Bret Teegarden has been on Nashville’s “A-list” of engineers for as long as I can remember; he’s no stranger to the world of high-end microphone preamplifiers. When Bret’s company, Teegarden Audio, launched four years ago, the debut product—the FatBoy Tube DI—quickly became the staple DI for a variety of Nashville’s top players. The word quickly spread and it is now a new standard for top bass players’ rigs around the world. I became a fan of the FatBoy the first time I recorded through it and have been fortunate to use it many times since. When Teegarden Audio unveiled its second product—the Magic Pre—last year, I couldn’t wait to give it a listen.
The Magic Pre 4100 ($2,249 direct) is a four-channel discrete Class- A mic preamp that provides 55 dB of gain and includes a -20 dB pad, +48 v Phantom Power, and high-quality Sifam VU meters; Teegarden Audio also offers a two-channel version, the Magic Pre 2100 ($1,249 direct). The preamp circuit is a legitimately unique design featuring legacy circuitry—as such, it is not a clone or an emulation of anything else on the market. “The pedigree behind the Magic Pre circuit has a long and distinguished history on major recordings in the 60s, 70s and 80s but it has never been released in a commercial product,” Teegarden explains. “We didn’t want to put a copy or a clone of a classic name-brand vintage preamp out on the market.”
Teegarden Audio’s slogan is “Nothing gets in the way of your sound” and its fastidious design methods do everything humanly possible to ensure this is the case. For example, the Magic Pre’s phantom power circuit completely decouples from the transformer; the pad switch is a complete circuit bypass when in the off position and—to avoid having the audio negatively colored by a switch—there is no polarity reverse function.
The heart of the Magic Pre is a single Class-A, fully discrete 35 dB gain block preceded by a 20 dB, 1:10 step-up input transformer in front. This provides a total of 55 dB of gain. “Some have asked us why we didn’t go for much higher gain,” offers Teegarden. “More gain equals more noise. And to reduce noise at higher gain levels involves compromise in the sound from adding more components, more feedback loop, etcetera. Remember, we are going for simplicity. Very rarely will you need even more than 45 dB of gain on a good mic. But some say, ‘What about ribbons?’ Well, just this past Friday, I cut an RCA 44 on guitar through the Magic Pre and only used about 75 percent of the gain! Now, would I use the Magic Pre on the quietest instrument in the orchestra using a ribbon mic? Not likely. It’s all about knowing what to use in each situation and having the right tools to accomplish the job.”
I’ve used literally dozens of great vintage and boutique mic preamps with regularity—both tube and solid state—and, in general, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. They typically sound great on a few things and average on other sound sources. The big shocker with the Magic Pre is that, in my own use, it is indeed a “kind of magic” in that it truly sounds amazingly good on absolutely everything I recorded with it.
I’ve used it on drums, percussion, acoustic and electric guitars, horns, male and female vocals, violin, piano and bass. I’m constantly stunned by the superb results. It’s not a colorless circuit though, so engineers that are looking for an ultra-clean, uncolored tone might be more inclined to look elsewhere as the Magic Pre is fat, punchy, rich and full of character. Although it is a solid-state device, the Magic Pre’s design is tonally very “tube-esque.” It has a lot of sonic similarities to a tube mic pre. I find it interesting that on multiple occasions when using the Magic Pre to record vocals, producers asked me if the Magic Pre was my favorite tube mic pre.
Nashville engineer Spencer McGuire fell in love with the Magic Pre while working at The Brown Owl (thebrownowl.com) where I had the review unit parked for a few weeks and now considers it his all-time favorite preamp. McGuire, studio legend Brent Mason’s go-to overdub engineer, explains: “I love the Magic Pre because it takes all the guess work out of recording Brent’s guitars. As the tones change from song to song, there’s little need to audition other preamps. What the Magic Pre captures is an extremely accurate representation of the sounds coming out of the [guitar amp’s cabinet]. I’ve never used a preamp that allows all recorded information to sit so well in a mix from one genre to the next like this preamp does. Brent loves it because it accurately portrays his tone without anything getting in the way. Our sessions have become more efficient now because we no longer have to worry about trying different preamps as we change from song to song.”
I only have one real complaint with the box, which is purely logistical. The way the front panel is laid out, the meter for the first channel is in very close proximity to the gain control for the second channel, the second channel meter with the third channel gain control and so on; my eyes naturally went to the wrong meter when making gain adjustments. The Magic Pre’s second-generation front panel silkscreen revision should change this, though, making it a bit more intuitive for quick adjustments.
Perhaps the most magical characteristic of the Magic Pre is that it is essentially $625 per channel: an amazing price for a world-class microphone preamplifer. Any studio or engineer in need of expanding their mic pre arsenal should give the Magic Pre a try.