From the April 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY DOUG YOUNG
Preamps are almost required equipment for guitarists who play amplified, providing a critical interface between the instrument and PA system. While there are many acoustic-guitar preamps that can get the job done, choices have been somewhat limited for those who seek studio-ready, no-compromise sound quality. That is until Grace Design decided to step into the acoustic-preamp market last year. Their first offering, FELiX, is a full-featured preamp with dual DI outputs that also packages one of their highly regarded m101 studio mic preamps into a stage-ready package. Now, Grace has followed up with ALiX, FELiX’s little brother, designed for those who only need a single-channel preamp.
Like FELiX, ALiX’s circuit is based on Grace’s m101 studio preamp, but in a robust unit with controls and a form factor designed for the needs of performing musicians. The controls include gain, with a two-level LED for setting optimal input levels, bass and treble (labeled “Low” and “High”), and a fully parametric midrange. The frequency range of the bass and midrange controls are configurable. The shelving bass EQ can be set to a corner frequency of 125Hz or 250Hz, while the midrange can be configured to cover 70Hz–880Hz, or 670Hz–8Khz. Combined with a shelving treble control at 2Khz and an additional high-pass filter control that doubles as a notch-filter, ALiX offers enough tone-shaping control for almost any need.
On the output side, ALiX provides an XLR balanced DI-out, switchable between mic and line levels, and capable of providing +19dBu—enough to directly drive most power amps or powered speakers—a ¼-inch unbalanced amp output, and an additional tuner out. The tuner out is always active—a footswitch mutes the amp and DI-out to allow for silent tuning. ALiX supports a volume control for the amp output, and also an adjustable footswitch-activated boost, which can provide up to 10db of gain to both the amp and DI-outs—great when it’s time to solo. Additional features include an effects insert, ground-lift switch, phase reverse switch, and most importantly, three selectable input impedances for optimizing various pickups.
Grace clearly understands the needs of musicians, and has added a few new twists to ALiX, compared to FELiX. For example, the smaller size makes the ALiX more at home on a pedal board, so ALiX handily includes a BOSS-style 2.1mm jack that provides nine volts at a hefty 500ma—enough to power even the most power-hungry effects boxes, so ALiX effectively can act as the power supply for your pedal board. Although ALiX has no XLR input, the single instrument input supports either a standard tip-sleeve (TS) guitar plug or a TRS plug, and ALiX can be configured to send 12 volts to either the tip or sleeve plug to power an electret mic.
ALiX offers enough tone-shaping control for almost any need.
Studio Sound Onstage
I played through ALiX into a PA system, as well as my studio monitors, using a variety of pickups, passive soundboard, and both active and passive under-saddle pickups. As expected from both the specs and ALiX’s pedigree, the sound was superb in all cases. ALiX is dead quiet, exceptionally clean and clear, and the flexible and powerful EQ section, along with switchable input impedances, made it easy to dial in a great sound. I especially appreciate the way the high-pass filter allowed me to eliminate the low-end thump from my fingers hitting the strings with a K&K soundboard pickup. ALiX has a lot of headroom, which goes a long way toward reducing harshness and quacky-sounding spikes that aggressive playing can trigger in lesser devices.
Do Your Homework
Although ALiX is straightforward and the interface is clearly laid-out and intuitive, a bit of time spent studying the manual and understanding the signal flow makes it easier to take advantage of ALiX’s more sophisticated features, and can clarify the relationships between the various outputs, the amp volume, and the boost switch. The only issue I encountered with ALiX was that the boost circuit follows the effects insert. This will work perfectly in most cases, but might cause unexpected behavior in others, such as when a looper is placed in the effects loop.
Still, for anyone looking for a single-channel preamp of the highest quality for live performance or as a studio DI, ALiX would be hard to top. The device is rugged, relatively compact, and boasts high-quality audio. Combined with a well-thought-out, feature-rich design, it is a clear winner for acoustic guitar as well as many other instruments. ALiX is not cheap, but this is a case in which you get what you pay for, and ALiX provides some cost savings to those who don’t need the features of the dual-channel FELiX.
Grace also expects to release another preamp shortly, with simpler features and a lower price point, creating a line of products to span different needs.
At-a-Glance: Grace ALiX
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Single-channel preamp with ¼-inch mono input; 12-volt bias power for electret condenser mics; Frequency response flat within +/- 3db from; 20–65Khz; High-pass/notch filter, shelving bass and treble controls
(+/- 12 db) multi-range fully parametric midrange control; Phase switch; Amp (with volume control), and tuner outputs. DI output up to +19dBu; Effects insert; 9-volt power for other effects; Boost switch with adjustable gain up to 10db; Mute/tune switch; Three selectable input impedances, 10M, 1M, 330K. 118db dynamic range. -77dBu noise output level at maximum gain; AC powered, 120–240 volts, 50-60Hz; Ground-lift switch; Silver or black finish; Weight: 2.2 lbs.; Dimensions: 3×6.2×5.5 inches
$695 list/$625 street; Made in the USA; gracedesign.com
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.