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Super Secret $51 Preamp vs $2,000 Martech MSS-10

Brandon Drury —  September 23, 2013 — 55 Comments
Martech Rane Preamp Showdown

In This Corner: Martech MSS-10

Martech MSS-10
Weighing in at a bunch of pounds in the Geiger counter trunks is the Martech MSS-10.

“I’m blown away in the sense that it’s very hi-fi and open and sweet, but it’s not sterile and boring. It’s got fidelity but it’s got a lot of character and a lot of soul and it brings things present in the track. Audiophile used to be a bad word but this is hi-fi with soul.”
-Joe Chiccarelli, Engineer on Elton John’s Songs From the West Coast

I bought it because Mercenary Audio called it the “Ferrari Of Preamps”. I bought it for the Killer Home Recording Full Interrogator Sessions simply because I needed to know what the echelon of preamps sounded like and what benefit it would bring to me over other fancy preamps I owned. I’ve had plans of selling it ever since. It’s probably been in the box 3 years and only been hooked up for maybe one year in that time I’ve owned it.

I’m almost certain I paid over $2k for it, but I see it at Sweetwater for $1900.

The big reason I haven’t sold it is resale value…or lack their of. Buying a brand that isn’t in Musicians Friend (and therefor exposed to the masses….Neumann and Avalon spring to mind) is always risky in the resale department even if the tool is a hot topic on the web at the moment.

In This Other Corner: Super Secret $51 Preamp

Rane MS-1b

In the cheap and ugly trucks is my Rane MS1-b weighing in at surely less than 10oz is the Rane MS-1b.

The Rane MS1b is LOW-END and AVERAGE, period.
– The usual Gearslutz responser found here.

First off, this particular preamp cost me $51 used on Ebay. I did get a deal. I can’t guarantee you that you will, too.

The Disappointment
I was looking forward to this moment. Now I’m a bit disappointed.

This $51 Super Secret preamp is a bit of a let down. Not because of build quality, features, sound or anything like that. It’s a let down because I thought I would be able to shout out to the world, “This is the solution to all your problems”…at least that one problem of high end preamps being so expensive. It is that solution, but the problem is you can’t find the stupid things for this price….or really any price very often. I’ve been watching Ebay like a hawk since last spring.

I’ve seen them sell on Ebay without power supplies (which are proprietary and not inexpensive), I’ve seen two or three sell for $100. That’s it.

The Tests

I decided for these tests that I’d rather the weak link be impedance than human. So we split the signal right after our microphone passively using the patchbay and sent it to the Martech MSS-10 and the Rane MS-1b for all tracks. I set them so they were as close to phase-canceling as possible on the console and then flipped the polarity on one.

For this test all tracks were recorded with the preamp flowing into a line-level input on the console, to a subgroup, and then out to an Apogee AD-16x. The console is how I monitor signals although I’m considering getting it out of the input signal entirely. That’s another experiment to do. If it has any tint/color it would have an impact here.

Frequency Response

Others have told me that measurements don’t really tell you what an audio tool sounds like. Ethan Winer, author of The Audio Expert, tells me that the measurements tell you EVERYTHING. The more I think about this and the more I do this, the more Ethan Winer makes sense to me. If a measurement doesn’t illustrate the sound I’m hearing, I’d imagine that the wrong measuring was done. Just a thought. It’s early.

Ruprect mic’d up a Focal monitor from 3′ away, ran white noise through it and took a look in Ozone 5.

In this case, the frequency response illustrates the exact different I’m hearing. We made the Rane (green) just a hair softer in level so we could clearly see how it compares to the Martech (pink).

Rane vs Martech Frequency Response

They aren’t identical. They ain’t that different, either.

Take A Listen

Wav File Download
Here are the wav files. 16-bit, 44.1Khz.

The Jumbled Mix
I’m not sure what this “song” is, but I made it and I’m sticking with it. The only problem is I mixed it from a “competing elements on purpose” standpoint for the sake of the shootout. That acoustic guitar jumps out way too much and gets in the way of my very thoughtful lyrics. Does this make the mix better or worse for our purposes? You decide.

The Rane With EQ Option
Some audio clips have a third option. I took the Studio One Channel Strip EQ and added 1dB low shelf boost @ 80Hz and 1dB low shelf @ 12Khz. Not a lot of thought went into this. That’s about what I saw on the graph in Ozone 5 so I went with it.

Full Mix
This mix contains vocals, percussion, rain, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar all done with either the Martech, the Rane, or the Rane with EQ specified above. I used Boz Digital Labs Sasquatch for all drums except percussion.

Full Mix A

Full Mix B

Full Mix C

——-

Just Voice

Vocal A

Vocal B

Vocal C

——-

Just Acoustic Guitar

Acoustic Guitar A

Acoustic Guitar B

Acoustic Guitar C

——-

Just Electric Guitar Rhythm

Electric Guitar Rhythm A

Electric Guitar Rhythm B

——-

Just Electric Guitar Lead

Lead Guitar A

Lead Guitar B

Lead Guitar C

——-

Just Percussion

I hit a bunch of stuff on a table with a tiny pair of vicegrips and a screwdriver. Ruprect chopped ‘em up and loaded them in the Presonus Studio One Impact sampler. One track is exclusively Martech sounds. The other track is exclusively Rane sounds.

Percussion A

Percussion B

——-

Rain
ADK Vienna about 4′ from the screendoor with open window during a soft rain. You can hear rain hitting a bucket. If this isn’t a test for a mic and preamp I don’t know what is.

Rane B

Rane B

——

Answers

The answers are available on the Members Only thread on the forum on the second post. (Go here.) Not a member? Join! It’s free.

So How Are Alternative Preamps Like The M-Audio DMP3 or Rane MS-1S?

M-Audio DMP3
I picked up the 2-channel M-Audio DMP3 on Ebay for $100.
M-Audio DMP3
I have done informal tests with the Rane MS-1b vs the M-Audio DMP3 (utilizing the same INA163 preamp chip) and I do like the Rane better. Again, those are just “gut feelings” assessments that could be easily disproven with blind tests. I’m hesistant to make too many wild claims, but it sure sounds like the preamp chip can be used in different sounding preamps. I need formal tests before I’m ready to say. The two channels in the DMP3 sound quite a bit different so that could be an issue I need to deal with first.

Rane MS-1S
Since the Rane MS-1b is basically impossible to find, people are probably curious about the Rane MS-1S, which I believe is still in production. The Rane MS-1S uses the THAT Corporation 1510, which is HIGHLY regarded as one of those preamp chips that moved into ultra-robo high end preamp land. It’s the chip that’s used in my still-being-built Five Fish Studios SC-1 MK3 preamp kit. (That preamp kit with power supply is the same price as a Rane MS-1S on Ebay.)

If I had to guess, I’d expect an absolutely world class mic preamp here with no downsides, but I am guessing. I haven’t used it.

Conclusion

When it comes to this straight wire preamp stuff (which I firmly now believe in), I can’t imagine how an actually good song would be in any way better with the Martech to me as a listener. As an engineer, if there is any improvement in tracks that pass through the Martech MSS-10 over what I’m hearing in the Rane MS-1b, that improvement is so miniscule compared to the real challenges that I have, that I can’t begin to think why I would bother even thinking about using one over the other. I’m selling the Martech.

My official preamp recommendation to anyone with a budget is the Rane MS-1b. If you can’t find that…

Can’t Find The Rane MS-1B?
This is the real crapper of the article. I thought there would be 7 of these on Ebay at any given time. There have been 7 this year, I’d guess. The good news is the That Corporation 1510, 1512, and a bunch other ones raising the bar on preamp chips and will be giving these $2,000 (and higher) discreet jobs a huge run for their money.

I suspect there are many preamps in this hyper budget category that will perform just as well as the Rane MS-1b. I’m on the look out for them and I’ll keep you posted.

I have absolutely no use for a high cost preamp when I’ve got a high end preamp for $51. I’m EXCITED by the clean preamp thing right now and just can’t imagine why I need to pay more than I did for this Rane MS-1b…if you can find ‘em used.

Brandon

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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55 responses to Super Secret $51 Preamp vs $2,000 Martech MSS-10

  1. That is hilarious! I mean the song. Keep on doing what you do.

  2. Oooh, I can hear a big Shawn Mullins “Lullaby” influence on this one!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hG9C0VwruXE
    Cool.

  3. it starts seeming silly…..or its that I cant hear some huge difference and that seems fried. fried as in brain sizzle, like when you stay up too many hours partying and your brain is fried and nothing makes sense because your so fried from staying up too late and don’t know why.

    I have to tip my hat to the Martech marketing department they killed the Rane marketing department.

  4. Hey Brandon,
    Any chance of posting a link to download wavs of the shoot out files please?

    les

  5. Howdy;

    Hmm, Ancient History Lesson for anyone who has been around the Audio Water Cooler for the last decade (or two?).

    Roger Nichols was using and talking about these little Rane beasts ages ago and they do indeed perform (humbly & quietly).

    Lots of sleeper little gems out there and it is always nice to have as many “flavors” of preamps as an artist has brushes.

    Enjoy~!

  6. The MXL MPAC 01 with THAT 1512 is an impressive performer. Not all op amps are created equal, or supplied with optimal voltage.
    Now I’m curious how a transformer pre like a Focusrite ISA One compares

  7. You know, a while back Russ Long did a dvd called “Russ Long’s Nashville Recording”. He did a song using high end gear costing $37,000 dollars. He then tracked a song using the same room and musicians using nothing but sm57s and a mackie board with total value of $1700 dollars. When you hear the two tracks mixed side by side, the final result is astonishing. Yes the $37000 dollar version sounded a bit nicer, but the difference was negligible and certainly not worth the $35,300 dollar difference.

  8. Honestly, it cracks me up when people freak out over “clean,” “high end” preamps. If I’m buying high end, it’s got to have a sound. Sure, I have 8 “utility” clean preamps in my rack, but I also paid less than $600 for all of them, used. Do they sound better than the 8 preamps in something like a Presonus Audio box? Yes. Does the Millennia HV-3D 8 sound $3600 better? HELL NO!

    The premise of “clean” preamps honestly cracks me up. Sure, there’s some sources where you want a very natural sound (ie: overheads, some acoustics, world-class vocalists, etc…), but my goal in recording is to make something sound larger than life. That’s where my SCA A12b, N72 and Peavey VMP-2 come in. I wouldn’t necessarily used them on everything (though, I wouldn’t be disappointed with the sound if I had to), but they bring something to the table that can’t be EQ’d in or replicated after the fact. Nothing beats driving my “high end” preamps hard to get a little grit on them and bring out some warmth. Try doing that with your “clean” preamps and you get a harsh and disgusting distortion. $2k for a clean preamp is CRAZY!

  9. Honestly, it cracks me up when people freak out over “clean,” “high end” preamps.

    D, would you say you disagree with Mercenary Audio calling a clean preamp a “Ferrari”? SMILEY

    my goal in recording is to make something sound larger than life. That’s where my SCA A12b, N72 and Peavey VMP-2 come in.

    Interesting. I’ve not used those exact preamps, but I’ve never gotten something to sound larger than life…not with a preamp switch anyway. I’ve used a bunch of high end preamps.

    My Vintech 1272 loses some subwoofer bottom and loses some top end. This puts more emphasis on the 2k-5k midrange. I suspect that I could get extremely close to this with my Rane MS-1b and 12 seconds of EQ fiddling. I guess other than overloading the transformer (which doesn’t strike me as awesome either and is only safe to do on fairly non-dynamic sources) I don’t see much benefit to my Vintech 1272 anymore. None of the adjectives used for it make sense to me. It could just be me. SMILEY

    Brandon

  10. I am totally happy with the DMP2 pre amps in my ancient M-Audio OMNI interface & add on Behringer MIC200, Thank You Very Much…. ;-)

  11. Jason…that was a great comment, never heard of that, but will look forward to hearing the differences on those songs.

  12. Hi Brandon:
    You are measuring the total audio chain; i.e. the deviation from a “straight” line is due to, probably, the speakers. When comparing the frequency responses of both amps you will need to compare the outputs directly. The only difference will probably be the harmonic contents. Just my opinion.

  13. You love telling everyone how shite the gear they love is. We get the science, we get there’s not much in it, but in a really hard, brutal industry full of negativity. the last thing I want to see is every email and blog you write pis@£%g on companies we like to use it’s BORING. We get it stop buying good gear and just use crap stuff! well done!

  14. You love telling everyone how shite the gear they love is. We get the science, we get there’s not much in it, but in a really hard, brutal industry full of negativity. the last thing I want to see is every email and blog you write pis@£%g on companies we like to use it’s BORING. We get it stop buying good gear and just use crap stuff! well done!

    I think the Martech is an awesome preamp. It’s definitely not “shite”. I’m not sure why you think the industry is “brutal” or “full of negativity”. I’m having fun.

    This was a VERY positive post with the fundamental premise that $200 (new) Rane preamps aren’t a world away from the “Ferrari” preamps. It’s time to celebrate! In no way was this remotely negative in regard to the Martech. I simply used it as a reference. In that way, it’s kinda a compliment to the Martech.

    Brandon

  15. Hi Brandon:
    You are measuring the total audio chain; i.e. the deviation from a “straight” line is due to, probably, the speakers. When comparing the frequency responses of both amps you will need to compare the outputs directly. The only difference will probably be the harmonic contents. Just my opinion.

    Yeah, I mentioned that in the article. I could ditch the console, but then we’d still have that converter in the way.

  16. Looks like the Rane MS1b is discountinued but have been replaced by the MS1s.

    From their site:

    “The MS1S replaced the MS 1B Mic Stage with a new internal universal power supply. The width increases by one inch — all other features are the same.”

    As Brandon said, looks like 200$ new, still a good deal for someone who can’t justify $2k for a one channel Martech.

    Thank you Brandon, what you’re doing is infinitely apreciated for those of us who earn less than $20k a year….

  17. I was always told that you can’t split a mic signal and get a reliable A/B test. Brandon, could please explain for my own education how the way you conducted this test avoids that issue? I ask this in all sincerity — thank you :)

  18. A couple years ago I spent a day in a recording studio in San Francisco that at one time had been bey famous. Because things were slow, I got a pretty good rate. It was just me and an engineer, so I mostly played piano and then double-tracked vocals over it. The board was a Neve 8048, the reverb was an actual EMT 140 unit, and the mic the engineer set up for me to sing in was a $3500 Sanken, straight into the board (a mic which up to that point I’d never even heard of). Needless to say, everything sounded very good.

    When I got home (Illinois) there’s one phrase in the vocal of one song that had a bad hiccup in it — I just missed the note. Pitch correction could not fix this one! So, I decided to punch-in (on a new track of course) a new take of the entire verse, but this time using a Blue Baby Bottle ($400) into a Scarlett 2i2 ($130).

    Since I no longer had access to the real plate reverb, I used the UAD version. My ears may not be golden, but I cannot tell one whit of difference between the pro studio $3500 mic and Neve and my modest signal chain. The UAD reverb is not quite the same, but still sounds just fine. My room is not quite as good as the studio’s, but I am very meticulous about room treatment and blocking reflections when I record, so I don’t think that was a factor. Anyway, the bottom line is that verses 1 and 3 used expensive gear, while verse 2 used fairly cheap gear, and I can’t tell any difference –

  19. I wish one could edit comments at this site. Above I said “double-tracked vocals” — I meant to say “over-dubbed vocals”

  20. I’d like to add to Doug’s comment that I had quite the opposite experience. I recorded 4 songs in a studio in Athens, Greece called Sierra studios. They have a hand built console built by Rupert Neve himself and I recorded into a vintage Neumann U67 in a room built by Tom Hidly. I have never since been able to get my voice to sound as good in any home recording. Not even with my selection of high end preamps and tube condenser mics running into my rosetta 200. My setup sounds great but I can’t get my voice to sound as great as it did when I recorded that week in that beautiful studio. I knew then and there that it pays to record drums and vocals in a major studio if you want something that is equivalent of a commercial sounding release. Everything else can be done at home but I still prefer to track vocals and drums in a big commercial studio if I have the money. For most project studios, we can certainly record great music with a few good mics and preamps but it will always be missing that extra something.

    In my previous comment I said that there was a negligible difference between recording with a $1700 dollar setup versus a $37,000 dollar setup. But that was also done in a project studio. But when you track in a multimillion dollar facility, there is something that is blatantly obvious that they have that we can never afford. But that is life. More and more project studios are popping up while the major facilities shut down. People are starting to get used to the “sound” of project studio recordings and I believe younger generations may not even care about that “analog sound” that everyone is searching to recreate these days. Maybe it’s all becoming irrelevant. Who knows.

  21. I don’t discount your experience at all, Jason. Part of our differing experiences may just be due to the possibility that I do not have as discriminating an ear as you. It’s also entirely possible that if I were to compare the tracks you did at home with the tracks you did in Athens, that I too would prefer the latter ones. I’m going to venture that the Athens recordings sound superior because of they were done in a state-of-the-art room… the room in my case (Hyde Street Studios, Room A) is something of a throwback, from a time when room acoustics were not a priority. Something I left out above is that I did have to do a bit of EQ matching to make the two recordings sound identical.

  22. I suppose it will take a few years of #1 chart toppers made on 2i2′s and SM57 vox tracks to become the norm. I agree, the sound is becoming normal for this generation of Ipod’s and all that…though the car stereo is still #1 playback. imo…changes happening..humans still like clean, tight recordings and still shirk at missed notes and earbleed mudblob recordings..so it seems.

    I agree with Brando,. its not a negative thing that the cheap gear is getting better, it doesn’t mean the good stuff is still not delicious…but when it comes to dollars, the accountant side of the brain is a cousin to the scientist side of the brain, and it does play a part, I would think. Its positive that the $2000 stuff isn’t 2000x’s better. imo.

    $60 DAWS, $200 Convertors and $51 preamps and all the rest…. all available for pretty cheap thats really cool and upbeat.

  23. Great shootout, thanks Brandon.
    So, there seems a consensus that in this case, the far more expensive preamp showed very little if any superiority over the Rane.
    So, what is your, and others’ opinion on the preamps in standard audio interfaces? For example, I am currently using a Firepod with 8 pre’s (yes, very old technology).
    I often wonder should I get a good pre unit.
    So, would these Firepod pre’s be far ‘lesser’ pre’s than the Martech, Rane or other?

  24. I was always told that you can’t split a mic signal and get a reliable A/B test.

    “Reliable” is a tricky word here. The test effectively lowers the input impedance that the mic sees. The electronics end is explained here. http://www.sengpielaudio.com/calculator-paralresist.htm It certainly puts a curve ball in the tests.

    Some mic preamps come with a button to raise/lower the impedance and generally it’s a fairly subtle process, but one that can have an audible effect.

    As mentioned above, I decided to go with the split signal to the preamps over having to play two takes identically. At least we have no human intervention, but it certainly pulls this test out of the realm of science…unless you aren’t concerned about input impedance of mic preamps….then it does hold up to at least some scientific scrutiny.

    The only tests we do perfectly with no human factor are synth or electric guitar reamp tests, unfortunately. Anything with a musician is out.

    I’d like to add to Doug’s comment that I had quite the opposite experience. I recorded 4 songs in a studio in Athens, Greece called Sierra studios. They have a hand built console built by Rupert Neve himself and I recorded into a vintage Neumann U67 in a room built by Tom Hidly. I have never since been able to get my voice to sound as good in any home recording. Not even with my selection of high end preamps and tube condenser mics running into my rosetta 200. My setup sounds great but I can’t get my voice to sound as great as it did when I recorded that week in that beautiful studio. I knew then and there that it pays to record drums and vocals in a major studio if you want something that is equivalent of a commercial sounding release. Everything else can be done at home but I still prefer to track vocals and drums in a big commercial studio if I have the money. For most project studios, we can certainly record great music with a few good mics and preamps but it will always be missing that extra something.

    Yeah, we are all looking for that extra SOMETHING. SMILEY

    I’m assume you used a pro engineer at the big boy studio. That seems to be wear the money is. Whatever processing he’s/she’s doing or whatever rooms he’s utilizing seem to be the big extra thing as we can isolate each individual component and not hear any major shifts towards that extra SOMETHING. That’s been my experience anyway. YMMV

    I think it’s clear in this test that the SOMETHING I’m looking for is not found in the Martech investment. I can continue looking for that SOMETHING with the Rane and $1600 in my pocket to help.

    I suppose it will take a few years of #1 chart toppers made on 2i2′s and SM57 vox tracks to become the norm.

    Major label engineers are all connected and generally get their training from the same 100-200 guys (the 100-200 guys that made all the hits in the past 20 years). They may be taught to listen to something we are missing. They may just use cool gear because it’s cool.

    In big boy land where they may spend $1,000,000 in marketing to make a song a hit, no one gives a shit whether the preamp costs an extra $1,800. That’s unique to the home recording world.

    Skrillex has 5 Grammy Awards from his laptop. He probably didn’t use an interface at all. SMILEY

    I agree with Brando,. its not a negative thing that the cheap gear is getting better, it doesn’t mean the good stuff is still not delicious…but when it comes to dollars

    Agreed. This is a positive article that says you can win with either the Rane or the Martech to my ears.

  25. Thank you Brandon, what you’re doing is infinitely apreciated for those of us who earn less than $20k a year….

    Well, I hope this helps people who aren’t rich, but I hope it helps rich people, too. SMILEY I just want to find the tools that help me run my business the most efficiently and free up resources to invest in areas where they will do the most good.

    So, would these Firepod pre’s be far ‘lesser’ pre’s than the Martech, Rane or other?

    I’m still operating from a standpoint that there are preamps I want no business with. As mentioned in the article, in my informal listening tests I didn’t love the M-Audio DMP3 (each channel in the DMP3 sounded different so who knows) and it uses the same chip. I paid $100 used. I will play with it some more before I decide what I want to do with it and what I really feel about it.

    I’ve got an article about lessons I’ve learned about preamps coming soon that are of value to some.

    Whether a company bothers to make a preamp sound awesome or not is totally up to them and now with the THAT Corporation 1510, 1512, etc there really isn’t any reason to design a crappy preamp regardless of cost. I’d say all stock preamps in interfaces in 5 years will be high end sounding. There’s nothing really stopping them. As for any given preamp, I really can’t say.

    My experience with the Presonus Firestudio and M-Audio Octane preamps were they did not fair well in my mic preamp shootouts in the Full Interrogator Sessions in Killer Home Recording. I picked them out as the flawed preamp track every time if memory serves. It may be possible to EQ that out. I’m not sure.

    Brandon

  26. I was interested to read the contrasting experiences of Doug & Jason when trying to match big studio vocal sounds…

    As always, Brandon’s response was completely different to what I was thinking, but I totally agree about the incredible value of an experienced engineer.

    IMO, this is one of the areas where big studios are focusing on the wrong things when they advertise themselves… Looking at the websites of most professional studios, they always feature lots about all the gear they have… but really, that is a pretty poor basis for competition, if you think about it for a second.. The problem is, anyone can buy gear, but not everyone can operate it effectively. What they should be focusing on is the experience & expertise of the staff engineers – that’s where the true value is… well, not all of it…

    Which brings me to my other point that I got from reading Doug & Jason’s posts. The ROOM. This is a HUGE factor in any recording. This is one area where home studios cannot compete. The only thing we can do in most cases is to keep the room out of the equation as far as possible…

    So, there is my suggestion for a modern big studio advertising strategy (LOL)…There are too many boxy basement studios filled to the gills with esoteric boutique equipment worth a squillion dollars to bother competing on that basis… Advertise the experience of the engineer & the superiority of the room… THAT’s the big point of difference!

  27. I agree 100% with fHumble about the room. To take the experienced engineer out of the equation, I have a former co-worker named Pete who I met while working at Sam Ash in Manhattan. He showed me a few of his recordings and mixes and I was blown away. I couldn’t believe this 22 year old was THAT talented. I mean, his stuff was completely on the level of the great commercial rock bands of our time.

    Recently, Pete opened up his own studio in Brooklyn and I just heard a few recordings he did there. Same engineer mind you. These recordings, much to my disappointment were more on par with the type of recording that I can achieve in my own home studio. Suddenly, I was not as ‘in awe” with his newer recordings. Now don’t get me wrong, the stuff he did in his own studio is top notch and will blow the sox off of most home recording engineers but it was missing that “something”.

    The difference? The original recordings Pete tracked and mixed in New York’s Avatar Studios. It suddenly became blatantly clear that the room was a major factor.

    As a point of reference, I found one of his home recordings online. I can’t find the stuff he did at Avatar but for a home studio, this is quite good.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qtEAmYEBY-8

  28. Not bad for a project studio. I know it’s just a video, but I notice there’s not much treatment in that room — interesting. I have the Mars version, which I played back to back with Pete’s version. Along the lines of what you’ve been saying, there is just something about the Mars version that takes it to that other level. In my opinion it isn’t the basic sonics, however, it’s the mixing. I found out that “Treasure” was recorded in a little private studio in L.A. and they used a Langevin Dual pre-amp and a U87 for vocals (and an O2R).

  29. As side note, Pete did all the recording and mixing in one day for that video. That was his original goal.

  30. Which brings me to my other point that I got from reading Doug & Jason’s posts. The ROOM. This is a HUGE factor in any recording. This is one area where home studios cannot compete. The only thing we can do in most cases is to keep the room out of the equation as far as possible…

    Let’s get specific. I guess I need to book a vocal session in Nashville to see if their vocal booths sound radically different from my humble setup (which has taken the perspective of getting as much of the room out as possible).

    A room that doesn’t hurt me sounds appealing. I really have no idea how much more ultra dead room is hurting me, but I do not miss the days when it was fairly live.

    A room that actually adds something good to the sound sounds VERY appealing. The problem with this (and it’s well-documented in http://www.recordingreview.com/blog/recording-equipment-reviews/recording-studio-design-review/) is that if the room is awesome for Pavoritti, it may not be awesome for Snoop Dogg/Lion. I think we all want to believe that a great vocal booth will make something like a hip hop vocal come to life in some way. I’m not entirely sure. In Recording Studio Design, they mentioned all the studios in the 80s going after the In The Air Tonight drum sound. It was a trend and it passed. That’s getting into reverb. I don’t hear reverb on Chilli Pepper vocals (generally speaking).

    I’ve tracked in some large rooms (not studios, just big ol’ rooms we found) and my results were almost identical. The exception to that is when we loved the room’s reverb for the task at hand, but I don’t think that’s what we are referring to with vocals and such.

    Interesting times. I stick with the people most important. SMILEY

    Brandon

  31. Hi Brandon and group,

    I wanted to get back to the shoot-out with a few thoughts.

    To state the obvious, since few others did, the preamps are really close to my ears, except in the low end. For me, the mix was the only section where I was sure right away I knew the answer. (Playing it on my near-fields with a sub… without the sub, I probably would not have heard it.) I also had a hunch on the rain –which turned out to be right on that coin toss. But all the rest, I really have to admit I did not hear a difference –at least not one that I can wasn’t just my mind playing tricks. So, you made your point. The bass does need a bit more attention than the quick EQ, but hey, that is do-able.

    (BTW, loved the craziness of the piece. I swear the rain seemed to be in time with the intro.)

    It was a bit misleading to call this a $51 pre. I think they used to sell new for around $250-$300? So, anyway, yes it was still much cheaper than the Ferrari. BTW, I googled the new Rane MS-1S and it is on a popular web site for about $200 new, so that is a very decent price, and probably a much better pre than the GAP-73 that costs more and which I don’t like that much… (Though I have not heard this new Rane, so that is a bit of speculation, for sure.)

    I also wanted to say something about, “Ruprect mic’d up a Focal monitor from 3′ away, ran white noise through it and took a look in Ozone 5.” You know it isn’t a bad place to begin, but there are some things that can mess up that approach pretty fast. Imagine if it was not a Focal, but a typical car or computer speaker… That should make the point clearer. The weakest links in the chain (mainly mic and speakers) will obscure higher-end differences in the pre’s. Some mics and speakers have a way of changing everything to sound like them. What was the mic, anyway?

    For good deals, without ‘mojo’, I like my Line Audio 8-channel strip (no idea what chip is in it). Still, I like my other more expensive pre’s as well. It’s not just that I invested more in them, but rather they each have a certain personality that can really match up well with certain mics in certain situations. The less that has to be done later with EQ and other processing, the better. I’m not saying a person NEEDS these more expensive toys. No, but if you have them and like them, then I expect you will reach for them on your important bits, vocals or whatever, before you reach for a good solid little pre like the Rane. Still, the shoot-out convinced me that the Martech is not worth the extra bucks. Anyway, I will be interested to hear about the Five Fish when it is ready. Interesting times indeed.

  32. It was a bit misleading to call this a $51 pre.

    This was covered in the article. I paid $51 for it. I named it the Super Secret $51 Preamp. Others may not get the same deal and are free to name theirs Sally or Fred. SMILEY

    so that is a very decent price, and probably a much better pre than the GAP-73 that costs more and which I don’t like that much… (Though I have not heard this new Rane, so that is a bit of speculation, for sure.)

    The GAP-73 shared many similarities with the Vintech 1272. Some say the Vintech is the “real deal”. Some say it isn’t. While I’ve used many high end preamps, I’ve never used a real, official Neve so I can’t say for sure. The GAP-73 is going to lose low end response and high end response from it’s not-so-expensive transformer.

    The lack of top end frequency response is apparent in these less-expensive Neve type preamps. I don’t have a lot of use for them. There’s a lot written about about clean preamps as if they are “boring”, “sterile”, or “not usable for rock music”, but the truth is no one can tell if you used one of these “sterile” mic preamps or not when the mix is over.

    I also wanted to say something about, “Ruprect mic’d up a Focal monitor from 3′ away, ran white noise through it and took a look in Ozone 5.” You know it isn’t a bad place to begin, but there are some things that can mess up that approach pretty fast. Imagine if it was not a Focal, but a typical car or computer speaker

    It would make no difference. The point was only to see a difference in the graphs. We could have recorded glass breaking, a truck driving by, or a set of car speakers. We chose to use white noise so we could see how each preamp deviated from the other in measurements we are used to and have a control for.

    The weakest links in the chain (mainly mic and speakers) will obscure higher-end differences in the pre’s.

    That’s why the mic-the-monitor-with-white-noise test was only there for the graph. The audio clips took are of the rest.

    Still, I like my other more expensive pre’s as well. It’s not just that I invested more in them, but rather they each have a certain personality that can really match up well with certain mics in certain situations.

    I keep waiting to hear “Mojo”. It would be nice if anyone had a definition of it in terms of frequency response, distortion, phase, etc.

    The less that has to be done later with EQ and other processing, the better. I

    For me I found when X preamp personality matched Y microphone it saved me 1% of my EQ usage. YMMV, as usual.

    ’m not saying a person NEEDS these more expensive toys. No, but if you have them and like them, then I expect you will reach for them on your important bits, vocals or whatever, before you reach for a good solid little pre like the Rane.

    That may be my problem. I never really found a quality to truly like about all my high end preamps. It was just gain ran through some kind of proprietary tint filter that I still had to fight through.

    . Anyway, I will be interested to hear about the Five Fish when it is ready. Interesting times indeed.

    I goofed up a capacitor that needed to be bent to fit so I’m waiting for the postman. Hopefully, it’ll be soon.

  33. Mojo: I still say that not all of it can be (easily) measured. Ultimately, like all great recordings, it is the ‘whole’ , not just the parts –the ‘Gestalt’ (or whatever word you like). And for music, a lot of it is dynamic, changing, moment to moment. And it will be subjective, i.e. how it affects our brains… which is hard to measure… A sum total of the performer, listener, and their times.

    OK, enough fluff. For things that can be measured more easily in a static objective sort of way, I think mojo has a lot to do with 1) harmonic structure (that will ideally vary across frequencies); 2) transient response; and 3) phase alignment.

    The first two conditions are a bit ‘Goldilocks’ –neither too fast nor too slow, neither all odd nor all even… and is definitely a subjective decision. I own a Dave Hill Designs, Europa 1, which is a knob twiddler’s dream, and covers these first two variables in spades… I have spent many hours playing with it and have learned a lot. But you know, it’s not always the ‘mojo’ I am looking for, and will sometimes go to a more conventional pre (usually with a transformer) to try to find it.

    At moments like this, that Stones song jumps into my head, recorded so many years ago at the legendary Olympic Studios, which nevertheless is now closed… from an era when all recording gear cost a helluva lot of money (if it could be bought at all), and I stop wasting my time. All is transitory…

    No, you can’t always get what you want
    But if you try sometime, you just might find
    You get what you need

  34. Everyone seems to have their own preferred equipment that they stick with. I always try branch out to different brands and models but find myself going back to the tried and tested equipment that I know and love.

  35. this is a great article, thanks… after re-reading it very well done.
    it includes the samples, the price ranges, and even the graph. Rane MS1b is the Cinderella Man of this fight.

  36. Hey…. I just found this thing and I would be very curious to know how it behave:

    http://rolls.com/product.php?pid=MP222

    A lot of practical features and a phase adjustment! not only a phase reverse but a pot variable from 0 to 180 degree… as the majority knows, variable phase is very interesting rather than using an eq or messing with dual mic placement for eternity.

    Knowing that Little Labs or Radial sell a device that does this exclusively for $400/channel I feel this Rolls can be intersting… and it sells for less than $200 for two channels of mic pres/ phase / phatom etc. Don’t know if it is as clean as the Rane but maybe it can be surprising.

    So Brandon, are done doing these kind of experiment or would you like to compare these with your other hyper toys?

    There’s two for sale for well under 200 bucks right now if someone is interested:

    http://www.zzounds.com/item–RLLMP222

    http://www.amazon.com/Rolls-Studio-2-Channel-Microphone-Preamp/dp/B008MAKI1Q

    May be fun to check those :D

  37. A real sleeper is the Rane DMS 22, which is no longer in production. Basically, it is two Rane MS-1a preamps with defeat able eq and a stereo mix bus in a single rack space. The preamps have channel outputs, so you can bypass the other eq and mix bus circuitry. The preamp op amps are socketed, so can be easily changed.

  38. I keep my eyes peeled for these “out of production” items on Craigslist…thanks.

  39. Oh yeah! I forgot about Craigslist. I’ll have to see if there is an Android app that does what I need.

  40. Wow, i totally missed this article. Great stuff. I’ll be sure to make it Rane MS1-b.

  41. I own several pre’s from cheapo M-adudio buddy , midrange RME APhex and Octane as well as Neve 5012. The only preamp in which I really hear a huge difference is my Sonic Farm Creamer +.

    http://www.sonicfarm.com

    It does not work for everything but when it is the right sound is is freakin night and day

  42. Brandon this is kinda funny
    I made a promise to my self, no more high end over priced audio junk, then I read this , it made me smile. you r soooo right
    just listen to a UA 2- 610 next to an art mpa pro 2 .Is the UA better? maybe ???? but $1,800.00 better ??No No it is not! well not to me anyway . Mark Donovan

  43. just listen to a UA 2- 610 next to an art mpa pro 2 .Is the UA better? maybe ????

    I’ve gotten tired of this “maybe” stuff. I don’t say “maybe” in regard to which IPA beer I like better, which pizza I like better, or the songs I like better. For some reason I’m supposed to be an apologist for hyper priced stuff in a world where a $51 preamp did EVERYTHING I need a preamp to do.

    A person can say my ears suck or I have poor taste if I want to, but I trust my ears for 4,000,000 decisions per song and it doesn’t make sense to suddenly cut my balls off for this tiny, insignificant decision of choosing the amplifier for boosting mic level up to line level. For those who disagree I’d like for hear the audio files used to come to such conclusions.

    My guess? Most decisions on mic preamps weren’t made with audio files.

    Brandon

  44. its weird, i get that vibe too like its not supposed to be said or something. must be a status quo mind thing.

    like saying something that was great isnt really that great anymore…. like Santa Claus isnt real, and whn the $250000 guitar didnt pass the shootout very well a bunch of excuses are created in its defense? the test was done wrong etc..etc..
    Maybe the sound just isnt that much difference. once treated a bit with a free eq plugin.

    I think there is a psychological thing too, once this is accepted mentally, this “theres no difference mindset” Its like Gear addiction shopping is over, like quitting drinking or something, then what? what do you do for the “high”the “brain buzz”… if expensive gear isnt the fix any more?

    like clearmountain saying he has cheap pc speakers too, and he uses them more than the other speakers, and it causes a mind constipation or something, like this cant be happening..because if thats true then why do my mixes suck?

  45. hahahahahahaha …. I thought I was pretty clear .
    I agreed with you! fuc** let me make it real clear.
    I agree with you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Mark Donovan

  46. hahahahahahaha …. I thought I was pretty clear .
    I agreed with you! fuc** let me make it real clear.
    I agree with you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Mark Donovan

    Ha! I wasn’t arguing, Mark. I just had a rant opportunity, so I took it and ran with it. SMILEY. I never turn down a good rant.

    I think there is a psychological thing too, once this is accepted mentally, this “theres no difference mindset” Its like Gear addiction shopping is over, like quitting drinking or something, then what? what do you do for the “high”the “brain buzz”… if expensive gear isnt the fix any more?

    1) There is always meth.
    2) When I went on my gear buying rampage, I was doing it to win. I thought my shit would sound 10x better or something. So it always a means to an end and not really a “fix” for me.

    I do know now that I don’t trust a single thing that Vintage King sells that I’m having a ton of fun testing out the bottom of the barrel. This $60 Aphex 107 seems to be doing quite well the few times I’ve used it.

    I know that when the burden of gear acquisition is gone a person has a whole lot more time for music.

  47. I’m really enjoying this perspective on mic preamp’s. I’m just starting the gear acquisition game. My first one was the Aphex 107 I picked up for $60 with a NOS Mullard 12at7 in it(this deal will never cross my path again). Then I picked up a DMP3 for $75. Then after reading all sorts of rave reviews, I splurged on two Symetrix SX202′s for $110 a piece. I have to say the 107 is the clear winner with the DMP3 a close second. The Symetrix’s seem to be lacking in the lower frequencies so I only use them on things I would HP filter like guitars. Just like you said though, as soon as I discover them, they become impossible to find. Some assholes list the 107′s and DMP3′s on eBay for $250 even though they usually only sell for about $100. The problem with these pre’s is that they all run on wall warts and they’re all half rack size. It’s impossible to rack a bunch of these up without wasting a bunch of outlets on a power conditioner. I’m looking now at DIY’ing some pre’s and I’d be interested to hear your take on the SC-1 compared to the MS1-B. The circuit for the SC-1 is super simple, much more simple than the MS1-B. The SC-1 is basically just the schematics from the data sheets for each or the chips all wired together. He does use some fancy gain attenuation but I’m looking into simplifying that portion of the circuit to reduce costs. Anyhow, get on it.

  48. When I listened to the mix recording which demonstrated more of a difference between the various preamps than the individual instrument/voice recordings. i.e. cumulative effect of the preamp across many tracks could be heard much better, I preferred the Mix C which turned out to be the higher cost preamp. This is an unbiased opinion. I guess for home recording the lower preamp will make do, but there was definitely a “bite” and clarity that the more expensive preamp brought to the mix. You hear this most significantly on the speaking voice and on the guitar. The guitar jumps out at you more – with a better snap and the voice over has this deep area to the voice – proper baritone, yet sounding more distinct. Based on all that I have been studying recently, it would be interesting to understand the slew rate of these amps, which may explain part of the difference I am hearing. I was listening on a pair of decent Logitech multimedia speakers with a subwoofer – cost £40 i.e about $60, and however slight, the difference was there – it was easier to decipher the darkness and intent of the vocal in Mix C, on speakers which represent a fairly average setup similar to what many end users will be listening on. Just my opinion. Clearly where the funds permit, for a major recording studio, there is value in investing in the higher end preamp, where recordings will be for the top artists and labels for whom only the best will do, at the upper most competitive end of the music industry market.

  49. Wow! Either your ears are WAY better than mine (not hard to believe) or you are much more easily impressed by that extra dB of top end which is well-known and measured. Regardless, if you listened to these blind and with out bias you may be a perfect candidate for the high end tools. Keep in mind that you’ll most likely experience very similar feelings about ANY preamp which is lacking 1dB less top end than the Martech regardless of whether it’s $51 or $50,000.

  50. I looked back over this thread and found my comment from September — of last year — and your response to it, as well as that of several others. So, now we’re even dismissing room acoustics when it comes to great recording? Sorry, I am not buying it. I understand the assertion that it depends on the material and goal, like when the Stones recorded “Exile on Main St.” in somebody’s basement — garage aesthetic recorded in a garage. That’s all good. But this material was not that type of material, and I think the acoustics hurt it. Of course, I’m going by my somewhat dimmed memory from 13 months ago :)

  51. Room acoustics’ influence will be inversely proportional to mic proximity.

  52. So, now we’re even dismissing room acoustics when it comes to great recording?

    Who said, THAT????!!!!!!

  53. The closer the mic…less the room effect

  54. Brandon — wee, I DID say I was going on memory from over a year ago :P

    BTW — I’m not sure I’m comfortable with mitigating a bad room by simply moving the mic closer –

  55. “well” not “wee”

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