Universal Audio's 4710d is an eight-channel preamp and A-D converter, the first four channels of which feature a solid-state/tube hybrid mic preamp based on the company's Twinfinity 710 (reviewed in SOS April 2009) and a compressor derived from their ever-popular 1176. The mic preamps offer up to 69dB of gain and feature a switchable -15dB pad. These four channels also feature a line input and an insert send and return. Usefully, the insert send jack remains active even if the insert is not engaged. The remaining four channels offer only line inputs (on the rear) and high-impedance instrument inputs (on the front panel), with no mic preamp, inserts or compressor.
Whether in solid-state or tube mode, the sound of the hybrid preamps is rich and characterful, in a pleasingly musical way, but what makes this preamp particularly useful is the ability to blend the tube and solid-state sounds to taste. This makes the preamps incredibly versatile, and having now used them on a number of sources, I'd be confident of getting very satisfying results when tracking pretty much any source — given a suitable mic, of course! They're not just about miking, though: the line input also runs through the hybrid circuitry, and I found that this made a nice front end when recording, for example, a Juno 6 synth part. Setting these four channels up as 'External FX' in Cubase also allowed me to dial in a little tube character to breathe some life into rather lacklustre vocal recordings.
The compressors are a definite bonus, but there are limits to what you can do with them. The ratio is fixed at 4:1 and the threshold at 10dBu, while the time‑constant controls have only two settings (a 'fast' setting makes the attack time 0.3ms and the release time 100ms, and a slow position sets the attack time to 2ms and the release to 1100ms). Despite these limitations, the sound is distinctively 1176ish, and the compressors work well when adding just a little compression at the tracking stage. They're a little limited for real workhorse mix compression, but the settings and options have nonetheless been well judged.
The A-D conversion works at all the usual sample rates from 44.1 to 192kHz, and at 16- or 24-bit word lengths (for 16-bit, signals are converted at 24-bit and dithered down). There are AES/EBU (via D-sub) and ADAT optical digital outputs, as well as BNC word-clock connectivity with the option for 75Ω termination. A globally switchable analogue limiter for all eight inputs prior to the conversion stage provides a safety net, although it's not a brick-wall design, and very hot signals with fast transients could lead to clipping. However, there's no need to track that hot, and I didn't notice any problems in practice.
Those impressive, versatile mic preamps are undoubtedly the main attraction, but there's plenty more to commend the 4710d: the compressors may be limited in terms of control, but they sound very good; the digital connectivity means you don't have to spend heavily on high-quality stand-alone converters (any interface with ADAT would work fine); and though the price isn't exactly 'budget', it's still very reasonable given the facilities and quality on offer. This being the case, the 4710d may just provide the perfect analogue front end for a serious project-studio setup.
£2039 including VAT.$1999.