Toy of the month: Chandler Limited Germanium PRE/DI
You don't have to use a microphone, as you can plug in directly to the front direct-input (DI). It generates some rather snazzy distortion that I've never heard duplicated in software. Sort of adds an 'alive' shimmer and/or brittleness and/or bass blast zoom. Like a guitar effect, the distortion completely depends upon the frequencies and amplitudes of the input. Different signals give different results at different gains and different feedbacks. You get the picture. A lot of variety for just a few controls.
I wondered about the usefulness of 'gain' in a device that essentially takes "line-level" signals and outputs "line-level" signals, but I've found that it's a very useful sound shaping tool. You can use the gain to 'position' the sound relative to various 'feedback' thresholds and thus tailor the distortion to your liking. It's quick to dial in a good sound. It's also got a 'PAD' switch, which lets you feed in crazy hot signals from other equipment without first sending them to a compressor. Finally, there's a subtle 'thick' button that gives a low end boost that helps balance the fracturing the device can also create.
I wish the device was stereo, but I can see that the nature of its distortion would not really produce a correlated result across each channel. Still, later on I might pick me up another of these things and strap them on a summing bus.
This is my first piece of 'analog studio equipment'. I always figured most studio equipment of this sort was designed to record voices, drums, and acoustic instruments (which I don't do much of), so it seemed foolish to spend big $$ on something that wouldn't be useful. This chandler unit however came across as something a bit different, as it didn't try to go after that 'transparent' sound. Since I'm just after a 'cool sound', it sounded good.
I'm very satisfied with its performance so far. I did feel I was going out on a limb paying $1050 + $150 for an external power supply in what could have turned out as a glorified volume control.