The True Systems P-Solo offers a low-gain mode and a front-panel DI that sounds great on electric guitar.
The True Systems P-Solo ($695) is a unique single-channel, solid-state mic preamp/DI with a small footprint (3 inches by 6 inches) that makes it ideal for desktop studios with limited space. Despite its diminutive size, the transformerless P-Solo offers a variety of pro features and boasts exemplary specs, including ultralow distortion and an astonishing 1.5 Hz to 500 kHz (+0/-3 dB) bandwidth.
The attractive aluminum faceplate is dominated by an oversize gain knob. At its fully counterclockwise position, the control offers a low-gain mode (+6 dB at the mic input and -14 dB for the DI). When rotated clockwise, the knob clicks audibly before switching into a normal variable-gain mode (+16 to +64 dB for the mic input and -4 to +44 dB for the DI).
A ¼-inch DI input is on the front panel, as are switches for +48V phantom power and an 80 Hz low-cut filter. An array of four LEDs provides output gain metering: signal present (green), +4 and +12 (yellow), and overload (red). Regrettably, the P-Solo lacks a phase-reverse switch.
On the rear panel is a balanced XLR mic input, balanced +4 dBu XLR and ¼-inch TRS outputs, a standard IEC connector for the internal power supply, and a power switch. In mid-2007 True Systems will offer a 4U rackmount adapter tray that holds five Solo units — any combination of P-Solo preamps and the upcoming C-Solo compressor.
I had numerous occasions to test the P-Solo in sessions at my Guerrilla Recording studio in Oakland, California. On a percussion session, recording to a modular digital multitrack, the P-Solo paired well with a Neumann TLM 49 solid-state condenser mic. When layering congas, shaker, tambourine, and cowbell, the mic and preamp combination captured tight, organic sounds that were well suited to the roots reggae tracks.
On this date I noted that the P-Solo delivered good transients and was never overly bright. It also worked well with an AEA R84 ribbon mic to smooth out a trombonist's often raspy tone.
I auditioned the P-Solo on two different vocal sessions and in both cases found it lacking in some respects. On a rock session with a female singer, I paired it with a Lawson tube mic. The resulting track was warm but sometimes too dark sounding, making vocal intelligibility a challenge amidst the drums and guitars. Switching to another preamp instantly restored much-needed high-end clarity to the track.
With a mellow male folksinger on the Neumann TLM 49, the P-Solo didn't work out at all. The preamp emphasized an unpleasant midrange and sibilance that I had never heard from this mic or singer before, producing a surprisingly unflattering result. Substituting a Grace Designs Model 101 preamp in the vocal chain restored a fuller and more usable timbre to this track.
Overall, the P-Solo has a clean and very warm solid-state sound with minimal coloration. In comparison to other solid-state preamps in my rack, the True Systems design tends to sound a bit dry or flat, sometimes lacking openness or sparkle in the high end. Of course this quality can be a plus or a minus, depending on one's taste, the interaction with a given microphone, and other factors.
The P-Solo's DI circuit compared favorably to that in the Model 101 during tests with a mid-'70s Fender Stratocaster. The Model 101, one of the few preamps that sound really good on both bass and guitar, provided a thumpy bass and high-end clarity. But the P-Solo had a thicker tone and a more pleasing midrange. With a timbre closer to what one might get out of a high-tech guitar amp, the P-Solo was a winner on guitar.
I found the P-Solo to be a bit thin sounding on electric bass when tested against the Model 101 and a Millennia Media TD-1. Although the low end was not quite as full, the P-Solo DI issued a nice tone with good midrange detail.
Based on how it sounds with vocals, and considering the price, the P-Solo might not be the best choice for someone looking for their first general-purpose mic preamp. However, the P-Solo's warm tone, fine DI circuit, unique gain-attenuation feature, and portability make it worthy of consideration for those adding to their preamp collections.
Value (1 through 5): 3