what are the best pres in an interface?
Old 22nd July 2013
  #1
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what are the best pres in an interface?

I have been recording solo classical guitar at home, and was on the brink of mastering and releasing my project, but I put the brakes on it. The reason being that I'm not really happy with the sound. I originally wanted to record these in an old parish that has very nice acoustics and natural reverb, but I got no responses to my request to record in there. Recently, a priest that I know was named administrator of that same parish, so I asked him and he said yes.

My Win7/64bit laptop is running Reaper very nicely, and I have a pair of KM184's that my wife got me for Christmas. I've been learning the ropes with a Scarlett 2i2, fine for what it is, but I have a bit of cash to work with and the 2i2 is going to be relegated to monitor amp on the desk and I'm ready to put something nicer between the mics and the laptop.

Can't afford pre's into a separate converter, but I can afford some of the nicer interfaces. From low to high, I'm looking at:

Focusrite Forte ($400 to $500)
RME Babyface ($750)
Sound Devices USBPre2 ($850)

which of these units has the best preamps? Everything else is secondary, I want the pre's to be as quiet and transparent as possible. Is there a dual pre/converter combination that is a better alternative to what I listed and is in that price range? I can go to a grand if need be.
Old 22nd July 2013
  #2
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remoteman's Avatar
 

I own a USBPre2 and I think it's brilliant. The pres are exceptionally quiet (Notably more than the liquid 56 and focusrite isatwo i've used recently) and it's a superbly constructed box.
Old 22nd July 2013
  #3
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Karli,

You want the sound devices unit. You will probably never need to upgrade. Pres are excellent, especially with the microphones that you have. The converters are excellent as well.
Old 22nd July 2013
  #4
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Earcatcher's Avatar
 

I fully agree with the answers thus far.
Old 22nd July 2013
  #5
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+1 to USBpre2.

One more thing to consider...just as a possibility..is trying omni pair. You may not like the sound of cardioid itself, rather than quality of your preamps.
Old 22nd July 2013
  #6
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There is the Audient mico, but I don't think it would sound any better than the Sound Devices and it doesn't have interface capability. The Pre2 is probably your best bet. Though for the best all-round interface, the Babyface is probably the best choice for pre's, AD/DA and signal routing. It sounds great, and there shouldn't be any noise problems with high gain, especially with the 184's.
Old 22nd July 2013
  #7
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Love my USBPre2!!!! As clean as they come! I do remotes with a pair of AT4050s, turn around and use it in my home studio. Very quiet, versatile.
Old 22nd July 2013
  #8
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The Babyface have PGA2500 preamps, which are also in the Fireface 400/UC/UCX/UFX and in the Micstasy. The Micstasy is good enough for Deutsche Grammophon and BIS. It might be OK for you.
Old 22nd July 2013
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Masaaki View Post
+1 to USBpre2.

One more thing to consider...just as a possibility..is trying omni pair. You may not like the sound of cardioid itself, rather than quality of your preamps.
In this particular room, there is an argument that the natural reverb is too much. I did a flute/guitar recording in there back in the 80's, and the flautist did not like the room at all. To illustrate her point, she fired off some staccato triads, which rang as chords for a good 5-6 seconds. She hated that. I loved it. My thinking is the cardioid might help tame the reverb a bit.
Old 22nd July 2013
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kmaaj View Post
In this particular room, there is an argument that the natural reverb is too much. I did a flute/guitar recording in there back in the 80's, and the flautist did not like the room at all. To illustrate her point, she fired off some staccato triads, which rang as chords for a good 5-6 seconds. She hated that. I loved it. My thinking is the cardioid might help tame the reverb a bit.
How about putting up a few absorption panels?
Old 22nd July 2013
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by polytope View Post
How about putting up a few absorption panels?
Open to it, but I'm going to try the room as it sits with what I have; my son will be with me and we will experiment with mic position for as long as it takes. That tape I did in the 80's was really nice. I think her dislike was a matter of taste.
Old 23rd July 2013
  #12
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If I were to go the RME route, I'd be more inclined to spend more and get the Fireface UC, if for no other reason than to avoid the breakout cable and get a sturdier unit.
Old 24th July 2013
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by didier.brest View Post
The Babyface have PGA2500 preamps, which are also in the Fireface 400/UC/UCX/UFX and in the Micstasy. The Micstasy is good enough for Deutsche Grammophon and BIS. It might be OK for you.
I didnt realize that all of those RME units have the same pre. I thought that the micstasy pres were supposed to be a step up.
Old 24th July 2013
  #14
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rumleymusic's Avatar
They have the same chip. 99% of all digitally controlled mix pres use the same chip. That doesn't mean they are the same quality or sound alike.

Sent from my SPH-L300
Old 24th July 2013
  #15
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huub's Avatar
In my experience all RME units have really good pre amps, comparable to high end digital mixers.
Detailed, clean, just good.
If you can't make a good recording with these it's definitely not the pre amps fault.
The sound devices stuff is also very good.
Old 24th July 2013
  #16
Gear maniac
 

I wouldn't recommend neglecting the importance of conversion. Even if you can spend a maximum of USD$1000. Apogee would make a great solution, however they only work on Mac.

Consider: Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 and the Steinberg MR816.
Old 24th July 2013
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kmaaj View Post
I have been recording solo classical guitar at home, and was on the brink of mastering and releasing my project, but I put the brakes on it. The reason being that I'm not really happy with the sound. I originally wanted to record these in an old parish that has very nice acoustics and natural reverb, but I got no responses to my request to record in there. Recently, a priest that I know was named administrator of that same parish, so I asked him and he said yes.

My Win7/64bit laptop is running Reaper very nicely, and I have a pair of KM184's that my wife got me for Christmas. I've been learning the ropes with a Scarlett 2i2, fine for what it is, but I have a bit of cash to work with and the 2i2 is going to be relegated to monitor amp on the desk and I'm ready to put something nicer between the mics and the laptop.

Can't afford pre's into a separate converter, but I can afford some of the nicer interfaces. From low to high, I'm looking at:

Focusrite Forte ($400 to $500)
RME Babyface ($750)
Sound Devices USBPre2 ($850)

which of these units has the best preamps? Everything else is secondary, I want the pre's to be as quiet and transparent as possible. Is there a dual pre/converter combination that is a better alternative to what I listed and is in that price range? I can go to a grand if need be.
Why not going from a nice pre into your Scarlett?

Audio interface pre's will always be a compromise.
Old 24th July 2013
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alexander Dunnet View Post
I wouldn't recommend neglecting the importance of conversion. Even if you can spend a maximum of USD$1000. Apogee would make a great solution, however they only work on Mac.

Consider: Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 and the Steinberg MR816.
With decent modern prosumer/entry level pro interfaces there's a lot of things to take care of before thinking about upgrading conversion. Imho that's a thing for the perfectionist to get that last 1-2% (while quality DA is important for accurate monitoring, off course), but not before you upgraded the rest of the chain first.
Old 24th July 2013
  #19
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didier.brest's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
They have the same chip. 99% of all digitally controlled mix pres use the same chip. That doesn't mean they are the same quality or sound alike.

Sent from my SPH-L300
The PGA 2500 is a fully integrated microphone preamp. How this kind of circuit could let design margins for improving the sound ?
Pins 1, 2 and 3 of the male XLR connector of the microphone cable shall be connected to pins 28, 27 and 26 of the circuit. The amplified signal is collected from pins 17 and 16 (see picture here attached).
In the Micstasy there is a gain-dependent pad in front of the PGA 2500 and an additional amplification stage behind it. This design is increasing input and output dynamic ranges but does not change the sound.
Attached Thumbnails
what are the best pres in an interface?-capture-1.jpg  
Old 24th July 2013
  #20
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Birdland101's Avatar
Mico, pre and then go spdif into your comp.
Old 24th July 2013
  #21
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I really enjoy my Steinberg MR816X. The pres seem transparent. Most of the time I can leave the gain turned all the way down so the sound isn't changed at all. If you want to completely bypass them, and use an external pre you can utilize the 2 channel inserts in the back. This doesn't sound like what you're trying to do, so using the internal preamps should be satisfying to you. The preamps were designed by Yamaha and used in their great live sound boards. Also the converters are of very high quality for an interface in this price range. I only payed around $550 for mine. Steinberg MR816X gets my vote!

Sent from my SCH-S720C
Old 24th July 2013
  #22
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The Echo 2 is worth a look, uses the THAT digital mic pre chips and AKM converters, just a shame that its only got minijack headphones.
Old 24th July 2013
  #23
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rumleymusic's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by didier.brest View Post
The PGA 2500 is a fully integrated microphone preamp. How this kind of circuit could let design margins for improving the sound ?
Pins 1, 2 and 3 of the male XLR connector of the microphone cable shall be connected to pins 28, 27 and 26 of the circuit. The amplified signal is collected from pins 17 and 16 (see picture here attached).
In the Micstasy there is a gain-dependent pad in front of the PGA 2500 and an additional amplification stage behind it. This design is increasing input and output dynamic ranges but does not change the sound.
The input and output circuitry on every preamp design is different. The chip is one of dozens of components. Not to mention the power supply and channel separation which have a huge impact on the sound. For instance, the MOTU 828 and Prism Orpheus' pres sound nothing alike. But they use identical PGA2500 chips.

Sent from my SPH-L300
Old 24th July 2013
  #24
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dickiefunk's Avatar
 

What would you say is lacking with the sound of your KM184's into the Scarlett 2i2?
The pres in the newer Focusrite interfaces are usually very good indeed. I'd be very surprised to find a big difference in the quality of the pres in your list!?
It may be worth getting hold of BlackLionAudio as they are doing a mod for the Focusrite Scarlett interfaces which would improve the pres, both A/D and D/A converters and headphone amp.

What guitar are you recording and what's the room like that you're recording in?
Old 24th July 2013
  #25
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One other thought, are you on PC or MAC? The Apogee Duet has very good conversion and pres!
Old 24th July 2013
  #26
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didier.brest's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
The input and output circuitry on every preamp design is different. The chip is one of dozens of components.
That is true for preamp based on operational amplifiers, like the DAV BG1 for instance. It is different for the PGA 2500 because it is more than a general use op amp: it is an actual microphone preamp. Look at the data sheet: you will find the specifications of this microphone preamp (gain range, EIN, THD, ...).


Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
For instance, the MOTU 828 and Prism Orpheus' pres sound nothing alike. But they use identical PGA2500 chips.
I do not think that that the MOTU 828 would use the PGA 2500 although both have 1 dB step gain. The Motu preamps have digitally controlled analog trim while the gain control of the PGA2500 is fully digital. The gain range of the PGA 2500 is 0 dB and 10-65 dB (or 15-60 dB depending on the version). The gain range of the Motu 828 preamp is 13-53 dB. I would like to listen to a comparative test of these preamps.
Old 24th July 2013
  #27
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rumleymusic's Avatar
Quote:
I do not think that that the MOTU 828 would use the PGA 2500. Its preamps have digitally controlled analog trim while the gain control of the PGA2500 is fully digital.
Not to get too far off topic on the thread here, but it does use the PGA2500. That chip uses digitally controlled analog gain. There are no converters in the chip that would allow digital gain. There are an infinite number of ways it can be utilized in a preamp design, what you see printed in the documentation is just a suggested input topology. I have owned a MOTU828mk3, and I would describe the sound as muddy and noisy in the high gain register. It has a pad and the overall gain level is something like 73db.

I personally prefer something with a THAT chip like DAV or similar. They also have a digitally controlled version but I don't know if any makers use that currently in their designs.
Old 24th July 2013
  #28
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didier.brest's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
That chip uses digitally controlled analog gain.
There is no pin for analog gain control among the 28 pins of the PGA 2500:

1 General-Purpose CMOS Logic Output
2 General-Purpose CMOS Logic Output
3 General-Purpose CMOS Logic Output
4 General-Purpose CMOS Logic Output
5 Over Range Output (Active High)
6 Digital Ground
7 DC Servo Enable (Active Low)
8 Unity Gain Enable (Active High)
9 Zero Crossing Detector Enable (Active High)
10 Serial Data Input
11 Chip Select Input (Active Low)
12 Serial Data Clock Input
13 Serial Data Output
14 ?5V Digital Supply
15 ?5V Analog Supply
16 Analog Output, Inverting
17 Analog Output, Non-Inverting
18 +5V Analog Supply
19 +5V Analog Supply
20 ?5V Analog Supply
21 DC Servo Capacitor #2, Terminal 2
22 DC Servo Capacitor #2, Terminal 1
23 DC Servo Capacitor #1, Terminal 2
24 DC Servo Capacitor #1, Terminal 1
25 Common Mode Voltage Input, 0V to +2.5V
26 Analog Input, Inverting
27 Analog Input, Noninverting
28 Analog Ground

The gain control is digital through serial data input 10.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rumleymusic View Post
I have owned a MOTU828mk3, and I would describe the sound as muddy and noisy in the high gain register. It has a pad and the overall gain level is something like 73db.
See here p.5
Quote:
For the Mic (XLR) input, push the TRIM encoder to toggle a 20 dB pad; push and hold to toggle 48V phantom power. The Precision Digital Trimâ„¢ knob provides 53 dB of gain.
So 73 dB gain range from -20 dB to +53 dB. Anyway nothing alike a PGA 2500.
Old 24th July 2013
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dickiefunk View Post
What would you say is lacking with the sound of your KM184's into the Scarlett 2i2?
In my situation, I'm not a big fan of close mic'ing, though I am becoming one. The further away I set the mic's, the more I have to turn the gains up, the more hiss I get.

Also, I cannot get the transparency that I want. I'm always trying tweak in highs and tweak out lows.

I realize that this may not be the Scarlett, and I have been very pleased with the unit for what it is. At it's price point and function, I plan on keeping it. It's just that I have a little cash to work with, so that's one part of the chain I'm going to address. The other part will be full blown treatment of a spare room that is opening up after this project is finished (boomerang kid moving out).

Quote:
The pres in the newer Focusrite interfaces are usually very good indeed. I'd be very surprised to find a big difference in the quality of the pres in your list!?
Even if the difference is small, it will be worth it to me.

Quote:
It may be worth getting hold of BlackLionAudio as they are doing a mod for the Focusrite Scarlett interfaces which would improve the pres, both A/D and D/A converters and headphone amp.
Might do that in the future, no time for it now.

Quote:
What guitar are you recording and what's the room like that you're recording in?
I build classical guitars. I had been recording in my ghetto treated living room and have a full project in the can. I originally wanted to do this project in a church sanctuary, my request was initially ignored for the room that I wanted to use, a priest that I know was recently named administrator of that same parish, and he is going to let me use it.
Old 24th July 2013
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dickiefunk View Post
One other thought, are you on PC or MAC? The Apogee Duet has very good conversion and pres!
PC, but I am considering Duet into an iPad, as that would do away with fan noise. I currently use Touch OSC on my iPod as a remote to get my laptop away from the mics.
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