One look at the Red-Eye Twin preamp is enough to confirm that this machine was built with serious road-warrior abuse in mind. It comes in a sturdy metal box and its layout is about as minimal as an early Mustang engine. Guitarists who perform in public night after night need a preamp that can withstand punishment, and this model fits the bill, albeit for a certain kind of guitarist.
Do you need one? If you’re amplifying your guitar with a pickup, you’re already using a preamp at some point in the signal chain. Many pickup systems include a preamp that’s built right into the guitar, and there’s also a preamp stage in the actual amp or PA that you’re plugged into. However, using a dedicated external preamp as part of your setup can lead to better tone and more control over your sound.
Virtually all makers of acoustic-guitar pickups offer their own takes on an external preamp, with the most common being a combination of preamp, equalizer, and direct-input box. But while some guitarists wouldn’t step on stage without plugging into one of these multi-function units, others feel that having too many functions can get in the way of providing a pristine tone. There are also guitarists who feel that having myriad buttons and controls on a preamp makes it hard to dial in a good sound quickly. All this inspired the Austin, Texas, electronics engineer Daren Appelt to design a line of simple preamps with interesting features for his Fire-Eye Development Inc.
Fire-Eye’s Red-Eye Twin preamp is a dual-channel unit designed for players who switch between two instruments onstage. Its two-channel nature essentially results in a mirror-image duplication of its sparse primary features: two 1/4-inch mono inputs, two sturdy foot switches, and two sets of controls for gain and treble (mounted to the left and right sides of the unit, where they can’t be stepped on). There’s also a boost gain control, a low-profile toggle switch, an effect loop (using two 1/4-inch mono jacks), and an XLR output. Take off the back panel (where the batteries live) and you’ll find more bulletproof workmanship on the inside: All of the jacks, pots, and switches are mounted directly to the chassis, neatly connected to the lone circuit board via wires, making it impossible to damage the circuit with external pressure.
Separate Gain Units
To get acquainted with the Red-Eye Twin, I grabbed a custom Martin OM guitar with an L.R. Baggs Dual Source pickup system and plugged it into my Mackie 1202 mixer, which fed a pair of M-Audio BX5 studio monitors. From the first strum, it was evident this preamp added a dose of richness, with the trebles sounding fatter and rounder. Next, I used the same guitar, but plugged into an AER Compact 60 amp. Again, the tone was rich, full, and more harmonically complex. The Red-Eye’s treble control is useful for limited tone adjustments, and it was effective for dialing out the high-end brittleness in this setup’s sound.
Players who perform with two instruments will appreciate being able to set separate gain levels (to achieve matching volume), and to alternate between the two using a foot switch. The Red-Eye’s toggle allows you to select between channel A and B, or to have both inputs active at once. In either setting, one of the foot switches can be used to engage a boost function (which you can set using a central dial) for solos or musically quieter passages.
One limitation is that the Red-Eye Twin doesn’t have a dedicated 1/4-inch output. The “effects send” jack can be used for this purpose, but you end up in an either-or scenario. For example, I like to use a preamp’s 1/4-inch output to feed my onstage amp, while sending the XLR signal to the PA, but with the Red-Eye Twin, this is only possible if I’m not using the effects loop. A workaround to this would be to use a Y-cable to split the signal from the “effect send” jack, though this is hardly an elegant solution.
There’s no question the Red-Eye Twin is a professional-quality piece of gear. With its lack of sophisticated onboard tone controls, it is best suited for players who rely on a sound engineer to make final tweaks in the PA. The unit’s dual-instrument approach and crystal clear, signal-enriching sound is sure to deliver great tone on stage, and its foolproof operation is welcome news for players who prefer plug-and-play to lots of knob-twisting.
Specs Two-channel preamp.
1/4-inch inputs (high-impedance, one million ohms, maximum one-volt peak-to-peak level), gain, and treble control for each channel. Foot switches for channel selection and gain boost. Selector switch for A/B or simultaneous use of both channels. Effects loop. Low-impedance (600 ohms) XLR output. Phantom power or nine-volt battery operation. 4.5 x 3.5 x 1.25 inches.
Price $325 list; $295 street. Made in USA. fire-eye.com
Teja Gerken is a contributing gear editor.
Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar March 2014