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HISTORY OF WUNDER AUDIO
Wunder Audio PEQ1 Mic Pre/EQ – A Blast From the Past Gets a Sonic Makeover. By Michael Cooper
In 1971, Led Zeppelin bass and keyboard player John Paul Jones ordered a custom console to be built for his personal recording studio. Decades later, Wunder Audio owner Mike Castoro got his hands on a preamp/EQ module from that one-of-a-kind board and was blown away by its sound. Castoro spent the next four years designing and implementing 20 modifications for the module, and the result is the Wunder Audio PEQ1.
Solid, In and Out
The solid-state, fully discrete, Class A PEQ1 can be ordered either as a stand-alone mono module with 18-pin, gold-plated Amphenol connector ($2,250 list) or in a one- or two-channel rackmountable chassis that also provides XLR and TRS connections for mic, line and instrument inputs and line output (more on these connections in a bit). Although the circuitry for the PEQ1 is unique, Castoro made the stand-alone moduleís form factor and pin-out configuration fully compatible with Neve 1073 modules so that it could serve as a direct replacement in Neve 80 Series consoles (or outboard racks designed for the 1073).
I reviewed a single PEQ1 module mounted in a 3U, two-channel, powered Wunder Audio & Design rack. The Wunder rack adds $695 to the module's $2,250 list price; therefore, a Wunder rack loaded with two PEQ1s costs $5,195. Castoro told me his company would be offering a single-channel module (dubbed the PEQ1R; $2,250 list) mounted in a Wunder Audio 1U rackmountable chassis by the time you read this. An outboard lunchbox-style power supply ($299 list) will be required for use in this configuration; the power supply will purportedly be able to power up to 24 daisy-chained PEQ1Rs. Similar to the Boutique version, the PEQ1R will offer XLR and TRS connections for mic, line and instrument inputs and line output.
My review unit provided separate balanced-XLR connectors for mic and line inputs and line output on the rear panel. A balanced TRS input (which also accepts unbalanced signals) on the unit's front panel is wired in parallel with the unit's rear-panel line input and can accommodate instrument or line-level signals. All I/Os go to custom-designed transformers (exact replicas of those used in the Jones' desk) that are key to the PEQ1's sonic signature.
The unit's build quality looks solid. Components include conductive-plastic Vishay pots, custom Elma switches and large Sprague "Orange Drop" capacitors (the latter for the EQ circuitry). The PEQ1's frequency response with EQ switched out is an impressive 20 Hz to 115 kHz +0/-1 dB. Maximum output level is a respectable +23 dBm into 10 kilohms. Noise is better than -125 dB from 10 Hz to 20 kHz.
The PEQ1 module itself offers separate control knobs for input gain and each of its three bands of EQ. Switches are also provided for choosing alternate input source (mic or line/instrument), global EQ bypass and phase inversion. The Boutique rack adds switches for AC, phantom power and a rotary attenuator (that goes to complete silence when set fully CCW) for output level. The PEQ1R will also purportedly incorporate all of these features except the power switch, which will be on its outboard power supply.
The PEQ1's input-gain control provides from 18 to 78 dB of gain for mic signals and a whopping 60 dB of gain for line and instrument inputs (plenty for recording instruments straight to tape or disk). Hash marks for input gain follow British convention where values indicate the amount of gain applied to achieve the rated output level (in this case 0 dBm). For example, the gain knob would need to be set to "-12" in order to achieve 0 dBm output level on -12 dBm input. Screening on one side of the knob indicates gain boost for mic input, while the other side shows gain boost for line and instrument inputs.
The PEQ1 provides shelving EQ for high and low bands and a bell-curve filter for mids. The stepped (fixed) frequency and continuously variable gain controls for each band are concentrically arranged. Bandwidth varies between roughly 2/3 and 8/10-octave depending on which center frequency you've chosen. Choices of frequencies are as follows: 40, 60, 100, 160 and 200 Hz for lows; 0.36, 0.7, 1.3, 2.4, 3.6 and 5.8 kHz for mids; and 7, 10, 12.5, 15 and 20 kHz for highs. There is no overlap in center frequency choices between bands, and a band can be independently bypassed by setting its frequency control to an off position.
A separate bypass switch for each band would have allowed users to retain each frequency selection in bypass mode and perform instantaneous A/B comparisons per channel. Another practical disadvantage is that the brass boost/cut knobs, though beautiful, are plated with a shiny nickel finish that made it very difficult to ascertain settings in many lighting conditions. [Editor's note: Wunder says the knobs are also available in a glare-free, clean anodized aluminum.] These knobs also lack zero detents. The maximum boost/cut they provide is roughly ±21 dB for midrange frequencies, and ±20 dB for lows and highs.
Before using the PEQ1 in my sessions, I A/B'd its mic pre (with EQ switched out) with my exceedingly accurate Millennia HV-3D to get a handle on its sound. Recording a nylon string guitar, the HV-3D offered noticeably faster transient response and more depth and transparency compared to the PEQ1. The PEQ1's mic pre wasn't as sparkly, open and detailed as I would've liked on this instrument.
That was my first and last disappointment with the PEQ1's sound; I quickly learned that this unit's forte wasn't transparency, but making things sound big. Recording male lead vocals through the PEQ1's pre with a Lawson L251 tube condenser set to omni mode, and applying mild cut below 160 Hz and boost at 20 kHz with the PEQ1's EQ, the sound was lush and round and had plenty of detail and depth.
Playing my '62 Strat through Roland's fabulous MicroCube amp, I miked the cabinet with an L251 in bi-directional mode and used the PEQ1's preamp again for gain. The sound was perfect: huge, creamy and tightly focused. The guitar track had a raspy cut without sounding at all brittle.
Recording electric-bass guitar via the PEQ1's front-panel instrument jack, I anticipated hearing a dull sound due to expected pickup loading (considering that the instrument input follows the same audio path as line in). Boy, was I wrong! With the EQ switched out, the bass guitar was delightfully present without sounding at all glaring or thin. In fact, the sound was so rich and full that I would've sworn that this was a tube pre, except that the sound also had a solid-state focus. Best of all, the PEQ1's bottom goes all the way to China! The bass track's thunderous, fat, growly and aggressive sound eclipsed that produced from any dedicated DItube or solid statethat I've ever used with that same bass guitar.
In other sessions, I got fat and snappy tracks recording congas, djembe, cowbell and handclaps in turn through the PEQ1 (using a B & K 4011 mic). Here, applying a touch of the PEQ1's low and high-shelving boost added extra dimension to the tracks.
I also put the PEQ1's line input and EQ to good use during several mixdown sessions, alternately shaping kick, snare drum and bass-guitar tracks. The sound was always warm, robust, and full-bodied, yet tightly focused. The PEQ1's EQ sounded especially musical on rock drums. Very responsive yet smooth, this is colorful EQ you can readily hear.
Solid, In and Out
The PEQ1 would not be my choice for recording, say, delicate stringed instruments where transparency and detail are paramount goals. But for drum, percussion, electric guitar and vocal tracks that make a bold statement, the PEQ1 is an outstanding choice. And you gotta hear this thing on bass guitar!
Just click the link to go directly to this feature at:
CM7 Microphone by Mike Jasper, www.deceptivesound.com
When Wunder Audio owner and CM7 creator Mike Castoro was asked to describe his mic, he said it was similar to a U47 but better. I would agree. The Wunder Audio CM7 is the best vocal mic I've ever sung through in my life. Period. And the "better" part is in the sound, especially at the high end of the spectrum, with air and clarity that's missing from the original U47. Oh, and please don't confuse this crystalline high end with the annoyingly bright 3-5k bump you hear so much on cheaper tube mics. I've listened to both, and the difference is huge. My first tests were done at Wunder's own Stardog Studio using my Collings D1A and my own smoky vocals on a song I've sung and played a thousand times. We did a shootout between the CM7 and one of Castoro's selected U47s. He had seven of his elderly beauties ready for us, culled from nearly 150 U47s he had bought and sold over the years as a vintage mic dealer. We tried a few U47s, then selected the one we thought sounded best for my vocals and ran it alongside the CM7. It was undeniable; I preferred the CM7 on both guitar and voice, in both omni and cardioid modes. Later in the week, I blindly re-listened to the CD of that session and again picked out the CM7 as having the sweetest sound.
A few weeks later, Castoro agreed to bring his CM7 to 5 a.m. Studios in downtown Austin for yet another shootout. This time his CM7 would compete against some worthy adversaries, including a Pearlman TM-1, Rode NTV, Soundelux U99 and U95s, Mojave M-200 and a vintage Neumann CMV-563 with the lollipop capsule. (For some reason never fully explained, Castoro did not bring one of his vintage U47s to the shootout.) The test was done using two vocals my lower toned Jim Morrison-ish vox and Steve Hudson's higher toned, John
Fogarty-ish pipes. Only the Rode NTV sounded truly bad to my ears, and unfortunately I owned that mic. The others held their own, but the Neumann CMV-563 and the Wunder CM7 stood above the rest. Some at the shootout preferred the Neumann, but I absolutely preferred the CM7 on both my voice and Hudson's. It's the best vocal mic I've ever sung through, period. Did I mention that yet?
Castoro says there are three primary elements used to create the U47-plus sound the capsule, the transformer and the tube in that order. With the capsule, Wunder is shooting for a copy of what Castoro calls the Berlin M7, as opposed to the Gefell M7 capsule. The Berlin M7 is machined differently from the Gefell, with three isolator rims instead of two. The one-inch diaphragm is glued on with precise tension to a very thin rim, much the way skins are stretched over a snare drum. The rims are milled onto a piece of brass that contains 90 holes per side and then super polished in a process called "lapping." Unlike the original M7s, which were 8-10 microns thick and made of PVC, the Wunder M7 is made of a six-micron thick Mylar substrate because it ages better. If authenticity is a must, PVC capsules are available upon request at a higher price. You can also get the capsules set at different biases, with one emphasizing the high-end tones, another emphasizing the low end.
The second key to the CM7 sound is the larger transformer used, based on the earlier Telefunken U47 design, the so-called "large badge" U47. Wound old-school style on vintage tool machines, these transformers allow for more saturation and a bigger low end, rolling off at 20Hz instead of forty. Finally, the third component is the tube. Yes, Wunder can make a microphone with the famous VF14 tube, but it'll cost one arm and leg more to buy. Fortunately, the lower priced EF14 tube comes standard and owner Castoro calls it the "savior of the mic." The interior tooling in the EF14 is identical
to the VF14, but the difference lies in how the filament wire is attached. To make the EF14 behave like the VF14, a capacitor and resistor called a "dummy load" -- is added to the back of the tube socket. Although the capsule, the transformer and the tube are the most important elements to the sound, there are other factors. The U47's unique grille provides a 1.5 db boost at 5k for presence, but then a cut at 8K to mitigate sibilance. Another 1 db at 10k allows for air, while a roll off at 11k prevents brittleness. Castoro says the grille design gives the U47 its legendary aggressive sound and a natural EQ, so they've gone to great pains to insure the grille is an exact replica of the original. But some improvements in the mic's sound are due to innovations in the original design. For example, Wunder uses no PVC in the wiring, since wires sheathed with PVC tend to deteriorate and crack over time. Also, the mic uses high-end, metalized polypropylene capacitors instead of the now crumbling ones used when the U47 was originally made. And although it has nothing to do with the sound, the power supply used for the CM7 features better wiring overall and a voltage regulator that wasn't available in the original. The entire package includes the CM7 in an oak box, a historical shock mount, the power supply and an original, large Tuchel-connected mic cable. For those who can't spend $5K+ on a microphone, Wunder will be coming out with a GT version, a CM7-lite model priced under $3,000. It will still have the signature Wunder large-style transformer and the U47 look and feel, but the capsule will be a K47 (M7 available as an upgrade), the tube will be the Telefunken glass tube (hence the name GT) and other historical details adhered to in the CM7 will be adjusted in the GT version to keep costs down. And just in case you forgot how this review opened, let me remind you one more time -- the CM7 is the best vocal mic I've ever sung through. Ever.
Wunder Audio PEQ1R. By Garrett Haines - Sept/Oct 2005
I wrote a pretty positive review of the Wunder Audio PEQ-1 back in the June '04 issue. At that time, the unit was available as a replacement module for some vintage consoles, or in a custom rack unit. But console modules are designed to be read in a vertical position. You end up getting a kink in your neck trying to adjust settings when the module is rack mounted. Fortunately, Wunder now offers a single spaced version of the PEQ1, called the PEQ1R. The controls are rotated 90 degrees for easy left to right use. They've also added a convenient _" instrument jack on the front.
The PEQ1R has some sonic tweaks since the first PEQ1. Mike Castoro and the crew at Wunder have made additional improvements including an improved amplifier network, a beefed up output stage, and decreased the overall Total Harmonic Distortion (THD). Additionally, the EQ section was enhanced to give a little more separation between the 15k and 20k frequencies. All of this amounts to polishing a unit that was at the top of my list to start.
We tested the PEQ-1R on vocals, using a variety of microphones. The output was vivid, detailed, and forceful. When paired with a vintage Neumann U87 the Wunder brought
out subtle nuances that cause so many of us to shell out so much for these mics. What was really impressive was what the PEQ1R can do with an inexpensive mic. The Wunder made the $99 AT2020 sound very respectable. The difference between the AT2020 with the Wunder and the same mic through the preamps of a small format mixer was significant. This pre can really squeeze the last ounce of performance from whatever you plug into it.
We used the instrument in jack to test the PEQ1R as a front-end for bass guitar. On a bass with active electronics the Wunder brought out finger work without undue harshness. Using a traditional P-style bass the PEQ1R supplied a full encompassing sound. Having the EQ section is a blessing when using the unit as an instrument DI. The flexibility of the EQ allowed us to shape the bass from anywhere from low thumping to crisp high-mid finger snapping.
Although the EQ section is impressive, I'm still in lust with the mic preamps. I would love a rack of those alone. Fortunately, Wunder is offering a single space rack unit that holds 4 preamps (PAFOUR). Yummy. That said, I'm sad that I have to send the Wunder away now. (I've pushed Andy off as long as I could). The bottom line is that this is one of the finest preamps (to my ears), and I'm saving for a rack of them.
Wunder Audio PEQ1 PreAmp/EQ/Module
By Garrett Haines - June '04
The PEQ1 is a Class-A discrete mic-pre/ equalizer that can be used as a replacement module in vintage Neve 80 Series consoles. For those who don't have an 80 series, a 19" rack mounted version is available (with controls rotated 90 degrees for easy use). Despite the inevitable comparisons, the PEQ1 is not a Neve clone. Our testing proved it is a unique product that stands on its own merit.
Inspired by a one-of-a-kind console built in 1970 for John Paul Jones (of Led Zeppelin fame), the PEQ1 is the culmination of years of testing and development by Mike Castoro and the gang at Wunder Audio in Austin, TX. The inside of the PEQ1 is pristine, with meticulous wiring and impeccable soldering. Top-of-the-line components are used at every junction, highlighted by custom wound transformers. Made by the same craftsman who wound the original Zeppelin modules, the Wunder transformers are so beefy they barely fit in the unit's case.
We compared the PEQ1 against our preamp collection, including a vintage Neve 1073. The results were very pleasing. When level matched the PEQ1 and 1073 were similar. We could hear how they hail from the same family. Both are top-notch units, forcing us to make comparisons that amounted to "shall we drive the Porsche or the Ferrari?"
For most sources the PEQ1 seemed to have more dimension and clarity than the 1073. On drums you could hear the room surrounding the kit. In comparison, the Neve imparted a
round, gauze to sounds. Woody tones inherent in folk guitar sounded unbeatable when wrapped in that infamous Neve-sound.
On distorted guitars the choice was clearer - the Wunder blew the Neve away. In our tests, the 1073 sounded like an amp simulator, or a recording of a guitar, while the PEQ1 gave the impression that we were in the room. This led us to the theory that the PEQ1 was particularly good a resolving fast or complex signals, while the 1073 handled slower straightforward signals with aplomb.
Headroom is another area where the PEQ1 holds an advantage. With twice as many amplifier stages, the Wunder provides roughly double the gain of the 1073s. On bombastic acoustic guitar or loud drums, the PEQ1 maintained a clear signal when the 1073 distorted. The additional gain stages make the PEQ1 a great option for line level sources such as direct bass or pickups from an acoustic guitar.
The PEQ1's EQ section is more flexible than a 1073, with 3db roll off points at 8.7Hz on the low and 118KHz on the top. In use, the PEQ1's low end seemed a bit more focused on items such as kick and bass guitar. But, both units were smooth and forgiving. If we had more time with the PEQ1 we would have tried it as a mix EQ just for good measure.
If you're contemplating a multi-purpose preamp you would do well to consider the PEQ1. Given the thought, components, and craftsmanship that have gone into the PEQ1, its no surprise that the unit can go toe to toe with a module of the caliber of a 1073. I highly recommend an audition.
The following is a review that can be found on the "gearslutz.com" forum (search: wunder)
So the Wunder arrived yesterday and I thought it was like Christmas or at least my 2nd birthday this week! Except I found I didn't have the right cables to plug it in ... DOH!!!!!!!
So today with mass intrepidation I went to a fellow local (Melbourne) slutz shop (studio) to try it out on a few things and do some direct comparisons with 2 of his latest pre/eqs... Focusrite ISA 110LE and Vintech X73.
First of all let me premise this brief report with a few things.
-I bought this Wunder sight unseen or un-heard purely on speculation, slutty interest and amidst a moment of pure gear weakness.
-These are the first impressions and MY OWN opinions from using the unit this afternoon and evening back home with my small Pro Tools setup (as a HW insert) on pre recorded files. It may be too early to make a valued judgment but here is what I think of the unit so far.
-For all those that thought this was simply another 1073 clone... THINK AGAIN!!. Whilst the Wunder PEQ1R bares some of the same eq points as the venerable 1073 that is where the similarities actually end. I admit that when I first saw these online nearly 6 months ago I was skeptical to say the least, but I'm honest enough to admit my reservations and stand here happily correcting them!
The Wunder PEQR1 is built very well.
The case is constructed of powder coated steel and the screen-printing is nice on the front. I must admit that was a bit unsure of the colored knobs on he faceplate being both red and blue... but I think its a nice change and ties in well with the overall color scheme of the light grey, rather well.
All the pots are extremely high quality Elma rotary and dual concentric pots. Which is a surefire sign of quality components. The Neve I worked on for ages has these exact same types of Elma switched pots for the input gain on its 1073's. So they will be around for donkeys years to come and will suffer the use and abuse that one can only come to expect in a professional environment. Under the hood of the unit is VERY tidy and well constructed with a central PCB containing the inductor(s) for the EQ... big Sprague orange drop capacitors etc.. The quality of the componentry bears a high level of continuity through out. Like my SHEP SN8 and I think the new AMS Neve re-issues all the amp stages are all located on the one central PCB board which is a great idea. IMHO as with the original Neves the BA amp cards are sometimes subject to the gravitational forces of nature and they can slip out of their sockets, which in my experience is the cause of most of the troubles with 80XX consoles and their associated modules. So this is just another great feature that will help users avoid any technical hitches.
Next come the mic & line input and output transformers. They are HUGE!!!!. Quite unlike what I was expecting to say the least but be rest assured they account for a fair proportion of the unit's weight.. Which is ALLWAYS a good thing from where I stand! This aint no cheap or plastic box painted in a funky green color.
The PSU is an absolute MONSTER! I wasn't sure what to expect when I last spoke to Mike (from Wunder Audio) and he mentioned that it would power an inordinate amount of Wunder units. From later emails with Mike it became apparent that it would power well over 24 of the Wunder PEQ1R's!!!. They run on a simply 5pin DIN type (looking) power plug that allows units to be powered in a daisy chain fashion without each unit going back to the central PSU there for creating a veritable 'spaghetti junction' of psu cords and confusion. So kudos here. I think that this is great way to run units. As it often breaks down the pain and expenses of external PSU's and means that in future the user will just purchase actual units instead of having to pony up for additional PSU's. Also it will lessen the load should any engineer be 'slutty' enough to own multiples of units and be upwardly mobile in their gigs.
OK.. So I've bored the shit out of you so far with all the boring inane crap that I usually skip in reviews so
HOW DOES IT SOUND?????
In a word fantastic.
But let me further qualify it against my much loved 1073's first.
As mentioned the PEQ1R is NOT a NEVE!!!!!!!!!!!
For which im kinda glad cos there are enough of them kicking around now in original, new or cloned incarnations... a change is as good as a holiday (isn't it?)!
Smooth and PHAT.
Headroom for days!
Not nearly as overtly upfront in the mid range as a 1073, but still retaining that fantastic punchy Class A sound nonetheless. I cant wait to track some guitars and vocals.
The PEQ1R seem to my ears have more HI-FI air around the preamp than a 1073, so I guess im just saying that it sounds a bit more open. Yet, whilst it is more open its doesn't take away from a shared characteristic of both the Wunder and Neve, which is that it also has a bit of that 'slowing' factor of transients that makes Neve's in general, so appealing for so many people. I'm guessing that the transformers are contributing a large part to this sonic characteristic
Overall I would have to say that the sound of the PEQ1R is PHAT and Smooth. The bottom end is tight and rounded and can add real life, size and dimension to both bass guitars and
kick drums. The lows are deep and mellifluous that just makes drums and low register instruments, voices come alive.
The mid range is nice and can remove or add detail at will. The Q of the Eq in general is very much reminiscent of the classic 'British' bell shape that so many designers attribute their musicality to... yes Rupert included! The main thing to keep in and that the overall design brief IMHO, based on the Allotrope EQ from which it is modeled on is that the EQ is musical. And musical it is! There is very little phase shift in the EQ except at the extremes of boosting which even then it was not nearly as gnarly as some other EQ's that I have experienced.
Boosting was always a good experience and it was simply a matter of taste as too how much to boost and even at full tilt it never really got gnarly and had hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Which IMHO is just yet another hallmark of a musical design.
The smoothness of the EQ is a real attribute and positive quality of the unit. A little can go a long way or just pile it on like a slut and get it all hard over the way that it can life 'dull' and lifeless voices into a mix with some zest and authority.
The lowmids can add real depth and body to thin and wimpy snare drums and voices.
The HF is sweet and adds the nice HF sheen that can lift things out of the mud into into the greater context of a mix/song.
One thing I must clarify is that the EQ is not a surgical one. Its a very musical design but it aint no GML 8200. If you need to notch some nasty frequency go tot he right tool. Its no good maligning a tool like this when it's performing a function for which it was not designed to perform.
Overall I am very happy with the Wunder and I can't wait to use it soon on some things I got coming up with an AEA84 (ribbon mic) etc.
If you want to live on the edge and stand out from the pack I implore people to give the Wunder a go. It's not a Neve or anything else, it's close to a few things yet it has its own special X factor which is all cool in my world. In the company that the Wunder was tested against they all held their ground on their own merits and it was simply a matter of taste and choice for a given application. Suffice to say people won't be disappointed with the Wunder PEQ1R. I took a gamble and it's paid off and I hope it will for you too!
The Wunder of It All - Wunder Audio PEQ1R Mic pre/EQ
By Randy Poole - Oct 2005
The folks at Wunder Audio have come up with their version of an early British-style three-band EQ and mic pre. The PEQ1 is different from the other such units available, being based on a module from Led Zeppelin's bass and keyboard player John Paul Jones', custom 1971 Allotrope console with large nickel transformers. Wunder then spent 4 years improving and tweaking this new design to satisfy their desire to build something truly unique.
The PEQ1 is nicely laid out with quality components and wiring throughout. Many of the improvements made to the design were in the EQ and gain stages, adding more EQ points, and more gain stages, which means a more flexible EQ, and more headroom. Some improvements were made in the frequency response. The 3-db roll-off points are 8.7Hz on the low and 118KHz on the top end.
I tested the PEQ1R 19-inch rack mount version with outboard power supply. It also comes in versions to drop right into a console, in place of a 1073, or racked in a 2- or 8-module Wunder Audio rack.
The company has also just released a 4-channel pre. The PEQ1R comes with mic, line, and instrument inputs; switches for phantom power, EQ in/out, and polarity; as well as a blue output fader that follows the 3-band EQ section. Although not small, the available power supply also powers up to 24 modules
The module was compared on several sources with various pres. On vocals with a 251 replica, it was compared to an Amek 9098 with no EQ. The sound was really quite similar in some respects, but the Wunder was a little warmer. Where the Amek had a little bump of brightness in the high mid, the Wunder did not. In the mix though, the sound of the Wunder was slightly more forward and tighter in the track. On drums it was compared with a Neve 33114 and a 9098, this time with the eq (because I don't know anybody who doesn't EQ their drums).
All pres had a nice transient attack to them, but the Wunder definitely won in the overall transient headroom department. The Wunder's transients just seemed to hit a little harder, to move a little more mass. EQ-wise, I loved turning the gain knobs all the way just to see what sound might come out this box; it sometimes gave me inspiration for new sounds. Another way to explore the headroom of this box is to turn down the output fader, and crank up the mic gain. This created a really cool overloaded effect-one that was totally usable. I can't think of an EQ whose performance I enjoyed more than the PEQ1's. The only thing I could ask here is, "When are they making a 4 band version?" The last test for this pre was bass guitar plugged directly into 1/4-inch input. Many a module skimps on the electronics behind this plug, and I am happy to report the Wunder has delivered the goods with their instrument input. We tested this option with none other than bassist Jackie Street, and compared it to the Avalon U5 and a custom made bass/pre by Demeter. We were experimenting with different combinations of gear, and then we tried the PEQ1 ala direct in with the same compressor we had been using. All I can say is, the sound just became more punchy and
focused in the stereo field. I kept checking to see if all we did was increase the gain, but we had not. It felt as if the harmonics of the bass were now in proper alignment (or the planets were or something).
While I don't believe there are any negatives in the sound department, if you know me, you would know that I would have to find something to be improved upon. First, the white dot on a chrome knob to indicate where the gain knob is pointing is not too visible if rack mounted lower than desk height, or if your studio lighting tends to be on the "vibey" side. Second, this unit has no filters. Just a little toggle switch with a few options would be nice. Finally, how about a handle on that power supply? It's about 12 pounds and 9 x 6.25 x 5.5 inches, something to consider if you are moving around a lot.
With so many preamp/EQs on the market today, one might ask themselves "Why do I need this pre/EQ?" After hearing it you might say, "Wow, Wunder has out done itself here. I gotta have it". Not a Neve clone, but a complete redesign with modern high quality components, good looks and great sound. It also has that elusive character that helps you discover new sounds, sometimes by turning the knobs as far as they can go.
Wunder Audio PEQ1R Mic pre/EQ
By Monte Vallier - May 2006
I'd been wondering (sorry) about these mic pres for a long time. I've read about them on gearhead sites and I've seen them at industry shows and in ads. I've only read a couple reviews though and I've never actually seen one in anyone's rack or knew anyone who had used one. I guess I got the first one on my block. I had no preconceived notions.
But according to the lore, the guys were refurbishing a couple of 80 Series Neve consoles and came across some modules that were made for one-of-a-kind desk for John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. They thought that these modules sounded amazing and figured out that the beauty of the sound was coming from the transformer. Inspired by these transformers, the Wunder folks spent a lot of time in the lab developing and testing their own custom wound transformers that would end up in the PEQ1 series.
This is a class A discrete 70s style solid-state mic pre/EQ. It has XLR mic and line inputs and output and a 1/4" TRS instrument/line in on the front panel. The line input uses a separate transformer so you can actually use the XLR line input on the back as a separate, different sounding mic input by cranking the input gain knob into the 24dB to 42dB "HiZ" zone. On the front panel moving left to right you have the 1/4" instrument input, mic/line, phase reverse, and EQ engage toggle switches. Next to those are three double-action knobs for the EQ section. All the controls have an outer ring frequency selector that has multiple steps including an off position and a continuously variable +/-20dB boost/cut knob in the center. The low frequency has five steps: 40Hz, 60Hz, 100Hz, 160Hz, and 200Hz. The mid has six steps: .36K, .7K, 1.3K, 2.4K, 3.6K, and 5.8K. The five high frequency bands are: 7K, 10K, 12.5K, 15K, and 20K. The boost/cut knob in the center of each control has no 0 detent and the small white pointer on the knob is difficult to see. This makes it hard to recreate an EQ setting. Also having the frequency choice numbers under the knobs makes them hard to see from angles above the panel. I had to keep the unit racked high so I could easily see the numbers. To bypass a specific EQ control you must turn it to the off position so quick A/B-ing is difficult to manage.
Continuing down the face, the gain switch is also a double duty control: the left side shows mic input gain and the right side shows line input gain. Of course you've got your 48v phantom power toggle and, lastly, an output level knob next to the power on LED. The PEQ1R's input gain is impressive - from 18 to 78dB for mic signals and 60dB for line and instrument inputs.
When I deboxed the PEQ1R, I was surprised by how beefy the power supply was. Then I learned that it's capable of powering 24 of these units. Okay. I wonder if there could be an option to buy a smaller supply that would power two units? Maybe then it could be included in the price instead of having to shell out an extra $300 if you only plan to buy one or two units.
Enough with the boring details - how does it sound?
The very first time I powered it up was for a vocal session for an English band called Capricorns. They asked a gentleman
named Eugene Robinson (why does that name sound so familiar?) from the band Oxbow to guest on one of their tracks, and we were going to record the vocals and upload the files to an FTP site in time for their final mixing crunch in London. Perfect opportunity to put the PEQ1R to the test.
Eugene is probably the most dynamic singer I've ever worked with. He goes from barely audible whispers and low growls to bone-splitting howls and lots of heavy stuff in between. I decided to use one of the review mics from EQ's Giant Mic Issue [Sept. '05] - the SE Electronics Titan with a 10dB pad engaged going into the PEQ1R and then into a Summit DCL200 set with a fast attack and about 4dB of compression. We were doing the vocals on a loft over the control room and sometimes there can be some low end mic stand coupling to the floor rumble, so I engaged the EQ and set the frequency selector to 60Hz and rolled off a few dB. It helped enough to get started.
Getting a good, present level was easy, but when Eugene started performing on the track, I had to be quick with the gain knob on the Summit. I rode his takes all the way through and still missed some heavy peaks. Another challenge with recording Eugene is he likes the headphone level to be very hot. So hot that he wears earplugs under the phones. He really wants to be immersed in the sound. This usually creates quite a bleed problem during his quieter moments. I had been using the Sony MDR 7506 headphones and been experiencing some heavy bleeding. It just so happened that Eugene had a pair of Ultrasone HFI 550s to try out for the session. These phones have a tight ear cup that seals a lot better to keep bleed to a minimum and the efficiency of the drivers in the earpieces makes it so they don't need to be cranked as much to get that level of immersion that Eugene likes.
But how did the PEQ1R sound at the end of the day?
Perfect for this type of vocal. It has a quality that is very pleasantly "rock" and musical. It's almost a grittiness or a minute fuzziness like a pleasing high-end harmonic distortion that made this rocking vocal track sit so well in the midst of heavy instrumentation. You may think that I'm being led by the sound of the Summits. I compared the same Summit settings and the same mic using the Millennia HV3D mic pre and did not experience the same feel. While the Millennia HV3D is an amazing, clean, transparent preamp, it was too real - too detailed for a vocal track like this. And, I thought, especially for this type of music. But Capricorns really liked the sound - they even liked the spot where I couldn't ride the level down fast enough and crapped out with some input level distortion. Cool.
While the PEQ1R worked for vocals in the heavy sludge track, it didn't fare so well in the quiet, sensitive, female vocal area. I used it on a quiet, intimate vocal with a Microtech/Gefell UM92.1S tube mic. The qualities that I liked with Eugene's vocals I didn't like with the quieter vocals. I tried to cut some 700Hz or a little 1.3k to get rid of some of the nasal quality that I heard that went away when I switched back to the Millennia mic preamp. It's just not the right tool for some jobs. But that being said, it excelled in many other applications.
I'd also been recording a lot of cues for a marketing campaign where the producers are constantly changing their minds and where deadlines are ultra tight. The PEQ1R was an excellent
and faithful, versatile tool in this arena. The HiZ input on the face got a lot of action. A guitar, bass, or a Rhodes piano was plugged in all the time. The variety of tones that I was able to dial in for electric bass was incredibly useful. I could pretty much find any sound I needed with my old P-bass, yet the sound of the unit was tight, deep, and rich without the EQ engaged. In conjunction with my Summit compressor, it gave me one of the most workable direct bass sounds I've gotten. It was the same with the direct guitar. I tend to work very quickly on these types of cues, and plugging the Tele straight in and then processing it later with Amp Farm is what I have to do. But I used the direct sound many times without relying on the virtual amp effect. It's a clean sound that can be carved up with the EQ to get interesting stuff. For mono percussion tracks I used the PEQ1R with an AEA R92 ribbon and got a fantastic amount of gain.
I've tried this pre/EQ with a huge variety of sources, and I have to say that it is truly versatile unit with a big personality. If you are looking for a transparent pre like the Millennia HV3 or a John Hardy M-1, you are looking in the wrong place. The Wunder PEQ1R definitely has a "sound," but it's a sound that is very musical and pleasing to the ears.
Pros and Cons
· Well made with high quality components.
· Lots of gain for both mics (ribbons too) and line/instrument inputs.
· EQ is bold - a little goes a long way.
· Excellent for direct input applications.
· If you ever only plan to buy one or two, the extra expense of the power supply that powers an entire console's worth is a bit much.
· There should be another power option.
· With the way the knobs for the EQ are situated, it's difficult to read the numbers from anywhere but under the box.
· There is no way to quickly A/B EQ settings.
Wunder Audio CM7 FET MIC
Reviewed by Mike Jasper ©2010, Tape Op Issue 77
Thanks to Top Hat Recording, a few of us Austin engineers, producers, and studio owners got to listen to one of the first Wunder CM7 FET mics alongside its inspiration -the Neumann U 47 fet. Top Hat's John Harvey went straight for the jugular and recorded the kick drum first, something the U 47 fet records very well. Mary Podio undertook the tedious task of performing incessant kicks on a Fibes kick drum. As expected, the Neumann sounded great in this application and captured a tight, full-sounding low end. The CM7 FET sounded similar, almost identical to the Neumann in the bottom end but with a little bump in the high mids around 3 kHz. Later, when I added some compression to both kick drum tracks, that 3 kHz bump pretty much disappeared, and the two mics sounded very close to each other. Still, I'd give a slight edge to the Neumann on kick.
Next, Chris Ware -creator and builder of the hand-made Branham custom tube amplifier -played a Fender Telecaster through one of his namesake amps. These tracks sounded a lot closer to each other than the kick drum recordings. After listening several times, I gave the edge to the Wunder on the clean guitar tracks and a slight edge to the Neumann on overdriven guitar. I'm calling this one a tie, but recording engineer Stuart Sullivan of Wire Recording -who's had a lot more experience with the U 47 fet sound than I have -said he heard a nice jangly presence on the guitars mic'ed by the CM7 FET and preferred it overall.
For bass guitar, Harvey played his 1964 Gretsch on a rig that consisted of a Fender PA 135 tube head into an SWR 410 cabinet. When I listened to the tracks at home, I could not tell one from the other in a blind test. The Wunder might have been a little smoother on the fingerpicked bass, but the Neumann seemed to have a little bit more attack on the picked parts. Maybe. Then again, it could all be a psycho-acoustic illusion. I'll call the sound of the two mics on bass guitar a draw once again.
For my contribution to the shootout, I played acoustic guitar and added a vocal overdub to that same guitar track, an up-tempo tune in the high end of my range. I then followed that
with a few bars of the Johnny Cash version of NIN's "I Hurt Myself" so we could hear the low end. Pulling up the Pro Tools session in my home studio, I could not tell the difference between the acoustic guitar tracks at all, and I must have listened to them a dozen times. On vocals, the CM7 FET seemed a tad smoother than the U 47 fet, but both mics featured that famous Neumann high-mid sound -great for cutting through mixes. I added some echo and compression to both vocals, and when I played them back, I definitely preferred the Wunder this time. It was more than a subtle difference.
While the Top Hat recordings covered things I couldn't do easily on my own, I wanted to hear the CM7 FET on vocals and acoustic guitar in the controlled environment of my home studio as well. I set up separate sessions with two female vocalists to make sure at least one of them showed up (let's not go there). Leslie Forbes brought a strong Mariah Carey-type voice to the tests while Molly Waldo's soft-spoken, alternative-rock vocal required a closely-placed mic about 6' away from her. For the male vocal, I used my voice again because it always seems to be available. We shot out the CM7 FET on all three lead vocals against three other mics -the AKG C 414 B-TL II, the Sanken CU-41, and the Gefell UM 70/MV 692 combo. For everything else -acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and background vocals -I used the CM7 FET. The chain for everything except the bass went to a Millennia HV-3 mic preamp to LavryBlue 4496 converters and then to the computer via Pro Tools. I took the Fender Precision bass through a DI as I always do.
When everyone finished recording, I made two mixes of each vocalist. The first mix had no processing other than a touch of reverb, but in the second mix, I added some Massey CT4 (Tape Op #64) plug-in compression to each vocal. I bounced each mix from the 24-bit, 44.1 kHz Pro Tools session to 16-bit, 44.1 kHz and ran off a CD for each of us, with the exception of Leslie who downloaded the 16-bit files from my website. I then asked Molly and Leslie to pick their favorites from their own performances.
The two different female vocals yielded two different results. Molly and I agreed on the same top two mics, and we both thought the UM 70 sounded best for her voice with or without compression. We also picked the CM7 FET for second best in the blind tests. Leslie and I disagreed completely on which mic
sounded best. She preferred the CM7 FET for both compressed and uncompressed vocals, while I preferred the Sanken CU-41 on her compressed vocals and the AKG TL II on her uncompressed version. Interestingly, she picked the Sanken and the AKG respectively as her second picks, so we both picked the same top two mics; we just disagreed on the order.
For my vocal shootout, I added one more mic to the mix, an SE Electronics H3500, yet another U 47 fet clone. This mic was much darker than the others, but that's not bad since most of the time, the high end wreaks havoc on my voice. Still, it didn't get the full sound I heard using the Sanken, my first choice. Listening blindly on my home stereo, I picked the CM7 FET as my second favorite followed closely by the SE H3500, then the UM 70 (which would probably work better for me on background vocals), and finally the AKG TL II. This shootout also revealed something I hadn't counted on; I absolutely loved the CM7 FET on electric guitar, specifically my Les Paul 1960 reissue through a Mesa Boogie Mark III.
Here's my verdict. If you're looking for an exact replica of a Neumann U 47 fet, you will probably be disappointed. Yes, the capsule is a K 47 dual-diaphragm just like the original, and the grille is an exact replica as well. (The grille contributes greatly to the characteristic frequency response of the U 47.) However, the transformers and the circuit design differ from the original. In my opinion, the CM7 FET will work on kick, acoustic guitar, and bass almost as well as a U 47 fet and even better than the vintage Neumann on some applications such as vocals and electric guitar.
I think the CM7 FET would make a great all-around utility mic. Sullivan, who owns three U 47 fet mics, agreed. "The CM7 FET would be a far better utility mic than a U 87," Sullivan said. "I'd love to have a stereo pair of CM7 FETs to use on piano." You'll have to take his word for it, because I never did test it on piano.
At about two grand MSRP (including wooden box, shockmount, and one-year warranty), it's at least a thousand bucks less than a vintage U 47 fet and around the same price as a new Neumann U 87 -and that puts the Wunder CM7 FET squarely in the game.