Grace Design’s m108 eight-channel microphone preamp ($2,845 street) is a high-performance eight-channel preamp/8 X 2 USB interface featuring an array of input and output options. Geared towards today’s streamlined DAW setups, it’s packaged elegantly in a single rack space with an attractive black finish—a unique hue for a Grace Design product. A direct descendant of the company’s m802, it is centered around eight transformerless mic preamps (-6 to 69 dB) with state-of-the-art 192kHz A/D conversion and flexible connectivity to workstations or computers.
Let’s take a look at the unit’s simple but comprehensive layout. There are two quarter-inch Hi-Z inputs on the left for channels 1 and 2 followed by a quarter-inch stereo headphone output with its own dedicated volume control. Beside that resides four multipurpose hardware buttons for +48V phantom power, mute, phase reverse, solo, Peak Clear, setup, Group and Pan control. Next to that is a high contrast OLED display showing all the functionality of the eight preamp channels and associated Global settings. Finally, there is an Edit knob for controlling the preamp functions and to navigate around the setup menu.
Of utmost importance to me as a user, the Edit knob allows a quick select any of the eight channels and gain adjustment by pushing in the knob and turning. It’s easy, quick and just what I want from this unit. I don’t want to scroll around menus when simply trying to select a channel and set a level. To turn on the phantom or phase reverse, etc., for the selected channel, simply turn on or off the buttons to the left of the display.
Those who need to get into the setup menu, that’s not difficult, either. By pushing and holding the setup menu, users can scroll through a single level of choices via Edit knob. To select it, push it in and make the adjustment. To exit out, just push the knob again. Easy, with no manuals needed to understand; it’s intuitive in every sense of the word. When using the m108 as a USB audio interface, a simple 10 X 2 mixer can be accessed by pushing and holding the Volume knob, where monitoring is done with the headphone jack.
The rear unit features eight full XLR mic inputs, DB-25 balanced Analog Out and AES3 out, 2 ADAT optical outputs and a USB 2.0 jack. Then there’s Word Clock I/O, RS422 MIDI I/O for Pro Tools HD control—which also doubles as RS-422 Serial connectors to control the m108 from something like their m802 hardware remote. On top of that sits a slot for the optional DANTE network audio card and, finally, an Ethernet jack for IP control with upcoming software control and AC power input.
Connecting the m108 optically to my portable Universal Audio rig (both an Apollo rack and Apollo Duo) running Pro Tools 12 on a MacBook Pro, I first had to set the Grace unit to the same sample rate of my session. Once that happened, I had ADAT sync lock and I was in business.
Plugging in an Earthworks QTC50 and pressing +48 phantom, I then dialed in a level and was greeted by pristine, clean and clear sound. My Martin OM28 sounded absolutely huge and instantly inspirational—exactly what I look for in a preamp. I could immediately tell that there was no coloration present; exactly what goes in to the m108 comes out.
Next, I recorded a track of shakers and tambourines with a Beyer M160 ribbon. What I really like about the m108 is that I can hear the character of the mic and the source instrument—not the preamp.
Checking the DIs, I went direct with a Tele and also my trusty old ‘70 Precision bass. I’m a huge fan of quarter-inch inputs on the front of preamps for just this reason, and this time I monitored with headphones directly off the Grace unit itself instead of my UA. Because I already have a Grace Design m906 in my HD rig, it’s exactly what I was used to—crystal clear sound.
Over the next few sessions, I also used the m108 with that same Pro Tools HD rig, ultimately deciding to make it my preamp front-end (I say as I break out the AMEX card). It’s exactly what I need it to be: a high quality, high-end pristine preamp that I can quickly navigate. But taking it further, it makes a great, feature-rich DAW front end for smaller rigs, such as UA Apollo-based ones, with extensive and easy integration. Simply put, what goes into the m108 will be exactly what comes out. Grace Design nailed it here.
Grace Design | http://www.gracedesign.com/products/m108/m108.htm