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I just upgraded to a Neumann TLM 103 mic and now I want to get a better preamp to go with it. I have an ART Tube MP preamp, which sounds better than my Mackie pre’s. The most important thing for us is to get a good sound for female lead vocals, as my wife is the songwriter and generally sings the lead. We’d like to keep it around the $500 range if that’s possible, while still getting a decent sound. Any suggestions are most welcome.



anonymous Thu, 12/04/2003 - 21:54

Extremely tough question, allow me to break it down:

1. You need to get a mic pre.
No problem! Great River, Sebatron, API, Manley, Vintech, Universal Audio, pick one.

2. Around $500.
Limiting: Avoid DBX, ART, Focusrite. FMR offers the Really Nice Preamp at $475 (two channels), it is uncoloured and does what it does well and unobtrusively.

3. It's for a female singer.
No problem! The FMR does fine on female vocals.

4. The female singer is my wife.
Hmm. I think to trully please your wife, and to give her every opportunity to sound good, you might want something a little more versatile (in terms of adding colouration) than the RNC. Maybe save up some more and go with the Sebatron 2000e, the Universal Audio m610, or Great River MP1NV.

What compressor, AD converter, and room are you using? These factors will have just as much/more impact on the sound quality as preamp (not to mention your wife's ability, technique, mood...).

Write back, David

AudioGaff Fri, 12/05/2003 - 00:03

In the $500 range, used Joe Meek VC1,VC1Q,VC1Qcs. Mic pre is useable (at least a full step up from the mackie) and the eq, comp, exciter offer enough value to help make up for the mic pre as well the comp being able to be used with or without it. I've gotten great results with Joe Meek VC1Qcs which has surprised me several times.

Or you may wait for the new Joe Meek units which sould should be out soon at about the $500 range. Also there is the new Toft Audio units with a few in or near the same price range.

If you can wait, save and spend more then get something very good or great. The TLM103 is a good mic and deserves a real good or even great mic pre. It seems to need and want a mic pre with both in and out transformers. I use mine with a Focusrite Red-7 and can often get some great results but then sometimes the upper mid in the TLM103 combined with the slight honk of the Focusrite makes some vocals hideous. The BA 1272 works well and tames the TLM103 by taking the bite and the top off for times when you don't need or want that over the top thinness in the vocal. The old Neve and Neve clones like the Vintech are pretty much the same as the 1272 but work better as the eq can make up for the lack of top end that may be too well tamed by the mic pre. The GR Neve inspired mic pre is a near perfect match and the API 512 is always a winner and never disappoints in sound but the TLM103 has such a fricken hot output that you either need to use the pad of the API, which can often slightly change the tone when used with any hot output mic, or pad before the API.

The best advice I can offer is: Take a leap and don't be cheap!

Recording Engineer Fri, 12/05/2003 - 00:30

May want to look into the Deaf Dog Designs Dottie single channel tube preamp... Priced at $700, it's $200 over your $500 budget, but I have a feeling you'll have much more pleasant results with it than most preamps you'll find for $500 or less.

Not really much of anything on their website yet and probably won't be for a while, but you can see a picture of one there.

I put in an order for one last week and it will probably be ready in a week or two. I have a feeling I'm gonna absolutely love it... OK, so I'm already biased!

The Dottie preamp is a 1959 Mullard Preamp design with modern resistors, caps, etc.

Custom features may be had. Mine will be a 2U rackmount red oak cabinet with a natural finish. Also, I chose a midrange presents boost rather than a low-cut filter.

Otherwise, you can occasionally find a used Universal Audio M610 for as low as $700. The last one on eBay went for $725. Used, they usually go for $800-$850 or so though.

For $500, the "best" you'll find will most likely be the FMR Audio RNP. I've never used it, but most say it will certainly hold its on as a clean preamp with a smooth and extended top-end and plenty of headroom to boot.

anonymous Fri, 12/05/2003 - 12:12

Hey Recording Engineer, I do pass through Sacto from time to time as a lot of my family is in the Grass Valley area. I'm not planning a trip for a while though, and I want to get a preamp in the next week or two, so I guess I won't be able to check that out. But it could be fun to stop by anyway sometime.


anonymous Fri, 12/05/2003 - 19:11

After reviewing all that was said here and in another forum, and reading numerous product sheets and reviews, I’m leaning strongly toward the Universal Audio M610 preamp. I like the ability to adjust the color of the sound, and it just seems like a really good unit. In addition, a local very experienced engineer friend thinks they’re great.

Here’s my one additional question in the signal chain: Is my dbx1 266A compressor/gate good enough to be part of this really good system and not mess it up?? Any advice is appreciated.


sdevino Fri, 12/05/2003 - 20:48

I would second the UA610. I have a TLM103 and several nice mic pre's. I almost always use the 610 with the TLM103 for the adjustable impedence match and the EQ. The TLM103 needs some warming up and needs some charactor.

I mainly use it for kick drums and every once in a while it gets used for a female vocal or even an aggressive metal vocal. But it does have a very specific sound so I would try to use a pre with some charactor with it.


anonymous Fri, 12/05/2003 - 21:43

the 266xl is going to be a drawback at some point, but I recommend integrating your new preamp into the chain before dealing with it. Then when you get something better you will be able to tell what changed.
Compressors: The 2-610 doesn't have an insert point (same is probably true for a m610), so an RNC will be slightly harder to work in to your setup. A good used DBX 160xt would sound great, I know because I have used that after a 610 on female vox.
You could also consider getting a 6176 which is a channel of 610 with an 1176 after it. Bigger bucks though, I probably shouldn't even mention it. David

anonymous Fri, 12/05/2003 - 22:46

I would also recomend the M-610. It has a thick charector and lots of tone controll, it also has a line in and a high z in with switchable impedence. The EQ sounds nice, and has two lowcut possitions on it. I really recomend it on vocals, bass, bass D.I, electric guitars, kicks and toms and also a tone box for synths and samples. The color and charector you get from it is very unique to this pre amp design, I can't think of another pre that sounds like it off the top of my head. If you do decide to get this pre get an attenuation pad for your high output mics though, I believe the 6176 already got rid of the problem of overloading the input by adding a -15db attenuation pad on the preamp section of it which is identicle to the M-610 and 2-610. I own and love my M-610, the only thing I disliked about it is the fact it doesn't have a pad on it, I like using my cactus on many of things but it is hot and without a pad on the mic.Its more than $500 though buts its wrth it. As for an insert point who cares just run your pre in series with the compressor. I never understood why there should be an insert point on an outboard pre, can someone shed some light on that topic.

AudioGaff Fri, 12/05/2003 - 23:46

The UA 610 is VERY colored so just keep that in mind. It is not something I'd likley want on the majority of my tracks. I do have the 6176 on my must have list and am just waiting for the right deal.

Is my dbx1 266A compressor/gate good enough to be part of this really good system and not mess it up??

NO! The dbx 166, 266 and all their variations as well as the 1066 and 1046 are all sad sounding junk. The 160X/1600XT/160A still has a few very limited uses and is on the real low end of pro gear compared to many other much better options available these days. If your gonna bother with a dbx get either the original 160/161 which still has limited use, the 165 which is a couple of steps up in sound and features or either of the Blue series, the obsolete 160S or newer 160SL which are awesome real pro units and work great on all sources.

tripnek Sat, 12/06/2003 - 07:13

The Sebatron vmp2000e can give you good color or a cleaner sound depending on how you use it and it has two chanels for about the same price as one channel of the UA 610.
As for compression, I have had the 266, 286, and 376 units from DBX. The compressors all sucked. I got an RNC and have had great results. It's not quite up to the 1176 or LA2A, but it blows away every thing I've heard under $1K. The only thing that kinda sucks is it's unbalanced, although it has not caused me any noticable problems with my Sebatron. I did have to make special cables to use it with my Langevin, but I guess thats not that big of a deal.
The TLM-103 sounds a bit thin on the Langevin at times depending on the vocalist, but the Sebatron treats it real well.

anonymous Sat, 12/06/2003 - 08:19

Thanks tripnek. I would like to be able to use a preamp for a variety of instruments, and I can't afford more than one preamp right now. But the main thing is to get good female lead vocals.

Steve D: What do you think, since you have a Sebatron and a M610. Will the Sebatron give me great vocals and be a good all-around unit for other things???