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Chameleon Labs 7602 MKII

Brandon Drury —  April 10, 2010

Chameleon Labs 7602 mKII mic preamp / EQ

Features

The Chameleon Labs 7602 MKII is a Neve 1073-style preamp / EQ combo. You get an 80dB mic preamp, a front switchable DI, and a 3-band, fixed bandwidth EQ with a high pass filter.

Bla bla bla. I hate repeating features that could be found here.

Cool Switching

I absolutely love the switching this thing. Yes, I know that no gear review site ever gives stars based on “switching” but I freakin’ do! The switch allows you to select between the DI input and mic input. This may sound like nothing, but I hate when you have to unplug the mic before recording the DI to avoid a preamp blending the two signals together. (I once had a cat meow in a drum room mic that totally screwed up a bass solo part! I HATE cats! Ironically, I always fight to leave the dog barks in.)

There is another switch on the preamp gain knob that allows you to select between the mic input and the Line In input. This is handy if you only want to use the EQ.

As boring as this may sound, I’ve found these well-thought-out features to be awesome in battle.

Mic Preamp With X-Mod Upgrade

I don’t find myself running out of gain much, but I’m positive I’ll never run out of gain on this thing. (Who cares about gain!) What’s the damn thing sound like?

First off, let me say I sprung for the X-Mod upgrade. So how does it compare to the normal version? You’ve got me. Oh well. Here we go.

Let’s just say the 7602 MKII has a permanent place in my preamp collection. I’ve fought with pres having a bit too much top end or too much sibilance sometimes. Compared with my Martech MSS-10, Manley TNT, or Great River etc the 7602 MKII is on the smoother, creamy side of the bunch. The top end is a just a hair tucked in a way that can be very desirable. In fact, this is a sound I’ve been looking for. It’s a very natural sound that I’m always hearing on recordings and never quite got right.

I found it to be very useful on really just about everything. I love it on kick and snare. It’s not my first choice for airy, poppy vocals that need that top end thing really going on (although if you EQ the hell out of it, you can still get there). On overheads, it really depended. If I want “sparkly” overheads this probably isn’t the preamp. On drums I found it really excelled when I wanted a thicker, meaty, darker kind of thing. “Darker” is a strong word here. Don’t get carried away. It’s just a little more reserved up top. It’s a little less crazy up there.

On high gain electric guitars, this thing is awesome for getting big ass sounds without a bunch of fizz up top. The preamps that do the mega pop girl vocal sound well tend to bring out a little more fizz than I’d want if using a dynamic mic on a guitar cab. This one controls all that top end stuff well which brings out the meat of the guitar sound. I found myself relying on EQ a bit when using my Royer R121 as the two together may have been a hair too dark for my tastes.

Overall, this mic pre is an excellent workhorse type pre without a lot of exaggerated stuff up top or bottom. It has character, but my Vintech 1272 is way more wild in the upper midrange harmonics than the 7602 MKII. I don’t consider this preamp to have the “Neve sound” necessarily. If you want that over the top kind of Neve thing, I think a person has to look elsewhere. With that said, the reason I like it so well is the fact that it contrasts my Vintech 1272 and Manley TNT so well. If I had to pick just one….hmmm….it would be a tough call.

DI

The 7602 MKII DI really screams on bass! It’s flat out perfect! I’ve been using my Manley TNT tube channel as my main bass DI, but the 7602 MKII has become my go to guy for bass. It’s awesome. The low end doesn’t get too out of control and the bass sits just how it should. They really got this part right. There are times when my Manley maybe has too much low end oomph in the wrong way. The 7602 is more controlled in a good way.

Sam, my bass idiostrummer in my ruckus unit and the dude who played on 99% of the Killer Home Recording: Bass stuff is a freak about tone. He’s been looking at getting a 7602 MKII and a power amp for his main bass rig. That out to tell you something!

EQ

The EQ on the 7602 is bad ass! It’s not the most feature filled EQ. It can’t come close to surgery (unless your surgery involves a crane and a giant swinging ball), but I have to say I don’t care.

So while I can’t cut 234 Hz and I can’t even change the width of the boosts and cuts I do make, this is the most powerful tonal tool I have in my arsenal. This EQ is just as effective (in terms of quality) as the Great River MEQ-1NV. This is a high end EQ! (It doesn’t have near the flexibility of the Great River, for whatever that is worth to you.) The EQ has that ability to fundamentally change the sound of the source track somehow in ways that none of my plugins seem to do.

Because of the fixed Q nature of this thing, I don’t even really consider it an equalizer. I think of it as more of a guitar amp. I play with low, mid, and highs and see what happens. I don’t use the algebra side of my brain. Not even close. I just chill out and have fun. A really drunk person with good hearing could use this EQ and come out just fine.

The 7602 MKII’s EQ is so awesome that I’ve convinced myself that I need this kind of tonal flexibility on every channel I’m tracking. I’m not sure how I’m going to afford that! The EQ on the 7602 prompted me to write this: http://www.recordingreview.com/blog/audio-engineering-principles/analog-eq/

Conclusion

I have no problem making the claim that the Chameleon Labs 7602 MKII with the transformer upgrade runs with the big boy preamp / EQ’s I own and have used. At $800, this thing isn’t exactly a budget piece of gear, but it’s pretty much half to 1/3 the price of anything similar. I’m positive that there is a point of diminishing return in there somewhere. In other words, at this price point, you get some really pro stuff for a hell of a price. It’s the “sweet spot” for gear purchases.

So if you aren’t quite ready to jump into the $2k+ preamp/EQ market, I urge you to take a look at this. I suspect you’ll be very happy. I know I am!

I’ll be reviewing the Chameleon Labs 7802 stereo tube compressor soon so keep an eye out.

Brandon

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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