Analog Obsession - My Personal Obsession with the 2108

"The whole look, feel, vibe and sound of the Universal Audio 2108 Dual Mic/Instrument Preamplifier says “rock” to me."
-Barry Rudolph, Mix Sept. 2002

While our exploration of various compressors is not over, those of us who put the Webzine together felt it was time to broaden the scope of the column to include all audio tools that do not require a computer to use. Analog Obsession may feature any audio tool worthy of examining, new or vintage- it just has to sound good, do something unique, and be an all-around cool piece of gear!

Tube vs. Solid-State
I’m excited that our 2108 Solid-State mic pre is my first outing into the subject of preamps, because the 2108 happens to be my favorite piece that UA currently makes. I consider the 2108 our “sleeper” product, due to its relative obscurity compared to UA’s 610 tube incarnations (2-610, M610, 6176). I never tire of singing its praises. In fact, I’ve appointed myself UA’s in-house 2108 evangelist for shedding light on this sometimes overlooked gem.

Solid-state preamps are sometimes perceived as inferior to tube preamps by the undereducated, and this is unfortunate. The common misconception is that “tubes are better”; when really a good preamp (or any audio device) is all about intelligent design and quality components. Obviously there are sonic differences between designs, but those differences might make a specific design the perfect choice for your personal taste, or a given application.

"The 1108 (now the 2108) FET Preamp is a superb design by any standard that is still being produced to rave reviews."
-Paul McManus, in an open letter to Mix Jan. 2004

Our Unique Solid-State Design
The Universal Audio 2108 is a two-channel discrete, Class A solid-state microphone preamplifier, based on the legendary Universal Audio 1108.
Its features include dual hi-z instrument inputs, dual impedance selection for the mic pre and instrument inputs, phantom power and phase reverse. The 2108 also features a dual gain design, with Gain and Level controls with each channel, as well as a unique multi- colored LED jewel light for input and output metering. In addition, the 2108 comes with an outboard power supply, giving the unit an incredibly low noise floor.

“This (1108) UA console preamp is the best pre-amp ever built! It is great it in every respect. Detail, fullness, fatness, high end, low end, midrange, snarl, everything!"
-Richard Kaplan, Indigo Ranch (Neil Young, Moody Blues, etc.)

The History
The 1108s were exquisitely designed, widely used single-stage modular preamps made for consoles, and were created by Bill Putnam; Simple in design, but highly effective. Input and output transformers are used, connections are available for modular EQ such as the UA 508 EQ. This amp design became the basis for the 1176, which utilized the same output transformer. Interestingly, the 1108 has probably been used on many more classic recordings than the 610, due to its broad popularity.

1108 Channel Module
"We were blown away when we plugged in our 1971 Telecaster. The sound was a perfect reproduction of early 70's British guitar rock, a la Marc Bolan."
-Fett, Performing Songwriter Dec. 2002

It Rocks
I find the 2108 the best choice in my pre-amp arsenal for “Rock” instruments. Although the 2108 can achieve ultra-quiet, clean, uncolored amplification, what I really like about the 2108 is the dual gain feature. I think its biggest strength is when used in a Rock and Roll context, with the Gain in saturation. Electric guitars and basses come to life with amazing power and dimension; the same goes for drums; especially snares, toms, and even kick. I find the 2108 particularly well suited to dynamic mics, giving even the cheapest mic tons of life.

Why It Rocks
While the original 1108 had only one gain stage, UA's analog designers added a multi-impedance J-FET input stage. Those FETs are used in a cascode arrangement, the fantastic result being a very pleasing solid-state saturation: Similar to a Neve, but perhaps more deliberate. This gives the 2108 a myriad of tone control--all with no tubes and no EQ. With the dual gain control, the 2108 functions similarly to a guitar amp. For beautifully rich, thick solid-state harmonic content, click up the gain knob until Rock and Roll nirvana is obtained!

I just got a call from Chuck Ainley, who has been getting a lot of use from his 2108 these days on his current work with guitar-hero Mark Knopler, particularly on Mark’s extensive choices of electric guitars and amps. Looks like he’s honing in on the special niche the 2108 fills.

“The 2108 is a cool box with a lot of character; it has a lot of ‘nose’, I like the forward sound. I’ve been trying it on other sources as well, like bass amps and room mics.”
-Chuck Ainley

In closing, I’d like to share with you my most cherished review quote ever bestowed upon a UA product. I think it sums up what you might be missing without a 2108 in your rack!

“When I first ran kick and snare through this preamp I just about shit my pants.”
-Larry Crane, Tape Op Sept/Oct 2002

-Will Shanks
Special thanks to Richard Kaplan

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