Golden Age Project is at the pinnacle of inexpensive, professional audio equipment and a do-it-yourself enthusiast’s dream company. Based on the vintage Neve 1073 microphone preamplifier (a go-to for many vocal recording sessions), the Pre-73 MKII is an amazing replication of quality sound with one of the smallest price tags on the market. For those who modify their gear, the Pre-73 MKII gets you most of the way to the original, leaving out a few expensive parts that enthusiasts can easily upgrade. For a one-channel mic preamp, this half-rack unit packs a punch in both sonic quality and features. It is able to take in signal via Mic or Line In (XLR or TRS for both) and has a separate 1/4″ input on the front for DI recording. The input section comes with a phantom power and phase reverse switch. As signal passes through the unit, Golden Age Project has provided a single insert, allowing you to patch in a compressor, EQ, or whatever else you’d like before hitting the output transformer. The Pre-73 MKII outputs a balanced signal via XLR or 1/4″ TRS, making it a versatile preamp solution regardless of your setup.
The Pre-73 is able to go through several colorations from transparent to in-your-face with warmth, and it can mostly be attributed to the gain stages within the preamp. With only three transducers at each stage, Golden Age keeps it simple. For less than 50 dB of gain, only one gain stage transformer is used, bypassing the second completely. If you need more than 50 dB of gain, which is pretty common, the second transformer is inserted to your signal path, and can be driven as much or as little as you’d like thanks to a final gain stage control at the output. The more I used the Pre-73, the more I wanted to turn down the output and drive the input transformers. The Pre-73 saturates vocals in a way reminiscent of the Neve 1073 that it emulates. For even more coloration options, the Pre-73 has a Low-Z switch to change impedance from 1200 Ohms to 300 Ohms. I usually found myself engaging this feature when micing up quiet instruments like acoustic guitars. The switch also allows the use of dynamics requiring a lot of gain without coloring the signal as much as you would by just driving the preamp up. The Pre-73 has plenty of power for any microphone, and I was even able to use a Shure SM7B (power-craving dynamic) without the need for the second gain stage.
Where The Pre-73 Shines
I was extremely surprised when I found my favorite aspect of the Pre-73 is its clean, gentle DI mode. Most of my experience with budget DI boxes and microphone preamps that provide the option have been less than ideal. I usually find myself heavily EQing and compressing my DI guitars once in-the-box to get rid of harsh picking noise. It gets to be really tedious work, especially since without it most amp simulators don’t sound as realistic. The Pre-73 evened out every imperfection I usually find in DI recordings. There was enough attack left to hear where the guitarist played more heavily, but no piercing pick on string or strumming issues to complain about. While bass DI recordings usually don’t have the issue, the Pre-73 sounded warm and full when run as a DI. It was a really unexpected feature in a microphone preamp I was expecting to use mainly on vocals, but extremely welcomed!
The value of the Golden Age Project Pre-73 MKII makes it a must for any home/small studios looking for a vintage, classic sounding preamp. The price makes it the perfect starter for starting an outboard gear collection, and the half rack units save space in the studio. The Pre-73 is currently selling at an average street price of $350, which is about what I’d be willing to pay for the DI features alone. Finally, the device is unbelievable useful when dealing with microphones that don’t get enough gain from a cheaper interface. It’s an all around great product worthy of any studio application.