Jule Monique All Tube Bass Preamplifier by Jake Wolf… When I first unearthed the Jule Monique from its shipping box, I wasn’t sure what I was getting in to. At first inspection, it appears gorgeous; a bamboo wrapped, cleanly executed tube-laden symphony of quality components and luxury fit/finish. Then, as my wheels of practicality and pragmatism started turning, I started looking at this sizeable, relatively expensive, preamp-only device, and I couldn’t help but wonder if, with today’s cornucopia of great sounding micro heads and stompbox preamp/DI’s, is there really a niche/need for this beast? I’ve played through and owned a lot of tube preamps over the years, in my quest for bass tone nirvana. On the whole I’m a big fan of the warmth and textural depth that tube circuits often bring out in my sound. As I waited for the Monique’s tubes to warm up for an initial listen as the front end of my rig, I was thinking; “This thing better really bring the heat”. After about 2 minutes of testing, it was evident that Monique might just be the pinnacle of impeccable, studio-grade tube tone for the bass world.
Monique was designed as both a studio direct box and a tube front end for live rigs, in the spirit of classic bass heads like the mighty Ampeg SVT. With Monique’s huge and defined tone, super low noise floor and powerful EQ, she excels at both. While many bassists covet the tone of their all tube heads, they rarely covet the size and weight that accompany it. As many working pro’s find themselves flying all over the map to gigs and sessions, one can see how having a portable device that can offer similar tone and feel to their beloved tube head is becoming increasingly practical and desirable.
The front panel of the Monique is simple and effective. A knob labeled ‘Line Level’ acts as a master volume control for the ¼’ output, and a powerful 3 band ‘Baxandall-style’ EQ allows for broad tone shaping with 20db of cut/boost per band. The ‘sensitivity’ knob is where things get interesting. As you turn the knob clockwise from zero, as Jule puts it, “You hear more from Monique”. Set closer to zero, Monique sounds clean and precise. The more you crank it up, the more grit and growl comes out of the unit, and the more dynamically expressive it becomes. Dimed, it definitely starts to resemble an overdriven tube amp. Additionally, the Sensitivity knob has a pull function that adds 4 db of headroom, designed to optimize its use with passive basses. The rear panel features two discrete outputs: The ¼” unbalanced output is intended to drive the front end of an amp, but I found it will also adequately drive a poweramp (or for that matter, an effects return/power amp input on a bass head). The transformer driven XLR output level is set by the volume knob on the rear panel.
As it turns out, I managed to answer my own question “is there really a need/niche for this beast?” by observing my own behavior. As someone with great sounding gear, who is constantly consolidating my live rig to be as small/light/easy as possible for regular gigging, I was sort of surprised to find that I’ve been bringing Monique everywhere I play. Every time I plop her on top of my rig, no matter what style of music I’m playing, (whether it’s in front of my micro head on stage, or in my audio chain in the studio) she imparts the kind of depth, weight, and syrupy cohesion that makes me instantly grin. Band members remarked after about 30 seconds of listening that it was easily the best they’ve ever heard my bass sound. Even if you’re not a ‘tubey’ SVT kind of guy (which for the record, I typically am not) you really cant deny the sound coming from this unit. Since describing subtle audio nuance is futile at best, I will just leave it at this: Very rarely do adjectives like ‘quick’ and ‘effortless’ go hand in hand with ‘phat’ and ‘massive’. But Monique does her thing without adding any bloat or blur, kind of like (pardon the automotive parallel) an 18 wheeler that can do 0-60 in 4 seconds. If you think you know what tube bass preamps can and can’t do, Monique may make you eat your words. Monique’s spirit reminds me more of a high-end studio channel strip than a “tube bass preamp”. There’s a level of sophistication and panache in Monique’s appearance, build quality and tone that’s rarely found in the bass realm, and therein lies her niche.
The Jule Monique is available in bamboo for $1700, or with a metal frame for $1300, sold direct from the builder, Jule Potter of Jule amps. In his small California workshop, he hand crafts a luscious array of boutique amps and preamps. Check him out online at www.juleamps.com.