Sonic Farm Creamer
Sonic Farm Creamer
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Sound On Sound : Est. 1985
In this article:
Signal Path
Readers' Adverts
Sonic Farm Creamer
Dual­channel Valve Preamplifier
Reviews : Preamp
Sonic Farm Creamer
500­series Microphone
Preamplifier & Equaliser
Published in SOS May 2013
Neve’s venerable
1073 preamp and
Printer­friendly version
equaliser are both
now available in
API’s popular
‘Lunchbox’ format. Were they
worth waiting for?
Four distinct operating
modes and tonalities.
Deliberately but creatively
'dirty' sounding.
Subtle but useful EQ options.
Wide range of input
impedance options.
Great sounding instrument
Unusual but very pleasing on
the ear!
Not all control functions were
as described in the manual.
Unusual gain structuring —
although, to be fair, that's
more an observation than
a 'con'!
Cloud Microphones
In­line Microphone
Do these in­line
mic preamplifiers
mean you can use
a passive ribbon
mic with any
With user­configurable valve stages, the option of transformer­coupling and more Slate Pro Audio Fox
besides, Sonic Farm's preamp provides a broad palette of tonal options.
| Media
Hugh Robjohns
Canadian manufacturers Sonic Farm are based in Vancouver, but founders Zoran Todorovic and Boris Drazic met when
they formed a band in 1966 in (the former) Yugoslavia. After a decade building and running their own studios, the civil war
The Creamer Plus is an
drove them to independent ventures in America and Germany, before being reunited in Canada in 2009. The company
unusual preamp that has
philosophy is "to do whatever helps get the right tone, without giving in to any hype”, and they are very happy to use valves,
been skilfully designed to
transistors or op­amps provided that "the results are subjectively remarkable”. It sounds like a very good plan to me! Sonic
introduce variable musical
distortion that can enhance
Farm currently make three products: a valve DI box (2DI4), a stereo line­level conditioner (Creamliner), and the Creamer
the sonic character of virtually mic preamp.
any source. The controls are
unfamiliar, but afford a wide
range of tonalities when
Creamer standard model
$2150; 'Plus' model $2650.
Prices exclude shipping.
Sonic Farm +1 310 402
[email protected]
SOS Readers Ads
of Second­User Gear for sale
now — don't miss out!
Neve 1073LB &
1073LB EQ
The Creamer was designed specifically to introduce creative coloration to microphone signals through hybrid technology,
carefully blended to form a cohesive but versatile whole. Deliberately coloured preamps provide an antidote to the
perceived 'sterility' of digital recording, but there's 'good coloured' and 'bad coloured'. The trick, of course, is to find the right
blend of properties that delivers subjectively 'good' sound colorations. The Creamer is based on a configurable valve circuit
(triode or pentode) with an input transformer, a solid­state buffer, and selectable solid­state or transformer output coupling, a
combination that allows the sonics to be shaped in four distinct ways.
Available in two primary forms, the Creamer Plus model incorporates dedicated rear­panel transformer­coupled line inputs
and some additional tone­shaping EQ options, which are omitted from the Standard version. The red front panel of both
units is distinctive and attractive, with white­edged black ovals denoting the two channel sections, and clear white labelling.
The controls for each channel comprise eight sturdy push buttons, five miniature toggle switches, and a shiny chicken­head
Signal Path
Mic and line inputs are connected on rear­panel XLRs, and unbalanced instrument inputs are via front­panel quarter­inch
jacks. A Line/Inst button selects the line input unless an instrument is plugged into the front socket (this button is labelled Hi­
Z in the Standard version). Phantom power is also switched from the front panel, as is a 15dB pad for the mic input. The
latter plays an important role, as the input signal level affects the sound character of the Creamer's valve gain stage.
An oversized 1:10 ratio Cinemag mic­input transformer is employed for its high saturation threshold as much as its sound
character, while the line input uses a separate 1:1 transformer. The instrument input goes directly to the valve, with an input
impedance of 2.2MΩ.
The mic transformer normally provides 20dB of gain, but a front­
panel button, labelled +6dB, reconfigures its windings to drive
the valve a little harder, if desired. The side­effect of this
reconfiguration is that it simultaneously decreases the
impedance by a factor of four and, since the Creamer offers
The rear panel sports separate line and mic inputs on balanced
three input impedances from a front­panel toggle switch
XLR connectors. When purchasing, the customer can specify
anyway, there are six impedance options in total. The nominal
a 110 or 240 volt PSU, for US or EU use, respectively.
options are 900Ω (low), 2.4kΩ (medium) and 10kΩ (high) as
standard, while engaging the +6dB mode provides 225Ω, 600Ω and 2.5kΩ instead. Selecting the input pad fixes the input
impedance at about 2.5kΩ. Different input impedances affect the tonality of most dynamic and some transformer­output
capacitor mics, so this can be thought of as another creative tone­shaping tool.
An EF86 (low­noise pentode) valve fixed­gain stage operates in Class­A with negligible negative­feedback, and the circuit
is switchable between triode and pentode configurations for different distortion characteristics. With minimal negative­
feedback, the inherent non­linearity produces quite significant amounts of distortion — which is all part of the intended
musical coloration. In triode mode, it provides a modest 14dB of gain, rising to 21dB in pentode configuration. However,
a 'Gain Up' button bypasses the valve's cathode to increase the gain by 4.5dB (triode) or 9dB (pentode), and in the Plus
model the cathode circuitry also includes switchable inductors and capacitors to provide two gentle LF (Fat) and two slightly
stronger HF (Air) shelf boosts. The Fat settings deliver boost from 400Hz or 600Hz, while the Air boost is from 2.2kHz or
7kHz. The amount of boost is normally 4.5dB in the triode mode and 9dB in pentode mode, but these can be reduced via­farm­creamer.htm
Dual­channel Microphone
Test plots to
accompany the
Cloud Microphones
Audio Examples
Audio files to accompany the
Slate Pro Audio Fox
Dual­channel Microphone
With two channels
and four ‘flavours’
on offer, Slate’s mic
preamp promises
plenty of flexibility.
Does it also deliver on quality?
Neve 4081
Four­channel Microphone
Neve believe that
there’s scope to
bring classic
designs up to date
— and that’s
exactly what they’ve done
here, taking their revered 1081
mic preamplifier as the starting
Radial Tonebone PZ
Acoustic Instrument
James Dunkley is
on the case of the
Radial Tonebone
PZ Preamp.
Drawmer HQ
Preamplifier & D‑A
Can a preamp and
D‑A converter
straddle the pro­
audio and hi‑fi
markets? Drawmer believe it
Studio Projects
Microphone Preamplifier
This hybrid mic
preamp can go
from solid‑state
clean to valve
warmth — and for
a surprisingly low price, too. Is
Sonic Farm Creamer
internal trim pots if required. Setting the Fat and Air toggle switches to their midway positions provides a flat response, and
this EQ is also disabled when Gain Up is selected. The line and instrument inputs provide up to 13dB of gain in triode or
20dB in pentode modes, and unity gain is achieved with the level knob at about 12 o'clock and 10 o'clock, respectively.
A continuously variable attenuator sets the level feeding the Cinemag output transformer or discrete complementary­
transistor balanced output driver, the rear­panel line output being derived from one or the other via a front panel push­
button. The Plus model I received for review was equipped with an extra toggle switch, marked 0 and +6dB on the review
model, that was supposed to reconfigure the output transformer. The manual claimed that it provided an additional 6dB of
gain on the transformer output, but in fact it delivered a whopping 16dB boost regardless of the output mode selection. As
we were going to press, Sonic Farm told me that they've revised this on current production models, so that this switch
instead offers 0, ­6 and ­12dB attenuation, which seems more useful. The output transformers fitted in the review model
('Creamer A') had Ni­Fe cores, but a steel­cored option ('B') is available, or you can have one of each in the two channels
('AB'). The final push­button implements a polarity reversal at the output.
there a catch?
Dave Hill Designs
Europa 1
Microphone Preamp
This novel preamp
design features a
variable impedance
and slew rate —
which opens up a
whole new world of possibilities
from your mic locker...
MC AudioLab TP1tp
Valve Microphone Preamp
Can Sicilian
manufacturers MC
AudioLab bring a
touch of
magic to your recordings with
their new boutique preamp?
Overall, the maximum possible gain is a mammoth 74dB in pentode mode and 60dB in triode mode (this remains the same
on the version with the reassigned toggle switch), while the minimum (with the level knob fully up and only the pad selected)
is 25 and 18dB, respectively. The rotary level knob allows the signal to be faded out completely, if required. The overload
LED comes on with a mic input (pad selected) of an impressive +21dBu for the triode mode, and +4dBu for the pentode
mode, but by then the output is +29dBu with around two percent harmonic distortion! The maximum rated output is actually
Manley MicMAID
+22dBu, at which level there is around 0.7 percent distortion, while with a more typical +10dBu output the THD+N figure is
Mic & Preamp Switcher
The patchbay
nearer 0.2 percent. In general, the pentode mode contains more higher­order odd harmonics than the triode mode. Signal­
remains the
noise ratio was 108dB (A­weighted) and the noise floor averaged ­82dBu.
Just to complete the front panel description, a bi­colour LED
provides simple level metering, showing gain­stage overload
(red), and a progressively brighter signal­present indication
(green), which starts to illuminate about 43dB below the
overload level. A blue LED next to the Tube Mode button
indicates the presence of the heater supply voltage, and serves
as a power­on light. A large, round mains­power rocker switch is on the right of the front panel, while the rear carries an IEC
mains inlet, fuse holder and ground­lift switch. The unit is wired for 115VAC or 220­240VAC mains supplies at the factory,
and overall power consumption is given as 30W.
The Creamer provides four distinct operating conditions: triode or pentode, with solid­state or transformer outputs, plus
options to vary the drive level into the valve and into the output transformer. A lot of valve preamps are 'one­trick ponies', but
the Creamer offers several genuinely useful and distinct tonalities. The pleasing pentode coloration retains a sense of
natural presence and detail, while sounding a little brighter, with a tad more transient emphasis, than the triode mode,
although the latter still sounds immediate, clear and very musical. Selecting the output transformer adds a little more 'iron'
and weight to the sound, providing a useful alternative to the solid­state output, although it is sensitive to the load
impedance (as all transformers are).
This isn't what anyone would call a 'clean' preamp: it's not like a GML or a Grace Design, not even at the gentlest settings —
but it is always wonderfully appealing and musical, adding a relaxed sense of life and character to every source. The more
I used this preamp and compared it with my familiar references, the more I became aware that transients seemed to be
enhanced in a subtle but interesting way, too — probably because of the minimal negative feedback. Electric guitars and
keyboards (miked or DI'd), percussion, drums, voices — everything took on a pleasing, larger­than­life character and
became somehow more satisfying and organic.
Using the Creamer Plus as a mix­bus 'processor' was remarkably beneficial, too, as it introduced a lovely character and
body to DAW mixes — and with so much headroom on the mic input (and a 10KΩ impedance option), you even have the
choice of line or mic input transformers too!
In short, then, I was genuinely impressed with the tonal versatility and musical quality of Sonic Farm's Creamer Plus and, if
you want a high­quality preamp with a flexible character, I can highly recommend it.
cornerstone of
most commercial
studios, but using
one to patch mics into different
preamps can be risky —
which is where the MicMAID
comes in...
T­Rex SpinDoctor
Valve Preamplifier
Is a high­quality
valve preamp in a
pedal just what the
BAE 1073 MPF
Dual Solid­state Preamp
There are now
several Neve
preamps available
— but theyre not
always 100 percent faithful to
the original design. How close
does this new contender from
BAE come?
Focusrite Octopre
Eight­channel Microphone
With upgraded mic
amps and A­D
conversion in their
MkII versions, do
Focusrites latest
eight­channel preamps still
lead the way at this price
Empirical Labs EL9
The UK price of the Creamer Plus places it in direct competition with the likes of the Thermionic Culture Rooster and
Demeter VTMP2C valve preamps, as well as the solid­state Phoenix Audio DRS2 and Buzz Audio MA2.2 preamps.
Technical Measurements
During the course of his review tests on the Sonic Farm
Creamer, Hugh used an Audio Precision Analyser to take
a number of measurements. Some of the plots are shown
Microphone Preamplifier &
Empirical Labs,
purveyors of some
of the most
around, apply their dynamics
expertise to a mic preamp.
Benchmark MPA1
Dual­channel Microphone
Benchmark strive
to make their
products exactly
that: something
against which the
competition should be judged.
So how does their new preamp
measure up?
A set of frequency plots showing the relative gains and
responses for pentode (green) and triode (orange) modes. In
each set, the lowest curve is the minimum gain (with the rotary
control fully up), and progressively higher curves obtained by
engaging the 6dB input transformer option, Gain Up mode, and
output 6dB option.­farm­creamer.htm
Dual­channel Microphone
AEA have tweaked
the design of their
TRP ribbon­mic
preamp, already
something of a
favourite, to create a device
thats much more versatile —
and without compromising on
Sonic Farm Creamer
A­Designs Pacifica
Two­channel Microphone
Striking a useful
balance between
the transparent
and the
characterful, this
high­quality, US­made preamp
design brings versatility to the
studio and some colour to the
PreSonus DigiMax
A wide bandwidth plot showing the overall response of the
Creamer Plus, along with the two high­pass filters.
Eight­channel Mic Pre & A­D
Presonus combine
their respected
analogue and
digital technology in
this affordable
ADAT­equipped preamp.
SPL Rackpack
Modular Preamp &
Processor System
Performance Lab
have developed an
enviable reputation
for their hardware
products, and now you can
buy more for less with their
modular rack system.
The frequency responses (on an exaggerated amplitude scale)
of the two FAT and two AIR EQ modes.
Audient Mico
Dual Microphone
With two channels
of mic preamp, a
control, digital
outputs and clean
signal path, the Mico offers
you an awful lot of Audient for
the money.
Universal Audio
Twin­finity 710
The balance of distortion product harmonics at 0dBu output
level in pentode mode, producing around 0.1 percent THD.
This has noticeably stronger higher odd­order components
than the equivalent triode mode plots.
Hybrid Microphone
Which is best, tube
or solid state?
When it comes to
investing in a
preamp, thats a
question you may no longer
need to ask...
Golden Age Project
Pre 73
Microphone Preamplifier
This highly
affordable device is
based on the
circuitry used in
Neves legendary
1073. So can you really get a
classic vintage preamp sound
on a budget?
Arsenal Audio R20 &
Microphone Preamplifier &
This new brand by
revered high­end
manufacturers API
The balance of distortion product harmonics at 0dBu output
is much more
level in triode mode, producing around 0.1 percent THD.
affordable than their
established lines. So there
Published in SOS May 2013 must be a catch, right?
Grace Design M201
Microphone Preamplifier
Regular readers
will know that our
Technical Editor
isn't prone to
excessive use of
hyperbole — so when he calls
a product "awesome",
"stunning" and "sublime", it's
probably time to sit up and
take notice...
Thermionic Culture
Valve Microphone Preamp &
Is this latest addition to the
Thermionic Culture flock
something for the company to­farm­creamer.htm
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