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Which preamp sounds closest to the old MCI 400 series?

Discussion in 'Preamps / Channel Strips' started by fscott55, Mar 13, 2006.

  1. fscott55

    fscott55 Guest

    Please, just the straight and skinny, I understand all about the variables that effect the final sound, and *nothing* will sound like a well tuned MCI except another MCI console. I just need a map to guide me towards that sound. I know the MCI 400 series have been described as punchy and creamy. I would like to hear from someone who has used one, or currently still does, and their opinion of which pre would get me in the ballpark.

    I'm looking at Vintechs, Sebs, API's, etc... you know along that line.

    Why am I asking this? Due to a series of excellent recording I have that were done on an MCI JH 416 sonsole, straight to tape with no other effects added. I want that sound. And no, I cannot afford and MCI console.
  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Try contacting Sony. They probably have the old documentation to the 400 series consoles?

    I do remember that it utilized a microphone transformer which may have been manufactured by Beyer and the preamplifier circuit was pre-signetics 5534, which MCI BTW, disguised and provided their own "proprietary" part number, "2003" comes to mind for that part or, maybe it was 2004? (Not the year, just their part number). I believe I have the schematics to the 600 and 500 series consoles somewhere but not that old one.

    You may also want to try dropping a line to Dan Alexander, Eddie Ciletti (through mix magazine) or, John Klett to see who may have a schematic of that old board? I've never really like the sound of MCI boards, especially that one. The Bee Gees liked them. Ughh

    Ms. Remy Ann David
  3. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    It's amazing how many "old" audio products are lumped to gether as "desireable vintage", isn't it, Remy?
    I had a 400 in the early 80s. Bought it used from Phil Driscoll, a born-again Christian, Dove Award-winning trumpeter. I got bit! It was a constant maintenance nightmare ( not the pre's, but everything else),
    and we used to laugh at the name MCI :"Mush City Inc " ! I used to visit Jeep at the factory "down the road" from me (6 hour drive!) to get tech training on the damned thing. He and Mack knew that the 400 was not a very good sounding board, and that the 500/600 series were vastly improved. They kept trying to get my partner and me to upgrade it. Certainly not "smooth and creamy"! Stick to APIs our Neves, whatever, but don't get fooled about the 400!
  4. fscott55

    fscott55 Guest

    Ok.. see this is not straight and skinny. Why does anyone have to go on a rant to tell me how bad the MCI 400 sounds? I didn't ask if the MCI 416 sounds bad.

    Remy, thanks for that advice.
  5. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    John Hardy has some MCI replacement bits ... not sure if the 400 is amongst them

    John makes some good stuff
  6. JWHardy

    JWHardy Active Member

    Nothing for the 400 series. I do have mic preamp cards for the 500C and some of the 500D series consoles, the 600 series and the MXP-3000 MCI/Sony consoles. Thanks.

    John Hardy
    The John Hardy Co.
  7. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Sorry to offend. That was not my intention. I was merely agreeing with Remy that the 400 was not MCI's hallmark audio product. There have been several posts on this site, including ones from Remy, moderators, and myself, who have "been there, done that" with that particular model MCI and having compared it with newer versions and other makes, and learned that it doesn't measure up sonically. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and if you got "punchy and creamy" from a 400 series,good for you. I think that products like API, Mr. Hardy's pre's, and Mr. Neve's Portico series would be a better investment. Peace.
  8. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    thanks John

  9. fscott55

    fscott55 Guest

    OK. Does the Tone Poems series of acoustic recordings, and Tone Poets sound bad? These were done on an MCI JH-416 console.

    Pizza Tapes sound bad? Same console.

    Now unless someone has some insight into whether Grisman has changed the internals of his 416, I'd venture to guess he is just keeping it in tiptop shape.
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    fscott55, it's not that people are ragging on the board all that much. It was MCI's first foray into building a console. They used some of the earlier integrated circuit chip Op-Amps, which at the time were not sonically all that good but certainly easier and more economical for mass production. As opposed to the better sounding discrete transistorized units that API and Neve, along with Electrodyne, Sphere, Quad 8 and others were designing without the early technology integrated circuit mushy slow chip sound. That console also had an amusing MID frequency equalizer design that I believe was a rotary control with a boost and cut pushbutton switch, as opposed to the 12 o'clock zero position as in others. If you wanted to cut a mid frequency, you would press the button and then turn the MID equalizer control UP, to cut! LOL Of course that did not go over well with other engineers and as a result the later models had equalizer's as we know them today.

    That console can certainly benefit from some newer retrofit chips which I think would vastly improve the microphone preamplifier if so desired? 741s, 748s, 709s just are not good audio chips but were widely used since they were " new technology". But if you could find one of those desks used, I think it would be a good purchase. Probably an excellent bargain?

    The recordings that you mention may have been mixed on that board but it's also possible that other microphone preamplifier's may have also been pressed into service for the tracking? I'm sure that board came out better for mixing, avoiding the microphone preamplifier. Of course quality music and musicianship far outweigh any technical deficiencies. I remember the song " Killing me softly", by Roberta Flack. I almost purchased that non-MCI console in the late 1970s from Bell sound studios in New York City. It was an early transistorized console that was custom-built. It was extremely noisy! Just listen to the beginning of that song. It was a great song drenched in HISSSSSS from that console. I didn't purchased it. It was quite ugly too and painted with practically a flesh toned paint! Yeachhh!

    John Hardy along with API made some microphone preamplifier replacement modules for the later MCI desks as John indicated. They were more modular so that was more easily accomplished as opposed to the single circuit board topography of the 400 series console channel strips.

    That recording that you mentioned that was made on that console may have benefited from the many new and much more fabulous integrated circuit chips now available from numerous manufacturers like, Analog Devices, Burr Brown, Crystal and others that could directly retrofit or retrofit with minimal modifications that would definitely make that board sound like many of the higher $$$ consoles on the market today. Never mind about the microphone transformer. I don't remember whether it was Beyer or whether it was possibly a UTC "ouncer" transformer but if it was the Beyer, even though many people poo poo that transformer, that's the one that most of the fine West German microphones were designed to load into, back in the day. Sure the Dean Jensen Transformers may be better but I still use numerous microphone preamplifier's that have that Beyer transformer in it. I would prefer a preamplifier with that transformer in it as opposed to a cheaper transformer less type.

    As far as I can recall, the microphone preamplifier in the 400 series console was a Beyer transformer loaded into a 741 integrated circuit chip operational amplifier (with a bridged resistor capacitor combination for proper secondary loading of the transformer) with a pair of push/pull NPN/PNP relatively generic output " swing" transistors for some additional output headroom, powered from a 15 volt bipolar power supply? A fairly straightforward and simple design that you could easily build up at home on a perf board from Radio Shaft, provided you can locate some of the old Beyer Transformers?

    Living in the past
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  11. kelly644

    kelly644 Guest

    Bear in mind that this is coming from somone with little experience.

    I used a JH-600 which had both the standard pres on them as well as the modded ones. It had a very old school sound to it... It was more dynamic sounding than the protools pres, but personally I would opt for something else or outboard preamps.

    It certainly was workable, but it kind of had that "live" sound to it.. dark smokey sound. I could see it working well for blues though.

    Compared to a Manley Pre or other high enders though.... The bass on it sounded kind of "flubby" (Not clear sounding)

    The only part of it that I really loved was the ease of use (compared to a Mackie), and the EQ. The EQ may not have continiously variable pots, but the frequencies selected seemed good, and it struck me as decent sounding. I actually prefered not having continiously variable pots because I found it fast to work with.

    I considered a JH, but at this point, I'd opt for something else. And yes, they do seem flakey. Sometimes a channel would be completely out or you'd have to tap/hit it to get it working.
  12. Fruition2k

    Fruition2k Active Member

    My first experience in the studio was with a MCI 428b in a little studio down the street from Criteria in Miami in 1983. Studio Center East was the name, many many great records and memories, none however about bad sound or down time.
    Also metting Gary Vandy and his asst engineer Keith (KC) Cohen back then had a big impact on my future in audio.
    I know it has nothing to do with the mic pres, I will say the automation wasnt to my liking. Bouncing automation data back and forth between tracks for each pass wasnt fun but it worked nevertheless.
    Back in the mid 80's there werent any outboard mic pres from what I could remember except for JHardy's and his ads in Mix...
    Quite Honestly was a great sounding studio, with just the bare essentials
    for outboard gear. JH114 I think was the multitrack, I would love to hear
    a racked pair of those mic pres now that I think of it.
    Curious what you end up finding...
  13. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I really dont get the vibe that folks are trying to degrade your quest to find something 'along the lines of'.......I simply think they're trying to say that there might not be aftermarket gear tailored to this particular console and its definate set of sonic wanderings. The point seems to be, because they didnt have a great sonic reputation, that many changes were made in the MCI consoles works and thus the 400 series design was kinda kicked to the curb .....That isnt meant to negate the fact that many superb recordings were made on these machines ....I would tend to look more towards the quality of the engineer acheiving these high quality recordings using this gear rather than the gear itself.

    BTW...The John Hardy Company makes very very usefull and sonically pleasant equipment. If you really want a pre that has all the technical aspects of very clean and clear but can be driven to oldskool types of noises, then the Hardy is yer kinda stuff. Theres a LOT of other gear thats quite worthy too, just thought I'd throw in for John since he does drop in from time to time ...

    Ive had the pleasure of using some of his gear and its really quite outstanding.
  14. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Hey, Let's get one thing straight. You posted a question on an open forum that is specific to audio gear and people's opinion on audio gear. You don't get to dictate what kind of response you get or what specific questions you only want answered. You get what anyone wants to reply and comment on. That's they way it works and that's the way it is.

    You'd be wise to take any negative comments and weigh them with any other info you can get a hold of. That is the purpose of a pro audio forum such as this.
    bigtree likes this.
  15. fscott55

    fscott55 Guest

    Because the fact I am full aware that threads on an audio web forum normally degrade into a debate over what sucks and what doesn't. It makes threads longer and more useless. Obviously there's a *specific* reason why I asked what pre's today can guide more towards that MCI 400 series console sound. I'm fully aware of the changes made in the 500 and 600 series.

    Thus, only the straight and skinny is needed.
  16. Reggie

    Reggie Well-Known Member

    Well then I think this is your best shot:
    I can't imagine anyone modeling and manufacturing outboard pres after these MCI pres. The pre choices you listed are pretty much all going to be undesirably "better" sounding. So bust out the soldering iron and learn to roll your own. But if you are attributing the characteristics of those recordings that you like to just the MCI preamps, then I think you may be barking up the wrong limb of the tree. Again, not what you wanted to hear, but you should know.
  17. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Yep, I've been thinking the same thing since I read the first post..
  18. zandurian

    zandurian Active Member

    400 series classic cool tone

    I must say I love the way a 400 sounds but I never appreciated the mixer that much until digital recording hit the scene. The MCI really took the harsh edge out of the original ADATS.
    Just another tool/instrument with it's own paticular use and maybe with modern converters it's not as big of a deal, but for certain material (drums, vocals) I really like what it does.
    If I ever find a pre that sounds lilke it, I'll probably post the finding here and then go out and buy a few and then retire the old board.
  19. zandurian

    zandurian Active Member


    PS Randy Blevins at blevinsaudio.com is the MCI expert. He may even have some 400s in stock
  20. edaudio

    edaudio Guest

    I know this is an old post, but I most likely have a schematic for the 416 mic preamp. It's pretty simple really although there were a few versions.

    The earliest 416 was a discrete desk, so I am told, but the three versions I've worked with were based on the Harris 911 opamp (MCI called it a 2001). It ran on +/- 24 volt rails. Back in the day, we replaced this with a 5534, when that opamp also came in the round can package. NOW if you wanted to upgrade the opamp, you'de have to use a wirewrap socket, which works pretty well.

    Of the two versions of 416 that I know, one had just a gain control and the other had an input pad. Both consoles used Beyer input transformers (like the UTC ouncers). They weren't great at handling hot signals (hence the need for a pad) but these daze saturation is cool and if you're not going to analog tape, it's the next best thing.

    I used the same 416 in three studios - two in Philly - and the damn thing folowed me to NYC, where I got to install the 5534s. I did many recordings on that console and it was quite respectable. After that, I got used to a Tangent desk, which was completely transformerless. I made it work, but when the studio got a Neve 8068, I had to learn all over again because that console was mushy on the bottom (to me, at that time).

    Really, it's all about making what you have work.

    good luck.

    eddie ciletti

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