We recently reviewed the AEA N22 ribbon microphone as one of the best ribbon mics available for working musicians and singer-songwriters. Turns out, AEA also makes preamps that make their already fantastic microphones sound like velvet. The AEA TRP 2-channel preamp was designed specifically with ribbon mics in mind, ensuring high quality sound from whatever source you are recording. In fact, TRP is an acronym for “The Ribbon Pre”, giving you more than a hint at what the device is designed for.
Though the TRP is certainly not new — debuting in 2007 — it has become a benchmark for preamps designed with passive mics in mind.
The TRP is an unassuming little piece of equipment that barely takes up a half-rack space. One of the first things studio engineers will notice is the total lack of phantom power (!). No surprise since the TRP is designed to be used with passive microphones. The interface for each channel is simple at two knobs and two buttons: knobs for gain (coarse and fine), and two buttons for reversing the polarity or a high-pass filter to the tune of 12dB/octave at 100Hz. A three-LED meter is provided on the front for each channel with the colors green, yellow, and red corresponding to input levels. The colors make seeing the levels very intuitive and the entire unit easy to use.
On the back panel, there are four XLR connections (two male, two female), two 1/4” outs, and a 7-pin DIN plug for the external power supply. The XLR jacks are professional Neutrik connectors with two for mic input and two for output, balanced, while the 1/4” outputs are unbalanced. Both output jacks for each channel can be used simultaneously, eliminating the need for splitting further down the signal chain.
The AEA TRP is specifically optimized for use with passive ribbon, tube, and moving coil microphones in an age when most preamps tend to be geared towards the ubiquitous condenser microphones. This essentially means high gain, low noise, and no phantom power. The JFET amplifier delivers 83dB of gain that was designed to be as quiet as possible, enabling the use of low sensitivity microphones without unwanted noise. Even at high gain levels, the preamp remains surprisingly quiet with very wide bandwidth: 6Hz to 300kHz.
It is this low, low noise that is truly remarkable in this piece of equipment. At -130dB input noise, the TRP makes an excellent preamp for microphones that need low noise and high gain, such as passive ribbons. Coupled with the high impedance dynamic mics love and you have one of the best preamps for passive mics you can buy without breaking the bank. The high impedance is especially important when it comes to ribbon microphones since one generally wants the input impedance of a preamp to be at least five times that of the output impedance of the microphone. According to the specs on AEA’s site, the TRP has an input impedance of 18kΩ; to put this in perspective, most modern preamplifiers’ input impedance is somewhere around 2kΩ. Moreover, the lack of phantom power eliminates the need for DC-blocking capacitors, quieting the device. The TRP also includes circuitry that protects it from phantom power if it is detected along the input cable — this seems unlikely but can happen with mic splits if one isn’t careful.
Compared with the Zoom TAC-2R — another two channel preamp we’ve reviewed — the TRP is a more highly specialized piece of equipment. It doesn’t function as an interface (no computer connectivity) and instead focuses all of its energy on make ribbon mics sound good. The TAC-2R is more of an all-around workhorse sort of preamp/interface that does all things well, including extraordinarily low latency, but whose preamps don’t really compare to the TRP. Comparing these two devices is almost not fair, since TRP sounds far and away better with passive, dynamic mics but lacks the ability to interface with a computer. The TAC-2R, on the other hand, works great with the condenser mics commonly found in studios but really lacks the specialization required for ribbons. The TRP is something one would connect directly to the TAC-2R in order to capture the best possible sound from a ribbon.
Pairing a quality mic like the AEA N22 with the AEA TRP preamp would be over the top (especially since the N22 has a built-in preamp), but if you already have a collection of other ribbon mics without built in phantom power the AEA TRP will suit you just fine. At under £850-£900 in the UK, it’s not exactly cheap but if you’re serious about running your studio as a professional, the price is well worth it if you often use ribbons for recording. And with two mono channels, you can hook up a stereo pair of ribbons to make a Blumlein Pair, preserving the spatial characteristics of your recording in the highest possible quality.
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[The TRP] is destined to become a first choice preamp for engineers who use ribbon mics with quiet sources
With such a smart blend of technology, it’s difficult to tell where the beauty of the ribbon microphone experience ended and the preamp began, but the unit’s lack of coloration and built-in features more than kept up with—and perhaps exceeded—the quality of the microphones I used
The AEA TRP is an impressive preamp whichever way you look at it.
I thought I had sworn off buying new preamps, but the AEA TRP is clearly a must-have to supplement my mic closet.
Gain at 1kHz: 83 dB of gain at 1 kHz
Noise figure: -130 EIN noise figure
Db at 300 kHz: -3 dB at 300 kHz
Input impedance: 18 kΩ
phantom power: No phantom power
Color LEDs: Green and Red LEDs indicates channel level
Balanced XLR: Balanced XLR +4 dBu, and Unbalanced 1/4- inch -10 dBV outputs
Switched Gain and Continuous Level Controls
Phase reverse and high-pass switches
Anodized gray and black matte finished aluminum
Laser engraved legends and single line schematic
External power supply for minimum noise
Size: Half-rack wide, one rack unit high (8.5″ x 8.5″ x 1.7″)
Weight: Two pounds, plus power supply is (1.5 lbs.)