Chandler's Little Devil preamp takes the warmth and mangling side of things to another level.
Do all preamps sound the same? When it comes to the linear part of their operation, arguably yes. Well, similar enough that they make only a tiny contribution to the overall sound of your recording chain. (If you doubt that statement, you need to read the second part of our great mic preamp test elsewhere in this issue). That's why, for me, the most interesting aspect of a mic preamp is what happens when you push it beyond its linear sweet spot, in search of more interesting sonic textures. Chandler's Little Devil preamp takes the warmth and mangling side of things to another level: I can't think of another preamp that offers quite so much character.
In many respects, this is a pretty straightforward preamp. There's the usual complement of 'phase' (polarity) and 48V phantom power buttons, source selectors (mic, line and DI) and input gain controls. There are a few other features found on some but not all other designs — a high-pass filter to clear away any unwanted rubbish on the bottom end, and an output level control, for example, which enables you to drive the input gain for a little warmth and then back off the level being fed to the next stage in the signal chain. Rarer and useful, but not unique, additions are a 'bright' switch, which, when pressed, adds a boost to the high end, and a high/low impedance switch.
It's a well-specified and versatile preamp, then — but what makes the Little Devil really different is the presence of the Feedback & Bias control, which, essentially, routes a little of the output signal back to the input. The idea is that by juggling the input gain, Feedback and output level controls, you have access to a wide tonal palette. What this means is that you're able to shape the signal being captured by a microphone in a very precise way, adding a little warmth and character, or even rounding things off to the point of sluggishness if you prefer. I tried it on bass, guitar (both acoustic and electric), drums and vocals, and it was easy to find a use for all of these. But this can be used on line-level signals too, and so can be used as a mix effect. I only had one module to test, but it's easy to conceive of a pair of these being used on the master or drums stereo bus to add analogue character. Equally, though, it is capable of full on distortion effects that would be suitable for vocals or electric guitar in a mix context. It's not hard to push it into still wilder territory: with Feedback & Bias set to maximum, raising the input gain can get you past simple distortion, to achieve a curious, yet occasionally appealing stuttering effect.
The one question that remains in my mind is whether this should be called a mic preamp at all, or an analogue distortion box that happens to sport a mic input. I don't care what the answer is, though: whatever label you decide to give this, it's a wonderful device that offers so much control over your tone with so few physical controls. It's not exactly cheap, but it does so much, and can easily be used in different stages of the production process. Highly recommended.
£786 including VAT.