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Newbie question: what is the big deal with outboard prea

Discussion in 'Recording' started by sserendipity, Sep 26, 2002.

  1. sserendipity

    sserendipity Member

    Hello all,

    Like most here I'd assume, I'm your average bedroom engineer/producer. You know - the one with the massive DAW station, that thinks he's one plugin away from the sound of the big boys, and is only a few more late nights away from releasing the next_big_thing despite the fact that he's got precious little time to hone his craft...

    I'm in the beginning stages of an album with a pretty awesome vocalist, and I'm looking to upgrade my signal path so I can get as much of her mojo to disk as I can, under the circumstances.

    I can hear the difference between various types and brands of mics, but when it comes to preamps, I've had much less experience and I'm at a bit of a loss - what is the big deal with outboard preamps? Do you have a favourite? What's the industry standard? Why are there preamps on my mixer if I'm going to go out and buy another one anyway?

    I'm currently running her through a small mackie (yes, the plebian, crude way to go) and it's difficult to figure out what I'd want to get instead, since without a clear idea of what I'm getting, it's hard to figure out what makes sense as a purchase.

    To make things worse, all the information out there is so subjective. The mixer salesman all tell you that their preamps are as good as it gets, and spouts off specs to prove it. Here's some actual blurb from the mackie site -

    "When you buy a Mackie mixer, you're getting a preamp so good that many engineers actually carry one of our mixers with them to supplement (or replace) the mic preamps on big consoles"

    Big consoles? LOL I guess bigger is better after all... (I believe they are referring to a solitary keyboard magazine interview with Depeche Mode)

    At the same time, there's always the deep sense of 'mysticalness' in the audio world about intangible gear. The more expensive, more exclusive, the better, right? Ok, I'll even go along. Now tell me - how expensive and exclusive is expensive and exclusive enough? :> Is a $150 preamp going to make or break my super hit album?

    >sigh< I suppose my real question is, where in the San Francisco bay area can I demo mic preamps :>
     
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Jonathan,
    You asked "Where in the San Francisco Bay Area can I demo mic preamps?", You may audition preamps in the SF Bay Area at Audio Images in San Francisco or Leo's Pro Audio in Oakland.
    You asked, "I can hear the difference between various types and brands of mics, but when it comes to preamps, I've had much less experience and I'm at a bit of a loss - what is the big deal with outboard preamps? Do you have a favourite? What's the industry standard? Why are there preamps on my mixer if I'm going to go out and buy another one anyway?"
    Pre amps are a big part of the sound going to tape / disk. The pres typically found in pro-sumer mixers are integrated circut monolithic op amp designs. The more desirable high end designs are more of a descrete design. That is to say, all the components are separate rather than all crammed together on one chip / op-amp. There are many pre amps that I like, API, Neve 10 series, The Amek / Neve 9098 ( I have 2 of these), Hardy, Telefunkin, Earthworks, Grace, the list goes on and each model / type of pre, imparts it's own sonic signature. IMO the price point on quality pre's is at about $500 per channel. I haven't seen / heard anything below that price (With the exception of the ART MP Pro) that I would consider worth replacing the pres in my Mackies. Mackie pres have a reputation of being thin / brittle sounding. There are pre amps on you mixer because they couldn't sell it without them. What good is a mic mixer if you can't plug a mic into it? Mackie is very good at marketing and they run lots of ads with (IMO) questionable claims. That doesn't mean their pre amps are of any decent quality. In San Francisco you can contact David Denny / Jarvis Rents at Hyde St. Studios and if you pass muster with him, arrange to rent some quality pres.... this may help you to discern the differences in pres and help you to decide which pres you may wish to purchase for yourself. I'm sorry it took so long to reply, my DSL sucks and I wasn't able to get online last night....Fats
     
  3. sserendipity

    sserendipity Member

    Thanks Fats!

    This place is truly a golden spot on the web.

    I'm going to start trying out pres :>

    Thanks,

    Jonathan
     
  4. stoneinapond

    stoneinapond Guest

    Jonathan,

    To put it in simple terms,

    Mackie pre = small

    High-end pre = BIG

    Remember, preamps can be so-called "transparent" (although in reality technically impossible,) but you will understand what it means when you try a few, or they "color" in a pleasing (or not so pleasing) manner. Neve and API for example, color in a pleasing way.

    Be careful of those cheap "tube" preamps, sometimes refered to as "starved plate tube" designs. Marketing BS. If you want tube, then you will have to pay for full voltage designs, such as Avalon 737. More than a pre, but worth checking out.

    Listen carefully.

    Peace,

    Yorik
     

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