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Stop me if this sounds stupid, but I'm thinking of recording live instruments with a pair of C414s and I just realized that I don't have a dual channel preamp. Should I get something with a built in compressor/limiter, or keep those things separate?


DonnyThompson Mon, 07/13/2015 - 22:33

You didn't mention a budget... and the cost of doing what you want can range from $200 to $10,000, depending on the quality you are after, and whether you want to go with something new or something used.

Unless you are after a particular sonic "character" that can come with some preamps/compressors, you don't really need to record with compression much anymore as a transient/peak controller when recording to digital ( assuming you are tracking to a DAW), because, as opposed to tape, you can record at much lower levels, because you don't need to worry about covering up the inherent noise of tape, where you'd want to record as hot as possible to masque the noise ( signal to noise ratio).

This isn't really a problem anymore with modern DAW's, with 24/32 bit recording, where you can record at much lower levels, thereby allowing far more headroom for those occasional transient peaks to occur without clipping. Afterwards, you could then either draw volume envelopes to compensate, or, add compression to tame those transients, through the use of the DAW's inboard gain reduction processing.

Now... if you want to compress on the way in for the sake of adding a certain sonic texture - and there are several models of varying prices that will do this - then you'd want to look for either a preamp with gain reduction built in, or, a standalone 2 channel or stereo compressor. In both cases, to use both mics, you'll either need two single-channel pre's, or a dual channel. But... remember that the preamps will also determine the coloration of the signal as well. It's not just about the gain reduction in terms of signal coloration.
So, you'll also want to consider the quality of the preamps - and those that will serve you best for the style in which your record.... Tube/Valve, Transformer, which will both add color, or, something with neither, a solid state model ( like a Grace or Millennia), if you want a more "transparent" sound.

Personally, if I were going to take this route, I'd be looking for a dual-channel pre/compressor that would allow strapping both channels together for a stereo signal, in the case that I might like to also use it in a hybrid mix scenario as a 2-bus/stereo master processor. Not all of them do, some are just two separate channels, so you'd want to look for that particular feature.

Your budget is going to determine what you can get...and depending on your sonic expectations as well.

If you are okay going with something used, Ebay is loaded with listings for preamps that have built-in gain reduction.