The Black Lion Audio (BLA) camp was kind enough to loan BBoy Tech Report one of their Auteur Preamps for review. The Auteur Preamp is a rather unassuming little black box sleeper. So much so in fact that you could be in a studio with one of these and never even notice it in the room. To it’s credit, it sounds like a piece of old school analog heaven due in part to the chosen circuitry design reminiscent of some preamps used in vintage SSL boards.
The Auteur Theory is derived from french film making which basically means the director takes full control and does things his own way. According to Britannica Online the “auteur theory, is the theory of film making in which the director is viewed as the major creative force in a motion picture.” The significance in the name has to do with BLA’s unique design and atypical approach to building a preamp. In essence they do it their own way.
According to BLA, “Being admirers of the fully balanced transformerless circuits found in highly acclaimed recording consoles, we chose to use a similar topology. We began with a high speed input stage that would pick up lots of detail and nuance, and then followed it with a high current output stage. Circuit headroom is plentiful, and the input stage is very difficult to clip. Because of its fully balanced design, it can handle large input signals with ease.” BLA further explains, “We also like classic transformer-based designs because of the characteristic they lend to the audio signal. Because of this, we added a 600 ohm M-6 silicon steel output transformer to give the audio a thick quality that’s reminiscent of a prized vintage preamp.”
Build / Look & Feel
The Auteur Preamp is quit simply built like a tank, especially by today’s standards. The black metal chasis is nice and sturdy. Feels as if it could literally hit the road and come back unscathed. Even the knobs are metal and tough. The knobs are smooth to touch and they move with ease. They arent stiff at all. Yet it would not be easy to mistakenly move them with a slight touch. It’s size is 1U high 1/2 rack space chassis which is the same size as my RME Fireface 400. Given the size of the unit and the minimal feature set on the front panel, the two channel knobs are well spaced out. The small buttons for the phantom power, Phase and Pad are probably the most fragile of the entire build yet they aren’t something I would worry about breaking. The one thing I am not too fond of is how close phase buttons are to the channel gain knobs. Its a bit awkward to press because you cannot avoid rubbing against the gain knobs
The front of the Auteur is home to a really simple interface. There you’ll find the power switch and two channels with phase, +48vdc phantom power, and 10dB output signal pad. That’s all that’s it no frills. All killer no filler. BLA prides themselves on keeping there pieces simple with “minimum fluff”. This approach is part of the cost consciousness that allows BLA to keep costs reasonable so as to pass along the savings to the customer. So is it ugly? No, just plain. Does that effect the sound? No and its a moot point compared to the quality of sound.
The back panel of the Auteur houses the 24 VAC power connector, 2 XLR inputs and 2 TRS outputs. Nice and simple.
The sound is very rich and up front. There is a very apparent and distinct difference in the sound of my source material going thru The Auteur vs. without. I ran several IOS Synths thru it using the Alesis IO Dock. Magellan, which already a solid sounding synth on it’s own sounded even more rich and smooth. The Auteur gave Magellan more punch and even more of an analog flavor. iMS20, Sunrizer and WaveGenerator also benefited from Auteur’s rich analog vibe as well. It’s worth mentioning that none of these IOS apps are slouches by any stretch of imagination but there was a definite advantage to running them thru the Auteur Preamp by BLA.
Another of my tests that yielded immediately noticeable results was running my beautifully “crappy & cheesy” vintage Crumar Roady thru the Auteur Preamp. On its own the Crumar Roady is sort of thin and cheesy. But not all cheese is bad. I’ve run the Roady thru all sorts of stuff for different effect and delivery of its sound. I’ve run it thru analog filters, stand alone effects, logic effects and even used my MPC 5000 as an effects processor with it. Everything adds its own little character of the Roady but when the Auteur Preamp was introduced into the equation it was a slice of magic in the sound. I’ve made it no secret that my Roady and I have a love / hate relationship due to its cheese factor in the sound department but the Auteur Preamp brought things to life. Yeah of course it was still cheesy but now it was meaty, fatter and cheesy. The warmth and girth added to the Roady’s sound made me play it longer than usual. It changed the sound for the better for sure.
[pullquote]The Auteur Preamp is definitely a winner in the intended category as an affordable mic preamp with unsurpassed quality in it’s class.[/pullquote]As for vocals, I tested by setting up my vocal chain with and without the Auteur Preamp. I ran my M-Audio Sputnik tube condenser mic directly to the RME Fireface 400. I’ve never liked this chain. Its too harsh at the top and not quite as up front in the mix as I’d like it to be. It always caused me to spend more time in the mix making it right after the fact. I’ve had great luck with this mic using other preamps but I’ve always kept in mind that the instructions advices the owner that this mic’s true magic is truly realized with a great preamp. Enter the Auteur Preamp to save the day. Recording vocals with the Auteur Preamp & M-Audio Sputnik was like a dream. I’ve not heard my vocals this way since recording in pro studios. The vocals were suddenly up front and smooth. The highs seemed to be really smooth but not really dark. The sound was intimate and up close. There was a nice richness and warmth that rounded out the lows without being muddy. I was suddenly capturing more of the vocal data in the recording. It made mixing much easier given the recording was so nice. The Auteur Preamp was definitely a winner in the intended category as an affordable mic preamp with unsurpassed quality in it’s class.
Tracking from the MPC to Logic with the Auteur proved to be a learning experience. Still the incredible results were mad apparent in the end (actually during the process as well). The Auteur has such a high input level that I actually ended up changing my usual levels. The MPC’s master gain level is usually set to -12db in my studio. When tracking using the Auteur I quickly learned that I needed to bring the mpc down a bit on the master level to -42db. Otherwise the levels would top out every time. The Auteur is said to have an input gain ceiling that is literally off the charts. So BLA added a pad on the output to help to control this beast of a preamp. It should be said here that the pad is a life saver.
Overall the Auteur Preamp is a winner. This preamp is a throwback to the days when indie boutique outboard gear builders ruled. Frankly, it’s really tough to think of anything bad to say about the unit. Outside of the fact that it will not win any beauty contests, the Auteur Preamp is as beautiful in sound as one could hope to get at this price point. I’ve heard it said that it can easily compare to preamps in the price range of $2000 to $5000. Although I dont have a $2000 plus preamp to compare it to I can tell you it is indeed the best preamp I’ve personally used. I know that some may not be able to afford such a box and that it may be considered a luxury item to some, but I can vouch that purchasing an Auteur Preamp is money well spent. Your audience will thank you for the new found upfront warmth in your sound.
The Auteur Preamp is available from Black Lion Audio for $599. Keep in mind that Auteur is made to order so be prepared for a bit of a wait ranging from 1 to 3 weeks.
Be sure to stop by BLA’s facebook page and join in the conversation or maybe get a sneak peak of their next big thing.
- Small form factor
- huge sound
- Imparts an astonishing vintage warmth
- Easily Wins for most bang for the buck
- Simple interface
- great for vocals, iOS synths, virtual analog synths and just about anything.
- Its not a handsome box
- May be considered expensive for the hobbyist or bedroom producer
- Channels: Two
- Gain: 0-66dB
- THD+Noise: -110dB @ 1 kHz
- Headroom: 30dB
- Input impedance: 8k
- Output impedance: 600 ohms
- Input connection: XLR
- Output connection: TRS
- Power: 24VAC external supply