Touted as “not another 1272 clone,” the solid state Grand Pre is claimed to be the new “Alternative British Classic.” Not exactly a modest proposal, but what marketing slogan is? And while marketing hype doesn’t cut it around these parts, our interest was piqued; so we called Mercury up and asked them to “put up or shut up” . . . they chose the former.
The dual-channel Grand Pre (available as single channel model as well, Mercury GP1) is a 2U, 19" rackmount unit with a pretty foolproof design. The front panel’s input gain control knob is fairly elaborate, in that it covers 0–60dB in 12dB increments. This works in conjunction with an additional fine gain control, or trim, knob (±8dB). An output, or fader, knob controls the output level to tape, and there are toggle switches for phantom power (with indicator light), phase flip, and mic/FET Direct Input (the latter has a 1/4" jack for instrument level input sources). The internal power supply uses a toroidal transformer for low noise, and the back of the unit offers two XLR male and female jacks, along with an IEC cable plug and fuse holder.
APPLYING THE GRAND PRE
With two Shure SM81s set in XY pattern and feeding the Grand Pre, we recorded an absolutely beautiful sounding Martin for a bluegrass Pro Tools session. The first, and most apparent, aspect I noticed was that you could greatly adjust the amount of color given by the unit by using different gain stage settings. For example, with a high input level and low output level, the Grand Pre added significant mid and bottom end character. By keeping a nominal input and output level, there was a more transparent (though not entirely unaffected) sound. Given the style of the music I was recording, the Grand Pre’s flexibility in terms of added color was incredibly useful.
Next up was a local rock band. I suspected the Grand Pre would do well with bass guitar, so we toggled into DI mode on the first channel and plugged directly in. On the second channel, we hooked up a Neumann U47 FET, placing it 3" off-axis to the cone of an Ampeg SVT Pro cabinet. We decided to overdrive the DI channel, and were pleasantly surprised by the results: As we turned the input up and output down, you could feel the bass clear up while accelerating in aggression. At first, the U47 FET on the SVT wasn’t sounding so hot, so we moved the mic back a bit, cut back on the gain, and added a touch of EQ (cut around 200kHz); we ended up with the solid yet boom-y sound we sought. Adding the two channels together achieved a great, warm punchy bass tone — with channel two (U47 FET) bringing the beef of the bass and channel one (DI) adding in both clarity and warmth.
For American Idol season four finalist Jared Yates, as his voice is very poppy and peaks naturally around 8kHz, we set up a Neumann U87i going to channel one and a Neumann U47 going to channel two to see which pairing worked best. Setting the input and output up identically on both channels, we settled on channel one, adjusting the input to around 3:00 and the output to around 1:00. This gave a nice midrange warmth, though I did have to cut about 4dB around 400Hz and boost 2dB around 8.5kHz to compensate for both Jared’s voice and the Grand Pre’s tonal addition.
With its ability to replicate that warm, vintage sound, the Grand Pre can be an asset for many studios. Furthermore, the ability to adjust both tonality and color by playing with its comprehensive gain staging options offers a fair amount of tonal flexibility, though the Grand Pre would not be my first recommendation if you want a very transparent-sounding unit. But if you’re looking for that British sound, you can’t go wrong here — and as more studios move away from vintage consoles and start dropping their bucks on external pres instead, I think you’ll see the Mercury Grand Pre racked with a lot more regularity.
Product type: Dual-channel solid state mic preamp.
Target market: Mid to pro level studio owners who want that characteristic vintage British sound.
Strengths: Classic, colorful tones. Tonal flexibility. User-friendly design.
Limitations: Nothing significant.
Price: $2,000 list