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Are preamps (that) important to record synths ?
Old 13th August 2016
  #1
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Are preamps (that) important to record synths ?

Quick call for opinions.

Would it be sonically worth it to invest in a preamp to record both analog synthetizers and drum machines (passing through a DI) ? Would it really make a difference in a track ?

Could a gentle soul take the time to do a side-by-side comparison (or even a blind test) to compare the same sequencing recorded with the same instrument with, for instance
(1) DI box and a good outboard preamp (solid state and/or tube)
(2) DI box and the pres integrated within a sound interface (class A or class B)
(3) DI box and nothing else
(4) straight into the converters

Thanks everybody for sharing your thoughts/experiences.

Last edited by Octave Octavio; 16th August 2016 at 09:25 PM.. Reason: quit it
Old 13th August 2016
  #2
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If it has transformers and tubes, yes, but the pre-amp circuit is not doing any of the work. Pre amps are designed to not saturate or distort as best they can. The transformers are what you're paying for.

You'd be much better off buying a few transformers, wiring them up and using them directly in your chain.
Old 13th August 2016
  #3
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namnibor's Avatar
The line signal from a synth does not generally need a preamp. Been using line signals from synths since 1982 but maybe I have missed something. Are you running football field lengths of cable for your synths?
Old 13th August 2016
  #4
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BTByrd's Avatar
Preamps for synths are so overrated it's not even funny.

The Rooster is an excellent front end for synths, but that's because it's stereo, designed to saturate, has decent tone sculpting capabilities, and is full of tubes in every stage.

Preamps in general are a giant unnecessary waste of money when it comes to recording synths. If your synth needs to be run through $5000 worth of tubes and transformers to sound good, you should sell it and buy another synth. And if you have a synth that sounds good at the start, running it through $5000 worth of tubes and transformers will just make it sound different, not necessarily better.
Old 13th August 2016
  #5
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trick fall's Avatar
 

They aren't really necessary, but if I use them I look for something that is going to alter the sound in a pleasing way. I like running stuff through my ART MPA pre to get a little bit of grunge on it. It's not a fancy, or expensive pre but I like the way it colors my synths. I'm sure the Thermionic would be amazing for this, but I don't have that kind of scratch.
Old 13th August 2016
  #6
PES
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PES's Avatar
Anything you can overdrive to add some dust & rust to the sound might be worth trying out, whether it's a stand-alone preamp or the input gain knob on a cheap mixer.

On the hi-fi side of things I got no expertise, but imagine expensive might not pay off much for synthetic sound that you design yourself to begin With.
Old 13th August 2016
  #7
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Not at all necessary for most keyboards and drum machines.
Old 14th August 2016
  #8
SEED78
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With a decent preamp you really notice the added tone once everything is stacked up in the mix. Everything just jels together more. Adds a lot, I wouldn't be without them.

There are likely plug ins that can get you in the same ballpark, but tracking synths with preamps means you don't need them, and the processing power they use up.
Old 14th August 2016
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BTByrd View Post
Preamps for synths are so overrated it's not even funny.

The Rooster is an excellent front end for synths, but that's because it's stereo, designed to saturate, has decent tone sculpting capabilities, and is full of tubes in every stage.

Preamps in general are a giant unnecessary waste of money when it comes to recording synths. If your synth needs to be run through $5000 worth of tubes and transformers to sound good, you should sell it and buy another synth. And if you have a synth that sounds good at the start, running it through $5000 worth of tubes and transformers will just make it sound different, not necessarily better.
I totally disagree or maybe i should say i agree in the sense that a great pre-amp is not exactly "necessary" to record a quality synth but the difference can be quite dramatic. For years i recorded without pre-amps and made fine music but but once i graduated to getting a quality pre- the sonic difference is really big once you know what your doing.
Old 14th August 2016
  #10
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BTByrd's Avatar
It really depends on what you're working with. I used to have a 500 Series lunchbox with Chandler Little Devil Preamps and EQs feeding an Xpressor for a stereo front end along with a Culture Vulture. I still have a UA LA-610 MKII for my actual mic and for tracking guitar. It turned out that my $7000 front end was basically superfluous on my nice synths and that I only really wanted to use them on sources that I hated -- namely my Machinedrum (which was awesome in terms of flexability, but I hated the tone). It added some marginal interest to my more "digital" sounding synths like the Nord G2 or Microwave XT, but nothing worth the cost (that wasn't easily approximated via plugins or pedals).

Honestly, a good drive pedal -- or a Moogerfooger basically bypassed but with the input drive stage engaged -- is a much better choice for adding tone than a high-end preamp. Or a Chandler Boost pedal. Or a Sherman. Or a Geiger Counter. Or a million other things than a F-ing Class A preamp that costs a million dollars for a 2% increase in tone.

I don't know what the OP has, but I'm basically certain that they'd be better off buying $3K in pedals, Eventide, or new synths than buying high-end preamps.
Old 14th August 2016
  #11
I think high quality preamps are awesome for tracking almost anything. They add clarity and focus to the overall mix. Having said that, they are better for some things than others, and probably are close to the last investment for a synth gearslut. It's a totally different deal if you have analog keyboards.

I have an LA-610 that I use for my Clavinets (since they are mono), and a Focusrite Red 8 for recording my stereo Rhodes, Leslie speaker and acoustic piano. The 610 adds some nice drive to the Clavs and is very flexible to work with the different pickup settings. The Red 8 is very clean and totally captures the stereo imaging and growly tone of my Fender Rhodes. It also lets me run very long mic cables from my studio to my piano without issue. Given my sizable investment in instruments, it seemed logical to spend a few dollars to have the best possible signal path.

The trick for recording line inputs through a nice preamp is to bring the line input to a Mic level before going into the preamp. For example, before my Rhodes hits the Red 8, it goes through a J48 active stereo DI that is powered with 48V phantom power from my preamp. This makes all the difference in the sound quality since the preamp is getting the hottest and cleanest possible signal to work with. Without this DI setup, it's a totally different ballgame.
Old 14th August 2016
  #12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Helmey View Post
I think high quality preamps are awesome for tracking almost anything. They add clarity and focus to the overall mix. Having said that, they are better for some things than others, and probably are close to the last investment for a synth gearslut. It's a totally different deal if you have analog keyboards.

I have an LA-610 that I use for my Clavinets (since they are mono), and a Focusrite Red 8 for recording my stereo Rhodes, Leslie speaker and acoustic piano. The 610 adds some nice drive to the Clavs and is very flexible to work with the different pickup settings. The Red 8 is very clean and totally captures the stereo imaging and growly tone of my Fender Rhodes. It also lets me run very long mic cables from my studio to my piano without issue. Given my sizable investment in instruments, it seemed logical to spend a few dollars to have the best possible signal path.

The trick for recording line inputs through a nice preamp is to bring the line input to a Mic level before going into the preamp. For example, before my Rhodes hits the Red 8, it goes through a J48 active stereo DI that is powered with 48V phantom power from my preamp. This makes all the difference in the sound quality since the preamp is getting the hottest and cleanest possible signal to work with. Without this DI setup, it's a totally different ballgame.
Agreed. I see lot of people running their synths and drum machines into a pre directly, and then complaining that it doesn't add anything to the sound.

Using a proper passive DI BEFORE THE PREAMP is the correct way to hook up a synth to a preamp... And it does make a difference.

I own a Acme audio Motown DI that goes between my synths and my pre (usually a 1073). highly recommend it.
Old 14th August 2016
  #13
SEED78
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by BTByrd View Post
It really depends on what you're working with. I used to have a 500 Series lunchbox with Chandler Little Devil Preamps and EQs feeding an Xpressor for a stereo front end along with a Culture Vulture. I still have a UA LA-610 MKII for my actual mic and for tracking guitar. It turned out that my $7000 front end was basically superfluous on my nice synths and that I only really wanted to use them on sources that I hated -- namely my Machinedrum (which was awesome in terms of flexability, but I hated the tone). It added some marginal interest to my more "digital" sounding synths like the Nord G2 or Microwave XT, but nothing worth the cost (that wasn't easily approximated via plugins or pedals).

Honestly, a good drive pedal -- or a Moogerfooger basically bypassed but with the input drive stage engaged -- is a much better choice for adding tone than a high-end preamp. Or a Chandler Boost pedal. Or a Sherman. Or a Geiger Counter. Or a million other things than a F-ing Class A preamp that costs a million dollars for a 2% increase in tone.

I don't know what the OP has, but I'm basically certain that they'd be better off buying $3K in pedals, Eventide, or new synths than buying high-end preamps.
Or you just were not using the right preamps, there are stereo ones under 1k that I think make a difference.
Old 14th August 2016
  #14
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El-Burrito's Avatar
99% of people record synths without preamps. If you happen to have some expensive preamps then it's worth to try how it sounds. It's not worth to buy single preamp for the job as all preamps sound different.

Someone here said that if u run everything trough same preamp the sound gels better. Well, if the preamp have slighth peak in 1khz the your whole mix have peak there that you need to fix. In SSL mixer all channels sound a bit different so you don't have that problem.
Old 14th August 2016
  #15
Gotta agree with 'BTByrd'.
I have a bunch of very nice pre-amps (mostly vintage). In the end, whether I use a Quad Eight or Telefunken, or the inputs on my UAD Apollo it's really had to hear any difference. I mean REALLY hard.
99% of a good synth sound is the sound design in the first place.
Maybe it's because I use non-preset analogue synths mostly and not modern pre-set synths? I dunno.... I get the sound right at the source and don't have to embellish it with an expensive pre-amp.

On drum machines it's actually the opposite. A good mic-pre can add punch, character and saturation. I use the EQ sections as well. I think a good mic/pre with EQ is very handy when recording drum sounds or drum machines.
There are some very good cheaper mic/pres though. I was in one of the most expensive, well equipped studios in the UK recently and they have racks of DAV modules.
Old 14th August 2016
  #16
Gear Addict
Quote:
Originally Posted by BTByrd View Post
It really depends on what you're working with. I used to have a 500 Series lunchbox with Chandler Little Devil Preamps and EQs feeding an Xpressor for a stereo front end along with a Culture Vulture. I still have a UA LA-610 MKII for my actual mic and for tracking guitar. It turned out that my $7000 front end was basically superfluous on my nice synths and that I only really wanted to use them on sources that I hated -- namely my Machinedrum (which was awesome in terms of flexability, but I hated the tone). It added some marginal interest to my more "digital" sounding synths like the Nord G2 or Microwave XT, but nothing worth the cost (that wasn't easily approximated via plugins or pedals).

Honestly, a good drive pedal -- or a Moogerfooger basically bypassed but with the input drive stage engaged -- is a much better choice for adding tone than a high-end preamp. Or a Chandler Boost pedal. Or a Sherman. Or a Geiger Counter. Or a million other things than a F-ing Class A preamp that costs a million dollars for a 2% increase in tone.

I don't know what the OP has, but I'm basically certain that they'd be better off buying $3K in pedals, Eventide, or new synths than buying high-end preamps.

i'd like to second that the moogerfoogers really have a nice drive to it. i love to distort drums with my moogerfoogers. kinda similar to the cheap roland km-60 & co
Old 14th August 2016
  #17
SEED78
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by El-Burrito View Post

Someone here said that if u run everything trough same preamp the sound gels better. Well, if the preamp have slighth peak in 1khz the your whole mix have peak there that you need to fix. In SSL mixer all channels sound a bit different so you don't have that problem.
Same would apply to recording every type of music/instrument, and a lot of people manage with a small selection of preamp.
Old 14th August 2016
  #18
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Muser's Avatar
I've had more useful results with some behringer foot pedals than pre amps. how and why something fits in a mix is a matter of judgment.
Old 14th August 2016
  #19
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El-Burrito's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by SEED78 View Post
Same would apply to recording every type of music/instrument, and a lot of people manage with a small selection of preamp.
Small selection is a whole lot more than single Mojo preamp. Preamps in new soundcards are so clean that you can record everything with it. But if u have one that adds color then it might not be a good idea to run everything trough it.

For drum machines all it takes is old mixer. Boss BX series is THE sound of 808 & 909 in older techno tracks. BX sounds very good when driven hard. So does old Mackie mixers.

Is there any new line level fx box to add that old mixer drive sound? Not some expensive boutique stuff, but simple box that just add oldschool drive to drums.
Old 14th August 2016
  #20
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For those of you with a good pre-amp, are you running almost everything through it? Does using the same pre-amp on everything make everything sound the same?

I'm asking because when I only had 1 mic, I found that recording (not synths) everything with just that mic, it gave everything the same voicing all the time, it made very tiresome mixes. With time I've grown my mic collection and using a different mic on everything fixed that problem. Will having 1 pramp be similar? Am I gonna end up wanting a dozen of them too?
Old 14th August 2016
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by El-Burrito View Post
Is there any new line level fx box to add that old mixer drive sound? Not some expensive boutique stuff, but simple box that just add oldschool drive to drums.
I've been eyeing the JHS colour box
https://www.jhspedals.com/products/g...als/colourbox/

anyone try it with synths?

I'm a big fan of the Dr.Scientist Elements
it handles synth levels very well and there's a huge variety of gain types to be had, from clean boost & light overdrive to fuzz or high gain.
Old 14th August 2016
  #22
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pulsar modular's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisso View Post
Gotta agree with 'BTByrd'.
I have a bunch of very nice pre-amps (mostly vintage). In the end, whether I use a Quad Eight or Telefunken, or the inputs on my UAD Apollo it's really had to hear any difference. I mean REALLY hard.
99% of a good synth sound is the sound design in the first place.
Maybe it's because I use non-preset analogue synths mostly and not modern pre-set synths? I dunno.... I get the sound right at the source and don't have to embellish it with an expensive pre-amp.

On drum machines it's actually the opposite. A good mic-pre can add punch, character and saturation. I use the EQ sections as well. I think a good mic/pre with EQ is very handy when recording drum sounds or drum machines.
There are some very good cheaper mic/pres though. I was in one of the most expensive, well equipped studios in the UK recently and they have racks of DAV modules.
Totally agree with this. I also have several high end preamps, but 9 times out of 10 I prefer running my synths straight into a clean mixer (SSL XPanda) before A/D. I specifically dislike synths through tube pres, as some top end sparkle can be lost. Drum machines are a different story...colored devices such a Chandler Mini Mixer, Aurora GTQ2, TG-1 etc are really great for that.
Old 14th August 2016
  #23
SEED78
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by oinkbanana View Post
For those of you with a good pre-amp, are you running almost everything through it? Does using the same pre-amp on everything make everything sound the same?
I think of it more as sampling everything through 1 sampler, the shared tonality makes things sound like they belong together. They don't fight each other in the mix.
Old 14th August 2016
  #24
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enossified's Avatar
Preamps are something of a fad, at least in the sense that people just used to record through the pres of their mixing boards.

Now that using big studio mixers are out of the reach of many (mostly because using big studios are out of reach), you can buy standalone preamps that duplicate (or try to) the circuitry of various Neve, API, Harrison, Abbey Road consoles, you name it. There's also software simulations of all those preamps.

Face it, anything you run the signal through has the potential to change the sound for the better or the worse. Mikes need preamps because of the low level, but the line level of a synth does not need further amplification, it could be patched straight into an analog tape deck or an A/D converter.

So, are preamps important? If every other part of your recording and mixing chain is fantastic, a nice preamp might add something that you would like. If your current chain is crap, forget it and spend your money improving that first.
Old 14th August 2016
  #25
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Quantum7's Avatar
Interesting thread. I would have never thought of recording a synth through a preamp, but it definitely may be worth experimenting with. I have a Presonus ADL-700 which may be fun to put one of my Moog's through it.
Old 15th August 2016
  #26
Quote:
Originally Posted by oinkbanana View Post
I've been eyeing the JHS colour box
https://www.jhspedals.com/products/g...als/colourbox/

anyone try it with synths?

I'm a big fan of the Dr.Scientist Elements
it handles synth levels very well and there's a huge variety of gain types to be had, from clean boost & light overdrive to fuzz or high gain.
I have a colour box.. I've used it with synths and even tried it with an re-20 on vocals.

It sounds great. Lots of color options, and the filter is very fun to work with.. It sounds NOTHING like a 1073 though... Much dirtier, more of an effect than a preamp.

Still, I prefer the acme. It just adds so much balls to bass lines... My fav DI.
Old 15th August 2016
  #27
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login's Avatar
Take a look at the Karacter by Elysia, designed to add color and saturate. Lots of demos with synths and they sound quite great IMHO.

Old 15th August 2016
  #28
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atma's Avatar
The point is to run synths and drum machines through any kind of outboard that will saturate the signal in different ways and give you different color variations. It doesn't require anything expensive. I use the solid state preamps in my old akai reel to reel (bypassing the tape itself) which has a super musical distortion, as well as my pre-73, which has a DI, and and old hhb tube compressor, which I swap the tubes in to get different saturation effects. Really any piece of hardware that you can overdrive at all can work.
Old 15th August 2016
  #29
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For straight-into-the-interface folks: what levels are you hitting at?
Old 15th August 2016
  #30
WDM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oinkbanana View Post
For those of you with a good pre-amp, are you running almost everything through it? Does using the same pre-amp on everything make everything sound the same?
I'd say that using the same (good) pre-amp will make everything sound good.
The main purpose of pre-amp is to make the solid pleasant signal out of the (weak) source.

Not all pre-amps are equal tho.

The pre-amps like API 512c or UA Solo/610 for example are very versatile and always useful, no matter what you're doing, tracking synths or guitars or recording a shaker through SM58. Having both handy doesn't hurt either.
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