How To Try Out Pre-Amps (Philosophic & Practical Questio

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How To Try Out Pre-Amps (Philosophic & Practical Questio

Post by Suntower » Thu May 19, 2011 12:13 am

This will likely sound pathetic... but I can't figure out how to ask this -without- sounding pathetic so... :D

I need a decent mic preamp for my high-baritone voice for use in my home(ly) studio. It's not a crap place... and it's serious work. I sell enough product to make a living... but only if I keep costs lower than Crazy Eddie. Sot I have very little budget... at least by 'pro' standards.

Unfortunately, I don't get enough experience in 'real' studios anymore... and when I -did- work steady in such places (circa 1985) I was 'the guitar player' and didn't pay much attention to recording details... and this was largely -before- the emergence of what I call 're-issues'... Neve clones and UA and single-channel boutique units. My memory is of large consoles and not a lot of outboard gear.

I currently have an array of cheap mics and mic pres... Presonus Digimax, Blue Tube, etc. You get the idea.

Last December,, sight unseen, I shelled out what is (for me) a lot of money for a UA Twinfinity and was -shocked- at how C+/B- it sounded. I was fully expecting a WOW! moment for almost $800. (Yeah, that's how ghetto I am.) OK, fine, thank God for EBay.

I -know- I need -something-. I -have- been in 'real' studios and sung into everything from an SM-57 to a decent AKG running straight into an SSL and sounded like I'm supposed to sound... But I have no way of remembering the signal chain. All I know is that it -is- possible. I just need to know the 'recipe'.

So, finally to my question: How do I find the right pre for me? I have approached several dealers in Seattle and the idea of taking the higher end items 'on test' is not all that popular. And places that -do- happily do 'returns' tend to have only the low end junk. Basically, what I'd like to be able to do is have a 'shoot-out'... preferrably in my room, but optionally someplace else, where I can set up my mics and A/B 5-6 mic pres under $1k and decide on one.

Even if the dealer would allow me to return the losers, I can't afford to pay up front for, say, 5 pres. So...

If you were me... how would you go about choosing?

Sorry for the length. I'm sure I'm not alone in this frustration. I'm sure there are plenty of $500-1k pres that will do the job, but it's the practicalities of finding the glass slipper that fits that is proving a challenge.

Any ideas would be most gratefully received.



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Post by Snarl 12/8 » Thu May 19, 2011 12:33 am

Are you sure your problem is the pre? There's a lot more to a big-deal studio than just the pre. The whole signal chain is a system within the system of the whole studio. There's clean power, mics, cables, room treatment, noise floor, monitors, eq's, compression, master section of the board, proper gain staging, the recording medium, electronics in the deck/converters, more cables, etc., etc.
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Post by Tragabigzanda » Thu May 19, 2011 8:21 am

Book a couple hours at a local studio that has a few different high-quality pres. Explain your situation to the engineer, do some shoot-outs (maybe bring the vocal mic you'll likely be using at home), ask questions, take notes.
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Post by Dan Rosato » Thu May 19, 2011 8:38 am

Totally agree with Snarl that everything must be considered, but you're obviously not in a position to completely overhaul your setup. Booking time at a local studio might help a little, but there many of the variables (the sound of the room, monitors, converters, etc) will differ from your setup, leaving you to wonder if the pres themselves were making the difference.

That said, if you're working with an "array of cheap mics and pres," I would suggest that you look at upgrading your vocal mic. As far as I can tell, mic choice and placement tends to have a bigger effect on the sounds you can get than choice of preamp. You'll probably get more bang for your buck if you can shell out about $1k for a good condenser - like a 414.

What mic to do track your vox with usually?

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Post by Snarl 12/8 » Fri May 20, 2011 2:24 am

I've never had a huge variety of mics and pres at my disposal, but I have noticed over the years that different mics can behave and sound differently with different pres. It's a system. In a true system the relationship (communication) between nodes can often be more important to the overall performance of the system than the behavior of any of the nodes individually.

It's like the blue. You can play any note you want, as long as you play the right note before it and the right note after it.
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Post by kslight » Fri May 20, 2011 9:51 am

Maybe the dealers aren't into a take home test but I would think they should be willing to set this up for you at their shop.

But like others have said also, I wouldn't rule out the mic and any compression/EQ that the studios have used on you. I'd venture to say that those will make a bigger impact for your purposes than the difference between preamps in the $500-1000 range. You haven't mentioned the mic you are using, except that you have some cheap mics. For a male baritone vocal on a budget I think an SM7 is great, plug that into a decent channel strip and I think you'd get there. Especially if it's VoiceOver (you haven't said what kind of work you're doing either), but it also is good for rock vocals.

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Post by ott0bot » Fri May 20, 2011 10:16 am seems that several people aren't happy with the Twinfinity, I feel just the opposite. Super versitile, clean sounding but able to be overdriven, high gain....all the things a decent preamp should do. Held it's own vs. a great river, avalon, vintage revox pre, and an ssl board. each his own, i suppose.

I will say this....
A great mic pre, can't always make a mic sound incredible different. And certain mic are more affected by the mic pre's character that others. It can really make a difference on the impedence of the mic is expecting vs. what the pre is feeding it too. Mic pre's with variable impedence can make a world of difference on certain mics.

Also...certain mics can sound just like themselves no matter what pre you use with them with. But if you use a preamp with certain transformers and several gain stages, you can really start to hear a difference.

As far as how to judge a mic pre....that is so subjective. But Dan, Snarl and kslight covered that pretty well. Buy from a reputable dealer with a good return policy. Find a good room, a good source, and use a decent mic. Then audition them, and return what you don't like and keep what you do.

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Post by dsw » Fri May 20, 2011 3:58 pm

Have you talked to Pacific Pro Audio? They are nice guys. Here at SuperDigital we set stuff up on the counter for people to try all the time. We do 48 hour demo loans too. I know that won't help you all the way up there in Oz, but give Pac Pro a try and see what they can do to help. I'm a huge advocate of "try before you buy."

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Post by eeldip » Fri May 20, 2011 6:13 pm

buy used, and buy under market. sell if you don't like it. you'll probably be close to breaking even after auditioning a few pres. with a small chance of making some money in the process.

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Post by Ryan Silva » Fri May 20, 2011 7:40 pm

It's true in your situation, money spent at the microphone might bring you more happiness. As far as the Twinfinity's go, I think they may have been marketed a little on the inappropriate side. They don't sound vintage, particularly warm, an lack what some people like to hear from there vocal mic pre' and thats vibe. Yet they have a vintage styling on the box, and come from UA, which makes one hell of a vibey pre-amp in the m610. So I'm not suprised that you were expecting something different. On the other hand, after hearing those twinfinity's I could imagine them useful on a bunch of different sources, even vocals if you had the right mic.

When I first got a AKG 414 buls I thought it sounded kind of harsh on my high baritone voice but noticed that if I sang off axis a little, there was nothing else like it on my voice. Point being, it's often how you use said piece of gear, rather than your first impression.

And oh yeah, try a UA m610, or maybe one of those solo's (which I haven't heard) you will certainly 'hear' your mic pre.
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Post by -3db » Sat May 21, 2011 4:49 am

Yes UA has that solo 610 that might fit your budget. ... o-610.html

If you get some more bucks together, a Focusrite 428 or 828 is versatile. I have two 428's. You can also add the digital card. There are instrument DIis for each channel so you don't need to buy an outboard DI.

They have switches so you can change the input impedance to match whatever mic you happen to have. They also give you tons of gain available. You'll have no problem with any dynamic or ribbon. ... a428_mkii/
Um excuse me, these headphones aren't working...

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