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Preamps and Channel Strips and Bears Oh My!

Hey crew, since ya''ll are such a wealth of information, I would like to once again express my lack of knowledge, this time in the field of preamps and channel strips. There is so much out there it's easy to get a little overwhelmed. I'm not going to lie that I'm a little enticed by the strips with EQ and compressor and sometimes a few more toys because my primary DAW (Reason 6) is dramatically lacking in this department. Like all my equipment though, I think for the future and should probably start with just a great pre and think compressor, and other stuff later.

Application- Home studio/ Music style, electronic based jazz/ acoustic mixture. Mics used primarily for acoustic instruments and vocals. Line level inputs for guitars and Bass.
Symptom- everything is coming out very clean, ribbon mics are doing a great job of adding warmth, but I'm still missing some character and the "sound" that I'm looking for specifically with vocals. As a side note, the reverbs in my DAW are horrible and I would accept any advice in this area as well.
Typical signal chain- Mic, cloudlifter for gain on ribbons and dynamics, Tc Electronics konnekt 48, mac.
I have no problem with what I'm getting from micing acoustic instruments and using the active circuitry in most of my guitars. They all sound clean and wonderful and seem to find a place in my mix almost without trying. What I am unhappy with is the character of my vocal recordings just isn't blowing me away. They are good and clean and pretty warm, but something is missing and I don't really know how to explain it. I want to feel like the vocals just had *** with my ears and I need to be held afterwards. In the old days this was like the difference between a tube amp and a solid state amp. I can use the computer and digital circuitry to lie with everything else, but it just ain't happening with the vocals. An old friend recommended anything in the Focusrite ISA series or most UA stuff. What is everyone using these days for vocal processing FX anyway (plug-ins or actual rack stuff)? By the way, a single XLR + a line level input would be all I would really need for this project, so I can avoid the costly preamps with 8 ins and all the bells and whistles. Your expertise is much appreciated


RemyRAD Sun, 10/07/2012 - 17:49

It really depends on the kind of mojo you think you're lacking? I find a lot of the mojo comes from simple discrete transistor operational amplifiers and a couple of decent Transformers. This can be anything from a specialized rackmount device to a 500 series module. Something old or something new regenerated from an old design. There's a reason why the new designs are giving you what you're getting. Perfectly clean, perfectly transparent, perfectly neutered. And with that, your audio cannot bang a gong and get it on.

So while you're looking at the Focus right (or left) and the UA stuff, you should be really looking at the Neve & API stuff. Man that's because most of our most memorable sounds like what you want, come from those. And that's all I use. Of course I'll use anything when I have to. But those are the units that made the recordings that I liked the sounds best from. And because I cut my teeth on those consoles. There's just no real reason to bother with anything else unless you want something else? We're not looking for better sound. We are looking for the sound we love. The sound we fell in love with. I've never fallen in love with anybody specifications, ever. Not even from the sounds I love. But then I don't listen through my eyes. Things that sound better to most people only sound different to me. You've already got the best sound. But the best sound is not what you want. It's what you love that you want. So don't go for the old tube stuff today. The tubes ain't what they used to be. And no more God damned Telefunken's! Dag nab it! Not a GE, RCA, Raytheon, Sylvania, no. We get our choice of one section of Taiwan or the other section of Taiwan and I'm not much into communism of the electronic type. Russian tubes use too much vodka and are about as consistent as that last bachelor party you can't remember. And integrated circuit chips have too many transistor junctions with which to choose. So you need those silly little things made by hand. How many turns of wire do you want on your microphone transformer? 150 ohms or 1500 ohms? Come on come on now (snapping my fingers and expecting results) decision time is at hand. Now what do you think you're looking for? Don't worry... it's still in your pants.

Well I don't exactly know that?
Mx. Remy Ann David

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Eraserfish Mon, 10/08/2012 - 02:32

Dang it Remy, now you have me really interested. I 've just been checking out the whole 500 series thing. I'm really enticed by the lunchbox 6 card format. It would let me be able to grow into a really awesome system as I feel like putting down some dough. The 550b card sounds like the bomb for eq, and I'm hearing good things about the V26. What cards are you a fan of? Also, when it comes to chaining these together are you guys using a patch bay or just daisy chaining in the back of the unit (i.e. pre-amp to eq then to compression). It would also be cool to just grab my lunchbox and go to my bro's studio; too cool. One last question, as I've mentioned in a previous forum, I fixed electronics for many years and I'm no fool with a soldering iron, are there build kits where I might save some bucks putting cards together myself?

RemyRAD Mon, 10/08/2012 - 14:57

What Kurt said. These really look like the way to go for the efficient current project studio and then some. While many of these modules being introduced are simply new form factor reissues, others are quite new. You can even plug in old original release API 550's pre-A. So there are used console items that can be had and used in those powered racks.

One thing I might add about these powered racks? With most, the power supply is built into the rack. This will frequently end up causing some kind of pure 60 Hz hum, be it quite low, only in the module closest to the power supply. That's why a lot of consoles utilize outboard power supplies. In fact I personally prefer mine that way LOL. Even on my API 3124's, I almost never utilize nor use a ribbon microphone on input channel number four. And not many people know that about that unit considering its cost. I've actually thought about out boarding the power supplies for my 3124's? I mean quieter is better isn't it? And you don't want to be humming unless you've forgotten the words. And the words aren't, " sorry about that 60 Hz trainride ". LOL.

Even AMS Neve is making a new reissued 1073 module which had to be split between two 500 series modules. And those have a daisychain feature built into them so that you can have one complete 1073 from input to output. Or a separate microphone preamp and a separate equalizer from a 1073. You can even get all sorts of other classic console module reissues such as the Harrison 32 C series.

You know those 500 rack is really not a new thing? Essentially many of our custom made pieces that we made at NBC radio and TV, were modular rack pieces with edge connectors so you could plug in API 550's, 312 cards, other stuff, Dean Jensen microphone preamps, API 325 summing/output cards, relays, push buttons, volume controls, you name it. All completely custom, all completely modular going back to the early 1980s and earlier.

I read recently that Neil Muncey had passed on. He was another nearly Putnam legend, Rupert Neve, Saul Walker, Dean Jensen, et al.. I still have eight channels from one of his custom consoles labeled " SSI " (Suburban Sound Inc.) all MelCore 1731/ API 2520's inside his stuff. Never met the man myself. All the other guys, sure. Well maybe I did?

Harrumph... damned damage 57-year-old brain!
Mx. Remy Ann David

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pan60 Mon, 10/08/2012 - 16:58

I am a 500 format slut from day one! So I say grab a lunchbox or some type f the frame and try a few things.
Lots of very high quality choices out there lots!
Decide if it is mid punch to fat bottoms and many can offer some great input.
I am an all for try it if first as we ALL will have different taste so work may work for me may not work for someone else.
I say get the best mic you can ( and that does not mean the most expensive, I love dynamics myself ), and start trying to decide what you are wanting.

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Eraserfish Tue, 10/09/2012 - 07:41

@ Pan60- yeah it's funny but as I've been researching I've been seeing your name all over the place. Looks like you are quite the 500 guru! Every once in awhile in life we find something really interesting, and I can see myself getting very into this 500 deal. When I was 16 or so and was just getting into music and electronics, I would rip apart all my stomp boxes and trace signal path and by 18 I was building frankenstein units with the circuitry from boss pedals and a hush pedal every once in a while to kill noise. I would love to pick your brains in the coming months about what cards you think are worth building/ buying and using. The first three on my list are a good compressor, a good eq, and a really good pre amp for ribbons and dynamic mics. Your opinions are very much appreciated. Are there any forums on specifically for 500 stuff?

Thanks @ Kurt and Remy. I just checked out the workhorse 500 and that truly is the holy grail of cases. Looks like you can patch everything with the flip of a switch to chain the cards together. Honestly I found a lunch box case for around 200 bucks so I will probably get that and focus on building some cards. That's what I love about this is that you can always upgrade later and just swap cards. Really cool. Remy mentioned mojo, and I think that's what my recorded vocals are lacking. What do you guys consider a bad-a$$ mojo-ish pre amp card? The 550 eq kit is going for about 400 bucks without the xformer and dual op amps. To bad my german neighbor wasn't a secret recording engineer and could just let me try out his 500 cards to see which ones I like best. Feel free to tell me what your guys' favorites are; I'm easily manipulated.

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Davedog Tue, 10/09/2012 - 09:33

As Kurt suggested, the Radial is the best as far as having a power supply that allows full swing implementation of several devices at once. A lot of the other lunch boxes have as many slots but when everything is going at once they tend towards 'browning out'. And having the ability to change the order of the devices in a chain without physically changing them is a great advantage. They do make a Radial without the mixer also. This is on my list and as my local professional equipment supplier is a dealer I've gotten some time to dink with them. For a 500 format its the bad-ass choice. For the 500 series its all about the power supply.

As far as cards with extreme mojo, the Burl stuff is incredible. And dont discount the Radial units either. For ribbons the True systems card is made specifically for them. Theres two versions.

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pan60 Tue, 10/09/2012 - 18:41


for those that my not know, i was really pushing companies to move to the format with the intent of making it the de-facto standard. just to many module systems, i thought one was enough. with the aid of a few companies that believed and users that goy onboard and a few hurdles, i think we have succeeded. there will be even more products for the format coming out again this year: )~
And we have companies with more on the drawing board!
I have a very very large collection of 500 format gear, far more then what few articles I have.
Plus we have many many manufactures lunchboxs and or racks.
My personal opinion, Purple make a smoking rack, and love the API lunchboxs and racks.
Any new API lunchboxs will have no issues with a lack of power or a brown out has [[url=http://=""]Davedog[/]=""]Davedog[/] mentions. This was a concern with the older lunchboxs as so many companies where build somewhat outside the specs, but no longer an issue.
And for those on tight budgets we have several companies hitting the market will low entry price points this year. Not yet sure as to build quality but I believe they are targeting entry level with ( from what I am told ), some good solid gear.

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Eraserfish Tue, 11/13/2012 - 02:56

GEAR UPDATE- Well I took the plunge and decided that the 500 series would offer me a lot of flexibility for the future. I went humble with a workhorse cube, an MA5 preamp, and a Buzz audio Essence for compression. Fathead ii Ribbon and AT 4047 for vocals and guitars and I think I will be getting a little more mojo in my mixes. I'm looking for suggestions for an 500 series eq that will go well with this signal chain. Is it possible to get conflicting mojo? I'll post something in 500 series stuff about eq's. Thanks again for the great comments.

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Kurt Foster Tue, 11/13/2012 - 05:25

check the [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]Great River Harrison EQ[/]="…"]Great River Harrison EQ[/].

it reminds me quite a bit of the super parametric eq's in the MCI 600's which should not be a surprise as Harrison had a hand in the design of them.

RemyRAD Tue, 11/13/2012 - 11:35

I really don't know anyone that didn't like the Harrison EQ's. I'm just one that does not believe that parametric equalization is a necessary entity? They certainly have their place and George certainly made it popular. He wanted it for his mixing style even though he's done mixing and recording on vintage Neve consoles, whose equalizers, were far more limited yet still produced a golden sound. Not everybody needs parametric's. Simple great program equalizers like the API 550, while not being parametric, is a different Q, at different levels of boost and cut known as proportional Q. Then you have those simple ass, Neve EQ's. With just a single high-frequency shelf at 12 kHz, a couple of mid-band, fixed Q freaks, couple of low frequency shelves and a switchable high pass filter. Certainly no versatility there buddy hit records came out just the same. So what's that tell you? It ain't the equalizers that makes for a good recording. One of my favorite and I think most versatile equalizers one could have in their console, recording rig, is a 9 band graphic. The ones I had in my Sphere, were designed similarly to, utilizing similar componentry, with ferrite core inductors to a Neve. And then you have the API 560. Which is kind of like a graphic 550 but can actually be a lot more useful and more broad ranging and what you can do. Then you can get those for the 500 series racks. So that's nine stages of control rather than just three or four. And there's no doubt about it... those guys sound great. You won't need any parametric honey boo-boo. You just want the right equalizer to give you that special je ne sais quoi. Which isn't necessarily parametric.

Lots to choose from
Mx. Remy Ann David

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pan60 Tue, 11/13/2012 - 13:32

i love the Great River as well as the API have them here and love them both: )
I would say what do you want from the EQ?
For a more natural and surgical the Great River.
for punch and a great well known vibe the API 550
for something with some ass in it, the A-Design EMP-EQ
LaChapell make a great EQ the as a broad Q and is more for just a big coloring but the EQ is not a color EQ itself.

The Electrodyne is another one of my favorites, simple sweet and to the point. And a great vibe as well.

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Kurt Foster Tue, 11/13/2012 - 14:43

different tools for different tasks. but i personally would prefer to have a parametric only than a non- para eq.

it would be wonderful to have a selection of all types. no replacing a Neve or an API though. each has it's own distinct sound. but i think the Harrison is the most flexible. with the GR / Harrison you can switch the mid bands to a wide q and the hi and lo's to shelf thereby getting the same effect as you would with a non para eq. broad swipes or surgical eq at your finger tips.

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pan60 Tue, 11/13/2012 - 15:34

Agree, keep a pair of the Great River EQ32 for regular use here.
but i also have the A-Designs EMP-EQs ( among a number of others ), at my fingertips: )

All great EQs I say decide what you want and go from there. Although these are different coloring tools they are all nice and versatile EQs. kinda hard to pick a wrong one!

Another great little EQ that I love is the JDK Audio's ( formerly Arsenal Audio ), V-14s.

If I correctly recall I think me and scot cover some cool info on EQs in this article?
[[url=http://[/URL]=""]pan 60, LaChapell Audio 503 3-band EQ Review[/]=""]pan 60, LaChapell Audio 503 3-band EQ Review[/]
Granted it is based around his 503 EQ but still some great information.

RemyRAD Tue, 11/13/2012 - 19:41

What he meant by map, as in mapping, is the ability to assign any of your digital controllers on your control surface, to selected functions within the software's capabilities and to follow the mapping to that particular control in which you choose on the control surface. Some of these digital control surfaces only feature a single programmable digital controller that can be mapped through different functions on a single digital rotary controller. It's not something that would be fast for live purposes since it requires stepping through different functions. Which of course can still be accomplished but not like multiple controls to grab at, that are preprogrammed for specific functions. Since I'm an old-school analog console user, designer, builder, I like a full function console like surface. That comes in more expensive larger format digital control surfaces such as Fairlight, Digi/Avid C-24/ D-Control/Icon/002/3, etc..

I don't use any of that stuff
Mx. Remy Ann David