On the surface this looks like a somewhat simple and dry preamp. 2 channels. Effects loop. Graphic eq. A few switches and such. Once you dig into the manual you realize the possibly versatility with this preamp. Yes, dialing this thing in is in reality the equivalent of driving a space ship, but this is Mesa and you shouldn't known that before you started.
Let's start with the clean channel. This is a bit less complicated than the lead. Basically it's a blackface circuit. It's best to treat it like that and take what you can get from it. Nice dark sparkly fender cleans are to be had here. Actually, besides maybe the Suhr 3 channel preamp, this is the best blackface cleans you will ever get from a preamp. That's really all there is to be said for the clean channel.
The lead side is another story. It's very versatile. If it weren't for the manual, many players would be lost. Using the graphic eq as well as the various switches you can go from a classic rick kind of crunch to a Mark II Kirk Hammett style high gain sound, to a more modern recto/mark IV petrucci thing.
I use it with a Peavey 50/50 power amp into a VHT 4x12. This amp is an odd fit in a lot of bands. It's not quite modern metal but it's not quite 80's hair either. It fits in great with 90's alternative. It can easily do the metallica thing. I expect a lot of people who use these don't spend much time on the clean channel which is a shame for how good it is. It's a stretch to say, but you can use this in a lot of situations. I have a friend who used one in a post rock band for years. If you do dream theater it can get that tone easy. It's basically a Mark clone after all.
This preamp isn't for everyone. But it's a darn good preamp. If you like American sounds, this is the preamp to get I think. Unless you have some huge budget. It won't do marshall or vox. But it will do fender and mesa without a hitch. The value is massive. Both channels alone are worth the price. Try changing the tubes around. They really do matter a lot.
The Mesa Boogie Studio Preamp is based on the classic Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ amplifier, but in the popular rackmountable form of the late 1980s. It's a tube preamp that takes up about two rack spaces and has 5 preamp tubes. It's got two channels, rhythm and lead, as well as the classic 5 band graphic EQ, onboard reverb, a high quality effects loop, recording outs and of course outputs to run to your power amplifier. When I owned it I paired it with the power amp that was included in the package... a late 1980s MosValve MV962 solid state power amp putting out 80 watts of power per side.
It's laid out very much like a classic Mesa Mark series amp and the controls react very much the same, so that's a great thing for people who have used Mesa amps before... they should be able to dial it in reasonably well if they have a good understanding of how Mesa's work.
Getting a good tone out of this rig was extremely simple for me, since I had previously owned a Mesa Mark III for over a year and was intimately familiar with how to dial in a Mesa Boogie Mark series amp to sound how I wished it to sound.
As stated above, there is two channels, rhythm and lead. It features a volume control that acts as a master gain between the two channels, a master volume control, treble, middle, bass and reverb controls. The lead channel has its own drive and volume controls, so it does act in a very similar way to the Mesa Mark III I owned previously, whereby there is a master volume (read: gain) control for the whole amp, as well as a master volume, but the lead channel also has its own drive and volume controls.
In addition, it has the standard 5 band graphic EQ and a switch to turn that on and off. There are also two switches on the bottom of the unit labelled lead fat and lead bright, and they act like the pull knobs on the older Mesa Mark series amps... they add gain and saturation, as well as some tightness.
I was using this rig with a myriad of Ibanez and Gibson guitars and was playing primarily eighties LA metal with a little bit of Petrucci esque prog thrown in on occasion. I would describe it as a fairly high gain unit for sure. The overall set of tones were very crystaline as well... very "hifi" and eighties sounding in nature.
Cleans had a very nice chime and jangle with both single coils and humbuckers. I didn't particularly find that it had much grit when you dug in a bit, so I found it to be a bit less versatile there. Overdriven tones had that classic searing Mesa sound. From classic LA metal tones to mid boosted, very smooth lead tones, I had no problem getting a good distortion sound out of the unit. Even using a solid state power amp and a cheap 4x12 cabinet, I was able to really enjoy the tones out of this preamp. It's a fairly flexible preamp in that you can go from very scooped mid tones to very boosted mid tones and it will sound excellent either way.
All in all I feel the Mesa Studio Preamp is a killer sounding, and fairly affordable way to get the Mesa Mark series tone. I sold it because I simply did not like hauling around a heavy and bulky rack case everywhere I went, so I opted to go back to a head and 2x12 rig. For the $300-$400 they seem to sell for used, they're a great deal, and paired with a nice tube power amp like a Mesa 2:90, I can imagine that they're even more stellar.
If I was to buy a rig like this again, I would opt for a Mesa Mark III or .50 Caliber head, simply because I don't like schlepping rack gear to and fro. However for a studio rig I would take this in a heartbeat... just so long as I didn't have to bundle it in a rack case to be moved around.
Those familiar with the earlier Boogie Mark series amplifiers, such as the Mark II and Mark III will be at home with the features of this preamp, including
- Rhythm and Lead channels with shared EQ
- Individual Lead drive and master
- Rhythm bright switch
- Lead bright and fat switches
- Stereo output with individual levels
- Recording outs
- Switchable Graphic EQ
- Spring reverb
- Ground isolation switch
As with any of the Mark series amplifiers, the initial learning curve can be a bit steep. The EQ settings affect each other over the range, so dialing your sound in properly is a bit of a balancing act. Dual drive pots can be a bit of a learning curve aswell, finding a good balance between saturation, feel, and low noise floor. The GEQ is very powerful, and offers great tonal shaping over the modes. Thanks to this, the shared EQ is not too big of a problem, as one can dial in the rhythm channel, and then use the GEQ to perfectly shape the lead channel. The ground isolation switch is also a great feature for quiet operation in most rack settings.
The Mesa Studio preamp sits between the Mark II and III tonally. The rhythm channel offers a very nice and shimmery clean, and breaks up nicely when pushed harder. The lead channel offers the high gain sounds that put Mesa on the map. The gain is smooth and fluid, even more so than the newer Mark IV and V models. Between the two drive dials, an insane amount of gain can be dialed, but this is not the reason for the design. Between these two, the perfect amount of both feel, and drive can be dialed in. The GEQ, as with most of the mark series, is the perfect compliment to the lead channel, and is the key to some of the more aggressive high gain sounds found in the design.
I love my studio preamp. It is more true to the original Mark tones than the recent iterations, and offers the sounds in a small and inexpensive package. Pair with your favorite power amp, and there are some GREAT tones available. For the most authentic Boogie tones, I recommend a Mesa power amp.
- What type of amplification (Tube,transistor,...)?
- How much power is delivered?
N/A, this is a preamp.
- What connection types are there?
More than you can imagine: inputs, outputs & loops all over the place.
Ins on the front & back...2 output channels with individual settings...footswitch...this is some serious piece of pro gear.
- What are the setting controls, effects?...
Not sure i can count that high...
5 band graphic EQ + 3 band regular EQ, volume, master, rhythm bright switch, reverb, lead drive, lead master, EQ IN/auto/off, lead mode, lead fat, lead bright, master out A, master out B.
10 rotaries + 5 EQ faders. Never seen anything like it.
- Is the general configuration/setup simple?
Yes, same settings as you're used to on an amp, plus some more than you just have to try...nothing tricky.
- Can you easily get a good sound?
Now this is trickier than expected cos you're tempted to fiddle around and the EQ is very powerful. But you can get good sound if you stop messing around, haha.
- Is the manual clear and sufficient?...
Mine was second hand and i never had the manual.
Some say this has the best clear sound ever when used via the direct out for recording. True that it sounds quite good.
The distortion when pushed to the max gives you that endless sustain you've always dreamt of when listening to Gary Moore...
But Mesa/Boogie sounds Mesa/Boogie. You'll probably love it but you might not. Try it!
In any case, the range of sounds you can obtain here is awesome, and we're talking top of the range here. This is no POD or Boss pedal, folks, this is IT.
I've not used this all that much simply because it hasn't been plugged in and it was easier to use the combo but when i did i was amazed every time.
It sounds like nothing else, that's what's great about it, and it's clean. If you're into metal or grunge you might not want this... :-/
If you want true class, get one of these, but if you want it to sound like it should beware that you should have a proper amp and a good cabinet to back it up. Plugging this into a combo won't do it justice.