Over the course of his three-plus decades in the audio business, James Demeter has developed a reputation for building rock-solid gear that excels at sophisticated, modern tone. A tube preamp he built for studio god Lee Sklar in 1982 eventually became his flagship bass product, the VTBP-201; the 201S, introduced in 1998, added effect-loop level controls and regulated DC to the filaments while putting the whole package in a single-rackspace chassis.
The new 201-800D makes only the smallest refinements to Demeter’s classic formula: a slight adjustment to the top end, a 12AT7 high-current output tube that drives the Jensen transformer and power amp, and a warmer 12AX7a for the preamp stages, aimed at keeping things sounding tube-y through the Class D amp. The biggest change, of course, is the addition of the power amp, which is capable of 800 watts at 4 ohms and 500 watts at 8 ohms.
LEAN & MEAN
If you’ve ever groaned while lifting a tube preamp/power-amp combo, you’ll appreciate the easy portability of the 11-pound, single-rackspace 201S-800D. Turning on the unit activates an internal fan, whose whisper will be irrelevant in all but the quietest situations. The design is clean and straightforward, the front panel is laid out well, the power button is helpfully colored red, and the handy mute button is within easy reach. In addition to having effect-loop send/returns and a voltage selector, the back of the unit has unbalanced line, Speakon, tuner, and ¼" speaker outputs.
For someone who loves James Jamerson tone, plugging into the Demeter can be a shock—at first. Unlike the three other tube preamps in my studio, the 201S-800D, hooked up to an Aguilar GS410 4x10, didn’t automatically give me the fat tone I associate with tubes. In fact, setting the 201S-800D’s 3-band EQ and presence knobs at noon gave me a sound that was decidedly bright, highlighting edge and clarity in every instrument I put through it, including a ’61 P-Bass with flats. I liked it well enough for rock, but didn’t think it was warm enough for blues, R&B, or gospel. I was wrong.
My first mistake had been to assume what “flat” meant. I started over once I understood that the settings weren’t flat unless I set bass and treble at noon, dimed the mids, turned the presence freq knob to 0, and put the bass freq at 120Hz. It quickly became obvious just how much control I had over my tone. Adjusting treble and presence while choosing a frequency gave me precise control of the top end; I dialed in lows (tight, never flabby) with the help of bass and the 60Hz/120Hz bass freq button. The unit’s mid-cut-only approach was more flexible than I expected, especially combined with the presence controls. The 201S-800D emphasizes clean, faithful reproduction: If you love the sound of your instruments, you’ll love this preamp. Even set flat, other tube preamps automatically added a layer of warmth and girth to every bass I plugged in, but the Demeter was sterile—merciless, even—until I dialed in what I wanted.
Although the 201S-800D is a no-brainer for frequent travelers, studio ninjas, and rockers who need to cut through, its controls make it easy to conjure warmer tone, too … within limits. Some preamps might as well have an “instant dub” setting for the way they can deliver corpulently creamy low frequencies; if that’s what you’re looking for, the Demeter may not be your first choice. But if you’re in the market for a loud, portable preamp/power amp whose hi-fi tone you can shape with minimum fuss, the 201S-800D should be at the top of your list.
Pros Audiophile tone, versatile controls, single-rackspace chassis, ability to work with various loads
Cons Won’t work as an Ampeg B-15 simulator
Input impedence >1MΩ
Preamp output impedence <2kΩ balanced
THD @ 0dB gain in 0.1%
Frequency response 10Hz–40kHz
Signal-to-noise ratio >78dB
Preamp minimum load impedence 10kΩ
Power supply 270V, fully regulated
Tubes 12AX7 (preamp), 12AT7 (effect loop, power amp)
Preamp output jacks xlr, trs
Input jacks ¼" (ts)
Operating voltage 110 volts or 240 volts
Power amp output impedence 4Ω, 8Ω, or 16Ω
Power amp output power 800 watts rms @ 4Ω, 500 watt rms @ 8Ω
Power amp output jacks q", Speakon
Dimensions 17” x 1.75” x 10.5"
Weight 11 lbs.