Although Toft Audio Designs is a relatively new company, the company’s founder, Malcolm Toft, is a seasoned veteran with engineering credits that include the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and James Taylor’s first album. Surprisingly, even with a credit list as impressive as his, Toft’s design accomplishments practically dwarf his engineering credits. As the founder of Trident Audio Developments, Toft designed the Trident A Range, Series 80, TSM and Series 65 consoles. Many of these circa 1970s consoles (primarily the A Range) remain among the most desired in the business. Toft Audio Designs’ introductory product, the ATC-2, is a $1,299 dual-channel microphone preamp, four-band equalizer and FET compressor.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, project studio, broadcast, post production, sound reinforcement
Key Features: Two-channel; mic preamp; classic Trident CB-9146 FET compressor; classic four-band Trident 80B EQ; Burr-Brown preamps
Contact: Toft Audio Designs/PMI Audio at 310-373-9129, Web Site.
At only 5.7 inches deep, the 2RU ATC-2 is a relatively compact box. The 1/4-inch-thick anodized aluminum front panel has a striking brushed silver finish with black labeling and is complimented by a pair of round VU meters. The ATC-2’s impressive spec list includes mic input impedance > 1.2 kohm balanced, line input impedance >15 kohm electronically balanced and instrument input impedance >100 kohm unbalanced. The mic pre provides up to 60 dB gain, the line input is variable from -20 to +20 dB and the instrument input provides 36 dB of gain. The box features an XLR output Impedances: XLR: <100 ohm electronically balanced Jack: <100 ohm unbalanced. The mic pre input noise is <-128 dBu ref 150 ohm (20 Hz – 20 kHz). The line input noise <-75 dBu (EQ In, 20 Hz – 20 kHz) <-70dBu (Compressor In, 20 Hz – 20 kHz).
The rear panel of the ATC-2 is equipped with a pair of F-XLR connectors for mic input and a pair of and F-XLR connectors and 1/4-inch TRS jacks (wired in parallel) for line input. Two front panel mounted 1/4-inch jacks provide instrument input. A pair of M-XLR connectors and a pair of 1/4-inch TRS jacks provide line output. Although the rear panel is fairly simple and well-labeled, I still found it a bit confusing. Typically, on multichannel pieces of equipment, the inputs go from left to right on the front panel and right to left on the rear panel. For some reason, Toft decided to reverse the two channels somewhere between the front and rear panels so the right input is directly behind the left control and vise versa. I found that unless I was concentrating on the box, I frequently made a patching mistake.
The front panel offers identical controls for the left and right channels. In addition to the channel controls, the power switch provides power to the unit and the Couple switch links the two compressors allowing them to operate as a stereo pair. The box is made well and the rotary controls and switches feel solid and sturdy. The controls are divided into two horizontal rows. The top row features the input and compressor settings and the lower row features the equalizer controls. The Mic/Line switch sets the unit’s input to either mic or line. If a cable is inserted into the instrument input, it automatically becomes the default input. The gain control provides 60 dB gain for the mic input, -20 to +20 dB for the line input and Ð16 dB to +30 dB for the instrument input. A notched “0” position gives unity gain for the line input allowing cutting or boosting as required. The +48V switch activates 48 volt phantom power to the microphone input. A red LED illuminates to indicate that phantom power has been activated. The one control that is missing is a phase reverse switch. I like to be able to compare phase while listening to multiple microphones and that isn’t possible with the ATC-2.
The classic F.E.T compressor’s design is that of the CB-9146 used by Trident in the early 1980s. It features rotary controls for attack, release, ratio (1:1 Ð 12:1) and Make Up Gain (-50 – +20 dB). The unit operates on a fixed threshold system which means that if you want to compress more, you either increase the gain or change the ratio. The Comp In switch activates the compressor. A red LED illuminates to indicate that the compressor has been activated. VU metering shows gain reduction and output level. The meter switch sets the metering to either gain reduction or output level. When operating the compressor with the stereo couple feature activated, both channels effectively become the master (unlike some boxes where the left channel solely controls the right or vice versa). The Couple switch links the control voltages of both sections so that when the compression settings are the same on both channels, the channel with the greatest compression will automatically attenuate the other channel as well to avoid image shift problems.
The box’s four-band equalizer is actually the old Trident 80B EQ. It features a high-pass filter, low and high shelves and two sweepable mid ranges. The Filter In switch activates the 50 Hz high-pass filter. The low-frequency shelf features a ±15 dB gain control. A switch sets the shelving frequency at either 60 Hz or 120 Hz. The low mid band provides a ±15 dB gain control and is sweepable from 100Hz – 1.5 kHz. The high mid band provides a ±15 dB gain control and is sweepable from 1 kHz – 15 kHz. The high frequency shelf features a ±15 dB gain control. A switch sets the shelving frequency at either 8 kHz or 12 kHz. The EQ In switch activates the EQ and a red LED illuminates to indicate that the EQ has been activated.
I’ve been using the ATC-2 for several months now and I’ve been very pleased with its performance. The box works very well with drums and percussion. Over a series of tracking sessions, I used the ATC-2 along with an AKG D112 to record kick drum, with a Shure SM-57 to record snare, with BLUE’s Ball mics to record toms, with a Royer SF-12 to record overheads and with a Royer SF-1 to record tambourine. The mic pre works well with percussive material capturing every nuance of the sound. The EQ is musical and works well to sculpt the sound into the desired tone. I found that while using the ATC-2 I used relatively little eq in most instances.
Coupled with a Royer R-122, I had great results using the ATC-2 to record electric guitars. I experimented with varying amounts of compression and found the compressor to be extremely flexible, working fine as a smooth, subtle compressor as well as an aggressive, extreme compressor.
I used the instrument inputs to record stereo keyboard and bass and had good results. The link control worked well in this instance. I also had good results using the ATC-2 along with an Audio-Technica 4047 to record vocals. The only problem I had was that I found the HP filter to be too audible to really be usable. It seems to not only get rid of the annoying low sub frequencies, but also cut into the actual sound itself.
To capture the performance of a rock band, I used the ATC-2 along with a pair of Earthworks SR-77s and an Alesis MasterLink and had impressive results. I didn’t use any EQ and only a hint of compression and I ended up with a full and articulate recording. The compressor works well on stereo material, providing level control without any negative sonic characteristics.
I experimented using the ATC-2 as a stereo bus compressor, running my entire mix through the box, and had good results. The lack of a threshold control slowed me down at times but once I got past that, I was pleased with the results.
I am very impressed with the ATC-2. The box is well made, it’s priced right and it sounds good. The only real complaint I have with the unit is the lack of a phase reverse control and the rear panel layout. [Editor’s note: After much debate Toft Audio says the rear panel layout will be rearranged to a more standard layout with the next product run and that a phase reverse and a pre/post EQ switch will be added to a ‘Mark II’ version] With this in mind, the ATC-2 is a worthy contender to any studio in need of additional recording channels at a reasonable price.