Advanced Audio Microphones: MT8016 Review Advanced Audio Microphones: MT8016 Review
4
Article Views: 4,378 Preamp... Advanced Audio Microphones: MT8016 Review 4

Preamp Dream Team

I first met Dave Thomas from Advanced Audio Microphones about a year ago at the 2016 Summer NAMM show (about 7 minutes from my studio), though I had originally tried out their microphones a few months before. I originally called Dave to discuss shipping options from Summerland, BC, Canada (where they are based) to Nashville, as well as to discuss his microphone options and turns out, the process was pretty much the same as buying from any US company! Anyways, the first thing I noticed about Dave was his encyclopedic knowledge – that and the fantastic studio stories he tells. Dave was Co-Founder and Chief Engineer at Ocean Sound Studios in Vancouver for many years. During his time there Dave worked alongside a plethora of incredible engineers

and producers such as David Foster, Bill Porter (Elvis, Roy Orbison) and Bob Rock (AC/DC, Metallica). His passion for music as well as audio technology is evident in everything he does and our first ever conversation on the phone lasted over 2 hours. Passion goes a long way in this industry and Dave (as well as his team) is never in short supply. Whilst he was working at Ocean Sound Studios their in-house console was a classic Trident 80 Series. He was lucky enough to meet that legendary console’s designer, Malcom Toft. Fast forward to now and Advanced Audio are currently offering 16 (soon to be 18) reasonably priced and overall solid sounding microphones but for their first mic preamp they enlisted the help of Mr Toft, who has since become a good friend of Dave’s.

Designer Trifecta

Inspired by his console at Ocean Sound, the MT8016, takes many cues from its design and, whilst certainly taking on a unique sound of its own, dare I say it, a few improvements have also been made. As if the minds of Malcom and Dave weren’t formidable enough, they also brought on yet another notable designer, Tom Graefe, who played a large role in designing / building multiple consoles for SSL and Sony / MCI, as well as the insanely dreamy Wunder Audio console. Advanced Audio is already well known for creating formidable but affordable microphones through a combination of highly regulated off-sourced production, in-house design and assembly and extensive in-house testing (often discarding large numbers of parts that do not meet their specs), with premium tubes and custom capsules. The entire process is geared towards keeping the prices down for their clients without jeopardizing the sound quality and cutting sonic corners as many similar companies are known to do. With the combination of efficiency, bulk orders, and selling direct from their online shop, they are able to keep all of their prices for every model, even their flagships, under $1,000 (+ around $50 for shipping to the US in my experience). Everyone from Chuck Ainlay (Lady Antebellum, Dire Straits, George Jones, Martina McBride, Toby Keith, etc), to Fall Out Boy, to Jack Douglas (John Lennon, Aerosmith) seem to love these microphones, and for good reason.

“Advanced Audio is already well known for creating formidable but affordable microphones…”

Quality Builds

For the MT8016 it was decided that everything, even the aspects that do not necessarily affect sound quality, were going to be of the utmost quality. Canadian made steel chassis’ and aluminum faceplates, high end Canadian made circuit boards, custom U.K. made transformers hand wound by OEP, gold plated connectors, great quality caps, incredibly quick op-amps, and a power supply that automatically detects the mains voltage. Like all of Dave’s products, the resistors that are used have a 1% tolerance, meaning if you want more than the two channels that come in a single unit, every unit you buy after that will be matched with your original unit. Dave and Malcom made the ingenious decision to forgo a typical pad function (since it alters the tonality) and instead set it up so that the input gain simply goes to -10dB instead of 0. There is also a fully variable high pass filter ranging from 30Hz-350Hz. Sounds like a recipe for success if you ask me – but how does it sound?


For starters, that Canadian metal work seems to have paid off as the unit feels quite sturdy and all of the switches are stiff enough to be solid and satisfying to hit but not enough so as to give you an unnecessary forearm workout. I know aesthetics aren’t the most important thing but, at the end of the day there is something about good looking gear that just helps coax the best performances out of the musicians. For instance, when I turned this unit on and the large VU meters illuminated soft blue there seemed to be a sparkle in the artist’s eye saying “yeah, I’m about to sound really damn good”. That never hurts. I decided the best way to start this test would be to compare the MT8016 against what I consider the golden standard of transformer coupled, solid-state preamps the RTZ 9762 Dual Combo (which retails for about twice the price of the MT8016). The RTZ has a similar tonality and design to a Neve 1073, but with increased versatility, detail, and clarity, lower noise, the highest quality parts imaginable and a transformer terminate button to either make it sound more like a 1073 (terminated) or add more air on top similar to an A-Designs / Quad Eight Pacifica.

“…when I turned this unit on and the large VU meters illuminated soft blue there seemed to be a sparkle in the artist’s eye…”

In addition to the 9762, I set up an Audient ASP800 (with no saturation options on), which I felt gives a good representation of built in “interface preamps” that many of you likely use on a regular basic. To me, Audient is the golden standard of clean, fast, workhorse interface preamps – a big reason for this is that Audient is the only company I know of that uses the same preamps in their $40,000-$90,000 consoles as they do in their $200 or less iD4 interfaces (or in my case, the 8 channel ASP800 preamp). We interfaced all of this with some Pro Co mic splitters so we could transparently test the same takes through the different preamp selections, eliminating any performance bias. Setting up my Mic Rehab KM84 and U67, it was time to get started on acoustic guitar and vocals. Let me state that since taste is subjective, I am going to judge each preamp based on how much work / EQ it would take for me on a typical project to get it “final mix ready”.

Harmonic Saturation


We had country music artist Ian Munsick in the studio to shoot an installment of his popular “Minute Monday” video series, so he was kind enough to stick around after the video shoot to help us with the demos. Ian set up his beautiful Martin D-28 and I set a single KM84 right at the 12th fret, about 6 inches back as just a quick, standard, familiar placement. I figured if I stereo mic’d the guitar (as I normally do), then phase could potentially come into play and bias the comparisons. Especially if I used my Sound Radix Auto-Align plugin just based on how the different responses of each preamp would react. It would be a very, very subtle difference but hey, I want to keep my tests as clean, straightforward, and therefore brutally honest as possible for you guys. For this application I actually thought the MT8016 came out the closest to sounding “finished” and “mix ready.” The RTZ had some more warmth and saturation (richness) but slightly less clarity and air. The MT8016 still maintained some beautiful transformer harmonics with a quicker, more accurate transient response and a surprising amount of “air” on top, that air being my favorite feature of classic Trident 80 Series preamps.

“The MT8016 still maintained some beautiful transformer harmonics with a quicker, more accurate transient response and a surprising amount of “air” on top…”

It did have comparatively less body though, but I ultimately chose the MT8016 due to the malleability of the dry recording. I would almost always rather boost than cut with EQ, and with the MT8016, all I would likely have to do EQ wise is add maybe 1.5-2dB of low mids to fatten things up or if it was a dense mix I likely wouldn’t have to do much at all. The RTZ, which I use on acoustic guitars 9/10 times was more natural sounding as well as slightly richer and fuller, though I felt like the pick attack and strum attack were not quite as articulate. For a typical project, I would likely cut out a tiny bit of low and add some air on top causing me to have to make more EQ moves to get my intended result. That being said, if I was working on a track that was

JUST acoustic guitar and vocals, there is a good chance I still might stick with the RTZ 9762 Dual Combo to fill in some extra space. The Audient, while it left us with a great sounding, very usable recording lacked the harmonics that both the Advanced Audio and RTZ offer with neither the air nor thickness to boot. The pick and strum transients also sounded a tad muted in comparison to both options. If you’re lucky enough to have the ASP800 like I do, you could likely make up for some of this with the saturation options but having extensively used both saturation options I still think that the positive attributes of both the RTZ and Advanced Audio preamps are more prevalent and streamlined to achieve. Honestly – I wasn’t expecting that one.

JUST acoustic guitar and vocals, there is a good chance I still might stick with the RTZ 9762 Dual Combo to fill in some extra space. The Audient, while it left us with a great sounding, very usable recording lacked the harmonics that both the Advanced Audio and RTZ offer with neither the air nor thickness to boot. The pick and strum transients also sounded a tad muted in comparison to both options. If you’re lucky enough to have the ASP800 like I do, you could likely make up for some of this with the saturation options but having extensively used both saturation options I still think that the positive attributes of both the RTZ and Advanced Audio preamps are more prevalent and streamlined to achieve. Honestly – I wasn’t expecting that one.

Genre Busting

Ian Munsick Acoustic Guitar (Advanced Audio MT8016)
Ian Munsick Acoustic Guitar (Audient ASP800)
Ian Munsick Acoustic Guitar (RTZ Professional Audio 9762 Dual Combo)
Slack Key Studio Baritone Electric Guitar (Advanced Audio MT8016)
Slack Key Studio Baritone Electric Guitar (Radial Engineering Power Pre)
Slack Key Studio Baritone Electric Guitar (Manley Labs Langevin Dual Mono)

Ian has a higher pitched voice that has a tendency to come off a little bright, even with darker microphones, so I was very interested to see how each preamp reacted to his voice. Starting with the Audient this time it gave us a very flat and clean recording but I felt like it was lacking the right form of energy or life that would help it cut through the average mix and portray excitement. Could I make a great track with this vocal recording? Hell yeah, easier than just about any built in interface pre but, it would take some additional steps to get there. It would likely require some colorful compression to give it dimension and some all important, subtle harmonic distortion whilst also needing a boost for the highs to add some sparkle and clarity. The 9762 Dual Combo and the MT8016 on the other hand pick your poison. The results were very similar to the acoustic guitar tests with the RTZ being slightly smoother and fuller and the MT8016 being way airier with just the slightest bit of extra clarity because of this. If you want modern sounding vocals that sit right up front and center and cut through the densest

instrumentals the MT8016 would be right down your alley. I would personally boost the low mids some and maybe add just a tiny bit of multiband compression with a 2:1 ratio or so around 2.4KHz to smooth things out a bit but it sounded very, very good. In addition to that shimmer on top, the vocals really brought to my attention an almost API like punch in the mids. Granted, not quite as mid forward as an API, but a similar kind of “smooth forwardness” that has me very excited to test out drums and electric guitars. Again, the MT8016 was very “finished” sounding. With the inherent smoothness and richness of the RTZ though, and the fact I would likely only have to add a tiny bit of air on top and maybe carve out a couple dB at 350Hz or so I feel like it would give the slightest iota of an advantage to my workflow. Something about the RTZ’s style of saturation (from the transformers used) also seems to give it a particular sense of dimension that lends itself nicely to Ian’s vocals. I feel like a vocal deeper than Ian’s though, and Advanced Audio’s option may fair the best by a solid margin.

Ian Munsick Vocals (RTZ Professional Audio 9762 Dual Combo)
Ian Munsick Vocals (Audient ASP800)
Ian Munsick Vocals (Advanced Audio MT8016)

“Again, the MT8016 was very “finished” sounding.”

Blind Testing

Just for a 2nd opinion, I bounced down unlabeled (Blind 1, Blind 2, and Blind 3) files, all of which were gain matched and sent them to a producer / engineer in Atlanta that I trust. Like me, he chose the AA preamp as #1 on acoustic guitar (with Audient as #2) but he also chose AA as #1 on vocals, so really, it comes down to your personal tastes, as both preamps are fantastic choices. He also commented on how full the MT8016 sounded, and how it made many other preamps in the price range sound a bit hollow in comparison. This would of course be very genre dependent, bringing it again into the subjective category of taste which is why I have included audio examples for you to hear for yourselves. I feel like for pop, rock, hip hop, EDM, and many background vocals, the extra brightness of the MT8016 may almost always come in handy, though as these tests show, this preamp is certainly not limited to those genres.

“He also commented on how full the MT8016 sounded, and how it made many other preamps in the price range sound a bit hollow in comparison.”

Guitar and Drums

Next up, what the Trident 80 Series desks are most famous for and what Dave Thomas of Advanced Audio told me he and his customers personally really love the MT8016 on – electric guitar and drums. I headed over to Grammy award winning engineer, producer, and musician Randy Kohrs’ Slack Key Studio to complete this vital part of the test. Being that I regularly work out of Slack Key and know all of the gear there quite well, we decided to use a new line of preamps to give you some additional perspective. For vocals and acoustic guitar, it made sense to use the RTZ since even though they have a dual gain stage with an input and output gain knob, the fact that I almost always have the output wide open for vocals and acoustic guitar allowed the test to stay accurate. Since with drums and electric guitar I would normally back the output way down, we decided to stick with preamps that have strictly an input gain knob, like the MT8016. As a clean, linear option instead of the Audient, we decided to go for another popular option: the Radial PowerPre. In Linear Mode, the Radial is extremely similar to the Audient but with a permanent output transformer. As the more colorful option, we went with a great preamp in the same price range as both the PowerPre and MT8016: a Manley Langevin Dual Mono preamp (with the built in EQ bypassed, of course). With this all patched in, I brought in up-and-coming drummer Kip Allen to help knock the drum tests out.

Fast Response

Kip Allen Kick+Snare Only (Advanced Audio Microphones MT8016)
Kip Allen Kick+Snare Only (Radial Engineering Power Pre)
Kip Allen Kick+Snare Only (Manley Labs Langevin Dual Mono)
Kip Allen Drum Overheads (Advanced Audio Microphones MT8016)
Kip Allen Drum Overheads (Radial Engineering Power Pre)
Kip Allen Drum Overheads (Manley Labs Langevin Dual Mono)

We did a simple test of isolated kick (Shure Beta 52A) and isolated snare top (Sennheiser E945) to get a feel, followed by the kick and snare groove (using the two close mics), and then a full kit groove with all of the preamps split from the overhead mics (Mojave MA-201s) the second two posted here. Since we had 2 channels of each preamp, and since we were using those ProCo mic splitters, great care was taken to make sure that the levels were all hitting the preamps at equivalent levels so that a preamp getting pushed harder than the rest didn’t skew the results. Speaking of which, the results were really cool to listen back to. Each preamp had a distinct sound that really stuck out here, with the PowerPre definitely being the cleanest, “softest”, and “slowest” sounding. This isn’t a bad thing, as those 2 adjectives can be used to describe some of the best gear (mainly vintage gear) on Earth. The Manley Langevin seemed to be the fastest preamp by a hair, with a slightly brighter sound compared to the other two while not having as much bottom end as I expected in this case. Finally, the Advanced Audio offering sounded the most balanced overall, being brighter and faster than the PowerPre, while not sounding as bright and having an ever so slightly slower response in comparison to the Langevin, though when I say slight I mean it – it is still wicked fast. The AA MT8016 did have the biggest and warmest sounding low end of the bunch though, which caused me to fall in love with it on kick drum.

“The AA MT8016 did have the biggest and warmest sounding low end of the bunch though, which caused me to fall in love with it on kick drum.”

Based on my memory of the desks, it retains the shimmer and quick transient response of the Trident 80 Series preamps (even more detailed due to the modern op amps), but with a fuller low end due to the chosen transformers. Being that it sounded the most detailed, I leaned towards the MT8016 once again on overheads, feeling like it gave the most balanced yet slightly flattering representation of the entire kit. However, I can see myself shaving off just a touch of top end to tame certain cymbals a little, based on my taste. Snare to me was much more of a toss up, with the Langevin being punchier, edgier, and more modern sounding and the MT8016 sounding rounder while retaining a good bit of smack. Overall, everyone in the room was very impressed with the Advanced Audio preamp and I could actually see myself using it much more often on drums than any original Trident preamp. Well, besides maybe a Trident A Range… but I don’t have one of the original 13 built unfortunately, and if you do, you likely don’t need my advice. There are instances where you might want to roll off a bit of high end (either with a multiband compressor or EQ) and maybe every now and then add a transient shaper to add even more attack for ultra modern sounding drums, but I think it’ll only ever be once in a blue moon where you want anymore clarity and low mid warmth than what the MT8016 provides.

“I think it’ll only ever be once in a blue moon where you want anymore clarity and low mid warmth than what the MT8016 provides.”

Electric Guitar

Lastly, we set up my personal favorite studio amp, a tweed Little Walter Tube Amp 50 watt with a 2×12 Little Walter cab and got to work on the final test. With another Sennheiser E945 setup and a baritone Strat style guitar plugged in, we started laying all of the examples down. The baritone was great since with a capo we could test what it would sound like with a typical Stratocaster. Without a capo we were able to observe how the transient response and clarity held up in the lower register, which also gives insight on how it would perform recording bass. Right off the bat, I can tell why Dave told me electric guitar was one of his favorite applications for this preamp during our interview with him. Great string definition, a beefy low end that stays tight and doesn’t get flubby sounding, yet all without so much sonic enhancement that you’re unable to comfortably sculpt the sound a bit during the mixing phase, if you so wish. Whilst the Manley had some more upper midrange bark and the Radial left you wide open to tweak during the mixing phase (if for whatever reason you didn’t know what

sound you were going for while recording), the Advanced Audio MT8016 had a great balance between warmed up lows and shiny highs. With the low-end capabilities being especially apparent without a capo on the baritone and the amount of shimmer being very obvious with a capo to simulate a typical guitar, I for one would be more than happy to use this as a final recording for an album. If you’re using a brighter/twangier guitar, amp, or bright strings, then you may want to turn your high EQ knob down a tad, but the same can be said about the Manley. Considering we were using a tweed-style amp, I personally felt like each performed extremely well, with the weight of the MT8016 beautifully counterbalancing the added energy it provides. I never find it necessary to declare a winner during my demos as I feel like everything is so situational, but hopefully the audio examples will give you more than enough material to make your own informed decision. What I can say though is that from a sonic point of view, Advanced Audio’s first preamp easily exceeded my expectations across the board.

Slack Key Studio Strummed Standard Electric Guitar (Clean) (Advanced Audio MT8016)
Slack Key Studio Strummed Standard Electric Guitar (Clean) (Radial Engineering Power Pre)
Slack Key Studio Strummed Standard Electric Guitar (Clean) (Manley Labs Langevin Dual Mono)
Slack Key Studio Picked Standard Electric Guitar (Clean) (Advanced Audio MT8016)
Slack Key Studio Picked Standard Electric Guitar (Clean) (Radial Engineering Power Pre)
Slack Key Studio Picked Standard Electric Guitar (Clean) (Manley Labs Langevin Dual Mono)
Slack Key Studio Standard Electric Guitar (Overdriven) (Advanced Audio MT8016)
Slack Key Studio Standard Electric Guitar (Overdriven) (Radial Engineering Power Pre)
Slack Key Studio Standard Electric Guitar (Overdriven) (Manley Labs Langevin Dual Mono)

CONCLUSION

I’ve never really heard anything quite like the MT8016 before, and I say that with excitement. That’s the nice thing about Advanced Audio even though all of their products have clear inspirations their goal is never to clone anything, but to draw allow a healthy influence from legendary gear and then use modern components to put their own spin on it at an achievable price point. While the Trident 80 Series preamps were obviously a big part of that inspiration with Malcom Toft on board and, though it is reminiscent of the Trident boards, it is just as reminiscent of that as many other great designs. Overall, this all melds perfectly to create a unique preamp like nothing I’ve used before, but at the same time maintaining a sense of tonal nostalgia and confidence. It would have been next level if the MT8016 had that output trim knob to coax out some additional saturation options (especially for guitar and drums), and based on the sound of the preamp I can imagine a DI built into this circuitry would sound fantastic especially for keyboard and certain basses. Luckily, hooking up your favorite transparent DI box and feeding it into the preamp will likely have a similar effect, and the smooth yet accurate high pass filter makes it much easier to forgive AA. Plus, you can split the output of each channel, using both the XLR and TRS connectors at once. This opens up tons of additional live sound and studio options, and is a feature that many other companies specifically warn you not to try with their preamps as the circuitry can’t handle it. With about a dozen varieties of preamps that I personally own, and 80 extra available to me at Slack Key Studio, this is still a preamp that undoubtedly excited me (and the musicians I demoed it with) during playback.

Price and Availability

The MT8016 weighs in at $995 USD, €995 Euro (VAT Included) and is only available direct through their site HERE or, if you are in Europe, HERE.

Direct link to MT8016 HERE

The first preamp design from Advanced Audio Microphones is both modern and classic sounding at the same time. It definitely seems to pull most of it’s tonal characteristics from the revered Trident 80 Series, but it certainly does not sound like a replica, and has a unique sound unlike any other I have experienced. The MT8016 has punch in the mid range, but not quite as punchy as an API, some beautiful life and harmonic content, but not as warm and smooth as a Neve yet with additional air and articulation on top that neither design can match. I feel like it’s an excellent Ying to other famous designs Yang. The -10dB gain option and high pass filter make for great bonuses as well.
  • Simultaneous output of TRS and XLR per channel
  • -10dB gain instead of a pad + detented variable HPF
  • Beautiful air, articulation, and clarity
  • No instrument DI
  • No output trim knob to drive input
  • Lack of a line mode / input gain going to -20dB

5 of 5

3 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

Michael Frasinelli

Studio Owner, Audio Engineer, and Producer based in Nashville, TN, mentored by and working closely with Grammy Award winning Producer, Engineer, and Musician Randy Kohrs. Highly active analog gear habit, with a plugin hobby on the side. DIY audio enthusiast with an interest in all things circuitry.

 

Top Shelf Music Group
Slack Key Studios
Instagram
Facebook

No comments so far.

Be first to leave comment below.