lordmike wrote:First, it has a pretty significant volume drop when inserted into my signal chain. Is that normal?
Yes and no!
Professional audio equipment should be designed to have unity gain from input to output in its 'flat' condition -- which is what you're rightly expecting. However, normal production tolerances will introduce some natural deviation, and that's always going to be exaggerated in valve equipment... and especially so in cheap valve equipment using modern valves of variable quality!
A good design might provide a user gain trim control to dial out any tolerance/valve gain variations, and variations in the tolerances of the passive EQ section. However, the KT doesn't provide one because the original Pultec didn't...
Of course, the Pultec used proper old-school valves that were more consistent. Probably more relevant, though, is that the Pultec was designed in the days of mono, not stereo, so the issues of stereo matching weren't much of a concern!
There may be a gain adjuster inside the KT unit. I don't know, and any exploration and tweaking would be entirely at your own risk...
Personally, in your situation I'd just bypass the EQ, send a calibration tone through the unit, and insert a gain adjustment plugin in the DAW to compensate. Save the setup as a template and you needn't worry about it again.
It is like a drop of 6-10db.
I hope this isn't the cause, but as the Elf says, an unbalanced cable could result in a 6dB loss of level... so check your cables are all balanced and intact!
One thing I could be messing up is that I'm not sending it a hot enough signal, I keep my output in Reason to no more than -12db. So maybe that's it?
Nope. Analogue gear is designed for a nominal operating level of +4dBu, and peaks are expected to be around 8-10dB above that, so +14dBdBu.
If your interface is calibrated for +24dBu at 0dBFS (or thereabouts), and your peaks are hitting -12dBFS in the DAW, then that's +12dBu, which is +8dB relative to the +4dBu (0VU) reference and absolutely spot on to the Pultec's design expectations!
Running analogue gear with hotter signals just results in more transformer/valve saturation, and significantly less headroom. It might sound 'nice' sometimes with valve gear, but it tends to make solid-state equipment sound hard and unpleasant.
Next, the two units aren't very matched in output, one of them tends to be a little (a lot) quieter. It isn't a huge deal because I can just apply make-up gain in my DAW but I still want to make sure that is normal
I suspect it is 'normal' for this product and is almost certainly down to the valves in the two units having slightly different gains, which is a common problem with modern cheap valves. You could invest in properly matched pairs of valves, and try installing them in the two units. It might well help... but simply dialling in a correction in the DAW is probably easier, and is definitely cheaper.