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Help me choose some new preamps

Discussion in 'Preamps / Channel Strips' started by ChrisH, Jan 1, 2012.

  1. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    Hi Everyone!
    Here's my deal..
    - I'm finally upgrading my DAW setup after 5 years of using two Presonus Firepods
    - Interface and converter wise I'm planning on a Apogee Ensemble, thoughts?
    - I'll be recording "Rock" music mainly (Drums, Guitar, Bass, Vocals, Keyboard)
    - I'm looking to 8 professional preamps
    - My budget is flexible, I just want the best 8 preamps from the list below to start with.

    I don't have the ability to try out these preamps, so if you have used them then I would like to know your opinions on the Audio differences between them.

    Universal Audio 4-710D
    Daking Mic Pre IV
    Focusrite ISA428
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I'll be recording "Rock" music mainly (Drums, Guitar, Bass, Vocals, Keyboard)

    Nothing more fun than upgrading the studio thumb

    curious, why these three?
  3. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    One of each.
  4. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I have the UA 4-710D. It is a versatile unit with a lot of color and a lot of different ways to get color. For each preamp you have the tube/solid state knob. It is continuously variable but so far I've been using it all one way or the other. About what you'd figure. The tube side is a bit softer. Both have a nice colored feel to them. Both sides are very easy to drive to clipping/distortion. The distortion is very musical and sounds good on drums and electric guitars, but if you are using this for vocals you need to be careful. (This is an interesting comparison to the API 3124+, another unit that sounds great driven hard, but it has so much headroom you need to put an external pad on it to drive it. You basically can't overdrive it accidentally.) Each preamp has an "1176" compressor (minus the big honkin' transformers of a real 1176). Two settings: slow and fast. They do sound good on drums, and I track with them sometimes. Unsually not. The 1176 is an input controlled compressor and you are controlling it with the gain to the preamp, so you are triggering the compressor and loading the front of the pre at the same time.

    It's a good unit, but I've ended up using it for just drums and guitar amps. I have other preamps like the 3124, AEA TRP, and Langevin DVC that I use for vocals and acoustic instruments. I have no doubt that the 4-710 COULD be used for that, but you'd have to experiment and be careful.
  5. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    Thank you all for the very informative answers, it's much appreciated.
    I wish I could afford one of each right now, but I will keep getting new preamps in the future.
    Bob, do you know how a 710 (set on the tube circuitry) compares to a 610?

    Right now I'm leaning towards a 4-710D and a Daking IV
  6. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Nice description , Bob, of the attributes of the UA.

    I would take what has been said to heart about the UA pre. It is a fairly versatile pre but requires some skill to get it pristine clean. My thoughts on this move directly to my own work flow, in, that I am all about the source material before 'adding' something electronically or altering the soundscape at the capture. Of course time spent with a device will get you what you want in most cases. However with a limit of only 8 pres to start with and coming from preamps that are neutral in their sonic signature, I'm not sure you are going to find your going as simple as plug and play to start out. However, one has to step out and all of your choices are professional in every way.

    The Daking is similar in sound to an old desk. Its modeled on the transitor circuit of the Trident A range console pres. It has transformer front end and is all discreet. The ISA is very similar except its modeled on the mic pres of the ISA110 circuit designed by Mr. Neve. They're both kinda similar in what they do although the ISA has the variable HPF where as the Daking doesnt in the IV pre kit. The Daking has a bit more 'grit' in its sound than the ISA but both have a nice depth of field and quality gain. These are a toss-up for my tastes. I bought the ISA simply because my dealer could get it a bit cheaper than the Daking.....that and I wanted the variable HPF. I harp on that because it is a great feature for really dialing in a particular mic on a particular source. I think the Daking might sound a little 'bigger' but without them next to each other in the rack Its a crap shoot.....Either way, they are pieces to build on as is the UA.

    Personally, if you have it in your budget, I would look at the Daking and the ISA as the everyday pres and find a single channel strip for the vocals. Not that any of your choices cant do a vocal really well, its just that there are channel strips that do it all and everyone needs that single channel they can simply plug into and get the superior quality they desire for that all important part, the vocals.
  7. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    Great info, and I like your idea of getting the Daking, ISA, and a vocal channel (LA-610 MKII ?)
    How would you describe the characters of a Neve 1073 for those of you that are familiar with them?
    Would you say the ISA or the Daking is closer to a Neve 1073?

    Thank you for your help!
  8. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Neither one of them is based on that particular circuit. The circuit design has a lot to do with the sound as well as the implementation of that circuit....ie: build and component quality.
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I can safely say that part of the sound of a 1073/3115/1081, etc. have a lot to do with the input and output transformers moreover than just the circuitry. And you don't get any of those transformers in anybody else's devices. So while they'll all sound nice, I'm quite pleased with my 3115's as opposed to the highly overpriced vintage 1073's because a sucker is born every minute. Mine is still vintage. Mine uses the same transformers. Mine basically has the same input circuitry with only the output drive circuit being different. So plenty of people know that the output drive circuitry is not as critical as the input side of the circuitry. Sure, it's there to add a more even order harmonic level of difference in comparison to a more odd order harmonic difference from class A/B output drive circuitry. So if you think that's going to make a big difference for you, no problem with a $3400, 1073 as opposed to a $1200, Neve 3115. Although at some point, you might think you need 24 of them? And that's a big cost differential. You can even convert a 3115 A/B output to class A. But why? Because someone told you you should? That's not the reason to do it. So I haven't. Not going to either. I even had a Neve/Brent Averill 1272 microphone preamp that was all class A. It was lovely sounding but it wasn't originally intended to be a microphone preamp even though it was still a Neve. So it had that Neve quality while not exactly being like a 1073 microphone preamp. My 3115's were more than adequate and I sold the 1272 to a friend. Funny as I ended up recording his band at his studio with the equipment I sold and installed for him at his studio which included an AudiTronics 110-8 that he utilizes for tracking. The 1272 & a focus right. It was an awesome jazz jam recording.

    My favorite was Killer Joe
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  10. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    Very interesting, thank you.

    So how would you guys describe the sound characteristics of a Daking IV, Focusrite ISA, UA D-710, and Neve 1073?
  11. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Well, quite frankly you can't get better than a 1073. All the rest are good but designed to sound different. And depending upon your application and musical genre you might not even appreciate at 1073? And since those are the most costly, sometimes that simplifies decision-making radically. Whereas you might find the Focusrite to be more Neve sounding since it was Rupert Neve who originally founded Focusrite. Daking modeled his preamp like the Trident. And Universal Audio patterned their's after their dads classic design. All are great, all are different, all are 100% usable in most any application. But I would say that the real classic that embodies most of the rock 'n roll hits all came from Neve & Focusrite. So it really depends on what kind of flavor you are going after. There is no best. There is only different. I'd say save some money and go with Focusrite because it won't be Focus wrong. And of course you still need some kind of analog to digital conversion. Some of your choices may already include that others don't. And that will be another determining factor for you. I go for the tonality I want first and foremost while not caring much about which IC chip analog to digital converter was chosen. They all work. But the terms utilized called " clean, transparent, neutral Thin, crispy, fat, colored, uncolored only have a bearing in which you think sounds best. Not when everybody else tells you is best. I generally work with totally average analog to digital converters. I haven't spent Boo Koo Dinero on high-end analog to digital converters. And that's because the flavor of my preamps is still that flavor regardless of analog to digital converter. Some might be cleaner sounding than others but that really doesn't concern me much. It's all rock 'n roll to me and I like it, like it, yes I do.

    Rolling Stoned again
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  12. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    Thanks Remy

    So here's the deal, I can get an ISA 428 for $800 cheaper than a Daking Mic Pre IV.
    Still not sure what route to go with, I'm afraid if I go all ISA that there will be too much ISAness going on with my mix's.

    Here's the combos I'm thinking of going with. (Either way I plan to get a nice single channel strip for vocals)
    1. Focusrite ISA428 & Daking Mic Pre IV
    2. Focusrite ISA428 & Universal Audio D-710
    3. All Focusrite.
    What combo would you guys go with?

    Also, would you guys go with a Avalon 737 or a Universal Audio LA-610 for vocals?
  13. Paul999

    Paul999 Active Member

    My 2 cents.

    Having owned the 428 and used the UA 710 I would say that the above comments are great. I would add API into the equation but thats just me. I always add API into the equation:) Even though the ISA and UA stuff is great I did not find them utility pre's. API definitely is. With UA 710 I would find there was some low mids that would bother me more often then I liked for a utility pre. With the 428 the high end could get out of control. On overheads, for example, would start to sound Hisssssy. Once that happens you can't get rid of it. While sometimes both were exactly right they were wrong enough of the time that I can't call them everyday pre's. On the other hand this is pretty subtle stuff and if either was all I had I could still earn a living at this. I've not heard the daking but engineers I respect tend to say they are towards an API type sound only cleaner. That would be fantastic. On the other hand I have Audient mic pre's in my Focusrite 2802. They have a rack mount version of 8 pre's for $1400. They are clean, nothing special and very competent. This would leave room in your budget for a Neve as Remy suggested or a lunch box with an API, daking, tonelux or just about anything else.
  14. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    You have to realize that until only a few years ago there wasnt such a plethora of outboard micpres to choose from. The console in a room did all the heavy lifting and even though there are always certain channels in a big old board that sound different than all the others, for the most part ALL the tracks were recorded with the same circuit. If you are a skilled engineer, know how to place mics, know how to gain-stage, and know what you will be wanting to listen to at a mix, then having 'all-the-same' pres shouldnt be an issue. The 428 has more features than the others as far as gain-staging and the variable impedance and HPF makes every channel something different compared to what mic is through it. The Daking has a slightly bigger soundfield due to its transformers in and out, but not by much.

    By your math, if the ISA is $800 cheaper than the Daking PER unit, then buying TWO ISA's and then spending the additional $1600 on a killer single channel makes all the sense in the world......Assuming this is being figured properly. As a budget mic pre....ala: Less than 2K for 4 channels (a general break point...the ISA is a lot less than that so clearly its in the upper budget type category) The ISA has no peers at that price point. It stands alone.

    Another thing to consider is your reaction once you start using this type of gear. From what you are using now, there is a whole bunch more WOW to come!
  15. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    You guys are awesome, I really appreciate the info.

    I've heard allot about the ISA pres having something unwanted in the high frequency range.

    I'm really looking forward to hearing the difference, what can I expect?

    Would a Neve 517 be a good choice?
  16. Paul999

    Paul999 Active Member

    I haven't heard the portico stuff. So I can't comment.
  17. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Well you know that if Rupert designed it, it ain't going to sound bad. His newer designs are not that far removed from his older designs. Again those are just preamps. You really can't go wrong with the MOTU's. But some of this reference to clean and clear transparent, uncolored may result in sound that appears too brittle. Whereas those other units are designed to sound more like by gone era classic devices that are usually richer in flavor, more mellow, more full-bodied, more rock 'n roll, yeah baby. Besides, your audio purchase is not going to be your last audio purchase and you need to start somewhere. We're not going to tell you what exactly to purchase as we all have our own personal preferences for what we want to hear and how we like to work. I'm quite a bit more old-school than most others here. And like Dave dog indicated, most of us older old-school folks were happy to use a single console for an entire production. That's just the way it used to be. So there was nothing to actually adapt to you just used what you add without any other real choices. And hits were made that way and they still are made that way. So I only utilize 2 flavors of preamps but I'm just as happy to utilize just about anything when recording at different studios. Like what I set up for a friend utilizing one of my auditronics 110-8 consoles along with a couple of outboard Focusrite's, Neve 1272 by Brent Averill. And have also utilizes rather underwhelming TA SCAM 2600 analog console before he had any of that other stuff. Although I hate the equalizers on that console so much, I had a tendency to barely ever utilize the equalizers. And that's where engineering technique and careful attention to the actual balance really comes into play. That along with its lack of headroom throughout. So now the 2600 gets utilized basically as nothing more than a 24 track recorder monitor mixer for headphone feeds. Even though I've come up with some killer mixes & remixes on that piece of crap. That's because I know how to work around its inadequacies where the mix comes out sounding anything but inadequate.

    I'm a universal engineer
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  18. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    Are you saying that you can compare a motu like this
    MOTU 828mk3 Hybrid Firewire Audio Interface: Shop Pro Audio & Other Musical Instruments | Musician's Friend
    to a high end preamp and converters?
  19. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Sure, if it's a decent preamp, I can make more than lovely sounding recordings. If it's a TA SCAM preamp, I'll gain stage for more headroom which also makes for more noise. But it's the sound of that headroom that separates the boys from the toys and the women from their tampons. I always love drum recordings that sound like the drummer was utilizing drumsticks with tampons stuck on the end of their sticks. That sounds like bloody crap to me. And all of these preamps including a cheap 5534 IC chip can yield professional sounding recordings when you don't rack your gain up as indicated in the manufacturers instruction manual. We can deal with the noise so much better today with software then we could in the old analog days with Dolby/DBX/noise gates. Which cost a boat load of extra money. I prefer transformer coupled microphone preamps but I've used plenty of transformer less preamps as well. The difference is more in your microphone choice, placement & technique that makes the biggest difference in your recordings not the preamp. And I'm not even talking about screwing with equalization here. In fact, I try to utilize the least amount of equalization as merely a small corrective utilization than trying to fix something that wasn't recorded right to begin with. So any of these transformer less preamps, made today, are all quite accurate sounding without the influence of a lump of iron & wire windings. I just personally like what a transformer has to offer especially in today's purely digital structure. So I utilize really fine microphone preamps and really mediocre analog to digital conversion which works out great. I don't mix with my eyes based upon equipment specifications and neither should you. So the 828 I know to be quite good sounding to begin with. Completely usable in the right hands with the right technique. And sometimes that just requires a little experimentation where everything is not tweaked balls to the wall. But instead for its sonic quality. Some people have indicated they have heard some kind of high frequency fizzing with the MOTU's. Well, they don't quite know what they're doing with it and that's why. So having the cleanest, brightest, most neutral microphones and electronics doesn't always equate to the best sound. It equates to brittle, metallic, fizzy & neutered like your dog or cat. While I loved my neutered dog and cats I don't want my audio to be neutered. Neither should you. Another reason why I keep suggesting SM57/Sennheiser 421 on drums in particular. Some of those microphone drum packs are fine on most of the drums but I still keep grabbing at a 57 for the snare drum & 421 on bass drums. I have bass drum microphones and really don't care much for them i.e. D-112 & RE 20's although I don't mind the D-6 by Audie Doggie microphone manufacturer. And I have even had a tendency to utilize Crown & Radio Schlock Pressure Zone Microphones on bass drum also. That depends on what the kit sounds like and how lazy I might be at that time.

    The laziest engineer in the world and proud of it
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  20. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    How do you gain stage and what exactly does it do??

    Why should i spend SO much more money on Daking pre's, Neve pre's, and an apogee interface when I can just get a Motu and get the same results?

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