Buzz Audio MA-2.2

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The MA-2.2 was the first product to become commercially available from Buzz Audio back in 1993. The design goal of this preamp was to provide extreme clarity with no coloration for those who like to capture sounds in reality and manipulate the sound later in the mixing process. To this end we have achieved that goal. The very fast slew rate and wide frequency response of the MA-2.2 captures transients in full detail whilst remaining warm and cozy in the low end. The design is all discrete using our BE40 Class A amplifier modules and BE17 Class A local power supply regulators. The input is coupled via a stack of Wima film capacitors in place of the traditional transformer. All switching is via localized relays avoiding long signal paths to/from the front panel. Overall, the attention to detail is beyond reproach and sets the bench mark in how huge a transparent mic preamp should sound.

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As many of our users have discovered, the MA-2.2 sounds amazingly vibrant when recording acoustic guitar and percussion. It is equally at home on vocal duties and you will also be very surprised how good a kick drum can sound using this preamp. The MA-2.2 matches well with all microphones types due to the transformer-less low reactance input. The noise specification is within 1dB of the theoretical minimum possible and the internal frequency response is out to 1,000,000 hertz - even at full gain. Extraordinary transparent performance that never sounds "clinical".

Each channel has a switch for Phase Reverse, 20dB Pad, Output Mute, 48V phantom power and a high/low Input Impedance selection. There is also a Peak LED

As standard the MA-2.2 has an unbalanced output, avoiding the extra stage required for this function to keep the signal path as simple as possible. The unit can however be supplied or retrofitted with high spec Lundahl output transformers. When the transformers are fitted, the direct unbalanced output is still available on the rear panel via a 1/4" jack socket which lights when the MA2.2 output reaches +18dBu.

• Min Gain +16dB (-4dB with pad in)
• Max Gain +65dB
• Maximum Output Level +24dBu unbalanced.
• Frequency Response!
2Hz to 250kHz @ 20dB gain (-3dB).
20Hz to 250kHz @ 65dB gain (-3dB).
• Harmonic Distortion less than 0.008% 100Hz to 10kHz.
• Slew Rate typically 140 V/uS, @ +20dBu output level.
• Equivalent Input Noise -133.5dB A wtg, 150ohm source Z.
• Signal to Noise Ratio -74dBu A wtg, input shorted.
• Common Mode Noise Rejection 100Hz-80dB, 1kHz -80dB, 10kHz-70dB internal trims.
• Channel to Channel Crosstalk below noise.
• Input Impedance 3k ohms/1k2 ohms switchable.
• Indicators Peak Level @ +18dBu, Power On.
• Connectors Input-XLR3F, Out on 1/4" jack and XLR3M.
• Size 1 Unit rack mount
• Power requirements 230V/115V selectable.

Specifications are typical of a production unit and are subject to change without notice. 0dBu reference = 0.775 volts RMS

TypeSolid State Preamplifier
ChannelsDual Mono
CircuitSolid State
Inout transformer(s)None
Output transformer(s)None
Chassis1 U

My MA 2.2 review

Just wanted you to know that we have been using the Buzz (MA2.2 with Sowter output transformers) a lot in my studio to 2" tape and it is particularly fantastic on acoustic instruments. We have some old Martins and even though the studio is in my house (and we sometimes record acoustics in the kitchen because of the ceiling height and wood) we are getting world-class sounds, particularly with two Telefunken/Schoeps small condensers - delightful. Great work, anyone who tries to classify them as bland or sterile is deaf. Your fan in Tucson AZ!


    MA 2.2 review

    Our label works largely with classical solo instruments – especially guitars and piano on location - and the MA-2.2 has proved incredibly successful in this role. The transients are handled incredibly well and the sense of space captured is very impressive. Having used a variety of high-end preamps before in this role, the MA-2.2 has become my first choice for work of this type, providing massive clarity and detail without being overly clinical. Many congratulations on an excellent product.


      Sound on Sound magazine review

      The Buzz Audio SOC1.1 stereo optical compressor was reviewed in SOS May 2002, and I recall being impressed with its performance. The latest offering is a dual-channel microphone preamp using fully differential, discrete solid-state Class-A circuitry — the stuff of sonic legends.

      The MA 2.2 is a fairly conventional 1U rackmounting box, although it extends over 300mm deep and weighs enough to warrant rear support in a rack. The rear panel carries an XLR mic input and two outputs for each channel. One output is on a TRS quarter-inch socket, and the other on an XLR, but both are unbalanced as standard. The designer argues that this arrangement avoids an extra amplifier stage and maintains the shortest possible signal path. In most situations this works perfectly well — indeed my reference GML mic preamps have unbalanced outputs for the same reasons, and I've never had a problem, even when driving long output cables. Nevertheless, should a balanced output be required, it is possible to install line output transformers to balance the XLR output — the Lundahl 1517 transformer is specified and can be retrofitted by the user (if able to solder).

      Under normal conditions, signal and chassis grounds are linked, but an earth-lift switch on the rear panel can be used to separate them with a 10 ohm resistor to prevent ground loops. The mains inlet is the ubiquitous IEC with an integral fuse, and there is a voltage selector for 110V and 220V working.

      In Control

      The front panel is simplicity itself, with a classic look and feel. The controls are recessed, and comprise one red LED, five toggle switches, and a large rotary gain control, the whole set being repeated for the second channel. The first pair of switches activate a polarity reversal and a 20dB pad, and both introduce alarming splats on the output when operated. An overload LED is set to illuminate at +18dBu (6dB below the unit's maximum output level), but can be realigned to other thresholds if required. The large Gain control spans a range of 16-64dB and, although continuously variable, is detented to feel a like a rotary switch. On the opposite side of the gain control are three more toggle switches: Mute, Phantom, and an input impedance selector. The first two are self explanatory, and the last offers a choice of either a relatively high 3k ohm impedance, or a more conventional 1.2k ohm. The unit can also be specified with a 600 ohm (or virtually any other) input impedance option, more suited to vintage ribbon microphones, if required. At the extreme right-hand side of the unit is another toggle switch, this time to power the unit on and off, complete with blue LED. In addition to the output transformer and very low-impedance input impedance options, the unit can also be specified to have a higher maximum gain, or an electronically balanced output stage as an alternative to the transformer option.

      Internally, the unit is built to the best professional standards, using very high-grade components mounted on three PCBs, one for each channel and a third for the PSU. Daughter cards on the two audio boards carry discrete amplifier stages (two for the input side and one to drive the output) and local power regulation circuitry. The power transformer is mounted at the rear of the chassis behind the PSU circuit board, and steel dividers run the depth of the case between the boards. This not only increases the mechanical strength of the unit, but also minimises stray magnetic and electrical interference — internally, between the cards, and externally.

      The specifications quote impressive levels of distortion (better than 0.005 percent at 1kHz), common mode rejection (70dB), and bandwidth (20Hz-250kHz at 64dB gain). However, the noise performance seems poor at -74dB (no reference level, but A-weighted and with a shorted input), and the EIN figure is unusually high at -133.5dB (again, no reference and A-weighted, but with a 150(omega) source).

      Using the MA-2.2

      So much for the figures, the important question is: what does the MA 2.2 sound like? Fast is the word that first springs to mind — this is a very dynamic, detailed preamp, with a clean, neutral, and open character. It compared very well against my reference GML8304, especially at the bottom end, which is where most budget mic preamps fall down. The upper end seemed slightly smoother and a tad more extended on the GML (but there was very little in it), and the Buzz seemed to sound a little 'bigger' overall. The MA 2.2 is very quiet (despite the disconcerting specs) and seemed to cope with everything I threw at it very well. Close-miked vocals, acoustic guitar (including the challenging twelve-string test), and percussion were all captured very cleanly, with superb precision and detail, and the preamp gave them all a very slightly 'larger than life' quality.

      Using it to handle a simple stereo pair of Sennheiser MKH40 cardioids covering a chamber orchestra and small choir, I found it was capable of processing very complex signals accurately without adding any unwanted character of its own. The gain matching between channels also seemed exact. The gain range is more than adequate for any musical application, and the fine resolution between the detents allows precise stereo matching. It is wise to select the mute option before changing the polarity, pad or phantom switches, but the rest of the facilities are pretty much standard fare. However, the switchable input impedance offers the ability to change the character of some microphones in a subtle and often interesting way. I wouldn't like to say which setting is right for any particular mic, and not all seem to show a character change anyway, but it is a fun feature which adds the possibility of a little extra creativity and individuality.

      As it employs Class-A circuitry, the MA 2.2 tends to run fairly warm, so it would be a sensible precaution to ensure a good flow of air through the unit. Overall, this is a well-thought-out, high-performance product, which provides a very attractive alternative to the almost identically priced Focusrite Red 8 in the UK. It could also be short-listed with a number of other high-end units, including the more expensive GML8302, and the cheaper DACS Micamp and Amek DMA. If 'clean and detailed' is your thing, as opposed to 'thermionic warmth', check out this Buzz unit at your earliest opportunity.


        Tape op Magazine Review

        I first heard this two-channel preamp from New Zealand's Buzz Audio on 3D Audio's 3D Pre CD. Compared to other "clean" pres on the CD, the MA 2.2 sounded more real on the takes of male vocal mic'ed with an AKG C 414. With the MA 2.2, I heard a big sound with more air around the mic and a touch more life than with the other preamps. I also liked the low-end fullness and lack of harsh ring on an SM 57 mic'ed snare. Listening to it now in my own studio, I like the MA 2.2 for the same reasons. The Buzz aims to deliver what's really there, and it does so exceptionally well.

        The Class-A design has a wicked-fast slew-rate (140 V/µs), resulting in a very big and clear sounding box that never chokes on the source, even with the fastest transients. Keep in mind that this is a "clean" pre, so there are no harmonic additions a la tranny or tranny/tube designs. There are no transformers in this unit; and the output, like early Manley gear, is unbalanced. A Lundahl tranny balanced output version is available, but why bother-you don't need a balanced output. The noise floor is crazy low. Acoustic guitars sound great, letting me hear the mic and the guitar very well. Sure it has a slight sound, everything does, yet that sound is a very big and airy representation of what's around the mic. Words fail in describing transparency, yet this pre is something clear and still musical, that unlike many clean-team pres does not have any weird tonal happenings. The highs are very extended and the lows are very full, the mid is right there. Whadaya want!?

        I wanted to review this because generally, I'm not a fan of the "clean" pres. Many of them sound like sterile boxes, seeking perfection and losing musicality as they go with weird harmonic smack on certain transients and frequencies. These things get very messy in hard disk recording and are no blessing to tape recording either. The Buzz is without those artifacts. Some of the more "musical" clean pres are a bit thicker and more opaque. The Buzz balances musicality with clarity. It has almost a complete lack of a mid-resonant frequency smack and moves more air than other clean pres I've heard, which can be flat overall, or flat at some frequencies.

        The chassis and construction are of course very solid; and each unit is calibrated, inspected, and signed out by designer Tim Farrant before leaving the factory. The front panel has the usual phase and phantom switches, a mute switch, impedance switch, and minimal metering. The impedance switch moves the tone around, slimming the lows and adding a slight top end to most mics. The gain pots are 41-point detented. A -20 dB pad allows for more headroom, with no obvious tone loss. Some might complain about the lack of a TRS insert on the front panel, yet that would compromise the straight-wire design. You won't hear the strong color of trannies and tubes, and there is no vintage or reissue appeal either. The MA 2.2 is a new, clean sound, high up the clean-team ladder. The source and mic come through in a big way, and that can be a very good thing. If you seek a high quality mic pre with the least possible artifacts, you need to hear the Buzz.
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