The Rooster 2 - the Thermionic Culture

The Rooster 2 - the Thermionic Culture
MT Reviews The Rooster 2
The Rooster 2
Thermionic Culture revisits one of its classics, and
MusicTech hardware guru John Pickford finds
himself reaching for his wallet. Again.
Price £1,845 plus VAT
Contact Thermionic
Culture 01279 414770
Web www.
Key Features
● All-valve signal
● Sowter
transformerbalanced ins
and outs
● Attitude control
with two types
of distortion
● Versatile EQ
● Low noise, high
gain and high
output level
hermionic Culture recently
celebrated their 15th
anniversary with the launch of
two special limited edition
products, one of which – the Phoenix
HG15 compressor – received a glowing
10/10 from this reviewer, who liked it so
much he bought it. Now, TC main man
Vic Keary has revisited the awardwinning Rooster, one of the company’s
best-selling products. Like its
predecessor, the Rooster 2 is a
two-channel pure-valve preamplifier
capable of accepting microphone and
line-level inputs as well as providing an
unbalanced, high-impedance DI input
socket on each channel for connecting
instruments such as guitars and
keyboards. The unit also offers some of
the most musically satisfying EQ curves
you are ever likely to hear, alongside the
renowned ‘Attitude’ harmonic distortion
control, more of which later.
Straight from the box the unit
impresses with its smart looks and
solid construction. Each channel has a
row of high-quality rotary pots and
switches that are very pleasing to the
touch. The pots are UK-made Omeg
conductive polymer types, sealed to
provide long life and eliminate DC
crackle, while the rotary switches are
premium Alpha types from Taiwan.
High-quality Sowter transformerbalanced input and output stages are
employed, and basic LED metering is
provided to read the output level of the
unit after the output level control,
enabling the user to monitor the output
level feeding any unit (such as a
compressor, for example) that
immediately follows in the signal chain.
The preamp now offers a massive
87dB of gain on the microphone input,
8dB more than the earlier units. This,
however, is with the unit operating at full
blast with the Attitude control set to
maximum. This makes the distortion
characteristics of the Attitude control
even more effective, giving a healthy
dose of the gritty power available from
the company’s Culture Vulture distortion
66 | September 2014
unit. At the lowest Attitude setting, the
unit provides 56dB of clean mic gain,
which is plenty for any microphone,
including insensitive designs such as our
Coles 4038 ribbon mic.
Tone on the range
A vast variety of tones can be coaxed by
making judicious use of the input and
output level controls, which, when used
in conjunction with the Attitude control
offer everything from a full-bodied valve
sound through to an overdriven tone
with plenty of bite and dirt.
The cleanest sounds can be
obtained by setting the output level to
maximum, the Attitude control to its
lowest position, and then adjusting the
input level. As you might expect, the
more third-order harmonic distortion
(the Pentode setting is noticeably more
aggressive and fuzzy compared to
Triode). While we’re mentioning valve
types it’s worth pointing out that the
original unit’s 1287/ECC81 input valve
has been replaced with a Sovtek 12AX7/
ECC83 type; the output tube is a PCF
80. A Low Pass Filter (LPF) can be
switched in after the distortion valve to
reduce harsh high-frequency distortion
effects – useful to retain raunch and
edge without excessive top-end fizz.
As you would expect, the preamp
section provides switches to select mic
or line-level input sources, reverse
polarity (phase) and engage 48V
phantom power. The phantom power
switch is a springloaded locking device,
To say that we were
impressed with this unit would
be a huge understatement more aggressive tones are produced by
selecting the full amount of Attitude
and dialling in more input gain to drive
the RTC 5654 ‘distortion’ valve.
Incidentally, the 5654 replaces the
5725 valve that was used in the original
Rooster. This valve can be switched
between Triode or Pentode mode, with
Triode offering mainly second-order
harmonic distortion and Pentode giving
which prevents it being engaged
accidentally when using ribbon mics –
just be sure to check that it isn’t
engaged before a ribbon mic is plugged
in. Unlike many preamps there is no
padding provided, but by making use of
the relative input/output levels this
shouldn’t be problematic.
Moving on to the EQ section there
are three continuously variable rotary
The Rooster 2 Reviews MT
Method Spot
For a vintage flavour on lead vocals, set the output control to around
medium and adjust the input gain to achieve good level. Switch the
Attitude control to position 4 and experiment with both Triode and
Pentode modes for the right amount of edge. A touch of mid-lift (try
4kHz) will help the sound stand out in the mix.
pots that control Bass Lift, Mid/Hi Lift
and Mid Cut, along with a six-position
rotary switch for Bass Cut. This EQ is a
joy to use, providing a powerful range of
EQ curves that shape flat signals in a
sonically flattering way. It’s not a
forensic tool for taming nasty frequency
spikes – parametric or graphic EQs are
better suited to that task – rather, it’s a
superb tone enhancer designed to bring
out the best in both individual sound
sources and stereo mixes.
Looking at each control in turn, the
Bass Lift features a vari-slope curve
that peaks at 60Hz. At low amounts of
boost the bass-lift gives a fairly broad
shelving-type EQ curve, with higher
levels of boost accentuating the lowest
frequencies. The Mid/High Lift offers
three options of broad boost, with
switchable mid-frequencies peaking at
either 2.5kHz or 4kHz, while the top end
is another vari-slope curve peaking at
10kHz at full-boost.
Mid Cut features a bell-shaped
curve, centred on 700Hz, which
becomes noticeably sharp (the curve,
not the sound) at maximum cut. The
Bass Cut offers five options of low-end
attenuation ranging from high-pass
filters to shelving-type curves.
It would have been useful to be able
to bypass the EQ for comparison
purposes, however this is not possible
as the equalisers are in different parts
of the circuit and the Attitude control,
which is an integral part of the
Vertigo Sound’s VSP-2 1976 mic preamp (£2,250) is a solid-state design
that uses Jensen JT-16 transformers and features a 100% discrete twin
op-amp circuit. The unit includes a DI input although no EQ is provided.
For a less expensive transistor unit, try Lindell’s 18Xs MkII (£649). It’s a
single-channel mic-pre that features a Pultec-style passive equalizer.
Rooster’s sound, has to be kept in
circuit, designer Vic Keary tells us. He is,
however, looking into the possibility of
incorporating an EQ bypass on the Line
stage to enable comparison when the
unit is used during the mixing process.
Let there be drums
First job for the Rooster was to track a
stereo pair of drum mics set up in the
Glyn Johns method. For this session we
also used the Phoenix HG15 for the
bass-drum mic and our Early Bird
mic-pre for snare along with a room mic,
making for an exclusively Thermionic
Culture drum kit recording. The stereo
pair comprised a valve Neumann U 67
on the left channel, positioned near the
floor tom, and a Coles 4038 high above
the centre of the snare drum.
The 4038 ribbon mic needed a fair bit
more input gain than the U 67, and also a
good few dB of top boost. Both channels
were improved with a touch of mid-cut
and, with the Attitude controls set to
position 4 in Triode mode, a punchy drum
sound with space and depth was
achieved when panned into stereo.
Later, when overdubbing a Fender P
bass playing through a Bassman amp
mic’d with a Neumann 47 Fet, the
Rooster enhanced the bass tone when
the Bass Lift and Bass Cut controls
were used simultaneously. This is a
brilliant feature, reminiscent of the
low-end trick performed on the classic
Pultec EQP-1A, producing a big, fat
bottom end without unwanted
congestion or boom.
Vocals also sounded fantastic
through the Rooster, especially with a
bit of Attitude dialled in. The effect, at
times, was similar to analogue tape
compression, producing a classic edgy,
hot vocal sound.
During the review period the Rooster
was used to track various sources,
including our vintage Vox Continental
organ plugged into the DI input. Again,
the Attitude control was employed to
impart a wonderfully present yet warm
sound that would be impossible to
achieve with a standard DI box.
To say that we were impressed with
this unit would be a huge
understatement. Even by Thermionic
Culture’s standards this is a truly
special product. The preamp has a
fabulously big, open sound with bags of
character. Even without touching the EQ
the range of tonal options available by
tweaking the input and output
parameters and experimenting with the
Attitude control is phenomenal. The EQ
section is very well thought-out and it’s
possible to apply heavy doses of EQ
without mangling the sound. This is a
first-rate tracking device that needn’t
sit idle during mixdown, as the delicious
EQ and Attitude can breathe life into
the dullest sounds. The Rooster 2 is a
superb sounding preamplifier with a
rock ’n’ roll heart. MT
MT Verdict
+ Wonderful valve sound
+ Great variety of preamp tones
+ Powerful and musical EQ
+ Lovely analogue saturation
+ Excellent build quality
- No EQ bypass facility
Nothing compares to a top-quality
valve preamp, especially when
recording digitally, and the Rooster
2 is up there with the very best
products available. A wide variety
of tones can be coaxed from the
unit ranging, from clean, sweet and
open to downright dirty. The EQ is a
fabulous sonic-shaper and TC’s
unique Attitude control adds an
extra dose of tape-like analogue
goodness when recording in the
digital domain.
magazine September 2014
| 67
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