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Opinions, Please: Vocal “Front-End”
Old 8th June 2015
  #1
Here for the gear
Opinions, Please: Vocal “Front-End”

Hi, crew – I need some opinions and perspective, please.

(And, Lindell -I posted this under “Hi-End”, because I theorize that “over $3K qualifies”… but please punt me to the next-appropriate locale if you deem needed!)

My “Holy Grail Vocal Sound” is that of Harry Belafonte’s “Live at Carnegie Hall” album, recorded in 1959. My voice is similar to his, but with a little bit more upper-midrange. About the same range on the high-end, although I can sing considerable lower (into baritone/bass) than I ever heard him.

At present, I own a few mics, including a Lauten LT-381 Oceanus (what a fat, wonderful mic!), a Studio Projects C1, SM-57, and Sure SM-55 (the “Elvis Mic”). The Lauten is my mainstay mic, as it gets me closer to the Belafonte sound than any of the others.

But my front-end sucks, and I’m ready to do this Right. And that’s where I’d like your feedback.

The style I am singing is very similar to Belafonte and Bennett... but sometimes involves very percussive attacks (not plosives! I have filters for that!), which are not-controllable by the compressor in my ART Pro-Channel II. So, I am currently looking at 4 alternatives:

1. The Manley Core
2. The Dave Hill Designs Europa 1, followed by a Warm Audio WA76
3. Retro Powerstrip followed by ?
4. Other.

According to Lore, Belafonte used some version of a Neumann, with a Fairchild 660 (variable-mu) compressor. 660’s were known for their very-fast Attack… as well as the sound of all those transformers and valves. No way can I afford a Fairchild, of course, but I am unsure of how much that compressor’s architecture affected his sound (his material on the album has a much-slower attack than mine). At the same time, though, I’ve been steering toward “trying to find” a variable-mu option.

According to Warm, their compressor is wicked-fast (20mS), “but” is FET-based. According to Retro, their Powerstrip compressor is vari-mu, but they do not publish the specs of the “six selectable time-constants”. According to Manley, they compress (ELOP) before the preamp gain stage, and add a Limiter at the end… which MIGHT achieve the same result. According to Dave Hill, the “slew rate” control on the Europa would smooth out the initial percussive attacks, and I could then use the WA76 to compress.

I want a big, fat, warm, intimate, but NOT gritty vocal tone. I want to keep the spend circa $3.5K tops, and I can only afford to do this one time in my life.

I'm in Analysis Paralysis, and mired in "what-if's".

Open to any feedback, alternative ideas, “you’re Whack and need to spend more!’” (as long as you articulate “why”)…

Thanks!
Old 8th June 2015
  #2
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burns46824's Avatar
I don't know what the "holy grail" front end is for your voice, but I will tell you that you will get closer to your goal by not using EQ or compression whilst tracking. My suggestion would be a very expensive tube mic through an expensive and uncolored preamp straight to analog tape.
Old 8th June 2015
  #3
Here for the gear
Hi, Burns - yep, I agree with you 100% about EQ. And I agree 80% with you about compression. My issue is that the peaks on those percussive vocal attacks are stealing about half of my headroom - so I want to tamp those peaks down, before I get to the DAW.

Back when I ran tape, it wasn't such a bother... but now, "0 = BAD". You know the drill...
Old 8th June 2015
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dibubba View Post
Hi, Burns - yep, I agree with you 100% about EQ. And I agree 80% with you about compression. My issue is that the peaks on those percussive vocal attacks are stealing about half of my headroom - so I want to tamp those peaks down, before I get to the DAW.

Back when I ran tape, it wasn't such a bother... but now, "0 = BAD". You know the drill...
Apogee Soft Limit
Old 8th June 2015
  #5
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burns46824's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dibubba View Post
Hi, Burns - yep, I agree with you 100% about EQ. And I agree 80% with you about compression. My issue is that the peaks on those percussive vocal attacks are stealing about half of my headroom - so I want to tamp those peaks down, before I get to the DAW.

Back when I ran tape, it wasn't such a bother... but now, "0 = BAD". You know the drill...
Fair enough. Yes, if you're running tape, those peaks might not be such a big deal. Back in the day, they likely would have been "riding" Belafonte's vocal as he sang, so when the loud bits came in, they would decrease the preamp gain on the console using the fader. Aurora Audio makes a preamp that has a built-in fader for this purpose...very cool. The simpler your recording chain, the purer the signal. However, if you have no one to "ride" your vocal, you might try a simple tube compressor a la TubeTech, Summit Audio, or Universal Audio.
Old 8th June 2015
  #6
The Little Anamod AM660 does a pretty close approximation of a Fairchild (for the price). Or go looking for a used 'Unfairchild'...
Old 9th June 2015
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by [email protected] View Post
The Little Anamod AM660 does a pretty close approximation of a Fairchild (for the price). Or go looking for a used 'Unfairchild'...
Yeah! I missed an eBay auction for a HCL VARIS - an awesome-looking piece of kit from the Ukraine. But most of the vari-mu's I can find, are starting at $3K... near my total budget!

But Trev, thanks for the feedback. I hadn't considered 500-series stuff, and man, that looks interesting.

The downside? There are 31x10^14 different 500-series pre-amps out there. So I'll be analyzing those until I can't sing anymore!
Old 9th June 2015
  #8
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burns46824's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dibubba View Post
Yeah! I missed an eBay auction for a HCL VARIS - an awesome-looking piece of kit from the Ukraine. But most of the vari-mu's I can find, are starting at $3K... near my total budget!

But Trev, thanks for the feedback. I hadn't considered 500-series stuff, and man, that looks interesting.

The downside? There are 31x10^14 different 500-series pre-amps out there. So I'll be analyzing those until I can't sing anymore!
Don't worry so much about the preamp as the microphone, the room, and the converter. The differences between high-quality preamps are generally not that drastic.
Old 9th June 2015
  #9
After listening to that Belafonte recording (I agree that vocal sounds great btw) I hear the effects of a rather unobtrusive compressor (which might corroborate the rumored use of a Fairchild by Belafonte) and I hear a little thickness added to the lower notes of his voice which could be due to a combination of well utilized proximity effect with the mic and transformers in the signal path. During that time they tracked with tubes also, so there ya go.

I'd go with the Retro Powerstrip. You have to fiddle with it to get the compressor to sit just right. But it has the sound that will work for that genre. As far as mics go it's a harder question for me. I might experiment with an Electrovoice re20 or perhaps an AEA R44C, or R84 ribbon.

Good luck.
Old 20th October 2015
  #10
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by burns46824 View Post
Don't worry so much about the preamp as the microphone, the room, and the converter. The differences between high-quality preamps are generally not that drastic.
Conversion first i agree. Can't emphasize that enough.
Old 20th October 2015
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dibubba View Post
3. Retro Powerstrip followed by ?
Your recording input. This box is amazing, I never need anything after it. I'm buying one as soon as I get the cash. Hopefully before they get "smart" and raise the price. Its a steal for what you get. There is a lot of value in it. Phil did a great job with this box. I like committing to a tone with it, it seems to sound like a record from the word "go".

Quote:
According to Retro, their Powerstrip compressor is vari-mu, but they do not publish the specs of the “six selectable time-constants”.
I believe the Compressor in the Powerstrip is modeled after the RS-124, which might give you an idea of its envelope quality. A good term to use would be that it is "glued" sounding. Tube Glow from the VMU circuit. There is something magic about the MU's. It sounds so natural. It has a classic smooth compression approach, which can sound effortless and tight, not unlike a Fairchild or a STA-Level. With the bit of range between slow and fast, it can easily be set for any type of source. All you need to dial severity of compression is the gain knob. It makes for a lot less work and instant gratification. Just touch it to control the evenness and it sounds golden. Very sweet sound.

Quote:
I want a big, fat, warm, intimate, but NOT gritty vocal tone.
Thanks!
I'd get the Retro,
Old 20th October 2015
  #12
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dibubba View Post
Hi, crew – I need some opinions and perspective, please.

(And, Lindell -I posted this under “Hi-End”, because I theorize that “over $3K qualifies”… but please punt me to the next-appropriate locale if you deem needed!)

My “Holy Grail Vocal Sound” is that of Harry Belafonte’s “Live at Carnegie Hall” album, recorded in 1959. My voice is similar to his, but with a little bit more upper-midrange. About the same range on the high-end, although I can sing considerable lower (into baritone/bass) than I ever heard him.

At present, I own a few mics, including a Lauten LT-381 Oceanus (what a fat, wonderful mic!), a Studio Projects C1, SM-57, and Sure SM-55 (the “Elvis Mic”). The Lauten is my mainstay mic, as it gets me closer to the Belafonte sound than any of the others.

But my front-end sucks, and I’m ready to do this Right. And that’s where I’d like your feedback.

The style I am singing is very similar to Belafonte and Bennett... but sometimes involves very percussive attacks (not plosives! I have filters for that!), which are not-controllable by the compressor in my ART Pro-Channel II. So, I am currently looking at 4 alternatives:

1. The Manley Core
2. The Dave Hill Designs Europa 1, followed by a Warm Audio WA76
3. Retro Powerstrip followed by ?
4. Other.

According to Lore, Belafonte used some version of a Neumann, with a Fairchild 660 (variable-mu) compressor. 660’s were known for their very-fast Attack… as well as the sound of all those transformers and valves. No way can I afford a Fairchild, of course, but I am unsure of how much that compressor’s architecture affected his sound (his material on the album has a much-slower attack than mine). At the same time, though, I’ve been steering toward “trying to find” a variable-mu option.

According to Warm, their compressor is wicked-fast (20mS), “but” is FET-based. According to Retro, their Powerstrip compressor is vari-mu, but they do not publish the specs of the “six selectable time-constants”. According to Manley, they compress (ELOP) before the preamp gain stage, and add a Limiter at the end… which MIGHT achieve the same result. According to Dave Hill, the “slew rate” control on the Europa would smooth out the initial percussive attacks, and I could then use the WA76 to compress.

I want a big, fat, warm, intimate, but NOT gritty vocal tone. I want to keep the spend circa $3.5K tops, and I can only afford to do this one time in my life.

I'm in Analysis Paralysis, and mired in "what-if's".

Open to any feedback, alternative ideas, “you’re Whack and need to spend more!’” (as long as you articulate “why”)…

Thanks!
I gather you really like your mic. That's good.
I would definitely try the AM660 which can be had for around $800 on the used market.
As far as a preamp goes, I would probably try all the "clean" 500 series modules like the Forssell and the Millenia. Placing the AM660 after that in your chain will probably sound killer. If you're looking to make the most of your available headroom, try high passing before the compressor. I use the Kush Audio Electra for this task and i set it around 80Hz. YMMV.
You also might want to try a tape emulator plugin. I love and use the Massey "Tape Head" every single day on tons of stuff like bass, snare, mandolin and sometimes stereo buss.
Good luck and happy listening.
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