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  #1  
Old 01-03-2012, 09:37 AM
Gazzamundo Gazzamundo is offline
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Default Mic Preamp: should I or shouldn't I?

Hi guys, been a while since I posted, I've been busy singing, playing, gigging and recording. Honest!

Just a quick post for a few words of friendly advice: I'm a Sonar X1 user, home studio, decent enough sounding room, Focal monitors, SE Z5600 valve mic going into an Alesis io26 audio interface. I'm mainly recording just myself on vocals and acoustic guitar (separately, though sometimes together), occasional electric guitar (though I'm happy enough with the sound I get on the electric) and percussion. Think (a poor man's) James Taylor.

I feel the io26 is probably a weak point in my signal path (cost nowhere near as much as the mic or monitors) and was thinking about getting a mic pre to bypass the io26's mic pres. I was looking at spending around £400/$600.

Is it worth the expenditure? And if so, what do you recommend?

Thanks in advance!

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Old 01-03-2012, 10:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazzamundo View Post
...Is it worth the expenditure? And if so, what do you recommend?
Hi Gary...
I've come to the conclusion for most average home studio recordings, for the average user, mic preamps are pretty over priced, and don't show enough improvement in the final recordings.

I had good success and great results with a moderately priced two channel Bellarri tube preamp for 8 years in our home studio. None of the artists who were frequenting my studio were recording for major labels, and were just producing CDs for sale at gigs and concerts, or to give away to family and friends.

Depending on your application of the recordings, I think one can drop more money than is practical with little to show for it on preamps.

I think the room and treatment, and mic technique is more important.


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Old 01-03-2012, 01:00 PM
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For that sort of price, I'd recommend upgrading to a Duet (mac), RME Babyface (mac, windows) or Sound Devices Usbpre2 (mac, windows, linux). They all have good pres and just generally better quality in every way.
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Old 01-03-2012, 01:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazzamundo View Post

I feel the io26 is probably a weak point in my signal path (cost nowhere near as much as the mic or monitors) and was thinking about getting a mic pre to bypass the io26's mic pres. I was looking at spending around £400/$600.
After a quick glance at the io26 spec page I wonder do you know for sure if you can bypass the mic pre's? Because at a glance it seems all 8 analog inputs run directly to the pres, However I could be missing something. You could call Alesis for clarification. If in fact you cannot bypass the internal pre's then if add a pre you are somewhat defeating the goal because you would still be sending the signal through the Alesis pre's. after sending through the outboard pre so you may not be getting any improvement except for more possible gain. That said if you can bypass the internal pre's and you are looking for just a mic pre, In that price range consider the FMR audio RNP 8380 here is the link .http://fmraudio.com/rnp.htm
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Old 01-04-2012, 03:16 AM
Gazzamundo Gazzamundo is offline
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Thanks for your replies, fellow AGFers!

Larry - I wanna be better than average, which was why I was thinking about upgrading But point taken, will I hear the difference with a new preamp, or just convince myself there is coz I've spent all that cash!? I just want to get the best possible results and would spend good money for better results.

Moon, wasn't really thinking about replacing my interface, it's got everything I need and works fine, just thought that a £400 mic pre has got to sound a lot better than the pres on a £250 interface. That Sound Devices interface sure looks, but it's way over my budget (in the UK), and lacks some of the facilities I need in an interface.

Kev - thanks for reading up on the spec. You can bypass the mic pres by using the channel inserts, only drawback is this will be an unbalanced connection between outboard pre and interface. The io26 also has ADAT and s/pdif inputs, which presumably bypass both the preamps and the A/D converter, so any outboard pre with a digital out would do.
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Old 01-04-2012, 12:09 PM
Fran Guidry Fran Guidry is offline
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The presumption that higher dollars (or pounds or euros or yen) = better audio isn't borne out by my experience. I've compared my M-Audio DMP3 to my John Hardy M-1 and couldn't distinguish between them in a double blind comparison.

Check this thread: http://www.gearslutz.com/board/gear-...r-ada8000.html

The ADA800 is the cheapest of the cheap while the Lynx Aurora is multiple thousands of dollars.

Fran
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Old 01-04-2012, 02:16 PM
Scott Whigham Scott Whigham is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ljguitar View Post
I've come to the conclusion for most average home studio recordings, for the average user, mic preamps are pretty over priced, and don't show enough improvement in the final recordings...

I think the room and treatment, and mic technique is more important.
+1

If you are at the point where you think a mic pre solves your problem, you really need to step back and re-evaluate your knowledge of recording IMO. I think mic pres are a big deal but they are much farther down the chain that the mic, room, room treatment, mic technique, converters, and of course playing ability. If, after you've done what you think is best at all of those levels and want to experiment, then by all means - try some new pres. Just don't go into this thinking that a mic pre - no matter how much it costs - is going to solve everything.
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Old 01-04-2012, 03:05 PM
Gazzamundo Gazzamundo is offline
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Well as I said earlier, I don't want to be average and I don't want average results! My thinking was that a mic pre that costs 10 times as much as the individual mic pres on my interface should sound like it's doing something, should surely lead to a perceptible improvement in quality. Do none of you use these kind of things in your recording chain?
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Old 01-04-2012, 03:17 PM
Scott Whigham Scott Whigham is offline
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No one is saying mic pres are irrelevant - if I'm reading this right, we are unanimously saying that there are other things that matter a great deal more. I think it's really more along the lines of us wanting to make sure you aren't disappointed if you go plunk down $1000 on a new mic pre.

Here's the question that I (and maybe everyone else responding here) has: will you even be able to tell the difference between a $30 pre, a $300 pre, and a $3000 pre?

We don't know - and I'm trying to make sure you realize that there are other areas that give you more bang for the buck, so to speak. We don't know what mics, what mic technique, what room treatment, monitoring, conversion - all of that matters way more. If you focus first on those and then come back to the pre, then bam - it's all going to be better.

Someone somewhere on the web used a great analogy - I'd like to attribute it to someone but I can't remember who said it. The idea is that your recording chain can be likened to a window - one of those windows that has many separate panes (let's use a nice number like "six" for our number of panes). You can then like each pane to a piece of gear - mic, room, treatment, converters, monitoring, technique.

The ultimate goal is to have six clear panes - thus giving you a great view into the "source", right? If any one of those panes is "dirty" (needs improvement), then the overall view is diminished accordingly. The mic pre is but one pane and, IMO, it's placement is like way up on the top left that's maybe even higher than your eye normally sees haha. The idea I'm trying to make is that, by focusing on the panes that are in your line of sight, you'll get better "bang for your buck".
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Old 01-04-2012, 04:00 PM
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I like to use good gear, but there are several things to keep in mind. For one, upgrading one element may not help if the rest of the chain isn't up to the same level. And two, you may or may not be able to hear the difference anyway, in many cases. Your ears are part of the total chain, and at some point the difference in specs is simply less than even the best ears can hear.

I was chatting with Joe Weed, an engineer, while recording my recent cd. Joe has the best of everything, right down to a killer studio where every room is isolated at the foundation level. In spite this at one point he told me that he had his top 10 list of what mattered in a recording. In order of importance he said the 10 things were ( doing this from memory):

1,2,3: the player
4,5,6: the instrument
7: room acoustics
8: the recording engineer
9: mics
Distant 10th place: all other gear, preamps, a/d's, recorder, etc

Doesn't mean this last stuff doesn't matter, and Joe probably has well over a hundred grand in all that last place stuff. But it puts it in perspective. Which will make more difference, a preamp, or practicing a few more hours? Probably the latter.
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Old 01-04-2012, 04:23 PM
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I like good gear and I don't think it makes that much difference in what order you improve it. IMO a getting a good preamp first is as valid as any as a first step. In fact it makes it easier to evaluate any mikes you may be testing out. Improving room acoustics may be limited quite a bit by what other functions the room serves and who uses it (i.e. the spouse). In the meantime you can mike closer and look for sweet recording spots in the room as it is.
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Old 01-04-2012, 04:34 PM
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A few years ago, I started on a quest to build a nice signal chain for recording, ended up with some pretty nice gear. It was a leap of faith as far as whether my recordings would reflect what I spent, but what I ended up discovering was that it did in fact make a big difference. You may ask, how big? Well, it still depends: It depends on all of the other things people here will tell you, because every aspect of your signal chain will play a significant part in the end result. Even your ability to hear a difference is something that takes time to develop. After all the gear was purchased, there were still other aspects of a nice quality recording that challenged me, like room treatment, my playing and singing ability, my guitar, and my knowledge of the equipment, the microphones, where to place them in relation to the source, etc. The small things became more critical and I found myself immersed in a world of all these seemingly small factors that all play an important part in the end result.

In order to get a good recording, I still have to practice, practice, practice, not only with the gear, but I have to be able to perform flawlessly, for the most part, or at least to a level I am comfortable with.

One problem with settling for less expensive gear is, you will always wonder how much better it would sound to you if you did. Remember, you can still make bad recordings with nice gear, but at least there is a greater potential for better results. As has been proven, one can also achieve great results with mid to low end gear.

It depends on what you want to spend and what you are ultimately shooting for. If you want nice gear, investing in a good dual channel preamp is a great idea! Like Rick said, it is as good a place to start as any.

As far as room treatment, start by getting something cheap and portable in the way of foam packing material and fiberglass panels to put up and take down easily. This will make the biggest difference for the least cost. I made the mistake of waiting too long to add room treatment, and it eliminated a boomy element which plagued my recordings.

Regards!
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Old 01-04-2012, 04:42 PM
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The thread Fran posted showed that the gear geeks couldn't tell the difference between a cheap pre-amp and a premium pre-amp. I don't have any premium pre-amps, but I can say that my M-Audio DMP-3 ($150; two simple channels) sounds about as good as my Pre-sounus Eureka ($500; 1 channel with a bunch of knobs).

I'm not suffering for, but I don't have nearly as much as some guys. I find that the formula for me sounding better is like this:
1) Improve my playing and technique (always working on this)
2) Improve my knowledge and ability to work with what I have (always working on this)
3) Improve gear, room treatments, etc... (I'm done with this for a while)
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Old 01-04-2012, 05:27 PM
Fran Guidry Fran Guidry is offline
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I'd really appreciate it if someone would create a couple of level matched same performance clips that demonstrate the improvement from a preamp upgrade. Please. Anyone.

Preamps aren't cars, and audio is not a race. More money buys faster cars but it doesn't buy "more" or "better" audio. There are limits to human perception. Once your gear is performing beyond those limits, a human can't directly perceive any further improvements.

Take a good piece of glass and polish it so it's clean and transparent.

Now take a second piece of glass, made from the rarest sand by the best glass maker in the world using the highest tech super-precision oven. It's quite possible that the specs of the second piece of glass are better than the first. Possibly a microscopic examination finds a difference, or it's stronger, or it passes ultra-violet rays better. But you can't see through it any better than the first one.

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Old 01-04-2012, 05:32 PM
Scott Whigham Scott Whigham is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fran Guidry View Post
I'd really appreciate it if someone would create a couple of level matched same performance clips that demonstrate the improvement from a preamp upgrade. Please. Anyone.
I have cheap and expensive pres - give me an "assignment" and I can run something through the pres. I know, however, that the internet is unforgiving - no matter what/how I do it, someone will complain "It wasn't right" or "Nope, not even close".

Tell me, step by step, exactly what you want me to do and I'll do it. If you want, I can reamp electric guitar through my MW1 which IMO would make it more obvious if there is a difference. There could be no doubt as to the difference (if any) in pres in that regard.

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