Price paid: £ 400
Purchased from: Digital Village
Sound — 9
This is labelled as a "modern rock" preamp. It does have plenty of bite in the lead channel. The gain switching and contour switching options really open up a range of different tonal options for you in this unit. The clean channel is a nice bread and butter clean. Engage the gain Switch and you can push it into crunch/blues territory. You can put distortion pedals in front of the clean channel and it copes fine with them. On low gain settings the lead channel picks up from where the clean leaves off when boosted to high gain as a crunch channel. On high gain settings it is indeed an out and out lead channel. You would get away with the lead set at high gain and you wouldn't need to use a booster pedal or od pedal in front of it to get real lead sounds. A word to the wise here. The high mids on the lead channel really punch through much more strongly than the settings on the high mid dial would have you believe. For the most part 4 or 5 works fine for the other settings on the eg dials in the lead channel. I found that the high mids were so prominent I had to back the dial for the high mid control down to around 2 to take quite an edge off the sound. Any higher than two and it was overly cutting, harsh and cranky. Also I found that things balanced better with the contour Switch engaged which would seem odd as the contour Switch boosts specific frequencies in the mid range so you would think that for errant high mids you would fare worse with it on? I can only think that low mids are boosted more than the high mids so they sit better in the overall mix as a result. I think the level of bite you have on offer here would be very useful if you had very dark sounding guitars and I think that the edgey sound on this preamp might suit some folk looking for a particular type of sound. Once you get a lid on the high mids you end up with a nice cranked preamp sound. It put me in mind of nuno bettencourts guitar sound on extremes pornograffiti album. No bad thing at all.
Overall Impression — 9
I bought this as a backup preamp to use in case my triaxis failed. I play mostly rock music but I cover a rnge of material that goes from duran duran all the way through to satriani, gilbert and vai so I needed a preamp that would cover alot of different sonic ground and this preamp does that no fuss. At first I was a bit unsure about the distortion sounds on this preamp but once I got the high mids reeled in it really started to work for me and I would be happy to gig the thing. As I said. Start at 2 on the high mid dial as a starting point and engage the contour Switch and you should fare ok. On the whole I'm happy with this. Inclusion of midi switching would have been the icing on the cake for this preamp. The E580 however does offer this from what I gather though. A good effort from our german amp building cousins.
Reliability & Durability — 9
I have only had this preamp for a few months so I can't comment on the long term durability as such but from my observations everything seems belt and braces and all of it seems well put together. These preamps are built in germany and the germans know a thing or two about quality control and manufacturing so I wouldn't expect any problems with this preamp in the future. All the dials seem like they are very good quality. They track smoothly and silently without crackle. The Engl footswitch I got as an extra for this also hinted at the type of build quality Engl churn out. It looked like it was machined out from a solid lump of steel. Absolutely bomb proof. The only thing I would have suggested would have been an access panel to make tube changes a bit easier. Potentially if a tube went mid gig you would need to take the whole thing out the rack to access the tubes. To be fair most of the rack preamps I have had required you to do this. My Mesa kit has open access to the tubes round the back and I like that alot. Looking at the rear panel of the Engl it is quite busy so I don't know how they would condense these down the connections to allow inclusion of an access panel to get at the tubes. Maybe it would be nightmarish to design one in.
Features — 9
Two channel tube preamp with hi/lo gain switching on each channel. Contour mid boosting option. Usual complement of connections round back of unit - stereo left and right out, frequency compensated connections for DI sends, fx send / return, aux in, solid state power amp for small cab or headphones. Standard layout for eq controls on front. Leds show switching Status of channel and gain boost settings.