Amateur Audiophile seeking preamp

Discussion in 'Preamps / Channel Strips' started by Jonathan, Aug 27, 2017.

  1. Jonathan

    Jonathan Active Member

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    Hello audio nerds!

    Audio noob here and I've been looking at the dbx 286s as a potential option for a microphone preamp. I like that it includes an expander/gate. I was also looking at the ART Digital MPA-II (not exactly sure what A/D conversion is exactly)...

    What are your suggestions for units similar to these? I am definitely prioritizing the preamp side of it, but a rack with other toys built in (compressor, effects, etc...) sounds appealing.

    Currently, I am plugging straight into a Profire 610 and firewire to my macbook. When I am recording signing/rapping (higher volume vocals) its fine, but if I want to record a podcast for example, I'm finding myself needing to crank my input almost to 100%, at which point I start hearing a bit of a noise floor.

    Thanks in advance for the help!
     
  2. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    Hey Jonathan, welcome to RO.

    I've used the DBX 586 and owned the ART MPA pro 2. At this price point less features generally better. As a pre amp alone I prefer the Art, since it had a smoother (less peaky) sound overall. I've not used the 286.

    Out of the two the ART is likely goin to give you a better pre amp. Having dual channels can help in your case as you can keep one channel set for singing/rapping, the other set for your podcast.

    While compressors and gates are useful, those on the DBX 286s are really trimmed down versions. The DBX standalone compressors like the 166xl, or 163x, can be had for under $100 or right around there. I found the Art pro mpa 2, paired w a 166xl, to be a competent and affordable stereo, pre/comp/gate setup feeding my M-Audio Fw1814 interface a few years back for my home demo stuff. There was plenty of quiet gain, and the DBX was punchy sounding. I did anything from vocals to acoustic/electric guitars and hand drums with it.

    If you want a low cost channel strip that's an all that in one unit, the Presonus Eureka Channel is the only way to go (imho). That unit also has an AD conversion (digital option). We use the Eureka at both commercial studios i work out of, and it has been picked over calrec, and Manley units which cost 5-8x the price. Particularly with vocals it's about matching the unit and mic to the voice, so it's not uncommon for this to happen in general, but is however a testament to the quality of the Eureaka. It's got a decent eq, and very transparent and useful compressor that you can slam hard without causing negative side effects. Perfect to learn on. The DBX will give you artificacts if set improperly or unknowingly. This doesn't mean it's bad, it just means some more care must be taken, to use modest settings or learn it a bit better. The pre amp in the Eureka is transformer coupled, which is cool. It's always possible to swap in a new xformer in the Eureka, or new tubes in the ART, to improve them a bit. Although both are just fine stock.

    As far as the digital option, those offer conversion from analog to digital signal which is what your computer speaks, digital. If you were to use the option you'd plug it into the back of your profire via a digital cable, likely spdif or adat/lightpipe.

    Two advantages are the conversion is probably a little better in the preamps than in your interface. And also using the digital inputs on your interface frees up 1 or 2 of the analog (mic/line) inputs on your interface.

    For the sake of simplicity and good quality the Eureka with digital option gets my vote. Second would be the Art pro 2 non digital, along with a DBX 166xl compressor/gate. If you want just a pre alone, the Art digital is a good choice and tough to beat. The non digital pre is just as good and is less cash outlay.

    If your shopping used you can usually get the digital option in either units for barely, if any extra.

    Other than that there's no units in that range I have experience with. And I believe both units to exceed their price points and hold their own against some very high end stuff, albeit not typically beating the high end stuff. In other words you can't go wrong with the Eureka or the ART units. They will be useful as your collection expands.
     
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  3. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Well-Known Member

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    I have a profire 610 as well and I never have to crank my input volume to 100% -- what mics are you using and what program are you using to record with? Let';s look at your signal chain first and get a sense of your gain stages to look a little deeper into this. I'm using my profire with both condenser and dynamic mics as well as through the mic and instrument inputs etc and I have no issues with noise floor from having too high an input volume.
     
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  4. Jonathan

    Jonathan Active Member

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    Im using an AT4040 and ableton to record.
     
  5. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Well-Known Member

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    Are you using the phantom power button on your interface? What's you gain setting in Ableton?
     
  6. Jonathan

    Jonathan Active Member

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    yes I am using the phantom power.
    My gain setting is set to 0 - meaning, I dont have the volume up or down on the channel.
     
  7. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Well-Known Member

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    How high is the gain on the physical knob on the profire? -- think of the dial on a clock -- what time is the dial set to?
     
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  8. Davedog

    Davedog Well-Known Member

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    I will second and third the Presonus Eureka as a stand-alone single channel strip. There is nothing quite as good in it's price range and honestly several points higher. I never really liked the DBX 286 strip. Like Kyle said "stripped down" and you can hear it. I still own an original ART MPA. Although it's on loan to my son-in-law....I've tried the Gold version and it's really 'okay'.

    I still use the Presonus that resides among my own Manley, ViPre,True Systems, Focusrite etc and it still has a use.
     
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  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Well-Known Member

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    The 4040 is a condenser mic, requiring phantom power to operate. It sounds like you have a handle on that part.
    It requires far less gain than something like a Shure SM7, which is a popular dynamic mic, but because of its low output, it does require substantial gain to operate at its optimum. You shouldn't be having a gain problem with the 4040... does your current I/O preamp have a pad button, and if so, do you have it engaged?
    Is there a pad switch on the mic that you have selected?
    My personal opinion is that sound quality, which includes sufficient gain and conversion quality - should be the things that are important, and not that a particular device should have built in compression or expansion, or EQ.
    Unless you wanted to shell out the money to get something of high quality with those things built in... the lower budget devices aren't really going to give you the "pro quality" that I believe you would like; and remember, you have a plethora of EQ's, Compressors and Hi and Low pass filters built into your DAW in VST (plug in) form that you can always add to the track after it's recorded. Your main focus should be on getting the best sound quality (good preamp section, good gain), good conversion) that you can get for the money you have to spend, and not necessarily on the extra bells and whistles, which you can always add to your tracks after you've recorded them.
    IMHO of course.
     
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  10. Jonathan

    Jonathan Active Member

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    For rapper (louder voice) like 1 or 2 oclock
    For my voice (podcast or whatever) like 4-5 o clock - almost all the way to the right.
     
  11. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    Donny brings up a good point about the Pad switch.

    Also is the mic near the computer? I'm guessing the noise is coming from the condenser picking up ambient noise in the room.

    Maybe getting an sm-7 a classic hip hop, and broadcast mic, is the way to go. And it's within the price range your speaking of.
     
  12. Jonathan

    Jonathan Active Member

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    Thanks for the reply Davedog!

    As a single chanel strip, I would thus be limited to one microphone correct?
     
  13. Jonathan

    Jonathan Active Member

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    Thanks for that reply. Good points. I'll check on the attenuation pad (soundcard and mic alike)
     
  14. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Well-Known Member

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    Also check the software for the profire and make sure you've routed the signal and set the correct output levels to the master and headphone controls.
     
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  15. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Well-Known Member

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    The SM7 is a great mic, and not just "great for a dynamic", but a great mic, period.
    Although, because of its lower output than most condensers, you will either need a preamp capable of supplying its gain requirements, or you will need an inline preamp, something like The Cloudlifter, or Cathedral Pipe's Durham, to give you the additional gain you'll need for the SM7 to run at its optimum.
    These inline preamps, or "gain boosters", operate by using the phantom power on your current pre (or any pre that has phantom power), and converting that voltage to an additional +20db of available gain.
    While not generally needed with condenser mics, it can be very useful with lower output dynamic mics (such as the SM7B) or when using Ribbon Mics, which traditionally also require an amount of gain not generally available in lower priced preamps, to be at their best performance. Many "budget" model preamp/i-o's have lower gain ratings, and require that you crank your input gain to "full" to get good levels - but when you do that with cheaper units, you run the risk of getting more noise, which is often noticeable on those less expensive preamps... so having an inline pre, which is balanced (and quiet) can be a good thing to have around when working with those types of lower output mics.
    FWIW ;)
    -d.
     
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  16. pcrecord

    pcrecord Quality recording seeker ! Well-Known Member

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    Maybe you are just too far from the mic while podcasting ??
     
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  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Well-Known Member

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    Marco (@pcrecord ) brings up a good point - presumably, your performance for rap is more dynamic/charismatic than your voice would be for podcasting/narrative stuff...
    though, I would still check to see if you have a pad engaged somewhere. According to the specs, the 4040 does have a -10db pad..
    Echoing Marco's question, how far off the mic are you when podcasting? If you are off of it too much, when cranking your pre's level, you would be hearing much more "room" ambient noise.
     
  18. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Well-Known Member

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    The AT4040 has one of the highest outputs of this class of phantom-powered fixed-pattern cardioid microphones.

    I'm not being rude, but just to check: you are speaking into the front side of the AT4040 and not into the end or the rear side? The AT logo should be facing you.

    shopping?q=tbn:ANd9GcRyv9FMNB6ht7YIRQG6d2t2JocNUOClwG-t5aT-xPhOEx-WpM21SyG1mF9vrQ&usqp=CAc.jpg
     
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  19. Jonathan

    Jonathan Active Member

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    No offense taken :) Yes I am!
     

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