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Avalon, Focusrite ISA430 MKII, or SPL Frontliner? Which one to get?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by Trex, Sep 5, 2015.

  1. Trex

    Trex Active Member

    Hey guys,
    I really need good advice! feedback or anything that can help me choose between these 3 Channel Strips.

    I can buy any of these and I need to get one fairly soon. I think I’ve read almost everything online regarding these Channel Strips, but the votes are so 50/50, so can’t make up my mind, especially if you can’t test them all.

    This will be used ONLY for vocals, mainly male vocals. Music type: Cinematic arrangements with lots of lush vocals, ambient, pop and electronic genres.

    Looking at these units since I need one good Channel Strip (built good with good components, as much as possible!;-)) that is musical, has many sound options, the Comp, EQ and a De-esser on board would be great too. For the sound, looking for a channel strip with a good, warm, very smooth/silky sound that bring vocals out real good. Nothing harsh or muddy.

    As for the Mic used: Neumann U87, or something similar.

    These are the Channel Strips:

    1. Avalon VT-737sp
    2. Focusrite ISA430 MKII Producer Pack
    3. SPL Frontliner

    Avalon.. is kindda my first choice, but I know, lots of debate on this, either you love it or you don’t, comp a bit slow…goes really good with the u87... yea, yea.

    Focusrite ISA430 MKII Producer Pack, seems like a good unit with lots of options…but can’t get much feedback on that.

    SPL Frontliner, looks like a real good piece too, but the internet is sooooo…quite on this one not sure why?

    Found these online links so you can take a look.

    Avalon VT-737sp
    Focusrite ISA430 MKII Producer Pack
    SPL Frontliner

    Thank you for the help guys!
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I love SPL gear, I've owned a lot of it but buy an LA2A and a dedicated pre and forget about channel strips. Waste of money imho.
    What other preamps do you own?
    pan60 likes this.
  3. pan60

    pan60 Active Member

    what he said.
  4. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I heard a lot of bad opinions about the Avalon. Harsh and hyped are among them. I would guess that it'll make a good job on vintage mics that lacks a bit of HF..
    The 430 is very well regarded and has the classic ISA design pre that I know well. Its transformers produce a slighly colored sound that is far from steril and not hyped like others. I have 2 ISA TWO (so 4 total) I didn't get the chance to try them with a U87 but I like them for their tons of noisefree levels. If you have a dynamic content to record or want to use a ribbon mic, that's my go to. I don't use it very often on vocal since I got 2 UA LA-610 but on low level signer their my first choice.
    SPL make good units but I never tried this one..

    Other pre to consider :
    UA LA-610 mkII
    PreSonus ADL 700
    Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5015
    Manley Core
    Millennia STT-1 Origin (I guess the most transparent of the bunch)

    The very best thing you could do is bring your Mic to a studio that has does preamps rent an hour and test them.. Or even better, rent the pre and test them in your environment. Then decide for your self the sound you are looking for ;)

  5. Trex

    Trex Active Member

    Thank you so much for the reply!

    Currently i'm just using a very simple pre from a friend, but need to return it very soon. So i need to get something good so i can use here.
    The only reason i'm looking for one Channel Strip to do a good job, is mainly $$, i know you can get very very high end with this stuff and yes, to split the gear like "audiokid" mentioned would be better, but that would more than double the $$ at the moment. So trying to find the best Channel Strip that can do the job and if i really, really want to i'll push it and spend around $3000, but that's it. So, for this $ range i'm thinking about the Millennia STT-1 Origin, i know it is a good unit, but i'm afraid if it's not too "clean" "sterile?", i really don't mind if the channel strip i'll be getting has nice color to it, that's why. Is it REALLY that better than the Avalon 737??
    Or i'll get a slap on the face for even comparing these:)LOL!!

    Again, for the type of music i'm currently doing, i really need something very warm, very smooth and sweet:) Nothing harsh, or too distorted.

    * one thing i don't understand about the Avalon 737, is that every studio has it, many big names used it and still.....many people hate it!! Really strange.

    Thank you!
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    If you are serious about your vocals, invest in the main components. The voice is no different than a guitarist who takes his axe, amp and effects with him. This is no different than a drummer who brings his kit with him. Take control of your voice and you will never regret.

    Vocals and drums are what sets the stage in a mix. Vocals are king of a track. The drums and music encompass the vocals, not the other way around. If the vocals are big and rich sounding (even HPF to fit the track) , the music will always have the best soundscape to work in. If vocals sound small (thinner and middy), the focus of the music has to compromise in order blend and glue vocals properly.. Make sense?
    In fact, this is the biggest mistake I hear in music today. People are using awesome sounding electronic drums and VSTi while using cheap pre, and converters in hope their home based vocals will blend in with digital music. :notworthy:

    If you are working with VSTi, samples and libraries, or collaborating with other artists around the world, its even more critical to have the best vocal tracking system you can afford. Why? because VSTi and most professionally produced libraries are done in studios that have the best recording rooms and gear possible. You want to be "on par" with the best, not the other way around.
    If your vocals sound great, the music will mix better for everyone in the project. Its as simple as that.
    Therefore, if you are serious about your voice (which it sounds like you are), don't waste money on a channel strip or extra components of a product that already comes inside a DAW.

    The mic, mic-pre and a leveling amplifier like an LA2A are the main things I would carry with me to produce world class vocals. The DAW can do all the rest better ITB, today.

    If I was you, I would choose a mic (the U87 sounds like a great start). Get a good micpre (and I would not cheap out on that either), and when the times comes... find a used LA2A and guard it with your life. To me, the LA2A is an essential tool for capturing lush vocals. It helps everything but opera imho.
    If you can't afford an LA2A, look for a used UA 1176LN. That is without doubt going to kick ass for you too. In fact, both of those are the ultimate vocal add-on.
    UA gear has great resale value so if you get hit by a bus, your family can sell it to help pay for the funeral costs. (y)

    And, its always best to try gear if you can.
    pcrecord likes this.
  7. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Clean does't mean steril. Clean and transparent means that you get the best representation of the source. It's like having a well exposed picture vs under-exposed on which some parts are too dark to be seen. Starting with clean open your choices to any sound. Colored means one sound, it could perfect for some songs but not so good for others If you have to chose one pre go for transparent.. But again, trying them is a big deception saver.

    @audiokid : you are one of the best person to speak about the Millennia preamps, give Trex an idea why you use/like them ;)
    audiokid likes this.
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Thank you,

    Well, if I had my way, I would have at least one M-2b and/or a HV3 in my vocal kit. A big rail transformerless micpre like these two have a sweet transparent (open sound) capture.
    You can always colour after the micpre. Coloured pre's can also sound smaller or compromised so it is imho, better to start out with high quality transparent pres and look for colour in your add-ons like an LA2A (leveling amp) and put this "after" the micpre. Depending on your choices, you can choose how much colour to add in a chain.
    My choices are of course subjective, but its what people I respect have done for decades and what I continue to tell my loved ones all the time.

    Not saying to go out and buy one of these but I sure would love to hear what an http://www.mil-media.com/HV-32P.html preamp would sound like. What a deal for these.

    And of course, some excellent preamp choices have been already mentioned. There are dozens of other fantastic micpres to choose as well. :love:
    pcrecord likes this.
  9. Trex

    Trex Active Member

    Ok, great! Thank you so much for all the information, it helps, I really appreciate that!

    I’ll sure check all the gear you’ve mention. I completely understand the procedure of getting the vocals clean and natural as much as possible and splitting the gear, if you can do it, however, I had few times before when I wish I could just tweak the vocal tiny bit through a channel strip with a bit of EQ, or de-essing, “smoothing out” the vocal, that would’ve save me some time after, when mixing/tracking.

    I think all the gear mentioned above is excellent! And it matters how will you use it and if it will work for you music proposes.
  10. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    There is two ways to go about it, record the cleanest and process in the DAW OR craft the sound before the it hits the converter.
    If you EQ and comp etc.. while recording, you need to be conscient that you can't go back. If you loose too much dynamics you can't ever get them back once it's in the DAW. But if you know your tools very well and apply the less is more modo, it can make you save a lot of time because if forces you to commit to a sound.

    With my UA LA-610 I usually don't EQ more than 1.5db and I never comp more than 2-3 db except for some occasionnal scream or very loud notes.. Good thing is the comp of the LA is very forgiving on how little the sound will change before braking up to saturation. It's another thing with the preamp.. if set to high it brakes easily, so it's a charm if this is the sound you are looking for.

    Also you should know that more transparent pre are taking EQs a lot better than others..
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    LOL :LOL:
    pcrecord likes this.
  12. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    With that budget, you are in a much better position than the majority of people who show up here and say that they want the best "pro" sound they can get... and then say that their budget is $200. LOL ;)

    I'm not inferring that you don't know all of the following; I just thought I'd clarify some things so that if someone of lesser experience happened to be doing an internet search on the topic, that they might find the following info useful... so please don't take offense, I'm not saying that you don't already know what follows below. :)

    To me, it all comes down to what Chris mentioned (@audiokid ), in that it's a "color vs transparency" thing. While I don't think that there is such a thing as complete and total 100% transparency, there are certain preamps that have far less color/character to them than others. Some may not implement transformers (XFO's) and some that do use XFO's, or in other cases will use Tubes, and still others that will implement both. That's not to say that one type is really any "better" than the other, they're just different. There are some great sounding pre's of all types.

    And of course, the mic is going to play a big part in all of this as well, and that choice depends on the vocalist or instrument. I have a U87, a U89i, a 414EB, (along with various other condensers, dynamics and ribbons) and for my voice, out of those three pro mics, I prefer the 414EB. (The EB series was the last model of the 414 that had the original CK12 brass capsule - subsequent models since have all used a Teflon/mylar capsule).

    In my own perfect world, I would like to have all three types of preamps - I want options to choose from, depending on what I'm doing and what I'm after at the time.
    I already have several tube pre's (along with a tube mic), so my next addition will be something with more transparency than what I already have, which is an ADK AP1. It's an XFO based preamp, where I can swap out different XFO's and OpAmps to achieve different textures. I'm planning on picking up a pre in the next few months - probably a Grace, but I haven't ruled out the Millennia HV35 - either of which have far more transparency than the ADK that I'm currently using as my one "pro" preamp.
    Having the ability to choose, depending on the recording scenario, is very attractive to me. I don't want to be nailed down to just one "sound".

    Grace, Millennia, Grass Valley, (there are others) are all preamps that have a more pristine, more transparent type of sound to them, as opposed to Neve's, API's, SSL's, ( and many others) which all have their own individual color/character, ( and which are in fact known for their particular character, which is why guys choose them to begin with) and still other preamps, such as ISA's, ADK's, Vintech, Amek, etc., will impart their own distinctive character as well. Add tube preamps into this list of choices, and you've really opened up a boatload of possibilities... oh, and by the way, you can add me to the list of people who really don't care for the Avalon 737. ;)

    I also agree with Marco ( @pcrecord ) that the more transparent-sounding preamps tend to "take" EQ better than tracks recorded using preamps that have a distinctive character to them, I find this to be most evident on acoustic instruments.
    Although the other side of that coin, is that when you choose a particular sound that you like - say something like an API or a Neve pre - that this is the character that you want anyway, and you shouldn't really add all that much EQ afterwards, if the sound you originally liked is the sound that you printed.

    The only difference I can see between a preamp and a channel strip - and I'm not saying it's a small difference - is that one is just the pre, which usually comes with a pad, phase, phantom power - some will also offer an HPF, and some will offer also impedance switching as well, along with balanced ins and outs.

    The channel strip is the pre with some (or all) of those things mentioned above, but which also includes all the various features of that particular channel, depending on the make and model.

    So, using SSL as an example - on something like a 4000 E or G Series - you would have the pre, plus the EQ section, plus an inline GR/Gate, plus adjustable HPF/LPF, plus the ability to sidechain, plus the ability to switch the order of the signal,
    ( EQ/Comp, or Comp/EQ). All of these things certainly add up to being able to sculpt how you want before the signal hits your DAW - but - it's still going to have that SSL "sound" ( which is of course exactly why guys use them)... and, if that's a sound you dig, then it's a great thing to have.

    But if you want tonal options, your best bet is to probably look at the workflow that Chris mentioned, and use something as transparent as you can, and then add coloration after the fact, using the vast array of tonal/GR tools (either ITB or OB) that are now available.

    IMHO of course.

  13. Trex

    Trex Active Member

    Thank you so much DonnyThompson for all this great information! Really helps to hear what other pro people think:)

    No worries, I don’t take offense:) I’ve been recording for some time and I do have some knowledge about stuff, but always appreciate other people’s opinion and their knowledge! They do put more light and help me understand things better!:)) especially regarding gear and technical stuff. The information here really helps.

    Splitting up the recording gear so you can have a clean path and also have the ability to work with each one of the units separately is sure the best way! But it does cost a lot more, specially if you're picky and only want good stuff:)) i'll be working on this!

    By the way, when i selected my gear list above, and added the Focusrite ISA430 MKII, to this list i also thought about an option of connecting a nice warm/tube preamp through that unit since it has great routing options and good sound sculpture possibilities. So the set up would be: U87 to a good warm Preamp, to the Focusrite ISA430 MKII and this goes directly into a DAW (i think with the optional card). Would this be a good quality set up?

    Anybody has an opinion about this set up, just wondering?

    Thank you guys!
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Well, the Focusrite ISA430 is a preamp, and a fairly warm one at that, so you don't really need to add another one, unless you want to, at which point I would suggest something more transparent - say something like a Grace M101 - which would give you the options previously discussed. The Grace will cost you about $700, give or take, but it's definitely a pro pre. It also has some serious gain, for microphones that require it to work at their optimum; some dynamics, like the Shure SM7, require serious gain, as do Ribbon mics, so the Grace, which provides up to 75db of gain, would be a great choice.

    In regard to the chain you've mentioned above; quality-wise it's a great path... but the sound is subjective, depending on whom you ask, and also depending on the context - the style of the song, the way you want the vocals, etc. to sound.

    For someone like Chris (@audiokid ), he generally prefers a very clean and transparent path, preferably something to capture as much of the natural aspect of the source, and without coloration, (at least for the most part... I say this because he's also mentioned that he occasionally likes to frontload with an LA2 or an 1176, and these can add some color.)

    If you ask someone like Me, I would say that it's a fantastic option, but I wouldn't want to be limited to just that path. Ask someone like Marco (@pcrecord ) who is using a path similar to this, and he'd likely tell you it's a fine chain - although he may also agree with me that having a "cleaner" pre at the ready wouldn't be a bad idea either.

    In the end, I would tell you to go with the sound that you like; the signal path that pleases you and that provides the sound that you think is best for what you do. ;)
    pcrecord likes this.
  15. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    We are discussing preamps but we shouldn't forget that a lot more comes from the source and the mic. Some voices I recorded had not bottom at all, so what ever pre you'd use, none could be said warm... When that happens, it's time to play with proximity effect and Ribbon mics.

    It needs to be said, that the U87 has a very nice and defined bottom compared to many other mics available. A transparent pre like the millennia with a U87 could be warmer than a AKG414 with a Neve 1073 (just guessing here). Also, it is not true to think tubes are warmer. Some tube units are very pristine and others HF agressive. The tubes give you the possibility to add harmonic distortions that can make some source sound fuller but the output sound depends on more than having a tube onboard...

    As I said earlier, I have 4 ISA preamps. they are slightly colored and have a 70db of clean power. You can throw anything at them and get a clean track. In fact, on the worst situation (classic guitar with a soft player) you get room and body noises before getting electronic noises.

    If I was you and wanted just one pre, I'd go for a transparent pre, the coloration can come after, within the DAW or other outboard.
    DonnyThompson likes this.
  16. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    That all depends on the particular model of 414 you're using. ;) I know you were just citing a random example, though. :)

    I agree, if I had to have just one preamp, I would go with one that is as transparent as possible...there are so many tone-shaping tools available now that can be used after the fact in your DAW, and what's more, you can always undo them if they aren't giving you the sound you want.

    But, once you print a track with a particular coloration or character, you can't undo it. It's like trying to un-bake a cake. ;)
    pcrecord likes this.
  17. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    yup. (y)
    but to elaborate a bit more; It's not that I like clean sound, Its because I think straight wire and big rails work better for me ...

    I actually prefer ballsy and huge vocals that don't get lost in a mix, even distorted in overdriven tone suits me just fine.
    The reason I would invest in a transformer less pre (millennia to be precise) is because they actually sound better to me when you add colored counterparts like the rock and roll classic tools of UA gear (which can be pretty mean and dirty if you want it to be).
    Most of all though, I find the open sounding pre approach blends better with VSTi and sampling libraries today. Electronic gear is imho, huge to begin with so in order to compete with today's standards...
    It all starts with the pre.
    I know we can use all sorts of pre's to make music, but to my ears, lower end gear is always harder to mix with top end libraries and analog synths.

    In a nut shell, its about capturing the best dynamic vocal range so my vocals are on par with other electronic stuff that is noticeably huge sounding to begin with.
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Shop Talk.
    Here is another example of my rationale:

    Its always brutal trying to mix less than par vocals with music that has big sounding analog synths, epic strings, high quality drum samples. The electronic music always sounds bigger than home studio tracking to me. Don't get this confused on performance. I'm strictly talking about sound here. The two worlds (home studio and pro sound libraries) are two different studios or generations fighting each other.
    (I think) The classic complaint is to blame (digital) as sounding bad... when it really is more to do with the very different sonic signatures we are attempting to glue in a mix.
    Cheap converters, cheap preamps, very different acoustic footprints and so on don't glue well with Libraries for a reason. I will waste more time trying shrink, degrade, bastardize... VSTi's to fit a weak vocal chain into a mix, which is a loosing battle leaving me always feeling beaten.
    Eventually we develope all sorts of tactics, even bad habits to "carve" out things in order to "glue" a track together. Which, I think can greatly be reduced if your vocal chain is top of the sonic signature in a mix.
    So, over my years it has been obvious to have the best vocal chain you can get, especially for the home grown acoustic and electronic marriage to fit better.

    There is a reason one console and a tape deck sounds better to a lot of people., especially those who only track and produce organic music. Your console is a consistent tone generating system, so none of the cross mixing I mention sounds out of place. You made all the music in your studio so it all (good or badly done) sounds like the rest of the tracks.
    When you add an electronic kick drum for example to a home grown project, the kick will stand out like AM did to FM back in the day. Which is perceived as very different sounding to your acoustic footprint to even "yuck".
    If you are using electronics to make or augment music, you need to be aware you are starting out with huge bandwidth already tracked. People who don't use electronics may not know what I'm talking about or... thought about why they can't fit their home studio into ITB music. Its like trying to fit 40 ft ceiling libraries into a closet. The closet being the home studio. Its a bitch to mix.

    We all have our ways and rationale towards our creative. The best way I overcome our new way of making music is to be sure my real tracks are on par with today's huge electronic sound-field.

    Generally speaking to the conundrum folds out there... If you don't care about electronic augmentation, , then you have nothing to worry about.
    In fact, I would buy a cheap console and track into a DAW that is basically there to replace the tape. I wouldn't even wast money buying anything more than cheap gear. Cheap gear sounds like the 70's. It all sounds the same to me. Middy and tolerable. It leaves more time to put into the song, less into the sound because you will never get cheap gear to sound odd together. Its not until you start mixing cheap with pro does it get goofy and really subjective. A money pit indeed.

    Budget aside, another thing I would add to that vocal arsenal of mine would be having my own bricasti lol.

    It really is to die for.
    DonnyThompson likes this.
  19. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member


    I'd say that's probably the best explanation I've heard yet regarding the difference(s).
  20. Trex

    Trex Active Member

    Very informative and excellent explanation audiokid, i do agree!

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