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Meris 440 500 Series Microphone Preamp Review

TL;DR:

Meris 440 Review. The optimised for guitar 440 may be Meris' first venture in the realms of professional audio, but it is a killer microphone preamp that is built upon experience and it easily holds its ground up against some of the greats.


Review Preface:

Founded in early 2014 by Los Angeles engineer Terry Burton and accompanied by Angelo Mazzocco, Meris is headed by a friendly duo dream team that is serious about uniting art and engineering. With an impressive previous DSP and analogue history that spans, Line 6, Strymon, ToneCore, Eddie Van Halen, Dweezil Zappa, just to name a few, Meris is an experience rich brand that has an exciting history to come. In fact recently they released their first product; the 440 500 series microphone preamp optimised for guitar performances, although it is not just limited to this choice of instrumentation.


Unboxing:

Having watched the 440 YouTube overview and checked out the Meris website, it is clear to see that creative director, Jinna Kim, has done an excellent job at creating a slick brand image that runs like a vein throughout their promotional materials. The external packaging for the 440 is no different. Adequately protected during shipping, but with minimal environmental impact from wastage, the 440 arrives in style. Needless to say that as this is a 500 series unit, no other accessories are present, but the user manual is available to download from the Meris website. It is important to say that the Meris 440 conforms to API 500 Series specifications and is compatible with most 500 Series power modules including the API Lunchbox, Vermilion Audio ION 8, and Lindell Audio 503 Power.


Build Quality and Features:

With a smooth cream enamel faceplate and black printed details the boutique yesteryear styled 440 looks gorgeous. Hand built in Los Angeles the 440 feels reassuringly sturdy in most areas with the minor exception of the plastic output potentiometer cap which has come loose off the stem (this is most likely a limited issue that could be overcome with longer thread screws). Other notable artefacts are that the potentiometer resistance feels nice and smooth whilst all other front panel switching options have been well placed and finally the chrome flick-switches are secured well to the chassis. Based upon these findings, it is my assumption that the Meris 440 physical controls can be used on an everyday basis without rapidly degrading.


Internally the Meris 440 uses very nice hand-wound steel Cinemag transformers on the input (Cinemag CMMI-8-PCA) and output (Cinemag CMOQ-2S) stages and discreet operational amplifier integrated circuits (IC’s). Importantly the input and output transformers are based on the AP2622 (input) and AP2503 (output) which are used within the legendary API 312 preamp, so without actually listening to the output you can have some idea that Meris may have opted to base the 440 on an legendary ‘American’ tone. To wrap up, the onboard soldering appears to be faultless across all components. Throughout the analogue signal path, Meris have used premium components in the form of electrolytic Panasonic capacitors, Nichicon film capacitors, ON Semiconductor(s), ST operational amplifiers, Analogue Devices operational amplifiers, and Neutrik terminals.


Below the faceplate switching options lies a send and return ¼” input/output path. Besides from this being a convenient placement, the I/O allows an efficient post-effects loop for a cleaner more accurate recording tone without the need for an in-the-box solution, which rarely matches the original technology, or cumbersome and costly traditional DSP rack options. Thankfully the intelligent routing of this option in the signal path means that the effects won’t overdrive or clip, that’s how a cleaner signal is partially obtained. However, this routing option doesn’t just have to be limited to DI instruments. In fact if you have various effects pedals then you can easily experiment with different choices of instrumentation for fun out-of-the-box avant garde effects. Regardless, this feature is convenient and advantageous in a critical production where tone shaping needs to be pure, without any means of distortion that can reduce the feeling of space or unduly thicken the ‘air’ in a mix.


On the faceplate there is two potentiometers present to control the input gain and output levels. By using both at different stages you can achieve different ‘saturation’ levels, although this is something that we shall revisit later on. Other features include a -20dB attenuation pad for hot input signals, a handy phase inverter switch for coincident pairing situations, and a phantom power switch with yellow LED indicator for your condenser microphones. Finally we come on to two other switchable functions. These are the 12db/oct high pass filter and high frequency boost shelf filter. The predetermined frequencies here clearly define why this preamp has been built for guitar performances as they are set at commonly boosted, or cut, frequencies in the box. The low pass shelving filter has three options; Neutral, 80Hz, or 200Hz , and the high frequency boost shelving filter is set at; Neutral, 4kHz, and 7kHz.


Performance:

With ultra low noise and 60dB of gain on offer, the Meris 440 is more than capable of driving your dynamics, condensers, and even ribbon microphones. Across the low to high-mid frequencies the Meris 440 exhibits full, moderately warming, tonal characteristics with a more open and defined top end that is not really crystalline in nature, but smoothly tapered, airy, more neutral than the lows, and synergistic. In fact the 440 represents the archetypal classic American tone that is best associated with legendary API 312 based preamps and, considering the retail price, the 440 is outstanding value for money. However if you demand a more aggressive harmonically rich tone, a tip is to heavily drive the input and lower the output gain. In no time you’ll have a thicker guitar presentation that works well to saturate the mix.


Unsurprisingly, right out of the box the 440 is an exceptionally good choice for guitar recordings. Not only does the natural characteristics of the preamp combine well with the ebb and flow of a guitar, but the filter options on the front panel make recording guitar instantly gratifying without the need for plugins. However, you should exercise some element of caution during tracking as hard recording them to your session will mean that you cannot undo them like for like. Regardless, these filters are perfectly positioned where you need them most. By adding a 7kHz boosting shelf you can accent the wiry precision top end details, but if you extend this from 4kHz you add a whole new level of sparkle and definition that feels right without having to do anything else. By implementing an 80Hz low cut filters on a bass guitar you can pave the way for the body of the kick to come through, however this is also used to address cabinets with a slack bass response. You may be familiar with cabinets that have this indistinct tone that just feels like a wash of mud casting a veil over the lower end of a mix, but the 440 can clear this up by simply engaging the 80Hz or 200Hz low cut filter. Each time this was used on our test tracks I found that these sculpting filters were invaluable to use on the fly and helped to define the mix.


Don’t think that the 440 is only good for recording guitar, the 440 is a versatile beast of a preamp that is every bit the contender for vocals, drums, and suchlike. With that 70’s classic American quality you have an excellent basis for smooth dynamic vocal performances with top end sparkle to sit forward in the mix. I also found that the 440’s performance on kick drums was punchy and weighty. With the correct balanced processes you can have an highly desirable bold outcome.


As a final note, I really would have loved to have access to a pair of 440’s. With a 440 stereo channel you have endless recording possibilities right there in your hands; the sky’s would be the limit. This really says it all, the Meris 440 is an incredible 500 series unit; one I have come to love and one that I would certainly recommend.


Review Conclusion:

The 440 may be Meris’ first venture, but if everything else is this good then they have an excellent future ahead of them. The 440 is a 500 series that represents outstanding value for money and is certainly something that I hope to keep hold of for a very long time. The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Meris 440 500 Series Microphone Preamplifier with a four-and-a-half rating.



Edd Harris

Edd Harris - 16th August 2014

US RRP (International): $549.00

Editors Rating:

Four and a Half Star Review
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