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Preamp through Mackie Onyx 1640

Discussion in 'Preamps / Channel Strips' started by John M, Jun 18, 2011.

  1. John M

    John M Active Member

    Hi there,

    This is my first post, although I have been reading others for some time now and learning loads, so thank you all. Anyway, my question is that were I to buy a preamp (I am thinking something along the lines of a DAV Electronics BG1) and plug it into the line input of my Mackie Onyx 1640 with the firewire interface to make use of its A/D converters, would I notice an increase in quality or would the fact that it is going through the Mackie nullify that. The level of mics that I am using are the Rode K2, Rode NT2A, Line Audio CM3 and the usual dynamics, so decent mics but nothing high end.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    You may find that the difference in quality is rather small. The BG1 is a relatively clean and uncoloured pre, and so are the Onyx pres in your Mackie...

    Don't be surprised to find that the BG1 is noisier than the Mackies: I can crank the gain all the way up on my Mackie pres (when recording acoustic sources with ribbon mics for example) and noise is never a problem. But the BG1 hisses quite noticeably at full gain.

    Those Onyx pre's are seriously hard to beat for the money!
  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Quite a lot depends on the variety of the material you will be recording. The BG1s are reliable, good-quality units, and work deceptively well. I have several of them and mix-and-match amongst them and other more characterful units depending on what I'm doing. However, as IIRs points out, if you go in through the line inputs of an Onyx i-series mixer, you may not hear much of a difference between a BG1 and the native Onyx pre-amps.

    Have you looked at other dual pre-amps in this (UK) price range such as the Audient Mico? The Mico has added signal versatility, and having its own converters can connect directly into a digital mixer via S/PDIF or into the optical input of a MacBook to make a compact two-channel recording setup. With an analog mixer like the Mackie, this is maybe not your main consideration, but it's worth thinking a little bit wider than your immediate requirement.
  4. John M

    John M Active Member

    Thank you for our responses. Sorry to be a pain, but should I be reading these as:

    1. There is not a huge difference between the Onyx preamps going through it's firewire interface and a unit in the 500GBP price range using a different interface if we are looking at uncoloured sound.
    2. There is a difference, but the fact that I want to use the A/D converters in the Mackie and hence using the line input is nullifying the difference, but using different A/D converters will yield better results.

    The bulk of my recording is done layering tracks, so having all 16 tracks at once is not a problem. I bought the Mackie as it doubled as a live band mixer and a recording interface and as such has equipped itself admirably.

    Thank you again.

  5. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    The block diagram for the Onyx indicates that the line input goes through the same preamp as the mic input, so using an external preamp doesn't bypass the internal one, it simply superimposes its sound on the sound of the internal preamp.
  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    It's more the second than the first, but very little at this level is black and white. I think you would notice a difference between your existing Mackie desk and, say, a Mico pre-amp fed directly into an S/PDIF input on your computer, but otherwise, differences would be subtle.

    My feeling is that you should think hard about spending money on mid/top-end pre-amps until you have planned out a route that takes you to at least the next level up by replacing the Onyx as the computer interface. You could, for example, plan on getting something like an RME FireFace 800 that has 4 good pre-amps of its own and then aim to run additional external pre-amps into its line inputs. It is also perfectly possible to turn this around and get the fancy pre-amps first, feeding them into your Onyx pending the day that you get the better interface. Similar to what you are proposing, but with this way of thinking, you would at least have a staged plan.
  7. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    You are unlikely to get much benefit from a "clean" pre-amp at the moment, as it will have to go through the Mackie pre-amps as well.

    As the Mackie preamps are themselves very clean however, with a very low noise floor * you may get some use from a more colourful "character" preamp: the "mojo" it adds is unlikely to be damaged much by passing through another clean pre.

    But as already mentioned it will also depend on your overall upgrade plan... another option to consider is to buy an interface with only line inputs, plus a DB-25 breakout cable to access the direct outputs from the Onyx mixer. You could then continue to use the Onyx pres as well as any others you add.

    * As an example, I recently recorded an amateur orchestra, incidentally using a DAV BG1 for my main pair. I also had a Beyer M160 spot mic for the clarinet solo in the first half, and this was plugged into one of the Onyx pres on my 1620. Being a ribbon mic the gain was set quite high, though not quite fully up as I was being conservative with levels. I was not informed that there would be a short introduction for the first piece however, delivered by the young and fairly softly-spoken lady that arranged it. She stood further from the mics than the solo-ist, and was totally washed out in reverb on the main pair. So, I piled an extra 30dB of digital gain onto the spot mic to see what happened... and it picked her out perfectly, with the noise floor still inaudible. :cool:
  8. John M

    John M Active Member

    Thank you once again for your responses. They however lead me to pose new questions. From what I am gathering here, what I need to take a step up is a better interface as my first step. So, assuming I have 500GBP to spend.......

    1) Are the pre-amps on this level of unit significantly better than the Onyx's or would I be getting better value by getting a line-only unit and using the Onyx pre-amps until I had more funds to spend on other pre-amps as part of a staged plan.
    2) Which units would you recommend?
    3) Are any of the TC Electronic units worth looking at? I sort of have a thing that if I have a choice between one of their products or an equivalent, I choose theirs. This is simply because I have found their customer service to be excellent, whereas I now steer away from for example Mackie as although I like the product, they seemed to outsource repairs to a company that really did not seem to care about their product/brand/level of customer service.
    4) I am not averse to getting value by sourcing a secondhand unit, so please feel free to recommend things I could find in that category.

    Thank you again for your advice.

  9. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    Not necessarily...

    You might struggle to improve on the Onyx for that budget to be honest...

    Assuming that you ultimately intend to upgrade both your interface and your pre-amps, it doesn't really matter what order you do that in: its just a question of working out which will bring you the biggest benefit in the short term. So the way I see it you have the following options:

    1. Replace the Onyx as your interface. I would suggest going for a line-in only model for that budget, as the built-in pres on a £500 interface are unlikely to be any better than the Onyx pres (probably a lot worse to be honest). The pre-amps are by far the best things about those Onyx mixers, so no harm continuing to use them a while longer.

    2. Add a pre-amp to give yourself some more "colouring" options while tracking. The DAV (while excellent) is a bit too clean to fit that bill: maybe look at a Groove Tubes Brick, or a UA Solo or something along those lines.

    3. If its colouring options you are after, maybe you would do better investing that £500 in your microphone collection instead? A Beyer M160 ribbon (for example) would fit easily into that budget, and would provide you with a much wider range of different options while tracking. The M160 is a classic design that will serve you well for many years to come, and you will still find uses for it even when you have a cupboard full of Neumanns as well!

    4. If you think your current results are too lo-fi or lacking in overall quality... to be honest, it is unlikely that the Onyx pre-amps or interface are the weak link. You might be better advised to invest in better monitors or acoustic treatment. Especially acoustic treatment: a good sounding room will do more for your recordings than any preamp.
  10. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I'll second the suggestion to look into something like a UA Solo 610. It has a "warm" tone that will give you quite a different sound from the Mackie preamps. Some different sounding mic would also be a great addition. I would rather have a bunch of different good mics than one super fantastic mic.
  11. AToE

    AToE Active Member

    I went down this path recently too, also an onyx user. Just stick with the onyx - unless you're spending huge money (per channel) you're not going to get your money's worth of improvement trying to get a different interface, everyone I've talked to has said the same thing, the onyx stuff is on par with everything else up to double the price (triple some people said), so until you're spending $500 a channel at least, I wouldn't worry about it. Now I just focuss on microphones, and yes, as soon as I have a good collection then I'll get a heavily coloured preamp (transformer not transformerless) to use in situations where I'd like a little more colour. EDIT: and then some day, when I've run out of other things to spend money on, then I'll replace the onyx stuff, but for now it's not important.

    Upgrading from clean sounding onyx to clean sounding "something else" isn't a great way to spend money in my opinion. It's not hurting your audio, it's just turning it into 010110110001110 cleanly - which is all you need it to do!
  12. apstrong

    apstrong Active Member

    Your other option is the 1640 mod:

    Mackie Onyx 1640 EQ Modification

    It's really designed to allow you to record the onboard EQ, but since it moves the output point of the firewire, you can use the inserts for your fancy preamps and bypass the mackie preamps. Or upgrade to the 1640i, which I think allows you to do this as a built in feature. Or get a different 16+ channel mixer that does the same thing. It's nice to have the mackie preamps for most things, and as you grow and acquire high end preamps, you can bypass the mackie pres on a channel by channel basis. Lots of flexibility and the mod isn't too expensive (or do it yourself for even less, but personally I'd want a professional who is offering a warranty on their work to do it!).

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