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why are preamps so important?
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rinkbossy
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7th September 2011
Old 7th September 2011
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why are preamps so important?

Why are preamps so important? So many threads say it is the most important part of your chain, yet there is so little information/opinion that states WHY this is? I was reading a thread that said something to the effect of "of course you can't expect an Aphex 207 to sound as good as a Neve 1073."

What is so different that makes a high end preamp so much better?
#2
7th September 2011
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Nothing is the most important part of your chain, they all work together to produce the best sound you can achieve.

But here is the answer you want.

A microphone level comes in usually between -60 and -40 dB, you preamp is going to shoot that up to a level that is closer to 0, so you have something you can deal with. Every preamp has its own style of doing that boost, some better then others, but even the not so amazing ones give a "sound" that could be exactly what your looking for.

Just like every mic puts its own flavor on your track, so does your pre amp.
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It adds character, simple as that. Of course with dynamics etc it's also a level thing
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First off, I personally believe the microphone you choose makes the most difference in your chain, but yes, everything in the chain contributes to the sum that you hear in the end coming out of your speakers.

I asked a similar question to yours in this thread 5 years ago and I never forgot the answer given to me in Post #5 because I have found it to be very true over the years since then. As you will read, many posters following Post #5 agreed with him.

Got my Portico, not crazy about it, what techniques should I try?
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the only way for you to know if x preamp is worth it is to listen and compare, you may notice that x preamp sounds good as hell to you and you may always want to pass your signal thru it

but, yeah the microphone is greater than the preamp, if you dont believe me use a generic pre like on a mackie 1202 and plug up a bunch of diff mics to it and see how the sound changes
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The preamp is important in the same way your XLR cables are important: Microphones flat-out do not work without them. Sounds pretty important to me.

On top of that, one preamp can sound different than another.
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7th September 2011
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I wouldn't have said they are the most important part of the chain. I would expect a lot of people would agree that the instrument, performer and room acoustics are far more important. IMO, If those are great and your micing and knowledge of the basic principles of phase, gain structure and dynamics etc are all sound, there's no reason you can't make an excellent recording with pretty basic preamps. The first album I ever recorded was tracked entirely through a Makie 8Bus and I can still listen to it and be pleased with how it sounds.

Having said that, better preamps will tend to make the most of your mic collection and a having some more varied esoteric preamps also expands your creative palette as a recording engineer.
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A good preamp is like taking a photo with a good and clear lens versus a photo with a cheap, warped and smeared lens. (=cheap pre)
There's more to it - preamps can be crystal clear or "colored". (colored comes in MANY colours) They may have a kind of "fat" or "aggressive" sound, which is mostly from transformer coloration.
Then there's dynamic behaviours. Cheap preamps sound fuzzy and flaky when overdriven. Good tube preamps excell at this, reign in too peaky peaks, compress in a nice way and when they distort, they sound sweet, musical and for a while, add only k2 (signal one octave higher of what you put in) and even later some k3 (look it up) and when they finally go flat out, still sound great.
Then there is common mode rejection.. then there is the ability to drive long cables...

But in a nutshell, what you didn't catch (or add) with the pre in the signal you can't add by trickery later.
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If you're talking about recording an acoustic source, the order of importance starts with the source and goes down from there.

1-3- Player/instrument/room
4- Engineer
5- Mic
6- Pre
7- Comp/Eq
8- A/D/A
9- Recording medium

With the caveat that a chain is as strong as its weakest link. A crap A/D changes the equation.
But assuming everything is of relatively equivalent quality, I'll go by that list.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frans View Post
A good preamp is like taking a photo with a good and clear lens versus a photo with a cheap, warped and smeared lens. (=cheap pre)
No, mic is the lens.
rinkbossy
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheebs Goat View Post
The preamp is important in the same way your XLR cables are important: Microphones flat-out do not work without them. Sounds pretty important to me.
.
sorry if I was not clear. I was not asking about the "function" of preamps. That is fairly easy to discern. My question was relating to why one preamp is considered "subjectively" better than the other. In other words, I'm asking about the sound.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rinkbossy View Post
Why are preamps so important? So many threads say it is the most important part of your chain, yet there is so little information/opinion that states WHY this is? I was reading a thread that said something to the effect of "of course you can't expect an Aphex 207 to sound as good as a Neve 1073."

What is so different that makes a high end preamp so much better?
That's just because people don't want to take the time to explain their references, and go into detail about the subtle nuance that they are describing.
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#13
7th September 2011
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The best preamps are the preamps that remain unnoticed throughout the tracking/mixing phase.

It's kind of with headroom - You know you won't have enough headroom left when you start to notice the lack of headroom.

Not quite surprising, a good preamp and a healthy headroom are mutually related.

Good preamps are boring - It's like set the level and forget about it. On the other hand, good mics are lots of fun.
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7th September 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frans View Post
A Good tube preamps excell at this, reign in too peaky peaks, compress in a nice way and when they distort, they sound sweet, musical and for a while, add only k2 (signal one octave higher of what you put in) and even later some k3 (look it up) and when they finally go flat out, still sound great.
Then there is common mode rejection..

Thanks. Most of that really made sense. Except I'm not sure what you mean by k2 and k3 or "common mode rejection." Could you explain more or point to some literature/online reference I can check out? Thanks!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by filipv View Post
No, mic is the lens.
+1

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You've just been Intelligized.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rinkbossy View Post
Why are preamps so important? So many threads say it is the most important part of your chain, yet there is so little information/opinion that states WHY this is? I was reading a thread that said something to the effect of "of course you can't expect an Aphex 207 to sound as good as a Neve 1073."

What is so different that makes a high end preamp so much better?
I think of it this way , from a guitarist perspective ,

Mic = Guitar , Mic Pre = Guitar Head Amp , Converter = Cab


If you play a cheap guitar into a kick ass marshall half stack , it will sound pretty good .

If you play a high end guitar into a crap cheap combo amp , its gonna suck .

So a lowend mic into a highend mic pre , will sound pretty good .
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rinkbossy View Post
Thanks. Most of that really made sense. Except I'm not sure what you mean by k2 and k3 or "common mode rejection." Could you explain more or point to some literature/online reference I can check out? Thanks!
I've never seen it referred to that way, but it seems like he's talking about even and odd order harmonics.
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Originally Posted by ScumBum View Post
So a lowend mic into a highend mic pre , will sound pretty good .
I disagree - at least for some lowend mics.

But I agree with the weak link approach.
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I think it is worth a note that a really junky pre may sound bad, but honestly there aren't that many really truly junky pre's out there. Most prosumer grade stuff is very usable.

I've had good results with running nice mics into usable preamps. The "right" preamp may make cheaper mics sound better than they sound with the "wrong" preamps. Still, an expensive but "wrong" preamp won't do that. Sometimes I prefer cheaper preamps with cheaper mics simply because it seems the "high-end" preamps brings out the cheap highend of the cheap mic. The cheaper preamp doesn't do that as much.

It's all about the right gear for the job. That said, I do own a few $$$ pres. They are nice and add punch and clarity on some sources but the mic choice does way more.

There are no rules. Sorry for the ramble.
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I disagree - at least for some lowend mics.

But I agree with the weak link approach.
Yeah I don't mean "ALL" low end mics . I'm talking about like a $150 dynamic or $300 Audio Technica condenser . High end mics like a $1500 condenser .


The thing with the High End mic pre is that it brings out the "BEST" a mic can offer . Its like playing a really expensive guitar through a small crappy combo amp , your not gonna hear the full potential of the guitar through that amp .
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I would take the great mic/cheap pre over great pre/cheap mic.

First, I agree with Fieldstone that nobody is making crap electronics these days. To put it another way, cheapo mics are crappier than cheapo pres.

I'd rather a gorgeous mic into the pres on a 1604 than a cheap Chinese crap mic into a 1073.
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Quote:
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I would take the great mic/cheap pre over great pre/cheap mic.

First, I agree with Fieldstone that nobody is making crap electronics these days. To put it another way, cheapo mics are crappier than cheapo pres.

I'd rather a gorgeous mic into the pres on a 1604 than a cheap Chinese crap mic into a 1073.
But would you take a 57 into an API over a cheap Chinese condenser into a 1073 ?
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The thing with the High End mic pre is that it brings out the "BEST" a mic can offer .
Some high end pres are transparent and what they can do is clearly reveal the crappy response of a cheap mic.
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But would you take a 57 into an API over a cheap Chinese condenser into a 1073 ?
On snare? Hell yes!
The 57 is not a crap mic. There are plenty of situations where given a choice, people choose 57s.
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But would you take a 57 into an API over a cheap Chinese condenser into a 1073 ?
I'd take a 57 into an old Soundcraft desk ahead of a cheap Chinese condenser into a Neve...
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PRobb View Post
If you're talking about recording an acoustic source, the order of importance starts with the source and goes down from there.

1-3- Player/instrument/room
4- Engineer
5- Mic
6- Pre
7- Comp/Eq
8- A/D/A
9- Recording medium
Monitors gotta' come before the engineer. All of the engineer's choices are based on what he hears, and everything he hears comes from the monitoring.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ScumBum View Post
I think of it this way , from a guitarist perspective ,

Mic = Guitar , Mic Pre = Guitar Head Amp , Converter = Cab


If you play a cheap guitar into a kick ass marshall half stack , it will sound pretty good .

If you play a high end guitar into a crap cheap combo amp , its gonna suck .

So a lowend mic into a highend mic pre , will sound pretty good .
...I can't agree with that at all. A crap guitar is gonna' sound like a crap guitar. At least with a great guitar through a crap amp, there is greatness in the signal that has a chance of coming through.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheebs Goat View Post
Monitors gotta' come before the engineer. All of the engineer's choices are based on what he hears, and everything he hears comes from the monitoring.
Absolutely. All domain changes have the potential for significant coloration.
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