In This Corner: 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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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
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.
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.
So How Are Alternative Preamps Like The M-Audio DMP3 or Rane MS-1S?
I picked up the 2-channel M-Audio DMP3 on Ebay for $100.
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.
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.
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.