The Nice Pair is a hand-wired, two-channel microphone pre using fast-acting JFET technology and a Jensen input transformer design — factors that contribute to a high gain circuit that produces many transients and harmonics.
Solidly built, with an aesthetic that screams “vintage” (check out those knobs), the Nice Pair is all substance, no flash. Offering standard controls (gain, impedance selector, phantom power, pad, phase reversal, and level), the Nice Pair also features a saturation setting for producing a distortion that works great for exaggerated vocals, fuzzed out bass (assuming you aren’t running direct), and dirty guitar sounds.
But while that’s all well and good, the real question remains: How does it sound?
APPLYING THE NICE PAIR
The first patient was an old Gretsch kit. For the overheads, I put up two Neumann U87s in a standard stereo position, running straight into a Focusrite Octopre, and then to tape. This resulted in a very shimmery sound — really clean, but not exactly what we were going for.
So I ran the same chain, substituting the Nice Pair for the Octopre, and there was an immediate, obvious difference. As the gain was increased, the “color” of the unit increased exponentially — a color that can’t be likened to an API or a Neve, as it’s a bit glossier and more modern-sounding (more flexible as well). No, the Nice Pair really has a sound of its own.
However, as the pre was really colorful even at a low gain setting, the U87s had to go. Two matched Shure SM81s were put in place of the Neumanns, and we finally achieved the tone for which we were searching. Setting the gain at around 2 o’clock, with the output level at 9 o’clock, added a great deal of color and what almost sounded like a light compression that was very flattering to the kit.
Next up was a vocal overdubbing session. The vocalist had a very rich, warm voice — so much that mic selection proved to be tricky. So I conducted a shoot-out with a Neumann U87i, a U47 FET, a Groove Tubes GT40, and an AKG 414. With the Nice Pair set at high gain/low output, the U87i was colorful yet accurate. With the U47 (and the Nice Pair’s gain and output at around 12 o’clock) the sound was incredible — all the transients were apparent and the track sounded thick yet glossy. Still, we decided to continue to work down the line.
The singer’s voice ran through the GT40 into the Nice Pair was a bit too bassy and exaggerated even at the lowest gain setting. This could be attributed to the natural low register of his voice, but it was enough to discourage me from using this chain were the ghost of Barry White to ever pop in for a take.
So it was time for the 414 — a mic known for its accuracy and flat frequency response. Engaging the pad, pulling back the output, and cranking the gain 100% yielded a nice little surprise: A goodly amount of bending and distortion effected the voice, giving an almost SansAmp’d sound. This wouldn’t be appropriate for the main vocal track, but it’s something I’ve since started applying to backing vocals to add an extra cool dimension to a part.
A very useful feature of the Nice Pair is in the input gain being selectable in steps, which makes it easy to switch volume settings accurately during takes. For example, as the aforementioned vocalist grew louder during the chorus, I would turn the input gain down a click and knew that when it came time for the verse, I could click right back up to my previously set volume. Handy.
The Nice Pair produces incredibly colorful tones and really has a unique character. So while it’s not applicable in every situation, it produces a certain sound that isn’t achieved easily elsewhere, and the amount of control it provides keeps it from being of singular utility.
Solid in both design and sound, the Nice Pair is a real “down-to-business” box, designed with functionality in mind and utterly devoid of unnecessary bells and whistles. And it’s priced well at that. Homemade and boutique-y, the Nice Pair is a great addition for that tone collecting producer who’s into having a veritable arsenal of outboard pres . . . and it comes highly recommended.