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Focusrite ISA 428. Preamp myths and expectations. Help!

So I have a PreSonus Eureka and an ART Pro channel. They're ok, but all of the true professionals I know are telling me to stop wasting money on these prosumer gear, and instead buy a couple real pieces.

I'm considering purchasing the Focusrite ISA 428. Am i really going to hear a difference in my mixes send stuff through this instead of the Eureka?

I'm curious and want to find out if something is fact or myth, so here goes. Is it true that by sending your tracks through true hi-end pres and converters make songs practically mix themselves? Is it safe to assume that my mid level pres are making my tracks fight for space in the mix?

Just so you know, i'm doing mostly hip hop and r&b productions.
This purchase is mainly to enhance the music, not the vocals. I already have RME converters, and I hear those are pretty good.

If you want to hear the music that i'm trying to improve apon you can hear some at http://www.Somobe.com

I guess i'm just looking for some verification that I will hear results and improvement from my $1700 investment in higher end pres.

Thanks for any help.

Comments

anonymous Sun, 03/06/2005 - 23:17
no gear will "mix itself". You'll save time and effort with good mic placement, room etc, but I'm assuming as you do hip hop, probably not doing drums, mostly direct?

either way, yes, good gear sounds better, and should help things sit better in the mix as the depth, dynamics, will be "better". However, people tend to blame their gear for bad rooms, bad engineering talent etc. Not saying this in your case (I didn't listen to your stuff yet), but something to think about.

The ISA is great and a friend of mine (R&B producer) loves it- very nice sounding box. I like the isa 110 sound (one of my favorite pres).

ghellquist Mon, 03/07/2005 - 03:20
jazzy655 wrote:
I'm curious and want to find out if something is fact or myth, so here goes. Is it true that by sending your tracks through true hi-end pres and converters make songs practically mix themselves? Is it safe to assume that my mid level pres are making my tracks fight for space in the mix?

Yep that´s true. The really high-level stuff comes with Mix-O-Matic (tm), so they mix themselves. This is one of best kept secrets of this industry. The very best kept secret is the Digitalmastering-At-Distance, where the mastering process is done through psychic powers from the mastering central. These two secrets, known in the industry as mom and dad are only part of the very top-level stuff.

Well, jazzy, if you find any of those, please tell me. I think hard work is the only thing that will give results. It is to a very small degree about the equipment, and to a very large degree other things if you ask me.

Gunnar.

anonymous Mon, 03/07/2005 - 11:22
well, is not that they mix thenselves...is just that you need a lot less efort mixing...because you need less EQ or non EQ at all...there are other caracteristics you have to notice...the space image...you have a "deepness" you dont have in most prosumer pres...and other stuff you are going to realize when own and work a lot with a decent pre...btw, the ISA is an excelent choice for the price... :wink:

anonymous Mon, 03/07/2005 - 13:22
great

lol
i guess i should have choosen my words better. i know it won't literally mix itself, but i just wanted to know if it would make mixing this stuff easier.
thanks for the feedback, that's exactly what i wanted.

i'm off to americanmusical.com for my ISA 428 now! i'll be back with results (i hope)

anonymous Mon, 03/07/2005 - 15:18
Jazzy, you will love the ISA. I to produce Hip Hop, R&B, Rap, etc. and the ISA is my only frontend right now and has never fell short yet. It will make a real difference in what you've been hearing. More true to the source with a little tonal massaging added. It is a good place to start.

What mics are you using? The ISA will really introduce you to what your mics are capable of.

When you get it let us know how you feel it.

And no it dosen't mix for you, just makes it easier to mix because it doesn't introduce any of the negative distortion that the lower grade pres do. Just a more open reproduction of your source.

Peace!
JGYC!

anonymous Mon, 03/07/2005 - 21:15
my mics

one thing i've found with the cheap pres i've been using, is that they cause my mixes to lack a strong center with solid mids. seems like i only get highs and lows, with a scoop in the mid section that leaves the mixes seeming a little harsh.

anyone else experience this with the midlevel and cheaper stuff?

in response to the question about my mics...
at the moment for mics i mainly use a rode nt1000. I also have a studio projects C1, but it is a professional dust collector. now that i've got some cash, and i'm getting some real pres, i'm also about to invest in a good mic or two. on my list of mics to try are the rode K2, and also a brauner Phantom C.

I'm not sure if the brauner will sound a little too clean (if thats possible) with the ISA 428. My guess is that the K2 will play nicely with the focusrites,being that it's tube and the focusrites are solidstate...any insight into this is greatly appreciated, as i have yet to find anyone that has the Phantom C.

anyone heard it before? is it worth the extra money over the k2.
i thinks it cost about $1500 in comparison to the K2 at about $700.

oh yeah, hows the distressor while i'm dreaming...might as well think big right ;)

anonymous Mon, 03/07/2005 - 22:31
I too have the SP C1 but it gets used. The ISA allows it to breathe. It's not for every voice but when matched properly it's HOT! My other mic right now is a MXL V69 Mogami. Through the ISA it's lush. The tube really gives some girth and a nice sizzle on top. Between these two mics I've been able to lay down some true vocals. I am laying away for a Blue Kiwi mic and a Tube Tech compressor here in the spring. I also plan on getting the AD card for the ISA.

Can't really comment on the Phantom C or the K2 personally, but if you search around the sight you will find info on both. And from what I remember, I can see either one shining through this pre. Now will it be the mic for the purpose can't say, to subjective.

I've also ran a Neumann TLM-103 through the ISA and it was nice. Just didn't work for the voice. Wound up using the C1. Just fit.

Now with the mics you already have, just from the experiecnes I've read about here, I think the K2 would complement what you already have, giving you some different flavas to choose from. Always good. Another mic of interest to me is the Soundelux U195.

Can't comment on the Distressor. And yeah with my previous lower end mic pre I was having to really play around with mic techniques and EQ to mold the mid range area to get the vocal to sit right. I was always having to overcome the little distortion for the vocal to punch through. It was good practice though. Much easier now with the ISA.

Peace
JGYC!

iznogood Mon, 03/07/2005 - 23:01
"I'm not sure if the brauner will sound a little too clean (if thats possible) with the ISA 428. My guess is that the K2 will play nicely with the focusrites,being that it's tube and the focusrites are solidstate...any insight into this is greatly appreciated, as i have yet to find anyone that has the Phantom C. "

you're right... the brauner is a bit sibilant (too much topend boost) but really warm at the same time (vm1) the phantom shouldn't be mixed with a solidstate IMO..... too thin...

btw... if you haven't paid for the isa yet.... don't!.... it's absoultely not worth the money.... too clinical and cold IMO.... i never heard a focusrite pre that was worth the money.... and i've heard ALOT of pre's....

anonymous Tue, 03/08/2005 - 00:59
Aziel I have to agree with you. It's not the cleanest or the dirtiest, but it does do a little of it's own thing. As opposed to the mid-range platinum Focusrites which I've auditioned the ISA has a nice flava to it. But I wouldn't call it clinical. Can't wait to get my hands on the Blues Kiwi. I've heard the Mouse and the Dragonfly, both HOT mics, but seem to be more source specific.

The ISA is a HOT piece to start with and always hold it's own...

Just thought I'd add, of my two mics the MXL V69M get's grabbed most often. I think I've just grown partial to the flattering flavas of the tube influence through the ISA. I'd love to hear a U87 as well.

Peace
JGYC!

anonymous Tue, 03/08/2005 - 10:25
i have the U87 and have a pair of AT4033 too...both works fine, all you have to do is to choose waht you want to record...i have big succes with percussion (latin and african percusion) with the 4033's and not bad as OHs (wish i had another U87) the 4033 tend to be more bright and sibilant but do a great job in some things (actually i like it a lot)...of course i have 57´s, senns...and all works like a charm...i redicovered all my mics with this preamp... 8)

kingfrog Thu, 03/10/2005 - 10:25
Take the time to record a simple song of your style through both units. Mix and master it. Burn it to CD, Mark one CD and give it a shuffle and listen in various environments to hear the difference if any and to see whether its worth the extra bucks. Then give it to a few people to listen to and see which they choose..........In the end you will know if the bang for the buck was worth it.

I say this because I did this exact thing before laying down $2000 and stuck since then happily and comfortably with my VCQ1 now for a few years. My comparison was vs an Avalon at the time though. It did sound "different" maybe somewhat more transparant during the recording process but after each was mixed and burned the difference was not enough to spend the extra money for and mostly negligable in the car and on MP3 Players.

The only way to know if its money well spent is to compare the final result on a blind A/B and if you find a difference is it 2,3,4 times the diference worth the multiples of price increase.? ONLY you can answer that. I Use the multiples equation when I replace anything in my set up. Is it twice as good? Three times? Usually if nothing else it validates my current gear and Im satisfied until the next thing omes down the line LOL

Everbody has different ears and opinions. I mean when a professional audio engineer says something "colors" the sound...my question would be what color? (I prefer Blue).Its amazing how many visual adjectives are used in an aural world......sheen, glassy, muddy, brittle.....

Seriously I think people use terms that are totally subjective in a subjective world. "Colors" I suppose means "it's different from the source." Thats why in a subjective field such as audio recording it is very hard to make expensive choice based on others. the User "audiophile" end is crazier.........

anonymous Thu, 03/10/2005 - 11:06
Kingfrog makes a good point. This is a very subjective field. You have to have an idea of the sound your after as that will determine the tools. The ISA is a great piece and you will hear a difference. better build quality and higher grade internal components as compared to the majority of your mid/low level counterparts. You will get a more realistic reproduction of your source. And remeber, you can dirty up a quality clean signal if your going for that, as some like it grimey in Hip-Hop. But you can't really take the grit out of a dirty signal, you can just try to hide it.

As I've stated I use it for the same genre of music as you and it has never let me down. Artist are very particular about their sound especially in Hip-Hop, R&B, etc. All styles for the most part, just these I know better.

Being able to get to the sound you hear is the gift and skill which is truly neccessary. The rest is tools, whether entry or pro level.

Make sure and share your opions as it can help the next person.

Peace
JGYC!

anonymous Fri, 03/11/2005 - 07:23
tiny problem guys

so i plugged the ISA in last night for the first time. recorded my voice. boom. sounded like butter.
then i tried to track a beat from my fantom just for fun, and i kept running into a problem.
i honestly think it has something to do with my converters. they keep clipping and choking when
i try to track from my keyboard. weird thing is, the meters on the converters aren't even hitting yellow
yet they choke like they were overloading.

never had this problem really before. while hooking up my ISA i changed a lot of cables around.
the converters are running though optical lightpipe to my Digi001. Maybe i did something
bad with the optical cables?? any ideas guys. anyone had this happen??

my guess is the cables....

any help would be great. the stuff that i was actually able to track through the ISA has been sweet.
really want to get this fixed...

thanks,
-jon

anonymous Fri, 03/11/2005 - 08:25
Hey Jon glad your enjoying it so far. Nothing like gratification of a step made. Now for your issue, can you give a more detailed description of how everything is connected. It sounds like to me theirs a gain issue maybe or a clocking issue. Can't be sure from what you stated so far. Don't have the AD card in my ISA yet so I'm just trying to think through possibilities. Start from the Fantom on.

Peace
JGYC!

anonymous Fri, 03/11/2005 - 13:38
my bad

i should have been more clear. i'm not going from the ISA to my converters through lightpipe.
i'm just going from the analog outs or the ISA to the converters. But i am going from my converters
to the digi001 through lightpipe.

the thing that is throwing me off, is that the meters on my converters are not clipping, yet the continue to
choke up as if they were being overloaded. THATS the main thing that makes me believe it may be
a sync issue between my converters and the 001. btw my converters are my master clock, the digi syncs to the converters.

i do have some crappy optical cables. and i may have jacked up something while installing and
wiring the ISA.

whaddya think??

i'm probably going to just go and get some nice lightpipe cables, and some XLR to 1/4'' cables tonight.
at the moment i'm using the effects sends on the ISA, because the main outputs on the ISA
are XLR, and i can't plug an XLR into my patchbay. will those cables work without and sound
difference?

thanks,
-j

anonymous Sun, 03/13/2005 - 00:47
thanks for the help guys

i think i was just tracking things a little to high. got it taken care of.

now on to me review of the ISA ( gonna keep it short and sweet).

In the past, i have had mucho trouble getting our music to sound unstrained, for lack of a better term. Commercial cd's have this amazing natural sound. Clear, clean, warm, fat, all of these things at the same time. as hard as I tried, i couldn't get my music to sound clear, with all the elements easily audible, but at the same time not sound like everything was fighting to be the star. i was using what some might call "prosumer" gear(Presonus Eureka, Art Pro Channel), not because i couldn't get pro stuff, but because i couldn't believe that spending nearly 2k on a preamp would make my music sound that much better.

I now understand why expensive gear is expensive. there is NO comparison. just finished tracking a complete song through my new ISA 428, and BAM....there is the sound i've been after for several years now. I couldn't believe it. not saying that I got a finished master by just tracking through this thing, but the sound out of the gate is so much more clear and clean that it is sickening to think that I bothered with prosumer stuff.

I've had a hell of a time trying to get our vocals to sound fat and upfront and clear. They've always been thin, harsh, and never sat at the front of the mix without them being WAY too loud.
Tracked some vocals through the ISA 428. again BAM...there's the sound on the radio. i'm so excited at this point, i'm finding it hard to go to my day job, because i want to stay at home and record all day long.

I tracked my Fender jazz bass though the thing and almost lost my mind. Fat,fat,fat,fat,fat!! totally pro sounding.

I don't want to diss anyones gear in here, you have to use what you have until you can get what you want. I am in the same boat.
I just wanted to let everyone know of my first experience with a pro piece, and enchorage anyone debating whether to spend the extra money on high-end stuff, or just settle for lower price stuff.
If you have the money for pro gear, get it. After you do, you will be kicking your self in the butt for buying prosumer stuff. the difference is stupidly wonderful.

like i said, short but sweet...

thanks for all your help guys, i was debating between the ISA and another Eureka before i posted this topic. y'all convinced me...

-jon

Kurt Foster Sun, 03/13/2005 - 12:41
one thing i've found with the cheap pres i've been using, is that they cause my mixes to lack a strong center with solid mids. seems like i only get highs and lows, with a scoop in the mid section that leaves the mixes seeming a little harsh.

anyone else experience this with the midlevel and cheaper stuff?

Yes I have. Let me say .... Good ears! This usually passes over peoples heads until they have had exposure to high end gear for extended periods.

One reason for this is is because most inexpensive mic pres use cheesy power supplies. It takes a robust power supply with large capicitors to provide enough energy storage reserve for adaquate current on demand in order to to form a proper bass wave, to pass transients unaffected and to provide the headroom and phase response of better designs. These power supplies are expensive to manufacture and designers have yet to discover any short cuts to resolve the problem.

People who are into car stereos will understand this concept. It is common to see high end car stereos that use large caps to provide reserve power for thumpin' bass.

iznogood Mon, 03/14/2005 - 01:49
kurt i can't pm you... i'm not member of the club

please don't use the word high-end in a thread about an isa preamp....

although i don't like it i consider the isa a professional product... for use in professional studios....

but to in any way talk about high-end in this thread is simply degrading the term of high-end.... just as printing hi-fi on a $200 crap stereo.... or calling alesis monitors professional...

high-end is a term discribing VERY expensive and great sounding hi-fi (remember... that means high fidelity!!) equipment.... eg. ammitsbøl's $30,000 audionote DAC's!

the gear discussed in this forum is pro audio gear..... in most cases actually semi-pro... (whatever happened to that term?) so let's keep it that way... just to keep us from confusion....

please don't take this as an attack or anything like that.... that's not what it's meant to be...

Cucco Mon, 03/14/2005 - 07:19
Sorry iznogood, but your description here mildly pisses me off. Frankly, I grow tired of too many people in this world thinking that to be high quality and thus "high-end" it must carry a high price tag. There are many "high-end" products that I wouldn't say are worth wiping my *** on. Then there are those products in this market that are amazingly awesome, but reasonably priced.

Perhaps the best pair of speakers I've EVER heard cost $125 a piece. Any guesses as to which ones?? NHT Super Zero's (Stereophile A rating nonetheless!) They are built well, sound fantastic and are rather legendary, but dirt cheap. Because of their price tag, should they be considered low-end? Now, how about something like the Wilson Watt/Puppy? Great speakers, but does the sound really justify the additional money over a pair of B&W Nautalis 801's, 802s, or 803s? Not to me they don't!

And frankly, I could give two craps about a $30,000 DAC. Just think, if he had bought a Benchmark for $950, he could be using a Weiss EQ, GML Pres, or even a Euphonix console for the difference. So what, his one box costs more than my car, can Joe Consumer hear the difference? No, not ever. I would doubt that anyone here would be able to hear the difference between it and the Benchmark. (Sure, some would say they could, but to them I say BS!)

So, let's get off the high-dollar high-horse and realize that, in the world of preamps, the ISA428 CAN be considered High-end, especially when you consider that the world is being overrun by Presonus, ART, and Mackie gear!

J... 8-)

iznogood Mon, 03/14/2005 - 09:33
i never said that high-end is only expensive stuff...

"There are many "high-end" products that I wouldn't say are worth wiping my *** on."

i agree... me too.... but there's ten times as much "pro" gear that i wouldn't ever let near my *** (adam monitors for one)

"would doubt that anyone here would be able to hear the difference between it and the Benchmark."

that's the problem..... people can't hear the difference cause their monitoring is semi-pro.... on high-end speakers there is no doubt about the differences!

"Just think, if he had bought a Benchmark for $950, he could be using a Weiss EQ, GML Pres, or even a Euphonix console for the difference."

his outboard are just as good as his DAC....

"So, let's get off the high-dollar high-horse and realize that, in the world of preamps, the ISA428 CAN be considered High-end, especially when you consider that the world is being overrun by Presonus, ART, and Mackie gear!"

that means that if you just compare to utter crap ANYTHING can be considered high-end.... talking about bs!

then what should i call all the pre-amp that are SO much better than the isa ??? ultra-end? high-high-high-end??

my post was only about the value degradation of terms..... nothing else!

focusrite makes pro audio gear...... high-end is the term to use for hi-fi gear that are so great the term hi-fi doesn't fit! it's that simple!

Cucco Mon, 03/14/2005 - 09:46
First off, who decided that the definition of the term "High-end" is:hi-fi gear that are so great the term hi-fi doesn't fit!?

Second, if you think that if I have a Nautalis 801 and Classe amps that I'll be able to discern the difference between two "high-end" ADC's, it's you who is mistaken. Yes, there are measurable differences, but these are so incredibly slight that the average human is incapable of hearing them. Everybody likes to think they have "golden ears" and thus claims to hear these differences.

Is there no possibility that "high-end" can exist in the pro-audio world? And if so, who are you to try and determine what makes the mark for high-end? If you look into Kurt's rack, you'll see some seriously HIGH-END pro audio gear. If you look into my rack, you'll see HIGH-END pro audio gear. I don't think you'll find an ISA 428 in either rack, but that's not to say that it can't be considered HIGH END in the pro audio world.

Please, feel free to give us your source for this definition, it intrigues me!

I guess you are suggesting my monitoring system, consisting of Bryston, Rotel and Levinson Amps as well as Dynaudio, NHT (2.5i), and B&W speakers is semi-pro? I would rank this equipment with some of the finest on the planet, yet magically, I wouldn't be able to pick out the minute differences between two supremely fine D/As. Now, choosing between the DAs on most pro-sumer gear and the Benchmark, yep, easy difference - even on a boom box.

Oh, and in case you're curious - just had my hearing evaluated within the last month - hearing measured as "detecting 0 dB from 25 Hz to 20,000 Hz except in the right ear; 20kHz was 1dB less sensitive. " (What can I say, I'm a horn-player, that accounts for the -1dB drop at 20k.) The battery of tests was exhaustive including what's known as the E-Cog and the Brainstem response evaluation.

J...

iznogood Mon, 03/14/2005 - 22:43
"First off, who decided that the definition of the term "High-end" is:hi-fi gear that are so great the term hi-fi doesn't fit!?"

the hi-fi community did over 20 years ago..

"Second, if you think that if I have a Nautalis 801 and Classe amps that I'll be able to discern the difference between two "high-end" ADC's, it's you who is mistaken."

i can hear the difference on a pair of $1500 hi-fi speakers..

"Yes, there are measurable differences, but these are so incredibly slight that the average human is incapable of hearing them."

we're not talking avarage.... we're talking high-end! and do you seriously believe measurement is all that it takes to make great sounding equipment?.... btw i think my 63 year old mother could tell the difference between an audionote dac5 and the benchmark (great as it is)

"Everybody likes to think they have "golden ears" and thus claims to hear these differences."

i don't think i have golden ears..... i have not been very nice to my ears in the past..... but i spent 20+ years listening to different speakers ..... ranging from lo-fi to high-end...... did you? and i don't think i can hear a difference..... i know it!

"Is there no possibility that "high-end" can exist in the pro-audio world?"

yes of course.... alot of mastering suites use high-end gear...... together with pro gear.... (eg. focusrite)

"And if so, who are you to try and determine what makes the mark for high-end?"

no.... i'm sorry.... that's entirely up to you and kurt..... the high-end guru's

"If you look into Kurt's rack, you'll see some seriously HIGH-END pro audio gear. If you look into my rack, you'll see HIGH-END pro audio gear. "

i don't know kurts racks..... but according to your website you own alot of great pro gear.... but not a single piece of hardware i would consider hi-end ..... look at my link.... no high-end gear either (although the fairman gear comes close..... btw try comparing the isa to the fairman... (as i did)..the isa becomes a toy)

"I don't think you'll find an ISA 428 in either rack, but that's not to say that it can't be considered HIGH END in the pro audio world."

that's ecxactly the confusion i'm trying to talk about....

"Please, feel free to give us your source for this definition, it intrigues me!"

first of all.... it doesn't sound good.... secondly.... the way that it's built (the components used)...

"I guess you are suggesting my monitoring system, consisting of Bryston, Rotel and Levinson Amps as well as Dynaudio, NHT (2.5i), and B&W speakers is semi-pro?"

no.... of course i wouldn't..... and if you were not busy trying hard to misunderstand everything i write you would know that...

the bryston i consider pro audio gear.... the rotel is hi-fi.... levinson amps in general i would consider high-end ..... and dynaudio again is pro gear.... (don't know the nht)

"yet magically, I wouldn't be able to pick out the minute differences between two supremely fine D/As."

that i don't understand..... do you try?...... or do you convince yourself that you can't?..... i'm sure i could on that (fine) equipment...

" Now, choosing between the DAs on most pro-sumer gear and the Benchmark, yep, easy difference - even on a boom box."

ok.... so you're not deaf :lol: ..... and what a great term..."pro-sumer"... now that's a term we can use.... semi-pro would be an alternative....

"Oh, and in case you're curious - just had my hearing evaluated within the last month - hearing measured as "detecting 0 dB from 25 Hz to 20,000 Hz except in the right ear; 20kHz was 1dB less sensitive."

i'm happy for you..... wish it was me.... 8-)

peace and respect
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