How much difference does a great preamp REALLY make?

Discussion in 'Preamps / Channel Strips' started by Clowd, Nov 21, 2008.

  1. Clowd

    Clowd Guest

    So it's about that time for me to start looking into the next big studio upgrade. I want a great preamp (mainly for vocals and distorted guitar) and a distressor.

    but how much difference does a great preamp really make? Right now I have the pres in my allen and heath mixer and an ART tube PAC. They sound pretty good but my mixes always lack that little professional something. It's that like undefinable extra sheen/thickness/something that I can't really describe.

    How much of that is pres as opposed to me just sucking at mixing?

    edit: and in addition to that, which will give me the biggest benefit? A great preamp, or getting the distressor and using that with my current pres?
  2. fmw

    fmw Guest

    I don't want to get into another audible difference thread but let me just say that the professional "something" you seek won't appear magically with a different mic preamp.
  3. AudioGeezer

    AudioGeezer Active Member

    Nov 10, 2008
    a great preamp is a great way to start the process.
  4. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    This thread could go on (and probably will) for days abou the pros and cons of mic pre's, how much they're worth, what they do, what they don't do, and what they sound like, under what load, what mic, what impedance, what kind of cabling, blah blah blah.

    You'll never get one definitive answer, and that's KIND of the fun of it. It's as fascinating as it is tedious.

    It's a VERY emotional and subjectve topic as well, people have their favorites, and you can easily get into strong disagreements with folks. In time, you'll have your favorites too, no doubt about it. This may be based on fact and specs, or it may be based on a great session you had with a smokin' hot singer, on a very good day, or a big paycheck from a hugely happy client. Good mics and good pre's are as SUBJECTIVELY important as they are technically important in many cases. A great session here, a hot overdub there, you'll come to love one much more than the other, often for reasons you can't really explain or justify. (There are VERY VERY few double-blind third party mic and pre-amp shootouts done with any provable, non-subjective results. It just doesn't work that way.)

    But back to your main question about that extra "Something". Chances are, it's not necessarily the mic pre alone that will make a big difference.

    Don't get me wrong, a good mic pre will certainly help, and a GREAT mic pre will not only sound a bit better, but it will remove the pre from your list of possible things to change for the better. (Dunno if that makes sense, but once you've "Arrived" with good mic pres, you can stop worrying and get back to the business of RECORDING MUSIC, not lab tech'ing.)

    I suspect you need to do more recording, testing, listening, etc. to fully grasp the concept of the imporantance of Talent, Room, Mic, Pre, etc., in that order of importance to improve your work. Never discount the importance of great talent in FRONT of the mic. You'd be surprised how quickly that "extra something" will appear with the right performer and performance, regardless of the pre and the signal chain. When gear is working properly, most of these things should just help you shape the sound you want, not CREATE it.

    It does sound like you're ready to get some new pre's and prehaps some outboard gear to go with it, but I'd hold off just a little bit longer and do some serious listening to other folks stuff to see what your needs will be. There's a lot of great stuff out there, but only YOU know what's going to work. You just don't know YET.

    Choose wisely. :wink:
  5. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    Wise words from a wise man.

    I agree with Joe 180%. The gear hunt is only the part of the equation thats there to tickle the fancy of the engineer side of us all. And lets face it, wthout all this gear to discuss we'd have a lot less hits on this forum.

    Talent, room, mic, pre.....those are in the correct order. Its up to us as recording enthusiasts to provide the little things that fill in the gaps between these points. One greatly overlooked aspect is 'VIBE'... I cant say enough about the comfort level of a facility being an important part of bring out that performance by the talent that 'jumps off da tape'...

    This includes a lot of small but vital details such as good monitoring for the phones system, a comfortable relaxed atmosphere and above all a confident and talented person running the controls whos able to provide the talent with insight and an accurate ear for the capture of those special moments.

    If great gear puts you in this position, then it serves its purpose on several levels.
  6. fmw

    fmw Guest

    Amen. Great recordings are made by people, not by equipment.
  7. Greener

    Greener Guest

    I think they are made by people using equipment.
  8. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    Amen. Great people make great recordings using equipment. Not great equipment, or grating equipment, just whatever is there.
  9. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2007
    Some people can be grating in a discussion about players and equipment :)
  10. StephenMC

    StephenMC Member

    Dec 10, 2007
    You're all cheesy.

    Like grated cheese.
  11. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    Wonderful post Joe! Frame it.

    I made the move you are thinking about last spring. Got an API 3124 and a Langevin DVC. The thing that I noticed immediately is how much easier it was to make good recordings. You can drive these things hard and they sound great. No need to baby them and keep them in a nice safe range. The ultimate difference in the sound may indeed be fairly small, but they made a great difference in my experience recording music. Yes, I think my recordings sound better, but I'm not exactly on a plateau on the learning curve. My recordings will probably sound better six months from now even if I switch to worse equipment. Another great point of Joe's: no more excuses. The first time I say, "well that song sucked because the preamp was an API 312" I'll have to sell all my stuff and take up knitting.

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