Chandler Limited Germanium Mic Pre Amp by: Mike Caffrey Have ...

amountdollElectronics - Devices

Nov 2, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)


Chandler Limited

Germanium Mic Pre Amp

by: Mike Caffrey

Have you noticed how some manufacturers consistently hit home runs with their gear
designs? I think there are lots of things that manufacturers with this success rate have in
common: high standards,
good design and manufacturing discipline and the designer is
usually the owner of the company without the financial restraints put on them by a
marketing department. In my opinion, Chandler is one of these manufacturers. Another
thing I associate with Chan
dler is flavors of gear that no one else is making, such as the
EMI inspired line and the only rack mixer and summing box with transformers on every
input channel as well as the stereo out. In continuing that trend, the Chandler
Germanium mic preamp incorp
orates a few key design features that, as far as I know,
no other manufacturers do. And it is a very cool sounding preamp.

The first key feature is that the transistors are germanium rather than silicon. This is the
same germanium that you might be famil
iar with from guitar overdrive pedals.
Germanium transistors were used in the EMI TG12345 preamps, the earliest Neve
preamps (such as the 1057), and some of the early Telefunken and Fairchild designs.
While the 1057 was used as a reference during the desig
n stage, the Chandler
Germanium is not a clone.

Germanium transistors are desirable for their sonic properties, often described as
smooth, round, and organic. They tend to distort in a pleasant manner and are less brittle
sounding than silicon transistor
s. The drawbacks are that germanium transistors are
temperamental, hard to work on, and they can be very noisy. With a lot of trial and error
and once a good source for high
tolerance germanium transistors was found
Chandler managed to make the G
ermanium their quietest mic preamp yet. It also ended
up with the highest headroom of any Chandler preamp. It clips at +34 dBu, which is
much higher than the input of any current digital converter. (In comparison, the 1057
clips at +22 dBu).

The second k
ey feature is the Feedback knob in place of a standard output knob. In
general, negative feedback works by taking a little bit of the signal at the output and
subtracting it from the signal at the input
the primary effects being reduced distortion,
r frequency response, and lower output impedance. Secondary effects include
increased damping factor, reduced volume, and a more sudden transition from clean to
distorted. On the Germanium, as you turn the Feedback knob clockwise, you’re
increasing the fee
dback series
resistance and therefore decreasing the amount of
negative feedback. Less negative feedback means more total output, more second
harmonic distortion, less highs, and a low
end bump at 30 Hz. In use, the Feedback
knob functions as a texture con
trol. Setting the Feedback knob in a low position makes
the signal more linear, giving it a tighter, more defined sound
similar to the pristine
clarity heard on a well
made digital recording. With the Feedback knob in a higher
position (with less feedback
), the sound gets smoother in a very pleasing way that’s
hard to describe. I could “feel” it while playing a bass through the Germanium; the
reduced feedback had a very nice effect on my playing.

How does it sound? In two words: shizzly dizzly! (That mea
ns great for those without
the 2005 edition of the Hipster Dictionary). It has its own tone. If you use Neve and API
as common reference points, I’d say that it can sound like both depending on how you
set the Feedback. With the knob in the 9 o’clock to 11

o’clock range, it has that punchy
fast slew
rate vibe of the API. When you turn it up, it’s more of the classic Neve vibe.
However, throughout all this, its fundamental tone is big and round. (Keep in mind
these are reference terms. You’re not actually ch
anging the slew rate.)

My first session use with the Germanium was on vocals. I used an RE20 (for its
rejection capabilities) to cut vocals in the control room with the monitors up. I followed
the Germanium with a compressor and didn’t need EQ. The tone
was beautiful and
inviting. Overall, the project was recorded and mixed really well, but the most common
feedback (no pun intended) I got from listeners was how nice the vocal sound was and
how “well recorded” the vocals were. I can’t say that it was only
due to the preamp, but
I have a pretty specific approach to what I do with rock vocals, and this was the only
variable that I had changed.

From there, I experimented with a ’69 P
Bass. The Germanium is equipped with a
switch labeled Thick that adds a gen
tle rise in the low
end, but I didn’t need that feature
at all. With that in, the sound was just too fat. I started playing with the Feedback
control, and it quickly became clear how it changed the tone. But more significantly, it
changed my playing. At fi
rst I thought it was my imagination. I found that with the
Feedback knob turned clockwise, I’d get totally lost in my playing and forget about
testing. I was playing with more effective touch and more balanced dynamics, and I’d
end up playing cool things t
hat I wouldn’t normally play. [Um… Mike, what did you
bring back from Amsterdam?

AH] When I turned the Feedback knob
counterclockwise, that feeling would go away. Just to be sure, I forced myself to play
the exact same thing the exact same way with both
settings, and that made it very clear
how it was changing the texture of the tone. The less feedback (the “higher” the knob),
the softer and more pleasing the sound. It wasn’t soft in a lack of punch sense. It just
felt less stark and like it was compresse
d slightly
which, if it’s adding second harmonic
distortion, makes sense.

From there, I tried it on guitars, using a Beyerdynamic M 160. I compensated for the
ribbon’s darkness by running the Germanium into a TG Channel MKII for some EQ.
The result was
amazing. The sound was rich and very colorful (as opposed to how
sometimes things sound black and white
I don’t know how else to describe it.
Feedback had the same effect on texture as it did on bass, and I found I liked the knob
set high to smooth out cl
ean tones and a little lower for distorted tones. Doubling with
two different Feedback settings could be a nice way to provide some contrast between
the two performances.

On guitar, the Thick switch was amazing. My first impression was that it was a low
boost, but I was monitoring with a subwoofer, and somehow, with this big thick bump,
it didn’t add a lot of low end mud. It had an effect on the midrange as well, making it
denser. I found myself using the Thick switch most of the time for guitars and also

when recording snare drums. I had great results on a Rhodes, but it was torture deciding
whether I liked the Feedback up or down.

After starting to think of the preamp as a “texture designer” as well as a signal
amplifier, I decided to try running the s
tereo buss through a pair. Again, it really
sounded great. We had been listening to a really nice sounding monitor mix all night
while tracking to tape. I engaged the Germanium’s pad switches and ran the mix
through with Feedback knob all the way up, and I

immediately noticed that more
colorful vibe. Putting the Thick switch in gave the mix a boost of power. When I
switched back to the original, I was surprised at how bland it sounded, especially
considering how happy we’d been with it all night. I tried th
e same thing again after we
transferred through RADAR Nyquist converters into Pro Tools. Running mixes through
the Germanium helped make up for the little bit of depth and openness that was lost as a
result of the analog to digital transfer. I’m not intend
ing to say that it sounds like tape,
but the preamp’s natural tone and “texture designer” capabilities had a really nice effect
on the mix of the digital tracks. I found myself liking aspects of both texture options
Feedback up and Feedback down.

l, I think the Germanium is a really great preamp, and it stands out from the
crowd because of its unique design and its many sonic possibilities. I lean towards using
it with the Feedback knob up because I don’t have anything else
nor have heard

that sounds like that. I’m very curious what it would sound like to track
en entire song just with Germanium preamp with the Feedback knob all the way up,
except for an individual track or two (like vocals) that you want to highlight in the mix
., make the track stick out with the definition that you get with the Feedback control
set low rather than with volume or EQ). I also like the fact that the Germanium has uses
beyond a mic preamp. With its great sound, design, and versatility, and a street

price of
$1050, I think it will quickly become a staple in all ranges of studios.

Mike Caffrey,