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Mic pres? SOS!

Hey there everyone...I have a pritty basic qustion...
I have a home recording studio where I record mainly drums/other instruments like bass and guitars...its all working nicely but when I try and record Vocals or any other very 'soft' I seem to get realy hard buzzez/all kinds of noises/un-clearnes in the tracks...I use a rode ntk tube mic to a 16 track Mackie to a digi002.
yesterday some guy told me that the reason for this is the lack of that true? sorry about the ignorense and lack of good from israel :)

thanks a lot


RemyRAD Sun, 01/28/2007 - 00:03
djpardox LOL! OK, you got me! No offense taken. Sorry if I offended. Sometimes trying to troubleshoot problems off of an Internet forum Blog can get a little frustrating. For both sides. Especially when somebody like me thinks that somebody like you just doesn't understand what is being said. Basically, I just want you to make better audio.

I'm only trying to help educate those that might be experiencing similar problems to what you described. Balanced and unbalanced circuits, their use and reason can be quite confusing to those who are not technically in the know.

For instance, you may not realize this but, in a balanced circuit, you might not hear the hum & buzz, since it is electrically canceled out. Getting rid of that noise is a necessity but what happens in the balanced process can actually cause extreme intermodulation distortion of your signal. How does that happen if you can't hear it? Simple, the noise gets the chance to modulate the audio signal. You don't hear the noise but it is like shaking the crap out of your audio, or so to speak. It creates distortions to the waveform that are audible and are not desirable sounding.

In an unbalanced wiring scheme, if you hear hum or buz, it could be a crappy ground wire shield? It could be a ground loop. Or in an extreme case, no ground connected! When all of your equipment is grounded and then you connect wires between them, there are some shorter paths to ground which cause the loop and the associated noise that comes with that. If you correct those problems, you actually have a cleaner audio path than you might get with a balanced circuit. But balanced circuits are a virtual necessity when dealing with any cable lengths longer than 10 to 20 feet. It is not advantageous to try and accomplish long cable runs with unbalanced wiring schemes. And in the professional world, that scenario would rarely be played out.

In the remote recording world, where I specialize. Virtually everything I have, must be balanced but even still, I pay close attention to the grounding scheme. Because I don't want that noise modulating my audio. Better understanding this makes for better audio for all.

If you want to get really tricky, let's talk about the electrical, distribution, filtering, regulation. Since most home Project Studios are now heavily computer-based, it makes a lot of sense to get a computer UPS (uninterruptible power supply) to run all of your audio equipment on, along with your computer stuff. There is a lot of trash, noise, that appears on our AC power supply feeds. A computer UPS, will filter most of it out of that stuff.

Of course we all know about lifting the ground pin on the electrical plug. This can help to eliminate ground loops but can cause the possibility of severe electrical shock and death. So it's actually better to keep the electrical ground pins connected and start lifting the grounds on your audio cabling on one side, or the other, to eliminate the offending noise interference, since not all equipment has balanced inputs for outputs.

In my remote truck, I run a 75 kW electrical isolation transformer. This is rather unique in that, I will connect to one side of a 208 volt 3-phase electrical feed and then connect to the other leg of the electrical feed and never connect a ground or neutral! How can you get any power if you don't have a ground? Well, I send 104 volts from each feed that goes into both ends of the electrical transformer primary side. This is just like an audio transformer only 85 pounds! On the secondary side of the transformer, I have the same windings but with the exception of what's known as the "center tap". So that center tap then becomes what would normally be the neutral. The biggest difference is, if you check the electrical outlets, instead of having 114 volts on one side of the outlets and zero volts, with reference to ground on the other side of the receptacle. You'll find I have about 57 volts on each side of the electrical outlets with reference to the ground. This balanced power makes for much quieter audio and better signal-to-noise ratio throughout my control room, the equipment and facility. It's like magic! You can actually buy a balanced power, rackmounted device now, that not only provides you with better power but quieter power.

And thank you for the nice complements.

I know, I know TMI
Ms. Remy Ann David

Pro Audio Guest Wed, 01/24/2007 - 11:11
Well Mackie preamps in the first place are horrible for recording. Check you gain settings, do some tweaking. I mean if your boosting gain on the mackie and Digi pre that is where your problem is. I dont know how you budget looks but I am thinking you want under a 1k. If so you should look at the Focusrite Octopre, its not the greatest one in the biz but for the money you should be satisfied with it. I believe it is somewhere around 700 or 800 for 8 pres and the A/D converter.

BobRogers Wed, 01/24/2007 - 13:47
Noam- There are 16 mic preamps in the Mackie and 4 in the Digi 002. As indicated above, if you are using the pres in the Mackie, you want to use the line level inputs on the Digi. Try doing a web search on "gain structure" - this seem to be a basic topic you need to understand and there are lots of good articles on it one the web. As a start, I'd take the Mackie out of the signal chain and try to record a vocal track directly into the Digi. Have you tried that?

I disagree with Avidmusic on a few things. I wouldn't call the Mackie preamps horrible, and I don't think you'd find the something like the Focusrite Octopre (which I own) to be more than an incremental improvement. There are other features/reasons to buy it or one of its competitors, but I wouldn't do it just for the pres. One of the good things about having a decent mixer is that you already have a large quantity of reasonable preamps. The only reason to upgrade is for features or quality. There's nothing in the $100 per channel range that I know of that offers a big enough jump in quality to convince me to make the move.

hueseph Sun, 01/21/2007 - 00:21
First of all, go to the "knowledge forum index". Look on the right hand side. There you can see that you have posted this topic 4 times(?). Or is it 5 times. Once is enough. If no one responds right away. Reply to your own post and that will bump it back up to the top of the list. Now, I'll let someone who knows something about pres answer your question.

Edit: On the other hand, it seems to me that you have two sets of pres going on. The pres in the mackie (1604 vlz?) and the ones in the Digi 002. So it's no wonder that you're getting distortion. I'd be surprised that you get anything clean out of that setup.

RemyRAD Wed, 01/24/2007 - 23:41
Mackie preamps are not horrible. They are however set to a maximum gain of 20 DB. That is so you can never really overload them. The additional gain is made up by the following buffer circuits. That is one of the reasons why the Mackie preamps sound as consistent as they do regardless of gain settings. This is not true of other microphone preamps gain trim. Most other microphone preamps allow for a substantial amount of negative feedback to be able to adjust gain settings from 0 to 70 DB. And with that comes a huge change in the way the microphone preamp sounds based upon the amount of negative feedback for gain adjustments. Lower gain settings mean higher negative feedback which translates to a smoother but more squeezed sound. Whereas higher gain settings mean less amounts of negative feedback will be used in so gain will be much higher. This produces a more open sounding quality to the preamp. The Mackie's just don't quite do that. They are designed to be more consistent throughout their operations. And so, gain trim adjustments on Mackie's produce less of a change in tonality than other comparable consoles.

This can be a mixed blessing. I utilize microphone preamp gain to change the timbre of the way that microphone preamp sounds. Sometimes I want a more open and aggressive sound so I might be likely to engage the microphone preamp pad or the microphone pad, so that I can increase the gain and run the preamp with less negative feedback, giving me a more open and aggressive quality. Conversely, I might want it to sound a little smoother, in which case, I will run the gain trim lower, which increases the negative feedback and that will produce a more tight, smoother sounding, somewhat held back sound. And that's why, I stick with many of the old-fashioned, old-school, microphone preamps. Adjusting the gain does produce an equalization like effect by merely adjusting the variable gain trim.

Well the pills are kicking in and I think it's time to modulate my pillow? To help me get to sleep, I frankly envision in my mind, engineers jumping over their consoles. Testing 1. Testing 2. Testing 3. Testing 4.......

See? I'm already a sleep and dreaming about recording my next hit
Ms. Remy Ann David

Pro Audio Guest Wed, 01/24/2007 - 23:50
Thank you all so much!...Im starting to understand some things...but 1 thing I didn't yet understand- Perhaps the mackie preamps arent that suteable for my recording needs...but what if I need the eq?!...what shold I do?...
I tryed recording it stright to the digi002...and It is an improvment on vocals but what about other instromnets where I have to use some eq?? Hope that you guys will suprise me again with some amazing answers...
RemyRAD- your posts are insporational...I think you have such a good and difrent prospective on realy helped me understand ahole lot of stuff from reading your posts!

and sorry again about the bad english...

RemyRAD Thu, 01/25/2007 - 12:06
OK, I'm back.

Really, Mackie preamps are quite adequate for quality recording purposes. I know, I've used them often with very pleasing results. You never even have to worry about switching in an input pad! They are virtually foolproof.

Regarding your desire for equalization. It depends on your console. For instance, some direct outputs are frequently direct output from the microphone preamplifier and so, are assumed to be unmolested, to provide the simplest signal path to tape/disk drive. Whereas, depending on the brand of console, the microphone preamp direct out may in fact be post equalizer, as in my Neve. Sure, I have a bypass button which bypasses the equalization circuitry but not necessarily the amplifiers that make it work. So I have the option of cutting my tracks with equalization if I so choose. And in many instances, I will track with a certain amount of equalization if I like the way that sounds. Some people are too timid in that what you do, you may not be able to undo. So I am not reckless with the knobs. I leave the wild and crazy equalization for mix down. But during tracking, I may tailor the sound to suit my ear. And that's why I get paid the big bucks.

Now with your Mackie, only the first 8 channels allow for direct outputs. I believe you have the choice to utilize some equalization there, either preconfigured that way or adjustable internally by changing a soldered "switch"? So on those channels, your direct outputs can be tailored with equalization, while tracking. Remember LESS IS MORE. However, your last 8 channels don't have patchable direct outputs. For those channels, you would need to go through quite a routing routine. You can utilize effects and auxiliary sends as 6 more discreet and isolated outputs (assuming that you're not using them for anything during the tracking session, which is generally never quite a case). Then your bus 3 & 4 can effect the last of 8 additional direct outputs, if so required but probably not in your situation yet? The advantage of your auxiliary sends and bus 3 & 4, is that you can composite together certain instruments to just 1 or 2 tracks, such as in the case of keyboards, harmony vocals, etc.

Again, one can attain some additional headroom that provides for a fuller more transient laden track, when you don't push your analog or digital gear to over maxim, which always causes that el-cheapo effect, so often heard on so many recordings.

In many of the live recordings and broadcasts I have been involved with, I will generally push up a nice sounding 2 track stereo mix, which involves a fair amount of equalization for corrective purposes and enhancement purposes since in live recordings, especially outdoors, there are huge variables. With that, I add judicious amounts of equalization and for a good sounding live mix and will print that equalization, back to the input to the multitrack machine's. What I have then is a beautiful multitrack recording that sounds beautiful on playback before anybody starts playing again with the knobs.

So I guess in that way, I am a bit of a control freak and obviously anal, since I'm making decisions for others that they will be stuck with down stream? I don't feel bad about that because I know, I'm delivering a quality product. Besides, in many cases, I can and do print both a flat track and an equalized track, if given the track count opportunity. I have additional reasons for wanting to equalize when tracking. I feel, that it sounds more organic to my ear, to do as much as I feel necessary going in during tracking, than on playback, where I feel that the digital recording process is working against me, at least in the PCM world.

Mean and anal engineer
Ms. Remy Ann David

Thanks for your kind comments!
Ms. Remy Ann David

BobRogers Thu, 01/25/2007 - 17:32
I'm going to suggest that, at least while you are starting out, you go directly into the digi and skip the Mackie when possible - even on sources that need a lot of eq. Do all of your eq within ProTools after tracking. It's a much better teaching tool. It allows you to hear your "naked" guitar sound, look at precise settings on a parametric eq and see the effect that it makes. It also reduces the number of pieces of equipment in your signal chain. Fewer things to worry about.

Now, I know that this is the opposite or what Remy does, but I'm making the recommendation while you are learning to use the digi interface, protools, and learning to eq and mix. After you are more comfortable with these and have a more definite idea of what you want, you will have a better basis for taking sides in the debate over how much signal processing to do before tracking. You'll read all kinds of opinions on that question on the board. Remy does more processing before tracking than many, but she also has more experience and better equipment. (How did someone in her late twenties get that much experience? Seems to violate some the laws of physics.)

Scoobie Thu, 01/25/2007 - 18:41
I agree with Remy and Bob, I too think the mackie pre's are adequate for good recordings. If you can't get a good recording with them. You need to start looking at your skill's at engineering.

As Remy said you can mod your mackie so the direct outs with be post EQ. If you want to record with the EQ.

You didn't say what Mackie you have. The EQ's in the onyx mixer's are very good, and all 16 channels have bal. direct outputs on DB-25 connectors.


Pro Audio Guest Fri, 01/26/2007 - 10:51
hi noamlev5? The problem you posted sounds very familiar to me. A problem that i heard when i was at my friends home recording studio. although i completely agree with everyone else on this post. i think your problem might lie somewhere else. check it out befor you go and by a new mic pre(although i think you should go and get one) First when u say hard buzz's are they sort of a low frequency zzzzzzzhhhh kind of a noise. if it is one of the problems could be bad grounding. This maynot be the only problem but. in some houses the electric circuits are not grounded well. now you my say oh jee? how to i know for sure. its sort of simple. place your computer on the floor and touch any metal portion of it. not the top case but on the back somewhere. if you feel a little shock you've got grounding issues(or use a testing srewdriver that has a little light in it), and make sure your not wearing shoes or anything with a rubber sole(you wont feel the shock then even if you have grounding issues)another senario your grounds might be fine but i've seen a friend use a power strip with the 3rd(ground) pin broken and plugged into the wall. once again this leaves (sometimes) your equipment with no ground(unless its touching the ground or wall directly or indirectly). Second all residential power in the U.S(i'm guess you are in the States), are no where close to clean. you might consider using a power conditioner(i dont know if you already have one). third there could be balance issues. if you have an unbalance input on your mixer lets say an electric guitar. that could be a potential problem. another issue most 16ch mackie's are generally used as live mixers. and most 16ch mackies have the power input really close to your main outs which introduces noise into the signal. another issue is that the 16ch channel mackie that my friend used did not have xlr out's only two 1/4'' L+R main outs. one thing that we did to sort of solve this problem was when we were going out from single ch 1/4 output put we used 1/4 trs cables (TRS = tip ring sleeve, also used as a stereo 1/4'' cable, or as a send return cable), instead of a regular 1/4 TS cable. now in my opinion (which some may not agree to) in order to get good clean sound in a homerecording studio is just not what you have in your rack its how they are connected to one another (for example the more analog equip you have connected together the more distortion, sometimes this is liked by a lot of folks out there, i love analog distortion). any hoo back to what i was saying here a list to clean sound.
1)the power coming in must be grounded
2)use a power conditioner ( love the monster power conditioner for home use)
3)make sure all the inputs comming in to your mixer are all balanced (preferably xlr) use a DI box to balance the signals.
side note: unbalanced signals tend to introduce a slight hum,hiss or buzz.
this will reduce what you call headroom. when you try to process this signal lets say through a compressor these noises increase as well, even when you use you eq to boost certain freq's.
4)use a patchbay(not nessary but nice to have, and keeps things organized)
these are just few basic things. coz you can have $1000s worth of high end equipment and yet not have good sound if the above isnt satisfied.

with regard to eq personally i think it is very dangerous to eq something when your recording espeacially vocals. if you want to rerecord a particular passage. it may not sound the same when you record it the second time. i generally tend not to eq sound going in to my comp. i sometimes slightly compress the signal but not always. i like to have it completely dry.

oh yeah another thing, u say when you record your drums, bass and guitar they sound fine. i'm not sure but i'm guessing the sounds are still there but they are bieng masked by the loudness of these instruments.

i dont know what you have in your homestudio but i'm guessing the first three points on the list are satisfied. and this reply is kinda all over the place. so i apologize. if anything seem unclear to you please feel free to ask. (i constantly mistype stuff and dont see it till someone points it out to me LOL) :P

Cucco Fri, 01/26/2007 - 14:00
Avidmusic wrote: Well Mackie preamps in the first place are horrible for recording. Check you gain settings, do some tweaking. I mean if your boosting gain on the mackie and Digi pre that is where your problem is. I dont know how you budget looks but I am thinking you want under a 1k. If so you should look at the Focusrite Octopre, its not the greatest one in the biz but for the money you should be satisfied with it. I believe it is somewhere around 700 or 800 for 8 pres and the A/D converter.

Sorry...I must admit, I didn't even really read the rest of the replies here once I saw this one.

So...I feel as though a simultaneous pimp and bitch slap are completely appropriate here.

First -
You wrote:
Well Mackie preamps in the first place are horrible for recording.

I'd like to know:
*Who you are and why you feel as though you're qualified to make such an assanine statement.
*What basis you are using to make such statements
*Why, if they are unsuitable, have they been used on numerous hit records and for that matter as the preamp of choice for a crappy little orchestra in Manhattan known as the New York Philharmonic?

In addition:
You wrote:
I dont know how you budget looks but I am thinking you want under a 1k. If so you should look at the Focusrite Octopre, its not the greatest one in the biz but for the money you should be satisfied with it. I believe it is somewhere around 700 or 800 for 8 pres and the A/D converter.

Wow...pissing all over the Mackie pres then in the next phrase recommending some of the worst and most poorly received preamp/converter products to hit the market with perhaps the exception of B***inger.

Seriously - noamlev5
I haven't even read their posts, but listen to Bob and Remy. They know what they're talking about and they don't dispense unqualified BS as some sort of authoritative knowledge.

Cheers -


RemyRAD Fri, 01/26/2007 - 17:34
Sorry DJPARDOX, unbalanced circuitry DOES NOT INTRODUCE HUM AND DISTORTION. Not even in small amounts but will, if improper grounding is the culprit. Which is frequently the case with the impromptu built home Project Studios.

There have been numerous facilities built upon unbalanced circuitry that are superior to their balanced brethren. Why? Because it is a simpler signal path and so again, LESS IS MORE, ALONG WITH THE PROVERBIAL KISS, AS IN KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.

Power conditioning is a good thing but most people think a power conditioner is a surge suppressor in a "Waber Power Strip". It's not. It's a far more sophisticated device. Personally, I use a 75 kW transformer isolated balanced power system for my remote truck. But computer battery backup UPS power systems are becoming much more popular since the home project studio is heavily computer oriented to begin with. These kinds of power conditioner/distribution systems are actually running your equipment off of the internal battery while simultaneously charging it. Along with the built-in power inverter comes numerous filtering devices for a smooth quasi sign wave output.

All that glitters..... May be a blown up tube preamp?
Ms. Remy Ann David

Pro Audio Guest Sat, 01/27/2007 - 02:20
I agree with most of what your saying Remy. but with regard to
unbalanced circuitry DOES NOT INTRODUCE HUM AND DISTORTION. Not even in small amounts but will, if improper grounding is the culprit.
i did not say distortion but oh well.

True in a way. i probably phrased my statement wrong. but even in well grounded studios. unbalanced line hooked in to a mixer along with balanced lines does introduce "noise" in general. just something if seen with my "limited experience" :)(i dont have 20 odds years under my belt, but i do have decent experience) dont believe me hook up a frequency analyzer to your mains and have something unbalanced pluged in. i'm sure u'll find something odd. but maybe it only something that ive experienced. i dont know. but at even the pro studios i've been to i always had issue s when pluging in an unbalance instrument/device into the mixer.(dont want to name the studio's here, they could prolly sue me LOL) but yeah maybe its just my luck. oh yeah and the isssues i'm talking about are not big ones but i get annoyed with the smallest unwanted noise. and by the way this noise i'm talking about i've seen a lot of pro engineers and good ones by the way who are not brothered by it one bit. they have awsome mixes at the end of the day. but for me its like a pet peve.

There have been numerous facilities built upon unbalanced circuitry that are superior to their balanced brethren

and Remy i'm in no way questioning the superiorority of unbalanced facilities.
let me just state something on the side. unbalanced circuits have a simple method or keeping noise out. There is a shiled which try's to keep the outside noise away from the signal conductor. (the noise gets sent away to the ground)this works all fine and dandy in a perfect world. but a lot of times from what i noticed the noise does make it to the orginal signal. once it there there's nothing we can do about it. that why i said use a di box. its better safe than sorry espeacially when u dont have the luxury of going to a pro studio.
i'm just offering a suggestion(people can take it or not), unbalanced circuits might sometimes but not always causes a problem.

Pro Audio Guest Sat, 01/27/2007 - 02:31
Once again thank you guys so much!
In israel we use 230V...and I realy didn't understand much about the grounding isues...Im thinking now of buying a Focusrite Twintrak Pro for recording mainly vocals...and conect it to the optical input in my digi002...By reading all your responses it looks to be a good idea??
thanks again

RemyRAD Sat, 01/27/2007 - 11:27
No, you are wrong. I have been doing this for over 36 years and that includes a lot of maintenance, design, installation, construction, engineering, tracking, mixing, mastering, DVD authoring, television technical director, camera operator, video editor and the list goes on. You're speaking from the voice of complete inexperience and lack of real knowledge.

There is no noise introduced into unbalanced circuitry when your wiring scheme is properly grounded and attention to detail with power distribution and ground loops is observed.

Your testing methods that you described, are not valid.

Oh sure, I'm sure you've heard stuff as you described but that's because, you really don't know what you're doing and your testing methods have no validity.

I know what happens frequently, because of spurious electromagnetic interference that appears in many buildings, good and bad. Sometimes, I have to have a guitarist or bass player rotate with their instrument to find a null in the hum. Those flat wound pickups, pick up all too well. That is not a fault of unbalanced equipment but the fact that you are talking about guitar pickups which are little open coils, half a open transformer, that acts like numerous little electromagnetic radio antennas and telephone pickup coils. THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE HEARING. Plus proper termination must be utilized with resistor inputs and/or outputs, to ascertain anything about noise, with proper reference levels being observed.

So stop trying to provide your knowledge, since your knowledge is quite flawed. I'm one of the many professionals here to help confused and misinformed people like yourself.

You are not here to teach me anything as you have nothing to teach anybody. I was merely responding to your problem. I guess you know everything so.... Have at it.
Ms. Remy Ann David