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Old tube pre's

Does anyone here have any experience with old Ampex, Altec or Grommes tube pres ( or mixers)? They can be had for 500$ or so and the claim is they have a "big iron" sound from the transformers and tubes...Not as a main pre but for something different with some color..



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AudioGaff Fri, 11/14/2003 - 10:34

While these do have the old school sound, they often are in need of much maintenance for things like new tubes & re-bias, new pots, new caps, new switches, new connectors and other things as well as being prone to having noise and low bandwidth.

But ya, they do offer a diferent color. There is a lot of new stuff to choose from with much higher sonics and performance which offers the same kind of color that you are often better off buying that.

mike_levitt Fri, 11/14/2003 - 19:41

I agree with audiogaff! I've got an Altec 1567A, which is now selling for $5-800 (one is at my local GC for $899(!)).

There's a nice warmth, but not exactly a hi-fi sound. Rudimentary shelving EQ. 5 inputs, one output. Plug in transformers (you need the green microphone version).

When I bought it for $20 10 years ago, it was a godsend. If I had to pay $ 500 for it today - no way. There are bettter (new) tube boxes out there for not much more money.

Mine has never needed any maintenance, and is still running with the old tubes, but the wiring is all barrier strip, there's no phantom power or phase reverse, and it's not the quietest unit on earth.

This is the kind of thing that should have remained a secret engineer's bargain device kind of thing. But now with the power of internet hype, it's a magic box..... Well, it;s very lovable, but in my opinion more than one track of this thing in any song and you'lll have instant mud! But it is good for one brilliant track!

If you're craving a little bit of that thick muddy tone, this may be the trick for you.

I'll never sell mine, and some of my friends want to steal it!

Does that make any sense?


bigtree Fri, 11/14/2003 - 22:04

I have a friend that helped in the design of these. The Peavey VMP2 discrete tube preamplifier with two inputs xlr and 1/4" balanced in/out, 48V phantom, 40/60hz pads,two band classic tone controls and four tubes per channel. This is not a fake pretend to be a classic tube pre, it is an accurate reproduction of something you would have purchased in late 1960's.

It's said to sound like the new Sebatrons. Maybe look around for an old one and re fit it. I think they go back to the mid 90's

hollywood_steve Fri, 11/14/2003 - 22:06

Things changed quickly a couple of years ago, but I got my Altec 1566a for either $150 or $200 and then had it fully serviced for another $200 by VintageLoop. Its been one of my favorite preamps ever since. A lot of the bad rap for these preamps is due to their age - 40 years or more. But once they are put right by a good tech, they are great as colored mic preamps. And we're not talking fuzz box type of color. I've used my BLUE Bottle with the Altec and it sounded as good as anything I've heard. (I know, kinda strange using a $200 preamp with a $4k mic, but it worked). It can be remarkably subtle as long as everything is in good working order. I also have a pair of Ampex 300/351 electronics units that can sound great in the right situation. Finally, my Siemens V78 is incredibly useful as it has 70dB of gain, just what I need with my Coles and Royer ribbon mics.

The key thing with any of these 40 year old preamps is to make a decision; either take your time and wait for a really clean unit, or budget to have the preamp fully refurb'd. Either way, you'll be very happy when its done and you won't have spent thousands of dollars.


MikoMader Sat, 11/15/2003 - 14:28

I've been on a quest for Altec tube pre's for over a year. When I find one it's usually out of my price range. I don't know that I have ever heard one, really. I want one anyway. So I plan on making one.

As far as Ampex. I used some streamlined and updated 351's at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio. They had 6 all done to the same spec in studio B. I used every one of them. I loved them. They had two 2 more in studio A. Not nearly enough in my opinion. They also make their modifications available to the public. I have one that I am working on.

I also own an Ampex MX-10. Which is the same as an MX-35. I just found this at a guitar show last weekend for 300 bucks, MINT! All original and quiet as hell. A much different sound than the 351, because it uses little BEYER input trafos and EF-86 tubes. But still sounds great to me. Plus you can use two mics at a time and assign them to seperate outputs. I'm a fan.

mike_levitt Mon, 11/17/2003 - 12:50


Did you get that Ampex pre at Gordy's show? I am a great pal of Gordy's, but forgot about the show and went off to do some tracking that weekend.. I was annoyed to have missed it, now I am pissed off!!!!!!

I'm glad you found something cool there.

Anyway, the $899 Altec that I was talking about is at the Guitar Center on Gratiot. If you want to hear it, go up there and check it out. Also, the guys who do the Altec refurbs, Vintage Loop, are over on the far east side somewhere (Shelby Twp???)

I think you'll like like the Altec, but it was better when you could pick them up for $20!!


MikoMader Mon, 11/17/2003 - 13:01

Well Mike, you didn't miss anything new. Same old show. Same old dealers. Only a couple were in different spots.

mike_levitt Mon, 11/17/2003 - 15:15


I wasn't expecting much from the show. Usually it's full of junk guitars, and Martins with the bridges held on with screws...

But I always have these fantasies of finding a C-12 at the bottom of a box of old pickguards or something! You found a preamp there! Damn... Next time!