The dbx 286s Mic Pre-amp Processor—A Sound Investment


For about the cost of a quality studio mic you can reduce hiss, prevent overdriving your mixer preamp and quiet your recording space with a single piece of hardware: the dbx® 286s mic pre-amp processor. I bought one about about six months ago, and I recently purchased a second one. I’m either very stupid or this is one damn good addition to my studio. Since I have college transcripts to counter the former, I’m sticking with the latter.

And Let Me Introduce My Guest, Hiss

At first I bought a 286s to solve a common problem. My dynamic microphones* didn’t have enough oomph to drive the preamps in my mixer. I wound up recording with the mic pre-amp gain nearly wide open. Sure it worked, if I considered hiss a part of my podcast.

I buy my audio gear through BSW, and as promised by my rep, the 286s cleaned up my audio. The unit has a variable-gain, ultra-quiet preamp that easily supplied enough output so that I could pull the mixer pre-amp gain way, way back. My voice came through distortion free and the hiss was no longer a guest on my show.

But Wait, There’s…Oh, You Know

The dbx 286s packs four must-have mic processing functions into one small package. Photo courtesy of dbx® Harmon.

The dbx 286s packs four must-have mic processing functions into one small package. Photo courtesy of dbx® Harmon.

Also a part of the dbx 286s package are the dbx OverEasy® compressor and the frequency tunable de-esser. Normally, I don’t like to pre-process my audio. I do the tweaking when I mix the show, because once I alter the mic audio at the source, I’m stuck with it. There’s no way to un-tweak it.

However, there’s a corollary to that. Once you drive your mic input (be it mixer or computer) to distortion, you’re stuck with that, too. With the 286s, I can gently dodge two potential input overload problems: peaks and sibilants. The compressor lets me back off the gain without losing low-volume moments in my snappy podcast patter. And, the de-esser keeps sensitive mics, the ones that make sibilants sound like the wind in a B-movie horror film, from driving my mixer crazy.

The Killer App of Mic Processing

It’s the Expander/Gate function that, to me, is worth every dime I paid for my 286s (both of them). If you’re not familiar with a gate, it’s job is to mute the output when the input falls below a certain (adjustable) level. The 286s’s gate is fast enough to operate in between words, without distortion and without chopping off leading syllables. With the separate threshold and ratio controls I can literally tune the gate to my needs. And, boy, do I have some needs.

My studio is quiet, but it’s not perfect. The first time I put on my earphones and switched on the 286s I had to look around to make sure I was still in the same room. The background noise vanished. When I spoke. my voice didn’t have the boominess it had before. The 286s almost completely eliminated the noise from a helicopter that decided to buzz the area, I presume looking for podcasters who weren’t using a one of these units.

The 286s is a great boon to my studio and an important part of my podcast sound. It also covers a multitude of the sins I’m heir to because I don’t have the money first-class soundproofing, $500 microphones and $1000 audio consoles.

At least not yet.

For more information, you can check it out on Amazon** or BSW. BSW may be slightly more expensive (they charge for shipping), but the sales reps are top notch and the technical and practical advice they provide more than offsets the few extra dollars.

Christmas is coming. Let Santa know you could use a dbx 286s. Maybe he’ll hear you. If you get one now, he certainly will next year.

*The 286s does not work with USB microphones. It requires an XLR or TRS connector on the mic cable. If you have a dual USB/XLR mic, you can use the XLR connection to the 286s.; however, you cannot plug the 286s into your computer’s usb port.

**I’m an Amazon affiliate. If you use the Amazon link and buy the 286s I do get a small commission, which does not affect the price you pay. I recommend BSW because, over the years, they’ve always delivered for me. If you purchase through them I’ll get a nice Christmas card next month.


Get Every Blog Post

Enter your address to receive every new post by email.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *