1. Win a Broadcaster or one of 3 Teles! The annual Supporting Member Giveaway is on. To enter Click Here. To see all the prizes and full details Click Here. To view the thread about the giveaway Click Here.

School me on mic preamps

Discussion in 'Recording In Progress' started by NorthenLights, Feb 9, 2021.

  1. NorthenLights

    NorthenLights Tele-Meister

    Age:
    35
    Posts:
    256
    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2017
    Location:
    Sweden
    I've never used a dedicated preamp before. I've pretty much just used whatever was in my audio interface or mixer. However, when I'm checking out recording studios on youtube, it seems like they all are particularly proud of all their pres. I'm kinda getting the impression that a good pre is at least as important as a good mic.

    So I was hoping some of you guys could point me in the right direction. What preamps are you using? What kind of sounds are you using them for? Tubes vs SS? Are there holy grail type stuff that everbody swears by? As I've been getting into building pedals lately, I was thinking of building something simple on my own.
     
  2. still_fiddlin

    still_fiddlin Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

    Posts:
    2,914
    Joined:
    May 6, 2009
    Location:
    Texas
    Good, current audio interfaces have generally quite good microphone preamps. Many (but not all) have distortion and noise levels that are much better than anything from a few years back. And, they are uniformly neutral in their impact on the signal coming from any microphone. External preamps mostly are used to either provide gain for very low output dynamic or ribbon mics, or to provide "color" that is something a lot of folks want to (e.g.) sound like old recording consoles. I'm not going to get into whether they are worth the money or not, but most folks will agree that they are way down on the list of things that make a difference in your end results, assuming you don't have to have one to provide gain that your interface cannot.

    I have a GAP Pre73 with some transformer updates. I use it with a dynamic mic (on vocals) just to keep out of the deep end on my somewhat noisy interface, and have played with the drive capability of it (and deciding it's not really what I want most of the time). Lately I've stopped using it much as I'm back to using a condenser straight to the interface. I am looking at some passive ribbons and it will get used if I get one of those, solely for the amount of gain in provides. I have considered it pretty superfluous for my home recording setup, but it's there and paid for, and maybe will get used, so it's still around. I don't plan to spend money on more preamps, though.
     
  3. nedorama

    nedorama Tele-Meister

    Posts:
    284
    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2011
    Depends on what you want, and what you have... for an interface, I have a Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Gen. For line level sources, like my Eleven Rack, synth, sounds great. I've used the mic preamps and they're fine.

    But, having 1 money channel in a mic pre means you're getting better sound, clarity than you can get when you have a multi channel interface. I bought a Summit Audio 2BA-221 Tube Mic Pre/DI 15 years ago, and it's still my go to for recording vocals or just one amp. being able to change the impedance on dynamic mics does change the sound.

    I then saved up and bought the Summit TLA-50 Tube Leveler, so I now have a 1 rack unit rack channel that gives me great results on vocals, guitar mics, or going DI.

    So think of it as a way to upgrade your sound, but only by what you need. If I were doing this over, I might get a 1 rack 500-series chassis and add units to that to have either multiple mic pres or dynamics, etc.
     
    Esquire Jones and NorthenLights like this.
  4. hnryclay

    hnryclay Tele-Meister

    Age:
    41
    Posts:
    210
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2020
    Location:
    Virginia
    Learned something new, thanks.
     
  5. beyer160

    beyer160 Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,385
    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2010
    Location:
    On Location
    As long as you have a new-ish interface with decent preamps that aren't noisy and you don't need clean gain for ribbon mics or low output mics like the RE20 or SM7, you'd really be better served buying nice mics than diddling around with preamps.

    Also, beware of any "tube" mic preamp that's under $1k- the cheap ART "tube" preamps and the like are just cheap IC based preamps with a voltage starved 12ax7 serving as a distortion generator to "warm" things up. They do make excellent active DI boxes, though.

    I have the Black Lion B73 (Neve clone) and B12a (API clone) preamps, which are reasonably priced "tributes" to classic '70s console preamps. They do manage to sound a touch "bigger" or "fuller" than my Focusrite interface, and have enough gain to handle my ribbons and SM7. If you can find an old Groove Tubes Brick preamp, those are pretty nice sounding as well (although they don't pack a ton of gain).

    As a rule of thumb, any preamp under $3-400/channel new won't be worth your time.
     
  6. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    9,352
    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2006
    Location:
    Los Angeles, Ca
    I will second beyer160s comment about mics v. pres ... the mic makes a bigger difference.
    Having said that, I do use a Neve 1073 clone. A "Warm Audio" WA273EQ.
    Why did I pick that one? Because I have experience with actual Neve pres in consoles and I know what it does, can do and how to use it.
    I would suggest that before you lay down some coin on a real hardware mic pre, that you buy (or at least demo) a software/plugin version. It will of course react a little differently being utilzed as an insert in your daw but you can get a feel for how they work and whether you like the results.
    Plugin Alliance regularly has software emulations of hardware on sale for between $30 and $50 (if you're on their email list). Check one out.
     
    NorthenLights and swervinbob like this.
  7. loudboy

    loudboy Tele-Meister

    Posts:
    139
    Joined:
    May 21, 2003
    Location:
    Sedona, Arizona
    +1 for the mic being the most important part of the signal chain, by far. That doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive, just the one that does the job best, for what you are recording. Having to make a choice, I'd go with a good mic locker every time. The ideal, of course, is to have a signal chain of high quality, from mic > pre > converters.

    Modern interfaces have pres which are totally acceptable, and unless you've got some good A/D external converters that can go into your interface digitally thru S/PDIF, your external pre signal is going thru the interface's analog circuitry and most likely the pres, too.

    For my little mobile rig, I've got a 4RU rack with:

    Great River MP-2MH dual mic pre - super clean, hi-fi and detailed - think Hardy or Millennia
    Sytek MP4A mic pre - another 4 channels of clean, solid pres
    Mytek 192 A/D 2-channel converter, which goes into the S/PDIF on my interface

    Scarlett 18i8 Interface, with S/PDIF, 4 line ins and 4 mic pres

    If I'm doing drums, I'll use the:

    Great River into the Mytek for OH's, as this gives a ridiculously detailed and accurate picture of the kit.

    K, Sn and Toms into the Sytek > Scarlett line ins. This is still pretty good.

    4 pres on the Scarlett for tracks that probably will be replaced.

    At home, I generally just do overdubs, so I can use the GR for A Gtrs, etc. or I also have a Great River MP-1NV and a Purple MC77 comp/limiter, for that rock and roll vocal/guitar/bass sound, S/PDIF thru a Scarlett 6i6 interface and into the DAW.
     
  8. Norris Vulcan

    Norris Vulcan Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,347
    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2015
    Location:
    Somerset, UK
    +1 what @loudboy said ^.

    Also have to bear in mind that a "fantastically detailed" recording with a sensitive mic is gonna reveal a lot about the recording space - room sound, hum, exterior noise, etc.
    Sometimes a SM57 is the best choice !
     
    GoldieLocks and Esquire Jones like this.
  9. lathoto

    lathoto Tele-Meister

    Posts:
    378
    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2020
    Location:
    Ohio
    Try a JHS Colour Box V2. I've had more expensive tube preamps (sold them all). With 24-bit/192kHz (OK, 96kHz is fine) resolution I prefer to let a high end microphone(s) characterize the sound. I wish I had eight of them.

     
  10. matman14

    matman14 Tele-Meister

    Posts:
    236
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2020
    Location:
    Los Angeles/London
    Biggest thing with standalone preamp is that you can use other hardware before the signal gets to the Daw. That gives you more flexibility for tracking. The coloration some offer and the ability to better run ribbon and low output mics is helpful too.

    So you can set up a chain that goes mic-pre-compressor-eq-converters, for example.

    If you have good tracking hardware, this is important.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
    Esquire Jones likes this.
  11. Lawdawg

    Lawdawg Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,705
    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2018
    Location:
    Atlanta
    I'm far from an expert but my general rule of thumb is that the impact of various components in a recording chain diminish as you go down the line. So in terms of impact it would be Performance > Instrument > Mic > Preamp > Converter/Tape. My best advice would be to make sure you have good clean preamps to work with and then focus on mics and mic placement as that will make a bigger difference.

    I'm currently using the pres in my Apogee Element and Clarett Octopre, and while these are not particularly swank preamps, they have low noise, plenty of headroom and lots of clean gain on tap. That's plenty good for me currently. If I were ever to upgrade, I would probably have to get preamps costing at least $500 - $700 per channel to make much of a difference, and it still probably wouldn't make as much difference as getting nicer mics.
     
    klasaine likes this.
  12. 63telemaster

    63telemaster Tele-Meister

    Posts:
    448
    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2013
    Location:
    UK
    Forgive my ignorance here and my going slightly off topic, but to what degree are virtual preamp/channel plugins now able to replace hardware preamps? Do we really need expensive mic preamps when we can process the signal once it's in our DAW?

    Don't want to kick off an argument here as I realise this is probably contentious, but I'd be interested to hear views from those that have practical experience and knowledge on the subject.
     
  13. beyer160

    beyer160 Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,385
    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2010
    Location:
    On Location
    Short answer:
    You can't really replace hardware preamps with software.

    Long answer:
    Let's look at what preamps actually do. It's all there in the name, pre-amplifier. This is going to be simplified for a non-technical audience so I'm gonna leave out some non-essential details, but the gist of it is this:

    Microphones mimic the human ear by converting sound waves into low voltage electrical impulses. That low voltage signal ("mic level") has to be amplified to a higher voltage signal ("line level") for processing in signal processing devices (PC interface, mixer, etc). So, the main job of a preamp is to take a weak signal and amplify it to a stronger one:

    mic+and+line+level+tour+audio+sound+training+.png

    As with most things in life, there are many ways to skin this cat. You can go old skool and make a box using big old transformers and vacuum tubes, you can use a $.50 IC chip, or anywhere in between. The ideal goal of a preamplifier from a design perspective is "straight wire with gain"- i.e., the signal coming from the preamp sounds identical to the sound that came in, just stronger. In a practical sense this is impossible, but that's the nominal goal of a preamplifier. From this perspective, we can evaluate preamps based on how well they replicate the original signal without adding unwanted noise and degradation, and how much gain they provide. The preamp in a $50 offshore mixer using the cheapest possible components will not be as "clean" sounding as a John Hardy Twin Servo 990 using premium (i.e., "expensive") parts. This manifests in noise, lack of headroom, poor transient response and generally "thin" sound quality in the cheap preamp. This is where the road divides, though.

    Let's look at some other types of amplifiers-

    1959-fender-tweed-deluxe-amp-neil-young.jpg

    Screen Shot 2021-02-14 at 9.36.11 AM.png

    m80396117259_1.jpg

    They're all guitar amplifiers with the same basic goal- to make your guitar louder. The Deluxe and Gorilla are disasters by the nominal design goals of an amplifier, but a lot of folks like the way the Deluxe sounds anyway. The Roland is much better as a pure amplifier, but a lot of people don't like it and prefer something less linear like the Deluxe.

    In the '60s and '70s, music recording technology was evolving at a rapid pace. The Telefunken tube preamps sitting in the racks at Abbey Road when the Beatles arrived in 1962 had given way to transistorized preamps in the TG series consoles when they did their final sessions there in 1970. The new preamps were closer to the nominal design goal of "straight wire with gain", but the engineering staff immediately realized that certain tonal qualities of the older, less efficient, less reliable tube preamps had been lost. This trend continued into the '80s- each new generation of console featured mic preamps that were "cleaner and quieter" than the last, but didn't sound as "musical". Finally in the '80s, it dawned on some engineers that they could cannibalize the preamp and EQ sections out of old, discarded consoles and rack them up as outboard processing to augment the dismal preamps in the current generation of recording desks. Thus, the outboard preamp industry was born.

    Back to guitars, the goal of amplifier modeling software is to mimic the sonic qualities of different guitar amps once you've plugged your guitar into your computer. You can spend literally months reading all the differing opinions on how successful the various products on the market are at achieving this goal, but I think it's fair to say that the jury's still out on amplifier modeling.

    Guitar signals are higher voltage than mic signals, and demand much less amplification to get into the system so the sonic qualities of your PC interface have much less of an impact on the sound than with a microphone. So, preamp modeling has an additional hurdle to clear over guitar amp modeling- the hardware. Using mic preamp modeling is sort of like recording your guitar through a clean solid state amp, then applying modeling software to change the tone to sound like you'd used a tweed Deluxe. You can do it, it might sound cool, but it won't sound the same.

    I have a couple preamp modeling plugins- a "Neve" style one, and a "Telefunken" style one. They're fun to use, I like them in certain situations, but I'd always prefer to run my mics into a real V72 if given the option instead of trying to fake it later.
     
  14. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    9,352
    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2006
    Location:
    Los Angeles, Ca
    The virtual stuff now, is pretty damn good. Especially when you use it 'post record'.
    I use a hardware pre (Neve 1073 clone) because a lot of the time I record amps with mics and I want my printed signal to be colored by a preamp. Old school and probably unnecessary but it's quick, I'm used to it and that's how I like to work.
    When I'm working with a source that's already been recorded, I will use a software mic pre/ch. strip. I have a handful that I like. I also have a handful of amp models and speaker IRs that I dig and use all the time. YMMV. It's all about context and application.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2021
    63telemaster likes this.
  15. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    9,352
    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2006
    Location:
    Los Angeles, Ca
    Once again I'll stress that you read beyer160's excellent post above.
     
    63telemaster likes this.
  16. 63telemaster

    63telemaster Tele-Meister

    Posts:
    448
    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2013
    Location:
    UK
    Appreciate the replies and the explanations but I'm still struggling to understand the benefits of using a hardware preamp as opposed to plugins.

    If I record a vocal with mic straight into my interface it will amplify the signal in a more or less clean way into my DAW. Once there, I can use plugins to process what I have recorded to arrive at my desired sound. I can then change settings or switch plugins to try alternative flavours in as many different ways as I can imagine. If I record with a hardware preamp before my interface I am committed to and perhaps limited by the settings of the preamp I've used.

    I currently use a Steinberg UR22 MkII as my interface which I appreciate is firmly at the budget end of the scale. Is the signal that ends up in my DAW that bad that I'm never going to be able to produce high quality recordings? I realise there are of course other limiting factors not least talent.
     
  17. Buzzgrowl

    Buzzgrowl Tele-Meister

    Age:
    58
    Posts:
    415
    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2017
    Location:
    Switzerland
    There are two. Or none.

    1. If you can hear the difference of having a better source, then that is your benefit. If you can't (and it may be the case that there is none), then - no benefit.

    2. You may (or may not) wind up having an overall better quality recorded signal in the sense that it will better suffer any further eq or dynamic manipulation with your plugins.

    It's all an experiment and as everything effects everything else, including the performance, a high certainty in outcomes is not guaranteed.
     
    63telemaster and klasaine like this.
  18. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    9,352
    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2006
    Location:
    Los Angeles, Ca
    This is where it gets both subjective and also utilitarian.
    As I mentioned, I record guitar mostly using my amps, microphones and a pre that I know and love. I personally like to 'commit' to a sound so that I don't have to spend a lot of time f'ing w/it later. I may add some compression, delay and reverb but rarely do I ever change the fundamental "tone" of the printed track (even when I use amp sims and IRs). But again, that's me and my preferred work flow.
    I subscribe to the very old adage ... "garbage in, garbage out".
    You can help out a poorly recorded track but you really can't transform it. Guys will argue with me on that point but the amount of time/work and the potential price of the software you may need to use to "fix" it will probably end up being considerable.
     
    Buzzgrowl and Bobbyoso like this.
  19. LutherBurger

    LutherBurger Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    5,631
    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2013
    Location:
    NYC
    So do I.
     
    klasaine likes this.
  20. archetype

    archetype Fiend of Leo's

    Posts:
    5,861
    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2005
    Location:
    Williamsville NY
    This is the truth. It's also about using the best tool for the job. If there's a lot of silibance in your singing voice, a sensitive condenser mic will produce a source you'll struggle with trying to de-ess it. Do you need to present a lot of high end detail to the listener? If that's not important to the music, something like an SM-57 with a rolled-off high end may be what's needed.

    I'm an acolyte of the Steve Albini 'school' of recording. When possible, record it the way you want to hear it in the end. Don't record it one way and then process it into something else.

    I'm really just echoing what others have said, above. @klasaine @LutherBurger et al.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2021
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.