Clean Mic Preamp

Discussion in 'Preamps / Channel Strips' started by James_Jonasson, Jun 30, 2005.

  1. It's an age-old topic, but I wanted to consult the people that read this thread. I have a lot of respect for you because of your courtesy, your discerning ears, and your preference for clean sounds.

    I would love to be in the market for a preamp, but that requires money. However, I would like to purchase a very nice preamp or two after I finish my current album projects.

    I mostly record acoustic folk music and blend in world music instruments (Celtic, Indian, Latin). I really like getting clean, accurate sounds and then adding any coloration in the mix.

    The Question
    Have you had the opportunity to directly compare any of the following preamps:
    D.A.V. Broadhurst Gardens #1
    Great River MP-2, MP-4 or variations thereof
    dbx 386
    Aphex 1100
    Demeter HXM-1
    Lipinski L-408

    I know these are some odd choices, but they are a combination of units I heard on the 3D Audio preamp comparison CD and preamps I've read great things about (including at this forum). I'm not really intrigued by all the hype about The Brick, but if anyone has had a chance to A/B it with one of these, that would be interesting.

    Impressions on how you would characterize these units would be great, as well (i.e. clean, airy, warm).

  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Now that's a varied set of pres. One of these things is not like the other...
    dbx 386??? Oddball choice - on par with the Focuswrong platinum, PreSonus stuff.

    But, your other choices are all fine preamps. Some are quite transparent and quite expensive others are somewhat colored but good choices.

    The BG has obviously gotten many positive votes from key forum members here, so not much more needs to be said about it. I'm not that familiar with it anyway, so I won't comment.

    The Demeter and the Great River are quite similar in build quality and overall sound. Both will give you a clean but controlled sound quality. The Lipinski - perhaps Joe should field that one.

    IMHO, the sleeper on your list is the Aphex. The 1100 is a fantastic pre (with a high price tag to match) that sounds good on most anything. Perhaps even more of a shock is the 207 - it's a darned cheap pre that sounds pretty friggin good in its own right. I use a modified 107 on many projects and simply dig it. I would put the 107 that I use up in the same ranks as pre's from more costly bretheren such as Focusrite Blue/Red, DBX Blue, and other big name fellas. Simply put, for the money, it's hard to find a better value.

    Of course, then there's the brick. I've really enjoyed the few sessions that I've used this on. I'm about to record a classical guitar album with a few world premier pieces and I'm struggling on what pre's to use. The GTs might just make it in for this round over some of my biggies including my Graces and True Systems stuff. Then again, I'll try the Aphex too.

  3. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Los Angeles, CA
    Home Page:
    I'm going to start sounding like a broken record soon, but I've gotta put in another plug for the new A Designs Pacifica. Like Plush and the BG pres (I still need to get some here), I gotta mention these things.

    Very clean- 72 dB of gain (!), not straight wire with gain (but then again, some of pres you mentioned here aren't either), but a sound that works quite well for acoustic music.

    I've used the Demeter and it is a pretty darned good pre, but not perfectly colorless, IMO. I'm not thrilled with the DBX- certainly not in the same leage as some of the other stuff you mentioned.

    IMO, color isn't always bad, but it needs to be the right kind of color for the gig. When I was a student at Eastman, we had a Quad-8 Coronado and a little Neve in 2 of our control rooms. We made absolutely stunning recordings on both of those boards. Old-school classical recordings that we often point to as being the pinacle of recording were done with decidedly colored gear (tube mics and tube pres with high noise floors and limited frequency response).

    I'm not sure I'd use a DW Fearn or Tubetech preamp for acoustic music unless it was to correct a major shortcomming of a situation. However, there are many clean pres that impart a touch of color. Another favorite of mine in this category is the Hardy stuff- especially the twin servo model. You're putting the signal through dual opamps and transformers, but you still have a pretty amazing sound.

  4. Thanks, Cucco.

    The dbx is a weird pick. I routinely dislike dbx products. However, I ended up choosing it over more expensive preamps on a couple of listening tests. I did, however, write down 'reasonable, but uninspiring' as the description. I guess the other selling point was the price (especially considering that it has digital outs). So, I didn't want to rule it out completely, even though I generally don't like dbx.

    It's interesting that you mention the Aphex 207. I own a 207, which I really like. Now that Aphex released the 207 digital, I would be very interested in getting one of those (at $400 new, they're a pretty fantastic deal). The only downside would be the fact that it would mean I would only have one preamp color in my small studio.

    The preamp that I have personally heard that thrilled me the most with its wonderful sound was the Great River MP-2MH. Unfortunately, I'm only able to save about $100 a month for gear, so it would be ages before I could afford something like that. However, if it's the right thing to get, it would be worth it.

    Thanks to Cucco and thanks in advance to anyone else who is able to give some input.

  5. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    If you want "clean and accurate" it is a little surprising that no one mentioned Millennia.

  6. Markd102

    Markd102 Well-Known Member

    Apr 24, 2001
    Me too :wink:
  7. mathieujm

    mathieujm Active Member

    Dec 17, 2004
    Toulouse - France
    I too use a modified Aphex 107, but I simply bypassed the tube stage. For me, it's far better now : better headroom, less noise and really cleaner. So the RPA tube stage ??? Cucco, did you compare on the 207 the insert output (just the front end without the tube) and the normal output ?

  8. 0VU

    0VU Active Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    I've got quite a lot of preamps but my personal favourite for clean, accurate/transparent gain is the Crookwood Paintpot. (Or the iPre multichannel system.)

    I have a Millennia HV3D but I find the Crookwood is less inclined to sound clinical/cold on brighter sources. It's not that it's dull or soft sounding, just that it seems not to emphasise anything.

    I sold my BG1 as I wasn't using it enough. It's a very nice amp and definitely a big cut above the crowd but I didn't feel that it was that special; not in the same super league as Crookwood or Millennia - though given the price differential it's amazingly close. I didn't find it especially clean or transparent, at least not in the same way as a Millennia/Crookwood/Buzz/etc.. Or perhaps I should say, I felt it was clean but not neutral, more open, smooth and very slightly warm sounding. Not that that's a criticism - just a personal observation - it's a very good preamp and extraordinary value for money. If I was looking for a two channel preamp in the <£750 categtory, there's very little readily available competition in the UK for for the BG stuff and it'd be high on my shortlist.

    Obviously though, this is all very personal - my idea of neutral and clean may not be yours - and highly dependent upon the kind of sounds you like, the other gear you use and and the way you like to work. Sometimes two preamps can sound all but identical until, for example, you load one with a really long cable run, change the mic or drive it hard. Often, how you use the preamp within your particular situation/working practices counts for a lot more than small variations in sound from one "clean and accurate" unit to another. All you can do is get hold of the things on your shortlist and try them out for yourself.
  9. Markd102

    Markd102 Well-Known Member

    Apr 24, 2001
    Nicely put
  10. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest


    Contact me privately off-list: I may have something you'd be interested in.

    Mike (
  11. Plush

    Plush Guest

    I really like 0VU's comments and philosophy.

    The Crookwood Paintpot is an incredible mic amp!
    We have used these for 12 years and they must be considered as, in my opinion, one of THE top mic amps in the world.

    Crookwood sound is liquid and electronic design is inventive and unique. There are 4 mic amps in the stereo Crookwood bucket. Yes, that's right! Each mic amp amplifies one phase of the stereo signal and they are then combined at the output.

    There is also subtle EQ (think QUAD tilt control) on the old Crookwood Paintpot. I believe this has been deleted on the "new look" version.

    They are little known, but the sound is rich in 3D and with a silent background. The Crookwood sells for $2000.00

    Tonally, I agree with 0VU's comments on the Crookwood and the BG#1. I have never found the Crookwood bucket to sound clinical and this is my objection to Millennia. Millennia is laboratory clean.
    I suppose my hailing of the BG is because it IS warm sounding and flattering--but still accurate.

    Still, the best thing to do for great sound is pray for a great performance.
  12. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    While the subject of Crookwood is being discussed, a little-known fact is that his new range is remote controlled and can also include A/D converters.

  13. 0VU

    0VU Active Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    The original Paintpot, Rackpot and Mic Brick systems were also all remote controlled - in the case of the Rackpot, Mic Bricks and "Headless" Paintpots they only worked via remote - no front panel controls. The old 2U RemotePot however, isn't part of the iPre range; this uses the new Igloo hardware.

    I was talking to Crispin a few days ago; he's putting together an 8 channel iPre unit to tryout/ use on a special job I've got coming up in a few weeks time. Unfortunately, he can't do the A/D stages in time (so Prism will be supplying one of their new hi-res ADA8s) but was able to confirm that the digital option works, is based upon the same Crystal chipset/topology as used by Prism and a few others and will run as standard at 24/192 with selectable dithering/SRC down to whatever rate is required. I'm looking forward to trying them out. It'll be interesting to see how they compare with my normal A/D.

    One very useful little bonus is that the analog and digital outputs are active simutaneously so I'm thinking, digital feed straight into Sequoia/Radar with the analog feed available either as a front end to an analog mixer or a separate multitrack backup, or to provide an isolated split out to another company. The best bit about the A/D option is the price - about £200 per stereo card :) If they're anything near Crispin's usual quality that's quite a bargain.

    I plan on building a more portable rig over the next few months, particularly for smaller scale work, and see a rack of 8 or 16 Crookwood iPres with digital outputs as a really good, flexible front end. For best portability it could work with just a small format PC running Sequoia/Sadie LRX (I've yet to try it but it looks good on paper), doing a monitor mix in the box and a stereo DAC or something like the Grace M902/M904/Cranesong Avocet/Crookwood monitor controller. Alternatively it could work as a top quality remote controlled front end to an analog mixer with the digits on backup duties to Sequoia/whatever.

    Either way it looks like a seriously good and very useful package.
  14. Plush

    Plush Guest

    The fact that the new Paintpots will not work with our current investment in the RemotePot is unfortunate.

    Perhaps there is a workaround?

    Otherwise, I find the investment in all new iPre gear to be unacceptable.
  15. Crispin

    Crispin Guest

    Plush, hi.

    Rich asked me to add my 1/2 p worth here: The new Crookwood Paintpots have been designed to use a less expensive remote, as the majority of customers only needed to control a few channels remotely.

    However I'm putting together a software power up option that will allow you to control it as a original Paintpot, and combine Paintpots of any vintage, Rackpots, as well as the newer iPre's all off the same original remote.

    I should have this ready fairly soon. The only disadvantge is that the old remote protocol doesn't support control of any internal AD's, but I can have a look at this as well, as the need arises.

    I appreciate the investment individuals make in buying ours or anybody else's piece of kit, and as long as you're happy with your original Crookwood kit, I'm happy to do my best to support it.

    Have fun!
  16. Plush

    Plush Guest

    Now that's a major response from a MAJOR dude!
    Thank you Crispin!

    This is very good news.
  17. reptilealien

    reptilealien Guest

    What was the mod?

    Just curious, what did you do to modify it? I own an Aphex 107 and would love to tinker with it. I like it, but maybe you could help me love it.
  18. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    That's a good question.

    When I touch a soldering iron, things go terribly, terribly wrong. People die and universes collapse...

    I have an electrician friend who happens to be a killer guitar player and loves to tinker with this stuff (He's also a high-school physics teacher). Having owned the 107 and realizing how inexpensive they are, I gave it to him to tinker with.

    Prior to that, I had replaced the tube with a GT Gold series and was pleased with the results.

    When he gave it back, he handed me a bill for just under $40 in parts and said that most everything in there was already good quality.

    The changes that he made were subtle but quite noticable. I'll ask him to see if he recalls everything that he did, but it has been over 6 years now.

    If I recall right, he mentioned something about increasing the voltage to the starved plate.

    One thing that I never try to understand are the inner workings of an electrical engineer's mind. I just listen, smile and nod with deepest respect.

    J. :D
  19. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    Mar 29, 2005
    WY / CA
    Home Page:
    Is the 107 the "tubessence" unit with the wall-wart power supply? If so, I had taken a peek under the hood back in the day. The only function the tube provided was to add some distortion. The part of the unit that actually provided mic pre-amplification was an IC. Its no joke that the tube was starved; running on 25V instead of say 180V. "Gimmicky" was my impression. I have to admit, however, that it did sound better than some of the prosumer console pre's of the time.
  20. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Yep, you got the right one.

    In general, I was also impressed with the sound out of the box. It images well and is quick enough to pass off transients realistically.

    Compared to the other "cheap pres" on the market nowadays, it's still a giant leap above them.

    As for the tube adding distortion - it was VERY noticable beyond a certain gain threshold - I'm not sure how they designed it (see comment above regarding my EE know-how), but you could tell it when the tube officially "kicked in."


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