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Mic Preamp for Recording

djadamdjadam Boulder, CONew
I'd like to tap your collective knowledge about preamps if I may. I'm looking for a decent microphone preamp for recording and I wonder how acoustic guitarists get such warm tone in the studio. I suspect it has to do with expensive tube preamps for that warmth, but don't really know. Anyone here use a tube pre?
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Comments

  • JanJan Bremen, GermanyNew
    Posts: 21
    I think it will ultimately depend on your budget but whatever that is I wouldn't look for warmth from your preamp. If anything I'd be looking for other qualities like transparency... but not warmth. For that I think you need to look more at your mic. Different mics will give you different quality/character of sound.

    After that you want your pre-amp to amplify that signal without losing anything of the dynamics etc... a very tall order. And that's why pre-amps can get very expensive.

    The two main mics I've worked with are Shure SM81 and Rode NT2a (quite a warm sounding mic to my ears) and I tried loads of different pre-amps. Then a sound engineer pointed me in the direction of Focusrite Twintrak and it just blew everthing I'd heard before away. He explained the difference - the focusrite twintrak is basically two pre-amp strips lifted out of a studio mixer ... no frills ... just basic good sound.

    Before, I couldn't quite figure out why the mics never sounded as good as when used by pros in a studio ... now I know why ... it was the nasty pre-amps I was using. In comparison the other pre-amps I'd tried now all sound like there is a veil in front of the mic. The difference is one of realism. Instruments sound more like they are infront of me ... not behind a curtain.

    Not saying you should go out and buy a Focusrite Twintrak but I am saying you should go to a good shop and listen to what a good pre-amp can do and how this fits in with mic choice. I think you may also find, like I did, that you get the character of sound from your choice of mic and the quality of sound from choice of pre-amp (assuming the mic is good :P )

    Anyways, enough rant. I might be the only one that thinks this way ... but at least I got it out :P hope it helps.

    Oh yeah ... a review link ...

    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct03/a ... ritett.htm
  • djadamdjadam Boulder, CONew
    Posts: 249
    Jan wrote:
    I think it will ultimately depend on your budget but whatever that is I wouldn't look for warmth from your preamp. If anything I'd be looking for other qualities like transparency... but not warmth. For that I think you need to look more at your mic. Different mics will give you different quality/character of sound.

    Jan, thanks for your inpute! I think I see what you're saying. It seems like a lot of the warmth which I seek, as well as that "up front" quality, comes from a preamp with lots of overhead, or ability to take lots of signal without feeding back. I'm beginning to understand that.

    But I can't help but think that a tube pre can be a real factor too where warmth is concerned. I went to a friend's recording studio and recorded there with my Oktava mic and I've never heard my acoustic guitars sound so warm and lovely. He was using a really expensive ($4000+) tube preamp. The tone was just so buttery, like the kind of tone you might hear on a beautifully engineered acoustic album.

    I've also recorded with Grace's top quality solid state preamps and they had that up-front quality, but not quite the same warmth. Crisp as can be, but there's just a certain warmth which seems to come from a tube on low gain. But with tubes come distortion, so I think you need to spend some bucks to get that warmth while minimizing distortion. Currently I'm looking at the Universal Audio Solo 610 and their upcoming 710 Twinfinity. But I'll also check out that Focusrite Twintrak.
  • JanJan Bremen, GermanyNew
    Posts: 21
    He was using a really expensive ($4000+) tube preamp.

    If you have that type of cash to throw at a tube pre-amp then you'll defo get a goodun'

    I've only heard the cheapo ones and they didn't impress much ... warm yeah ... but lose a lot of signal info in the process. I suppose the expensive ones won't suffer from that issue.
  • djadamdjadam Boulder, CONew
    Posts: 249
    As much as I'd love to, I'm not throwing down that kind of money myself! I'm thinking more in the $500 to $1000 range, which the Universal Audio and Grace pres fit into quite nicely. I might just end up taking a stab at one of them, after which I'll report back.

    Cheers!
  • JanJan Bremen, GermanyNew
    Posts: 21
    > Universal Audio Solo 610

    From what I've heard you can't go much wrong there if you are looking for that sound. I've heard only good things. If you like the sound there then I doubt the Focusrite will be your cup of tea ... but it's worth the comparison just to hear the difference between a 'character' pre and a channel strip.

    A bit more expensive is the SPL Gain Station which I always hear folks rave about ... never heard one so can't comment but maybe worth a listen as I think this may also be in the same direction.

    Article hear...

    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr04/a ... tation.htm

    Anyways, good luck on your hunt and hope you find the right pre sound ... it's a difficult (and expensive) journey :-)
  • djadamdjadam Boulder, CONew
    Posts: 249
    Thanks for that link - that gain station looks really cool. I just want to try them all!

    To complicate things, now I've gotten it into my head that maybe I could get something ultra-transparent, like the Grace pre, and then experiment with tube microphones.

    So many ways to do this and I have everything to learn...
  • JanJan Bremen, GermanyNew
    Posts: 21
    > and then experiment with tube microphones.

    *lol* now that can get really expensive :wink:

    I suppose I've been really lucky in that I have found the exact mic I want and like - Shure SM81. It does everthing I want from a mic and can hold its own in a studio ... maybe not the best in the world but what the heck does that mean anyway. To me, it's the mic that made recorded acoustic guitar sound the most like I was sitting in front of it live... and that was my criteria.

    With that out of the way all I needed to do was think about pre-amps... one for recording and maybe a different one for live stuff. As you say, it is all about experimenting, trying out and learning what is possible... but at least I only had one thing to worry about :-)

    If you haven't already done so then you need to find the mic(s) that does it for you sonically ... and that probably before you think of the pre(s) ... unless you go for a mic+pre set

    My personal order of component importance is...

    Guitar -> Mic -> Pre -> Sound Card or Amp

    I constantly try to improve and progress these components and I have also found that the order of difficulty in doing this is the same. I.e. the guitar is for me the most important part of the chain and the most difficult to upgrade. Next the mic, then the pre and last the Card/Amp.

    ... oh the joys of buying new gear *lol* it's a great game really ... only I wish it wasn't quite as expensive as it is :wink:

    :idea: I think I will try to behave as well as possible in this life and so hopefully in my next life I will be rich :D but I fear, just thinking that has relegated me so I won't qualify anymore :roll:
  • djadamdjadam Boulder, CONew
    Posts: 249
    It's funny... one of my favorite recordings of my band was done at a local radio station. We played live and the guitars were each mic'd with $20 omni mics which looked like black bullets. I have no idea what kind of preamp they used, but everything sounded fantastically natural and warm.

    But you're quite right that it requires experimentation. I always get a little frustrated at this phase because as nice as it'd be to get it right the first time, it's pretty much guaranteed that I'll be looking again in a year or two! But then again, as long as I don't go too cheap, I'm sure I'll get something pleasing now, even if it's not my ideal sound.

    What a cruel irony that this passion for music usually means low pay and really expensive gear - thank the heavens I have a tolerant wife!
  • JanJan Bremen, GermanyNew
    Posts: 21
    djadam wrote:
    - thank the heavens I have a tolerant wife!

    I think that could apply to a good many folks on this forum :D

    Unfortunately, I am running out of answers to "but you already have so many guitars ... what do you need another one for?" :oops:
  • djadamdjadam Boulder, CONew
    Posts: 249
    So I did the impulsive thing... used an expiring 20% off coupon and ordered up a UA 710 Twinfinity at a great price. It meant having to pull the trigger earlier than planned. Their 610 Solo is so highly regarded and I love the idea of blending tube and solid state. They don't ship for a week or two, but I'll report back with a mini review.

    Cheers!

    Adam
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