Great cleans and that Boogie sound*
Within maybe ten minutes of unpacking this thing I was able to get a really nice, thick and full distortion. For me the key was getting the right balance between the Master Volume and the Recording Output knobs. If the MV is turned all the way up you'll barely be able to turn the RO up at all without clipping and blowing out your monitors. The result? A crappy, fizzy, buzzy, "Why the hell did I pay so much for this thing?" type sound. Do the opposite and turn the MV down and the RO up. The result? Unconvincing, disappointing sound and frustration at having shelled out so much for something that doesn't even compare to Logic's amp sims or even the Zoom G9.2tt. For a convincing distortion the Master Volume must be at least 50%. I believe this has a lot to do with the "air" you'd get with a real mic and cab setup. Maybe move it up even more to find the sweet spot while also dialing in the perfect amount of RO. Bottom line is: the tone is there, you just have to spend some time with those two knobs to find it. Tailor the sound with the EQ and Presence. Once you spend the time you'll be glad you did.
*By itself I have a hard time believing I could use it and nothing else to get a nice usable distorted tone recorded. Maybe I am wrong and I intend to spend a lot more time trying to prove otherwise. But A/B'ing with a cab/mic patch and just the unit itself, I was not convinced with only the Recto Pre. And this thing shouldn't need a mic/cab sim but so far in my limited time with the unit it does.
And my signal chain for this was: Carvin CT3 to Recto Pre to MOTU 896 mk3 into Logic 9.
On the other hand, insert a cab/mic modelling effect on your input channel and viola. It's there. Throw in a little parametric EQ and you'll be smiling. I ran an instance of Logic's Amp Designer, but only for the cab and mic sim. I used a condenser with a 4x12 cab...of the Mesa clone of course. Moving the mic around uncovered the sweet spot. Adjusting the Master Volume on the Logic amp pushed the sound exactly where it needed to be. The result is just what I was looking for. Thick and full with that Mesa bottom end. I've used the same approach with my J Station (Yeah. Remember that thing?), and Zoom G9.2tt and have created some really nice distortions. With the Recto Pre I beat 'em all. I wasn't able to get the bottom end with the others; with the Mesa I was able to find it no problem.
You have three distortion modes to choose from on Ch. 2: Raw, Vintage and Modern. My favorite is the Vintage. It has just the right amount of mean distortion with that fat bottom end to suit my tastes. I find the Raw is almost there and the Modern will take some time to tame. Each of those has their uses of course and I can see countless hours tweaking using all three modes to conjure up just about anything I might want. Could I get the EL84 tone with this unit? I doubt it. But I hardly believe anyone who buys this does so to nail that sound, nor do I believe for a second Mesa ever thought of going the modelling/let's-try-to-get-every-amp sound-ever recorded route. The Recto Pre does what it does and does it well, but the user is required to do a little knob twisting.
So how is Ch. 1, i.e. the Clean Channel? Couldn't be happier. With all the tubes in this thing, you get a really nice clean. Want some breakup? No problem. Adjust the gain a bit and you'll find it. Want as clean as can be? You can get there too. Just plug in and go on the clean channel. If the Recto Recording Pre were simply a high-end preamp I'd be more than happy with the price paid. My former favorite way to record cleans was UA 710 TwinFinity to ART Pro VLA2 to MOTU 896 mk3. Not any more.
I have yet to try this unit as part of a power amp setup driving a 4 or 2x12. I doubt I ever will but the option is there.
No on board effects are included, but if you must plug in some effects simply use the F/X loop.
Hopefully I can write a follow up review after spending a lot more time with this preamp. I'm darn sure going to try to only use the Recto Pre without any help recording distorted guitar.
If I've given it an honest try after a month or so and still can't nail that Recto sound, I won't be a bit disappointed. As long as the cab/mic sims are there I won't complain one bit with the finished product. I'll be 100% content with the sounds I am recording with this unit. It's definitely worth the price paid even if all I ever did was record my clean guitar parts. But I won't do that. I like what I hear so far and this is just the beginning.
Typical Mesa build quality, lots of tubes and 100% made in America. Well worth the price paid.