Mic Preamps: Disappointment In Recording Gear #4

Brandon Drury —  February 4, 2013 — 79 Comments

Mic Preamps
I’m starting out by cheating. I’ve never been wound up about preamps. I was conned into buying a Vintech 1272 before I had recorded my first track by some internet jackass. So I’ve known since day #1 that a preamp has never brought a dead person or recording back to life. That talk of preamps diving through skyscraper windows or good preamp aliens coming to protect us from bad preamp aliens is just for Michael Bay forum posts at Gear Prostitutes.

However, I did run into a forum post on a web search for something unrelated and this guy kept going on and on and on about THE PUNCH, THE PUNCH, THE PUNCH of the API 3124. He had a naive youthful exuberance to him. (Ahhhh! ….to be young, dumb, and full of………..shit again SMILEY). I’m imagining a young Ron Howard in that 70s tv “program” saying, “Gee, Tommy Lee. Being married to Pamela Anderson must have been swell.” as Tommy Lee is going to jail for being driven so crazy, so nuts, and so out of his mind, by his completely bonkers princess “trophy wife” he had to resort to old world wife correction techniques.

Another kool aid mustache man at Gear Prostitutes states that same API 3124 “makes recording guitars easy”. [sarcasm]Yeah, kid. Just run your Boss Metal Zone straight through your API and you’ll sound like Guitar God in 90 seconds or less or your money back.[/sarcasm] It always interests me when guys NOT making Meshuggah albums talk about recording guitar being “easy”. I know some 16 year old kids down the street who will challenge him. Some of us are more critical of our own work. Maybe there is something to.. Cocky, Asshole Mixers And Why You Must Be One.

After all the hype of THE PUNCH of the API 3124, I have to say the first time I heard it on my drum close mics it reminded me of the first time my weiner didn’t work. ‘nuf said. (Most of this lack-of-punch was attributed to the skill of the drummer….a typical local studio problem, but it’s clear that I have different ideas of what PUNCH is than the typical reviewer of API preamps.) I can say with certainty that Tommy Lee punched Pamela Anderson a lot harder than API “punched” my kick, toms, and snare. Thank god for Slate Trigger, compression, waveshaping, and all the stupid human tricks I know to create this “punch”! Even with damn good drummers, the additional upper midrange of the API is…… well……it’s a start. It’ll get 4% of that metal drummer stick click attack stuff you need. You are on your own on the other 96%.

I’m not slamming the API preamp. It’s a fine tools that has a specific character that is very handy when you need it, but to think it’s going to make your drums PUNCH, slam, kick, and scream is about like saying a screwdriver is going to get you laid. I can’t even find the correlation between the two. The API is faster and hair more bitey than your typical high end preamp. That kind of review won’t get you into a Michael Bay movie.

Note: I guess it would help if someone could actually define “punch”. Even that is a rarity.

I am of the school of thought that a person with such an inclination to buy a single channel fancy preamp will benefit about 4% over your typical stock preamp. There’s a certain lack-of-cloudiness that’s pretty damn easy to hear on A/B tests between a fancy preamp and a not-so-fancy preamp. I’d say without reservation that the True Systems P-Solo and the Focusrite ISA One get you into that ballpark for 4 or 5 bills, give or take.

Comparison Shop For True System P-Solo
Comparison Shop For Focusrite ISA One

After that, you start paying a hell of a premium for one single subtlety distorting preamp. Don’t kid yourself. That’s what a colored preamp is. Is the Neve 1073 distortion ideal for everything? I can’t answer that, but I have noticed a certain need to have more than one kind of preamp distortion. One ain’t enough.

It’s nice to be able to solve a problem by switching from Preamp A to Preamp B. That requires skipping the new Kia you were going to buy in cash and snagging a rack full of volume knobs and patchbay. It’s a real bummer when you have to pay a zillion bucks for each new distortion and still process the living crap out of tracks and that makes a person wonder what these fancy preamps are doing at all*.

*I guess this is genre dependent.

Just keep that in mind. A preamp is a subtle, subtle bird in almost all cases. A typical person new to recording won’t hear a difference. Your girlfriend or wife WILL NOT hear any more PUNCH from one or the other. The internet has went tabloid-times-two-trillion-crazy pushing the need for crazy priced preamps. I imagine this is mostly confused big dogs with monster tones underestimating their absurd level of skills and overestimating inanimate objects that fit on mic stands and 19″ racks spaces. Maybe it’s just people with $2,000,000 to waste who simply don’t need $2,000 to do all that much. SMILEY

The only time a preamp’s impact isn’t so subtle is when it’s flat out wrong. Run a Roland JP-8080 synth through the DI of the API and your ears will bleed. My experience with certain vocals using a Peluso 251

Anyhow, a person on a budget (or without) is infinitely more empowered by a $400 non-cloudy preamp and a well-used instance of iZotope Trash2. With that a person can move audio mountains. If you want to skip the Ranger bass boat and buy a rack of preamps, knock yourself out, but please don’t confuse home recorders on a budget that this is anything other than excess.

No one simply plugged into X mic preamp and sounded like God. YMMV


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.

79 responses to Mic Preamps: Disappointment In Recording Gear #4

  1. Amen to that brother Brandon

  2. Great article Brandon. Once again a solid, sane piece of advice.

    I got sucked into the “Importance of preamps”, but stopped shy of wasting any money. I was about to drop a lot of cash, then came to my senses and bought an ISA One. I use whenever possible, just because it is clearer and cleaner than the stock pre’s on my interface (Focusrite Saffire Pro40). However, it takes a really quiet environment and really attentive listening to hear the difference. It does add up if layering a lot of tracks, so I don’t regret buying it.

    One feature that I would like to try on the ISA One is the analog-digital converter. If I could line out of the preamp to a digital input on my interface, I could have an additional channel available to me. Plus it would have bypassed all of the analog circuitry in the interface, possibly making it an even clear/cleaner preamp. Alas, I wasn’t smart enough to know better when I bought it.



  3. you are so on the ball. my limited experience is very in agreement with you.

    the phrase a fool and his money soon go separate ways comes to mind
    (I don’t record drums or electric guitars. so when I say limited,
    I’m pretty much talking about vocals, acoustic guitar and piano and harmonica.)

    great article Brandon.

  4. I hear ya. I never got into spendin huge on preamps. ( I did on monitors untill I bought IK Multimedia ARC. Now I can do balanced mixes that transfer on a set of Logitech X-230′s if I have to ) My pream rig consists of 32 Soundcraft pres in my Spirit Studio Auto which I use for pres and a mix buss plug and the Art Tube MP. ( Ive got 4 of those ) Suits me fine. I could have sold my Soundcraft but I just lean it up against the wall and sub it into my soundcard. The preams are nice and can go from clean to warm at the turn of a dial.
    Ethan Winer did a great vid about audio myths including a/b comparrisons. Everyone should see it. Itll save ya a ton o cash.

  5. I was just following another thread about recommendations to a person just getting started in home recording. I was shocked by the number of people recommending first purchasing the most expensive preamp (pointing to their own preferred models) they could afford. This, ahead of a microphone or AD interface. I’ve found the biggest impediments to my recordings are in order:

    The talent (or lack thereof)
    Microphone and microphone placement
    The room where I’m recording
    The room where I’m doing playback and mixing

    And, I’ve screwed up more recordings from the acoustics in my playback room than from any other issue… Did you notice, the preamp isn’t on the list?

  6. Absolutely right on (especially) THE MONEY.

    Never was involved in a recording project where the preamp was the thing that screwed it up…or rescued it, for that matter.

  7. Yes it proves that Brandon actually knows what he is talking about here, and is very experieced in actually recording all kinds of music, and with actually using all kinds of various music gear together. He actually know from experience how everything sounds together as a whole package, in all kinds of recording situations. Where as talk forums have people who just talk the talk without having any actual recording experience and or gear experience. They have one setup and think it is the Holy Grail of all recording situations. No one setup is perfect for everything, and I agree completely.

    This takes years and decades of actual experience and practice to write this article blog. I love Brandon’s very truthful and colorful expressions and analogies here, which proves he knows what the hell he is talking about unlike most people “who still live at home in their parents basement or trailer” dreaming and wishing they knew everyhting there is to know about recording music.

    People really need to get into a reality check, no one person of course can know everything there is to know about recording music. But Brandon comes pretty damn close most of the time. Good job on writing ths very true article on pre-amps. Rather some people think they are Gods rather than the equipment they praise and talk about so much ! Just my opinion and I am sticking to it.

  8. Brandon seriously your one of a few people who actually know what they are talking about my friend. I as in me-like you and 1 zillion others have bought into forum after forum oppinion after oppinion and felt that we were missing something in our sound and recording and bought truck loads to try and make it sound better.I have had guitaristsin with Martin and Taylor guitars who I couldnt get an accoustic sound that I liked hen this guy comes in with a £200 acoustic guitar through the exact same chain same micing technique and I have never heard a better sound in my puff man it sounds awesome and the reason HE KNOWS HIS INSTRUMENT AND HOW TO PLAY IT.Its he same Brandon regards to the room thing I dont bu into it if you have an ok room you can get your recording to sound good in a mix and if you have a horrible room you will till find a way to sort it not that I wouldnt want a so called perfect room if it actually exists. Its all hype hype and more hype. I am lucky enough to have a couple of nice pres that I do love and dont push to level of distortaion people are told to do to get that SOUND. You can make a good singer sound amazing with most low end mics and a crap singer sound exactly what they are with a 2k mic. I am where I am now and I will never put money into any more gear again because if you work with what you have sorry learn to use properly what you have and gain a better understanding of what you are doing then your recordings will sound a lot better.I do not buy into the fact that a certain compressor eq or whatever will make your song 5 10 0r 15% better because it won’t ,good musicians, singers ,drummers etc etc will make a far bigger contribution to your final product in my oppinoin of course.

  9. I have used all the big boys of preamps: Neve, API, Vintech, Chandler, Daking, Shadow Hills, Manley, blah blah blah… Each pre does what it does, it amplifies the mic signal. The preamp is NOT the solve-all solution to the problem.

    The foundation for a GREAT recording begins with A) A great song, B) A great musician, C) A great instrument (drums, guitar, amp, piano, etc…), D) A great room. If I have ALL of those foundations, then and ONLY THEN will a mic pre possibly make a difference, and it will be a minute difference at that. Mic placement, mics, and instruments will make far more of a difference than any preamp, convertor, or *insert hot gear item here*.

    Trust me, I’ve been there. I would love to say that the recording wasn’t good because of the preamp. Not true. Usually, and very commonly, a recording sucks because of the song, the player, or the instrument. I hate to be brutally honest, but if your song sounds like sh*t, it probably isn’t my fault. A great song with a crappy mix is still a great song. A horrible song with a great mix is still a horrible song. End of story.

    Sorry for my rant, but I have had some situations lately where musician A says “I have to use *insert high-end gear piece here* or the recording will sound terrible.” Oh really??? Please go on…


  10. I’ve done stellar recordings , both music and VO, on Focusrite and a Roland QuadCapture, both purchased for under $300. The Focusrite is warm warm warm and the QuadCapture is clean clean clean. But both are a pain in the tookus for stability (focusrite works like crap on a PC, but great on a Mac, and QuadCapture works great with SONAR on PC, but has a hard time playing well with TRackS unless I fresh boot). I deal with the struggle to save the money since something usually has to force me to take a break anyway between working sessions. My next adventure is the RME. Mmmmmmm. Extra 1%.

  11. Jonathan Erskine February 5, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I am a bit surprised almost every time I read some comments about mic preamps.
    As I understand it, their function should be to provide voltage gain to microphones and do that without adding any significant amount of noise and distortion besides having a very flat frequency response.
    Most modern mic peamps will easily meet these conditions regardless of price bracket.
    If a particular preamp model at any price level is claimed to possess a particular ‘sound character’, then the manufacturer should provide a clear explanation of what it really does to achieve this.
    I think this subject has been treated in a rather careless way by manufaturers, recordists and reviwers alike.
    To complete my thoughts, I don’t think a mic preamp should alter the sound of a microphone in any way unless it is coupled an/or complemented with a sound processor such as an equalizer or a compressor or an aural exciter.
    I would love to hear any further comments on this subject.

  12. Wow, I could not disagree with you more. Does someone need to buy an arsenal of Preamps, no, but you should have 1 Quality Preamp and 1 Quality Mic, those two things will make your recordings night and day over standard Mic Pres in the vast majority of Recording I/O Boxes. I am honestly dumbfounded that you made this argument.

  13. Thanks Brandon, good points, I think Alex has found the better path, a console actually gives you more flexibility and is a better investment overall. I watched my son-in-law develop Mohog audio (his 1176 IS actually worth the coin) and part of his development process was determining a fair price for a fair product. I have since built Neve 1290. 1273′s. API 312, Mozart style Pre’s, Great River MP, and my current favorite is a tube pre I built based on the legendary REDD 47 desk…but at the end of the day, gain staging and mic selection/placement have way more to do with the sound than some circuit with its own set of noise issues…and yes “punch” is a hard metric to introduce if you have hoisted all your hope on the perfect pre…it doesn’t exist…find what you like and hit record…

  14. Once again, Brandon tells it like it is. Sheesh, SOMEBODY has to! Maybe software myths oughta be on your radar, too. Like googling every instance of the word “mojo” in a review or advertisement for a plugin and firing a salvo of logic and reason (the ones invented by Greek philosophers, not the software products) at them.

  15. Michael wrote: “But both are a pain in the tookus for stability (focusrite works like crap on a PC, but great on a Mac, and QuadCapture works great with SONAR on PC, but has a hard time playing well with TRackS unless I fresh boot)”

    Something not right here. Your problems must be in other parts of your chain as neither these nor any other preamp have a clue what type of computer they are patched into.

  16. The beauty of RME is that there is no adventure. Just a rock solid interface. The pre’s are very useable as well, not hyped but clear and clean

  17. I ended up making 5 different mic pre-amps from kits. I got two Neve-like channels, two API-like channels, two Millenium-like channels and two ‘other’ channels. 8 in all. They all fit in a nice 2U rack unit. I had a ball making them, and they were much more reasonable than buying them from other manufacturers. They sound just fine to me. I can tell the difference between them all, but man it is subtle.

    Moving the mic an inch makes a much bigger difference than any Mic pre I have.

    The kits I made are to be had at:

    They are not for complete soldering noobs, but were relatively easy to make (for people with good attention to details).

    To be clear, I don’t recommend you go out and buy those mic pres. They were an experiment that I wanted to do. I wanted to learn to make them, see the circuit diagrams and how they looked on my scope once built. The end result is I have some really nice mic pres, after having done my bit of hobbyist experimentation.


  18. I use an ART Pro MPA II for my sm 7. I got it because I needed something to bring up the signal from this mic. I had the preamps cranked on my profire 2626. It was about $200 and does what I need it to do. I like the way it can make things a little distorted. In the end it can give me something to work with that I can process the hell out of in the box. I have a lot of other things I would spend my limited cash on before another preamp.

  19. Al The Rev. McKinnon February 5, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    I have been to the mountain top looking fo the right mic preamp. When I was playing blues harmonica with the band Redhouse in Phila. I set up my pa. system and soon got an Art Tubepac pre and an Art Tube Eq so that I could compete with the guitar and ajust my sound to the clubs we were playing in. Later when I got my first 8 track I used them for recording. No matter what I did I couldn’t get the sound I got from recording at Kaygem Studio , vocals or harp. I did have a Mackie board and a Tascam DA38 recorder. I got good recordings but something was missing in the vocals I recorded. Doing 4 songs and having the owner of the studio as my co producer I must have been spoiled. But one thing I did learn was that money made a big differance when it came to equiptment. I believe my Summit 2BA-221 mic pre , tube or solid state is a good choice for about $700.00 with variable imp. is a lot better than my tubepac. Of course it always depends on the things you need it for. My Tascam Da38 is a lot better than the Tascam 4 track I had . Money will almost always make a differance in the quality you can get. The question is how much is it worth it at a certain point. I’m happy with what I have. I think that is the answer.

  20. Thanks all of your great articles, Brandon. I am already convinced I don’t need to start saving up for those $2K preamps I keep reading about in TapeOp.

    I have a basic, burning question about preamps. I am recording vocals and acoustic guitar in a home studio with “decent” acoustic treatment, and use a variety of “decent” mics. I run through an Apogee Duet 2 into Logic Pro. I own a Presonus Eureka preamp.

    Am I better off using the Eureka preamp when I record tracks, or should I just go straight through the Duet into Logic? Pros and cons? Trust my ears? Thanks, all…

  21. I agree with you, Brandon, and I don’t even HAVE a weiner. (Give yours my best wishes, though…) After all the hype about preamps I found that the entire system is a colour, and the preamp is little more than the tint. If one works with the same preamp all the time, differences will be heard between one brand and another. Learning YOUR preamp is much better than worrying about a super preamp whose differences can only be seen and heard with an O-scope. (no, I CAN’T spell it…) Hugs…..

  22. This is exactly why I stay away from gearslutz. When I was starting out I shelled out a majority of student loans for a UA-dual 610 and an avalon 737. At first I “thought” the difference between those pres and my focusrite octopre was dramatic (placebo effect) and yes I made some great recordings. Now that my ears are seasoned I feel like the great sound of those recordings were all because of my new found confidence in my chain and the importance I put on mic placement. Because honestly…the better your ears become…the less dramatic a difference you’ll hear in these pres in terms of quality. I can sell these pres and be FINE. Will I? No. They look bad-ass and if a client sees a star trek like setup, they too will have the confidence it takes to make a great performance. That’s my simple assessment.

  23. Nice recording can be done on almost anything that records, as the sourse is the most important, we all know that. But I rather like nice preamps…I had a Avalon channel strip thought it was good til I got a great river… for me the great river is awesome. That being said I have a ua m610 I got used for $600, and it is also so awesome in many different ways and very different., I have also experienced the punchiness of the api 3124. rented one for drums on a tune, and it always stuck with me. On gearslutz they had that shoot out with a tube mp and a great river, and alot of people got it wrong, I heard it right away. for me it wasn’t that subtle.
    I think it takes many years to be able to hear these differences and I think when my ears weren’t as good I would not have been able to here the difference so quickly

    Bottom line, I think a home studio should have one or two channels of bitchin preamp as they make a difference when you start stackin trax.

  24. There’s still something to be said for having preamps with different flavors, I believe. I don’t have a huge colection of preamps, and any of the ones that I do have will work well on any given source…….but I have settled on which ones sound like what, and know which will give a certain character to the sound they re-produce on certain instruments.
    So when I want a really clean sound acoustic guitar sound, I choose preamp A, when I want the same guitar to have a little more bite I go for a different preamp, and when I want a fat but still in your face electric guitar sound I go for a different one again. That’s for guitars as an example. But all three of those preamps are DIY racked up 1970′s stuff that give a high end sound, but were gotten for mid price dollars (with some hard work in time spent racking them up). I wouldn’t spend thousands on a Neve 1073 or 1064 ( I hire them if needed), but I wouldn’t part with my old preamps for all the tea in China, because they DO have some character to them.

  25. I would really love to see an interface shootout focused around pre-amp quality.
    For such a test it should probably skip condenser’s and move straight to dynamics and ribbons i.o.w 50+ dBA gain levels.
    I love to browse the recording equipment and one after another product promises the most “pristine” amplification. I have such a mixer that lists in big bold letters on the box “studiograde pre-amps, ultra low noise”. Though when we eventually had to record vocals on a SM58 we soon realized said mixer could not deliver on said promises.

  26. well I have been recording about 10 years now and wile your board is 6 foot wide and my board is 8 inch wide and you have some nice pres I have a guitar amp a pa and a vocal peddle and a old korg 4 track that I USE AS A PRE AMP INTERFACE wow yes I dont get the sound you get but you know after tweeking my equipment and computer I have recorded some good stuff in the last year or two by the way brandon if you have some realy bad pre amps or interface equp– to throw out you have my address ha ha —-acoustic

  27. I don’t know API from ISA but, I did meet Phoebe Cates once (when I was hangin’ with an old songwriting partner who went on to be a much sought after producer) and she WAS all that.
    (She, unfortunately, was hanging with some dick with drumsticks in his back pocket).
    PS True story.

  28. Al The Rev Mckinnon February 5, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    I don’t know if the last comment was a reply to me or Brandon. My wife told me that I was 9 inchs, my Mackie is rackmount 19 inchs. Boys To Men bought the Kayjem Studio I recorded in. They were building a ramp for Teddy Pendergrass after his accident, that is my only claim to fame. I sold my house and had some extra money and always wanted to see what it would be like to record like the big guys. So with Mitch Goldfarb the owner as my co producer I got to sit beside him at the board and make decisions from begining to end. This was when the famous Linn drum came out and because of problems I had with live drummers in recording situations we went with the Linn. Ever since I was a child I wanted to record the songs I wrote so while I was there I soaked up everything I could learn. What I did learn was that money does make a differance, more so in the past because it was so hard to get the good stuff unless you had a lot of money. Now that divide has has shrunk and I can almost get the quality I got at Kayjem. Almost. They still had the ten ft. board the killer mic pres and the $ 4000.00 mics , a sound room for guitars that they had a basketball court in and a beautiful room with a grand piano, tottaly pro control room with monitors so large they had to warn you when they turned them on.
    My point is that when I was done and got back to using my own equiptment it was discourging to say the least . I was happy when the Mackie came out it was a step up to pro and the mic pres I felt took me even further. I had a number of 3 and $400.00 mics but even at that point I felt I needed a piece of a high end mic pre that would make any of my mics sond good, after that it would be what to use them for. I decided on the Summit 2BA-221 because of all the great reviews that it got and the vari.imp. also tube or solid state I was hoping that would be the end of my search, and it was. I know there are better mic pres out there but not so much better that all that money makes it worth it. Like I said I’ve been to the mountain top to know the differance and would agree that you can get a good mic pre for 5 to $700.00 and compete with the big boys. I hope this didn’t drag on too long as I am new to this sight and do not play guitar anymore due to arthritis . I have been stopping by here for a while but feel like an outsider. Hope this helped. Al

  29. I think preamps are important. I think bashing people on other blogs just because they aren’t yours is pretty cocky and self absorbed. I also think I’m going to unsubscribe from your emails. I don’t like the vibe. It’s not what I work in the audio industry for but I certainly agree, the pre amp doesn’t make the sound, the artist and the instrument source make the sound. Then obviously proper mics, placement, gain structure, and conversion get it from point a to point b. Thanks for the rant though.

    Until next time. Wait, there won’t be one.

  30. also having your comments up for review to control what people really think is being selective and only letting people comment on your posts who agree with you. Which is also pretty one sided of you.

  31. I have to agree with you, Brandon. But that doesn’t mean I am going to sell my sca API and Neve channels. They are my favorite! Really, they don’t have enough distortion for my taste so I have to add some more in. And, I have have been buying some low $ vintage gear trying to get things a little crunchier. You could probably get a similar effect with plugins though. Aux track with a hpf and lpf so you only hear midrange and a distortion plugin = poor mans API.

  32. Regarding using preamps in a home studio, I would love some opinions. For recording vocals and acoustic guitar, are there advantages to using this chain:

    a good mic –> Presonus Eureka preamp –> Apogee Duet 2 –> Logic Studio, 24 bit

    vs simply

    the same good mic –> Apogee Duet 2 –> Logic Studio, 24 bit

  33. Wow, I could not disagree with you more. Does someone need to buy an arsenal of Preamps, no, but you should have 1 Quality Preamp and 1 Quality Mic, those two things will make your recordings night and day over standard Mic Pres in the vast majority of Recording I/O Boxes. I am honestly dumbfounded that you made this argument.

    Hmm. I’m dumbfounded that a person could be dumbfounded by an article they didn’t read.

  34. Benny The Busker February 6, 2013 at 6:51 am

    Brandon, thanks for yet another interesting and entertaining article!

    For those who haven’t read it, here’s an old but still relevant webpage about a listening test comparing 3 different pre-amps, with surprising results (but not surprising for Brandon!):

    Keep on telling the truth Brandon!

  35. Now the whole point for me when I started was to have a recording studio with very little money tied up in it . and so I have one. I have stayed on my beg and kiss ass program for a long time now and it works for me beg my friends and kiss my wifes ass for what little equipment I do have and this thing about pre amps well hell I would like to have a real good one but If you dont have one It wont keep you out of heaven. This pre amp Turd steps on a lot of hot shot recording peoples toes now dont it . Big money is to be made promoting pres on there web sites . And if you have spent big money on your equipment and someone called brandon surpreme overlord tells you have blew your life savings and pissed in the wind the Turd gets real stink E .and this is why I like your site brandon you say what you think For me cheep is good but if they got all that money burning in there pockets dont feed the poor buy more & more & more until you dont have room for your guitars in the same room so you x–pand to another room –oh crap thats a real music studio were I was spending big money to record my songs that will never amount to shit except to me And that brings me back to why I setup my own studio MONEY—-or–No money ——just like the millions of other bottom feeding turds out there –good recording all—acoustic

  36. I concur wholeheartedly! As a small-time operator, I can understand why a studio or engineer with an unlimited budget and a schedule that demands consistent results may prefer to record with a signal chain that imparts a particular sound. However, I have found that by recording a signal that is as clean and flat as possible, I can achieve very good vocal sounds by applying a preamp VST later. Ironically, when I was trying to pre-process sounds, using hardware to process, my vocal sound was criticized by a reviewer I submitted a recording to. The problem is that because I do not have outstanding recording chops, I risk making poor decisions that I cannot correct if I rely on hardware to alter the sound while tracking. And if cost is a factor (which it is for most of us!), VSTs will almost always trump the cost of hardware. Of course, this is assuming a minimum level of quality for the preamp; there are definitely preamps that will make most voices sound noticably worse; especially if they lack headroom and clip in an unmusical manner). But as Brandon said, a decent preamp that does not detract from the sound is not that expensive. -Fred

  37. One DOES need to spend enough money to get an excellent preamp. That doesn’t mean spending into the stratosphere, but you do need to spend enough to be in the game.

    Buying a Focusrite ISA ONE made a very significant and obvious improvement over prosumer and interface pres both for mics, and as a DI for guitars and bass. S-Gear and Amplitube amp models are substantially more realistic. Each microphone’s character is more obvious and dimensional. Having an optimal signal in also yields better results from in the box compressors and processing, and may obviate the need for outboard processing.

    Those that can really benefit from the extra % of high end gear may be a boutique elite, but the home studio especially will be substantially upgraded with an excellent preamp.

  38. In October 2012 Sound On Sound Magazine had an Mic Pre shootout. Basically it said that mic pre’s are a waste of money. They had a $400 Mackie that performed almost as well as a $4000 Maselec, and all kinds of other pre’s, SSL, API. etc. What I found the most interesting is this is a magazine that lives off of advertisements and they still put this out.

    I prefer spending my money on compressors, so if I want color I get it there. Also I can use the outboard compressor while mixing as well. Getting a hell of lot more bang for the buck. I have Focusrite pres that do the job just fine.

  39. In October 2012 Sound On Sound Magazine had an Mic Pre shootout. Basically it said that mic pre’s are a waste of money. They had a $400 Mackie that performed almost as well as a $4000 Maselec, and all kinds of other pre’s, SSL, API. etc. What I found the most interesting is this is a magazine that lives off of advertisements and they still put this out.

    I’m not surprised at all. No one listens to those shootouts or the conclusions of those articles. This is a faith thing and whatever causes faith in “electronic magic” and somehow makes DSP the devil is alive and well. For some it’s not an issue of listening or real world results. It’s about believing.


  40. I’ll throw down my two cents. I’m not the engineer for Meshuggah (and they do have great guitars), but I do work with a couple of platinum sellers, a couple of grammy-noms, and just some extremely talented folks that otherwise should be. I work sessions everywhere from Avatar in NY to your momma’s basement. And have been doing so for a while. In other words I’m coming from the perspective of quite a bit of experience.

    Most decent preamps will get the job done. A rack of great preamps, or a wonderful sounding console will ultimately sound better with all of the elements sitting together. BUT, that does not mean that through any decent mix, a record cut through primarily mid-priced preamps can’t sound excellent.

    Cheap preamps on the other hand tend to fall short. The immediate A/B comparison will only make sense if you are able to monitor well and are adequately experienced when listening to “detail.” By detail, I mean broad band fidelity. Cheap preamps tend to be marked by two distinct negative characteristics. The first is that the high end tends to sound scratchy and somewhat unpleasant. The second is that there seems to simply be frequency content missing from the signal.

    Hearing broadband shortcomings is something that takes some getting used to. Our ear kind of fills in the gaps and basically says: this sound is equivalent to something better, because it’s not markedly deficient over a distinct frequency band. It tends to reveal itself more when other elements of the song start coming into play. The cheap preamp’s signal becomes quickly masked by other elements.

    Lastly – the argument is not a linear one. I recorded a guitar-featured EP recently in a very nice studio in terms of acoustics and equipment. The guitar was going through a high end preamp, though I can’t recall which one. The sound was not particularly good. I switched out to another high end preamp – a Fern of some sort. The change is sound was very radical. Going from not so hot, to really good. And I think this is why people often have varying opinions on the subject. The results can be unpredictable at times.

  41. In my case I’d have to say that I see the need for channel recording strips more than just preamps per se. What I mean is that a dedicated mic recording preamp can do a lot more than just a slightly colored preamp with little tonal control. Still multiply the 4% improvement over a whole project cound and you can see why the big boys use them.

  42. Most people try to conclude about preamps by A/B’ing single tracks. That’s silly. Preamp selection makes a difference in how a track sits and stacks in a song. People, humble yourselves.

  43. Most people try to conclude about preamps by A/B’ing single tracks. That’s silly. Preamp selection makes a difference in how a track sits and stacks in a song. People, humble yourselves

    I’m not sure where the humble part came from. These are all just personal reactions/opinions to their experienced with various toys.

    As for the tracks stacking, I have a few issues with this logic.
    1) What about those minimal recordings done with only a mic or two that sound mind blowing? Would we not hear the sonic difference/improvement in this setting? Is the preamp not critical in a minimalist recording.
    2) Every sonic element affects the way a track sits. To solo out the mic preamp is to ignore the other 99 factors that contribute equally to this.
    3) I’m of the opinion that you can hear EVERYTHING a preamp does or doesn’t do quite clearly with the solo button engaged or not. You’ll hear the upper midrange harmonics in a Neve, the 120Hz and 8Khz thing in the API, and the tighter bottom of the Focusrite equally in either setting. These are often subtle enough where most people wouldn’t classify them as objective improvements.
    4) It sure sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo. Car Salesmen, “Sure, you may not experience all those benefits of the $10k in features of this car NOW, but just wait until summer time.” Really? (Maybe not.)
    5) A lot of preamps don’t stack so well. The Neve 1073 / 1272 are both well known for their 400Hz bump. You want that on every track? It’s probably the most heralded preamp of all time. (Great River is known for being 1073-like without the 400Hz bump with the implication of it being superior if you have to use it on every track.)

  44. I think preamps are important. I think bashing people on other blogs just because they aren’t yours is pretty cocky and self absorbed. I also think I’m going to unsubscribe from your emails. I don’t like the vibe. It’s not what I work in the audio industry for but I certainly agree, the pre amp doesn’t make the sound, the artist and the instrument source make the sound.

    I’d never bash a person for having an opinion. I’m counting 44 comments right now, each with a unique opinion. I’ve ALWAYS been a champion for EVERYONE to have an opinion on what their ears are telling them from day #1.

    The problem is I think there’s a whole lot of bs floating around that tries to sensationalize what these expensive tools do. This notion of PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH of the API doesn’t sound like an opinion. It sounds like an exploitative sales pitch that fits nicely within the framework of a world where many of us are trying desperately narrow the gap between us and the big boys.

    This sort of rhetoric needs to be called out.

    There’s a lot of grey on this one because, as the article mentions, there is clear definition of what “punch” is. However, if the implication is an API will turn an otherwise boring kick drum into a Deamau5 or Nickelback kick drum, I think it’s fair to say that such a claim is entirely misleading.

    In short, I have no problem being an asshole to those trying to mislead those of us trying to making kick ass recordings with finite resources.

  45. There is no correct way to do things. There’s only a correct way for me (or you) to do things.

    I have an API 3124+ and a Great River MP-2NV.
    I have a Presonus Live 24 board (which I’m using as an interface).
    I rather like the sound of the Presonus pres and converters via firewire, but will admit that it works for the way I record my band. We tend to record as much as possible live in the room together.. though there’s BLEED BLEED BLEED.

    I find that Shure 57′s through the API on my amp gives me the sound I want to hear (most of the time).
    I don’t get that with my old Mackie board pres.

    I’m not sure how much it matters during mix down, but If I’m hearing it the way I like.. I’m less worried about that aspect and more focused on performance tasks.

    I do agree that it may only matter about 4%.
    The mic pres will not correct timing problems, wrong notes, out of tune strings, bad technique or a horrible sounding source.

  46. One issue I do take is.. The P-Solo retails at about $600 no?
    The API 3124+ is about $2500
    the P-Solo is one preamp.
    the 3124+ is 4 preamps.
    4 P Solos would run you about $2400 no?

    I will agree that terms like punch, warmth, fast, colored, clean are way overused BS for the most part. That said.. API’s have been around for quite a while (Neve even longer). There’s a reason they’ve been used a lot. I think that reason goes past ‘punch’ and advertising terms.

    Perhaps it’s the dollar amount that makes us think they sound better. I think that would eventually wear off though. I’ve had my ‘high end’ pres for well over 10 years though. I think about selling them every now and then, but for some reason don’t.

    To each their own.

  47. One issue I do take is.. The P-Solo retails at about $600 no?
    The API 3124+ is about $2500
    the P-Solo is one preamp.
    the 3124+ is 4 preamps.
    4 P Solos would run you about $2400 no?

    Correct, but I’m assuming a good majority of the home recorders out there need just one preamp for most of their overdubbing. I’m not aware of a way to get an API channel for $600 new / $400 used. There are some great bargains out there in used land, but almost all of them are 2-channel units. The Vintech 1272 used comes to mind at around $900-1000, but it’s a bold flavor I wouldn’t want all of the time. There are surely others.

    I assume it’s power supplies and such that are relatively fixed fees regardless of the preamp. The True Systems Precision 8 ($2700) is 8 channels new ($337.5/ch). Not sure.

    When I stocked up on pres a few years ago I realized that 4-channel preamps provided excellent bang for the buck and tried out API 3124, Wunder Pafour, and Focusrite ISA428. That made sense in my studio where I often track live bands. I’m not sure I consider this preamp experiment a success, necessarily, which is mostly what the article is about.


  48. Yep.. the 500 series card pres would be the least expensive, but you’d have to spend $800 for the 500 series card (API 512c), and then the frame.
    Chameleon Labs makes a single slot frame for about $170.

    I don’t feel the 500 series stuff makes sense unless you’re doing multiple pres.
    The good thing is that they are varied now. Millennia, API, Great River, True Systems, Shadow Hills, Grace, Chandler, A Designs, Focusrite etc etc.. and it’s not limited to preamps.

    Comps, EQ’s, DI’s, Reamp, etc..
    *shrug.. I think I’m content to mix in the box ;)

  49. I have a Blue Robbi preamp. Does it make a difference?
    I pluged in a beta 87 in the preamp, the preamp was plugged in my Studio Live mixer. I plugged another beta 87 direct in my Studio Live.
    I heard a difference, the mike plugged in the preamp had more presence and body.

    I made some recordings by the time I was finished with the effects and all, I don’t know if the difference was so much.
    You can check the recordings yourself. Look up GINO DI NAPOLI FROM NAPLES on Youtube.

    The recordings have been done live, some in front of an audience, some recorded in my basement live. Some I used the preamp, some I used Studio Live, some I used the Mackie VLZ Let me know if you can hear the difference.
    Be prepared to hear some Italian music.

  50. From the SOS October 2012 issue (in which, after normalizing files for volume, the SOS staff couldn’t differentiate much between seven high- to low-end preamps in a blind comparison):

    “… with the files anonymized and level-matched, the differences between them appeared vastly more subtle, especially with the capacitor microphones. So much so, in fact, that many of us in the SOS office felt unable to confidently tell the anonymized files apart in any repeated or reliable fashion. I will leave it up to readers to see whether you can do better — and to form your own opinions as to whether high-end preamps represent money well spent! Surf to to download the files and listen to them.”

  51. Hat’s off to Brandon for championing the user over gear. I love great gear as much as anyone and am a little old fashioned in my recording philosophy. I love studios that cultivate A sound instead of trying to create EVERY sound. Yes, we need to be versatile and, yes, we need to be adequate if not excellent in at least a few different genres, but I still think we can make great records with one set of excellent pres and one type of excellent microphone. I’ve sold most of my high end gear and now use mostly modded mics, modded DA converters, and great, low cost pres from companies such as Warm and Black Lion Audio. My point is that for years I didn’t know what kind of sound I was going for in my studio and ended up with a little bit of everything and a tremendous lack of focus. Now that I’ve streamlined things with a clear vision my work flow has improved dramatically as have the sound of the records I’ve been producing. My best advice for anyone who is gear shopping or setting up their studio: Do your homework, have a vision, and stay focused.

  52. a little old fashioned in my recording philosophy. I love studios that cultivate A sound instead of trying to create EVERY sound.

    Now that is VERY interesting. I’m well aware of British Invasion bands in the 60s specifically wanting to record in America for the “American drum sound”. That concept is quite foreign to us now, I think. I’d love to think that world still has some culture left and the east is somehow different than the west It appears this is going by the wayside.

    In more local terms, it’s hard to imagine sticking with live room’s sound. I have that live room because it’s paid for and no other reason. I can’t wait to be in debt at a place with a sound more in line with my tastes. As is, I’d imagine most of us are relying on processing and the sound of the space isn’t going to be unique to our recordings.

    . Now that I’ve streamlined things with a clear vision my work flow has improved dramatically as have the sound of the records I’ve been producing.

    Wow! Excellent advice. It’s very, very interesting when instead of wanting a “good” preamp, you want a Purple Dinosaur Sound (or whatever madness a person is into). The “good” preamp notion is meaningless. It’s along the lines of a “good paint brush” but even more boring and vague. By getting to a point where you can halfway define the sound you are after, the acquisition of tools evolves past simply shooting in the dark.

  53. Nice feedback, I think it boils down to the performance.
    If one has a great band/singer to record, it makes the job easy.
    This begs another question, what’s a great band/singer?
    In my opinion a band that has identity in the sound, is a great band/singer even if I don’t like it.
    I don’t like the sound of Pavarotti, but I know he had a great voice! You could Identify him from the first few notes he sang.
    Of course the engineer has to know how to capture and MIX the sound.

    A great voice and instrument don’t really need to be GREAT! I guess many keyboard player have a lousy patch on the keyboard that by itself sounds lousy but whem mixed with other instruments has a certain quality.

    Everyone talks about great preamps, personally, as said before, I can hear the difference live, but after processing I couldn’t tell the difference.

    Let me clarify, I only use a preamp for vocals, because I only record my voice and keyboard.

  54. You hit quite a few nails on the head. Everything is subjective. It’s what makes the statement “your favorite band sucks” funny.

    There are folks out there who listen to metal and only metal. Everything else is worthless.
    There are folks who like hip hop or alternative or country.
    What’s good is good, but that doesn’t mean your idea of good jives with my idea of good.

    I personally play in an all instrumental prog rock band. No vocals. So I don’t necessarily agree with needing a great identifiable vocalist, but your point about having a voice makes complete sense to me.

    I do this because I want to. I have no allusions to making money and becoming famous playing/writing and recording the music we do, but I like it. It’s us.

    I don’t feel that Dave Matthews or Peter Gabriel are great singers, but damnit if their voices don’t fit what they’re doing. It just works (for me).

  55. I personally like and sing many styles of music. There are songs that I would love to sing, I record them and they just don’t sound well coming out from me.
    A song may be great but it has to fit the singer.

    I only sing what I like and where I like, to make things better I am approaching 70 years old and get paid for singing

  56. enjoyed the article. its nice to hear its my talent that makes the recordings suck and not because I dont have the $5500 vintage preamp. i can work on the skills , and can afford a isaone or make do with something… i agree with bottom of the barrel can have a “blanket” sound, but most interfaces are pretty good, and with technology yesterdays $1200 interface is about $120 today.

    i got into the isa one because of your articles and have tried others against it, and it has a really handy layout with the DI and simplicity of knobs so the ergonomics is a plus. its a good unit like a SM7 or 57. Thanks for recomending it, and appreciate your website comparing the insanend gear pre’s to it.

  57. I’ve been driving salespeople people crazy for years. Not just with the preamps, but anything I buy.
    I turn around so I can’t see what they are doing and make them convince me that the expensive items sound better. Many times I can’t hear the difference. They try to convince me that I am deaf. I may be deaf but not tone deaf.
    I am glad there are others just as “deaf” as I am.

    I’ve been making music for over 50 years, the Blue Robbi is the first single preamp I ever got. Preamps from mixers served me well all these years. The Blue Robbi makes a difference when playing it live, after processing I can’t tell the difference, from my older projects.

    I got to admit lately it is a little more difficult to choose. The stores don’t stock all the Item and 95% of my purchases are now on line, sometimes I am too lazy to return an item.

    I have 2 shure beta 87. After reading the “users reviews” I purchased another Shure mike, KSM9, it cost twice as much as the Beta 87. I never warmed up to it, I find myself using the 87 most of the time. If you see some users reviews of the expensive mike you would think this is the best mike in the world.

    I used to call Matteo, a friend musician, to help me decide if I should keep a new toy. Lately I got smart, I don’t call Matteo anymore for help in making a decision. God gave me the good sense to understand that if you need someone to help you make a decision to buy or not to buy, you don’t need the damn thing. If you got money to burn and want the new toy, buy the new toy anyway.

    When I die the children will hire someone to have a garage sell, I say hire because we never had a garage sell. We usually put stuff at the curb, before the garbage man comes everything disappeares.

    Maybe is just me! Try to sell the used stuff, you get so little back. It is worth just to give it to the grand children as toys.
    Once I sold a used keyboard for a little over $1000,00. Guess what? I was paid with fake money, my wife went down the corner to buy gas, a cop who was working part time at the gas station wanted to arrest her for passing fake money. The secret service got involved, they confiscated the money and did nothing about it, they said not enough money for them to get involved. Good thing my house insurance covered the losss.

    What were we talking about? Yes, the preamps, if it makes you feel good buy it! But as Brandon will say it may help you1%.
    Once I was writing Brandon about the reverb Tony Bennett was using on a television program, he told me that probably Tony Bennett would sound good even if he sings on the telephone!
    I guess we are at square one, the talent is main thing in a recording.

  58. Jeffrey in Seattle February 17, 2013 at 11:56 am

    This article has spawned a ton of responses so I might as well add mine. I’ve got a UAD-2 Quad Omni in my Creation Station server with decent emulations of quite a few preamps. And I have a ton of other VSTs as well. I’ve often wondered if it would be a good idea to move to the real thing on the front end but given all the other factors in my studio that can affect my recordings just can’t justify the investment. So I think Brandon is right. My experience isn’t nearly as deep as others here but the effect of careful mic placement, and attention to performance quality, seems to me much more important than swapping out the pre’s on my interface. The weakest link in my sound chain is me :) One of my colleagues at work has achieved some success as a producer/songwriter and has placement of his material as themes on two TV shows. His pre’s are worse than mine but he knows how to use ‘em… and he spent far less than I did all up.

    Just my .02, keep it coming Brandon!

  59. I was conned into buying a Vintech 1272 before I had recorded my first track by some internet jackass.> snippet from article

    The more I pondered this article the question arose, that a persons point of view and needs is important, isnt it?

    Many start out with such crap gear and then a mic pre upgrade was a shocking upgrade. I was swapping mic’s and no difference heard until I got a pre-amp, it was very noticeable.

    Now I re-read this and the article mentions starting out with a Vintech etc…and from this perspective, then I wouldnt know, having access to the real deal allows one to not hear huge improvements between Vintech and True’s much etc.. but this perspective is already in the DECENT PRE ARENA to start with.

    So Brandon I wonder, if you were to do a “paid for session” with a brittle $90 Cheap-O mixer, or a Tascam 144 mixer, or Yamaha MD8 mixer, then I would think the beauty of the Vintech and API would again shine and the clouds would open up and you might blow a load in your pants…

    I ahd the opportunity for my first visit to a big-studio, and sitting in a room of $300k or something with real acoustics and thick steel doors of isolation and SSL baords with a beautiful tracking room and the sounds I heard sitting in the sofa watching the the 3 engineers scramble against the clock for the next session…. left me feeling like I had been to the mountain top finally, and my perspective forever changed and my ears were as if given 5 doses of Morphine of Blissful sonics never before heard in my head. I didnt blow a load only bcause the monitors were the KRKexpose not the ADAM SX6 or whatever….

    but still the point is perspectives, and the complete different world of a Solo HR guy recording himself in a closet versus someone who has humans paying for a great sound on a limited time of the clock.

    So slapping a Nueman on a SSL channel strip got there fast, or SM58 or a Seinheiser, and the Distressors and all that can be done later…..they didnt sit and tweak softwares and crappy Behringer mixers making shit noise for 4hrs like a HR guy can do in his closet studio.

    If I was a paying customer, on the clock, probably a MAnely TNT and a SM7 would be faster than spending 9hrs trying to replay a $70 UX2 Line6 unit to sound decent and remove the preamp noise similar to a fart fan in ones bathrroom that is inherent in its preamp going onto every track….

    ok back to the coffee.

    great article.. got me wondering what is my goal? lol

  60. A $300 K, Should make a difference. It is the chain of equipment that counts.

    I still think the talent is the most important part of a recording. By talent I mean the musicians, the singers and the people doing the recording, including the guy who can pick up problems that others can’t even hear. There are guys who don’t know a single musical note but are able to make suggestions how a note or a frase should be sang

    Millions of records are made in top studios, a small fraction make it to the top. Recording in a top studio is not a guarantee for success.

    Given a choice, or if one could afford it, the choice would be a top studio.

    According to what I read many home studios today have better equipment then some of the studios of the 40′s and 50′s.

    I returned a lot of expensive equipment, because I didn’t hear a difference from the less expensive equipment, or I didn’t like the differnce. Maybe I didn’t have the right chain of equipment.

    Suppose you have the best recording ever made, what do you do play frisby with it?
    To sale millions of records one needs a great marketer in place. If one is talented enough and lucky to play 5000 seat halls, maybe he/she can sell some on his/her own.

  61. Harlan Y Stephens March 19, 2013 at 8:19 am

    A few neve facts for y’all, the 1272, was never designed to be a mic pre, summing amp, yes, talkback amp yes, there never was a neve 1272 mic pre….as designed had a trim pot for about 39db of gain! many 1272 clones are wired up all wrong to boot, leaving one gain stage idling and another working way outside of its design.
    a 1073 is a pre with an eq, if there is no eq, its a 1290..
    thats the way rupert and geoff saw it, I tend to think they are right…

  62. Actually, my comment was not far off from the comments made by Mr. Weiss; however, his explanation about preamps that sound bad was clearer and more detailed than mine. I think the issue is “expensive” it seems like everyone is talking about “mid grade” preamps, like the Focusrite. Even with my admittedly semi-pro experience and questionable skill and ears, I certainly can hear preamps that degrade the signal. But I did not interpret Brandon’s comments to pertain to those sonic hooligans. For anyone who disbelieves, I will name or show them some preamps (many that are part of other pieces of gear like boards or interfaces) that will degrade the sound of most voices for most applications:-) However, I also don’t think that all decent and clear preamps cost over 1k, and I believe that is the point Brandon is making. Correct me if I am mistaken!
    -Fred Korkosz

  63. So Brandon I wonder, if you were to do a “paid for session” with a brittle $90 Cheap-O mixer, or a Tascam 144 mixer, or Yamaha MD8 mixer, then I would think the beauty of the Vintech and API would again shine and the clouds would open up and you might blow a load in your pants

    Great question. There’s no doubt that starting with the Vintech 1272 starts me in a fairly unique position The only problem is I’ve ran remote sessions with the Behringer ADA8000. I heard the same thing I hear almost every time I track anything….not quite right.

    I think I’ve hear “absolutely right” maybe three times in my life. Once on a guitar amp and twice on vocals in the 12+ years I’ve been doing this. Every other time there’s been some element that wasn’t right. Swapping out a Behringer ADA8000 for a Martech has never been the thing to fix that not-quite-rightness.

    I want to point out that I don’t like my API, Vintech 1272, etc because they are “good” or somehow superior. I like them because the API adds some sizzle up top and the Vintech tames the bottom end. Each is a solution (or at least pointing in that direction) to a problem. The difference is I’m a proactive mixer / sound designer and often must take it further when I mix. It seems my processing is 95% and the preamp is maybe 5% give or take. Of course, that’s fighting for the scraps of what’s left after the source (which has already chewed up 99%).

    If I was a paying customer, on the clock, probably a MAnely TNT and a SM7 would be faster than spending 9hrs trying to replay a $70 UX2 Line6 unit to sound decent.

    You may be right. The only problem is I’ve tracked the SM7 (and much, much more expensive condensers) through my high end toys and still have had to process them for hours and hours and hours. Sometimes the sound goes down exactly as I want it. Most of the time there is a battle.

    I can’t relate to the guys who aren’t doing aggressive processing. It’s VERY rare that a vocal sound goes down to “tape” sounding like what I hear in my head.

    However, I also don’t think that all decent and clear preamps cost over 1k, and I believe that is the point Brandon is making. Correct me if I am mistaken!

    I’m of the belief that once you get past the “cloudy preamps” and maybe the 2k heavy preamps, you won’t hear an objective improvement across the board by spending more. The Focusrite ISA 428 (and presumably the ISA One) fit that bill. So does the True Systems P-Solo.

    When you spend more, you generally get into intentional distortion. The problem with that is the API is definitely NOT great on everything. It’s truly screeching on a JP8080 synth, for example.

    I haven’t found that lowest price point where cloudiness is gone and noise is mostly eradicated. (My Manley TNT has developed some noise in the past few years.) There is probably a $100 preamp out there that does everything I need.

    My Toft ATB32 console preamps are pretty solid, although they are bigger in the low end than I’d want. I’m positive I could record with nothing but those for a year and would come out pretty happy. I wonder what those cost.


  64. Richard Baldwin April 17, 2013 at 4:02 am

    This is my favourite article ever! I pissed myself laughing. Not literally, but close enough.

    I am a vocalist (a pretty awesome one IMHO) who writes and produces, but never finishes a damn thing. This is what I’ve noticed: the same mic in the the same room through the same preamp with the exact same settings ( ie. everything exactly the same) sounds different two days in a row on the same vocalist. A/Bs of the same vocal line tracked two or three days apart sound as if different mic/pre amp chains were used. I think Brandon is quite on the point – performance is critical.

  65. Speaking of cheap preamps that sound amazing, I highly recommend the Rane MS1b. It’s got the same Burr Brown chip found in the Grace 101. You can get this preamp for less than a hundred bucks used. I used mine all the time and get stellar results.

  66. Thanks for the tip! I just paid the ungodly sum of $51 for it. I can’t wait to try it. SMILEY

  67. this should be interesting.

  68. To answer Richard Baldwin the “awsome vocalist.who never finishes a damn thing”
    If you listen to two takes one after another with the same set-up they don’t sound the same.
    This is one of the reasons we never finish a damn thing, we hear to much. I noticed that I sound better half hr. after I start singing.
    I don’t think the people who buy my CDs can tell which preamp I used.I think it’s all in our mind..
    To make matters worse the ricording will only sound as good as the equipment people will play it on. I hear many “Professional” recordings that sound lousy.

    GIVEN A CHOICE I would record on the most expensive equipment!

  69. Fred Korkosz May 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Dear Luigi: You said a lot with your comment about playback equipment. In the late 70s and early 80s, many listeners took fidelity very seriously; now, audiophiles are a rare breed; most people are satisfied with mp3s and earbuds. At least, I would think people would want to listen to 16/44.1 or higher quality through Sennheisers or Ultrasones.


  70. Richard Baldwin May 3, 2013 at 2:06 am

    To Luigi… Okay and everyone else too.
    All jokes aside, given the opportunity, I too would always track on the best possible gear. I’d love to run my Gemini II through a better pre than what I currently own. A pretty little TNT would suit me just fine. But I think good points are being made here. I often put off recording what I feel are my best songs for that glorious day when I own the gear that will bring the material to life. The truth is I am getting a pretty sick sound as is and the music translates. The quality of my performance is far more critical to my sound than the gear. Could it be better through more expensive gear? Sure. But to what degree I can’t really say. Are the tracks good enough as is? Probably. And I think Fred’s point is valid here too. Just cos I hear a subtle difference through my reference monitors doesn’t mean the difference will be even slightly impactful once converted to MP3 for iTunes download. But the quality of the performance will still be critical.

    As we say, you can’t polish a turd. If it’s sung poorly, not even the most expensive chain will save it. I say this, but I have heard Kesha sounding pretty pro. I think that’s more to do with those demi gods in the mix room though.

    Equally, I heard something about Brandon Boyd tracking vocals on an sm57. Not too sure how true that is, but even in my country at the ass end of the world, that’s only a R900 mic (sub $100). And Brandon sounds amazing. ALWAYS!!!

    All in all, this is a great conversation. I’m having a time. I wish all you gentlemen (and any ladies reading) all the best for your music and art. Keep it honest and like Jack White you’ll pull magic out of a piece of string and a tin can.

  71. I often put off recording what I feel are my best songs for that glorious day when I own the gear that will bring the material to life.

    I’d love to see this happen. I’m not sure it ever has.

  72. Sometimes cheap speakers pickup tings that expensive speakers/monitors don’t.
    About 6 months ago I picked up a set of lousy speakers for around $50. When my recording sounds good on these crappy speakers then I listen through my “better” monitors. Recently I got a 32″ flat screen tv for my home studio, when I mix for tv it has to sound and look good on the 32″

    Many people A/B equipment, what does it mean? You plug in a mike set your mixer flat and A/B? Suppose you have a cheap mike that can sound just as good as an expensive mike by using a compress, an EQ and any other effects that you already have, would you go to spend a lot of money for the expensive mike? The same should apply to preamps. I think one should A/B the finished product with effects and all in order to make a decision to buy or not to buy.

    I have two Tyros keyboards, I am aware there are other less expensive keyboards that can accomplish the same thing. I paid more because I wanted all whistles and bells. Probably a better keyboard player can get a better sound out of a Farfisa, For those who don’t know what a Farfisa was, it was an Italian keyboard, in order to get some music out of it you really needed to know how to play.

    Did you have run across a lousy Sax, but yet it sound great in a mix? This brings up another question how do you define quality?.

    To me quality of sound is what I hear from recordings of Sinatra, Bennet, Elvis The rolling stones, the Beatles etc. To others quality is all other sounds but the above. As far I am concerned if people are willing to buy it, it most be good. I tink the mixing guy should concentrate more in getting a unique sound.

  73. Glad you snagged the Rane MS1b for dirt cheap. Had a chance to test it out yet?

  74. Glad you snagged the Rane MS1b for dirt cheap. Had a chance to test it out yet?

    I haven’t gotten it yet. I’d love for this one to be a keeper. My little experiment with the Behringer Composer didn’t pan out. but my Toft vs API test did.

    I”m determined to find the sleeper preamps and compressors out there.


  75. Brandon,

    Speaking of great value compressors, i like the DBX 163X a lot. They sound great, are dirt cheap and the Over Easy one knob slide feature makes it dummy proof.

  76. patrick skelton June 27, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Hey, what were your thoughts on the MS1b? Hopefully positive?

  77. I’ve been playing and recording for 30 some odd years. I even worked in pro studios back in the 90s when they actually had money!

    Some of the best material on albums I’ve been a part of were recorded at home using decent mics with no external pres – just the d/a pre.

    I recall being on an album recording into a Roland vs880 ( where one button does a million things). Those recordings were mixed at phase one in toronto along with material recorded through a neve board at said studio.

    Guess what? Everyone liked the recordings from the home studio much better. All the songs sounded awesome but bottom line is we just went for the best tone and mic placement.

    The material was mixed by a pro in a pro studio and it stood up and at times surpassed the in studio recordings.

    Get your gear sounding good, put a decent mic in front, place it till it sounds good, press record and play the fuk outta your instrument.

    Then learn how to mix ;)

  78. That’s been my experience 100%. Get the stuff in front of the microphones to rule and take a nap. Done. SMILIE


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