The dbx 286s Mic Preamp/Processor provides outstanding value and professional quality audio in a 1U form factor. The 286s includes a single channel mic preamp with phantom power, compressor, de-esser, enhancer and expander/gate.
The dbx 286s retails at $225 but feels and performs way beyond that price point. The build quality is excellent with a metal case, integrated power supply and quality knobs with a good tactile feel. The controls have setting indents for easily dialing in each stage of the signal path. The LEDs provide enough feedback to understand how the signal is being processed and the layout is clean with a good flow.
We used the Shure SM7B with the 286s to see how it would handle this omnipresent mic in a professional broadcast setting. Could we achieve a similar sound using only the dbx 286s to something like a Daking Mic-Pre One with an FMR Audio 1773 insert and gate applied in post.
Well the Daking/FMR audio combination definitely sounds better as you would expect. It's beefier, sweeter and more analog sounding. It's just better. This is without any additional processing. However, the 286s all on its own sounds pretty darn good at about 1/4 the cost. To appreciate the differences you'll need studio quality headphones or monitors. For a non-critical studio applications and podcasts the 286s more than exceeds an acceptable level of quality.
Here is the SM7B, Daking Mic-Pre One and FMR RNC1773 combination
Here is the SM7B, dbx 286s with no external processing
The dbx 286s sounds excellent. It has plenty of gain to handle the needs of the SM7B without the need for an additional device such as a Cloudlifter. The compressor section works well to provide additional drive while taming the signal. The enhancer works well with very low settings, just a touch of the enhancer goes a long way to help provide a little sparkle. We prefer the high frequency enhancement versus the low frequency. The controls go to 10 (not 11) and we rarely ventured beyond 2-3. The expander/gate is really nice for limiting room tone is less than ideal conditions. This is great for eliminating the sound of a computer in the room or HVAC. For all of these controls it's very easy to dial in a setting and achieve broadcast ready results very quickly. The controls at extreme setting can be used to achieve some interesting effects as well.
The dbx 286s is hard to beat in terms of value for a quality mic channel, especially for podcasters where a little control and sweetening the signal is desired. It doesn't have the beefy sweetness of more expensive boutique mic pres like the Daking, and it's less attractive for musical performance and singing. So don't expect it to compete at that level. However, the dbx 286st offers convenient signal processing and excellent value in a single 1U space.
Visit dbx for more information and all the specs on the 286s.