Preamps are one of the few pieces of outboard that will always be necessary, so what do you think is lacking from them?
E.g more features, better quality at lower cost or some uber new feature that no one has done yet?
As someone who is often recording themselves, I often wish I could monitor and change gain from where I am sat with the guitar…ie remote control from an app or something
I stopped being enamored with mic pre’s about five years ago when I shot out my API’s with my shadow hills, Focusrite, audient and D&R console pres. What I found is that they were all great. They did different things sort of. They all worked well on everything. My experience was not that I needed thousands of pres for different sources. Because I preferred my console pre’s 75% of the time when I did blind tests I sold all my outboard pres. I narrowed what I need a pre to do to the following functions.
-Boost the mic signal and retain low and high-end frequencies. (cheaper pres tend to lose a ton of low end)
-Have a good HPF,
-have a great sounding D.I.
HAVE AN ATTENUATOR AT THE END OF THE PATH.
Mic pres without an attenuator makes no sense to me. I hated this with my API’s. I have to run them into a console channel or external pad so I could pad them down if I wanted to overdrive the pre.
Having fancy features or things that “color” the sound on a pre isn’t important to me. If I want a “colored” sound I color the source and record it on a clean pre. I can get transformer grit much easier with outboard compressors. Impedance changing can be a good feature however on my Focusrite I rarely used this and haven’t missed it at all using my console pres.
It makes sense that with the vast array of ITB modelling now, a transparent pre is more useful.
An attenuation knob is interesting - I would’ve thought the main use would be to push a non transparent pre without overloading your converters, but what’s the use on a transparent pre - just turn down the gain? An attenuator is going to introduce noise which could ruin the specs of your otherwise beautifully low noise/distortion unit.
That aside, what about features that aren’t really to do with the sound? E.g big VU indicators or digital control so you can do precise recall and so on.
Or have we already explored every possibility in preamp design and as you say, we just need it as transparent as possible to give our computer the best possible signal to mess around with?
I do like vu meters rather than just a peak indicator. Digital control isn’t that important to me because I am pretty well a set and forget engineer except for vocals I like to ride the fader a little while tracking.
With other features, I feel like we almost get into a channel strip type scenario. Channel strips, IMO, tend to be a tough bargain. To keep them budget conscious enough they need fewer features which makes them less useful. When you get the right feature set then you can only get a few. I love having my channels strip with routing and eq on my console and then adding in an insert compressor depending on the source. I pretty well use the same hardware on kick, for example, all the time.
Ward-Beck has some audio over IP preamps. It’s super handy. It’s more for commercial installs, so to get it working takes a bit of setup, but you can control the preamp from the preamp or from the computer. So the preamp can be a mile away and you can still adjust the gain. Or you can bring the preamp to the other room with you and have it right next to you so you can adjust however you want.
This to me is the bigger question. I use an app on my cell phone to remote control Reaper (doesn’t always work. bit of a hassle), but can’t control my input gain on my Focusrite, or the direct monitoring software (including zero latency fx). It would be good if a more comprehensive system for solo studio producers/ technicians / musicians was developed. I have a feeling that one of my limitations is that I’m not getting really good recordings because I’m going back and forth from my recording chair or vocal booth to my controls, and never really getting it 100% right.
The thing about mic pres is the closer they are to the mic, and thereby the source, the better they sound. Not that I ever bother moving mic pres in the room as a producer or even as a recordist. But you’re recording yourself, and you want access to the controls anyway. So, I say put your mic pre(s) right next to you.
I think it’s something that you’re (certainly I am) forced to think about when I’m recording myself - even if I’m playing drums, I need access to the mic pres to set levels, and I need keyboard and mouse and a screen I can see without too much trouble to actually press record, listen to stuff, do punch-ins etc.
There’s a certain level of logistic thought that goes into doing that without running the risk of putting a drumstick through a computer screen.
Hang on a sec…Eric…I thought you were messing with us! But this makes it look like you’re serious:
Now I’m confused. So there is a sonic difference based on the proximity of the preamp to the mic? Honestly, this is the first I’ve heard of this. Can someone explain what’s going on here or how this works?
Are we talking sound differences based on cable runs or something? If there’s a forum where you can ask as stupid question and not get crucified for it, it may has well be here.
It has to do with the cable runs. In a studio, a run from the wall input to the control room can be hundreds of feet. The difference between hundreds of feet and a few feet is clearly audible. At what point it becomes audible I don’t know, and like I said, I never bother with this as a producer or engineer because it’s not worth the hassle. But there’s a reason why the mic pres for the Neve 88Rs are remote. So they can be in the room with the players.
I have no idea whether this would be true with a Firewire cable.
Firewire was never a very well defined spec, as far as I can see - you’d have hardware manufacturers specifying that your computer needed to have a particular manufacturer’s Firewire chipset (Texas Instruments, iirc) to work reliably.
Wikipedia suggests 4.5m was the max cable length, but some better quality cables could be longer. I know my 2-meter cable only works reliably if I plug it in in a particular direction.
Right now I’m on the market for a new laptop and weeping at the hoops it looks like I’ll have to jump through to keep running my old Fireface 800.
I saw Eric Valentine in a video with all his pre’s in the live room of his studio talking about the same thing. I spent a little time experimenting with this before deciding to go with my console pres and get rid of my extra pres some years ago.
The longest runs in my studio are about 175 feet. I set up a guitar rig in my control room and then at the farthest point away in my live room and recorded them one after another. I did not feel there was a significant loss. To be a hypocrite though I have noticed a noticeable loss of volume when it comes to cue mixes going 175ft. I am not sure how one was obviously noticeable to me and the guitar signal was not. It has been so long since I did this to experiment with this phenomenon. I possibly turned up the gain on the mic pre a couple db and called it good.
I record acoustic, electric guitar, vocals and all sorts of overdubs in my control room and in my live room regularly and I never notice a difference other than then sound of the rooms.
As Mixerman says it’s not something to get crazy about. Having mic pre’s beside you is a great thing when you are recording by yourself. When I record drums by myself I use an iPad to check levels but I walk back and forth getting gains set. Overheads and rooms are the hardest when they are stereo. My console is old so matching the knobs on the console doesn’t always get you matched sound:)
I currently have an S5 wired with 72 preamps. And they are all remote. They’re clustered in banks of 24 but I have to keep them in a machine room because there’s several fans inside preamp enclosures and they’re ridiculously noisy!