[USER REVIEW] ART Pro MPA II

My Overall Experience Has Been Great

I’ve had my ART Pro MPA II for about four years.  After having gone through three or four other preamps ranging from a cheap Presonus BlueTube (which was terrible) to an LA-610, I have to say that I’ve been most happy with the ART Pro (really).

This post is going to talk about:

  • My personal experience with this pre and how I use it
  • How I think it sounds on different sources, such as vocals, bass, etc.
  • The whole “is it really a tube preamp?” question
  • Does changing the tube actually change the sound? (Yes, I did it and it does)
  • Choosing a new tube and swapping it out
  • Finally, a video overview of the ART Pro MPA II that I shot for YouTube

It’s a Quiet Preamp

To start, it’s really quiet.  While my LA-610 had an amazing richness to it, it could get noisy when used on quieter sources.  I recall one session with a softer singer that I had to quickly change over to this preamp; even though the noise was not overwhelming with the LA-610, it was completely absent with the MPA Pro.

At the time, my concern was that the vocal track wouldn’t sound as “rich” going through the ART MPA Pro, but as I would find a few weeks later, my worries were completely unfounded.  We sat down to edit the vocals a few days later and I was floored at how good it sounded.  Mind you, this was a pre that I bought just to add a little flavor to tracks when my “big boy” preamps were already being used for lead vocals or DI guitars.

When I realized how much I loved the sound of this preamp running through a WA76, I sold the LA-610.

It Sounds Like a Tube Preamp, Only at 1/5th the Cost

Like I said in the previous paragraph, the ART Pro MPA II —> WA76 became my go-to for DI guitars and vocals that I wanted to get a “rounder” sound out of.  While it didn’t sound exactly like the LA-610 it replaced, it sounded pretty damned good and I’ve used it ever since.

ART is known for making “equipment that is really good for the money,” but I would venture to say that it just “makes good equipment.”  If you took this unit and housed it in a more “serious” looking rack unit, I would bet that no one would actually pick up on the fact that it costs significantly less than $1000.

It Has a Number of Very Nice Features

High Pass Filter

The high pass filter is one of my favorite features of this pre.  If you’re recording a vocal or guitar, there’s really nothing below 100hz that you want in the signal; all that you’re going to pick up is potential rumbling that will interfere with your bass and kick.

Instead of tracking with the extra noise, you can filter it out before it even hits your hard drive.  Unlike many pres that have a button that you press to engage a high pass filter at a fixed frequency, the MPA Pro allows you to choose the frequency to place the filter.

Adjustable Input Impedence

Most people don’t know what this does, but it can have its applications.  You can set your preamp’s impedence anywhere from 150Ω to 2400Ω.  If you’re recording a condensor mic, it won’t make a difference, but if you’re using a dynamic or ribbon mic, it will.  If you’re interested in learning more about this, Neumann has an article about mic impedence that can explain it.

Frequency Response

The technical specs say that they extend from 15Hz to 48kHz, but I’m not planning on recording a dog whistle through it, so I really don’t care.

How It Sounds on Different Sources

The ART Pro MPA II on DI Guitars

This is probably my favorite use for this preamp.

It has a glassy, lush high end that goes very well with DI guitars.  I’ve been able to do recordings with this as a DI, then ran it through Amplitube, and was able to get a convincing guitar/amp sound that no one ever took for a DI guitar.

All of the guitars on this track were done with this preamp running through Amplitube: The Nearing – Two Strangers.

I also did a video where I overdrive the tube before going into Amplitube:

The ART Pro MPA II on Bass

I have never recorded bass with it.  It would definitely be usable on bass, but I have a Focusrite ISA One that I prefer.

The ART Pro MPA II doesn’t have the bottom end that my ISA One has and I do record quite a bit of latin music, which demands a deep, thunderous bass.  If I were going for an overdriven, present rock bassline, I would consider using this preamp for it.

How Does This Pre Handle Vocals?

I think it does best with bright microphones. The pre has a tendency to “round out” the sound of the mics connected to it, which removes some of the harshness you get with some large diaphram condensors (LDCs).

I’ve used it with LDCs like the Neumann TLM 103, which can get a bit bright or even harsh on some sources, only to have the pre tame some of their worst characteristics.

I also have a BLUE Baby Bottle, which is a pretty dark-sounding mic.  I usually don’t pair this pre with it.

Why Did I Buy It in the First Place?

What sold me on giving the ART Pro MPA a shot was a Sound on Sound’s Oct 2013 Preamp Shootout. They put the ART up against a number of other, much more expensive preamps, and let people listen. I did the blind test, and it was my second favorite; my first was a $4000 Prism Orpheus. I decided to pick one up on eBay for $215.

(More on that preamp shootout here.)

Is the ART Pro MPA II a “Real” Tube Preamp?

I’m not an electrican engineer, but I have seen the arguments on forums about whether the ART Pro MPA II is a “starved plate” design or not.

What is a starved plate design?

Basically, it means that the voltage that goes through the tube is not particularly high.  Naturally, this would affect the sound of the unit, and “starved plate” designs are considered to not have the same desireable sound as regular designs.

As I said, I’m not an electrical engineer, but this seems to be the consensus among the people that know more than me:

From https://groupdiy.com/index.php?topic=30322.0

Starved Plate would be less than 100v at the tube. (more likely something around 50 or so volts.. if that) The MPA Gold has at least 180v at the tube. The switch on the front says 300v for the high plate voltage but I found that to be inaccurate. It ends up being around 200v. While maybe not the High voltage some other preamps use, ( speaking of those with 400v +) its far from starved.

So yes, it seems that this unit is a legit tube preamp.

Does Changing the Tube Change the Sound of the ART Pro MPA II?

I will say with an emphatic “yes” that it does.

This preamp comes with a really cheap Chinese-made 12ax7 tube.  I tried the unit with the original tube, but ended up swapping it out for a vintage RCA 12Ax7 that I got out of an old tube amp.

There was a noticeable difference in the sound of the preamp, especially when driving it harder.  With the Chinese tube, it had more of a “sizzle” sound as it was overdriven; with the RCA, it had more of a “crunch.”

Overall

I really like this preamp. I have preamps both more and less expensive, yet I continually use this one.  It has a nice effect on sources whose content is primarily in the mid range (vocals, guitars, amps,) and I’ve found it useable on sources such as bass depending on the application

Video overview of the preamp:

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