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what is the colour in a mic pre?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by audiokid, Nov 9, 2014.

  1. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I'm curious what our interpretation of colour really is and what this translates into a mix for you? I mean, some pres are more middy, have less top and bottom with a git to them. Is that a good thing?
    • Would I use those on a jazz vocal? not likely.
    • Would I choose that on a B3 Deep Purple kind of sound? indeed!
    But now that I know more about emulation, (and its 2014), could I get that same (colour), grit , a more forward mid, less top and bottom using one really transparent pre and look to other tube hardware, software techniques?
    Could I simply buy one console that had transformerless pre's and use outboard effects to get a close enough sound to multiple choices? Can we emulate micpre colour in other ways, close enough and not compromise the "truth" of the original single path? Which to my ears translates into HUGE sound apposed to everything having a footprint of compromised bandwidth and "additional color" whether we "need" it or not.

    My asking this is to simply stir the pot and hear what we come up with?
    I want to hear it from us rather than assume we all share the same understanding our colour. I want to demystify misconceptions that micpre colour is some magic button that improves the product. I mean, what really creates the thing we call colour in a preamp? And finally, I get the guitar amp concept and valves, but are coloured micpre's really the best way to get colour when micing?
    If you have a large format console, why on earth would we need external preamps on top of the existing pres. And, would external pres inserted into the console actually be what the external preamp sounds like? yet, we are sure to hear a pro or con about that in some forum too. So, did the opinion tell us he was using that pre in a chain or console?
    So, how are we all recommending gear when everything is being effected by our stuff?

    To kick this off,
    To me, "colour" is more of a dirt created by lack. Which, can be a damn nice thing! I mean, I love distortion, especially on my guitars. But now that I am a recording kind of guy, well educated with DAW emulations, I'm thinking I want mics and a pre to be pretty accurate and can now keep the straightest wire possible and use emulation and mixing techniques to do it close enough, if not bigger and better because I have full bandwidth ready all the time!

    I would rather have a console or rack of boutique pre's of the highest degree and use outboard hardware and software tools to shape the source.

    Every preamp I have used that had what I think of as colour, it also sounds smaller and less hifi.
    When I read colour, my first thought is , okay, another name for something compromised.

    there, lots of description for us to comment on. Do we use the term colour to sell lack of which often becomes a sonic branding?
    What do you think?
  2. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Amen. And I agree, distortion makes the world go around. A lot of people will relate to this in the sort of distortion that is achieved in a guitar amp with tubes. While this is a wonderful thing to listen to and operate, its not what you'd want on an intimate whispery vocal with some kind of padded background accompaniment.

    Or would you?

    I find myself using Decapitator and Softube saturations on a lot of stuff. It doesn't blur the clarity as much as it makes things sound like things sound in nature.

    So, good distortion is your friend
  3. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Right on.

    What if we all had a plug-in or chain that would emulate 20 other pre's perfectly close enough? Is this not really already here and what I am saying? So why even waste a dime on all these "flavours that to my ears, sound colourful but compromised in size?.
    If the ADC lacked or added something nasty and the pre's we all used degraded the bandwidth, the emulation would not be represented accurate or, at its best, correct? Are we missing the balls trading real colour for emulated after the fact straight wires out of the box HUGE one size fits all preamp? I know what a HPF does and that is pretty much the magic button I use all the time.

    So, its looking like big rail fat transparency is once again, winning as the choice way to have more control and option in a world going full steam ahead with emulation software ( to me).

    To my ears, nothing rivals my M-2b for sweetness and size. I just cannot wait to get into grit creating plugs and start testing this out. I've been sitting on the fence with this for a while. The last tracks I did, when I strapped on an LA2A's/ 1176, and switched over the m-2b my eyes popped! I did the same comparison with the other pre's and the results were nothing short of boring. So, I'm just saying, I'm thinking we are really heading into some cool emulation.
  4. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Isn't that what we all loved about analog tape? [Good saturation, natural sounding distortion, and sweet tape compression.]
  5. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    "Tastes great!" ..... "Less filling!"
    "Sounds GOOD!" ..... "Good (uncoloured) sound!"
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    But, tape = reduced bandwidth and all sorts of other accumulative over time issues in comparison. Not even a consideration for me, ever again.
    I really think a lot of us, don't see the new world as a beautiful thing. Its so easy to get caught up in music we grew up in and think that it can't be emulated. But I'll tell you my experience with a few key products in the last quarter of this year is blowing my mind now.
  7. Paul999

    Paul999 Active Member

    To me a colored pre is really about what they do that an eq or compressor or other box can't do. Comine this with it adding or taking something away from the source. To me this is color.

    I have loved the color of lots of pre's like focusrite ISA(I thought they were really colored even though people call them clean). I like the transformer grit you can do with an API on electric guitars. I no longer have these tools at my disposal.

    The thing that makes this okay to me is that I can do sideways moves that are just as cool although different by recording sources a little different and working some tools ITB.

    By driving amps a little harder I can get plenty of harmonics. By using ITB harmonizers deeply compressed on parallel tracks with extra distortion I can get very cool smooth gritty tones.

    Tools like kramer tape and NLS drive have far more dramatic effect and controlable then any mic pre I've ever used.

    I am really digging clean pres.
  8. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Me, I like a pre to be a bit of string with gain. What goes in, comes out, just a bit louder!

    Seriously, I do understand what you guys are searching for - but when you listen to something really nice, from one of the worlds best producers/engineers/magicians it sounds like (insert your choice of superlative here). When I listen to my recordings, and the ones people frequently post on forums like this for critique/back slapping, none of them EVER sound as good. Loads are great, just not 'special'.

    We're starting to select preamps based on their tone/timre/colouration/distortion - when surely this is the territory of an effect? A pre-amp, admittedly in my old fashioned view should have a wide dynamic range, no noise, and gain - and part from a power supply maybe for the mic - nothing else that changes the sound.

    Maybe we just need a new term, to keep oldies like me happy - and something factual to measure 'colour' - because it means something different to every single person. If we specified frequency response as "Geraldine" or "Eric" everyone would be hopelessly confused, but "adds colour" is somehow ok? If we used "adds distortion", that could be accurate, but maybe people would think 70s fuzz box rather than Vox AC30, or Neumann 1950s tube?

    Why is it we specify everything to many decimal points now in one area, but encourage flowery language and complete subjectivity in another. I buy unheard or untried products based on reviews where comment is made on s/n, or frequency response, or dynamic range, but colour? Weird isn't it?
  9. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I guess the 'colour' term was born because it is hard to describ sound with words. It also explain why everyone got its own understanding of it
    If I say the girl next door is HOT ! It doesn't meen she has a fever, no, it's another term to comment her beauty. But same as sound, beauty is not the same for everyone.

    If I get a guitar cab to mic that makes my eyes bleed because there is too much HF, I could do everything normal and put a LPF on it at mix time.
    OR I can start to make it better right away with the choice of mic and placement and the choice of a darker preamp.

    If we could have that perfect reference that everybody was aware of and knew it very well, we could have a common ground.
    I guess colours, could be translated as defects. if we start with a statement that the perfect pre would amplify a signal evenly and accuratly.
    If we agree on that, we could say that all pre that don't do that are defects. Now we could admit that we are choosing the right defects for what we want to achieve.

    Another factor would be the speed of a pre. Could a faster or more dynamic pre consider colored over a slower one or vice versa ?
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    When I think of "color", it's an adjective that can suggest good or bad. "Muddy" is pretty self explanatory - in that it suggests that audio is ill-defined, lacking any kind of clarity or presence. "Bright" suggests hyped frequencies in the upper ranges, "Dark" suggests a lack of presence, "Honky" suggests a hyped mid-range. "Edgy" makes me think of a touch of harmonic distortion. "Pristine", at least to me, suggests ultra transparency.

    When I hear Chris describe the Millennia as being "big", it suggests to me that it encompasses the best of all worlds, a "pro" sound, if you will. Any truly professional recordings I've heard, whether classic or current, all have "that" big sound... and I'm not referring to dynamics, either. I can hear that "big" sound even in the most sparse arrangements and softest of songs.

    The Beatle's Here There and Everywhere (the song, not the book) has that, at least for me. I think it's a good example showing that the song itself doesn't need to be huge sounding - al'a Phil Spector, with layer upon layer of instrumentation and dripping wet with EMT - to have a "big" sound... Spector's productions aren't the same kind of big. I'm referring to "big sounding" in the tracks as they are without much added processing.
    Macca's voice is huge in that mix, full, rich, yet silky, and it's a soft ballad with not a whole lot of instrumentation going on.

    This could likely be attributed to the mic (most likely a U47 or U 67) through a high-voltage mic pre (probably not a stand alone, but built into the EMI REDD-37 console they were using at that time, which had valve-based pre's )


  11. Makzimia

    Makzimia Active Member

    I am going to throw in a curve ball here. For me, so far, it's like when I have compared keyboards too, since my days of analog, then FM, then all the romplers and now Rolands new Supernatural. As some said in another thread, I think the source makes a huge difference. When you then flow from the source you add the ear of the person recording. Say you have a guitarist sitting there, he plugs in an electric guitar, sets up how he wants it. He knows that's the sound he wants. If you record it and it maintains it's original sound and you can give it space if needed, your job is done, no?.

    Where am I going with this?, those who played analog synths know they were temperamental beasts. My Jupiter 6 for one loved to chang tone and key depending on how it felt, and had to be sort of tuned in each time. If we looked back at say the Beatles era we would find that the wonderful choices we have in eliminating say electrical interference didn't exist. As you add in more wires, more valves, more diodes, capacitors etc you get what that sound was, no?.

    As we make cleaner systems and more sophisticated sets of circuits etc we gain clarity but lose 'colour'. Colour as audiokid suggests is something we are missing because it was less :). Ironic, no?.

    My .02

  12. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Another curve ball, this time from a narrow marketing executive's point of view: if pre-amps had no colour they would all sound the same, so how would you choose which one to buy?
    pcrecord likes this.
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

  14. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Millennia : Over 3K for 2 channels, it better sound good ;)
  15. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    back in the 70's or 80's there was a guy who wrote for Stereo Review named Julian Hirsh ......and there was an ongoing discussion regarding if different power amps had a different sound ...

    i come down on the side of yes different amps sound different ... this coming from a guitar players background.

    marketing? yep. leaving a "mark"? yes again.

    60-70 years ago the holy grail was as transparent as possible. generational tape loss was a huge issue. 3 or 4 tracks was the best possible and a lot of studios were still bouncing from one mono machine to another. noise and head bump lo freq buildup was an issue. one way to deal with that was to hi / lo pass filter as much of the audio as possible. that's why a lot of those tracks had such a thin sound. those mic pres, comps and eq's could do fat / silky audio but there was a lot of rolling off of the audio to accommodate not only the record cutting procedures but also the primary outlet, AM radio.

    when higher track counts and FM radio came along, a lot of those problems went away. that's when guys like Neve, Dick Swettenham and the brain trust from Trident went on to build circuits that were quiet with "robust" sound.

    the way i have come to look at it is, it's all in what gets you pumped up. if you like sterile un hyped sound then i think that's great. go for it.
  16. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    So why do we call them pre-amplifiers, when they are equalisation and treatment? The world's a bit mad really - we went through a phase where preamplifier manufacturers were claiming sonic excellence, stating their designs added nothing, and now in the clinical age, the 'best' designs add their own signature fingerprint to the audio.
  17. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Phases come and go, if we return to crisp and clear sound, I'll take my A&H mixer out of the closet :)
    On second thought, I should sell it !
  18. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i don't think so ..... there are plenty of manufactures making "clean" uncolored pres. i would consider Millennia, Avalon, Grace.
  19. Makzimia

    Makzimia Active Member

    Me personally?.. price for one :D. But in all seriousness. I listen to what guys who are actually users of things to see what they use. I listen to guys who get to try something out without being paid to, and who aren't in possession of a money tree. I made a point in another post how modern tech is making things possible that simply weren't viable not long ago. As we enter this era of the impossible for less, the old guard in some ways is threatened. I have never been good enough or wealthy enough to have gotten into that level. What I do see, and have in my possession in a couple of cases, is gear that does the job really well for a LOT less. And major albums with platinum sales are made on some of it.

    What would I do if I had the chance to try out more of each thing I wanted, I'd be excited.. I also wouldn't get much song writing/performing done LOL.
  20. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    indeed, but just for the record, reading between the lines here, I think the big sound you get from sterile un hyped preamps could have clear an advantage for both clean to very aggressive sound through "straight wire to emulation and bit distortion". Bit distortion and amp simulators sound pretty insane.
    I'm thinking, maybe we don't need to be colouring with crayons when we can be using deep base tint and clear coat for that bigger image, but with serious grit to taste? I'm hoping pre amp emulation is the next wow. Maybe the thin wire pre does a lot more than we ever thought possible? Yes, no?

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