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MCI Board pres? Consoles
Old 7th April 2006
  #1
Gear Maniac
 

MCI Board pres?

Hi there,
I'm going to (apparently) be using an MCI 528B board in the very near future for a project. The place doesnt have a huge outboard selection, so what can I expect from the pres on this board?

Any help would be great!


Thanks.
Old 7th April 2006
  #2
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nosebleedaudio's Avatar
 

Depends on condition of console; upgrades, mods, caps ect..
Good, but not great ...
Old 7th April 2006
  #3
Lives for gear
Utter crap.

they are the a large part of the reason that freelance engineers started bringing in outboard mic pres...

until the proliferation of MCI consoles, everyone just used the pres in the desks... but people soon found out that, working in MCI equipped studios, their records weren't sounding as good as they used to and so they started to say "sure, I can work on the MCI there because I'll just bring in my mic pres"

and that was the real start of the trend.

I'd also avoid the VCA faders at all costs.
Use the small faders for everything.
Old 11th April 2006
  #4
Gear Maniac
 

yikes. I'll for sure bring my john hardy's

Thanks for the heads up!
Old 11th April 2006
  #5
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allencollins's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by wwittman
Utter crap.

they are the a large part of the reason that freelance engineers started bringing in outboard mic pres...

until the proliferation of MCI consoles, everyone just used the pres in the desks... but people soon found out that, working in MCI equipped studios, their records weren't sounding as good as they used to and so they started to say "sure, I can work on the MCI there because I'll just bring in my mic pres"

and that was the real start of the trend.

I'd also avoid the VCA faders at all costs.
Use the small faders for everything.

only the 'sony' ones are true crap
Old 11th April 2006
  #6
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Mci pres ...."Utter crap"....

Boy I don't know. I spent a TON of time down at Criteria between 74-77 and it was almost total MCI everything in there...and I loved almost everything coming out of that place. There were no piles of external pres sitting around anywhere. All stock stuff.

Some of most timeless pop/rock in the history of the planet...music that people use as a benchmark today...is music created with all that MCI stuff at Criteria.

I can't speak for what a thirty-some year old MCI console pre etc will do that's been who-knows-where, but when that equipment was new, I thought the stock configurations did exactly what they were supposed to do. The longevity of the recordings, techniques, and overall "coveted" sound of a lot of the Criteria stuff sort of validates the MCI equipment as well as the engineers/talent involved.

By the way, to me, this entire concept of a "pre-locker" and big collections of various pres did not exist ten..15..20..30 years ago. It's a proud invention of the 21st century gearslutz of the world.

If I were buying a console...and sort of knew that console's overall history in the biz...and could reference it to the sound of recordings I like (among other factors), I'd concentrate on the console...not the aspect of what a bunch of external pres would sound like in a shootout against the built-in pres on this brand of console that's responsible for some of the most timeless recordings ever made. Too much confusion. Too much distraction.
Old 11th April 2006
  #7
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adamcal's Avatar
 

I regularly receive tracks to mix from a studio that tracks through a MCI 56 channel 636 I believe. they have no outboard pres and I'm always happy to work with those tracks.

Of course, the engineer Robin Gray at Allen Eaton Studio is a very experienced engineer, and that helps a lot!!
Old 12th April 2006
  #8
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ripper's Avatar
 

I have not worked on a 528 but have worked on 500's and 600's.

the 600's aren't as nice as the 500's. a good condition 500 is a great board w/ great pres.

last night we tracked a session using great mics, the mci 500, 2 germaniums, a v72, and 4 tg pres.

the mci 500 pres performed wonderfully and in fact were our choice for the 2 kick mics as the handled the transients beautifully and were clearer and punchier than the other pres FOR THIS PURPOSE.

i liked the tg's on the snare and the germaniums w/ b&k 4011's on the overheads.

if the mci 500 pre's are "utter crap" then i guess all these other pres we were using must be too as they held their own very nicely, thank you!

i think maybe people who continually dis MCI have used the wrong series in poorly maintained studios,... just a guess.

i love JH16/24 ATR's, which are different from the JH24's. with those machines, i compared tracking the basics of a "big" australian rock band on one and then patched into a studer a820 and had a go. the JH16/24 had more punch for sure so i used it for the bass and drums and went to the studer for the overdubs as it shuttled faster.

i won Australian Engineer of the Year for the album and i'll stand by the right series of MCI gear any day.

Wille Mitchell's Royal Studios in Memphis puts out great sounding stuff using a MCI500.
Back In Black was tracked on an MCI ATR... more utter crap!
Old 12th April 2006
  #9
Moderator
 
TonyBelmont's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by wwittman
Utter crap.

they are the a large part of the reason that freelance engineers started bringing in outboard mic pres...
Probably the last thing you wanted to hear, huh? Well, I would definitely bring your Hardy's... Those consoles are of the late 70's era and were quite popular with commercial studios, because they were some of the first consoles with computer automation... But, just like a lot of the consoles of that era, people realized that the sound wasn't on par with a lot of the earlier Class A and tube designs of the previous generation stuff. I think even more impotant is the condition of the actual console you will be using... A lot can happen in 30 years to an analog desk.
Old 12th April 2006
  #10
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by thenoodle
Mci pres ...."Utter crap"....

Boy I don't know. I spent a TON of time down at Criteria between 74-77 and it was almost total MCI everything in there...and I loved almost everything coming out of that place. There were no piles of external pres sitting around anywhere. All stock stuff.

Some of most timeless pop/rock in the history of the planet...music that people use as a benchmark today...is music created with all that MCI stuff at Criteria.

I can't speak for what a thirty-some year old MCI console pre etc will do that's been who-knows-where, but when that equipment was new, I thought the stock configurations did exactly what they were supposed to do. The longevity of the recordings, techniques, and overall "coveted" sound of a lot of the Criteria stuff sort of validates the MCI equipment as well as the engineers/talent involved.

By the way, to me, this entire concept of a "pre-locker" and big collections of various pres did not exist ten..15..20..30 years ago. It's a proud invention of the 21st century gearslutz of the world.

If I were buying a console...and sort of knew that console's overall history in the biz...and could reference it to the sound of recordings I like (among other factors), I'd concentrate on the console...not the aspect of what a bunch of external pres would sound like in a shootout against the built-in pres on this brand of console that's responsible for some of the most timeless recordings ever made. Too much confusion. Too much distraction.
I thought I saw the Criteria console on ebay not long ago. I thought description stated that console was a one of kind, custom original MCI desk - not like production models made later. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

I curious what people think of the 400 series. I thought some Clapton stuff was recorded thru those desks as well.
Old 12th April 2006
  #11
Gear Maniac
 

in my observation Mr. Wittman hates all things MCI, going by his posts here and elsewhere. if you could get other folks, like Slipperman, to come around you'd get polar opposite opinions. i've never used an MCI board myself....

that guy put that Criteria #3 board up on ebay twice, trying to get $25k....i never caught the end of the 2nd auction. sure woulda felt some mojo sitting over that one. and some heat, probably.
Old 12th April 2006
  #12
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bongo's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by antiguru
The place doesnt have a huge outboard selection, so what can I expect from the pres on this board?

In the 80's there wasn't a huge selection, if any selection of outboard pre's. When you went to a studio you used the console. That's what was there. There were many great recordings done on MCI consoles. Would they have sounded better on a Neve or a Trident? You can't change history. Use what you have to use. If it sucks, which it probably won't, use something else.
Old 12th April 2006
  #13
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I didn't see the ebay auction. In my days hanging out at Criteria, there were three or four rooms running. There was an older, custom mci in one room..don't know what it was except it had the main faders on rounded humps like something from a plane cockpit. I sat there a few times trying to figure out how those could possibly be comfortable to work with. The other rooms always looked full of stock consoles to me. Ron or Howie Albert could tell you what was what if you can find them.
Old 12th April 2006
  #14
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natpub's Avatar
I used several MCI desks around the Mid- and Southwest over quite a long period, and never cared for the results. I did try several times to like them because of the affordability. It's not that they couldn't be made to work, it's just that the sound was never that final "Record" vibe. They are fine for a "demo" sound. To be honest, I prefer even the sound of my Midas pre's.
Old 12th April 2006
  #15
Gear Maniac
 

hehe lots of opinions on both sides, how surprising!


Ill talk to my AE tonight who's actually used this desk and see what kind of shape it's in. I'll probably bring my own stuff just in case though.

Thanks for all the input!
Old 12th April 2006
  #16
For what it's worth, I have a JH-416 that I quite like the sound of. It's very different from the 500 and 600 boards. It does employ some early primitive ICs (2001) that some people tend to **** all over. I'll tell you one thing though, this console does not make what you put through it sound like a demo recording. It would take a person with the right lack of skills to do that. I mixed ITB for years before getting the MCI board. I always found the ITB sound to be "demo" like. The MCI makes things sound like a record to me. But that's to me, not you necessarily...

psb
Old 12th April 2006
  #17
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ripper's Avatar
 

well put, philip. and there are huge differences between different series MCI's.

i've heard songs in the key of life and the eagles long run where one on MCI 500's, but not sure if that's correct.

my desk has been cranking out australian hits since the mid 70's as i know the history of the desk.

no one noticed they were utterly crap demos!!!!
Old 12th April 2006
  #18
Gear Guru
 
lucey's Avatar
Given the timeless options we take for granted today ... they're average. Your Hardys will seem very nice in comparison. The eq is also average. Nothing special in either. The board is full of ICs, transformers and VCAs ... it's a 'sound' for sure.

If you want a beefy record it can work well. If you want a clean and detailed record ... very tough work.



wwittman you're a big proponent of tracking with console pres for cohesion ... well here's his chance!
Old 12th April 2006
  #19
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echo unit's Avatar
 

Bob Lanois and Dan Lanois had a studio in the 1970's up to about 1986 down in Canada.

They recorded childrens music albums for goofy guys like Raffi and also recorded some of the local punk bands that were crazed up about the Punk fads coming from the UK at the time.

They sold the studio to some dude named Bob when Dan went bigtime with U2 and Gabriel.

They built this studio in the basement of the house they lived in.

They named it Grant Avenue after the street the house was on.

When Eno arrived there most people thought he was a bit odd and uptight. But Dan Lanois knew Eno was a figure of the UK music scene with Roxy music so he gladly worked for Eno.

It was their little peice of heaven where they would tinker around with editing tape, slowing down the tape machine speed to lower the pitch of the recorded sounds, reversing the tape, rolling off all the treble to get rid of the nasty tape hiss and noise from all the effects units but simultaneously made things dark, foggy, mysterious and distorted wihtout realizing it unit later. They dicked around with hard earned and expensive early digital delays with VCO modulation controls and R2D2 reverbs chaining them together in every way possible to get some new weird sounds Eno pretentiously coined "treatmetns".

Eno came up to Canada to work on film installation projects and on a whim wanted to go do some music but money was tight so he asked around and one of the dudes that was helping edit his film project knew Bob and Dan and had assisted at their studio so he suggested to Brian that he go there and save some bucks.

In this studio proudly sat:


MCI 500C series 30 input console


MCI JH24 2-inch multitrack

MCI Tape Machine (x2) (with 1/2 track conversion heads)

All of Brian Eno's Ambient recordings of the late 70's up the mid 80's (his best work) were done at this studio on this console with Danny boy at the helm.

Do those recordings sound bad to you?
Old 12th April 2006
  #20
Lives for gear
I notice that in every studio since then, Daniel Lanois has had APIs and Neves... I don't see him recreating his MCI 'magic'

they were in a lot of studios in their day because a) they were VERY agressively marketed and b) because they were cheap.

I remember when (dealer) Audio techniques had taken on US representation of the first Trident Audio Developments desks... I asked them on behalf of one studio for some info and a quote on a B Range.
What they got was Ham Brosious telling them how they could get a much better deal on an MCI.

I ended up finding them an API.

at one point after working for years in studios with API and Cadac desks, as well as freelancing on Neves and Helios , I went to a new studio with all MCI's (also courtesy of a package from Audiotechniques)... and I made records on it and did the best i could.
and some of those were hit records.
And they don't all SUCK.
(Geoff Daking worked at that studio as well)

But after a few years I moved on and again made records on other desks (in fact, we also put a TSM Trident in there for a while)... and after a time I went back and listened through a bunch of records I had done and there was an unmistakeable pattern.
There was simply no question that the "MCI records" were smaller, thinner, shallower and cheesier than the others.

It's not that you CAN'T make a record on one... but I wouldn't PERSONALLY choose to.
And not AS good a record as on a great desk.

I also had an eye opening experience at that same studio with taking in a Studer A800 on demo next to their MCI 24 tracks, with a similar result.

Plus I vividly remember that freelancers started to turn up carrying their racked preamps that they now carried to every MCI studio in self defense.

It's all subjective, personal and anecdotal.

But *I* avoid them.

Many good records have been made on 'eh' equipment... that doesn't make it GOOD equipment and it doesn't mean those records couldn't have sounded better on a better desk.

but it's always a personal, taste choice.

hey, you asked for opinions.
Old 12th April 2006
  #21
Gear Maniac
 
2Low's Avatar
 

Can someone please post a few samples. Especially in comparison to the MCI 600 stock preamps. I own a 636 and would love to hear the differences. thanks
Old 12th April 2006
  #22
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ripper's Avatar
 

again WHICH mci's are we referring to? i don't favor 600's but like 500's. interesting that walt mentioned TSM's. i owned a lovely TSM for years so i can easily compare it w/ my 500 as far as my older recordings go. apples and oranges. i like some of my new ones better and some of my old ones netter. they do sound different. i think i've gotten more experienced so i favor some of my new ones. would i trade my 500 for my old TSM.... yes.

had a different result in the JH16/24 studer shootout and everyone present agreed. but that was a heavy rock band. maybe pop would have been different...
Old 12th April 2006
  #23
No one has mentioned the TranzAmp which became very popular during that time period as a replacement preamp in MCI consoles. Even if the whole console wasn't redone, there was frequently a section that WAS and it was marked and used preferencially because it sounded better. I've worked on 400s, 500s and 600s. They weren't horrible consoles and offered lots of options not available before. Very cost effective. But they were never great consoles IMO.

As far as what projects were recorded on what consoles and whether or not musical magic can happen through an MCI, I'm not even going there. It's stupid. The quality of the sound of a record is determined by the engineer, not the console. C'mon.

Some people have been reading too many equipment advertisements.
Old 12th April 2006
  #24
Gear Guru
 
lucey's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lynn Fuston
As far as what projects were recorded on what consoles and whether or not musical magic can happen through an MCI, I'm not even going there. It's stupid. The quality of the sound of a record is determined by the engineer, not the console. C'mon.

Plus that little factor in the magic known as 'artist' !

(Lanois and Eno do well on any console. And Eno hates all esoteric gear, prefers quick, cheap and available.)
Old 12th April 2006
  #25
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I hate to bring the BeeGees into this conversation, but there are a couple of Criteria/MCI references I can think of. As a disclaimer, Lynn is correct that any particular console used is only part of the picture. After the consideration of mics, engineer technique,effects, compression, mastering, who knows what the original sessions sounded like in the room. Anyway...

The song "Tragedy" by the Gibbs was recorded in one of the smaller Criteria rooms (don't remember what # that would be but I DO have film of the basic tracks being made..from a 1978 tv documentary..not my own film). Since I had already been to Criteria numerous times, the layout was familiar.

The console in the film shots is one of the stock MCI's as I remember. I'll have to drag that out to be sure. Shots are from in the fairly tiny control room as well as out in the studio. The segment lasts five minutes or so so you get a good view of the five piece band layout, the mics etc. It's actually a very interesting clip because it's not doctored up after the fact. You get snips of the song being worked out and played as takes before all the later overdubbing would have occurred. There are also sections showing scratch vocals being recorded. By the way, there were two sync'd JH 24 tracks running on that. One can not get anything sonically from the film, but at least you get a visual of the room and equipment compared to the final product.

Another recording "Love Is Thicker Than Water" by Andy Gibb was also recorded in that same Criteria room on the same MCI stuff. That particular recording has a fair amount of space in it at times where you can hear individual instruments a little better than on typical Gibb recordings. I always like the intro toms. Very fat, loud and in your face. But that would be for a number of factors...not just the fact that an mci pre was in the circuit.
Old 12th April 2006
  #26
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Sony 3036 and SSL 4000E were the reason people started using outboard pres. Especially SSL!

If the pres on the 500 are in good shape, they sound quite good. They have a thick full sound, with an un-harsh, liquidy high end. The 500 VCA-automated console was such an industry standard that SSL used it as a model for their early desks.

The reputation for MCI sounding plastic and "transistory" came with the 600 series, although by today's standards those consoles sound pretty good. I used a 636 for the first couple years of my career, and we didn't have ANY outboard pres, and all the stuff we did on that console sounded really good.

There were quality-control issues with them in the later years, and that's when MCI stood for "munchy-crunchy-intermittent" or "melted circuits inside". Did they sound as good as Neve or API? No, (well, they sounded easily as good as a Neve 8128!) but especially the 500s sounded fat. Listen to your CD collection from like '75 to '85 and I'll bet the majority of that stuff was MCI console and machine, at least if it wast produced in the US. After that, SSL started taking over. Of course Derek and The Domino's "Layla" is considered the first big MCI record.

I think the worst pert on those MCIs was the summing and the VCAs, not the actual pres or EQs.

Perhaps the MCI-haters are thinking of the Sony 3036 desks which came out in around '86. They were the Japanese offspring of the 636, and used the same frame footprint, but that's where the similarirties ended. Now, many people like these Sony desks and they were pretty good, and in most ways better than the MCI 600, HOWEVER, it was THIS console that prompted an outcry for outboard pres (or even retro-fitted ON-board pres). The Sony pres were clean but BORING. And many record labels and big studios bought in to these desks so there were lots of them around. The engineers that were using them were veterans with a background in API or Neve or Quad 8 or Trident or whatever. They hated the Sony pres. The outcry was heard, and API started making retrofit pres and EQs for the Sony desk. This was the beginning of the API 200 series, which eventually evolved in to The Legacy console.
Old 12th April 2006
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by GearHunter
Sony 3036 and SSL 4000E were the reason people started using outboard pres. Especially SSL!
...

The reputation for MCI sounding plastic and "transistory" came with the 600 series, although by today's standards those consoles sound pretty good. I used a 636 for the first couple years of my career, and we didn't have ANY outboard pres, and all the stuff we did on that console sounded really good.
...

I think the worst pert on those MCIs was the summing and the VCAs, not the actual pres or EQs.

Perhaps the MCI-haters are thinking of the Sony 3036 desks which came out in around '86. They were the Japanese offspring of the 636, and used the same frame footprint, but that's where the similarirties ended. Now, many people like these Sony desks and they were pretty good, and in most ways better than the MCI 600
There are a few bones here I'd like to pick.

I worked at SoundStage in Nashville in 1978. There was a 528 in the front room and a brand new Neve 8068 in the back room. (That console is residing at Quad-Nashville now.) I know the differences side by side.

The 528 there replaced a TSM, like someone else mentioned earlier. It was a decent console, if you didn't mind replacing relays all the time. (I spent the better part of a day bent into a L-shape after pulling modules all night long.)

The MCI reputation was well established before the 600s came out. Like I said, TranzAmps were a hot seller in Nashville, and it wasn't because of VCAs or summing. Agreed the VCAs were the worst part of that console.

Summing? It wasn't an issue I ever heard mentioned until way into the 90s. Never once heard about it in relationship to an MCI console until today.

The EQ was fine if you could get past the fact that 1 dB was too little and 2 dB was too much. It was always a compromise for me between what I wanted and what I could get.

I'll join WW as an MCI belittler, not a hater. I've done lots of records on them-good records. And I'm not thinking of the Sony 3000s which I think were one of the worst consoles made. I have never loathed an EQ so much as that one. I'd take a Mackie over that thing, and I worked on one on dozens of occasions. (Bullet B)

I'd take a 600 over one of those Sonys and I never liked the 600 at all.

I will say one thing for the MCIs. They were punchy consoles. Not quiet. Little finesse. But you could get some snap on the drums with no effort at all.
Old 12th April 2006
  #28
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GearHunter's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lynn Fuston
There are a few bones here I'd like to pick.

I worked at SoundStage in Nashville in 1978. There was a 528 in the front room and a brand new Neve 8068 in the back room. (That console is residing at Quad-Nashville now.) I know the differences side by side.

The 528 there replaced a TSM, like someone else mentioned earlier. It was a decent console, if you didn't mind replacing relays all the time. (I spent the better part of a day bent into a L-shape after pulling modules all night long.)

The MCI reputation was well established before the 600s came out. Like I said, TranzAmps were a hot seller in Nashville, and it wasn't because of VCAs or summing. Agreed the VCAs were the worst part of that console.

Summing? It wasn't an issue I ever heard mentioned until way into the 90s. Never once heard about it in relationship to an MCI console until today.

The EQ was fine if you could get past the fact that 1 dB was too little and 2 dB was too much. It was always a compromise for me between what I wanted and what I could get.

I'll join WW as an MCI belittler, not a hater. I've done lots of records on them-good records. And I'm not thinking of the Sony 3000s which I think were one of the worst consoles made. I have never loathed an EQ so much as that one. I'd take a Mackie over that thing, and I worked on one on dozens of occasions. (Bullet B)

I'd take a 600 over one of those Sonys and I never liked the 600 at all.

I will say one thing for the MCIs. They were punchy consoles. Not quiet. Little finesse. But you could get some snap on the drums with no effort at all.
Thanks for the enlightement Lynn. I defer to your greater experience. That was the very beginning for me (early 80s) and we had a 600. All the 500 owners thought they were the hot-****e, used to point to the Billboard charts, etc, and looked down upon us lowly 600 people. Plus we had the typical issues like out-of-phase patch-points from the factory. I said that MCI stood for "Might Cause Indegestion>"heh

So, to my rookie mind, the 500 was THE console. Even since then, I have known people that have bought used ones, often modding them, and liking them a lot.

Heck, you had an 8068 though, so that's gonna kill all comers. At that point in my career I had only seen a Neve in a magazine.

On a tangentially related topic, I always liked the Harrison desks. I thought they sounded much better than the MCI 600, for sure.

Did you ever use any Harrisons?
Old 12th April 2006
  #29
Quote:
Originally Posted by GearHunter
Did you ever use any Harrisons?
Just a few. There were several in town and they were built here (still are, by GLW). Once you knew your way around an MCI, you knew the Harrison. They were that similar. I always wondered about the similarities between the two. But there were more MCIs in town and I worked on those more. All I remember was that the labeling was a little cryptic at times. But they were good consoles, with maintenance issues just like MCIs.
Old 13th April 2006
  #30
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ripper's Avatar
 

I'M SO HAPPY SO MANY PEOPLE DISS MCI!!! A gearslutz dream cause w/ luck you can pickup a good condition MCI500 or a JH16/24 for a song, and not a hit one!
probably the best audio deal on the planet!
or maybe you could find a beautiful Neve or API for a bargain!heh heh
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