Skip to main content

I know the best preamps are usually the standalone ones. But the way I see it, if I'm gonna buy a mixer (to provide flexible monitoring options when tracking a band), might as well get the one with the best preamps available, that can always come handy.

We're talking sub-500$ here, 4 mic preamps is sufficient.

We have:
Mackie VLZ
Mackie Onyx
Alesis (now with firewire!)
Allen & Heath (their cheapest mixer is 200$ above budget but it does have 8 mic preamps instead of 4)
(I'm keeping Behringer out, I have a UB802 and those are some crappy harsh and sterile pres!)

I'm leaning toward the Soundcraft, am I right? The Onyx pres are supposedly good but the price of entry is considerably higher.

If the Alesis pres are decent, that makes it a really nice contender with the new firewire option (utilizing the same converters as the HD24). 500$ gives you 8 pres and 18 channels of A/D conversion!


KurtFoster Mon, 07/18/2005 - 16:11

I don't believe any of them are really any better than the others although they do offer different sonic signatures.

The Soundcraft or the A&H would more likely have what could (by some) be considered the best sounding pres, based more on the "warmth" factor (a lack of harshness or brittle / bright sound) than any other criterion. That really doesn't make them "better" however. I have some very old Yamaha pres that are much "warmer" sounding than my Mackies pres .... just by nature of them having a very slow slew rate (not a good thing) but a lot of people who don't know what to listen for, swear they "sound better".

Viewed in context, any of these pres mentioned won't display the depth of sound field or the ease of use and mix ability most of the higher end designs offer but then we are talking in the realm of "affordable" here. You are not going to get fine wine on a beer budget (except perhaps for "The Brick").

If I were searching out a mixer for the purpose you have mentioned, I would be thinking more about the aux send configuration than the mic pres, considering that is the stated purpose for the purchase. The mic pres should be of no consequence. I chose a Mackie SR24 for these duties because they have 4 pre fader discreet aux mixes. With the SR24 I can provide 3 stereo phone mixes. But it defiantly does smear the audio and collapse the left right spread. I would never mix through it or even pass a signal through it on the way to the recorder unless I could not avoid it. My 2 cents.

anonymous Tue, 07/19/2005 - 11:57

Thanks for taking time to answer my question.

I'll be a little more detailed in my request: right now I have basically nothing: a Behringer UB802 through a Delta44 with a SM57 and a Kel HM-1 (thank you for recommending that one btw!). Running Sonar 4 Studio.

I want to start helping local bands getting demos out on the cheap. I obviously need a better interface and better pres later down the road, but I'd like to get a small board as a front end to the Delta 44 so I could start right away and not wait another year (I've got a family to provide for!). I figure a second HM-1 (Kel Audio confirmed they can give me a matched one if I fax them my response chart) and a kick drum like a D112 and I'm good to go, all I would miss is a LDC for vocal but the HM-1 can suffice for the moment. We're not talking commercial release quality, just a relatively good sounding demo.

The IMP pres in the Behringer are my biggest limitation right now. It's not just a question of not being great, they simply suck the tone out of everything I put through them. (Funny story: last week I was at some amateur sport event, the presenters had Shure wireless mics running through a Behringer board, and I could distinctively hear the "Behringer sound", it was horrible). I record my guitar with just a basic PodXT and it sounds 10 times better than anything passing through the IMPs.

I'm assuming it is possible to find a sub-500$ board that has pres that are "tolerable". Not distinctively harsh character or something like that. Is it?

I'm afraid of the Mackie XDR preamps cause the IMPs are supposedly copied from them. (Plus, when doing live gigs, everytime I see the work "Mackie" somewhere in the PA, there's always something that doesn't sound right...)

Right now I'm looking at the Soundcraft E8, which seems like a decent contender. It has inserts on each mono channel so I can run a direct feed to my recorder (Delta44 for the moment, something else later).

The plan later down the road is to probably hook it up to a Motu interface (like a 828MkII or a Traveler) and buy some outboard pres.

We're talking mostly rock music here, so transient response is important so I can capture the attack of drums and guitars. I guess I could cheat a bit in software to warm the vocals up a bit.

I recorded through a powered Yamaha mixer last year (using the inserts) and although the sound was not very detailed, at least there is no specific ugly character when listening to the tracks.

KurtFoster Tue, 07/19/2005 - 12:52

mmm-kay .... so now the criterion changes. Pres are a large part of the equation.

IMO no cheap pre is really any "better" than any other. They ony have different sonic signatures. They all choke when too much is demanded of them and none of them really exhibit the depth and dimension of the more expensive boutique offerings.

That "Mackie or Behinger sound" you refer to is the sound of a relativly uncolored mic pre. I think you would hear that from even some of the more expensive mid level pres like the Grace 101 and the RNP, that brag that they are "transparent". This is why so many of us old geezers like the sound of pres that use transformers and tubes.

Reports say that the Soundcraft and A&H's are "warmer" sounding than the Mackies and Behringers. Based on that perhaps that is the direction you should go. Just keep in mind this is a purchase you will most likely outgrow.

My advice is to look for a used A&H or Soundcraft in good condition, that you can score for low bucks (at least 50% off list price is fair). That way you won't lose your arse when it's time to upgrade. Otherwise be prepared to lose at least over half of the expenditure when and / or if you eventually sell it.

anonymous Tue, 07/19/2005 - 12:58

Buying used is really something I'm looking to do, but used recording gear doesn't happen very often in my area, and usually it's Behringer or Mackie stuff (like you said... the stuff you outgrow eventually).

A soundman friend of mine however has an old Soundcraft S1 for real cheap. From what I can gather this is probably around 25-30 years old. Contrary to what some people think, being old doesn't mean it sounds better, and it might just be a maintenance nightmare. I'm tempted to pick it up (it's just slightly more than what I paid for the UB802).

KurtFoster Tue, 07/19/2005 - 13:25

So where are you located that you can't bid on things on E Bay? Another good source for used gear I have come across is ...

Other than a recap job, I doubt that there would be any maintenance problems with a small mixer unless it was seriously abused in it past. These things hold up pretty well and Soundcraft built very good products 20 years ago.

But it may not sound as good as a newer one because the chips and op amps used back then were quite a bit "slower"(remember slew rate?) than newer offerings.

anonymous Wed, 07/20/2005 - 10:31

I'm in Montreal Canada, I just prefer doing that stuff locally 8)

So I guess one way or another it's a compromise, so I'll probably pick the used Soundcraft for now, maybe the "vintage" factor will appeal to some clients :wink:
It has 3 aux sends so it's fairly flexible has a headphone monitor (that's a total of 5 mixes if we add the main L + R), and its "lo-fi-ness" might even be used as a tool once in a while.

If I can get decent results with just a board, then I can save money faster for preamps and a new set of converters.

Anyway, thanks a lot for answering my questions.

anonymous Wed, 07/20/2005 - 11:25

Honestly Hardtailed...if you know you are going to upgrade in the near future I will tell you what Kurt told me. (Thanks Kurt) Don't spend the money on something you will outgrow AND if you absolutely must have something in the mean time find the cheapest alternative. I had much the same situation as you. Building my studio and looking for 24 channels and at least 12 preamps. I didn't need "color", just needed a clean, accurate signal. I asked Kurt the same exact question you did. He basically told me to go the cheapest yet most efficient route possible. He advised me to stay away from the Behringer stuff cause, although cheap and inexpensive, it would not be a good choice do to poor craftsmanship and a history of poor equipment. Soundcraft was a bit more than I wanted to pay to get my services and my studio up and running. Mackie was the ideal choice for me. I scored a Mackie 24-8 board with meter bridge from a local paper's classifieds for 900 bucks. One of the best purchases I ever made. 24 preamps. While they aren't boutique or amazing by any means they still get the job done and look at what I paid if you figure the cost per preamp...unbelievable deal. I have made some very nice recordings with them. They can get you by for sure. Save the extra money you would spend on the Soundcraft and just get a Mackie. The difference in quality of preamps will be marginal and slim at best but the price difference is so large - making it (at least i think) a poor choice for you right now. Just my thoughts.

anonymous Wed, 07/20/2005 - 12:17

Well the used Soundcraft I'm considering will cost me a huge 150$CDN... so I guess that falls into the "cheapest as possible that will get you by". :)

I've searched the ads for used Mackies and the cheapest I've found were 1202s for almost double that. Half the preamps, double the price...

I just hope the Soundcraft will be reliable.

zemlin Wed, 07/20/2005 - 14:05

I had a Mackie 1402 VLZ, 1402 VLZ Pro, and then I picked up an A&H Mixwizard 16:2.

I did a comparison of the preamps (came out of the Mackie inserts, the Direct outs on the A&H) and preferred the A&H as #1, the Mackie VLZ #2, and last the VLZ Pro. The difference between the best and the worst was not a lot - mainly noticeable in the transients.

The Mackie 1402 VLZs go for around $300(US) on eBAY - or at least that's where they were when I was buying/selling. Looks like these days 1202 VLZs are in the $150 range - some selling for less than that.

KurtFoster Wed, 07/20/2005 - 16:25

Hardtailed said this was a very "old Soundcraft S1, ... probably around 25-30 year old" mixer. That's why it's so inexpensive.

Just make sure it will work for you application. If it has directs out of each channel or at least 4 bus's then it's probably useable. Even if not, you can probably get the pres out through the inserts. If it's just a stereo mixer with no Di outs then you most likely will not be able to use it for pres, aux, stereo mixes all at the same time.

Last, be aware that the auxes will most likely be configured as one monitor send (pre) and two effects (post) sends. So with the second and third aux sends, any moves made on the "big" faders will be mirrored on the aux sends.

moonbaby Thu, 07/21/2005 - 10:32

The A&H to look for in the $500.00 range would be the GL-2 (used). It is a rack-mount version of the GL2000. 10 mono and 2 stereo channels, 6 switchable sends, nice EQ. Better gain structure, headroom and build quality than the others.I had 1 and "sys-linked"a 2nd one to it because the Mackie SR24 I was using for smaller live gigs wasn't cutting it, sonically speaking. And the GL-2 provides a lot more features for recording projects that the others just don't have.

anonymous Thu, 07/28/2005 - 23:52

I had good experience with my Yamaha small mixer. It doesn't sound as good as the best preamps, but for the price it is way better than Behringer or my friend's Alto mixer (which really has the worst preamps we've ever heard).

I was recorded with a quintet (clarinet, tuba, flute, french horn, basoon) and they used a Mackie mixer. The sound was ok but the acoustics in the hall were bad, so not sure what that tells you about the preamps.

Two days ago we recorded our jazz group and they used a console by Soundcraft, something called Ghost (that is what was written on it) and I can tell you the sound was excellent. Probably the best bass clarinet sound I had. But, we had excellent acoustics and excellent microphones too.

Not sure what this tells you, but I hope I helped a little.

anonymous Sun, 07/31/2005 - 14:43

In my experience the Mackie pres are pretty bland (neutral?) sounding and prone to oscillation at high gain settings, the Yamaha pres don't have much headroom (by the time you see red lights, it already sounds like crap), and nothing by Alesis has any headroom at all. The Soundcraft signal flow makes the most sense, and the pres are very forgiving with overload.
I notice that nobody mentioned Studiomaster. Their Trilogy series offered six aux sends, four switchable post/pre, and two pre. The pres are similar to the Spirit line from Soundcraft. Mine has been a solid performer for 12 years.

anonymous Tue, 08/02/2005 - 10:24

I agree with whomever suggested the A&H GL-2 But i feel its out of the price range that this thread is dealing with. Though i can't offer a healthy alternative i would still say that Mackie's "colourless" approach is something i used to stay awayfrom but apon closer inspection i couldn't really tell the difference between a mackie and an Alesis Pre in the same price range.

anonymous Wed, 08/10/2005 - 09:44

Soundcraft Mic Preamps

I don't have a lot of experience, only two mic preamps... the ones in my Soundcraft Compact 4 mixer and I had a Focusrite Trackmaster Pro for a day.

Choice of preamps is a personal thing, it depends on the sound that you are going for. I am not looking for a clean, accurate sound. That is not appealing to me. I want some texture or color.

The Focusrite pre was not to my taste because it was too clean & revealing. Some may translate that as cold & sterile... I would. The Soundcraft pre is warmer and more inviting, to me. I use it with a Neumann TLM103 and it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling every time.

I may have more to report in a few days, as I have ordered an SPL Channel One voice processor. I am very interested to see how the it compares to the SC pre. It had better be a great leap forward given it is 14x the cost.


anonymous Wed, 08/31/2005 - 12:35

The largest (perhaps only) frame size for the 1S (not S1) is 20x2 with 3 auxes....I think it's 1 pre 2 post.
It has a 100hZ hi pass filter and a 4 stage eq with semi parametric mids.
No direct outs but you can tap the insert points on the strips. The inserts are ring out tip in.
It is pin 3 hot and has an internal power supply.