Does Neumann's first standalone mic preamp live up to their enviable reputation?
Though best known for their microphones, and more recently loudspeakers and headphones, between the 1960s and the 1990s Neumann also manufactured bespoke mixing consoles, which included very high-quality microphone preamps. And while Neumann have never before offered a standalone mic preamp, they've just launched a new one called the V402. The model's V prefix continues the house identifier long used by Neumann for their console preamp modules. As might be expected from a company of Neumann's standing, the V402 is intended to be as "transparent and pure as modern state-of-the-art electronics allow — neither adding nor subtracting anything produced by the microphone", and is proudly proclaimed as being "handmade in Germany".
From a user's point of view, the V402 is a straightforward dual-channel microphone preamplifier. It's a transformerless design that includes an unbalanced instrument input for each channel and, more surprisingly, a built-in 'studio-grade' headphone amplifier. The unit is presented as a 2U rackmount chassis with an attractive 'champagne' anodised front panel, with matching knobs, silver ring-illuminated buttons, and a black-painted case. This chunky metalwork means it weighs a hefty 6.2kg, and it extends 242mm behind the rack ears.
The rear panel is equipped with a quartet of XLRs for the electronically balanced (mic) inputs and line outputs, along with an IEC mains power inlet. One uncommon feature here is a recessed slide switch amidst the XLR connectors, which disconnects the chassis ground from pin one on all four of them (the inputs as well as the outputs) to break any ground loops, if necessary. The internal linear power supply accepts either 100-120 or 220-240 V AC mains supplies, and the IEC socket has an integral mains switch (there's no mains power switch on the front panel, though, which would have been nice).
On the front panel, Neumann's classic red diamond badge sits proudly at the top left, with the two channels' controls arranged above one another. Each channel starts with a standard quarter-inch unbalanced instrument input socket, followed by a large rotary gain knob operating an ALPS 'Blue Beauty' conductive-plastic potentiometer, which has a 41-detent action and provides +20 to +60 dB of gain in approximately 1dB steps. Five illuminated buttons select the high-impedance instrument input in place of the rear-panel mic input, apply 48V phantom power and introduce a -20dB pad, polarity inversion and a second-order...