Rocktron's PC Preamp is designed to enable mic‑ or line‑level signals to be fed into the line input of a computer soundcard (a slightly cheaper version is also available without the mic level input for those who don't need one). In addition to a balanced mic amp, the PC Preamp also includes a guitar input stage, complete with clean or overdrive voicing, a real Accutronics spring reverb for that authentic combo sound, plus Rocktron's own Hush single‑ended noise‑reduction system. An effects send and return loop is included, and an aux input allows another stereo line‑level signal to be combined with the guitar or voice being recorded.
The XLR mic input isn't phantom‑powered and there's no mic/line switch, but the mic input is disabled when a jack is plugged into the Instrument input. A gain control is provided to set the amount of overdrive when the preamp is switched to Overdrive mode, and the Shape control provides mid‑range EQ cut. The Hush noise reduction has only a Threshold control, and only functions in the overdrive mode: when the preamp is used on the clean setting, the circuit is reconfigured to act instead as a preset compressor.
On the rear panel, the output is available as either a stereo quarter‑inch jack or a stereo mini‑jack, while the Aux inputs are on phonos. A regular quarter‑inch jack supplies the effect send and a stereo jack wired Tip Left, Ring Right is used to return stereo effects to the PC Preamp. A free copy of PG Music's PowerTracks Pro Audio for PC is bundled with the unit, for those running Windows computers who don't currently have any recording software.
On the face of it, Rocktron have managed to squeeze quite a lot into this little box without making it difficult to use, though the almost invisible legending beneath the control knobs isn't helpful. As a guitar preamp, the PC Preamp is acceptably quiet with a reasonable range of tones, though the single tone control is a little limiting in this respect. On clean sounds, the compressor works surprisingly well, but in overdrive mode, I found the Hush system pretty ineffectual at getting rid of background noise without also killing off the top end of the sound. The overdrive sound itself is a little synthetic but can handle raunch to fuzz with only a slight hint of fizziness.
I liked the spring reverb, which can be applied to vocals if you don't have an effects unit. The compressor also works well on vocals but has the effect of bringing up the background hiss to a noticeable level when using a typical low‑impedance dynamic mic. As the Hush circuit isn't active in this mode, and as the compressor can't be switched off, this could be a problem.
The build quality is first‑class, and the inclusion of a spring reverb unit is very retro, but at the same time spot‑on for guitar players. I like the philosophy of this unit, but I'm concerned that Rocktron may have simplified it so much that there's very little flexibility left. For the beginner who isn't experienced at setting things up, it's probably ideal, but for the slightly more experienced user, its limitations would quickly become frustrating. Paul White