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Yet Another Preamp Suggestion Request...

Discussion in 'Preamps & Processing' started by IainDearg, Feb 29, 2008.

  1. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest

    Hi all,

    I thinking of parting with my venerable Allen & Heath GS3 desk and replacing with a preamp with 4 inputs. I can route via the TotalMix software that comes with my RME Mutiface card.

    I need something that would partner a pair of KM-184s (which I use X/Y) recording Martin OM acoustic guitars in a treated room. I'm not looking for what is euphemistically called "colour", although I appreciate that some folks might take the view that the source and mics may be suited to something that de-emphasis some brightness.

    I've read the sticky at the top of the page but am wondering if anybody's got any specific suggestions. I'm a fan of RME and am tempted just to pluck for their QuadMic. I know the RME is promoted with location recording in mind, but heck, my humble project studio is a "location", dammit!

    I've also been taken with what I've read about the DAV BG1.

    Also, any hints on units I should avoid with what I have in mind would be greatly appreciated. I'm not in a part of the world that lends itself to going out to audition equipment, so I'm likely to purchase based on wise words and reputation.

    Cost is not necessarily an issue, but I'm averse to spending hundreds of pounds on small perceived improvements.

  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    Iain -

    I think this is a perfectly reasonable and fair question and will try my best to help steer you in a good direction.

    First, while I do find the KM184 excessively bright and virtually unusable on *most* sources, I do find that for acoustic guitars (especially Martins and Taylors), the 184 works quite well. That being said, I would urge you to NOT consider a preamp which works to counteract this brightness. While I generally love the DAV preamp, I would say that it does have a mild counteractive sound to the 184's inherent brightness and would likely shy away from it for this use.

    The RME preamps on the other hand are quite transparent overall and I do find that they work well with a broad variety of mics, I would be hesitant to recommend these pres for someone who already has relatively transparent pres (as in your AH G3s which are pretty clear and open).

    On the other hand, I would perhaps suggest that you consider a "big" preamp. That is to say one of those nice transformer balanced designs with a huge sound but not loads of color. Langevins come to mind as do A Designs (specifically the Pacifica). Another one that comes to mind is the ISA or Red line of Focusrite. While some are kind of "down" on this line lately, I think it's more because it's popular to dog Focusrite than it is because of actual quality. Granted, the ISA line isn't as high-end as they used to be, but they are nice boxes nonetheless.

    Given the fairly uncolored sound and the ability to load the mics differently with the flick of a switch, it's a pretty versatile system. Add to that the ability to come out in a digital format and patch that straight into your RME, it's a pretty decent combination.

    Be careful though, the level that the Focusrite puts out is a little hotter than the RME wants to see. That just means you should always leave 5dB headroom at the preamp.


  3. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest


    Thanks for your input!

    I'm interested that you are familiar with the Allen & Heath GS3, it being such an old console! I admit, that I've been very happy with it these past 14 years but I had not read before any particular comment about its preamps. Certainly, I've never had cause for complaint.

    With regard to the DAV, you wrote:

    On the face of it this appears counter-intuitive; I would have thought that this would be an advantage - would you mind explaining a wee bit your thinking?

    Thanks for your suggestion: I'll have a look at the Langevins, Pacifica, ISA and Focusrite. I, too, read in passing the comments on Focusrite but will take your qualification into account.

    Thanks again for your help - it will help my focus my thinking.

  4. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA

    In general, I find that when I employ the use of any one electrical device to counter the effects inherent in another electrical device, the results are always less than steller.

    Sterile preamp - use a thick sounding compressor? Nah. Now it's thick and brittle...

    Most gear doesn't stray that far from nuetral and what we as engineers hear as significant changes are truly minute (for the most part).

    However, when one is left of the line (say a little colored or darker) and one is right of the line (say brighter or sterile) I haven't found that mating the two equal but opposite pieces to magically thrust us back to that magic line.

    Instead, for a mic that is bright or tilted as the 184, I've found that getting a pre that gets completely out of its way - something that is open and unrestricted in the upper frequencies to allow the mic to do its job is the only way to capture it.

    In general, this is why I stick with "open" "big" sounding pres (Millennia, Langevin, Grace) as they seem to mate well with almost anything you want to pair it with regardless of its placement in the chain.

    For thickening or darkening, I'll turn more towards the use of a thicker or darker mic or perhaps some darker compression, etc. (Not to say adding thick to sterile or brittle, but adding a dark color to a blank canvas - big difference.)

    My point would be - don't reach for a device because it counteracts another device in your chain - reach for a device that allows that piece in your chain to operate at its fullest potential.

    Does that make sense without confusing the point further?

  5. ptr

    ptr Active Member

    Nov 3, 2004
    Göteborg, Sweden
    Home Page:
    Makes perfect sense Jeremy!

  6. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest


    That's great. I'm sure that many folks (including me hitherto!) would have tried to compensate for a piece of equipment's weaknesses by attempting to mask it my some other piece down the chain. In fact, I suspect that lot of money is parted with in this way.

    Great stuff!
  7. rfreez

    rfreez Active Member

    Jun 17, 2006
    Chennai, India
    Home Page:
    the rme quadmic is my main preamp...

    couple of things about it you should know...

    i compared it to a mackie vlz preamp and an fmr rnp... the differences are very subtle, with the rnp sounding marginally smoother, to my ears, at the time... if it were my money, i'd probably buy a mackie onyx mixer with 4 pres... i suspect the pres would be on par with the rme, while offering you a great deal more at the same price point.

    two other things that bother me are:

    * there is no on/off switch
    * metering is very minimal (only two leds)

    on the subject of "big" transformer based preamps, the chameleon labs 7622 is reasonably priced and gets good reviews.

    good luck.
  8. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest

  9. Plush

    Plush Guest

    The DAV Electronics Broadhurst Gardens No. 1 is the best mic amp in the world. (sm)
  10. Boswell

    Boswell Distinguished Moderator Resource Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    Unhelpful statement.

    No pre-amp is the "best" at everything. I have lots of pre-amps, including DAVs and APIs. Being a professional design engineer, I also have several of my own design, both past and present.

    Every pre-amp has its own character. I use whichever I feel is the "best" for the job I have in hand.
  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    Can't agree enough -
    Sure the DAV is a great pre, but it has its limitations for sure. As, for that matter, does any other pre on the market. It's just a matter of which limitations you're willing to accept and live with.
  12. mattkeen

    mattkeen Active Member

    Mar 30, 2006
    I have both the RME Quad and the DAV and I to record guitars (in my case Brook Guitars OM and OOO) finger style

    I agree with the others - the 184's are too bright for my taste (I mainly use Gefell M300's or occasionally Rode NT 5 with OMNI capsule)

    I adore the Gefell/DAV combination

    The RME's are very useable though

    If you can stand the thought what about looking at different mics?
    (Sorry if thats not very helpful) but I used to have a GS3 and I don't think the RME pre amps are appreciably different to what you already have
  13. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for chipping in. I will be changing out the mics in due course, so I guess my original question might be a bit moot - but I just don't know when that will be. (I've discovered I've got to provide my son with some subsistance assistance in Italy while he learns the language - long story). So I'm keen to find a preamp that will "work" with the 184s in the short/medium term. The real driver is my desire to lose the Allen&Heath console.
  14. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Jan 13, 2005
    ...and probably a far more important story than chasing your tail on-line discussing the nuances of recording acoustic guitar. Mamma mia!!!

    Sorry to come across as being 'preachy', but hear me out...

    If I were you I'd be keeping the GS3 for now, it seems to have served you well for quite a while. Put your mind at rest by getting your son's situation sorted first, and then reward yourself for such excellently selfless parental behaviour (ha ha) by getting a whole new and improved recording rig further down the line! New mics, new preamp, all carefully chosen to complement each other, with no uncertainty. Take your time choosing them, perhaps even plan a trip to a place where you can audition them first - maybe a nearby studio or the closest large city or similar? It might cost you a couple of hundred bucks/pounds/euros/lira/pigs & chickens (useful currency in Papua New Guinea)/seashells/whatever, but that's a small price in the overall scheme of things - especially if it means you get exactly what you want in one go.

    If you buy a preamp for your KM184s now and new mics later, who knows... perhaps you'll be posting here again a few months later looking for a new preamp to get the best from your new mics, and the whole process loops (that's good for the sales industry, by the way).

    Also, it seems you are specifically or predominantly recording acoustic guitar, so your needs are a bit more specialised than those of someone who records a wide range of sounds and therefore requires versatility. At the end of the day, all you're really getting here are other people's opinions and there's no guarantee that their idea of a good acoustic guitar sound is the same as yours.

    My recollection of the GS3 is that it sounds slightly 'soft' and 'subdued', which I'd imagine would go nicely with the harder and brighter sound of the KM184s (Jeremy's earlier comments about matching gear notwithstanding).


    Are you making the most of the GS3?

    Are you doing everything you can to minimise the signal path for recording?

    A quick look at the GS3's signal path (http://) shows that the best place to take your recording signal is from the channel's 'insert send' point. According to the published signal path, the insert point is immediately after the mic preamp - you can't get much cleaner than that.

    If you are not already doing that, why not give it a go? You might just wring a bit more life out of that old console, and keep your son's education going strong at the same time.

    - BelliSimmo Sonic
  15. Boswell

    Boswell Distinguished Moderator Resource Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    I would agree with Simmo - keep with the KM184s and use the GS3's insert points for now. You'll get some good guitar recordings that way.

    If you don't need to continue the signal to the GS3's busing stages, then use standard insert cables to connect the insert send to your RME Multiface. The unbalanced out will be OK feeding the balanced line ins of the RME, but you may have to experiment with the +13dBu and +19dBu settings for sensitivity.

    If you do need to have signal continuity to the rest of the mixer, you will need specially wired insert cables (TRS jacks with T and R connected), or else use something like the Hosa DOC-106 adaptors.
  16. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest

    Thanks guys for your suggestions!

    Yes, the GS3 and the 184s have served me well and enabled me to get a cd out and the next one is nearly done. And I love discussing the nuances of recording acoustic guitar. There were times, though, when I found myself in a dark pit of despair until I learned to quell the hell of phase cancellation and to appreciate the Zen-like calm of DIY acoustic treatment.

    Yes, these days, I'm strictly acoustic guitar and vox which is a reason why I feel the GS3 is a tad under utilised! Most of the pots on it have never been touched and the mutes have never been automated. And, frankly, ergonomically its a bit a of a lump on its dedicated table with incorporated 19" rack bay to the side with nothin' in it any more. It was fun when I had local folkies coming round and doing demos and the odd cd. These days, it's beginning to irritate me. It's clean as a whistle, though, being covered when not in use. So, sonics is not the only thing on my mind. I'm also conscious that whatever I can obtain for it via ebay may contribute to any preamp under consideration.

    Now, I'm also minded to think about the future (and not go round the gear buying loop you rightly cautioned me against) and buy a preamp now with future mics in mind. I that regard, I'm would like to get a figure-8 and do some mid-side. So I guess it's all up for grabs.

    Re. the GS3 routing - I'll try your suggestions - I've simply been using the normal outs at the top of the desk into the back of the Multiface. I never thought about the insert sends.

    Italy is a fantastic country and my son's so pleased to get away from the north-east of Scotland where we're expecting snow and storms (on different days!) next week. He's sloping around in a t-shirt and doing all sorts al fresco. Great stuff!

    Thanks again for your ideas - and time taken.
  17. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Jan 13, 2005
    It is no secret around here that the sound captured and produced by the microphone itself is a far more significant contributor to the recorded result than the effect of the preamp or AD converter (assuming everything is reasonably well-designed and working correctly). That sound is determined by two things: the choice of microphone, and its position relative to the instrument and space around it.

    Personally, I think the KM184 is quite a good choice for recording acoustic guitar - especially if you're after a very clean and detailed sound captured from a reasonable distance. There are better mics out there, but there are a whole lot more worse mics as well.

    With that in mind, maybe we can push the microphone part of the process along a bit further? What mic techniques are you using to record your guitars? Close or distant? Overdubbed/multitracked mono? Direct-to-stereo? A combination of both?

    That sounds like a good idea. I'd suggest trying a KM120 along with one of your KM184s for MS because the tonalities will be similar, resulting in a smoother tonal balance across the stereo image. Some might disagree with that, however. I don't think I'd like that combo for close-miking (e.g. 30cm or less), but okay for larger distances.

    If I recall correctly, Mr Spearritt has a pair of KM120s and likes them very much [please correct me if I'm wrong, Mr S, I don't want to put words in your mouse], as does another acquaintance. The latter actually bought a pair to use in Blumlein for recording singing 'in the round' in circular mud huts somewhere on the plains of Africa, but he got married instead and is about to become someone's dad. So he's out of Africa, for now.

    Which reminds me... Pioneering field recordist and musical tourist, David Lewiston, uses an MS rig consisting of a Neumann KM84 (the earlier model, arguably sweeter and not as bright as the KM184) coupled with a Sennheiser MKH30. Maybe worth a go?

    I must admit to similar feelings. My inner Zen Monk shakes his head at such inappropriateness. Knowing how much I despise seeing muppets masquerading as aliens in sci-fi movies, he pokes me in the ribs, adopts a Yoda voice and quips "Killing fly with hammer, we are?".

    Smug bastard...
  18. bent

    bent No Bad Vibes! Well-Known Member

    Oct 26, 2007
    Cocoa, FL
    +1 KM's on acoustic guitfiddles.
  19. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest

    There is only one guitar on my recordings. Vox is overdubbed. I use X/Y setup exclusively for the guitar. The mics are horizontal (neither pointing up or down) 18" from the guitar with the centre axis pointing at the neck/body joint.

    (Several consecutive takes allows me to cure the occasional :))) fluff in the part editor in Cubase Studio 4 )

    Any spaced technique made my guitar sound as if it was 25' wide when listened to through monitors. My guitar's about 3' wide, as it happens. Also phase issues made it sound wishy-washy. All-in-all, a nausea inducing experience.

    In short, X/Y makes my guitar sound like a real guitar under normal listening conditions. However the image sounds a bit tight if auditioned with 'phones. An iTunes customer, for example, might find it uninvolving in her iPod. So I cheat a little bit by adding some width with my favourite plugin (Voxengo's Soniformer) which uses a mid-side algorithm. This all gives me something that translates well to hi-fis, boom boxes, car stereos and mp3 players. It's also a strategy that passed muster with the mastering engineer last time around.

    These figure-8 mics you mentioned are very tempting indeed! I've got some thinking to do. If it were probable that I'd get a better return from a new mic than a preamp, then I think that would be the logical path to take, particularly since the GS3 desk remains eminently servicable for my application, albeit as a "hammer" to my "fly".

    Great input - thanks!
  20. taxman

    taxman Active Member

    Sep 22, 2006
    Not to change the thread too much but, what would be regarded as a step up from KM184 for a SDC for nylon and steel acoustic guitar? This forum does not rate the 184 highly.

    Does the AKG C451B cut it? Or do I have to go to Schoeps, Earthworks or DPA?

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