement -quality microphone preamp.
A peek inside the MMA-4’s chassis reveals the stellar build quality and discrete component circuit design that leads to the unit’s ultra-clean signal path. Preamp circuitry features socketed high slew rate op amps, a separate phantom power supply for each channel and a MU metal-encased toroidal power transformer.
In use in the studio, operation of the MMA-4 was absolutely straightforward and without any complications. The white silk screen labeling over the gray anodized brushed aluminum front panel was easily read from typical control room distances, even in fairly dim “relaxed” situations.
The oversized gain knob provided clear confirmation of each channels’ setting, and the 21 discrete steps across the range of the knob made repeatability and multiple channel consistency a breeze. Though the 3 dB steps are a bit coarse, I prefer the simplicity to the added settings complication and circuitry of a fine adjustment control.
After using the MMA-4 on numerous tracking sessions, I found my favorite applications for the preamp was on acoustic recordings – classical guitar, string sections and the like – though it also performed well on drum overheads and a range of percussion elements. The MMA-4’s low noise specs and ruler-flat frequency response were most appreciated in solo instrument and small ensemble applications.
While the value of a high-end, neutral preamp cannot be disputed, engineers who favor a range of preamps for the individual color each brings may not find themselves endeared to the ultra-clean Maselec MMA-4.
That notwithstanding, I would be hard pressed to pick a better preamp when it comes to audiophile sound, control-room ergonomics and build quality. Prism and Mases most certainly met their stated design objectives of a consistent sound over the whole range of gain settings, signal transparency and ultra-low noise and distortion.