An interesting conversation I had with four retail giants about mic preamps

While waiting for my try-out mics to show up today, I got on the phone with Sweetwater, Vintage King, RSPE, and Soundpure.

I barked up the ladders until I got on the phone with someone who could tell me what the big sellers mic preamps were to audio post houses. I wanted an idea of what they were outfitting their voiceover rooms with.

For anyone who don’t know, RSPE is an avid giant, and responsible for equipping some of the largest post houses in the country. They said their sales records indicated BAE 1073’s were the most common VO and dialogue preamp in the majority of the non-music facilities they outfit.

Vintage King insisted this was not a very accurate depiction of their recent sales. I made sure I was specifically talking to the audio post sales director. He said that Grace and Millenia are a far more common preamp, and proceeded to tell me exactly what Universal studios and Nickelodeon had outfitted their rooms with. As well as what mics they paired with them, how many they ordered, what they paid for them, and why they picked them.

Soundpure for some reason seemed to think Avalons were still the go-to, but I couldn’t get a sense of weather I was talking to a guy who really knew the post market or a regular sales guy on the floor. He also seemed to think API’s were pretty common, but I’ve never seen or heard of a VO rider ever having an API.

Good ole Sweetwater. Used to by my DAWs through them because their tech support is pretty useful. Assured me I’d be happy with Manley or Avalon. But that wasn’t my question. It was if they knew anything about what was being used in some of those big production houses.

Here’s my conclusion of how this works, and its based on a fairly broad consensus. Someone is responsible for booking a room for a VO actor. That someone knows a thing or two about gear, but their knowledge is far more limited than a professional music producer. They go down your gear list, and look for at least one good mic, and one good preamp, as well as looking at your room to make sure you’re not going to be recording in a bedroom closet or an attic. So their definition of ‘good’ seems to be if they’ve heard of it before. One manager had never heard of a Blue mic before, so he went online, researched it, and called back and said he was excited to hear it and in a month or so would be scheduling some sessions. Seems odd to me after years of working with musicians. But hey… it is what it is. Right?

Doesnt seem clear what the verdict was? BAE1073?
or Grace and Millenia’s?

Its a grand or less, the solo Grace is like $450 used if you dont mind a wall wart ps.
BAE1073, …

the new UK1173 for $1200 brand new is a pre73+1176 …thats not really that much considering the cost of a console with that quality would be $45000 or so.

that amazing video you posted on SOS and the Drum rooms still makes me think highly of the ISA stuff. Of my limited “rentals” the ISA werent clean, had a full sound compared to intreface pre’s but they werent dirty at all, just a “middle” safe zone preamp. Built like tanks, the inside of a ISA One is really pretty impressive for as cheap as it is and theres a DI tossed in that makes it a great unit, the large VU and the huge gain too.

Im into the 1073 design next, never had one. Dual transformers with overdriving the output tranny seems to be a smooth tone our ears like.

BAE1073 is around $1000 new, unless its the one with the EQ but I would think they do the eq and comp in the box right?

The fact that nobody could give you a real answer should probably give you some clues.

You are asking sales people. They don’t know statistics. They are humans who latch onto anomalies. If one year ago, they sold 10 of the same preamp in a week, that is going to stick in their mind, and they will always have this gut feeling that that particular preamp is being used more, even if they don’t sell another unit for a year. Asking a human what sells best is a terrible way to find out what sells best, unless that human happens to be looking at sales charts. And they aren’t paid to analyze, they are paid to sell stuff. bad place to get accurate info.

Also, I have a bias against sales guys. Thanks for solidifying that in my mind. I’ll latch on to this anecdote for at least another year.

Got to be a 1073 the amount of records its been on over the years.So do we need to know more if you can afford one

From what I have read, Grace and Millenia are clean and uncolored, probably a good choice for VO work.

Yeah man. Totally unclear. But I want some answers. I’m gonna reach out to some guys at Universal, Technicolor, and Parkroad which is probably what I should have done instead anyway.

Ok. Keep in mind the only reason I’m doing this is because I need a rider friendly preamp. I need to figure out if the audio and dialogue casting directors or mix supervisors care if its the higher vs lower end grace pre. If they don’t, I’ll buy the smallest and cheapest thing I can find, and I’ll buy it used.

The FET circuit compressors are terrible for VO…lol - I’d use that sucker on music vocals in a heartbeat though!!!

Oh! You’ll find this interesting!

You mention Focusrite. That did come up in the conversation with VK. VK installed them in several post facilities in the Burbank area - I asked them why, and they said it had to do with DANTE compatibility of the RedNet converters. Basically the facilities that picked them were after the remote controllability of the preamp based on the way the voiceover booths are interconnected. And he did tell me which facilities those were, so I don’t have any reason to think he was making this up. As far as the preamp goes, everyone knows Focusrite makes a killer preamp. However, the crazy ass thing here is I think the preamps he was talking about are the ones are the same ones in the Scarlets.

Really, if you wanna talk about a clear winner, the sales guy at VK was head and shoulders over the others in knowing what had been sold to who and who was using what. I’m going to get in touch with some of these guys on FB and in some of the private avid groups and check up on what he was telling me. If he was a bullshitter, he was a damn good one.

I don’t think they do. This is the first time in my entire life I’ve been told not to touch or apply any EQ to vocals. At all. You’re supposed to leave them alone. Period.

So I honestly don’t know, but that’s another thing I’m gonna be speaking to some of my friends about in major cinema studios. This is a very new world to me. I’ve never been involved this particular type of audio recording before. Not in this capacity.

I would guess they were talking about the hi-end Focusrite Red not the Scarlett…though the Scarletts are probably very clean. Hell I dont know?

so you might need a few on the list and the mic locker of the standards.

but I dont know what your trying to do, have 10 people talking at the same time and someone controlling the volume remotely? I dont get the remote needs?

Millenia …never had one, Manley…never tried one. Good stuff per the old articles.
Its not that expensive, not like youre buying a 1957 Fairchild or something.
Im not even making money at this and $1000 0% interest isnt that much if you are providing gear for business … or used for $600.

Symetrix is known in VO land right? but not music so much. Look at their site and its pretty huge. Their preamps strips sell for $900 but you can find them all the time for $150.
Really clean sterile stuff well built.

Sounds like all the sales guys are offering a different brand each person you ask? lol

I can’t find a source that indicates is actually a different preamp. Have you read anything on this?

So my understanding is that they have numerous booths scattered throughout blocks of the facility. They are on a digital patch network which connects all booths to all control rooms through cat 5. That way they can place any actor in any booth, and simply patch them over to any control room based on the specific session needs. Just as Allen Heath and Yamaha preamps are remote controllable when patched to a Dante network, so are Focusrites. That way preamp gain staging changes and headphone feeds zip around the entire building with super minimal latency. Does that make sense? The issue is that with a traditional preamp, the preamp is tethered a certain distance from the mic. And that would require the engineer to either walk to the other side of the building to make a gain change, or the actor in the booth will have to do it themselves. Again, I hope that makes some sort of sense lol.

Aw man! I’ve never heard of them! But they look really nice. I’m seeing them on GC for $120 but they have EXCELLENT reviews. Maybe the next Rane MS1B??? lol

No…they’re just companies that sell a lot of stuff to big studios like Warner and Universal. They’re all Grace, Millenia, Avalon, and BAE dealers too.

There are good ones, by the way. Anyone with access to a companies’ sales history should be able to give you an accurate record of what they have sold in the last year. The other factor to keep in mind is whether the manufacturer offered some sort of sales incentive, which of course would (and should in cases where there was no clear winner) bias the totals.

By the way, in my many years of selling pretty good stuff, I developed my own biases when working with engineers, who would often tell you that speaker A or amplifier B sounded better, but would buy C because the specs were better. That’s not intended to be inflammatory, but it is true in my experience. Never let music get in the way of the show.

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Ha. I know. I actually wasn’t trying to bash sales guys. I was just pointing out that they probably don’t have the information necessary to give a real answer. And even if they did have the data, it’s not as simple as looking at a sales history to get the correct answer. Finding out actual trends requires a lot more analysis than just looking at a history report.

And like you said, the sales history is probably more likely to reflect promotion history than market demand.


Hey @bozmillar, this isn’t turning out how I expected, and it looks like you’re correct. I thought I would be able to figure out what was getting used in leading facilities in the world, then work downward from there, assuming that whatever was getting used in X, Y, or Z studio would be popular and recognize by most people evaluating your gear list online.

I Facebooked some friends over at Warner, Universal, and at Peter Jackson’s dub stage over in New Zealand. I heard back from the LOTR guys a few minute ago. They’re using Neve designed Amek stuff over there and are eyeballing a switch to Pueblo JR preamps. Universal just made a switch to John Hardy preamps (which I had never even heard of). Haven’t heard back from the guys at Warner. I’m told Nikelodian made a switch to a lesser known boutique preamp that I’d never heard of too.

So…here’s the deal. I think those places are simply buying whatever they think sounds good. And that, when followed to its further conclusion, is that if it sounds amazing, people don’t give a shit what brand it is. Interesting stuff.

Now there’s a novel idea! :thinking:

“people don’t give a shit what brand it is. -”
that doesnt make sense if you need an attractive list of familiar gear to appease clients, right?
Known name brands is a safe bet. The big guys dont need to attract so much as people ask them for their work and expertise so they charge a bunch, right? So they can use anything they want.

Resale - Neve Preamps and BAE and Millenial will drop in value but only so much, where as a boutique unknown name brand of HermySchnideGrass Preamp might sound great but good luck selling it later if needed.

I could see in a clean preamp world Grace Design and Martech and those clean machines would be a pretty good investment especially if bought used, but the remote control stuff really might lead you back to the Focusrite Remote Control gear. Its a wild large scale setup. Not often discussed on HR forums…lol

Dante’ network…wow thats a massive setup. large scale and with clients who want it done fast, cheap and professional standards met.

Yeah the Focusrite Red is more the higher end…you said the preamps are the same as the Scarlett?

<The Red 8Pre’s software-controlled Red Evolution mic preamps deliver 63dB of gain, so you can use your favorite low-output ribbon microphones. Also onboard is Focusrite’s famous Air effect, which emulates the sound of the company’s acclaimed transformer-based ISA preamps. If you’re looking to bring out the breathiness of a vocal or enhance the presence on an acoustic guitar, the Red 8Pre will delight you.Thunderbolt, DigiLink, and Dante: Connectivity you need>

It makes some sense what youre doing now, thanks for the explanation of the 10 rooms and all that. So is that your minimum 10 rooms? 10 mics, 10 preamps with remote control?

Exactly. You nailed it. I’m pretty sure what’s going on here is when you’re a place like Park Road, you can use whatever the hell you want and people will still come there because you’re reputation is amazing. As for places like myself, we still need to cater a little to what people know.

But ya know, if you find a Pueblo Audio preamp, you may be able to snag is SUPER cheap (vs its retail cost) because of how unknown they are :wink:

I just added the Grace M201 to my eBay watch list :smiley:

Ok! Thanks! I didn’t realize they were different pres. Glad you pointed that out.

I’m not doing that…that was a studio in California that they sales guy at VK was telling me about. I asked him why they went for Focusrite and he said THEY wanted the remote function :smiley:

Ok. Do you require remote control ?

Pueblo Audio $2500 for 4 channels, add another $1050 if you want Phantom +48.
One knob preamps…Grace Design M201.dual pre’s at $1400 used or $2500 new…

I dont know, Im skeptical after reading and Brandons Rane and Martech huge comparison on clean preamps. When in clean world it seems less subjective to compare preamps doesnt it? Usually they have one knob for gain. All of the clean preamps I tested werent far off from my interface preamps. But I didnt go to great lengths like Brando did in the tests.

Its the transformy, tube lust distortion preamps that have all the subjective words attached and the variables of settings that can go from clean to crunch that would be unclean that is those preamps with more than one knob. …like the Neve/BAE with a red and blue or gray…for dual knobs. These could be tricky to keep clean? but would maybe offer a bigger variety of sounds.

I guess the one knob’s with a transformer can be a little, almost unnoticeable off clean, ISA series or a clean tube one knob with little to none dist might be interesting.

The SOS Drum room video you posted had the ISA 428 and that was a huge project and they wanted clean and good soundingand had access to any preamp in the world. I could see why the ISA series imo had something that was big and solid sounding hard to describe.

Grace Deisgns really get out of the way of the microphones personality from what Ive read… I almost bought the single once those are around $400 sometimes, even touch a rare $380 which would give you a sampler. Bob Ludwig and many others have gone to Grace Design for gear per the articles.

How many preamps are you going to buy?

Which mics do they use?


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Nice mic per the reads, but $5k!!! yikes. how many of these booths are you going to have?

Thinking about the comment that the Grace are bought for this application makes more sense. This VOX/VO application doesnt want pop-distortion vocal transformer cranked sound.

the Grace is the clean, full deal. Makes sense users of violins and things that are to be clean and let the mic shine through on its own. probably invisible limiters and transparent compressors too.

R vox and izotope stock avid there :slight_smile:

Sorry. I mean Rcomp. Not Rvox