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Transparent preamps

Discussion in 'Preamps / Channel Strips' started by JJansson, Apr 23, 2005.

  1. JJansson

    JJansson Guest


    I'm in need of a really transparent preamp. As I mentioned in the MKH 20 thread I have read very serious tests of the Earthworks preamp, and i know that it is (very very close to) audibly transparent. But it's still IMO pretty expensive. What other similar and less expensive products are there on the market? Note that I'm not interested in "sweet" or "nice" sounding preamps, I want it as transparent as it gets.
  2. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    No such animal I suspect.

    There are so many on the market, way too many in fact, even more opinions and anecdotes on them that are mostly useless and misleading.

    Like all these conversations about subjective qualities of various bits of gear, the best approach is to borrow or rent some and use your ears and own judgement.

    Ergonomics is also important, ie are they easy to operate in the dark etc. Good luck. In the end, it also comes down to your budget.
  3. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Also there are many technical reasons to buy a particular preamp, do you need ribbon gain, MS matrix, high input impedance, etc.
  4. bap

    bap Member

    Cost is also a significant factor for me when making a gear purchase.

    You might look into the DAV Electronics BG1 if you are looking for a stereo pre. It doesn't contain a lot of bells and whistles but is considered by many, including me, to be on the transparent end of the spectrum.

    I don't have a problem with it sounding both 'sweet' and 'nice'. It is not highly colored, it just sounds good. Who doesn't want their stuff to soung good?
  5. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Good stuff, except one man's "sweet", "nice", "good" is another man's "ordinary". Someone awhile ago described the TLM170 as "limp", ha, I had a good laugh.

    So its pointless to take people's opinions into account in such an important purchase. Make a short list, which should include the BroadhurstGardens, and borrow, or hire them for a concert listen, ie for something in a really good acoustic, then make a decision.

    This is how we came to buy our AMEK 9098, they sounded so good in a concert and still do. But I don't care if others reckon its limp or whatever. :)

    In the end, the difference a quality preamp will make it almost insignificant, the mic technique and room will prove to be responsible for the killer "sound".
  6. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Been thinking more about this idea of transparency and how it should be defined.

    After all, we are listening to tonally modified acoustics, with coloured mics, through coloured preamps, how can one ever decide what is transparent?

    I would define a transparent preamp as one that gives me the unaldulterated sound of my mic, but I do not know what the unadulterated sound of my mic is like having never heard it!

    So, I suspect what someone calls transparent is just another colouration, one that is more appealing than another and this, finally, is a purely subjective assessment. Beauty is in the eye ....

    It seems the most interesting preamps these days allow switchable, adjustable signal paths and accept that it is all different forms of colouration. Some boxes allow for transformers in or out, feedback in or out, and many modifiers in between.

    One preamp with adjustable parameters is the Gordon Instruments box.
  7. Plush

    Plush Guest

    May I chime in with suggestions for transparent mic amps?
    These suggestions are from long experience and I make no apologies for naming lesser known makers.

    in no particular order:

    Crookwood Paintpot ($2000.00)--super transparent, super liquid
    non clinical sound

    Broadhurst Gardens No. 1 ($630.00)--Decca heritage--sweet and clean--very accurate

    Amek DMA (discontinued but available--$ approx. 1400.00)--faithful and transparent

    EAR 624 ($ 6000.00)--transparent tube with 10lb. lead weights hanging from its balls--The BEST

    The reason I like the BG # 1 so well is that it is excellent sound on its own and it is the preamp that sounds the most like the EAR.

  8. JJansson

    JJansson Guest


    To say something IS transparent is of course wrong. No recording or hifi apparature is absolutley transparent.

    No, You haven't heard the microphone, but it is pretty easy to isolate a test object (in this case a preamp) and listen just for the colouration of the single unit. Like this: Have a listening setup where You can switch between a single preamp-X (1) and a chain of two preamp-Xs (2) (the signal is damped to the original level after the first preamp). All colourations of the preamp will of course be doubled in (2). So if one can't hear any diferences between (1) and (2) the preamp is audibly transparent and the colourations are under the hearing limit.

    More can be found here: http://www.sonicdesign.se/amptest.htm

    The method is somewhat timeconsuming, but is on the other hand very effective.

    I think it's important not to misuse or exaggerate the importance of transparecy. Equipment with a own character can of course be very useful and good, but to me the most fascinating about recording is to capture as much as possible of the music (and to reproduce it as correctly as possible) and IMO a transparent recording chain is important to achieve that.
  9. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Transparency is an admirable goal, but an elusive term indeed. One person's ceiling...etc.

    I like the term: A straight wire with gain.

    Whether or not that can ever be truly achieved is another story entirely.... IMHO there are just too many variables, but you can sure come close.

    And as long as you know the coloration involved, it's all good. Just know your gear and how it interacts with the rest of the world. Analog vs. Digital I/O's, Transformers vs transformer-less, tube, transistor, discrete or ICs, Class A, Class B, A/B, etc....all part of the palette of sound & tools out there.
  10. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    How can one be sure that you are not listening to the padding of the signal back 45dB or so and the effects of difference impedances of the mic and the preamp output?

    Hudson, I like your choices. :) The BG is exceptional value.
  11. JJansson

    JJansson Guest

    The tests have to be made under different conditions so that the load is equivalent to normal (and extreme) usage and different microphones a.s.o.

    BUT, note that I'm probably the wrong person to speak about the before/after test. The tests have to be made by someone who fully understands the whole procedure and the different variables (not me...). I know that the Swedish Audio Engineering Society uses this method (they have some very skilled engineers and scientists), and their results are very convincing.
  12. bap

    bap Member

    When talk turns to 'transparent' pre amps doesn't someone have to mention Grace, Sytek, and Millennia?
  13. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Man, this board gets full of itself sometimes. The dude is asking for a simple solution. There are 3 classes of preamps as I see it in this world - colored, uncolored and crap.

    Crap is simple - it's Focusrite Platinum, ART, etc. Budget junk.

    Uncolored is pretty simple too - pres that do their absolute best not to introduce their own character to the sound. True, if you have a circuit in the path, you've now introduced character, but com'on - there are some very faithful sounding uncolored (or transparent) pres out there.

    Colored - well this is simple too. The goal of these preamps is to simply add a quality to the sound which it is amplifying. Whether it be by using transformers or high voltage plates, etc.

    Why is this so difficult and has to be a debate in philosophy.

    Simple, there are tons of transparent pres out there. All the ones named and then some.

    Grace, True, Millennia, Hardy (yes, I said Hardy), Neve, Gordon, Martinsound (though I don't like these), Sytek, Benchmark and the list goes on and on and on.

    My suggestion - if you're on a budget and only need a few channels - look at the Grace models or the BG. If you are willing or able to spend more - the world is your oyster.

  14. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Well, sorrrryyyyyy! All I am trying to do is keep the thread from decending back to yet just more opinions on budget gear, like all the rest of the internet audio forums. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish ....
  15. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Tell him that no matter what fish he catches, it will taste like sh*t - how will that help?

    How about telling him the difference between store bought halibut and fresh caught halibut. Or what makes one fish better than another. (I know, I'm carrying the analogy a little far here.)

    There are plenty of people on the boards here that do a great job answering posts without being condescending or contradictory. Others are not so good at this approach.

    How about we all try to help instead of all trying to make ourselves feel better about what gear we can afford but some other poor sap can't.

    Am I wrong? I tend to see a lot of responses with the following phrases:
    You can't...
    You shouldn't...
    There isn't...
    Well, I would never do it THAT way...

    How about staying constructive?

  16. harold716

    harold716 Guest

  17. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    hi guys...
    I dont get to hang with ya'll much so its kind of a priviledge when I do.If I may...I do record a lot of your earthier instruments...ie:banjo,dobro,acoustic guitars,mandolins,accordians,tuba!,percussions stuff and so forth...and the search for a truly transparent pre has eluded me also and since I certainly cant afford an Esoteric or any of the others like that,I'm doomed to adding as little color,or at least as pleasant a color as possible, since I want the acoustic instruments to sound,well, acoustic.One I have never been disappointed in has been the True Systems Analog P2.They're very clean and still remain hearty and full bodied(a fine brew!)Thanx for letting me share.I also agree about the Hardys.Very very clear.
  18. felixcat

    felixcat Guest

    Nice preamp and then some

    Something I'm quite fond of (even though it is Mac only) is the Metric Halo ULN2. 2 channels of quality preamp that gives you lots of gain, very little noise, and also top quality AD/DA conversion on firewire.
    Sure, there's so much out there and so many considerations go into your decision, but if you are on a Mac, it's got to be up there on your "check out" list.
  19. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Here here...

    This is a great piece of equipment. I'm surprised that I don't see it in use more often. It's a shame I'm a PC guy though.

    Why won't they release PC drivers????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????


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