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Pope Audio PRE-BX

500-series Microphone Preamplifier By Neil Rogers
Published December 2023

Pope Audio PRE-BX

There’s a lot of competition in the 500‑series preamp market, but this one offers something a little different.

Fewer than three years have passed since I reviewed Pope Audio’s first release, the BAX2020 EQ, and in that time designer Adam Pope has busily built a small but well‑thought‑out range of outboard tools, and everything I’ve tested has ticked all the right boxes for me. It’s all gear that sounds great, offers simple functionality with just enough flexibility, and is put together nicely. Under review this time is Pope’s latest offering, a 500‑series transformer‑balanced preamp that, intriguingly, features a miniature version of his Baxandall‑inspired EQ. Pope describes the ‘flavour’ of this preamp as sitting somewhere between an API and a Neve, and the prospect of this (and how much I enjoyed his BAX EQ) meant I was racing to slot the review unit into my 500‑series rack when it arrived.

In keeping with their house style, the PRE‑BX has a ‘no frills’ set of controls, a decision which has pros and cons. On the one hand, I’d have quite liked some basic metering, but on the other I’m happy when designers don’t attempt to cram too much into a small faceplate, and the front XLR/TRS input that uses up a chunk of the available space is a very welcome feature in my own studio setup. Many users will look to any transformer‑balanced preamp not only to amplify a signal but to deliver some colour and saturation, and the provision of a switchable 3:1 output attenuator allows you to drive the input stage a little harder if desired. The standout feature for me, though, is the Baxandall EQ circuit, which is set using a single dual‑concentric pot: the bottom/outer part of the knob allows you to broadly add or reduce low frequencies, and the upper section does the same for the higher end of the frequency spectrum.

A chunky Carnhill output transformer offers coloration, while the input stage is balanced using a CAPI transformer.A chunky Carnhill output transformer offers coloration, while the input stage is balanced using a CAPI transformer.

On Test

A Shure SM57 mic on the top of a snare drum seemed to me a perfectly reasonable place to start testing a new preamp, and it was immediately obvious that on such a loud, transient‑heavy source the PRE‑BX is capable of applying some serious character. With the input gain only around halfway up, my snare sounded heavily saturated and a quick look at the waveform revealed just how much ‘rounding off’ was going on on the transients. I was able to dial this back, but on most loud sources you’re going to find that this preamp offers up some audible coloration from the output transformer. Not a ‘con’ by any means, this was reminiscent of my experiences of using vintage Neve preamps — you just accept that you’re getting a certain, coloured sound. The lack of visual metering reinforces this approach too, as you must rely on your ears to tell you how much is too much.

Describing the sound of a preamp is tricky, but that blend of vintage Neve saturation and a leaner‑sounding API seems pretty apt. It’s a character that worked very well on drums and electric guitars, where some saturation is often very welcome. But I also liked how it lightly coloured an acoustic guitar I miked with a single Neumann KM84. The addition of the EQ is significant; I mentioned in my previous reviews how handy this EQ can be when tracking, and it didn’t disappoint here. Being able to quickly lean over and brighten up, beef up or tone down a source is a simple, effective move in a session.

There’s a very good argument that a standalone, boutique preamp should offer a distinct sound.

Lasting Impression

If you’re looking for a transparent preamp that works in every situation, the pre‑BX probably isn’t the best choice, as the character of the Carnhill output transformer needs very little encouragement to reveal itself. But there’s a very good argument that a standalone, boutique preamp should offer a distinct sound, and if you’re looking for something a little different from your regular, workmanlike preamps, it could well prove an excellent choice. The combination of preamp and BAX EQ is so handy too, and I found myself using at least a touch of the EQ on most sources. At this price, there’s a lot of competition in the preamp market. But Pope Audio have just thrown an excellent‑sounding option into the ring.


Pope Audio’s PRE‑BX is a stylish and characterful 500‑series preamp that offers a sound somewhere in between two very well‑known vintage transformer‑based designs, and cleverly implements a miniature Baxandall EQ with a dual‑concentric pot.


£699 including VAT.