Mid-priced preamps vs. included ones on interfaces/mixers?

Discussion in 'Consoles / Control Surfaces' started by Lunatique, Feb 28, 2008.

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  1. Lunatique

    Lunatique Active Member

    Sep 9, 2007
    Sacramento, California
    Home Page:
    I have a Line6 Toneport UX2 and a Behringer Xenyx 1622FX, and I've been thinking about adding a hardware preamp like a Grace Design Model 101 or a Universal Audio Solo/610/110, or even a channel strip like a PreSonus Eureka or dbx 376.

    I'm wondering if I'll get big improvements, or I should continue to tweak the vocal preamp models in Toneport's Gearbox to get better sound. Right now I feel that the preamps I have on the audio interface and mixer are decent, but they don't have any real headroom, especially for a mic like the SM7A, where I'd have to crank the preamps all the way up for decent volume. (My other mic is the AT-4033, which being a LDC, is comparatively easy to drive.)

    I record vocals (all kinds), acoustic and electric guitars, electric basses, synths, and pretty much anything else that can fit into my project studio. I also compose a wide range of styles and genres--pretty much anything you can think of.

    So, can anyone compare the preamps on audio interfaces/low-end mixers to the hardware preamps I mentioned? Will the cost justify the improvement, or are we talking about diminishing returns here?

    Another angle is that I can tweak the recordings ITB with plugins--EQ, compression, analog warming emulation (PSP Warmer), and if that is enough to get me great results, I'm fine with it. But since I've never used a dedicated preamp/DI box, I don't really know if I'm missing out on anything.
  2. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    Mar 31, 2007
    North Vancouver
    Neve 1073 would be on my list. Buy a kit and make your own.

    Or Great River Electronics preamps which are upgraded versions of the 1073 pre-amp.

    Define mid-priced? 2k down?
  3. Lunatique

    Lunatique Active Member

    Sep 9, 2007
    Sacramento, California
    Home Page:
    Well, I guess my idea of mid-priced is actually considered low-priced (like the Grace Design Model 101, or UA Solo/610 or 110).

    Most importantly, I want to know how much an improvement I will get compared to stock preamps on audio interfaces/low-end mixers like the ones I mentioned in my first post.
  4. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    Mar 31, 2007
    North Vancouver
    Sorry Lunatique, I got off on a tangent. But yes you will notice a difference. Even a simple Aphex 107 would be a significant improvement over the Behringer Xenyx pre's. I have not tried the grace model, but I have played with the 610 for a night. I found it very warm and coloured. Nice for certain things, my experience with it is limited, but I am not sure it would be first choice for vocals though.
  5. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    Odds are better on an Aphex 107 still working in 6 months too :)
    At least when compared to a Xenyx
  6. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    Mar 31, 2007
    North Vancouver
    Yep they are made very well, have decent components, and very easy to mod!

    For the $100 USD on ebay, they are a steal.
  7. magicdog

    magicdog Guest

    Hope you don't mind me butting in here...can you tell me a little about the mods available for the 107...?

    Also, you mention the 1073 kits for home build - where do I find them...?

    I'm also in this situation with a Soundtracs Topaz 32:8 with reasonable pres, a TL FAT2 and a Toft EC-1...I really want to go to the next level with my mic preamps and it's mighty confusin... :?
  8. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    Nov 13, 2001
    if you are asking this question then you are not ready to start a full 1073 project


    I love DIY and would never want to put you off a little equipment DIY'ing
    but a true 1073 is not a beginners project

    also there are no full 1073 kits ... as such
    there are some short form Neve-like mic-pre kits and almost kits out there

    Seventh Circle from Tim in the US
    JLM Audio from Joe in Australia
    are good starting points

    both have build forums
    if you want more or have any trouble just ask me
    I don't want to HiJack the thread

    baby animal, baby animal, baby animal, baby animal,
  9. magicdog

    magicdog Guest

    Thanks for the info.

    Who said anything about beginners...? I have built effects pedals and three different valve guitar amps so I know one end of a soldering iron from the other... :)

    Just because I have only just joined doesn't necessarily imply beginner - I have been involved in music for over 25 years... :wink:
  10. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    I think Kev's point was more to the point of...
    "If you don't know how to work a Google search to find the kits, you probably don't want to dive into building a Neve clone."

    His point is valid since there must either be a LOT of built-in knowledge in the builder or an instilled knowledge of where to find that information.

    I'm not trying to be a butt - I promise (it's always hard to tell in plain text), just clarifying.

    BTW - Welcome to RO.

    Damnit Link! Stop telling everyone about these or their price will go up!! :wink:

    Seriously though - I have a couple here in house and find that with no modifications necessary, they're quite nice. The opamps employed throughout are Analog Devices models and really can't be improved very easily without major cost and reworking.

    The only mod I would strongly suggest would be better pots. The ones on the Aphex stock units get a little gritty over time. I personally prefer a stepped switch in place, but a detented pot works well too (at a fraction of the cost and build frustration).

    Just be careful though- once you start the DIY stuff, the bug will bite you. I did my first DIY project "in the public" here a few years back with the help and direction of Kev. Since then, I've just about ripped everything that I own apart and either have tinkered with it or have plans to do so. (I'll be leaving my mega-buck stuff alone until I'm a HELL of a lot more qualified though...)

  11. magicdog

    magicdog Guest


    Thanks for the info - I realise I was a little lazy...must try harder...!

    The reason I joined was the Forum - it's excellent and I will make much use of it I'm sure.

    Thanks again for the help.

  12. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    Nov 13, 2001
    I could be blunt here

    the DIY Jedis are still talking about
    and the full Neve channel strip 1066 to 1081

    making parts of these can be done by those that have some experience

    but make the 2520 descrete opamp and get the matching and control the thermals ... and then get it to sound like the original is not for those that want a quick kit

    the full Neve 1073 has a parts list and cost that make many DIY'ers panic
    I have a full set of Transformers and Inductors and switch units for a couple of channel strips
    this projects remains on the back burner because it is a time consuming project
    ... side note the Group DIY 1081 build and group buy started here and was migrated to the other place and some of the guys have completed the project ... see the Meta Files

    then there is the DIY'ers dream of the Fairchild
    ... this should stay a dream

    but for the experience DIY'er ... like yourself ...
    an API312 styled mic-pre with a purchased DOA of any variety is very do-able

    A Neve-esk mic-pre is also well documented.

    I'm not trying to put you down OR put you OFF making anything
    but do follow the path trod by those before you and make use of their failures
    there are some excellent cost effective DIY projects out there
    there are some Fantastic, Stunning projects in both Guitar Amp and Recording Rack Gear that will have your friends dribbling with envy

    do your research and go fo it

    I'm back
    couldn't resist and even though it is way out of date and the cross links will probably fail
    and I have no intention of updating any of this for a long time
    ... too many complaints
    but here it is

    just one of many that hide deep inside the Factory
  13. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    Don't worry. I think of anything over $1K per channel as "boutique." (Not that that's a bad thing.)

    There is a clearly audible improvement even between mid-level mixer and interface preamps and those in the category you are talking about. As far as how big the difference is, the only thing that I can say is that it's not as big as the time you first find the sweet spot for the mic or finally get the gain structure right. I have yet to find two pieces of equipment at any price difference that sound as different as good technique and bad technique.

    If you search for preamp shootouts you'll find a few with sound clips. The one at recordingreview.com requires you to sign in, so I won't link; but I encourage you to do the search if you are interested. You can download samples of guitar and bass recording through Mackie VLZ, API, Great River, etc. It will give you an idea of the magnitude of the difference on a pretty forgiving source (distorted electric guitar and bass).
  14. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    Mar 31, 2007
    North Vancouver
    lol- Sorry Cucco- I just love the find.

    As for mods. I changed a few of the op-amps, I would have check what I put in. I also put a lower gain tube in. I think I added a LC filter to the power supply rails. It was about 3 years ago, so I would have open it up again to find my brain again ;>

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