ONE UP THE MIDDLE > The Trident 4T is a complete channel strip with a mic pre, an instrument DI, an EQ, a compressor and a monitoring section with a stereo RCA input and a ¼-inch headphone output.
Face it: It's easy to hear the difference between homemade demos and commercial releases. Of course, there are many reasons why, but quality gear is often one of the key factors. Numerous producers and engineers have spent years studying and gathering gear to help them perfect that sound; they know how important it is to have a pristine signal path before committing to “tape.” In case you haven't figured it out, when tracking vocals or acoustic instruments, it can do wonders to get your hands on the best mic pre, compressor and EQ you can afford. Luckily, the new Trident 4T contains all of that and then some. Essentially, the 4T is an elite-sounding channel strip that many can and should afford. The 4T is a gift from John Oram in celebration of his 40th (the 4T) year in the industry. And for those who don't know, Oram is well-known in audiophile circles as not only the “father of the British EQ” but also the designer of some of the most sought-after recording consoles and other pieces of boutique outboard gear.
BLOW OUT THE CANDLES
Expanding on the Trident Series 80 and the TSM consoles, the 4T has an intended color that is desired by many producers. Many megaselling albums from the '70s — from Queen to Genesis to Bob Marley — were recorded on Trident consoles. The 4T is endowed with the same sonic character and musical EQ. Essentially, the 4T is a mic pre with phase inversion and 48kHz phantom power, a DI input, a 10-megohm instrument input, a 3-band mid-sweepable equalizer, Oram's famous EQ Magic circuit and a high-end solid-state compressor/limiter. The 4T also has a stereo line input suitable for monitoring any line-level input. All of this is somehow packed into a single rackspace.
The front panel is brushed aluminum with 12 aluminum knobs, 10 buttons, two ¼-inch inputs, an on/off switch and a VU meter. Everything is well placed and easy to operate. The knobs are hefty with plenty of space between each, and most are center-detented. Every function is labeled and easy to read. Following left to right, the unit is divided into six sections: Instrument Input, Mic/Line Input, Stereo Input, Equaliser, Dynamics, and Output and Metering.
The instrument-input connection (DI) is a standard ¼-inch unbalanced jack with a +15dBu maximum input level and an input impedance of 10 megohms, and it accepts a plethora of instrument sources, both active and passive. The frequency response ranges from 10 Hz to 35 kHz, calling to mind reasons for using higher sample rates. The total harmonic distortion is a scant 0.006 percent at 1 kHz. Furthermore, the 4T contains a Direct button, bypassing the Dynamics and EQ sections and feeding the signal directly to the main outputs. Interestingly enough is a knob called EQ Magic, which is a one-knob boost or cut of both low and high shelving curves at 100 Hz and 10 kHz.
The microphone/line input is a balanced XLR paralleled with a ¼-inch balanced jack socket. The preamp is a Class A ultra-low-noise input stage featuring a continuously variable gain control from unity to +60 dB. This is the identical preamp used in the Trident S20 and S40 consoles. The frequency response is from 10 Hz to 100 kHz within 1 dB, recalling further reasons for using even higher sample rates. The stereo input is a twin RCA connection suitable for any line-level input, such as a CD or DAT player. Also present is a Mon button that can be used to route the stereo input to the headphones only, which is convenient for zero-latency monitoring of your DAW's output.
The EQ section is similar to that of the S40, containing three bands of EQ (low, middle and high) instead of four. The low and high frequencies are shelving filters switchable between 50 or 150 Hz and 7 or 12 kHz, respectively. The midrange is sweepable from 100 Hz to 10 kHz. All three bands provide ±15 dB in boost or cut. The 4T has a total EQ bypass button with a status LED, which is useful for A/B comparisons. The compressor features a variable threshold control ranging from full headroom down to -25 dBu, attack from 0.1 to 40 ms, release from 0.05 to 3 seconds and a two-position ratio switch that selects between 4:1 and 20:1. There is also a total compressor bypass switch with a status LED.
The Output and Metering area features a ¼-inch stereo balanced output section with gain adjustable from -15 to +15 dB. A low-distortion headphone output is also available for monitoring. For metering, there is a circular analog VU meter that reads both output level in the VU mode and gain reduction from the compressor in the GR mode with the switch of a button. Modes are indicated by the meter illumination changing color: blue for level and green for gain reduction. The meter is only about the size of a quarter but still effective. Finally, the internal power supply produces a low noise and is fuse-protected, with the main voltage selectable from 115 to 230V.
MAKE A WISH
When I first pulled the 4T out of the box, I was looking forward to “hearing” what Oram had been up to. Having worked as a producer and engineer in a handful of studios in Los Angeles, I have grown accustomed to the sound of high-quality preamps. However, my home studio is still lacking that million-dollar-input-signal-chain sound. Could this be the missing key?
I plugged in the stereo outputs directly to the first two inputs of my Delta 66 soundcard, then plugged in the mic (an AKG C 414EB), launched Steinberg Cubase and started listening. Because I wasn't blessed with an amazing singing voice, I began with basic tests — for example, repeating the ABCs. My voice sounded clear, with a full, rounded low end. At this time, I was about 30 minutes away from beginning a session with the R&B/hip-hop duet Dahvyant, two female singers with terrific voices. One has a quiet, smoky voice, and the other is a powerful diva. I could tell this would be the perfect test for a channel strip, as I would be able to test the low-level detail as well as the preamp's ability to handle some serious level. I used Mollie, the dynamic diva, first and had her warm up by running through a song a few times. This gave me a chance to get a solid level for recording. Then, I engaged the phantom power and cranked up the gain. It worked like magic right off the bat! I instantly heard fantastic detail — clearly — with a warm feel. Not surprisingly, I wanted to continue, as I was anxiously looking forward to hearing what the EQ sounded like. Immediately, I went for the high band at 12 kHz, and I added about 3 dB. The vocal really opened up, giving a pleasant, airy sound.
Next, I reached for the mid band. I boosted a hearty amount and started sweeping through the frequencies. I ended up near the 2 to 3kHz area, and pulled back a bit, dialing exactly the perfect amount. Keep in mind that on recording, you don't want to employ too much creative EQ. I would normally save this for the mixdown, but I couldn't escape the compelling tone of the upper midrange. Now, there was a creamy tone billowing with character. I would have preferred four bands for more detailed adjustments, but I was so pleased with the sonic character that I didn't mind.
The compressor — which has two settings, 4:1 and 30:1 — followed next. For vocals, I naturally opted for 4:1. I started with a medium attack and a fairly fast release. I dialed in the threshold to just flicker with a few load peaks. The compressor performed beautifully. I decided to up the threshold quite a bit to get a little “soul” out of it. The 4T's compressor was now reading at peaks higher than 10 dB, and it sounded killer with a colorful in-your-face sound. This baby was howling with a lush timbre that I had been craving in my studio. Unfortunately, the compressor doesn't have a makeup gain, but it does have a main level output adjustment, which could get troublesome when using the 4T in conjunction with its instrument input.
Next up was the sultry Liz. Because the 4T had no problem handling the high SPL of Mollie's voice, it was now time to see how well it preformed on a soft voice. Again, I had no complaints and had no problem getting plenty of clear, undistorted gain out of the preamp, with a more than acceptable amount of noise floor.
The following day, I had a session with a guitar and bass player. During this session, we plugged in the bass directly to the instrument input, and just as I suspected, there was clean, full-bodied sound. This was also the first time that I was able to try out the EQ Magic knob, which, I must admit, I was skeptical about but eager to try. This knob basically boosts or cuts the high and low frequencies at the same time. I couldn't help but think, being a plug-in guy, that a simple Control-click from any software EQ could accomplish the same thing. However, as I turned the knob to about 2 or 3 o'clock, it instantly growled with character; simultaneously, my bass player looked at me with a big smile. I applied a nice bit of compression at 4:1 to just let the peaks squeak through with a medium release, easily dialing in a thick, fat tone.
WRAP IT UP
Nowadays, everybody's using some sort of DAW, which is a cost-effective approach to recording audio. A basic $500 computer, some software and a few key pieces of gear are all you need to make a quality “radio-ready” record, but the problem that plagues many digital recordings is their sterile sound. Today's digital converters simply don't imply any color or saturation into recordings, leaving them sounding lifeless and forcing engineers to find ways of warming a signal before hitting the computer. However, the 4T's intended coloration gives audio an amazingly sweet timbre, and it's the answer many have been looking for. Furthermore, with the addition of a dedicated monitoring section, the 4T becomes a very attractive component in a mobile rig. With a laptop, a high-end mic and a modest rack setup, you've got a world-class signal chain that you can take to a rehearsal space, an empty club or wherever. If you already have a wall of gear and you're in need of “that sound” or if this is your first big step into professional recording, the Trident 4T, with its sleek look and big sound, could be the channel strip you're looking for. It is a sonic marvel and a welcome addition to my rack.
4T > $999
Pros: Fantastic sound. Built-in monitoring. All-in-one DAW front end.
Cons: No makeup gain on the compressor. EQ Magic works only on the DI.