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Sound on Sound blind preamp test.

Discussion in 'Preamps / Channel Strips' started by took-the-red-pill, Dec 22, 2015.

  1. took-the-red-pill

    took-the-red-pill Active Member

    I know this is an old article, and may have already been discussed nigh to death, but my searches couldn't find it, so here goes.

    This is fascinating.

    I would urge you to listen to all the samples before finding out which pre is which. Take the time to listen to the whole thing. And note to file, that as they changed mics, they changed preamp order(A-H), so you can't go by what you heard with the previous microphone.

    Double blind taste tests are very revealing about our perceptions, vs reality.

    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct12/articles/preamps.htm

    It would be interesting to hear these same preamps on a source like drums, guitar, voice.

    ...and so it goes.
     
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Personally speaking, I find that using a vocal for these kinds of tests tends to present the biggest indicator(s) of quality, or lack thereof ... to me, anyway.
    Maybe I feel that way because I mostly work with styles where the vocal is always what sits up front the most, and where most of the focus generally is.

    But I can understand why they chose a piano, consistency in performance being a major factor.

    Here are my results:

    For preamps, I chose ( in order), E, F, and C.

    (I have expensive taste.... LOL...)

    For me, out of all the mics used, the Royer SF12 stood out as the obvious choice, I found it to be the most natural and pleasing, capturing the fluidity, dynamics, and richness of the performance in the nicest way.
    The lows were warm and not the least bit overbearing, the mids were smooth and rich, the hi's were silky and sweet.
    It was the clear winner to me. That's not to imply that the other mics sounded bad... but the Royer stood out as having the nicest sonics for this performance - to my ears, anyway.

    FWIW, the one pre that came in dead last for me in these tests - every time - was the Mackie.

    And, I think it's important to know how preamps sound when pushed, too.
    This is usually where the wheels come off the wagon on cheaper preamps, they can't take being driven as hard as most higher quality pre's can, and when pushed, they often present distortion that isn't of the "pleasing" variety; instead they tend to get harsh, shrill and brittle.

    Also, gain is a biggie, too. Cheaper pre's that lack gain tend get pretty noisy when you gain them up to acceptable levels, especially when using Ribbons, and even some dynamics.

    (FWIW, I did not notice these issues as being factors in any of the sound files in this test. I found all of the samples to be well-recorded).

    So, my choices:

    Brauner mic, preamp E.
    Senny mics, preamp F
    Royer mic, preamp C

    With the Royer SF12 being the winning microphone for me across the board.

    But, in the end, it's really all a matter of individual perception and taste. And... dare I say it again, for the umpteenth time : within the musical context.

    On that subject, who knows? Perhaps if they had been recording someone like Bruce Hornsby instead, maybe a combination of the SDC mics and the AMS Neve pre would have worked the best. ;)

    IMO,
    -d.
     
  3. took-the-red-pill

    took-the-red-pill Active Member

    Interesting observations.

    The big takeaway for me was to have a few decent mics, to practice, and learn great mic placement. It seems if you do that, and have a good instrument, a decent room, and a great performance, all the rest might just be blah blah blah.

    Yes, that SSL and the Prism Sound-your choices-both fared very well. But the Prism is forty five hundred bucks, and should absolutely and unequivocally blow everything else out of the water. It's an embarrassment for it to be beaten by, or even given a run by a hundred-fifty a channel Chinese made pre. I would feel like I'd been raped if I bought one and then listened to this test.

    ?'s for your consideration:

    If hiss is thought to be a problem, but this test-and I listened to it on my ATH M50's-proves that they were able to record with all three mics with no noticeable hiss, then I think we can say it's a non issue and shouldn't be considered when we're buying preamps. True?

    I too have read that some pres don't handle being pushed to the limit too well, but isn't that too a non issue? Shouldn't we be recording at levels that keep the pre from being pushed even in the loudest part of the recording(I suppose with the possible exception of a tube pre, where it may be done on purpose)?

    Another thought: some of the chosen preamps seemed a little dull even some of the big buck options-the poor API, for example got its ass kicked in the blind taste test. But in reality nobody expects a final performance to go out without any processing, so I wonder if, when mixed with EQ and compression, the differences in each preamp would become so negligible as to be completely insignificant?

    It has certainly made me put my dream of spending thousands on 2-4 channels of "awesomeness" on hold, because I may never be able to tell the difference; and instead spend the time to find the sweet spot on every source I record.

    Onward
     
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    There are times you have to gain preamps up to accommodate certain mics... for example, Ribbons require a lot more gain to work at their optimum than condensers do; some dynamics as well, such as the Shure SM7, which is inherently low in its output.
    Also, some preamps sound better when they are pushed; tube and transformer-based preamps start to add pleasing harmonics as you gain them up.

    Of course we'll never know with this test, but how do you know that the API wouldn't have stood out as sounding the best using a vocal, or a snare drum, or acoustic guitar as the control performance instead?

    But, let's be clear here.... we're talking about one test involving 7 or 8 people, using one instrument as the control factor with the preamps and mics as the variables, but it's still just the one instrument and the one performance.
    That hardly suggests an "ass kicking" by any stretch. The opinions were based on a very narrow set of criteria, so it's not really accurate to say that one is far superior to the others in this limited scenario.

    IMO, if there's any one preamp that "got its ass kicked", it was the Mackie - which to my ears, came in dead-last in all three sections, and not just by a little bit, either. The sonic differences between it and the others was huge - at least to my ears.
    But again, I'm basing that opinion on one instrument. Perhaps it would have faired much better (to me) had I been able to hear how it sounded on a vocal, or a kick drum, or a bass guitar.

    This all points back to a term I've been spouting for years, a word that I'm sure people are sick to death of hearing me say by now, but it's true, so I'll say it, yet again ... CONTEXT.
    Everything we do ( or use) needs to be considered within the context of how, when and where we do something... whether it's a mic choice, or a plug we insert, or a track we record... it's all about in what context these things are being used, and this test was performed in only one context... miking a piano.

    Again, you're basing your decision on one test by one group using one instrument in one scenario, and judged by only a handful of listeners. In this craft, where multiple instruments and sound sources are common, that's hardly enough data to base a decision on, unless of course, the only instrument you ever plan to record is a grand piano.

    The key is to get a preamp that will sound best under as many different kinds of circumstances and applications as possible - vocals, acoustic guitar, drums, amps, trumpets, flutes, etc.; and using dynamics, condensers and ribbons. And, finding one that will record your sources in the best quality with the least amount of negatives, which will allow your tracks to maintain quality, clarity and definition, when track counts start to rise on a project. Again, I don't believe you can take just one instrument and one performance - of and to itself only - as a deal-breaking decision maker. Your style and workflow, the way you record and mix, the style of music you work in, all of these things play a big part in determining what gear will work and sound best for you. The testers can't predict what any of those things are going to be like for you.

    The mics you use will make a huge difference, too. Sometimes, an SM58 is a perfect choice, where other times, perhaps a Ribbon, still other applications where something like a 414, or a U87, or Mojave would be better choices.

    Finally, cost wasn't a determining factor in your original query; you didn't ask that we present our preferences on which pre sounded the best "for the money".
    You asked that we listen and choose the model(s) that we thought sounded best, period.

    I did my best to do that. It's not my fault that the ones I heard as sounding the best to me - in with these very specific set of circumstances - turned out to be the most expensive. LOL ;)

    IMHO of course.
    -d.
     
  5. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    ... disclaimer: i like good pre amps /gear. i also know decent /successful recordings can be accomplished with budget pres and gear ..... i've done it. i've recorded records with a Mackie SR24 and ADAT's. there's a lot of stuff being released by indies recorded on very modest systems.

    how something sounds /is recorded, can change from hour to hour, day to day due to atmospheric conditions like temperature, humidity and air pressure. these factor alone could be responsible for substantial perceived differences.

    16 bit? .... 44.1? ..... at low rates, any audio over 20k and a limitation of 92 dB dynamic range is imposed ....... of course a lot of us don't hear that high do we? a lot of us don't have monitor systems capable of producing 30k or dynamic rage of 160 dB either. i plead guilty to both charges.

    all that has been done is to establish which pre amp(s) on a particular source, sounds best to our ears into the decided upon medium/ playback system on a given hour of a given day. these are decisions that are (should) be made by any competent recordists in any well equipped recording facility every day ...... but it's subjective.

    for me, the only valid test that can be made is; mic to pre, to power amplifier, to speakers, to ears. regardless of method of transcription (analog tape, digital tape, digital computer, 78 rpm disk, wire recorder - whatever!), once you've recorded the results, you have tainted the sample(s). but again, it's still subjective. i don't think this is something that can be proved empirically.

    if one can "hear" a difference, they will not be happy with anything that is not what they perceive as best ....... baby steps, everything counts. another "difference" will be in consistently repeatable better than average results. this is what all the great rooms have /had to offer.

    if one cannot hear an improvement when using a Neve vs. PreSonus then, "Bless their hearts". live and let live. it makes no difference to argue the point, if they can't hear it in the first place. those who "get it" do and those who don't, don't.
     
    DonnyThompson likes this.
  6. took-the-red-pill

    took-the-red-pill Active Member

    True. It would be interesting to have an engineer record the exact same song through the various pres using all the instruments, mix it up, and see what the final songs sounded like. I'm guessing any differences would be amplified as the track count went up, and different sources came out.

    To that end, I don't understand why they always use piano, or an acoustic guitar, or a singer? Why not do these tests on drums? Drums give us everything from sub to supersonic, transients, decays, high and low sound pressures. It would seem to me to tell more of a story than any other instrument.

    I supposed it's all academic hair splitting.

    Again, my takeaway from this is: It is better to learn than to buy.
     

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