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Old June 20th, 2009, 09:27 AM   #1
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Tube Preamps... your thoughts

Got nothing to do with audio for video. Simply a studio recording question.

I am using a Firepod and the preamps are great. However, I know from experience that analog is going to give you a warmer tone than digital. So instead of the digital preamps, I was wondering if purchasing a two-channel tube pre-amp would make a huge difference in the quality of my recordings.

My applications would be to record acoustic guitar, close-miking amp cabs, vox, V.O. for video, and a warmer snare tone. For the acoustic guitar, I use a three-mic set-up, but can easily get away with two (wide diaphragm at the sound hole, hypercardioid at the 12th fret) if the tone is better. I struggle with extremely tinny sound of even the top level Martins. I want that warmth. I'm just wondering if a tube pre-amp would make that much of a difference.

I use a wide variety of MXL condensers as well as Shures. I hear a lot about complementing the pre-amp with the microphone, but I would rather have something that's good all around.

What are your thoughts? Is there much of a tonal difference with a different preamp? Also, what do you recommend if you use one?
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Old June 20th, 2009, 01:24 PM   #2
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You'll probably get a more helpful response to this over at the Home Recording BBS ( Home Recording - Powered by vBulletin )
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Old June 20th, 2009, 03:20 PM   #3
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Tube hype

Modern tube pres aren't gonna make a huge difference. your money is better spent on better microphones.
Today's inexpensive "tube" gear is for the most part just Marketing hype, the tube gear that would make a substantial difference is VERY expensive, and even then would not make as much of a difference as the proper Mic. Depending on your budget you could acquire one or two solid small diaphragm condensers and it would make a world of difference.
shure sm81, neumann km184, AKGc480 or 451s, mics of that caliber. an XY in a wide stance at the body to neck joint is just absolutely amazing sounding when you use good mics.
A good mic will make 100 times more of a difference than a pre-amp, sonicaly. and of course you have to have a good sounding instrument to begin with.

to me the whole budget (and by budget I mean anything shy of Summit , Avalon and things of that caliber) tube pre thing is like adding a rear wing onto the back of your front wheel drive car, nothing but marketing hype.

And always keep in mind phase coherence when using more than one microphone on a single instrument, the technique you described with a large and small diaphragm mic will leave you with a few holes in the frequency spectrum due to phase cancellation.

just my $0.02

good luck
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Old June 20th, 2009, 03:59 PM   #4
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I use both tube and solid state preamps in my recording studio. I just changed the tubes in an old (12 years old anyway) mic preamp and was in the mood to do a preamp shootout so I ran some program music through several different preamps and compared them to the preamps in my digidesign 002 interface.
There was most definitely a difference between the tube and solid state preamps. The question is whether or not one is "better" than the other.
The trick in mixing multilple tracks is having differences in tone between the tracks so they all have their own space. I have spent years taking note on what instruments sound better through which preamp and mic setups.
I would have to disagree a little on whether the mics make more of a difference than the preamps. Many hit records have been recorded with a $100 sm57 through a really high end preamp. The trick is knowing what mic to use on which source. For instance, one of the most accurate mics in the world is made by Earthworks (i can't remember the model), it is absolutly flat and sounds great on drum overheads and strings and almost anything, but on vocals it was reviewed as absolutely terrible.
There really is no easy answer, just experience with the gear you have.
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Old June 20th, 2009, 04:49 PM   #5
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Tube pre

My response was geared towards his question as to why he is getting a thin sounding acoustic guitar, and if a tube pre-amp would warm it up...
and the answer is NO, what a tube pre would add and what a thin sounding acoustic needs is probably better addressed with a better mic selection, rather than a pre. thin sounding mics even thru the best pre will still be a thin sounding mic. a more accurate sounding mic will more than likely give him better results .

like you said mic selection for the instrument is the most important thing, and you are completely correct. Absolutely SM57 s have been used in tons of great recordings, and i believe any mic locker would be incomplete with out one or 10.

matter of fact a 57 will do arguably better job for some of the other things he is looking to mic up, as in the guitar cab and snare drum or even the voice work rather than the small diaphragm mics.

for the voice work a large diaghram condenser will probably be a better choice.

for a fatter snare sound try a diffrent snare that sounds like you want it to. or try a beyer dynamic m201 i like it better than the 57.

I guess the big question is... as it allways is ... what is the budget?

but in all his queries he is likely to achieve better results by having the appropriate mic for the application rather than a "tube" pre...

no matter how nice the tube pre is it will not make a poor sounding mic sound great, but it will give you a great representation of a poor mic.

there is no preamp in the world that will make a MXL $50 condenser sound like a neumann.

remember the old computer saying GIGO (garbage in garbage out) your sound quality is only as good as the poorest part in the chain. and your mic IS the first link.

$0.02 more
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Old June 20th, 2009, 05:47 PM   #6
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Thanks for the thoughts.

The tinny-ness is all across the board, really. Which leads me to EQ everything to the point it's almost muddy. Definitely a lose-lose. Sometimes I want the acoustic that way when mixing a full band, but most of the stuff I record are folky solo songs, so the acoustic is forefront.

The mics I use surely aren't the best, but they are far from $50 mics. I realize there is only so far I can go with these lower-grade mics, but thank goodness I don't record instruments professionally (all of my audio work is usually for video). And I've tried them in different positions. The XY you mentioned is the one I use most frequently for acoustic, and I throw in a third room mic for mixing. Theoretically I should be getting a good signal with plenty of room to play.

Which leads me to wonder whether it's the preamps. I'm sure I'd be better off getting better mics, but does a tube pre really not make that much of a difference?
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Old June 20th, 2009, 06:50 PM   #7
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pre

I did not mean to insinuate that what you have is poor, only that the preamp is not really gonna solve your dilemma.
i think you're eq approach might be where you can fix or make your recordings better, without involving extra expense. try sweeping a boosted eq around the frequency spectrum and find the freq that annoy you the most and cut those frequencies instead of boosting the ones you think are missing. this might just get you a more balanced sound with out the boom.
one of the hardest parts of getting the sound right is knowing the differences between what youre hearing and what you want to hear, that is what all of us recording engineers forever search for through out our careers, utilize that frequency trick, learn what the frequencies are and that will help you across the board. taking things out usually sounds better and more natural than boosting anything.

maybe post an audio clip and let us hear. recorded flat of course.

but seriously as far as gear goes I still hold to my previous posts.

another $0.02
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Old June 20th, 2009, 06:55 PM   #8
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One thing that you did not mention was the recording environment. If you are in a small space, or even in a larger space, but within 4 or 5 feet of a sheetrock wall, or if your ceiling is untreated, you may be experiencing comb filtering which could thin out a sound.
It sounds like you have decent gear and the knowledge to run it.
If it helps, here is a example of an acoustic recorded with budget gear in a decent room.
I used 2 cs100's in XY at the 12th fret, plus a direct line for the bottom end. I used budget tube pre-amps, ART dual MP (before I re-tubed it). This may be too thin for you as well because it needed to mix with other instruments. It's not a slick nashville production, but for $150, the customer is not complaining.

We Can Make It on Vimeo

To answer your question, if everything else is in order, you should be able to get a reasonable sound out of the stock pre-amps in the Firepod.
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Old June 20th, 2009, 07:00 PM   #9
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I agree with Gerry, but i have to say sometimes on the low end, even though products might be hype, they do have a certain colour which is unique and very un-digital...

Take a look at the ART Tube MP. Will instantly fatten up your tracking...especially if what you are recording through is a firepod. ART Tube MP | Sweetwater.com

They are cheap, quiet, you can use them as a DI. There is phase reverse button, which is seldom needed but a life saver sometimes, with multiple mics

And again they are CHEAP!
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Old June 20th, 2009, 07:15 PM   #10
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My apologies for linking to a completely screwed up video!
After I posted I decided to check the video out myself and realized the audio was quite screwed up. I have posted stuff before that came out decent but something happened in the conversion process on vimeo's end.
Not to hijack the thread, but if anyone can give me an idea of what happenend I would appreciate it. I can only guess that it could have something to do with the sample rate. I have to edit the video and repost it again anyway.
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Old June 21st, 2009, 03:34 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Browning View Post
Which leads me to wonder whether it's the preamps. I'm sure I'd be better off getting better mics, but does a tube pre really not make that much of a difference?
One of my favourite tools for microphone tuning is the Focusrite Vocalmaster pro. It has an amazingly clean digital sounding preamp with SPDIF output. The separate modules can be sequentially rearranged and include control over harmonics, compression, tubesound, EQ and de-esser. It's only one channel but it is a magic wand for any microphone. It came with a Bluebird mic which is very transparent.
Every tube preamp I've tried has been too noisey compared to all my digital gear. Haven't much tried the high-end tubes because there are better investments to make.
Like everyone is saying... You have to treat sound recording as an art like painting. You can paint in monochrome, you can paint in acrylics and oils, you can paint with mud and blood... as long as you paint good art, you've succeeded. Look at every acquisition of gear as an addition to your pallet of sonic colours.
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Old June 21st, 2009, 09:10 PM   #12
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Thanks again for the thoughts. I will give that ART a try. Probably worth the fifty smackaroos.

As far as space goes... I have two main (improv) settings. First is a partition made of a plexiglass drum cage and eggcrate for the walls behind it, on a hardwood floor (yea, I know... but you make due with what's available). The other, less often-used, is a carpeted storage room about 8'x8' w/ a little padding but nothing else - used mainly for isolation with amps and such.
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Old June 21st, 2009, 09:26 PM   #13
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Slightly related.... I had a tube compressor once, it was amazing. it literally "warmed" the sound, weird but there not other way to describe it. *sigh* if only i still had it....
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