School me on mic preamps - Looking to buy

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by schwiz, Feb 16, 2017.

  1. schwiz

    schwiz Lefty

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    Looking to purchase my first mic preamp for my home studio. I'm planning to use an SM7B and Sterling Audio ST51 through it. I don't need multiple channels, however it may be nice later on.

    The SM7B from my understanding has an output level of -60dB, so I want a preamp with enough juice to make that sucker sound decent.

    I'm looking for recommendations for solid single channel preamps, new or used, in the $300-$600 range (if that's even possible). I could spend a little bit more if I really need to. Would prefer a rack mounted form factor, but can deal with whatever size or shape if the price is right.

    Can any of you seasoned guys start me out in the right direction? I know guitars and guitar amps, but know virtually nothing about preamps and mics.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Sumsar

    Sumsar SS.org Regular

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    My first question would be; What is your experience with recording? Are you completely new to it or what?
     
  3. schwiz

    schwiz Lefty

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    Been a home studio hobbyist for the last couple years, but am now venturing into recording bands. I have 2 local bands lined up to come in and record. Drums will be done at a rented space, not recorded by me. I will be doing all the guitars, bass, vocals and synth.
     
  4. Sumsar

    Sumsar SS.org Regular

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    Okay, so I assume you have some kind of audio interface that probably also has preamps? (most ones have nowadays)

    Basicly my question is: What have you been working on so far in terms of audio interface, monitors, room etc.
     
  5. schwiz

    schwiz Lefty

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    I've got a Scarlett 18i8, Axe Fx II, Rockit 8's, a semi-treated room, and a closet for vocals (lol).

    The area I'm lacking in is drum and vocal recording. I don't intend to record drums yet.
     
  6. jerm

    jerm SS.org Regular

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  7. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    This may not be the advice you want, but if you're going to be doing recording/mixing for money, I would be focusing on whatever is going to give you the best return for your investment- and it's not likely to be a fancy preamp. Your gear is only going to be able to get you as far as the weakest links in the chain, and out of the items you listed, the mic pres on the 18i8 are probably not the weakest link (some would argue that the Rokits are the weak link, but I've got nothing against them). Finishing your room treatment, getting some good mics, maybe adding some headphones or another set of monitors, and *practicing* with the gear you've got to build familiarity are all going to get you farther IMO.

    Also, get a good pop filter. Also, don't forget to factor in cost of things like stands and cables.
     
  8. Sumsar

    Sumsar SS.org Regular

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    Right, so seems like your scarlett should be all fine for your preamp needs.

    If you must go and buy a more expensive preamp you should be able to answer this question with ease: What it is that your want the preamp to do that you don't find your scarlett does?

    A more expensive preamp will not make your recordings sound better, they will just make them sound different. The focusrite scarlett is a very clean preamp, which does not color the sound a whole lot. Analog preamps usually color the sound a lot more, so which one you should get (if any) depends on what you want it to do.
     
  9. schwiz

    schwiz Lefty

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    I'm diggin both the Focusrite and the WA12MKII. Thanks for the starting point! Lol, I have to stay away from GS... especially at work. Wouldn't want the cyber team wondering what I'm up to, haha.


    It's not, but sometimes we all need to hear things we don't want to. I do believe that this preamp will give me a return on my investment though.

    I joined Nail The Mix last month and have gotten some pretty damn good practice lately. I've learned to mix around my room and have also discovered where my monitors are lacking. Still do need more practice mixing tho; you and King preached reference tracks and that has helped me immensely. My plan is to keep sticking with it. If I legally could, I would post some of the mixes I've done. Once I'm done with Cognizance, I'll post it up (legally can share it). As far as my room treatments go, I'm not quite done with those either yet. I just measured my room, and need a few more bass traps so I'll be making those soon (they're relatively cheap tho; no need to factor cost into preamp budget).

    I've outgrown the preamps on the Scarlett. They are not very good for mics and will not properly handle the SM7B without adding a bunch of distortion. All in all, there just isn't much "color", so I'm looking for something that's a dedicated preamp. Thanks for stepping back and helping me look at "the big picture" though!
     
  10. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    I'm not super familiar with the SM7b 'cause I don't have one, but I think the rest of this statement is incorrect. When a recording doesn't quite sound the way you want, it's incredibly difficult to pinpoint the reason in some cases, but any modern interface with built in preamps is easily good enough for anything from garage demos to commercial releases. It's far more likely that mic choice, mic placement, singing technique, how you're processing the vocals, etc., are the source of whatever you don't like. I don't mean that as a jab at your skill set, but I have very little doubt that if you don't like the results you're getting, it's not because of the preamps.

    I'm using similarly budget preamps - worse, it's a 10 year old Tascam us1641 - and despite spending nearly a decade with this device, there has never been a point where the quality of the preamps has been a bottleneck in terms of either producing results or continuing to learn. There have been moments where I *thought* the device was holding me back, but every time I thought that was the case, I eventually learned that it was something entirely different holding me back.

    Part of learning how to record is learning to identify bottlenecks and learning to work within/around your constraints. Once you have a bare minimum of the gear you need, the gear is almost never the problem.

    :2c:

    That being said, I'm not saying "don't buy a preamp" if that's what you want to do. Maybe it'll be a significant improvement. I just think it's not best bang for the buck at this point.
     
  11. schwiz

    schwiz Lefty

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    Agree to disagree.
     
  12. Sumsar

    Sumsar SS.org Regular

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    I have to agree with TedEH here, especially after checking out your youtube / soundcloud. I can hear that you are well on your way, and if as you said you have joined Nail the Mix and mixed a ton lately then you are doing the right thing, which is to improve your skill.

    No offense meant at all, just some healthy advice (especially for your wallat):
    You are the bottleneck, not the gear you have.

    That being said, you don't need acceptance from us to go buy a preamp. If you have the money and want to buy an expensive preamp, then do so :)
    All we are saying is that you should not expect it to make a very big difference in your mixes.
     
  13. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    S'all good. :cheers:

    I think in any creative endeavor, the creator themselves will always be the biggest bottleneck.

    I vaguely remember at one point there were threads here and elsewhere that basically said there's not much improvement in higher-cost preamps over built-in/budget ones until you start spending some big chunks of cash. I'd be curious to know if this is still the case, or if more recent tech has improved to the point that there's value in "mid-level" independent preamps.
     
  14. tedtan

    tedtan SS.org Regular

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    The SM7b is a low output mic and you'll probably need more gain than what the Saffire gives you in order to record cleanly with it. You can get this inexpensively by using a device like the FETHEAD or the Cloud Lifter to add more clean gain between your mic and your interface. You can also buy a preamp that gives you plenty of clean gain (Shure recommends at least 65dB of clean gain for use with the SM7b).


    I guess this comes down to what you consider big chunks of cash. The Focusrite ISA and the Daking Mic Pre One are both improvements over interface preamps for around $500 (less used). From there, it comes down to what flavor preamp you want in two broad categories:

    - Colored Pre Examples: Neve 1073, API 512, UA 610, Telefunken V72, Chandler Germanium, etc.

    - Clean, Transparent Pre Examples: John Hardy, Martech, Grace, etc.

    These are mostly made by small shop and/or individuals, so the price is higher than what it would be for something made in a larger production factory (no economies of scale), and they all sound different, but that doesn't mean that they are inherently better than another option. Better is subjective personal preference.

    mickrich recently posted a thread comparing guitar tracks reamped through four different preamps (API A2D, Neve 1073 clone, Focusrite ISA and a Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 (same preamps and conversion as the Saffire interfaces)). Here's the vid (wav files are linked in YouTube the description):



    These aren't night and day differences, but I can definitely hear clear differences between the four preamps. And the differences can be more obvious on vocals, acoustic guitars, clean electric guitars,and so forth. Is that difference worth the price? That's something we each have to answer for ourselves based on our financial situations. To me it is.
     
  15. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    I'm only using apple earbuds right now, but I can barely tell the difference between the four, if any. I can't tell if I'm hearing differences because I think there should be differences or because they're really there. Through some good monitors maybe I'd hear it, but it's extremely subtle. Subtle enough that I think comments like this:
    are at least in part a matter of hearing what you want to hear instead of what's actually there.

    If you intercut between the four pres at almost any point in the song without the visual aid, I don't think anyone would ever notice. And it's certainly not a big enough difference to hinder the mix process or to destroy an otherwise good mix.

    That goes back to my comment about the weakest link though. If I'm not monitoring through something that's good enough to demonstrate the differences between preamps, or if my hearing is not "trained enough" to pick up those differences, then the value of a good preamp is wasted in terms of extra mixing potential, IMO. I guess it's a "your mileage may vary" kind of situation, or maybe I'm a terrible sound guy, but I'm not sold on it.

    Edit: And yeh, the earbuds aren't making it easy for me to hear anything subtle. Also if most of the difference is in the low end, these earbuds aren't going to show me that - but at the same time, most mixes cut out a lot of guitar low end anyway, so for this application it would be reducing the differences again anyway.
     
  16. Descent

    Descent SS.org Regular

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    I have JoeMeek TwinQ that I got for about $600. I have to say that it was a revelation. I can crank my mic input for a little saturation, level things out with transparent opto comp and eq before going to DAW.
    That's how I worked in big studios and it has done wonders to vox, bass, guitar, even as DI and 2bus mastering processor.
    It was definitely a wow moment for me.
     
  17. schwiz

    schwiz Lefty

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    I could hear the difference between all 4 of those, and that Saffire was the most dull and honky. I really liked the Neve the best. Thanks for the replay tedtan. That Cloud Lifter looks like a pretty neat little device, however, I'm not sure its right for me.

    Descent, glad you like the TwinQ, it looks incredibly powerful. Question for you... do you use a reamp box in your signal chain with the TwinQ at all? What does your signal chain look like when you're tracking guitars with the TwinQ?
     
  18. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    Not gonna lie though, this thread has resparked the ol' "maybe I really should get around to modernizing my recording gear" line of thought I keep coming back to. :lol:
     
  19. tedtan

    tedtan SS.org Regular

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    I've done that numerous times and, while the difference is less noticeable when blind tested, I can still hear it. And it's enough to make the mixing process a bit quicker and easier. I could still get good results without the better pres, but I prefer them given the option.


    mickrich posted that on three or four different sites last week or the week before. Here are my comments from his post on the Andy Sneap forum.
    The Saffire preamps lack the clarity of the other pres, but they get the job done. It will just require a bit more work in the mix in order to get the tracks recorded with them to both sit in mix and stand out of the mix.
     
  20. KingAenarion

    KingAenarion Resident Studio Nerd

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    Have you already bought the SM7B?
     

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