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Pre-amps with character or personality.

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by dabmeister music, Mar 18, 2004.

  1. dabmeister music

    dabmeister music Active Member

    I've seen quite a few threads about pre's and noticed most of the fuss is over their character or sound. I assume that most good pre's have some sort of special circuitry enhanced by industry vets as their signature series. My question is, are there any other means of obtaining a sweet sound without spending $2000 or $3000 bucks on a signature series pre? And what pre's should I avoid? Will a good s/w pluggin give you what you can get from one of these pre-amps?
  2. ShellTones

    ShellTones Guest

    There are many respected pres in the $1,000 range: John Hardy, Great River, Speck, Sebatron, A-Designs, Vintech, Apogee, Sytek, just to name some.
  3. Exmun

    Exmun Guest

    Sure... it's called the RNP from FMR.

    No. If the front end is not all that it can be, everything else is a compromise. Anyone recording via a DAW owes it to himself/herself to invest in high quality front end... mics, cables, preamps.
  4. Doublehelix

    Doublehelix Well-Known Member

    Listen to ShellTones, this is where you should be looking...forget the RNP! Actually, I hear the RNP is great for the price, and will give you a decent sound, but nothing with what I would call "character".
  5. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    The way you obtain a sweet sound is by having an excellent and sweet source. Then from there you need a mic to capture that sweet sound source to go into a mic pre that is also able to capture the sweet sound source will little color or character, or a mic pre that provides a specific color/flavor that compliments or further enchances the sound source. The thing to remember is the more expensive mic pre's that add or have color as well as those that don't, are often based around very high quality hand picked and tested components, built using hand labor, and use time tested/tweaked proven designs.

    What you want to avoid is the cheap crap and most if not all of the the mid level stuff where it is just mildly upgraded cheap crap with many added half-ass features. We live in the days of you pretty much get what you pay for.
  6. ozraves

    ozraves Active Member

    I probably get to use a lot of the mid level pres up against some of the best preamps.

    Yes, it's true that a Great River MP-2NV is a better pre than a Safe Sound P1 or a Sebatron vmp-2000e. It should be as it costs about double the other two on a per channel basis. Yet, I'd like to own both the Safe Sound and the Sebatron. They have features, interesting flavors and solid sonics. There are lots of good units in this market segment such as the Sytek MPX-4Aii, the TFpro P2, the Presonus Eureka, the Grace 101 and the FMR RNP. On the used market, you could throw in the old Peavey two channel tube and the Earthworks Lab 101.

    But, to answer the original poster, you will never get what a great pre will give you from a plugin. A great preamp such as the Great River will immediately improve the quality of all your mics. Is it necessary to spend the money for the Great River? It depends on what you value. You might think you need a Gordon instead of the Great River and the $$ go up. You might like the A Designs MP-2 and the $$ go down a bit. Or, you might need an integrated unit like the Safe Sound P1 with a good mic pre that comes with a fantastic expander/compressor/limiter in its channel.
  7. dabmeister music

    dabmeister music Active Member

    Well, to me a good pre is like...looking for the right combination to a complex situation.
  8. djui5

    djui5 Guest

    did you get a pre yet? Also..what do you mean by a plug-in. did you mean a plug in pre? I hope not...but if you did then you should know that a plug-in pre dosen't exist and if you found one it's just a rip off..

    Maybe elaborate a little on your situation and what your looking to do...what do you need to sweeten and what kinda music/sound are you looking for. what gear do you currently have?
  9. I would have to both agree and strongly disagree with some of the comments here... There IS a hell of a lot of mid priced crap out there which has unnecessary bells and whistles added to distract the purchaser away from the real questions of quality. But there are other reasons for gear to be cheaper rather than low quality and many reasons for gear to be expensive rather than high quality.
    The statement that you get what you pay for is actually becoming increasingly invalid these days. You usually hear it from salespeople making commission on your purchases. How much crap do you pay inflated prices for because it has a particular brand name on it? How many bargains can you find among the no-name brands? I personally refuse to pay twice the price for a pair of underwear that has some wankers name on the elastic! Same goes for preamps.. how much more do you pay for gear that has a known name, that people take for granted is good, whether it is or not? Listen to your friends and respected figures for an idea of what to try out, but listen to it yourself and make your own judgement! There is no substitute for honest listening and your own opinion!!!!!!

    Like in the record sales industry, online marketing is (often) making things cheaper for the consumer and getting more money back the originators.. What percentage does the artist normally get from an album sale? Well, the retailer gets %50 to start with..... If you're buying direct from a manufacturer without a known brand name, you may well get a preamp that is just as good or better than a brand name that has been passed through several distributors hands and sold by a retail store....
    I agree with audiogaff saying that a sweet sound starts with a sweet sound, you're not going to get anywhere with a crap guitar and a crap microphone. But I would have to heartily disagree with his statements about manufacturing..
    A lot of the expensive gear out there is simply a rehash of classic designs, how many claim to be based on updated version of 70's Neve circuits? Where is the originality? Where is the innovation? Modern componentry has come a long way, why not use it? These classic designs are perhaps not so much a beautiful sound as what we are used to hearing on classic records..... Nostalgia!
    I have had inside access to several different manufacturers and designers over the years, in various industries including high end audio. While it may have been necessary to 'hand pick' components during manufacture in the past, most modern components are of very high quality and consistency. A good circuit design will also allow for any minor variations. If there is that much variation among the components, I would be looking for a new supplier! This obviously doesn't include stroppy old components like valves.... Hand assembly does make a difference though, if the assemblers are good...
    It is necessary to choose components very carefully and hand tweak everything in the design phase, to make it sound how you want, effectively tuning a circuit to the desired sound. This comes down totally to the talent of the designer, their ability to hear what their changes are doing to the music, to understand the impact that a change will make to the sound and versatility of a design. It is both science and art, involving sine waves and oscilloscopes and listening to a lot of music through the design. A great set of ears and a brain that is not easily led astray by false perceptions is critical. A strong musical background is SO important if you are designing musical gear. If you want scientific perfection in a preamp, I refer you to the HP website for some laboratory gear. The RNP is not far from this kind of gear... Very pure, usually very boring..

    Many of the well respected brands out there are guilty of producing substandard gear because they start reducing product cycles, reducing time spent on proper design, and reducing manufacturing costs to try and compete with the mass produced gear, relying on the brand to sell the goods rather than the quality. And everyone will like the sound of a preamp they have just spent $5k on. It's amazing what you can justify to yourself. But would you like it as much in a blind A/B test?

    The next stage of genius required in a design though comes into making it work as a production model. A unit has to be solid and reliable under a wide range of conditions, the components must be easily and reliably sourcable, compromises must be made on price somewhere along the line to make it feasible. The law of diminishing returns comes into play. 98% of the quality of the unit comes from the design, the final 2% is polish from the right components in the right positions. And the most expensive components are NOT always the best choice. They are often the 'cleanest' sounding, but we are after 'colour and character' here! A designer who understands the non-linearities and imperfections of a component can either allow for them or use them to advantage. e.g. valves..

    The component heads who make statements along the lines of 'oh, you're using THAT brand of capacitor in your signal path' and turn their nose up at a piece of equipment before they even listen to it piss me off no end!!!
    Simply using the most expensive or currently trendy components is often used more as a corner cutting strategy or for the WOW! factor as opposed to spending more time getting the design tuned pefectly! Extremely good performance can be tweaked and tuned from even garden variety radio shack componentry!!!! A good designer will pick which components are not good enough, find a better brand and continue using the cheaper ones where suitable. This saves money for them, saves money for you and makes NO difference to the quality of the unit!
    And statments like
    are very dangerous to make. I would certainly hope that a pre that was twice the price was better, but that is not always the truth. And 'better' is SOOO much a matter of individual taste and requirements. In my case, the Sebatron would be a much better choice because I could spend the change on another microphone, which I don't have enough of..... And that is not to say that the Sebatron would be lower quality than the Great River. I have heard of people disappointed with their Great Rivers... And is twice the price TWICE as good? My thinking says that if the quality is up there, twice the channels is twice as good! 2 GOOD midrange preamps is far better value for money than one slightly better, more expensive one.
    But enough ranting... block your ears to the opinionated ones, open them to the gear itself....
  10. Doublehelix

    Doublehelix Well-Known Member

    Good post Mute_Transport!

    Not saying that I agree with *everything* you said, but I must admit to agreeing with most of it!

    Unfortunately, the older I get, and the longer I do this thing, the more of a "gear snob" I am becoming. It is really sad actually.

    The trick to all of this is being able to sift through all the mid-level stuff, and separate the crap from the non-crap, and as you mention, the real test is in the ears. My problem, is that I find it difficult to really listen to anything in a store, I need to take it home and play with it for a few days to get a good feel for its capabilities. My only other options are to listen to a unit from a colleague that has one, borrow or rent one, or take the advice of a respected peer.

    I recently bought a Focusrite ISA428. This unit is certainly a mid-priced mic pre (~$400-$450 per channel), and is a perfect example of what you describe. Focusrite has a reputation, they have built a unit that is based on a "classic Neve design", but they have found ways to take the cost out of the unit by manufacturing it in China, and by using more "modern" components, etc.

    Does that make it a bad mic pre? Obviously not, but how does it compare to a Great River MP2NV for example? They are very different beasts imho! Different uses, different pres, different sound!

    Would I still like a Great River? Sure! Is the GR "better"? Well...define "better"! The ISA428 fit my needs better at the time of purchase:

    -4 Channels
    -Variable impedance

    So for me, it was a "better" mic pre. Does it sound "better"? No, just different.

    Good discussion.
  11. dabmeister music

    dabmeister music Active Member

    This is a response to your question(s) dj. No I have'nt purchased a "good" workhorse pre yet , and two , I was elaborating on the software "plug-ins", you know the ones made by Mackie, Waves, and a host of others not to mention. I'm starting to catch a little "spring fever" and the part time hobby thing is becoming full time...if you know what I mean. I want to spice up some things and shy away from the stale, dull, lifeless tracks I've been recording & listening to for the past decade. I will used the old Aphex 107 every blue moon or the pre's in my MPC 4000 occasionally which IMO, works very good on bass or guitar. I also have a TC Helicon voice prism I use for some vocal effects every now and then. But the bottom line is.... I need a decent pre to cover a slew of things I plan to work on in the near future.
  12. dabmeister music

    dabmeister music Active Member

    From reading some of the responses, I'd guess it would be very beneficial to start a collection of pre-amps just as you would with anything else. I can't see where it would'nt benefit, 'cause you'd gain more as far as having a decent arsenal of gear for whatever comes your way.
  13. Skeetch

    Skeetch Guest

    Having had both the 428 and the Great River for awhile now, my opinion is that they're both fine preamps. Yes they sound different, and each excels at certain things. IMO, it's about having different colors to paint with. The more varied your pallette, the more interesting your work can be. The same goes for pretty much any other audio gear IMO.

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