A review of the Arkham Sound Oracle Preamp…
Arkham Sound recently released their pedalboard-friendly Oracle Preamp, following the success of their fully-featured Zephyr rack preamp, and tabletop version, the Abyss, which I reviewed a few years back. Arkham’s Micah Smaldone created the Oracle-based on feedback from customers who wanted the incredible tone of Arkham’s preamps in a pedalboard-friendly package.
The Oracle is a high-voltage vacuum tube preamplifier, featuring Arkham’s signature EQ and tone stack.
While its DNA is rooted in tubey, vintage tone and voicing, It has a great deal of tonal range and is even able to satisfy my more hi-fi tonal sensibilities, while still sounding round and warm. In addition to the Oracle’s Input Gain and Master Volume controls, the unit provides boost switches for Hi, Mid and Low frequencies, Arkham’s HPF (high pass filter) which provides a gentle roll-off below 100Hz (6dB/octave), which, when used in conjunction with the bass boost and/or low switch, provides some really interesting ways to voice your low end, and Arkham’s crown jewel, the Range control. This knob moves the frequency center for the preamps “James Tonestack”. As you turn the knob, you shift the tonal center of the EQ curve, allowing for some pretty unique and effective tweaking of your bass tone. I love this control and quickly found my sweet spot. More on that in a minute.
The Oracle features two ¼” outputs (sorry folks, if you want a balanced XLR DI output, you gotta step up to the flagship Zephyr preamp), and is powered by an IEC power cable.
Yes, it’s a slight bummer that you can’t use your pedalboard power supply for the Oracle, but part of the Oracle’s magic comes from its robust 300v power supply. Luckily for me, I was able to use the additional AC power outlet on my Voodoo Labs PP2+ to power the Oracle without the need for a separate power cable to my board. The beautifully designed and silk-screened chassis is quite fetching, and the build quality, like seemingly everything Arkham makes, is second to none. Exceptionally smooth feeling pots, a heavy-duty chassis, and top-shelf components give the Oracle an outstandingly high-quality feel.
I secured the Oracle to my pedalboard with a little Velcro, and although it’s big, it doesn’t feel unruly or bulky in size, especially considering what it offers. I had previously been using a popular 9v powered pedalboard bass preamp, and although it has some features the Arkham does not, the difference in tone was remarkable. The Arkham immediately felt more 3D and rich, with a wide dynamic range and lots of punch. Playing with the gain and master volume controls, I was able to dial-up super clean tones as well as more gritty and full-on distorted sounds with the gain cranked up. My preferences are more in the ‘clean and clear’ realm, and I quickly found some great tones in playing with the preamps EQ and Range control. Speaking of the elusive and unique Range control: I’ve been trying to figure out how to best convey how this knob functions in the real world, and this is the best way I can think of to sum it up: turning the knob clockwise from center increases the pillowy-ness of the low end, and makes the highs sweeter and more airy. Counterclockwise from center, and the low end gets firmer, while the highs and upper mids show a little more bite and presence. I found my happy place with the knob between 2-4 o’clock, but of course, everyone’s “mileage may vary” depending on a large number of factors, not the least of which is a personal preference.
All in all, there isn’t much to complain about in the Oracle Preamp.
It packs a LOT of tone and features in a relatively small package and personally, I’m a big fan of the form factor. The lack of XLR output and 9v barrel-style power supply may bug some, but at the end of the day, I don’t mind the IEC power cable, and it’s easy enough to place my trusty Radial JDI after the Oracle’s ¼” output to interface with Front of House or a recording console. It’s my opinion that the Oracle really brings something unique and valuable to the table, and it may well have earned a permanent place on my board.
The Arkham Oracle sells direct from Arkham Sound for $550, and you can upgrade the 12ax7 to a “select NOS tube” for an additional $25.