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I am purchasing an SM7b for vocals. I will be doing a singer/songwriter set-up, just vocals and midi piano. I was looking at this setup:

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface
A-Designs P-1 Pre
I am running Reaper on Windows 7

Is this a good setup? Out of curiosity, if I only purchased the first two items and used the built-in pre in the Focusrite (maybe with a cloudlifter), how much difference would there be in sound quality than using an external pre like the AD P-1? $800 worth? Enough for the casual listener to tell?

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Boswell Thu, 02/14/2013 - 16:07

An external quality pre-amp needs converters, so unless it comes with them internally like the API A2D, the Focusrite ISA One Digital or the surprisingly good value Audient Mico, you are relying on an analog signal chain plus converters in your interface to give a smooth passage to the high-quality audio from the external pre-amp.

On the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, there is no separate line input that by-passes the pre-amps. That means that you get the Focusrite pre-amp character if you use them directly (scarcely enough gain for an SM7) or with an external pre-amp. If you were to use the Cloudlifter to give you enough gain, note that it also has a sonic signature which will be convolved with that of whatever pre-amp you use it with.

RemyRAD Fri, 02/15/2013 - 16:14

Wyatt, I think you are slightly misinformed? You've got most of the right elements that you have already listed. Boswell comes at this from a different angle than I do.

Quite frankly my dear... I don't give a damn if you think the SM 7 needs any more pre-amplification than a stock microphone preamp has available in your average computer audio interface. That's ridiculous. It's completely contrary to the actual truth. What and why would you need more than 50 db of pre-amplification when you are within mere inches of the microphone with a vocal or acoustic guitar source? That's poppycock. That's BS. Cloud lifter, yeah, the magic cloud. I wouldn't waste my money on a piece of crap like that if one is using a half decent and I mean only a half decent microphone preamp. With a good microphone preamp you can use that Cloud Lifter as an exciting suppository. So just take the Cloud Lifter out of your mind or head since I only have part of a mind to give you LOL. Fuggetaboutit.

On to your computer audio interface...Focusrite has that Rupert Neve lineage behind it. Can't go wrong there. Of course all of that stuff will have transformer less microphone preamps. Nothing wrong there. Not my favorite type of preamps to use myself. I prefer the real deal. I simply love transformer coupled input, microphone preamps. The API, Neve, Warm Audio, Circle Seven, will give you those API & Neve sounding preamps for hundreds of dollars less than those preamps. Those API and Neve preamps all start around $600 per channel and up. Those other two manufacturers will provide virtually the same thing with the same quality sound for about half that price. But ya might have to take out your soldering iron? Just remember that heat kills transistors. And so you might have to use an alligator clip as a heat sink on each lead of the transistor that you are soldering? I don't bother. If you can do it quickly and correctly, you generally will not have any problems. Cook it too long and it's like destroying any fine steak in your broiler from overcooking. Making it inedible to use.

There really isn't anything terribly wrong with feeding a microphone preamp into another microphone preamp, provided, it has the ability to accept a high level, line level source input. If you have a pad switch on your computer audio interface, you're in luck. If no pad switch, it still may be doable? But you won't know that until you have breached its maximum input capabilities? Which might only be +10, +15 and where these preamps are capable of delivering +24/30/32 and more. So you would lose all that head room that the premium preamps have to offer. And then head room is what separates what actually really sounds professional and what doesn't. So he'll are making something of a willy-nilly choice based upon advertising and marketing blather. It won't get you to where you want to go that way. You might get a very sweet sound that will be rife with overload distortion that you cannot control? Most microphone preamps do not come with an output level control. Though some do. Not familiar with the one that you are asking about? Is it transformer coupled input? What made you decide that one over others? I'm old school so I really don't keep up with all of this new crap. There is no reason for me to do so. Like there was no reason that Alan Parsons was using any limiters of his seminar/presentation in Nashville. Well you know you can't get by without all sorts of plug-in compressor/limiters right? Wrong! Not. A lot of great engineers don't bother with those dynamic range limiters much. I use huge amounts of it but then my work is quite different from studio productions. Where I am less likely to use any compression and limiting if it's not absolutely necessary. And frequently, it's not necessary. But all you guys playing with stuff in the computers want to play with all of the software all the time. And it makes everything rather cruddy when you do that. It's frequently overkill. You don't grab an EQ because something doesn't sound just right. You change the position of the microphone or you change the microphone and the position first. And if you've done that well, you'll need very little EQ in the mix.

You don't even need that SM 7 for $300 + when a simple $100 SM58 can deliver results every bit as good without compromise. Well there's two small compromises a low-cut filter switch and a flat or presence boost switch. BFD. You've got equalizers that can do that. Is that worth an extra 200+ dollars to ya? It screws onto the microphone stand and won't fallout of the clip if you forgot to use the gaffers/duct tape to secure it with. So that's just being lazy and stupid. I have an original SM 7 and I use it interchangeably with my 57 & 58's because it sounds the same when the rolloff switch is not engaged and the flat/presence switch is in presence mode. And that makes it a 57 or 58. The differences in how far or rather how close you can get to the front of the microphone capsule diaphragm. The 7 restricts you to about 3 inches from the diaphragm. You can get within 1/4 inch of the diaphragm on a 58 or 57. And that's the difference you are hearing, it's the distance from the diaphragm. It ain't a really different or superior sounding microphone. So why waste the extra $200 +? Get a better preamp instead. That will make a bigger difference than someone's unknown crispy microphone preamp and a 7.

It really comes down to whether you want that classic rock 'n roll hit sound? Or someone's so-called state of the art blah blah product to attain some kind of fanciful state-of-the-art sound with a Cloud Lifter? Not! Don't be ridiculous. You're not reengineering the wheel or the mousetrap are ya? No. Didn't think so. Bottom line is, you don't know enough to actually know what you want. Clean, clear, neutral, transparent are just marketing rhetoric words. It has nothing to do with the sound or the quality. Everything made today cheaply, exceeds the specifications of everything that we've used over the years costing many of thousands of dollars more. So if you want to go with state-of-the-art, transformer less junk, it don't make no difference what you choose to use you will lose. But if you're a young guy and you like that thin, crispy, empty sound I'm hearing that is so prevalent today, then your choices are absolutely fine. You'll be as wonderfully mediocre as all the rest. And I get the impression you want more than the best of what mediocrity has to offer? Now you've got some proper information to better make your purchasing decisions with. And what the professionals generally prefer for themselves. That's why we're professional and you're not. Most of us here have been doing this professionally for between 20-50 years each, not collectively. I've been doing this professionally for over 42 but I've been doing it for over 50 years. I got started very young, extremely young. Before my teens. Before my age was even into the double digits. And I started cutting professional commercials for radio, with grown-up announcers, by the age of 12. At 15 I was a regular part-time engineer for the Community College of Baltimore's radio station, WBJC FM at 50,000 W ERP (effective radiated power). 17 at the largest studio complex south of New York City. And on and on and up and up I went. Because I was first good with the knowledge and the use of the equipment at hand. There isn't anything I can't deliver a good professional product with if the equipment is simply functional. Even if it's 30-40 year-old gear.

So there's a professional breakdown for ya. Now ya can make some intelligent decisions.
Mx. Remy Ann David