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What did I do wrong?

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by ClarkJaman, Sep 11, 2012.

  1. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Hey guys,

    So I had a pretty good singer in my studio yesterday laying down a vocal track. I used a AKG C414 XLS mic with a fethead, plugged into my new ART Pro Channel (Tube preamp/compressor/EQ) XLR out into channel 2 of my Line 6 UX8 interface with the gain all the way down, USB out into Cubase on my iMac. For some reason, the signal was all distorted. Here is a chunk of the vocal track:


    Does this sound terrible to you guys? This track is completely dry. It sounds like it is clipping on the louder parts to me. But the preamp wasn't clipping on the ART Pro Channel, the compressor on the Pro Channel wasn't clipping, I was bypassing the EQ, there was no clipping on the UX8 or on Cubase either. I don't get what I did wrong... :/ This is my first time using outboard rack gear other than my UX8 interface, so I am really unconfident.

    I have another singer coming in this afternoon and I don't want to make the same mistake, so any help you guys can give me is urgently appreciated!

    Pax Caritas et lol,
  2. Zilus

    Zilus Active Member

    Maybe some extra gain on the output?
  3. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    You really should have this stuff down before you bring clients or singers into the studio.

    Ditch the fet head for one. You don't need it with a 414.

    when you are going into the UX8 are you going into the mic pre or the line inputs? The XLR is the mic pre. Use the 1/4" line inputs. You don't need to preamp the signal twice (or 3 times).

    now you kids, get off my lawn.
  4. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    HEY! If one preamp helps boost a mic to the level needed to record, THREE should be even better, right?
    The Fethead wasn't designed to be used with a nice condenser like that,it was designed to be used with lower-output mics (ribbons and dynamics) - what KF said - ditch it. You are running a pretty "hot" mic (output-wise) into a little preamp, and then into a bigger preamp, then yet another preamp on the interface (laymen's terms, I admit), this is where your dirt is being generated.
    Doesn't anyone understand GAIN STAGING anymore?
  5. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Thanks for the help guys. I was going into the XLR input on the UX8. Of course that is the problem. Rookie mistake.

    With the fetheads, have you guys tried them? I find them really helpful, even on a C414. The UX8 preamps I usually use are a little noisy and hissy when you crank them up to record vocals. But using a fethead, I don't have to touch the noisy part of the preamp. I will try taking them off while using the Pro Channel though.
  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    the pro channel should provide plenty of gain.

    remember to keep all your inz' n outz @ unity gain.
  7. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    What about coming out of the compressor? I had it turned up a few dB as make-up.
  8. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    i use a 414xls w/ an art 'pro mpa' pre, at home, and is sounds fine, and quiet. Learn the room, mic, then the pre. then enable the comp/eq.
    it doesn't sound right w/ just a mic/pre, it's only gonna get worse (polishing a turd). there is no problem w/ your equipment, just take some time to experiment, it's fun!!! I consider the 'impedance' knob on that pre, as a mild 'dynamic treble control'. it's subtle.
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    The 414 offers up quite a lot of output level. This may be, in fact, overloading your first stage of microphone pre-amplification. This is why they put a pad switch on the microphone. Use it.

    If you are getting any hiss when using a 414, you are doing something way wrong. Especially when recording a tight close-up vocal. There should be no hiss with that scenario.

    Plus, you just want to go into a single microphone preamp. There is no sense rhyme or reason to go into multiple preamps. That's like trying to stick more than one suppository up your butt. But what you've recorded is a high colonic. So get the microphone out of his butt with the pad switch, the sanitary pad switch. And for heaven's sake, just use a single microphone preamp of any variety.

    I take microphone preamps into microphone preamps, because I know how to. And I have to. And when done correctly, suffers from no overload and no additional noise. That's also because pads are actually built into the front end of my Neve, & API, preamps. So I don't have to rely strictly on the microphone pad. But you can't just be plugging one preamp into another preamp without understanding what gain staging is all about. It doesn't matter if you don't see any clipping. It's all wrong to begin with. The clipping is in sections that do not indicate any clipping. While you are getting clipping. The recording is most definitely overloaded, no question about that. So it's not your equipment at fault but your incorrect use of it. You can still plug a preamp into a preamp with a pad, a balanced H-pad, between them. And if you don't have that H-pad, don't even think about plugging one preamp into another preamp. With unbalanced outputs and inputs, you would utilize an L-pad, which is an unbalanced pad.

    These pads are available both in fixed gain loss or switchable gain loss from companies like SHURE, as a simple plug-in XLR barrel. I have numerous pads like those. Some are nothing more than 10-20 DB. Others are up to 50 DB for padding down line level sources into microphone inputs. Or hot keyboard outputs, where you may only need 10-20 DB to prevent from overloading microphone inputs from DI boxes.

    Sometimes I utilize three microphone preamps? Altec Lansing 1567 tube into API 312/3124 and then into Neve 3115's. Without noise. Without overload. All clean. All huge! Just to get a sound I want as opposed to a sound I don't want.

    More can be better, when done correctly.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  10. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I'd keep it simple given the OP's gear/experience level. I find lower level gear 'stacks' in a bad way and exaggerates the defficiencies of themselves. not that i'm some super seasoned sound dude, but just in general, i've found that to be true. a 414 and any pre on the market should get a decent sound. i'd switch mics/placement before i'd try to stack pres.
    i'm now instantly fascinated w/ the concept of chaining pre's. Gonna have ta ask my boss to let me use his mixing/tracking room one night to mess around w/ the neve, api, stuff. No tube pre's there, damn. maybe i'll sell my car (i won't) to get the 610 i drool over, but haven't even tried yet, to hear if i like it.
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff


    I have to learn more about too. You are a wealth of tricks. I believe one of the secrets to the Manley TNT is this.
  12. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Chris...Manley TNT is "this" what? What this? I sound like I'm speaking Ebonics?

    So, really, when ya get the gain staging right, everything plays well together. When ya don't get it right... you are ejected out of the ballpark.

    One strike and no balls.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  13. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Yep. Especially with the preamps I use, there's no point in stacking them. Let me be clear that I didn't mean to run through the UX8 preamp. I wasn't trying to stack them; I was doing it without realizing it.

    This experience has brought the concept of gain staging into the middle of my radar. I have been reading up on it a bit, but I still don't really get when to use the fethead and when not to.
  14. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I have to admit, I'm not really sure what a "fethead" is? Sounds like you are describing a microphone preamp, utilizing some kind of J FET front end? I googled it and could find no references to fethead? At first I thought you were talking about one of the Cascades ribbon microphones, called the " FATHEAD "?

    The concept of gain staging is actually quite forward. When we used to design and build and/or repair analog audio consoles, you have numerous stages of amplification and numerous stages of losses. These losses come from things like combining networks, fixed resistor networks, filters. So after that loss comes a subsequent next amplification stage. Based upon the operating parameters of each amplification stage, there is a window of the performance. Where the noise is at its lowest and the headroom is at its highest. If the window becomes shifted up or down by too much amplification or too much loss, performance will obviously suffer. Sometimes, we utilize this scheme of gain and loss to push the envelope or so to speak, depending upon the equipment in use.

    That window in lesser, consumer oriented, entry-level equipment is most frequently a much narrower window than what one finds on higher end level equipment. But this doesn't mean that full-blown, fully professional results cannot be obtained from the consumer oriented, entry-level equipment. It absolutely can. But it's a game, one has to learn how to play to obtain something that could and very often can, rival the full-blown expensive stuff. The fun part is, you can sometimes cheat with slightly more noise to obtain greater headroom. The opposite can also be done in situations where you may want lower noise. And in a sense, you can actually stretch, the capability of the device. TA-SCAM analog consoles, are not well known for their superlatively performing microphone preamps and equalizers. Results can be quite underwhelming. In comparison to a piece of quality, professional gear. So I have fun, amazing my musician friends. When I get a recording out of a crappy console, that doesn't sound much different from my Neve. And then I showed him how to do that. It's actually pretty funny. The microphone preamps suck. The mid-band equalizer sucks. So I cheat the microphone preamp. Adjusting it to the proper gain makes it lack badly in headroom. It helps knowing where it craps out. So you don't turn it up that much. You're trading more noise for professional sounding headroom. The cheat then is having to increase the output bus drive amplifier by approximately the same amount of DB's, you were running the microphone preamp, lower. This is necessary to make up for the loss of level before it hits your recording device input.

    When it comes to using the equalizers on that hunk of junk, I don't mind utilizing a little tilt up or down on the high and low frequency equalizers. They are what they call shelving. The mid-band equalizer has a rather tight Q, sounds rather screechy and offers up a nondescript texture that is not appealing whatsoever. So you don't use it, don't touch it.

    The rest is simply in your mix, the balance and not pushing the outputs. When you get the transient information through a hunk of junk like that, it doesn't sound like a hunk of junk anymore. When you don't use a really bad ringy narrow Q mid-band equalizer, whose operational amplifier also doesn't have much headroom, it won't sound Tinkertoy like.

    So without those distasteful elements, one can get a great mix with plenty of transients, sparkling through. The slight increases in noise will go virtually unnoticed. A lot of this is particularly true of circuitry that relies upon integrated circuit chips. These things are a modern marvel. A plethora of great sounding chips are out there. But ya really can't push them beyond their operational specifications. Not even the good ones. This changes though, with devices utilizing only discrete transistors. The topology of these circuits, which are quite minimalistic, will do fascinating aural tricks wherein you push them. Of course there is always that point of no return, but it's that raggedy edge, where all the magic begins to happen. And that's one of the narrowest windows to shoot for. This is where this simple little operational amplifier with its minimalistic topology starts to go nonlinear. The integrated circuit chips have too many transistor junctions in comparison to these minimalistic discrete devices. And that's why those can't be pushed. They also can't transfer the current as well. Nothing wrong with them, when you don't push the envelope.

    Knowing things like this allow you to take full advantage of gain staging. Where, if one wants? One can actually feed a microphone preamp into a microphone preamp into a microphone preamp into a microphone preamp, without problems. Otherwise you get something completely unusable by the time ya get to the second microphone preamp. And that's taking full advantage of your gain staging by inserting the right amount of losses, between each series of gains. It's usually the losses that people forget to include, therefore getting completely miserable results. While I love less is more, more can be greater than less, when you do it right. And that's a different vernacular of gain staging.

    The reason so many people like myself go ape chit over these classic pieces like the API and Neve products from the late 1960s/70s, is that they do the most amazing things to your audio, when you push them properly. In fact, it can eliminate the need for any equalization or dynamic range manipulation. It just sort of does everything right, making everything sound right on the right instruments at the right volume levels. It changes the bite. It changes the bulk. It can sound better than a compressor and an equalizer. And then you smile when you realize you're not using anything. And everybody freaks out at your mix and your sound. They all wonder how to get that stuff. So while it can't be had with every piece of equipment it can be accomplished, even with old Yamaha PA mixers from the 1970s. A good example of those would be the PM 700/PM 1000. They were Japanese clones of Neve's. And you can get very similar results from those as they were all discrete transistor. And you can find those real cheap today. The Yamaha equalizers were also nothing really to write home about. Not as bad as that other Japanese manufacturer. Still a little ringy on their mid-band. But this time utilizing ferrite core inductors. Just like a Neve. And in fact those particular, PA boards were referred to as " Baby Neve's ". Then they sounded like it. At least when you only went through it once. Any more than once, they quickly started turning into mud. And a lot of that was just those Japanese Transformers. It was difficult building 24 track projects on an eight track analog machine, when utilizing those boards for recording purposes. Nevertheless, I was able to compensate somewhat by grabbing at the high frequency equalizer, a little more aggressively. In fact adding too much boost, and then having to compensate through a high frequency limiter. And voilĂ ! I should post some of those jingles, I did 33 years ago? George Martin liked them enough to offer me a job. And I really hated that PM 1000 I had to use. I still chuckle when I listen to those jingles. Because it's also that understanding of proper gain staging that got me through. Before I had to use that board, I was using API, Neve and Harrison consoles. So you know what something is supposed to sound like, it's easier to get that sound from something that's not supposed to sound like that. But you also have to have that sonic mental imprint. If you can't use those consoles, and they are not available to you, you just simply have to listen to those great old rock 'n roll hits from the 1970s/80s, which were all recorded on those boards. And you'll know what you are shooting for. And it's there, it's available, it can be done inexpensively. Is it pristine, perfect, uncolored, neutral, transparent? No way. It wouldn't sound as good, if it was. And that's because we are painting pictures with sound. You just look at what you want your mix to be in front of you when it comes out of your speakers. And you'll find it there. Because really, no one's recording problems are because of their equipment. It's their misunderstanding or lack of understanding of the equipment they are using that prevents them from obtaining professional results of a higher order.

    Confusion is also healthy.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  15. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    you might save yourself some money in the long run if you rent one for a few days. its a great pre but it only does one thing.

    maybe think about

    you can get 3 channels 8 channels 8 channels with a sum mixer. they it takes any 500 module api or any number of other manufacturers comps eqs gates eqs filters di's, re amp boxs etc. . Kick ass power supply.


    "I have to admit, I'm not really sure what a "fethead" is? Sounds like you are describing a microphone preamp, utilizing some kind of J FET front end? I googled it and could find no references to fethead? At first I thought you were talking about one of the Cascades ribbon microphones, called the " FATHEAD "?"

  16. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    The Fethead is a little inline metal tube (like the ones Switchcraft makes to put simple passive circuits into) with a JFet preamp built into it. It was designed to boost weaker-output mics (ribbons, SM7b, RE-20,etc.). Think of the LPB-1 that Mike Matthews (EH) made for geetars in the 70's. I've tried one on the SM7b and it really brought it to life...just not enough to keep the mic around! You might check out the Cloudlifter for comaprison. Probably the same guts, but they offer more features on various models. Not exactly a poor man's Neve, though ( what is?).
  17. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Oh yeah, I should have known. Yeah there's a few like this out there. I'm familiar with the one that BLUE makes.

    I think their logo is funny. It's a rip of the Neumann logo plate stuck on their microphones. Just to make you think it's a quality product. And it may be by virtue of its simplicity.

    I was also right about it being a JFET input. Probably great on a ribbon microphone with that 22 K, input impedance. It certainly won't load any microphone down. 22,000 ohms may be load resistors since a J FET is generally around 2,000,000 ohm loads. But it can also indicate a couple of low noise, bipolar transistor inputs also. Those would in turn feed a J FET IC chip operational amplifier. Bipolar transistors do not have high input impedance. They are mid-impedance devices.

    Kurt, I just love your changing avatars. Your current one actually sounds loud just the way it looks. ARF! Nice doggie, nice doggie.

    GOT MILK... bone?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Ya, Kurt the pooch is the best. And the profile pic is great too. Nice read too.
  19. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    TNT = feed the left channel into to right for some serious kick ass gain and colour shaping.
    I was talking with Marek Stycos a few months back, who is the Manley Distributor and from his explanation of it, it is to die for.
  20. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Those radial racks are really cool, i love the idea of analog summing, built right into a 500 series rack. Seems the the most versatile of the current crop of 500 series racks, most likely the one i'd get if i could. Though i haven't noticed any tube based pre's/compresors out yet.

    What is it that the 610 does? how would you describe it?

    I've heard it's "colorful", but that's pretty vague. I know they used it on Van Halens guitar thru 2 57's, but it was probably the whole consoles' strip, and well it's van halen, they coulda used a mackie.

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