Who Needs Fancy Preamps?

Brandon Drury —  October 14, 2010

For some time I’ve been trying to make sense of this preamps mess, which I find exceptionally boring, and figure out how to teach it here at RecordingReview. It’s a tricky mess for a million reasons, but in this article I’m going to try to add the proper context to this thing so that you younger guy, older guys, whoever can figure out where the hell you stand on preamps.

Hobbyist vs Crazed Hobbyist vs Total Idiot

First off, you’ve got to figure out what your engineering goals are. Are you just wanting to have a little fun making noise? Are you looking to be the flat-out best engineer you can possibly be? Are you looking to put together a pro facility in which you could record tip-top bands? Are you somewhere in the middle.

I think the biggest reason so many people are mislead on this whole preamp thing comes from not understanding a person’s needs. I’ve been struggling for a while in explaining why I’ve acquired some fancy pantsy preamps but then rarely recommend this upgrade to anyone here at RecordingReview.

The Music Always Takes Precedence

#1 I’m of the opinion that a person can definitely make exciting music with gear that is “just okay”. Stock interface preamps fall into this category, for example. Even in a not-so-hi-fi state (which high end pres in no way guarantee), exciting music means the recording IS exciting. This was the motivation for this blog: Preamps Don’t Matter?

I’d prefer to listen to great music with cheapo preamps over stale, boring crap any day of the week. Everyone with a pulse is this way. If they say differently, avoid them like a gay rapists with big guns.

Good New For: Broke and talented people
Bad News For: Skilled engineers recording uninspired noise, anyone untalented

Squeezing That Last Drop

#2 Dumb metaphor time: If cash is no object, you get the lightest gear possible for 10x the price when climbing Everest because too many people have died trying and that last 100 ft is harder than it looks.

Even the best engineers are going to have a hard time with that “last 100ft”….the thing that separates the ultra men from the men without the fancy preamps. Of course, #1 is still applies here.

Good News For: Skilled engineers with deep pockets who want to be ultra-skilled engineers, hobbyists who aren’t attempting to “climb Everest” and therefor don’t need idiot-gadgetry anyway
Bad News For: Broke people climbing Everest

No Bailouts

#3 There are a billion places a person can screw up a recording (with or without the high end preamps). Fancy pres don’t bail you out of bad sounding situations….ever!

Good News For: People who’ve really got their shit together……which is basically no one
Bad News For: Anyone trying to make a butt kicking recording

What’s Wrong With Cheapo Pres?

#4 The two main problems with cheapo pres is they sound “blurry”….kinda like a VCR tape where stuff is kind of smudged/smeared or they take on the megaphone effect a bit. How much? Not THAT much, but it’s certainly something no one I know would prefer.

You can clearly hear what I’m talking about in The Interrogator Sessions in Killer Home Recording. Once your ears are acclimated, it doesn’t take much work to hear how the cheapo pres compare to the high end pres. There’s never a time when the cheapo pre would win. The top notch pres always have this “extra excitement” in them while the cheapo pres seem more “sluggish”.

I divide the preamp thing into three categories: cheapo, adequate, and fancy. Once you get passed the cheapo stuff, the adequate pres do the job just fine. They may not add anything interesting, but they don’t murk up anything and they don’t add the megaphone effect. The True Systems pres fall into this category, among others. I thought the pres in the Yamaha MR816 weren’t TOO far from being adequate, but they didn’t quite make it. I’ve rumors that the pres on the RME Fireface 800 may be playing not too far from this ballpark. So when you read reviews about these upper-range interfaces sounding “amazing”, they really just sound “almost adequate” if we take the Total Idiot stance from above.

Adequate preamps do a fine job and could be used on everything without any real issues.

The special pres do a certain something extra. This “extra” thing could be good or bad depending on what you are going for (we’ll get into that) and this is where knowing exactly what each preamp is ideal for comes into play. Certain special pres push you into a corner a little bit.

#5 Not all fancy mic preamps are ideal for use on everything. Big, dark sounding preamps can cause big problem when using them on everything. Too many “big” sources makes mixing a challenge. It’s best to use the big sounding pres sparingly on the bigger stuff and use the tighter pres for everything else.

When I started out with my Vintech 1272 on the very first recording I had ever done (I was told I absolutely NEEDED it!….asshole!) Anyhow, that preamp is more on the bigger/thicker side of the fence. It doesn’t have the hi-fi sparkle that many pres do, but it does have a the Neve-style harmonic in the upper mids. All Neve-type pres have this and it’s a dead giveaway in shootouts. The Vintech does not have the hi-fi Neve thing that the Great River Neve-style pres have. It’s more of a darker sound.

This is not a preamp I would recommend starting with. Even though I do pull it out for certain things some of the time. The Vintech 1272 can be great on vocals that you don’t need to be ultra bright (particularly with an SM7b among others) but want to sound big. The lack of sparkle paints the 1272 into a corner that’s only useful at certain times. It kind of reminds me of when mom puts the special tablecloth on at Christmas. It’s only great once a year.

For what it’s worth, the pres in the Yamaha MR816 don’t have near the sparkle of a Manley TNT solid state channel, Martech, or Great River either, but the more neutral approach to their design makes them more usable across the board. There’s something impractical about certain high end pres as a daily driver. A person would be better off with a new Ford Focus than a 500Hp Hemi Cuda if they only had one car. For a person who only has single-car garage, there are powerhouse BMWs and Mercedes that can do the daily driver thing and can do it with super high performance. This is where the high end sparkly preamps mentioned above come in.

In short, spending big bucks on some random pre is not the solution and could actually get you into a place that is worse than decent interface pres.

Good News For: People with a wide variety of pres who know how and when to use them, People who have a single faster/tighter preamp they use on all overdubs
Bad News For: Guys overdubbing exclusively with one fancy preamp that may not be ideal for across the board use

My Recommendations

Hobbyists – If you are a guy just having fun, don’t buy a fancy preamp. If you want your recordings to sound good but have limited time and aren’t going to get upset if your productions don’t blow away the big boy bands, just have fun and don’t let anyone convince you need to make a huge investment.

Crazed Hobbyists – If you do this for fun, but have a few bucks to blow, have a little fun with adequate preamps first. You may not need a big selection and your needs will depend on if you are entirely doing overdubs or if you are recording multiple tracks at once. However, in this world, I recommend preamps on the sparkly side of the fence with tight low mids. You saw a few examples above. The True Systems stuff definitely gets the job done in this realm, but if you want to go all out the solid state Manley TNT channel is my go-to preamp for sparkly stuff. The Great River gear works really well. I definitely wouldn’t go with something not-so-tight in the low mids for my single pre again. Those were some long years!

Total Idiots – If you are going for the top and climbing Everest, I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I just bought a Toft ATB32. It supposedly has okay pres to hold me over when I run out of fancy stuff. I picked up an API 3124, a Wunder PaFour, and a Focusrite ISA 428. I’m keeping my Manley TNT and most likely selling everything I’ve had previously. (I haven’t decided about my Chameleon 7602s yet.)

I expect the API to end up on close mics on drums and probably most things I’m overdubbing. It doesn’t have a super sparkly top end and it’s quite colored. It’ll smooth out shrill stuff. My Manley TNT solid state is definitely sparkly and doesn’t smooth out anything. The X factors here are the PaFour and ISA 428. I’ll have to report back when I’ve put them to the test, but the Wunder should do more of the Neve thing with the extra harmonic in the upper midrange. The ISA should be sparkly like the Manley TNT SS, probably a little less colored, maybe a little faster. I’m speculating.

For what it’s worth, there are only a few qualities that are that important. Why a person needs 22 different models of preamps is beyond me.

  • Meaty Transients
  • Sparkly preamp with tight low mids (for brighter vocals, acoustic guitars)
  • Tamed Upper Mids, Harmonic Content (for most vocals, electric guitars)

You can make it much more complicated if you want to, but I don’t see the reason. I really do think the old view of just using a console worked on most the cds in my collection. I’ve leave the optional hair/atom-splitting up to you. I’ve got noise to make.

The tighter, more focused pres are where it is at for day to day tracking. There are times when you want the bigger, darker, and less-focused sound but the most part I’m not into it. In the tighter/focused category you have all kinds of options to choose from and various attributes that make them more or less ideal.

Here’s a 1992 Chicago Bulls basketball analogy that I think sums it up. Michael Jordan is API. BJ Armstrong is Great River. We are recording my “sparkly” acoustic guitars again. (Work with me, I know this sounds, and is, stupid.) BJ Armstrong is the point guard and so it’s his job to bring the ball up the court. Is it going to really be the end of the world if Michael Jordan has to handle the ball? Probably not. Basically, we get an extra point in the sparkly department by selecting the Great River. We don’t necessarily lose anything with the API. Your girlfriend probably won’t notice and the bass player definitely will not notice.

Then again, when all this stuff aligns and you select the pres that give you what you want at various times (and combine that skill with an equal amount of across-the-board engineering skill) the band will definitely notice.


Broke home recorders don’t have to worry too much unless their aim is absolute robo recordings. A hobbyist will usually have goals that are more modest than the guy engineering the next INSERT BIG BAND’s album. Some hobbyists are dealing with limitations in music, musicians, instruments, room, and engineering ability that hold them back and in any of those situations, the fancy preamp thing is unnecessary.

For the crazed hobbyist, If the wrong pre is used throughout a recording, a person can have their work cut out for them in mixing. Because of this, I highly recommend tighter, more focused pres to be used overall and then, in time, adding a big sounding pre for special situations (vocals, kick, etc).

For the guys going for the absolute echelon of ultra recordings, there are specialized tasks for various pres than can make life a little more fun. Understanding when to use what is part of the skill of a great engineer. While there have certainly been numerous recordings made with a console only, and great music music will always come through, most people agree that there are sound quality benefits to specializing.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

26 responses to Who Needs Fancy Preamps?

  1. Hi there

    Just wanted you to know, that I am about to offer original Neumann preamps, build in the sixties.
    They sound amazing, and is easy to operate.
    Have a look at:

  2. Great advice! I own an Avalon 737, which I use primarily for vocals. However, I also own a Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56, which I use as an A/D converter [under $1K]. Happily, it also includes two Liquid Channel preamps, which can emulate the top ten or so preamps (including changing the mike input impedance!). I find the combo very pleasing, as it offers anough variety for just about anything I do.

    So…, what do you think about these sort of emulators? Where would you put them in your recommendations?

  3. Thank you so much for this article. I have been really struggling with my home recordings, trying to get a more professional sound with very little money to work with. It’s a never ending battle.
    And while I’m still confused about pre-amps, this is a helpful article in getting my feet wet with them.

    Do you have any advice on where a novice can go to learn more and get hands-on experience with mixing and recording over-all??


  4. Brandon Drury has a definite point here. And it’s one that novice and beginning recordists should pay attention to.

    The “adequate preamp” type is where you should start – something with neutral sound. Get the sound source to sound like you want it – then record that sound, uncolored. It works! As I hear too often, “the song is the thing.”

  5. wow !!

    way over my head. I will need to find out about the gear you mentioned then re-read this.

    could you suggest something for this:

    my problem– small budget and also need low noise gain for stereo miking soft music performances eg chamber music. High SPL is not a factor. This is relatively quiet classical music not an in-your-face rock band.

    The hiss, or white noise / static, would be noticable and unacceptable without more gain. A *small* amount of distortion would be less of a problem, but clearly can’t accept a lot of other problems to avoid the noise.

    for a decent SNR I computed that with relatively efficient mikes I still will need 90 db gain at a minimum. affordable interfaces only provide about 60db (eg ua25ex emu0404).

    someone suggested using a peavey 6 mixer for its preamp to boost the mikes before going into the interface.

    That is affordable. and I could run the PV6 settings down some to minimise distortion and noise that could result wide open. And I could backoff the interface a bit too.

    Any suggestions appreciated.

    Keep those articles coming!

  6. for a decent SNR I computed that with relatively efficient mikes I still will need 90 db gain at a minimum.

    90dB? Ouch! I’ve got a feeling that number is a little high for a few reasons. The most obvious one is if your recording an instrument THAT quiet, the noise floor in the room itself is going to be louder than the source. Be careful with relying too highly on math on this case simply because it’s easy to grab the wrong number, throwing all our calculations off.

    When I’m doing soft voiceover type vocals with a Shure SM7b (miniscule output compared to an condenser I have) I use 55dB of gain usually.

    You didn’t define what your budget was, but for classical stuff, I’d DEFINITELY take a look at the True Systems stuff.

  7. I have been really struggling with my home recordings, trying to get a more professional sound with very little money to work with. It’s a never ending battle.

    You’ve got that right! It won’t ever end. When you improve, you just develop higher standards. I blew $13k in gear this week (new pres and a console) all in hopes of gaining 1-2% towards the goal. The secret is to have fun, work hard, but don’t drive yourself crazy. Constantly work to improve and educate yourself.

    Do you have any advice on where a novice can go to learn more and get hands-on experience with mixing and recording over-all??

    I’m biased on this one, but I spent 2 years of my life making it. Killer Home Recording

  8. Brandon,
    You left out one valuable piece of info from your preamp article. BUILD YOUR OWN! We are considered engineers, arent’t we? With a little patience, some sweat equity, and a little money, it’s possible to build a decent preamp from available parts. The NE5532, INA217 etc chips coupled with high quality film (polyproplyene) capacitors, and metal film 1% resistors can make an impressive preamp (or line amp). I am continously amazed that none on the current crop of recording magazines NEVER feature a build-it-yourself article on studio equipment. Must have something to do with advertising revenue. Rather than settle for mediocre performance from a low-cost budget item, why not break out the old soldering iron and get really creative?

  9. So…, what do you think about these sort of emulators? Where would you put them in your recommendations?

    Great question! I know the last Def Leppard album used the Liquid channel preamps all over the place. So that immediately puts the thing into “usable” category as far as I’m concerned. I didn’t think the album was a pinnacle of rock sonics, but it sounded fine.

    I’ve never used these gadgets. I’m always curious about them. The only reason I’ve avoided the Liquid Channel is resale value. My experience has shown me that marketing guys like to hype up innovations whether they are ready or not and then 3 years later release yet another gadget that is EVEN BETTER. That makes the older gadget obsolete. Of course, if the gear really is prime-time with no real room for improvement, it’s resale value will hold.

    It’s a tricky time for digital gadgets. We’ve struggled with not enough processing power since day one. In 4.5 years we’ll have 8x the computer power we do know (according to Moore’s Law) and when we shift from barely adequate power to way more power than we need, I expect an exponential improvement in these things. We’ll see. There is definitely a point of diminishing return in there somewhere.

  10. Brandon, iMO the ONLY pre you mentioned that would be UNIVERSALLY excellent on all sources is the Martech MSS10. Why do folks want to “color” bass drums on the way in?
    Folks, mics do enough colorizing as it is. Microphones should be the first concern. THEY are the ears of your recording. I’d spend the money there, before worrying about esoteric gear for bass drums. Of course, I think there is WAY too much emphasis by engineers on DRUMS. 1/3 of my mix window is WAY too much time, when I’m trying to get a deal on either an artist or song.
    My vocal front end is a GML 2020. I wouldn’t put some crappy mid fi mic in front of it, as great gear like the 2020 only exacerbate the mic’s deficiencies.
    My advice is to eschew multiple preamps, get 8 or more channels of something that works well on drums/guitars, etc, and spend the savings on extra MICROPHONES for specific purposes. I’d make sure I had one SUPERIOR, HIGH QUALITY MONO/STEREO pre for vocals and overdubs, such as fiddle/violin/cello/mandolin etc.
    Just my thoughts here.

  11. Brandon, iMO the ONLY pre you mentioned that would be UNIVERSALLY excellent on all sources is the Martech MSS10.

    Interesting, because I barely use that preamp. I don’t care for it, actually. Granted, we are talking inches here…..maybe even an 1/8″. I certainly prefer it to anything I’ve ever heard in an interface. While I’ve made it work a few times, it doesn’t fit my idea of what “good sound” is…..trashing it up with compressors still doesn’t get me where I want to be.

    Why do folks want to “color” bass drums on the way in?

    Good question. If a Neve or API gets them closer to the sound in their head, I ask “Why not?”. To suggest that Neve, API, and Trident are the wrong path, I’d guess than 90% of the records I own went the wrong path. Of course, this has little to do with our future recordings.

    I think the problem with discussing color is there is no real standard to gauge things on. We lose context. The difference is subtle enough between a Martech and a Great River that a) Some people confuse the Great River as being “clean”….which it definitely is not…..b) The laymen can’t hear a difference between the two.

    I’ve noticed I find the slight compressed upper mids of the API to be absolutely pleasing on just about everything. My cleaner preamps will get harsher, more sibilant, and more “spitty” in comparison. It’s not always the right sound, but the straight wire design isn’t always the right sound either….and that’s my point.


  12. IMA, I’m with you on this one. As a matter of fact, I either use no pre at all or something very subtle. I like to capture the best sound I can with a mic, and then edit it non-destructively after that. If something doesn’t sound right to me coming out of the gate, I don’t record it. It may not be for everyone, but that’s what I believe in and it works for me.

    I did an interview with a good friend of mine who was a famous producer in the 80′s. His name is Beau Hill. I asked him his opinion about mic pre’s and expected quite a bit of flac as well as an in depth response. To my surprise, he answered in one sentence.

    Danny: I have always had mixed emotions on mic pre’s. Though they can make a difference in a recording, do you feel that the use of plugins non-destructively can achieve the same results? I have been fighting people on this for years. To me, if my signal is hot enough and I like the sound that is going to disc, am I not where I need to be without using a mic pre? If I have a good sound without one, do I really need it?

    Beau Hill: No, you don’t…you nailed it…” a good sound without it…!!”

  13. Good article mang!!! Well put :). Just wanted to add a few bits:

    I own both an ISA 428 and a Liquid Saffire 56. The 428 is a brilliant and underrated all-rounder. It can handle almost anything, but it excels at capturing the top end (check out the frequency range of it)!! Acoustics and the right kind of vocals (that want the top end to come through) are brilliant. Plus the flexibility of the thing!! What other preamp on the market offers as much gain, impedance switching, and a variable high-pass filter on all 4 pres. Plus great instrument inputs, as well as insert points, 48v phantom, and phase reversal!! Also, if you’re looking to take the next step in your studio, you can get 4 top quality pres and get the optional AD board and now you’ve got top notch conversion as well. The AD board offers 8 channels of conversion, so the 428 comes with an extra 4 inputs so you can plug in whatever you want to go through the converter for those extra 4 channels. Also each channel has a great sounding soft limiter through the AD.

    My one quip with the 428 is its a bit too neutral and clean for electric guitars. Don’t get me wrong, you get a professional quality result, but it’s lacking that extra special sauce that a Neve or API style pre would get you (it’s a bit too clean for electrics). Hence you have to work a bit for it in the mix. Ohhh and it runs hot…as in temperature hot!!!

    As for the Liquid Saffire, this is another amazing piece of gear. All of the pres on it fall into the adequate category, so you get a totally usable signal that can ship a pro quality record. The benefit of the liquid pres is that you can also get some desired color in the ‘vein of’ whatever emulation you choose. I say ‘vein of’ because to a purist that wants it to sound EXACTLY like the original you’ll probably call foul. But for people like me who never grew up or used the originals, it gives you options to get that extra special sauce to match with the source. So it’s not 100% neve, but it’s still a professional grade signal. It’s like comparing a Brent Averil to an original API or Neve. Some say they’re not 100% identical, but that doesn’t mean the BA is a crap signal…it’s just its own flavor that’s in the ‘vein of’ those older style pres.

    Also, the AD / DA conversion of the Liquid Channel competes with any of the top end converters!! People seem to forget that over time, the cost of technology goes down. High quality conversion when it first came out and for a while afterward was expensive because it was new and growing. But enough time has passed where the companies making the converter chips have gotten the costs down (and in most cases the quality up). But since people are willing to pay for the name and products as they’ve gotten accustomed to it, they still charge that much. I’d put the converters in the 428 or LS56 up against any Apogee or Aurora and the difference in results would be so minuscule that you couldn’t tell the difference. At that point, your in pro-grade territory and those differences are a matter of opinion.

    OK, off my soap box :) Again great article Brandon!!!!

  14. When I played Blues Harmonica in the clubs I used an Art Tubepac pre and comp through an Art TubeEq into a Sony processer of which I would add effects to each song as needed. The Eq would ajust the Harp sound to the room as needed also. Then I would run my outs to the board and my Gibson Ga9 50′s amp. We would play 45 songs a night and I would play through every song not just solos. The point to be made here is that this same setup did not sound all that great for vocals. The Art pres were kind of dull and going into the Mackie would suffice. For recording at home I bought a Focusrite Pro vocal didn’t use it for a year til I bought the other recording gear. I overheated after the first recording and I found out that the cost to fix it was as much as the piece itself. They would not sell me the parts and there is only one service dealer in the US. It sits as a reminder of the year I worked to buy that unit. I now have a Summit Audio 2BA-221 and this is even better than the Pro Vocal I can use any mic I have and get great results. On the pro Vocal I had to use all the add ons to get what I needed. I can run my harp and vocal at the same time through the Summit and it has tube or solid state with 4 outs. There is only one true fact in using recording equiptment. You get what you pay for. If you have talent everything is variable. If you don’t have talent don’t waste your money.

  15. Well, telling me you equate a Martech MSS10 barely above a pre in an “interface” tells me all I need to know.
    Pretty scary stuff. I can only hope you weren’t referring to the Massenburg 2020, or I’d really think you were not hearing very well.
    Frankly, I feel you’ve confused the issue more than clarified things.
    Brandon, you said ” My cleaner preamps will get harsher, more sibilant, and more “spitty” in comparison. It’s not always the right sound, but the straight wire design isn’t always the right sound either….and that’s my point.”
    WELL, you proved MY point. Use crappy, mid fi, hyped in the 6k Chinese capsule mics improperly placed for a vocalist, when run through a CLEAN pre such as a Martech will show all the crappiness of those mics (and the ensuing s’s and edginess), while the pres such as your API won’t.
    With a quality microphone such as a good U87, Violet Globe/Flamingo, Bradley U47, even a Lauten FC357 tilted slightly downward, s’s can be reduced. Simple recording technique.
    You, of all people should know the value of a quality microphone.
    This is not to say an SM7 can’t do the job. Rock vocals/rap? You bet. But to blame sibilance on a mic pre is utter nonsense, my friend.
    It’s on the vocalist and those hypy mics y’all are using.

  16. Last word (from me…maybe.
    Brandon, I’m NOT saying that several pre’s of slightly differing “sound” is a bad idea. Fact is, every studio, wheter home or otherwise should have at least 1 really good TUBE pre, such as a V72 or UA 610, along with a some favorite honest sounding pre’s.
    Above all, pre’s need to be quiet, with LOTS of headroom, something cheap pre’s don’t usually provide. Best of luck to all here.

  17. You, of all people should know the value of a quality microphone.

    I do. That’s why I’ve spent quite a bit of cash on them. Almost picked up a Wunder CM7 this week. I’ve decided to hold back for a little while.

    Well, telling me you equate a Martech MSS10 barely above a pre in an “interface” tells me all I need to know.

    Uhh, you’ve misquoted me. I said, “I certainly prefer it to anything I’ve ever heard in an interface.”

    I hear something in that pre that I find less than desirable much of the time, particularly on vocals. Some upper-level mics I’ve used on it are Soundelux U99, Nuemann M147, Peluso 27, Peluso 251, Gefell M930, and probably a few I’m not thinking of. None of these are real-deal U47s so I’ll let you decide if they are quality enough. I think every one of them sounds better through my Manley TNT ss channel even though both pres do similar things.

    But to blame sibilance on a mic pre is utter nonsense, my friend.

    I didn’t say that. I did say that in comparison there are many cases where the transparent pres bring out undesirable qualities. The Martech is a “hard” sounding preamp with a big low end to compensate. I much prefer the way other pres smooth out these things and most of those pres happen to be on the colored side of the fence. Anyone with experience knows that a “softer” (smooth) preamp can do wonders for taming those upper-mid undesirables regardless of the mic in question. It, too, is simple recording technique.

    I’m curious where you came up with your Chinese capsule theory (good band name!). It’s not been mentioned anywhere on this thread.


  18. Good point, Bo. Even with half a degree in electronics I’ve always been a little hesitant to go this route. That may have something to do with the fact that I was a little bit better at the math and the theory than I was at actually building stuff. (Whadya gonna do?)

    However, I’m seriously contemplated ATTEMPTING a LA-2A compressor kit to save myself a huge chunk of change. Then again, if I screw it up…..


  19. I know that great results cant be expected on the cheap but would be interested to hear what would be available at price points that would likely be the most acceptable. i.e. at the lower end of the scale least blurry , and as price increases most versatile ( i.e. maybe with colouration but that can be used across a broad series of applications). So whats worthwhile at..


  20. If you’re looking to make your own high-end compressor, like an LA-2A, here’s an optional route. Get the ART PRO VLA II tube compressor (they’re cheap, $200 – $250). First off they’re surprisingly transparent and clean stock, really nice for tracking if you don’t want to color things (plus you can monitor input, output, and GR all at the same time, and it’s stereo with detented pots). Use this as a base and then modify it for another several hundred (which is something a community of people do it seems :). You can swap the tubes, the transformers (for the specific transformers used in the LA-2A if you want), and re-do the op-amps for about $500. You can also just do things in stages, like swap the tubes first and see if you like it, then do the transformers, then the op-amps. This way if you don’t think it’ll do it for you, you’ve spent a small amount of change and can sell it. In the end way cheaper then dumping $3k!!! :)

    Here’s a link to a post about someone that’s done a mod:

    Do a google search on “art pro vla ii mod” and you’ll get a bunch of hits. Also I own this comp and am about to get some mods done on it myself, although I don’t have a problem with the stock performance :)

  21. Brandon,I may be mistaken, but I believe both Peluso’s use a Chinese stock capsule, and the 147 Neumann is barely a Neumann, compared to the traditional U87, U67/M49 tube mics (yes, out of everyones price range…Mics like the Neumann103, etc really Sennheiser without the traditional Neumann diaphragms or capsule. The Martech I used (I don’t own one, BTW) ran through a Mytek Stereo 192 ADC, to Cubase 5.5, and compared somewhat favorably to my GML…not as balanced, as you say, but certainly better than the $1000 pre’s, several of which you mentioned. I’m monitoring through Focal CMS 65′s and Solo 6′s.

    ears being what they are, and the fact you are definitely younger (!) than I, I don’t doubt so much what you hear, but i do say that if you ran Bill Bradley’s U47 clone through your various pre’s you could better judge their sound. The Wunder CM7 I’ve not heard as yet. I’m about to play with a much less expensive mic, A Lauten Oceanus. I’ll post a thread if you’d like.
    A side note to Brandon…you conduct yourself very well here, handling hard-a**es like me with ease. LOL
    OH, get a GML 2020…they’re licensed by George to Manley for manufacture As you already like a Manley piece, and you can possibly afford a 5k mic, for only a k or so more you’ll have a pre, 4 bands of Massenburg eq, and his awesome “dynamics processor.”
    And it comes in black. Cheers.

  22. Good Article
    Where would you rate Avalon 737, Twin Finities, Daking Mic Pre IV, I use these very much. I still have some old Joe Meek and Art MPA series stuff.

    I made good music without my better stuff but now I make better, better stuff. Jordan and BJ hehe

  23. Oh yea the Rosseta 800 helps those preamps sound much better than my 003

  24. What about the Golden Age Pre 73 for $299? I’ve heard rave reviews and the mods you can get make it even better. I’m a home studio newbie with the Presonus Firestudio Mobile and used a crappy MXL V63 mic to record vocals and a SM57 for the guitars on my 4 new songs, see my website and please give any critique and feedback on what I can do better.

    I just purchased a RODE NTK tube mic and am hoping for a huge improvement in the vocals I record. I was thing the Pre 73 would also improve over the preamps in my Firestudio Mobile interface.

    What say you?


  25. What about the Golden Age Pre 73 for $299? I’ve heard rave reviews and the mods you can get make it even better. I’m a home studio newbie with the Presonus Firestudio Mobile and used a crappy MXL V63 mic to record vocals and a SM57 for the guitars on my 4 new songs, see my website and please give any critique and feedback on what I can do better.

    I just purchased a RODE NTK tube mic and am hoping for a huge improvement in the vocals I record. I was thing the Pre 73 would also improve over the preamps in my Firestudio Mobile interface.

    What say you?


    I’ve never used the Golden Age Pre 73 so I can’t really comment on it. My experience with mid/low priced preamps has been so so. They are always a step up from the stock preamps, but definitely several steps from the upper end stuff. If I was on a tight budget and had to track entirely with one preamp, based on everything I’ve used, I’d go with the True Systems Solo. For around $500 it’s very tough to beat. It’s a high end pre for sure….it won’t impart any real character (which is what you are paying for with API, Neve, etc) but that’s not the worst thing on Earth.


  26. I own the Focusrite Octopre – and I have to say it’s one of my favorite Preamps out there, and there are some cheaper versions of it as well. I know a few guys on use the same thing and they all say good things about it as well.