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  #1  
Old 04-09-2010, 05:31 PM
SnoSkiDrew SnoSkiDrew is offline
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Default Why use a mic preamp?

I've seen lots of discussion about mic preamps across the net, but I've never used one. I have a USB interface to provide power to my Rode NT1, but I've never thought of using a preamp.

What are some of the benefits of using a preamp? What are some on the lower end of the spectrum that are good bang for the buck?

Thanks in advance!
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Old 04-09-2010, 06:12 PM
makikogi makikogi is offline
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well your interface has a preamp. The preamp is the backbone of the tone. A good preamp will give you a nice strong, meaty and transparent tone, where a bad pre will yield a weak, anemic and muddy tone. It's different than just eqing also. You can eq the heck out of a crappy guitar, it'll only yield you a not as crappy tone, but eq a high end Taylor, martin, etc and you'll be rewarded with guitar bliss. So basically getting a good preamp has the same kind of principal as getting a good guitar (analogously that is)

So go buy yourself a brand new R Taylor guitar!!! or an Avalon or Manly pre!!

edit: haha sorry I should have finished reading the entire post. I haven't had that much experience with different types of preamps, but I have a presonus eureka (channel strip) that has a pretty clean pre. I like it, but if I were to do it over again, I would get a straight preamp, and not a channel strip (which includes eq and compression). I would get strictly a good preamp. I would say just stay away from the cheap stuff (presonus bluetube) Tube preamps are definitely worth the money, but they are pretty expensive. I wish I could give you some recommendations, but I must admit I don't have that much experience to give you solid advice. What kind of pre do you have on your interface? Start form there, cause sometimes a little thing like the ART tube MP can help out simply because of the increase in headroom.
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Last edited by makikogi; 04-09-2010 at 06:22 PM.
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Old 04-09-2010, 07:00 PM
Fran Guidry Fran Guidry is offline
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I believe, from some years of experience, that the impact of preamps is vastly overstated, and that transparency is available at a fairly low cost. Higher cost units offer features, reliability, circuit topology, bragging rights, but the sonic impact is small compared to things like room treatment and mic placement, let alone the quality of the performance.

Preamps built in to low cost interfaces and recorders can be expected to suffer some compromise - after all they probably cost under a dollar to build. Often these will have higher noise and less dynamic range than upscale units.

So, the question is, do you have enough gain to record average levels around -20 dBFS?

Do your recordings suffer from the preamp noise, or does the ambient noise in your recording environment swamp the electronic noise?

If the preamp isn't causing problems, save the money to spend on a couple of broadband absorber panels (more is better) and a monitor upgrade.

Fran
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Old 04-09-2010, 08:38 PM
Pokiehat Pokiehat is offline
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If you don't use a preamp with your NT1, the signal going into your soundcard's mixer will be tiny so you will end up having to pile on about 40 to 60dB of gain post recording which will sound awful and hissy.

Other than that, how cheap is cheap? Preamps are one of those things you can spend like a 100 bucks or several thousand bucks on.

In order of cheapness...

M-Audio Audio Buddy. Its pretty good and you wont find anything better for less money. Supplies phantom power if you need it and it has instrument level inputs so you can run a guitar pickup into the front.

Focusrite Green. If you can find a Green 1 or something for significantly less than an RNP or a Brick then its a good deal. Otherwise avoid. Don't ebay them since they were notorious for having crappy pots and switches. Heh, also a hot contender for ugliest rackable gear award.

FMR RNP. The compressor (RNC) is kickass. I think the pre (RNP) is a bit overrated but its popular and definitely fills a gap in the market (there is a dearth of 2 channel pres for under 500 bucks). Gain steps in 6 dB increments for reasons I have no idea why. I personally think it sounds exactly like my onboard pres except the gain trim jumps in massive steps. If you already have something like a Saffire, Impact Twin or Fireface as your soundcard you don't need this.

The Brick. It kind of looks like a brick too. Only 1 channel this time but it'll take anything, even a guitar pickup since it has a built in DI to switch down the impedance. It ain't exactly quiet but its really nice.

Focusrite ISA one. It looks like they are selling these for less than 500 bucks now which is kind of an insane price. I always liked the 'blue' preamps. Some people say Focusrite pres are boring but whatever. You only get 1 channel but its a good channel. Careful. It gets hot enough to cook eggs on it.

After that it all gets very expensive...

Last edited by Pokiehat; 04-09-2010 at 08:59 PM.
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Old 04-09-2010, 09:41 PM
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I use a Presonus dual Bluetube. Its not expensive, but you have to fiddle with it to get good tone without adding noise.
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Old 04-09-2010, 10:33 PM
SnoSkiDrew SnoSkiDrew is offline
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For my NT1, I have a M-Auio MobilePre USB interface providing phantom power and gain controls.. not sure if that's "enough" gain to make it not hiss a ton (and not having to turn up the volume on the track post-recording).
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Old 04-09-2010, 11:25 PM
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RRuskin RRuskin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fran Guidry View Post
I believe, from some years of experience, that the impact of preamps is vastly overstated, and that transparency is available at a fairly low cost. Higher cost units offer features, reliability, circuit topology, bragging rights, but the sonic impact is small compared to things like room treatment and mic placement, let alone the quality of the performance...........
I beg to differ. I won't argue about the importance of a decent sounding room, mic choice/placement, or performance. However, as one who has recorded and/or been recorded via mic preamps from lowly TASCAM, Fostex, & JBL consoles to the likes of Spectra-Sonics, Neve, MCI/Sony, Deanne Jensen, Great River Electronics, & FMR Audio front ends, I can state without any fear of contradiction that the better the preamp, the easier it is to get the work done. When it comes to the final mix, there will be far less signal processing necessary to get things to sit properly in the end product.

People forget that acoustic guitars don't ask a hell of a lot from a mic input. They have a relatively small frequency range, aren't very loud so they don't require a lot of headroom or transient response. Anything that has enough gain and is quiet enough will do a decent job. Try recording a set of drums or anything else with high transients with that same device and it's a very different story. Try mixing an entire band recorded through that same guitar friendly pre and see how much fun that is. Yes it can be done but boy is it a royal pain. Trust me.
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Old 04-10-2010, 10:35 AM
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[QUOTE=RRuskin;

People forget that acoustic guitars don't ask a hell of a lot from a mic input. They have a relatively small frequency range, aren't very loud so they don't require a lot of headroom or transient response. Anything that has enough gain and is quiet enough will do a decent job. [/QUOTE]

Thank you RRus,
Your comment is an eyes opener for me, sometimes people made simple things so complicated than it should be
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Old 04-10-2010, 11:30 AM
Fran Guidry Fran Guidry is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SnoSkiDrew View Post
For my NT1, I have a M-Auio MobilePre USB interface providing phantom power and gain controls.. not sure if that's "enough" gain to make it not hiss a ton (and not having to turn up the volume on the track post-recording).
How are the gain and hiss are related in your recording efforts??

Please understand, if you want to make your recordings better, you're supposed to turn up the track in post. Your analog electronics (mic pre, line amp, a/d buffer) are designed to deliver a signal near 0 dBVU (the old professional standard) which is (depending on your calibration) -18 to -20 dBFS.

This is much quieter than any commercial CD.

This is the appropriate level for your mixing. Instead of adjusting the levels of the tracks simply turn up your monitors to the level you prefer. You'll have plenty of headroom and a nice clean set of tracks to work with.

When you have your mix completed, use your mastering tools and expertise to raise the track level to your satisfaction.

Fran

Last edited by Fran Guidry; 04-10-2010 at 04:02 PM.
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Old 04-10-2010, 11:44 AM
shawlie shawlie is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pokiehat View Post
M-Audio Audio Buddy. Its pretty good and you wont find anything better for less money. Supplies phantom power if you need it and it has instrument level inputs so you can run a guitar pickup into the front.
I bought one of those second hand from a friend and used it for the first time last night. It was live and used a Dean Markley soundhole pick-up. The pick-up is ok for what it costs, but never had a lot of luck with it live (poor volume) but the pre-amp worked out very nicely with it, I was happy to see. I'll be using it a lot more.
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Old 04-10-2010, 03:20 PM
alohachris alohachris is offline
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Default Re: Preamps

Aloha,

The art of recording is in matching the right elements for a given task: i.e., matching the right mic & preamp for the right voice & style of music, or the right preamp and mics for the right guitar for a particular song, for example.

That's why studios have lockers full of mics and preamps - the need for having the right tool for the right music. It's not a matter of buying one "better" preamp and having your recorded sounds become worlds "better." It's about the right combination of elements and how they work together throughout your entire rig.

As Fran said, you can achieve more dramatic and better results, especially at the entry level, from putting money into room treatment than you can simply buying a higher end preamp. Since you've told us that you're using a USB interface into a nice, but fairly low-end Rode mic (in terms of professional recording), room treatment should be your first priority, not upscale preamps, IMO. I've found that out myself as I progress with my recording learning process.

Although I have better preamps, I'm content to use the very good preamps in my Duet interface until I understand this process better. The more treatment I put in my room, the better everything sounds.

Where better preamps truly shine in my experience, is when the other elements in your chain are of equal quality - especially the mics. That's where I can really hear the differences between a Great River NV-2 and an API 3124, a Neve 1073 or the Manley TNT-tube, or an Avalon 737 or Pendulum SPS-1.

But if you "upgrade" your preamp to something like an under $1000 Presonus or M-Audio, you won't hear that much difference at all, if any.

It's all about understanding how to put the right combinations of tools together for the right instruments, voices and music; tools that are of equal quality in your signal chain, and investing in a treated room in which you can control them.

And that knowledge, as I'm finding, doesn't come overnight. It's why most of us should actually pay engineers instead of recording ourselves.

All that said, you should use a decent preamp - even if they're part of your interface, which is what both you and I are using now.

Good Luck,

alohachris

Last edited by alohachris; 04-10-2010 at 03:34 PM.
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Old 04-10-2010, 03:43 PM
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RRuskin RRuskin is offline
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Quote:
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..............Where better preamps truly shine in my experience, is when the other elements in your chain are of equal quality - especially the mics. That's where I can really hear the differences between a Great River NV-2 and an API 3124, a Neve 1073 or the Manley TNT-tube, or an Avalon 737 or Pendulum SPS-1...................
One of the most overlooked part of the chain is the monitor system. What passes for "studio" monitors these days is pretty lame in my estimation. There's a reason why commercial studios use the systems that they do: If a problem can't be heard, it can't be dealt with.
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