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Preamps Don’t Matter?

Brandon Drury —  January 19, 2009

As always, I couldn’t wait for my human waste management system to kick in so I could delve into the brand new issue of Tape Op magazine. I’m seriously beginning to wonder if it’s a crappy magazine, because every time I open the pages I smell fecal matter. Okay, a “crappy” joke. I apologize.

Every once in a while, the media lets something slip. Back in December, I read in the local newspaper that the auto industry was pushing for partial government ownership of the auto industry here in the US. This hit me upside the head like a sledgehammer. I couldn’t believe that the powers that be let this one “slip”. For the first time, it was made clear to me that there were those making a serious push for pure socialism. I couldn’t believe they spilled the beans in public!

(Getting away from politics)

When I opened up the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Tape Op, I was equally crushed by an over sized crushing device when I came across a line in the interview with the popular UK band, Elbow. I can’t recall the beans ever being spilled in print before. Not in EQ, certainly not in Mix Magazine, and not even in Tape Op. Before I tell you what that statement was, let’s get some background info on Elbow, because I didn’t know who they were before the article.

I visited the Elbow @ Myspace and at this point they have close to 2,000,000 plays. This puts them definitely in “label territory”. It appears they were actually signed to Island Records (major label) but were a casualty of a corporate take over before the band could release a single album. They have released four studio albums to date and all of them have parenthesis with a “#” and a number afterwards. In other words, these dudes have made the charts with all four of their albums. They’ve won a bunch of awards and received critical acclaim….bla bla bla

This band is not screwing around!

You can get more details here at Wiki. Before I unleash the big secret that no one in pro audio land wants you to know, it wouldn’t hurt to take a listen to their work. Yeah, Myspace really sucks for evaluating audio engineering. What can you do?

Regardless…..

  • Elbow is a pro band that is in major label territory and makes a living making noise.
  • Not only do they make a living, they actually hit the charts. Leaders of the Free World hit #12 in the UK.
  • Elbow’s home recordings were good enough that Tape Op was beating down their door for an interview.

So, here goes.

Craig Potter from Elbow says:

“The difference between good mic pres and cheap pres is absolutely nothing in the big picture. It makes a bit of difference, maybe, and I probably don’t experiment as much as I should, but it doesn’t make enough of a difference.”

So there you have it. A band who has made a big expensive record for Island Records, has worked with big boy producers, and chooses to engineer their own records considers high end preamps to be “absolutely nothing in the big picture”. The band is still clearly successful as you can see by their busy touring schedule and their recordings certainly are good enough for Tape Op to interview them.

Conclusion
While I’ve felt compelled to beat this preamp issue to death here on RecordingReview.com, it seems I have to. Way too many kids and hobbyists get tricked into thinking their recordings will never be up to par because they don’t have volume knobs that say Neve or API on them. My goal is not to defame the high end gear, but simply give some perspective.

When considering the high end gear, don’t be afraid of what you’ll lose if you don’t shell out the big ones. Instead, look for what you will gain. If the price to benefit ratio isn’t good, throw away your money on something else!

Elbow doesn’t need high end preamps to chart in the UK. Do you? Find out what Elbow DOES need in their Tape Op interview.

P.S. The track and mix everything in the box as well.

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 RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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67 responses to Preamps Don’t Matter?

  1. I think it should be said that, in an era when 128kbps mp3′s through iPod earbuds are the sound source of choice, it’d be safe to say that recording quality in general doesn’t really matter in the broad scheme of things.

  2. Just another opinion here: I’m also a big fan of “record it with what you’ve got” method, and “it’s the performance, not the gear” principles, but I find the premise of this article a little misleading. Sure, Elbow has made good recordings in spite of not using high end preamps, but parenthetical in the second sentence is a disclaimer that experimentation is not key to their approach. It works for them. However, this doesn’t mean “preamps don’t matter” should be touted as gospel.

    Tape Op does a fantastic job of covering the recording world and interesting people’s perspectives, theories, methods and manifestos without declaratively stating right or wrong ways to record, mix or master music. And, I like this site too. All things at face value of course.

    I think another way to look at this: Educate yourself. Learn how to pick the right tools for the right job and *be reasonable about the budget*. A Porsche is an amazing automobile and a parking garage is an effective structure. Though no one wants to end up driving a Porsche in a parking garage, because that would just suck.

  3. Actually Elbow won the Mercury Music prize last year, a VERY prestigious award here in the UK. They are very famous indeed over here. If you listen to one track from their latest album, listen to “One Day Like This”. It’s great to hear a band with such a huge lush sound say that preamps really don’t matter that much.

  4. Actually Elbow won the Mercury Music prize last year, a VERY prestigious award here in the UK.

    Interesting. I can’t think of a single “prestigious” music award here in the US other than fans single along at live shows or maybe a person playing your tune at a funeral or wedding.

    I think it should be said that, in an era when 128kbps mp3’s through iPod earbuds are the sound source of choice, it’d be safe to say that recording quality in general doesn’t really matter in the broad scheme of things.

    One side of the fence makes the argument that playback systems are of low quality these days.

    Another side seems more obsessed with production than ever before. Modern musicians, in general, tend to push a tremendously greater emphasis on audio engineering than ever before.

    It seems the first camp is worried about the subtle details being lost. The other camp is looking for a musically powerful statement with the biggest guitars, the most pounding drums, and the most clear/up front vocals. These things DEFINITELY show up even on Youtube and Myspace….at least to a certain degree.

    Brandon

  5. “Well , It sounds good , The recording is one thing but who “mastered “their music…”

    Erm… huh?

  6. I have an Avalon and it gives me a nice tone I have a mackie pre amp and this gives me another nice tone I have a couple of other pre amps which give me different tones warmth’s and coloration’s to my sound. But I don’t obsess about them they for me are nothing more than tools to get the desired affect to the ultimate outcome that I am looking for. If I start to obsess about anyone of them then I stop creating and start ogling and nothing gets done.

    summery
    It has always been about the product more than the mechanic’s used to deliver it

  7. Amen to Steve H’s remarks. The dumbing down of America includes MP3s. Kids (and even most adults) don’t know what they’re missing. Sure the 320KB MP3s sound pretty good, but most of the music being downloaded is encoded with far less resolution. Oh well.

    Jack

  8. The dumbing down of America includes MP3s.

    You think? Is cognitive ability or at least the attempt to use the brain correlated to mp3s? I don’t see the connection. MP3s don’t sound as good as uncompressed wave file. I don’t deny that. However….

    Bass traps don’t make you smarter. High end speakers don’t improve your ability to grasp quantum physics or macro economics.

    Was the population “dumbed down” when AM radio was the dominant playback method? I don’t think so.

    The musical delivery method is always fighting through logistics. AM / FM radio severly compress the music and offer limited frequency response. CDs get scratched or lost. DVDs don’t play in most cars. MP3s algorithmically compress audio to reduce bandwidth.

    The playback systems have always been limited as well regardless of whether it’s a car stereo, ear buds, a radio in the shop, tv speakers, or a high end stereo in a terrible acoustical space.

    The only way to listen with “perfecton” is to have your head strapped into a chair in the sweet spot of a room with comprehensive acoustic treatment using an outrageously high end playback system. This, however, is listening to music in a vacuum.

    I take the “music is the soundtrack to our lives” approach. The music that really affects you is playing while have your first car crash, kiss your first girl, or drink your first beer. The songs that matter are the ones that you play at your wedding, play at your mom’s funeral, or listen to when no one else will understand your problems. In NONE of these cases is listening in a musical vacuum relevant and in every case an mp3 could suffice without compromise.

    That’s my view anyway.

    So going back to the task at hand…it appears in the case of Elbow that they can achieve the things that make a song important to their fan base without Neve, API, or SSL. That’s the point of this blog.

    Brandon

  9. I find the premise of this article a little misleading. Sure, Elbow has made good recordings in spite of not using high end preamps, but parenthetical in the second sentence is a disclaimer that experimentation is not key to their approach. It works for them. However, this doesn’t mean “preamps don’t matter” should be touted as gospel.

    You got the wrong premise…at least not the premise I had intended. That’s why the article is entitled “Preamps Don’t Matter?” and not “Preamps Don’t Matter!”. Big difference.

    The point of the article was one band with commercial success doing their own recordings is doing it with the shitty preamps in their audio interface and 100% happy and managed to get into Tape Op.

    That’s it.

    Brandon

  10. Well , It sounds good , The recording is one thing but who “mastered “their music. I believe to a point as i am one of those people who look at my $2.700 avalon, and $2,400 ADL 600. They are name brands. I run pro tools and flooded with waves plug ins.

    The mic pre amp is nice but, I hate to admit it I use the neumann U87 $3.500 mic with the ADL and well , i know what i am doing with it, But. I get 90% the sound from my thousand dollar neumann TDL 103 with my pro tools LE. I did have the mode done by black lion audio. they put in different pres.

    I do like the outboard pcs but sometimes i look at them as a stack of money that i could have done a cd with ,

    The ADL is nice for more than vocals but overall i can if i had to get just about next to it with my plug ing of today.

    I was one that ran out starting to buy pcs , but did I really need them. ?Well for me it is trying to get above the stock sounds of PT LE ,closer to a good size studio, With that in mind i guess i have to say i would keep the ADL 600. It comes in handy for many applications.

    I know, i say both 50/50 % because it is true. Todays plug ins are not like years ago. For 1/4 the price a person can get a whole so called “bundle ” of plug ins.

    I just feel i like the digital plug ins and can work and change the sounds as needed, If i use the pre on something i am stuck with that one sound , Or i have to re- record it or, top it off with plug ins,

    In the long run, i feel it depends how far you are taking your sound, and to what level you need your recording.It can be done with or without them, I have A_B recordings only to find that i had to really listen and look at the parer of what was what.

    It can be done real close.Now i do not work or sell any audio at all. But i use waves plug ins and they are good sounding . I did see the same exact plugins on other audio stores under a different bundle but, it was the same. So it doesn’t have to be the waves name always.example API collection. SSL 4000, V series. they all are out there , where you find them is up to you.

    Pre amps. it is really tough. It can be done without them . or, a cheaper one vrs an expensive one, if you have plug ins you can tweek them to top it off.

    I will be one of those people who will fall into debt. I still think i wil search and find only to buy and have to keep then “look” at it and sometimes NOT even wanting to use it due to the sound gets “locked “in.

    The overall finished song may need a bit of tweeking even on the so called pre amp track .Sometimes i think “why did i ever but it” if i am going over it ,

  11. In the long run, i feel it depends how far you are taking your sound, and to what level you need your recording.

    This is generally been my point of view, but the entire point of this article was you can be a big boy, pro level band getting critical acclaim and still use the cheap gear.

    This has been the first article to really point this out that I’ve ever seen.

    Brandon

  12. Interesting article and comments or point of views..i guess it all depends on how the big and small boys play with their toys. deepthoughts

  13. Was the population “dumbed down” when AM radio was the dominant playback method? I don’t think so. When was this? In the twenties and thirties before phonographic reproduction was widely available to people of average means? Is this even germain to the discussion? Audiophilia has been with us a long time and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Some people can tell the difference, some can’t. Many are willing to trade fidelity for other considerations. Whether or not fidelity is important to those recording the music seems more the question and is a question of craftsmanship and ability. Is the guy from the band saying that they mix their records through a console that is only wires, jacks and faders? Or is this a bit of “fix it in the mix/master” mentality? “Preamps – not my problem.”

  14. “It seems the first camp is worried about the subtle details being lost. The other camp is looking for a musically powerful statement with the biggest guitars, the most pounding drums, and the most clear/up front vocals. These things DEFINITELY show up even on Youtube and Myspace…at least to a certain degree.”

    Wholeheartedly agreed. I did some audio work for a short film that was put on YouTube last year and it wasn’t mixed or mastered very well. Believe me, YouTube’s compression gets “Manson Family” on badly produced/engineered tracks. I’m not going to paste a link here because it will show me up as a complete noob, but that’s why I joined this site. Audio production definately matters, to a certain degree anyway! It will never replace the need to write good tunes, but in respect to mass-dispersion of music, songs need to be well produced so they degrade to heavy compression formats gracefully.

  15. I’m getting ready for my first album and this just confirms what all my research on the subject points to. A good mike and preamp will be pretty much lost in the mix of most songs (that arent bare sounding enough to reveal a particular instrument). Maybe for my voice but nothing else, it’s just not worth the money. I succeeded this week in super compressing some prodrum loops with guess what…guitarrig2 :) Long live innovation, and thanx Brandon for encouraging the small guys.

    I leave you all with an analogy about beauty. Beauty is defined in its purest sense as an absence of displeasing features in someone or something that we look at. In music it really comes down to the same thing. Can you get rid of certain sounds that will make your final mix crappy without a very expensive rig? The answer is yes you can, it might take longer and you might have to be more creative that the guy with 30 years exp and protoolsHD on an icon mixer but you can still do the same job for $150000 less.
    Just think about the Beatles hit albums and what equipment the used to get it done. I personally think the only indispenible equipment are the finely tuned ears and soul of the artist making the music and the engineer bringing it all to life in the final mix. I personally like listening to the radio and just studying how great hits have been mixed.

    Take care all!

  16. I have a question and a thought. Maybe the band used a crap pre amp. But what eles are they going thru. ? I have found out some things as to say on the pro tools ssl million dollar board vs the ssl waves plugins . they say it was so close.You can find it at digi design. But the main question to the comment that a crap pre amp can be used and it doesn’t matter. I can go with it so far but still, what was or is the bands other recording equipment .

    They may have some super million dollar set up that is so great and expensive that no pre amp would be needed.

    To compare a crap pre amp to an expensive one well it will still give some clarity and boost etc. But i feel on a home studio it will differ and show more to what i am guessing they probably have,

    If they are in that level they must be sitting on some bucks to have recording gear that is gonna be top.

    What is the board they play out of and what other type of gear and mics do they use?

  17. Hey.. There’s no doubt about it, a gorgeous pre-amp sounds great!

    Though, I think a lot of people obsess about pre-amps way before they have the ears to bother. I’ve assisted some pretty big engineers/producers and they have ears that I, one day, hope to obtain (perhaps by force? hehe.) My point is, being PAID to cut a great record is as much about economics as it is about quality. It’s not just spending the time getting the tones, but having the vision of how it will all sit together. If the subtlety of a different pre-amp/mic combination will get you there quicker, and/or better and a producer/engineer knows what they sound like, then they can be really important.

    Does an amp matter to a guitarist? hell yeah! So does a pre-amp to an engineer.

    Can you cut a great record on 8 behringer pres? Yup.

    Great Music translates in recording regardless. Get great musicians performing great songs.. great music IS the secret of recording great music..

    ramble over.

  18. I must agree that preamps don’t matter too much really. As long as they are transparent, and let’s admit that most mixing desks have pretty good built-in transparent preamps. It’s all you need.

    What I am getting into, however, are preamps that colour the sound in some way. Preamps like Art’s Tube MP can be pushed into distortion and/or compression, and that, you can definitely hear.

  19. Yea ,I wasn’t even thinking on each having their own color. Each to add color to that certain song. And some mics go better with certain pre amps .All depending on rock, pop jazz or what ever.

    I guess it can be done without a pre or a cheap pre just to give it that boost a bit.

  20. A Great Song is a Great song, is a Great song.

    Great marketing is great marketing, is great marketing.

  21. I totally agree monkeyclaus..i remember making some great recordings i think on a 1986 XR-7 cassette four track back in the day and before that on an old 1966-68 Sony reel-reel and some of it still holds up today (with a bit of digi audio cleaning magic and pulling out some of the buried frequencies etc.)mostly because of a good song and arrangement..the arrangement plays a very important role in any great mix imho.

  22. I guess it totally depend on the type of music on the song. I think rock tunes with a lot of distortion on guitars would be a real ear tease.

    Would you even be able to hear the difference of a guitar cranked up and the bass and keys and other guitar ripping thru. ?

    Now on the vocals maybe a transparent pre would be nice to help cut right thru a bit.

    I just think after reading all posts i guess anything is possible.I guess it depends on the person behind the mix.

    Lets face it if we had two of the same med level set ups and put some big time mix engineer behind it and lets say me behind the other, well , there is gonna be a difference.

    Think of the guys that live and breath on it all day long everyday. And maybe went to college for audio,recording.

    I just think i totally can believe it is true. There are so many plug ins today that can create a cleaner sound,I have one waves. i think it is the L2. it is a gold tone plug in, put it on vocal. WOW> its almost like my ADL 600 with an eq with it.

    I just think it depends on the type of music, what sound you are going for.( if you really need it or maybe not).

    I know i do things with horn sections pop etc. and i tend to really “need it to cut those horns thru more at times>

    I guess “maybe “an additional pre is not needed as long as the pre in the board is pretty good.

    I use Pro tools LE and had a black lion mode do on it , they boosted up the pres and i still went out to get the ADL 600. over that. I have to bi pass the mode so i guess i am one of those people who waste some money at times only to find out later that i can get 90% the same sound with my plug ins. It is up to the person running the mix, TWEEK < TWEEK <TWEEK<

  23. I think that a trend is on the rise to get the best sound out of low end gear and to down size in the studio –and I think that the better the computers and there software gets –this will further reduce the need for high end gear—acoustic

  24. Now on the vocals maybe a transparent pre would be nice to help cut right thru a bit.

    Maybe you are right, but in many high end circles the emphasis is on using colored pres on the vocal end…at least in rock music.

    A Great Song is a Great song, is a Great song.

    No one is disputing this. However, this implies that lo-fi recordings are acceptable as long as the song is great. I’m not debating this either.

    For those of use seeking the highest fidelity possible (for our, hopefully, great songs)the issue is there any significant fidelity to be gained from using a high end preamp.

  25. Entertaining article. I like the cat pic too.
    I think Elbow are speaking from a punk-ethic perspective, (or indie). I didn’t read the article so i’m just assuming they’re not sound geeks.

    On the other hand u wrote previously about mixers not being important in digital-recording, and now you’re saying pre-amps aren’t too important either. What is then?

    Thanks.

  26. Multiple Monitors January 22, 2009 at 11:31 am

    You can get a pretty nice recording without expensive pre-amps. However, if you get a mixer with really good pre-amps you can definitely tell a difference. It’s worth it to have them if you can afford them, but if not, you can still record some great stuff now that recording is 24 Bits and higher.

  27. I think Elbow are speaking from a punk-ethic perspective, (or indie). I didn’t read the article so i’m just assuming they’re not sound geeks.

    I didn’t hear an ounce of punk in their recordings either from a musical perspective or a lo-fi, who-gives-a-shit perspective. They were more or less somewhere between U2 and Radiohead, give or take at least in terms of sonics.

    On the other hand u wrote previously about mixers not being important in digital-recording, and now you’re saying pre-amps aren’t too important either. What is then?

    There is some confusion here that I need to clear up.

    The article is discussing the notion that a pro level band can get pro level results using the stock preamps in their audio interface. It’s a “tonal” discussion that is saying that maybe SSL, Neve, and API aren’t absolutely required in order to achieve a succesful bands sonic vision. The point is not to say there aren’t any benefits to high end gear. The point is the artists out there who are on limited budgets shouldn’t feel inadequate because maybe they can’t afford the high end gear at this point.

    Now in regard to the mixer. This is a technical discussion of what gear is needed for recording. You must have a preamp for every mic you want to use simultaneously to boost the signal of each microphone up to line level. The article doesn’t refute that in any way. The article is discussing the notion of $2000 preamps vs the $8 in your audio interface (and in most non-high end mixers as well).

    If I haven’t explained it well enough, please create a new thread on the forum and email me. I’ll dig in deeper.

    Brandon

  28. Again, it all depends on the band in question’s “sonic vision”. If you’re a band that’s going for more of a “wall of sound”, with multiple multiple takes and lots of overdubs, you’re going to have a hard time keeping everything super-clear and crisp if you’re using the same low-budget preamp for everything. Each preamp has a bit of its own natural EQ & compression (depending on how hard you push it & what type of preamp it is), and using several different preamps (especially some of the nicer ones) can give you a head-start in keeping everything nice & clear.

    Again again, this assumes that’s what the band is going for sonically. If they’re looking for a more gelled, somewhat intentionally muddy/smeared sound, then using the same cheap preamps for everything might be just the ticket.

  29. Out of curiosity, what is your general methodology for selecting a preamp for this and a preamp for that? Are you doing it specifically to avoid the buildup / smear of multiple layers with the same preamp or are you doing it to max out each individual tone? In other words, is your preamp selection just random for variety or is it more track specific? Just curious.

    If they’re looking for a more gelled, somewhat intentionally muddy/smeared sound, then using the same cheap preamps for everything might be just the ticket.

    The idea of external preamps didn’t really explode until digital took off in the late 90s. Before then, I think it’s safe to say that a majority of big boy records were made with a single console utilizing the same exact preamp for the entire record. This is what I’ve heard straight from the horses mouth (for whatever that is worth).

    There was a list of albums that used the same preamp on all tracks. It ended up reading like a “Greatest Albums Of All Time” list. I know Back In Black was on there. I personally don’t hear anything resembling “muddy” or “smeared” but that just may be inability to hear. I wish I could find that site again. I’d love to link to it.

    ——

    Of course, your argument in this case is more for using multiple preamps for tonal variety than for actually using more high end preamps.

    Most people around here can barely justify dumping $1,000-2,000 on a single preamp. The idea of them stuffing a rack with Neve, SSL, GML, and Trident ends up costing the price of a new car. The merits of this become even more debatebly for the average home recording dude when it’s clear that Elbow is charting with a stock audio interface regardless of the potential sonic benefits.

    No one is debating that benefits can be gained from the high end stuff. However, economics are tighter here than they are in the major label production (out of) business. I think everyone wants a rack of Neves, but how much is it going to cost and how much is it really going to benefit the home recording user? The conventional wisdom in major label production REQUIRES the use of the big boy gear. It appears that a stock audio interface CAN allow you to make the charts.

    Brandon

  30. However, if you get a mixer with really good pre-amps you can definitely tell a difference.

    Fair enough. Can you give specific examples? What is a mixer with “really good preamps”?

    I’m not arguing, but are there any shootouts that you are aware of that demonstrate this?

    Brandon

  31. I’m wondring about this whole preamp thing.

    Isn’t a mixer important to to get the EQ right ? I thought that that was the point of a mixer, and I was under the impression that my guitar and vocals sounded a bit crappy because I’m using a cheapo Behringer mixer. Am I wrong in thinking that? Is it really just the Pre-amp that makes all the differnce ? Do software EQ’s in eg.Cubase (or Ableton as I use) fill the gap ?

    A couple more things:
    Does a cheap audio interface sound any different to an expencive one ? 24 bits is 24 bits no ?

    And lastly, what are your thoughts on buying 2nd hand audio interfaces ?
    Do u think buying a 2nd hand Firepod on ebay is a dumb idea?
    I was just wondering what some of the cons might be.

    Thanks.

    PS. Again, love the cat reference.

  32. Isn’t a mixer important to to get the EQ right ?

    Well, most mixers do come with EQs. Most aren’t as flexible as a full blown perimetric EQs, but many of them are quite usable for “broad strokes” EQ. However, I prefer my plugins to the EQ in my Mackie mixer (which I haven’t used in years).

    If a person really had to have analog EQ, I would probably recommend either a channels trip or a standalone EQ. I just don’t consider the EQ in most mixes to be a the selling point.

    The real point to a mixer is the the ability to “mix”. That’s all done in the box these days for 99% of the people I deal with.
    http://www.recordingreview.com/articles/articles/193/1/Why-You-Dont-NEED-A-Mixer-For-Home-Recording/Page1.html

    I thought that that was the point of a mixer, and I was under the impression that my guitar and vocals sounded a bit crappy because I’m using a cheapo Behringer mixer. Am I wrong in thinking that?

    I’d say you are wrong in thinking that…for the most part.

    http://www.recordingreview.com/blog/is-gear-the-answer-to-sound-quality-issues/

    Do software EQ’s in eg.Cubase (or Ableton as I use) fill the gap ?

    I do use the Cubase EQs fairly often in the course of a mix. I generally prefer EQs with a bit more character or a bit more in the way of making cuts. The Waves stuff is good, I’m getting into the SPL Plugins these days.

    Does a cheap audio interface sound any different to an expencive one ? 24 bits is 24 bits no ?

    At the same price point, you are going to get the same sound. If you wanted to dump $1,000 into your converters you may gain 1%.

    http://forum.recordingreview.com/f18/ad-converter-shootout-mytek-ad96-vs-presonus-firestudio-8907/

    And lastly, what are your thoughts on buying 2nd hand audio interfaces ?

    Go for it! If it saves you a bunch of cash, it’s probably a great idea. The only moving parts in audio interfaces are the preamps and the input jacks. These seldom wear out.

  33. Thanks for the advise and the links. I’d already read the article u wrote on mixers, and why we don’t need them.

    I’m still a little confused about the whole mastering business. Some statements seem to contradict each other (in general across the web).

    Allow me to refer to a record with a really defined sound/vibe. The Stokes “Is this it?” record. It has a VERY compact and understated (pretty much flat) sound to it. My question: Is this something the artist does in the process of recording? mixing? or mastering ? Which is it?

    It seems to me that your opinion of mastering is that it serves to harmonize the sound of the record and make the volume of each song equal to each other. Is that all there is to it? Sounds kinda boring.

    Thanks.

  34. The Waves stuff is good, I’m getting into the SPL Plugins these days. I have the waves but would like to know what is the selling point for spl in your words brandon—-acoustic

  35. Are we getting off the topic. ? I guess everybody that was gonna say anything about do we really need a pre amp did post.

    As to Beermilkshake;Hello, I feel if we are still on the topic of pre amp. using them all around ,do we need them or not, Well, I will try to reply to your questions since this site has become part of my daily thrill to see who posted anything.

    As for the pre amps if we need them ? As for me on pro too;s LE. I have all waves plugins. and an ADL 600 mic pre amp ,great for bass, guitar, vocals are main, and different horn parts wether live horns or coming from a keyboard. All can help, but do we “really ” need it ?

    I personally search a step at a time for that little bit that shows.All the plug ins are great.
    In do we need it or not. ?? well some people play thru the pre lets say with a mic pre while recording. that will give you a overall better quality.I use it on Bass direct while recording. Right into the ADL then out of that and into the board. It “‘really” is night and day. So i say on that yes it is needed if you want a better quality recording. Vocals , well take it or leave it. It depends on the vocalist, and what eles you have in gear, maybe you don’t need it,

    Example of mix style. I always use the pre (outboard ADL 600 ) pre amp over my in board pre on bass. But i like to “make sure of what i want ” so, I may just go into the board direct and after the recording i will bring up another track, Then I tack that bass track and run it thru my ADL 600 in the recording mode, This will let me “totally mess with” the setings over and over on the adl or even outboard compressor (not to get into comps , on this ).

    Mastering, Well when they came out with the L=316 mastering plug in i bought it. I was at the time 100% digital without any outboard gear, Did it kick , Yes. Some people will not use or need at all any pre amp on the tracks during the recording at all, Why ? Because they know they are gonna “TOTALLY PUMP IT UP ” during “mastering”

    If the pre is transparent that is great during recording , but if colored a lot when it gets mastered it may hold you back from so called fattening up the sound,

    It just really depends on the song,the genre,all are different, Just like recording studios and mastering studios as well as recording tech. Just like getting your hair cut. everybody has their own way ,wether they learned it that way or picked it up or, figured it out their selves.
    It comes down to learning all you can as i do from everybody and figuring out what may help me as well as if it was good info, or some parts to apply. maybe, or maybe not.

  36. You can have the best mic and preamp in the world. But if you record/mix with ProTools using standard dithering to export your file, then burn that file on an audio CD delivering it to a mastering house who will then “bump it up”, slam it and re-export it back down to 16bit 44.1k, then what is the point? The preamp made a difference to some degree, but is that really necessarily the focus? I won’t even bring up the horrible plug-ins… IOW, there are so many things to hinder your mix but if the music is good, most won’t care. Why? Not because we are dumb-downed necessarily, but because the listener likes the music! I could (and have in the past with amateurs and big-names) show you the differences in techniques with arranging, exporting, mixing, file integrity, etc. Some were utterly fascinated, some had amazingly great ideas along the same lines, most could care less. If the producers don’t care, then what is the point. Gear is a status symbol. It justifies us to hang with the big crowd. Man, I admit to wearing it like a chip on my shoulder. However, I haven’t updated my website gear list in years! I just don’t care anymore. But if the music sucks… THEN who cares?!

    My favorite Cellist is Rostropovich and there are some old recordings of him on YouTube. Not exactly front row stuff, folks! But his music transcends the medium. However, putting a turbo in a pig of a car doesn’t magically turn it into a race car, just a fast pig (to use an idea from the racing community). Everything is relative; there is no definitive method. There are a ton of composers using outdated computers (that are stable) and big expensive rack reverbs (not Lexicons either). I used to make fun of them to their faces. They just looked at me… Then I realized, they are providing a living for their family doing what they love and not constantly trying to re-invent a studio that is paid for and sounds great! It is setup for their needs, workflow and composing style. That revelation hit me like a ton of bricks! Then I started purchasing with my ears with an eye for the bottom line… i.e. will this preamp help me score this film for television? Nope! Moving on…

  37. All I know is this: my friend John made an outstanding recording on someone else’s two MXL 9000′s (with NOS tubes) and an ART MPA Gold (with NOS tubes). His personal preamps include a Great River, a Manley, and two UA’s. The guy knows what he’s doing because he’s been around, but I felt that if he could make a kick-ass recording with that amp and those mics then I can, too.

  38. I use a variety of outboard mic pres. The high cost of the quality mic pres may not be justified in a short term project, but like a good Fender amplifier (pre CBS) –the vintage high end Mic pres continue to deliver consistent high quality sound over an extended period of time. Professional studios who operate 14-18 hours a day need this level of durability/reliability.
    Power supplies for the high end mic pres are superior to
    the budget models so are the switches and other components.
    So the expected useful life of the unit can be extended
    almost indefinitly.
    The other factor is EQ–most of the top end pres have a
    very useful EQ section. This drives up the cost, but the
    versitilty of the pre is vastly improved.
    Of course a lot of this can be done with plug-ins,
    Here the up front cost is very low, but there is little or
    no resale value. High end analog equipment has so far
    demonstrated excellent resale value. Appreciation in value
    is possible with some of the more desirable pieces.
    Also with multi tracking having a couple channels of high
    end preamplification can go a long way to impacting the overall quality of the project.

  39. Hi Bob Mack, I am always puzzled in getting the best sound. Running pro tools Le, About 85% of all waves plug ins.Now starting to get into outboard pc. I purchased neumann U87a to go with a ADL 600 stereo pre ( mono or stereo) but ,I had the pres in my board which is PT LE console 002 style. the mode was done by black lion audio. They put in new pres etc. I do have more head room ,more punch and clarity,

    After reading all above about pres as i do know a good bit but “always ” want to learn more.As to the pre amp. I know i do get a real sharp sound using the pre ( ADL 600) and neumann U 87 a, 2 pieces lets say average of $5.500.

    Now on the other hand, i try my TLM 103 neumann mic with the mode pres in my board which is the 002 digi design, The mode was about $600 ( hundred) it was better than the stock as it “really ” did take the 002 into a bigger step for what is was.

    Is it a waist of money to invest thousands after thousands and going into debt for a so called ” another color of OUTBOARD gear pre?On the waves plug ins i really get 85% the same sound as a outboard pc and that is not sitting there tweeking it for hours.

    The plug ins of today are getting better and better, So it is said about the thinness of digital. Sometimes i think its really not that much so called thinner at all.

    Is it just a war between the digital and outboard gear. Do we really get our money worth in buying expensive pre amps ?

    A puzzle question , If all the studios have all those outboard pieces to the max. WHY do thay still let say have all the waves plug ins and use them as well. I tend to hear waves a lot. i use them as well.

  40. What counts is the end result…isn’t it?

  41. A puzzle question , If all the studios have all those outboard pieces to the max. WHY do thay still let say have all the waves plug ins and use them as well. I tend to hear waves a lot. i use them as well. there GOOD and good sell,s—acoustic

  42. Funny all that time on preamps could be used on writing perhaps a great sounding song..just some deepthoughts lol!!!

  43. Hello Acoustic. Yes waves plug ins are super. They are the only plug ins i use.
    I am always caught in the middle. As i can’t say what site i purchase my outboard gear from but they are totally wizards. It is a large company, best prices i have found but the main thing is i get a lot of information from them when i am gonna purchase something or interested in knowing about a certain product.

    I guess that is all thy do , to know every outboard pc and to use them too.
    Sometime I just wonder. My waves plug ins are great. they too tell me how they use them in the studio as well. But i always hear the so called WARM sound from the outboard gears.I then go in debt .

    These are question i just can’t figure out. They all tend to have so many outboard pc. BUT, a lot of them also have the waves.
    So this tells me that plug ins ARE being used a lot and who is to really say that YEA a certain pre amp may not be needed just use lets say the L2 and a SSL 4000 PLUG IN and it will pretty much so close,

    then if it gets mastered let the mastering studio push it thru everything they have, WHY pay for real expensive pcs of never ending outboard pre and cpmpressors with different colors.

    I myself am flooded with the plug ins and know them and like them and i feel it is easy to use and re adjust.

    I can’t help saying no to a piece of outboard but when i get the things oh well .sometimes i don’t think i am as thrilled but think of another big chunk paid out.

    Pres may not be needed at times. Plug ins can really get you close BUT is it close or do you need a pre amp sound. Even a transparent pre really picks things up but so do a combo of plug ins.

    Is it the plug in digital companies vrs all the outboard companies , Before digital i guess that was all there was. Each has its own flavor, color, i guess they will both be out there . But, if we don’t use a pre amp how close to a good pre amp sound can we get with plug ins.
    Anybody with waves ?? using outboard and plug ins. I am not into other brands because i don’t know them . I use the waves and once in a great while a digi design with my pro tools LE.

    If we don’t use a outboard pre amp lets say for vocals then what do YOU use to get close to a pre amp sound.

    I spent thousands on 85% of all the waves plug ins now to only get told i need some outboard pc. whether mic pre or instrument.

  44. Yeah i think i know the company that you are refering to Bill 1.

  45. I feel it all comes down to do the best with what is available to each one of us and what we can afford..whether you have good tones, bad tones or different other sound colors in our palates.. it is all about how we can make the most use of the tools that are available to each of us for the given moment in space and time that we can mix and paint the over all sound picture that is in the eyes or (ears) of the beholder or to everyone’s taste. imho.whew!!and that was my deep thought for the day…what a sound revelation!!!!

  46. Bill1 I can see were you are on this I my self have 100% of waves plug in but as one of my buds who has many hits under his belt uses both plug ins and out board pres — and lit me tell you the one he uses is not cheep but man he uses waves and he told me to go with the waves and if I strike a hit with my stuff or some one else stuff then he would go in with me and help me buy that set of pre amps he has so I work on—but while I can not get that velvity or as you say **** sound he has I am close———i am just not as skilled as he is —(yet)——acoustic

  47. I agree wholeheartedly that the music is what it’s all about. Good songs played by good players will sound good through shitty pres. That being said, there is DEFINITELY a difference between the pres on my Roland DAW and my Vintech X73i. Not even close.So would I rather record a good song by good players on a shitty pre or with my Vintech… easy answer. Will it change the recording so dramatically that you wouldn’t want to hear the version recorded on the shitty pres? No, probably not. Buy what you like and use it to the best of your ability.Don’t obsess about it.

  48. Man! must be nice to be able to afford Wave plugins!!!..some of us aspiring musicians/engineers/producers have to struggle twice as much and find all kinds of innovative solutions to even come close..i wonder if i have a rich relative out there lol!!! i wish in my deepthoughts only lol!!

  49. question can you get into trouble by giving plugins away say to your bro or a pal——acoustic

  50. good question..ask brandondrury our surpreme comander overlord.

  51. To Acoustic. you can get the demos of waves free for i think a couple weeks. Go for the BIG ones .API< SSL 4000< V- series,and those new ones . other small plugins you can check out too.
    I think you can demo few at a time.

  52. I use a PreSonus Firestudio and Apogee Duet, and have a pair of loaned API 412b mic pres. Once I get my ears dialed in, I can hear the differences. The APIs do sound better – but not “hit you over the head” better. The basics (mic placement, great instrument, great player, great room) are always the most important elements. Beyond that, my most dramatic audio trickery happens via “mastering” plugins. If a project isn’t going to get professionally mastered, I can do a little hack work. Those changes are always more noticeable than choice of mic pre.

  53. I have wrestled with this for a while. I have always been in the gear doesn’t matter category. I have changed a little but the final judgement will be based on your objective. With MP3 being the new mass standard and people trying to get as much music on the iPod as possible, it doesn’t make sense to use high end gear and huge sample rates to make music. If the objective is to make recordings that sound as good as the recordings you love as an artist you need the gear. I recently brough two high end mic pres and now my vocals fit in the mix better. They also sound more like the vocals on the recordings I love. I still like the vocals I recorder on my Presonus digimax but they don’t sound like comercial recording. I didn’t buy the preamps until I upgraded my daw and studio so I could take advantage of the differences when I mix. One mail vocalist still sounded better on an SM57 so you have to go with your ears. Music is still about a personal connection and It leaves room for everyones opinion. I love this site because the passion for music is what really matters.

  54. After listening to all the songs, I think that… “A Good Mix Is More Important Than Having Expensive Preamps.” To me all of their songs share a common thread.
    1. They don’t sound like they were recorded on Fancy Preamps
    2. Every Instrument, Vocal, and Element had it’s own place in the mix. Whether it was panned hard left or right; you heard it, clearly.
    3. It had a very warm analog-like quality; maybe they recorded through a mixingboard before going to tape.
    4. They had very good, disciplined recording techniques. All of their songs had a good balance of the lead vocal in the middle, guitars placed left or right, and drums placed with the snare in the center with just a hint of the rooms natural reverb to add color to the other instruments.

  55. I am new to high end recording, so don’t profess to be an expert, but my take is this. Nearly all amplifiers (pre amps are just amps) are hundreds of times more acurate than any speaker or Mic. Mechanical things just have their own resonances, period. So, If I am going for great sound here are my priorities.

    1. Something great to record
    2. Room acoustics
    3 Mic Positioning (2 and 3 are directly tied together
    4 Acceptable quality mics (Mic selection being most important)
    5 Being able to track enough tracks, and providing the musicians with a monitor mix which makes them perform up to their best standards
    6 Good mixing area and quality monitors (this saves time more than anything
    7 various environments to review your mix in (car, home stereo, computer etc
    8 amplification (pre post you name it)

    everything can make a difference, but if you are in a studio doing an a/b test on $4,000 studio monitors to hear a difference in slight pre amps, you can bet your but that the guy driving down the street in his car won’t be able to tell the difference.

    These are things I believe, not because of any experience I have but logic and knowlege of electronics and physics lead me to these conclusions.

    So
    Call me tin ear but I will not spend a whole punch of money on pre amps. If I need more gain, I will stack cheep ones.

  56. I absolutely think the quality of preamp matters. I have used low end preamps from onboard Tascam mixer pre’s, to Focusrite twin track, up to API3124 and Vintech x73i. The Vintech and API’s BLOW AWAY the Tascam and Focusrite stuff I used in the past. The clarity, detail, and “smoothness” are astounding, and it really brings out the character of each microphone going through them. To me, the lower end pre’s sound low end, they lack fidelity. Don’t get me wrong, I have done good mixes with low end pres…but the mixes with the higher end pres need less EQ and processing and seem to fall in place better. I simply can not agree that the pre doesn’t matter…..

    Take a poll of your favorite high end pre at recordordie.com !

  57. I found it interesting to read all this and hearing everyone discuss the sound of this and that pre. I buy AA8P mic pres on the market and replace all the 66 caps with low esr high speed audio caps and sell them for $395 to my friends. This is 8 mic pres with jensen transformers, limiter and phantom switchable on each pre and line or mic in. The only problem is they have no sound not mellow not crisp nothing addes at all. Sadly you must deal with what comes from your mic how novel.

  58. No offense, but this is a really weak argument. Just because most (or more likely, some) people won’t hear nuance doesn’t mean one shouldn’t aim for it. Simple songs are great; this is true. The product is a mix, and there is an overall Gestalt in place in every single one. I’ve had experiences with casual listeners where I begin to point out subtle details and they begin to learn to listen. In fact, most people get super excited the first time they hear details they haven’t before. The world becomes a whole new place.

  59. I again have this to say. Many people in audio forums have incredible hearing. Although mine isn’t really that good I have trained my ears to really listen. I can tell you that none of my friends can hear the subtle nuances of mixs that I can. Somehow we as audio engineers get so caught up in the gear thing we forget who is going to listen to our stuff and what they will listen on.

    I know some consulars of fine wine can pick out a year of some great quality wine or other but me… well give me a rum and coke. I could never tell the difference between wines and don’t wan to.

    This is the same attitude most music listeners have. Do I like this song.. is my foot tapping.. are the words great? Can I relate to the feeling of the singer? That bass part sounds cool. Listen to Angus Mckinnon jam on that guitar.

    I never hear any of them saying.. Wow listen to the very subtle nuances of that really loud electric guitar part.

    Now… I do hear some Classical lovers talking about such things. But I think in general they have more sophisticated hearing and listening skills. Also they are listening to something which is intended to sound completely natural… Unretouched.

    So… all though it is cool to talk about this stuff, I think we should try to keep it into perspective.

    Now go ahead and throw me out of your club

  60. Point taken but I believe the truth lyes somewhere in-between.

  61. To be clear Brandon, I was replying to challman’s comment contribution, not the article itself. And yes, I agree there are tons of people who are either too biased to think they can’t learn to listen, or don’t want to learn to listen. I’d still argue it doesn’t mean we just give up and make shitty wine.

  62. No offense, but this is a really weak argument. Just because most (or more likely, some) people won’t hear nuance doesn’t mean one shouldn’t aim for it. Simple songs are great; this is true. The product is a mix, and there is an overall Gestalt in place in every single one. I’ve had experiences with casual listeners where I begin to point out subtle details and they begin to learn to listen. In fact, most people get super excited the first time they hear details they haven’t before. The world becomes a whole new place.

    No offense taken.

    #1 – It’s not really an argument at all. I’m playing devil’s advocate here for the most part. I have nice preamps and soon I’ll be 100% ultra-high end on the preamp thing. For me personally, I’ve always wanted to max out every aspect of my recordings and I have a few bucks to waste on getting that extra 1% whenever I can. I do believe that the “smearing” of not-so-good preamps makes life harder. (I also know that too hi-fi of a preamp is a problem for some, as well.)

    #2 – I think I have an strong argument IF, the only goal is to crank out hit-caliber songs particularly for a person with a terribly-low budget. I’m absolutely POSITIVE that a huge part of engineering (and really any skill) is mental. Most people hop into recording and automatically feel they aren’t going to make great recordings because X, Y, and Z. If a person knows they can have hit-caliber recordings (whatever that means) without X and Y, I think this puts them in the mindset of making better recordings. (You can see The New Pyschocybernetics book for more details on this particular hypothesis.)

    #3 – I think teaching a person to listen is fighting a losing battle. It can be done, but for every person who does learn to listen more intensely, there are 20 new kids listening to 96k mp3s through their Ipods and liking it.

  63. I know some consulars of fine wine can pick out a year of some great quality wine or other but me… well give me a rum and coke. I could never tell the difference between wines and don’t wan to.

    Great analogy! The wine guys are whack jobs who are not in tune with reality, for the most part. I just want to get buzzed, have more fun the usual, and hang out with buddies. I never use terms like “woody” when I’m drinking something.

    We were having a similar conversation on this thread. Do You Screw Up Recordings By Being A “Good” Engineer Sometimes being obsessed with all the little details makes a person miss the big stuff. In particular, take note of the way the Taylor Swift song was recorded. It’s very interesting since this was the Overplayed Song Of The Year.

    I do think the when not-so-great preamps are used, there is a “smeared” quality to the whole thing that makes the gig tough, but if every other link in the chain is money, this preamp issue is not life and death especially if the goal is not to win Engineering Grammies, but instead just to excite the listener. High end pres certainly doesn’t guarantee high end production as well.

    Brandon

  64. After many years of trying almost everything I have come to this conclusion. It is about the song number one.
    If you have a stand alone or Pro Tools, Logic etc, don’t waste money on stuff user $350 because your preamps are just as good.
    To really hear a difference you need to spend some money.
    Experience counts, a newbie with Avalon 737 will not guaranty a better sound than a veteran with minimal gear. Also people will justify whatever they buy so beware or opinions.
    That said, my Rosetta 800 with my Avalon, Daking, Twin finities, vintage Joe meek sound great and much better than my 003.

  65. I have been lurking on this topic for a long time now, and thought about it quite a bit. I wanted to weigh in with a couple of simple thoughts…

    1) The reward for putting $ into pre-amps (or mics, or plug-ins, or interfaces…) is tiny when compared to the reward for putting $ into a quality instrument. A great acoustic guitar recorded on modest equipment will sound infinitely better than a modest acoustic guitar recorded on top notch equipment.

    2) If you’re going for a raw, live, rock and roll sort of product, the quality of the recording gear will be less important than if you’re going for a clean, intimate acoustic performance.

    I don’t own any truly high-end equipment (though, If I won the lottery today, I would have tons of high-end equipment tomorrow!!) and I manage to make recordings that please my customers, and make me pretty happy. But I often fall just short of the sound that I’m looking for, and I feel pretty sure that just a few hundred thousand in new gear would get me much closer. I will probably never know for sure.

  66. 2) If you’re going for a raw, live, rock and roll sort of product, the quality of the recording gear will be less important than if you’re going for a clean, intimate acoustic performance.

    I have this all the time and I still don’t understand it….at least not completely. There’s no reason a person (with infinite budget) would ever prefer the worst stock interface preamps to that of the really high end stuff. It’s not going to happen. It would be like a person choosing 96kbs mp3s over wav files. Never have I heard an certain creative aesthetic come to life with the mp3s like I have with singing into guitar pickups or beating on pots and pans. In those cases, a high end pre is still preferred.

    The deal is we want the most “focus” and “alive” qualities we can get regardless of the music we are making.

    The tricky part is when some genres of music sound MORE alive with certain pres. The colored nature of Neve and API is THE sound of rock music. So to say that a Neve or API (high end pres) is not-so-important in the rock genres is easily falsifyable. At least, that is how rock records are made on the tip top level (in addition to pop, country, metal, and everything else on this side of jazz……which I would also lean towards API and Neve on as well).

    Brandon

  67. I thought I might have been too vague on this point. It’s a little tricky… I did not mean to imply that Neve or API pres don’t make a difference for rock recordings – I know that they do, and I would love to have the money to buy some for myself. There is depth… openness… transparency… things that I just can’t get with my gear. But with a typical rock band, I don’t *need* it. I can make recordings that really work. I can get big, fat, punchy and powerful. Enough to properly capture the performance.
    On the other hand, with an intimate acoustic act I would *need* depth, openness and transparency to properly capture the performance.
    I’m not sure that I’ve made my case.