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Mic/Mic Pre choices for vocals

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by TJ, Mar 23, 2005.

  1. TJ

    TJ Guest

    Great site, and please bear with me if as a newbie I ask for info already here. I've done a lot of reading on the site, and have gathered some great info. Just need a final set of opinions to see if I've interpreted everything correctly.

    I'm only recording vocals, so looking for the best combo for sheen/shine. I'm a baritone/tenor, with a bit of a harsh nuance at 3-5k. Sing mainly pop and easy-listening. (Think Steven Curtis Chapman) I currently have a SP C1, Soundcraft Spirit M4 board, and M-Audio Delta 410 card. (PC with Tracktion) Looking to add a tube mic, and mic pre that will step me up a few notches. I've been told I should target a tube mic and solid-state mic pre to avoid too many tubes in the signal path. Originally looked at Lawson (L47MP) and Avalon (737) type stuff, but since I cannot demo locally and the cost is an "ouch" factor, I've narrowed the search to more budget equip.

    Was hoping for a pre that would have a good compressor and eq, so I was looking at Presonus Eureka or JoeMeek TwinQ. But some reviews here have me thinking otherwise.

    Based on what I've read in the forums, here's where I'm at with mics:
    Rode NTK, Rode K2, Shure KSM44, AT4040

    Been trying to do my homework on frequency response charts, and I've noticed a lot of the higher end mics rolloff at about 15k. The Rodes seem to be bumped a bit in that range. Looks like the variable pattern mics may provide some flexibility in adjusting that.

    Mic Pres I'm considering:
    FMR RMP (would combine with the FMR RNC compressor)
    Grace 101
    Great River ME-1-NV
    Mindprint Envoice MKII (Anyone have experience with this?)

    The Grace and GR would still require me to make an additional compressor and possibly EQ investment.

    The pre is where I'm a bit more confused about how much to spend, and how much benefit will be had out of a few hundred dollars difference. I'm willing to go up to $1K on the pre. I'm not sure about the converters on the Delta 410, and was thinking I should get a pre with S/PDIF out, but I know several of the above choices don't have that. Maybe that's not an issue.

    I'm keeping the C1, but am hoping a new mic choice/pre will give me some vocal gloss. I know that demoing is the best way to go, as all voices and mic/pre combos are different, so without that opportunity I need to make a safe choice.

    Thanks for any assistance provided. Hoping to stay between $1,200 and $2,000.

    TJ
     
  2. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    TJ-
    You've obviously been doing your homework.I have one question though...Who said there can be too many tubes in a signal path?There COULD be too many devices with a warming type of distortion or an edge, but these arent attributes that are solely the realm of tubes. Theres a LOT of tube driven output stages that are clean as anything else available.And of course the reverse is also true. If you are looking for that professional sparkle, then you dont have to be limited to one type of electronic build or another.
    As far as your list goes...Great River and a K2 ...Theres a nice path. Compressors are cheap in comparison to pres...You can always find a decent comp and perhaps with the new gear will find that you wont need it or EQ past what you have available in the M4.
     
  3. TJ

    TJ Guest

    Thanks for the great info, Davedog. Sounds like results will be better by focusing on individual components rather than a combo mic pre. I always thought I would need some soft compression on the initial vocal tracking, but that may all come down to better working of the mic. Could still pick up an FMR RNC.

    The K2 is what I was leaning toward, so good to hear your recommendation. My Spirit M4 does have S/PDIF out, I was just concerned that going through it on the way to the PC may degrade or flavor the signal path from the pre...hence my question about a pre with S/PDIF. Not to say I couldn't still use the 1/4" feed directly to the Delta 410. Not sure if those converters would degrade the signal as well. Basically I don't want to defeat my investment in a better mic/pre by a poor signal path.

    As far as the source of the "too many tubes in the path" opinion, I trust you will understand that out of respect for them I'd rather not name the organization or individual. They sell mainly high-end equipment and would likely be recognizable to the experts in these forums. I'm not looking to cause them any grief. Thanks for the good information on that topic as well.

    Thanks again. Really appreciate your time and insights.
     
  4. Lerxst

    Lerxst Guest

    Tj,

    I've just been recently using a tube mic (K2) with a tube pre/comp. My ears are very pleased with the sound. I think you would be fine with something like an Avalon 737 which would give you both pre and compression for vocal tracking. There are also many others that have that type of channel strip, but I don't think you could go wrong with the Avalon.

    I use both tube and solid state mics, and they sound great through the tube pre/comp (even the "budget" condensors).

    I had the same question as you when I started looking at the K2, but I am very happy with the sound. I don't want to use all of the typical words such as "warm" etc... But I can say that if I was recording you in my studio, I would use the K2 for the voice you describe - it would be a good fit.

    Good luck with getting the sound your looking for, I think you're on the right track. :)
     
  5. TJ

    TJ Guest

    Thanks for the additional info, Lerxst.

    Wondering if you'd be willing to share what tube pre you are using with the K2? Two things for me on the Avalon: 1) It's at the extreme high end of what I was hoping to spend, 2) ...here's where I'll demonstrate a bit of ignorance...I'm not sure how to match the XLR out's with the 1/4 or S/PDIF in's on my Delta 410 card. I'm assuming I'll need some additional kind of interface/converter?

    Any recommendations on tube pre's that are "comparable" to the Avalon in the $1k range?

    Thanks.
     
  6. Lerxst

    Lerxst Guest

    Sure, I'm using a Universal Audio LA-610 that I recently purchased for around $1400. I am very happy with it. I purchased it because I was considering a LA-2A and a seperate pre, but the LA-610 turned out to be just what I was missing - and saved me about 2K. I will probably buy another.

    So I'm not real familiar with your card, but it looks like you have an eight way pigtail with four unbalanced RCA inputs. You would need to convert the signal from balanced to unbalanced line level with a good transformer, or, you could run the XLR from the Avalon into a mixer board and then line out to your Delta.

    For the vocal tracking, I run directly from my pre/comp to my A/D converters because I have balanced/unbalanced in's on all channels - I would prefer this over running through an external mixer.

    As far as tube pre's are concerned, I hear good things about the GT Brick at around $500, but I would also suggest a decent comp as well.

    I understand how spending money can easily get out of hand when your lookin for a good signal chain. I would also go as far as saying that Avalon, UA, Great River etc... is not really "budget" gear - more like "break the budget" gear but hey, buying nice toys that can contibute to making great recordings is a good enough excuse for me.
     
  7. TJ

    TJ Guest

    So many choices, so little money! :lol: Perhaps the sound I'm dreaming about is beyond what I'm willing to spend.

    You are correct on the card, and in line with my thoughts on using the board. Part of the reason I was initially looking for a pre with an S/PDIF out was so AD conversion would happen externally, give me direct input from the pre (without the board), and provide an unbalanced out for monitoring. If I route the pre back through the board and utilize it's S/PDIF out, I believe I'm going directly back into the less-than-sonically-clean environment I'm trying to bypass in the first place, effectively diminishing the advantage of the more expensive pre. Unless of course, going back into the board low-z will be less of an issue than the Soundcraft's mic pre.

    Then there is monitoring. I think I need two out's on the pre to monitor with zero-latency. And if I end up with a pre that only has XLR outs, then I need a "budget" AD conversion or connection solution.

    FMR RNP only has one bal/unbal out per channel...Grace 101 has no insert for a comp...Avalon (and several others) only has XLR outs...looking more and more like Great River.

    Hooo boy! Now I'm getting confused! :?
     
  8. TJ

    TJ Guest

    OK - I know I'm starting down the slippery slope here. What about a Sebatron VMP-1000e or the newer Sebatron Thorax?
     
  9. Lerxst

    Lerxst Guest

    Either of these units look very nice, but I would still recommend a channel strip like the Thorax, but that puts you in the range of the Avalon. If you got the VMP, I think you would still want a decent comp. So - once again you would probably still be in the close to 2K range.

    Your limiting factor will eventually be your Delta. If your looking to continue the slippery slope path of upgrading your Delta, then I would go for the higher end toys.

    However, I think the FMR/RNC or Joe Meek combo would be fine.

    I believe that just having a decent pre/comp, and not nesessarily one that costs 2K+ will make a world of difference. It did in my case, and I think that you could still make great recordings without breaking the bank. ;)
     
  10. TJ

    TJ Guest

    Rock-solid advice, Lerxst. I could feel myself slowly creeping into the $2K mic, $2k pre, AD upgrade at who knows. I think I've received great advice here, now I just need to apply it and pull the trigger.

    Thanks again. Really appreciate your's and Davedog's info.
     
  11. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    hey TJ, welcome to RO! this should really get you going down that slippery slope...

    (dead link removed)
     
  12. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    If all you are going to record is a vocal and perhaps an acoustic instrument like a guitar then a really good mic pre may be overkill. If you work primarily with midi based sounds, then you don't need a better pre than what you have in your Soundcraft because the transition from acoustic energy to electrical energy has already been accomplished for you when the sound or instrument was originally sampled.

    If you are recording acoustic elements (drums, miced amps etc.) all the time, then the advantages gained with a really nice mic pre are more noticeable. Really good mic pres deliver full bass response, high headroom and voltage swings, can propagate a real bass wave without creating phase problems and offer sounds when miced correctly, that can appear to be "3D" with a front to back component that the less expensive offerings do not. To do this, a robust power supply is essential. IMO, anything powered by a low voltage wall wart or line lump can pretty much be eliminated from the running.

    Until recently JLM and Sebatron offered what I interpreted as the most affordable mic pres with decent build quality and power supplies. But the cost of these units was still prohibitive to many. Now Groove Tubes has introduced "The Brick", which IMO has all the elements required in a "really good" mic pre. I think this is currently the best affordable mic pre on the market. "The Brick" retails at $499 but has been seen "streeting" at $325.
     
  13. TJ

    TJ Guest

    Thank you Maintiger and Kurt. Maintiger...that's more like right off the cliff! :) Kurt...more for me to consider. I'm truly only tracking vocals at this point. I was under the impression I'd need an upgrade in both mic and pre to really get polish on my vocals, but perhaps only an investment on the mic? Am I hearing that a good pre for vocals alone may not add more than my Soundcraft pre?

    Interesting if that's the case, as I just received an email from a microphone manufacturer stating (quote): "The microphone will always make a much bigger difference in sonic characteristics than your mic pre. XXX mics match well with virtually every mic pre. (I've never heard an unfavorable report with any mic pre!) However, my personal favorites include the Hardy and Great River (for solid state units) and Fearn and Manley (for tube units). Many customers have purchased a high dollar mic pre and returned after receiving their XXX. They discovered the expensive mic pre wasn't needed."

    So, does that mean just a good mic upgrade will give me what I'm looking for?
     
  14. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    IMO to improve the vocal sound a mic is #1, then the pre, then a good AD- if your funds are limited get the mic first-
    many choices around 500- 1K+ depending on your vocal sound- among them AKG C14 XLII, Rode K2, Shure KMS 44, blue dragonfly, some of the AT mics (sorry, I haven't used these but people swear by them), Neumann TLM 103, soundelux 195, so many others good ones-

    If you only need one channel pre kurt is recommending the brick at $300+, also I've has good luck with the grace 101 though its real clen- if you want attitude get something else- or get 1 ch of great river for about 1K or 2 ch sebatron around the same- there are others good ones too, am sure someone else will recommed some-

    AD- you can get 2 ch rosetta for about $1500 or you can get the original rosetta used for about 600+ and it sounds fantastick! that's the one i have- am sure there are other good AD out there-
     
  15. TJ

    TJ Guest

    Once again, great advice. Thanks Maintiger. I'll focus my efforts on the mic first (probably the K2), and then look for a reasonably priced pre. Just need to decide if that will be solid state, or tube.

    Thanks once again. Really appreciate everyone's feedback.

    TJ
     
  16. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Most mic manufacturers will say a good mic is more important .... (gee really?) and manufacturers of pre amps will say the opposit (who woulda thunk?).

    I personally feel that a great mic pre can make a cheap mic sound better and a cheap pre can compromise the sound of even the best mics.

    Mics generally have a very low level output. To bring it up to line level so it can be processed or recorded, a mic preamp is used. You only have one chance at this. If your mic pre cannot pass a full bass note, runs out of headroom or intoduces phase annomalies the damage is done and cannot be repaired with any amount of processing. Some people can hear this and others don't.

    If all you are doing is recording a single vocal, there's not too much low end involved so the bass handeling doesn't come into play so much. If this is your situation, I cannot promise you that the difference a really good pre delivers would be something that you would notice by the time the song is mixed and mastered. I think I would notice it and I am sure there are lot of others who would too but it may not be so obvious to the untrained or casual listener. My personal feeling is a decent "real" mic pre is one of the most important pieces of gear in any studio.

    General consenses is the transducers in a studio, the things that transfer sound wave energy to electrical energy (mics) and back again to sound waves (monitor system) are the most important elements. Just as power amps are considered to be part of the monitor system, mic pres can be considered as an extention of the mic itself. Bottom line, anytime you improve the quality of the electronics, the entire signal chain benefits.

    That is most the info. Hopefully, you will use it, knowing you are armed with the knowledge to make the most appropriate decision for yourself. My advice is to try a good pre before buying to see if it makes an improvment that you feel is worth the expenditure.
     

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