Universal Audio''s Solo/610 allows you to get a piece of the 610 legacy at a much lower price point.
In the November 2006 issue (available online at www.emusician.com), I reviewed Universal Audio's Solo/110. This time around I got a crack at its tube cousin, the Solo/610 ($799). Unlike its solid-state counterpart, this portable microphone preamp and DI box is based on a vintage design by the father of the company's present owners, the legendary Bill Putnam. The 610 console was one of the first recording consoles ever made and was renowned for its supreme sonic quality. For the past few years, Universal Audio has been selling oodles of the various reissue packages of the 610, and the Solo/610 comes in as the most affordable device yet in this exquisite heritage.
All in the Family
The similarities between the Solo/610 and the Solo/110 are many; for starters, the housing is equally portable. The 610 also has a DI input with a Thru jack, a ground-lift switch, and a switch for determining whether the XLR output jack is at mic or line level, making it easy to use as a direct interface. On the front face, the two oversize knobs for gain and level retain the ridged, retro look of the original 610 console. Small flip switches are used to activate phantom power, polarity reversal, and a 100 Hz highpass filter. There are also switches for mic or DI input and low- or high-input impedance (500 or 2 kΩ for mic, 47 kΩ or 2.2 MΩ for DI). Functionally, the only features lacking when compared with the rackmounted 610 variations are high- and low-shelving EQ (having been replaced by a low-cut filter), a line input, and a stepped (as opposed to variable) gain control.
My initial comparison tests were made using the DI input. I often track guitars direct, both for reamping later as well as for blending some of the direct sound with the amp sound to achieve more high end than you can really get out of a guitar amp alone. Plugging my Fender Mustang into the Solo/610 immediately made me smile. Not that it was a totally usable tone on its own, as direct guitar rarely is, but it was pretty close. Checking it against the 610 half of my Universal Audio 6176, the Solo/610 had a very similar sound. I favored the 6176, which had a little smoother low midrange, but only slightly. Compared with the Solo/110, I preferred the depth of the Solo/610 a bit, and there was a slight sense of compression that made the guitar sit better when strummed or picked hard.
I was equally pleased running electric bass into the DI input. In this application the Solo/610 was almost identical to the 6176. Compared with the Solo/110, however, the Solo/610 had significantly better low end. There was also a larger difference between the low- and high-impedance settings, the low setting giving a fat, round sound and the high setting imparting more of a modern, bright tone. Both were quite usable, depending on preference. One interesting note is that I could never get the Solo/610's tricolored signal-level LED to go into the orange by plugging any of my basses or guitars directly in. Granted, I have older instruments with passive pickups, and a simple boost box let me access the nice harmonic distortion available when the gain of the Solo/610 is pushed. The Solo/110, on the other hand, saturates quite a bit easier, which makes sense given it specs out 20 dB hotter for instrument input gain.
As for the mic preamp, I have run quite a few instrument and mic combinations through the Solo/610 over the past few months, and it has handled them all beautifully. From French horn to rock vocals, from U 87s to SM57s, it has yet to disappoint. The open, airy, clear-yet-warm sonic signature of the 610 preamp is definitely apparent here. If I had to name a favorite use for this box, I would say it's as a preamp for electric guitar. Whether I put up a Royer R-121, Sennheiser 421, or any other commonly used guitar mic, I was always very happy with the way the Solo/610 made the guitar sound: full, thick, and present.
I Like It
All in all, I was very impressed with the performance of the Solo/610. I expected it to be a watered-down version of the 610 preamps I have come to love, but apart from the lack of EQ, I felt that it really held its own next to its more expensive counterparts. Not to say it's the cheapest preamp/DI you can get, but for the quality in this box, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better value.
Value (1 through 5): 4