Pre-amp for live orchestral recording?

Discussion in 'Orchestra' started by kazam, May 30, 2010.

  1. kazam

    kazam Active Member

    I am recording a symphony orchestra in our next concert. I currently only have a stereo microphone (audio technica 4047) and portable field recorder (Tascam DR100). It's been suggested the item that would help boost the quality the most would be a good pre-amp. Can I get some guidance on what is best for live orchestras - so warm and precise is what I'm looking for. 4 channels would be best because I might rent two extra mics. Thanks.
     
  2. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    You might want to give some more indication of your budget and how you plan to use your gear beyond this gig. I'd also suggest that you check out the acoustic recording forum for tips on orchestral recording.

    I gave the Tascam recorder manual a quick look, and I don't see where you can record four channels of external line in. And it looks like the one line input is an unbalanced stereo 1/8 jack. Is this correct? If so, I would not be so quick to buy a preamp. Placement is going to be far more critical than the quality of your preamp. A really good mic stand might be a far better investment, and you could get a good mic stand for about the same price as a crappy preamp.

    Even if I have read the Tascam specs wrong, I would not buy a "bargain" preamp. You already have one in the Tascam. Buying a high quality preamp might not give you much improvement in sound because of the limitations of the Tascam. But at least it will be a good investment. Preamps are stable technology - a Grace or something similar will still be useful 10 year from now.
     
  3. kazam

    kazam Active Member

    Ok, I'll check out the acoustic forum. Just what I need. You are right, the Tascam DR 100 is 2 channel XLR. But I have another similar M-audio device that I forgot to mention. That will have Rode NT4 stereo microphone. Regarding the preamp, I was thinking about it bumping up the quality of the all the mic signals coming in, no? I'll be more careful about mic placement next time, but am looking for some higher quality results than what I got last time.
     
  4. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I think it's a bad idea to think of a preamp as "bumping up the quality" of the signal from a mic. The first job of a preamp is to amplify the signal from the mic with all of its dynamics and harmonic content intact. Anything beyond that - coloring the signal - is very subtle. Far more subtle than moving a microphone a few feet. A cheap preamp will probably not respond to fast transients and large spikes as well as a good one and some of the full signal produced by your mic will be lost. If you get a good preamp and plug it into the XLR inputs in the Tascam the signal will still go through the Tascam preamps. Maybe those preamps will do a good job of passing through the signal at unity gain - maybe not. If you position your mics well and set the gain on the Tascam correctly my guess is that you will be close to the best quality possible the two pieces of equipment you have.
     
  5. kazam

    kazam Active Member

    Bob, thanks for enlightening me. So what is the difference between a pre-amp and just turning up the levels on a recording if a preamp mostly just amplifies the signal from the mic? Isn't that what the level would do already? I've always heard people describe preamps as warm, but you make it sound like they won't do that.
     
  6. Speedskater

    Speedskater Active Member

    I see two different questions here:
    1) Do we need an external mic pre-amp when using the(audio technica 4047) and (Tascam DR100) ?
    2) Will an external mic pre-amp improve the sound?
    Never having used either, I don't know.
     
  7. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    The Tascam has a preamp. That is what you are turning up when you turn up the recording levels. It takes a microphone level voltage and produces a line level voltage. A better preamp will do the same thing. A "perfect" preamp would produce an exact copy of the microphone signal - just magnified to a larger voltage. There are no perfect preamps. They all distort the signal to one degree or another. But "all" preamps used in recording (including the cheap ones) are pretty close to perfect - at least in the low part of their range. If you push them a little harder the differences become greater and the cheap preamps show noticeable distortion at a much lower level than the good ones. This is the big difference between cheap preamps and good preamps: headroom - the range of signals they can be fed while still staying in the "close to perfect" range.

    However, even good preamps show small audible differences at high levels - and here is where the descriptors come in: warm, colored, transparent, etc. Audio engineers talking about top dollar equipment can talk endlessly about these subtle differences, but it's not a good thing for a beginner to get too caught up in. The basic mission of the preamp is to do no harm to the original signal. It's not going to improve a signal where the quality isn't there in the first place.

    Now back to your specific problem - focusing on the Tascam. You have two options. (1) Put the mic into the Tascam preamp through the XLR inputs. The line level signal from the Tascam pre will go directly to the Tascam A/D converters. (2) Put the mic into an external preamp and then take the line level signal from the preamp and put it into either (a) the XLR inputs into the Tascam preamp with the level turned down to unity gain or (b) through some sort of adapter into the 1/8 inch line input of the Tascam. Now, if your external preamp is substantially better than the Tascam's pre the line level signal coming out of the external pre in scenario (2) will be better than the line level coming out of the Tascam preamp in scenario (1). But it's still not clear that scenario (2) will yield a better result. You still have to go through some steps that might distort the signal to get the converters.
     
  8. kazam

    kazam Active Member

    I'm very confused by this. It goes against a lot of what I've heard from other engineers so is it safe to say there is no concensus? You say: "But it's still not clear that scenario (2) will yield a better result. ". My only interest in all of this is to get the better result. Please clarify this - lets say I have two tascam recorders, four identical microphones. Two of the mics go straight into the tascam XLR input. The other two mics go into a good pre-amp that then goes into the tascam XLR input. I adjust the levels so they sound the same in both recorders recording at the same time in the same venue/mic placement, etc. I assume that will mean I have to bump up the level of the microphones that goes straight into the tascam. From what I understand of what you are saying, if the levels are the same on both recorders, the quality of the sound will be the same. That is very surprising to me if that would be the result. If the quality of the sound is better with the expensive pre-amp, then that achieves exactly what I want...the better result.
     
  9. Speedskater

    Speedskater Active Member

    I don't that that consensus is possible. Of the large group of engineers that will say "an expensive mic pre-amp will sound better" each engineer will chose a different expensive pre-amp. I think that different mics have a greater impact than different mic and mic pre-amp combination's. But then different mic techniques will have much greater impact.
     
  10. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    What Bob is trying delicately to tell you is that a better preamp will make no difference with the low end non-quality recorder you are using. To benefit from a better preamp you will also need a better recorder. I'm a little more blunt.
     
  11. kazam

    kazam Active Member

    Ok, that makes a lot of sense. I get that - the system is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. Makes sense.
     
  12. Speedskater

    Speedskater Active Member

    The differences in equipment are much, much smaller than the possible technique differences. You need to practice, practice, practice! Go to different rehearsals (anyplace that people will let you) try different things.
     
  13. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    +1 on the practice part.

    On the other I would agree once one passes a certain price/quality point, and the Tascam is not past that point.
     
  14. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    This may be a moot point at this point, but I feel obliged to point out that the AT-4047 is NOT a "stereo" mic as was first stated by the OP. I happen to own 2 of these mics, and love them to death, but unless there was a mistake in the model# listed, these are really not the best choice for the application described. Furthermore, their output can easily overdrive the inputs on a recorder like that TaxScam...:)
     
  15. Speedskater

    Speedskater Active Member

    For some interesting reading on the thoughts of two well known experts on mics and classical music recording see:

    Linkwitz-Publications

    Don Barringer and Siegfried Linkwitz have put together AES papers, slide presentations, and sound tracks on their experiences. Now, this is not the only way to record and it may or may-not be the best way but it is interesting thought process.
     
  16. kazam

    kazam Active Member

  17. Live Sound Audio

    Live Sound Audio Active Member

    Millennia Media seems to dominate this market.... They sound unbelievable...
     
  18. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Maybe not dominate. One of the very heavy players to be sure. And completely a waste of resources if you are feeding the Tascam unit mentioned by the OP.
     
  19. kazam

    kazam Active Member

    It's hard to agree with this statement having recorded the same concert with two different recording units - tascam without the external pre-amp and tascam with the external pre-amp. I'm not saying I wouldn't get better results with a better recording device, but that goes without saying - if all else is equal, any week element can be exchanged with an improved item and the quality of the final result improves, right? What is clear to me is with all things being equal, the pre-amp was a very noticeable step up to the recording sound. Though I can't deny you are more experienced than I am, I take issue with your statement "And completely a waste of resources".

    By the way, the pre-amp referenced in the audio clip was not Millennia but a Neve 1073.
     
  20. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Ahhh, but you wouldn't have to spend $3500 on a Millennia to get a preamp that would provide the same amount of improvement. An $800 Onyx 800R would have done just as good a job or likely the Presonus 8 preamp unit would too. That is my point. There is only so much improvement you can wring out of Tascam.
     

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