Summit Audio MPE-200 Mic Preamp/EQ

In appearance, the MPE-200 ($4,495) is just gorgeous with its lighted displays and understated styling. The knobs have a solid, precision touch. It's no exaggeration to say that the MPE-200 has the world-class look and feel of a Neve console.
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Designed by Mr. Rupert Neve and Summit Audio, the MPE-200 is a stereo mic preamp and four-band parametric equalizer with sleek looks and pristine sound. It uses analog audio circuitry with digital control. Mr. Neve did the analog design and Summit handled the digital.
Product PointsApplications: Studio recording; remote recording

Key Features: Digitally controlled interface; 25 storable EQ curves; Class A design

Price: $4,495

Contact: Summit Audio Inc., 831-464-2448.

Plus

+ Excellent sound

+ Smooth operating knobs

+ Stores EQ curves as presets

+ Effective readouts

+ Gorgeous appearance

Minus

- Expensive (but worth it)

The Score: This mic pre looks great and sounds as good as it looks.
In appearance, the MPE-200 ($4,495) is just gorgeous with its lighted displays and understated styling. The knobs have a solid, precision touch. It's no exaggeration to say that the MPE-200 has the world-class look and feel of a Neve console.

Features

Features abound in this device. The preamp and EQ sections can be used separately or together. Up to 25 EQ curves can be stored as presets and recalled at will, either manually or by MIDI. Operable as dual mono or stereo, the MPE-200 is a Class A, solid-state design with transformer coupling. Outputs are balanced, floating. Each low-noise mic pre includes an adjustable high-pass and low-pass filter, which can be bypassed. Multiple MPE-200 units can be linked together.

The unit is controlled by six multifunction knobs and display switches. From left to right these are one input, four frequency bands and one output. For each knob, select the parameter page by pressing an LCD display switch. Then select the parameter by pushing the knob. Finally, set the parameter value by turning the knob. Each section has coarse and fine gain control.

All these settings appear in a lighted LCD display switch above each knob. The setting readouts are small but clear and intuitive. Both the input and output display screens include bargraph level metering with clipping indication.

On the back are a power switch, eight XLR connectors and MIDI I/O/thru. The XLR connectors are two channels of mic preamp I/O and EQ I/O. Each mic input also accepts a line-level signal. The power switch is inaccessible when the MPE-200 is rackmounted, but the unit can be set to sleep mode to conserve power.

The MPE-200 has certain quirks that must be learned. Phantom power is enabled on one of the input-setting display screens. The master fader affects the level of the EQ section but not the mic preamp. Preamp clipping causes the input display to flash bright red. Once the settings are made they are saved when the unit is powered down and reappear when you power up. An exception is phantom power, which is turned off during power-up for safety.

Channel status is indicated by a padlock icon that shows whether the channel is selected or EQ is on - and whether the preset is locked or unlocked. The user's manual describes this function: "These icons also show what is being controlled by the associated encoder."

"When a preset is unlocked, all changes made to that preset will automatically be saved. If the preset is locked, settings can still be changed and the changes will affect the audio path, but these changes will be lost when another preset is loaded or the MPE-200 is turned off." In other words, some of your settings are temporary and some are permanent, depending on how you set the lock icon.

The preset functions are rather confusing, but can be understood if you study the user manual, which is clear and thorough.

The specifications for the MPE-200 are impressive. All the gain and frequency settings listed below are adjustable in 17 steps. Input impedance: 10,000 ohms for minimal loading. Coarse gain: Unity to 64 dB. Fine gain: +/-4 dB. Maximum output level: +28 dBu (factory set to +21 dBu). Frequency response: 1 Hz to 200 kHz, -0.5 dB. Equivalent input noise: -128 dBu at 60 dB gain. THD and noise: < 0.0025%, 20 Hz to 20 kHz, at 8 dB gain, +20 dBu out. Low-frequency EQ: 30 to 290 Hz, peaking or shelving. High-frequency EQ: 2 to 20 kHz, peaking or shelving. Low-mid EQ: 100 Hz to 1 kHz, Q adjustable from 0.6 to 2.0. High-mid EQ: 500 Hz to 5 kHz, Q adjustable from 0.6 to 2.0. The unit is two rack-spaces high and 14" deep.

In use


After learning about the MPE-200's features and specs I was eager to try it out in an actual recording session. I set up the MPE-200 as a simple stereo mic preamp, which took several steps to accomplish. I selected stereo mode, disabled the output fader, unlocked the presets, turned on phantom power, set polarity, selected mic in, locked both channels together and set input gain. This involved a fair amount of page flipping, knob pressing and knob turning. With a hardware-controlled preamp, these steps are faster to perform with toggle switches but you get better precision and repeatable setups with the digital control of the MPE-200.

I tried the MPE-200 on an acoustic guitarist. I really liked the clean, pure sound of the MPE-200 and noticed that it had very low listening fatigue. The preamp seemed to lack any harshness or ringing on transients. According to the user manual, the unit generates virtually no high-order harmonics.

It felt good to set the input gain to a fixed amount, see that gain on the display and reset it exactly for punch-ins. There was a sense of security and repeatability that is lacking in analog-controlled mic preamps.

My review sample, however, produced slight clicks in the audio signal when switched between certain gain settings. Summit Audio has not experienced this problem in production. As for the EQ section, it had that great musical sound for which Neve designs are famous. All controls had a sure feel with plenty of range. Again, I liked being able to see the exact frequencies, dBs and Qs on the readouts.

The MPE-200 circuitry is practically a work of art, with its hand-wound, nickel-plated transformers and neat wiring.

Summary


I highly recommend the Summit Audio MPE-200. Its fine degree of control would impress any engineer, and its lighted readouts would impress any client. This is a class act. It sounds as beautiful as it looks.