Apogee recently introduced an all-analog addition to its Mini-Series family, the Mini-MP ($995). This portable 2-channel preamp offers several features, including plenty of gain and a spiffy middle-side (M-S) matrix decoder mode.
All in the Family
With its sleek silver chassis, old-school toggle switches, and stylish purple pots, the ⅓-rackspace Mini-MP resembles its siblings, the Mini-Me and the Mini-DAC (reviewed in the March 2004 issue). Each channel offers a 48-volt phantom power switch, a selectable highpass filter with an 18 dB-per-octave slope below 80 Hz, a polarity reversal switch, and a continuously variable pot for up to 70 dB of gain. A centrally situated Output control provides an additional 6 dB of gain. Each channel sports a four-segment LED meter indicating (in VU) -20, 0, +6, and Clip. A three-position power switch can be set to Off, ST (stereo), or MS (middle-side mode). The output level knob is backlit, emitting a blue glow when the unit is on. Engaging phantom power activates a blue LED.
Each channel's Neutrik combination jack accepts both XLR and ¼-inch instrument inputs. Two electronically balanced XLR outputs are designed to mimic transformer behavior by providing self-adjustment and better balance when sending a signal to an unbalanced input. A jack labeled 6-14V DC accommodates the included lump-in-the-line power supply. According to the product literature, the Mini-MP accepts various battery and third-party power-pack options, a valuable capability for field recording.
On the Job
I used the Mini-MP at my home studio and in the pro-quality studios at Ex'pression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville, California. Using both the stereo and middle-side options, I recorded electric and acoustic guitars, drum kit, hand percussion, and vocals. I tried various mics, including a pair of Schoeps CMC-6/MK4s, a Shure KSM44, a Blue Baby Bottle, a Royer R-121 ribbon mic, and several others. I also conducted controlled comparison tests with a Focusrite Green Series dual-channel preamp, a Langevin Dual Vocal Combo, and the preamps on my Mackie 1202-VLZ Pro mixer.
The Mini-MP provided clarity and realism, accurately representing the sound source and the mic capturing it. In general, high-frequency content, such as that produced by the finger taps on a dumbek or a strummed acoustic guitar, was comparatively bright but not brittle or glassy. The preamp was especially flattering to somewhat darker sounding mics like the Blue Baby Bottle and the Shure KSM44. The Mini-MP was as clean and clear as the Focusrite preamp and smoother and warmer sounding than the Mackie. The Royer R-121 ribbon mic required more gain, and cranking the level also raised the Mini-MP's noise floor. Though noticeable, the increased noise wasn't distracting.
However, when I plugged in either an Epiphone Sheridan guitar or a Yamaha bass (instruments with passive pickups), the elevated noise floor was more apparent. Apogee, which tested the review unit with a Stratocaster and found acceptable noise levels, says it has received no complaints and that the Mini-MP's higher input impedance may account for a slight noise-floor increase with certain guitars. Even with some extra noise, in instrument mode the sound of the Mini-MP was very good, though not quite as smooth and rich as that of the Langevin, a much more expensive unit.
The Mini-MP's middle-side decoding capabilities were exciting, especially for a compact unit. Recording a drum set with a pair of multipattern condensers produced expansive results. When the switch is set to M-S mode, the left channel controls the middle mic (set to cardioid pattern), and the right channel controls the stereo spread of the side mic (set to figure-8). You can route the signals from the mics through the Mini-MP's M-S matrix as you're tracking, or record the mic pair directly to separate tracks and route them through the matrix during mixdown.
Crisp, Clean, and Light
The Mini MP is an excellent preamp with great features in a compact package. Its output is clean and bright without sounding hyped or brittle, and its overall sound is smooth and realistic. While the low frequencies are not as expansive as those produced by the more expensive preamps, the sound is smooth and realistic.
The Mini-MP is unbeatable in its portability, flexibility with power supplies, and ease of use. It would be a good value for any studio looking to expand its preamp options, or a coup for the engineer on the go.