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Preamp for AEA/RCA R44 (Tubes, JFETS and more, oh my!) Dual-Channel Preamps
Old 10th February 2015
  #1
Gear Head
 

Preamp for AEA/RCA R44 (Tubes, JFETS and more, oh my!)

Hi,

I've got an AEA R44 that I love dearly, that I have been using with both an AEA RPQ and a Retro Powerstrip. Love both pres. But...

Here's the problem and why I'm looking for a new pre.

I use this mainly for spoken word voice recordings. We aren't going for "vintage." We are going for very natural, detailed, but without a hint of harshness.

The RPQ is absolutely beautiful on the natural and detailed side. Even without the EQ engaged, I can get a clear and non-muddy result. When I use the RPQ as the pre, I usually go line input to the Powerstrip and use its shelves to manage proximity effect and give it some air with a great result.

The only problem with the RPQ is that the high impedence increases the sensitivity of the mic so much that I get a massive increase in pop, crackle, and mouth noises compared to running it through the PowerStrip. It damn near sounds like a condenser, a sound I desperately try to stay away from.

When I try the Powerstrip as the pre, the mic sensitivity is much less. All of the pops, clicks, and mouth noises get eaten up by the combo of lower impedance and a higher yet lovely tube noise floor.

The problem is that because I need so much gain I have to crank the input circuit over 70 and this introduces a lot of low end distortion. It's beautiful, lush, tubey distortion of the finest kind ... but with the R44 the distortion ends up muddying the low end in a way that I can't get rid of with just EQ.

The Powerstrip can do *very clean* at lower gain levels when you can deemphasize the input tube, but not with the R44.

I have a feeling that a tube pre that emphasizes extremely clear and natural gain even at high levels is my path to nirvana for this particular application.

(Sure, I could run Izotope RX over the RPQ->PS version to declick --- which is what I'm currently doing --- but I'm trying to minimize processing. I'd much rather get it as close to 100% right at the source.)

That has led me to a very unhappy place.

From what I've read, the Thermionic Earlybird is exactly what I want. My ears seem to be close to Ivo's, and his description of its gain as being clear, natural, detailed, and un-hyped is dead-on what I want (and what I love about the RPQ). Heck, b/c it has line inputs I can run it out of channel #1 and into channel #2 if I need more gain than one channel can push but don't want to drive the tubes into distortion.

The downside is everything I've read about Thermionic gear says the build quality is poor. I love Retro and Knif build quality. Even a "just ok" build is really going to bother me. If it is truly the best choice, I'll live with it ... but the reason I'm writing this and not just ordering one is I really don't want to buy TC.

BTW, I am getting a Retro OP-6 in --- hoping that b/c there is so much gain on tap I can keep it clean with an R44. Not trying to go into Bing Crosby land. We'll see later this week.

So the questions ...

Has anyone used an Earlybird w/a 44? Thoughts?

How bad is the build quality on current run TC gear? Could I put it in a shock rack and travel with it like I do w/Phil Moore's work without giving it a second thought?

Are there other preamps I should look at? Clear and natural, no low mid build up when pushed at high gain, can handle an R44's gain requirements.

I've thought about trying a LaChapell 992EG.

Any other pres, tube or otherwise, that I should try?

Thanks,
Michael

P.S. If anyone is interested I did a pretty extensive shootout between the R44, Royer R122V, and a Bock 407 before settling on the R44. I kept the Royer, too. I can post some files if anyone is considering a purchase. Preferably with my new pres. ;-)
Old 10th February 2015
  #2
Gear Maniac
 

I have done some voice work, and my intuition tells me you're working too close to the mic. Yes, mouth noises are the constant bug-a-boo of narration/voice work, but they can be limited in their appearance by some distance from the mic.

I'm not sure where folks got the idea that they have to be kissing the grille to use a mic, or to get a useable recording. Yes, you can increase proximity effect the closer you get, but I find this feature annoying with the spoken word, when taken to the extreme. Maybe it works in radio, but imagine a documentary or audio book narrated with a pounding proximity. Not!

I'm currently using a tube LDC (not entirely happy with it, but not because of mouth noise), and record at a distance of approximately 20-24". A pop filter is still useful at that distance, and EQ and compression add the familiar texture/tonal quality in the low end. A gentle slope off the highs may lessen the crackle of mouth noises a little, too. Yes, there is a little embouchure technique involved as well, but if you've been doing this any length of time, I imagine you've got that covered.

-Bruce
Old 10th February 2015
  #3
Lives for gear
 

have you tried putting a cloudlifter in front of the Retro?
Old 10th February 2015
  #4
Jai guru deva om
 
warhead's Avatar
 

The RETRO OP-6 is a pretty heavy character preamp, which does not seem to be what you are describing the desire for.

To me you are describing the need to use the RPQ at lower gain settings, feeding into the Powerstrip for its smooth tube tone but not having to stage it so high.

Done.

That's what I would do anyhow if trying to achieve what you have outlined here.

I think you own the gear you need already.

War
Old 10th February 2015
  #5
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bcfromfl View Post
I have done some voice work, and my intuition tells me you're working too close to the mic. Yes, mouth noises are the constant bug-a-boo of narration/voice work, but they can be limited in their appearance by some distance from the mic.
Bruce,

Thanks for your input.

I'm definitely not 20-24" off, but I am typically a foot. With the R44, that is still well within the massive proximity boost range so I use the RPQ into the Retro's Pultec to roll off the lows in a lovely way. The result from a tonal balance perspective is stunning.

And I agree, if I pulled off another foot I'd probably lose all of the pops and clicks. But since the R44 is a figure 8 and I record on location as much as in a treated space, that is going to bring a little too much room noise into play.

The benefit with the tube pres I have tried is that they have a much lower slew than the RPQ --- so some of those details just never make it into the system. Specifically the rapid fast bursts that are there one millisecond and gone the next like mouth clicks. If I could get halfway between the RPQ and the Retro in terms of responsiveness, I'd be home.

I'm off to play with distance a bit more.

Thanks again.

Michael
Old 10th February 2015
  #6
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by j2dafo View Post
have you tried putting a cloudlifter in front of the Retro?
Good suggestion.

I have, and also the fethead. It "works" ... I'm just not a fan of what either one does to the sound.

Thanks,
Michael
Old 10th February 2015
  #7
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by warhead View Post
The RETRO OP-6 is a pretty heavy character preamp, which does not seem to be what you are describing the desire for.

To me you are describing the need to use the RPQ at lower gain settings, feeding into the Powerstrip for its smooth tube tone but not having to stage it so high.

Done.

That's what I would do anyhow if trying to achieve what you have outlined here.

I think you own the gear you need already.

War
War,

That's exactly what I've been doing.

RPQ -> PS emphasizing the clean output stage, using the Pultec to manage the low and high end, and even the compressor for some smooth leveling is 95% perfect. It gets me soooo close.

But once the increase mouth noise is "in the system" from the RPQ the PS won't "erase" it no matter what I do.

Just for kicks, I ran a test using the Powerstrip first. Input around 25 and output around 75. This produces almost no output from the R44. But feeding that into the RPQ line level for make up gain gets me where I want to go.

I get the "airy" and "less meaty" version of the PS's tube gain which keeps just the right level of civilized detail in play, and the mouth noises are other hyper-quick transients are minimized/rounded to perfectly blend into the background.

The downside of doing this is I can't use the PS compressor, and it just isn't elegant.

That's what got me posting.

I could chain two Powerstrips together and emphasize clean on the first and just enough of the input circuit on the second to drive the compressor. But that's just messy *if* there is a tube pre out there that'll give me 60-70db of "clean style" Powerstrip gain instead of the meaty gain that kicks in w/the input circuit.

That's what I was resting my hopes on w/the OP-6 --- that maybe at the 60db range it wouldn't saturate the low mids. If it is "heavy" all the way through its gain range, I'll end up keeping it and using it on other projects.

Thanks,
Michael
Old 10th February 2015
  #8
Lives for gear
 
PatrickFaith's Avatar
 

I recently finally sprung for a nice pop filter when I bought a high end ribbon mic - "PAULY SUPERSCREEN PR120-T30", is kind of pricey but i think it's worth it. Not sure what your using but having that about a foot out and where your speaking could be all that's needed. I btw have a op6 and powerstrip, I can't see a powerstrip cleaning this problem up. OP6 can be clean on the lower settings, but won't fix pops (if anything, sound problems like that can get amplified by the op6).
Old 10th February 2015
  #9
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mc2600 View Post
But since the R44 is a figure 8 and I record on location as much as in a treated space, that is going to bring a little too much room noise into play.
I'll be darned if I can't remember where I saw this, but just within the past week I saw a DIY retrofit for a ribbon mic to turn it, essentially, into a cardioid pattern. The individual took a short length of black pipe insulation foam, sliced it lengthwise, and fit it over the back half of the mic. Might gain you a few inches and reduce room noise?

-Bruce
Old 10th February 2015
  #10
I'd pull back from that mic, as its proximity effect will be out of control at one foot, IMO. You can only go so far with EQ/HPF, which can cause undesirable after-effects. If you don't like the room sound introduced when doing this, then it's time to work on that issue, which is often overlooked.
Old 10th February 2015
  #11
Also, since it appears you like tube saturation, I'd recommend auditioning the Sonic Farm Creamer+, which is very versatile, dead quiet, very pleasing color when pushed, and with plenty of gain for this application. Again, I don't think it's the answer to your problem above, though.
Old 13th February 2015
  #12
Lives for gear
 

I tested the R44 with different preamps incl. the AEA TRP but my favorite preamp for the R44 (and ribbons in general) is the Gordon Model 5.
Old 15th February 2015
  #13
Gear Maniac
 
ztjangle's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by mc2600 View Post
Hi,


....We aren't going for "vintage." We are going for very natural, detailed, but without a hint of harshness.

...
I have a feeling that a tube pre that emphasizes extremely clear and natural gain even at high levels is my path to nirvana for this particular application.

...

Any other pres, tube or otherwise, that I should try?

Thanks,
Michael
I couldn't resist. You're almost describing our Creamer Plus. For your needs, a "wire with gain" kind of a preamp won't cut it.
I have a pair of Royer 121's and I can tell you those sound awesome through the Creamer+. It has up to 74dB of gain and is DEAD QUIET. Haven't heard it with R44 but even condensers with a pronounced presence hump don't sound harsh. It is very colored and lush but never dirty or brash. Rather, you perceive it as natural. Read any of many industry mag reviews. (links and audio samples on our site)
Good luck with your search!
Old 15th February 2015
  #14
QRS
Gear Maniac
 

i've heard my 44 with a DWfearn VT12 ... what a wonderful combo, highly recommended!
or you just sell the 44 and get an A440, thats what i've done. you dont need another special preamp for that mic and can save some money there.

Last edited by QRS; 15th February 2015 at 11:40 AM..
Old 15th February 2015
  #15
Gear Maniac
 
Tommyswami's Avatar
I love the a designs Pacifica . Great clarity sounds great for spoken word and many other applications .
Hope that helps .
Old 16th February 2015
  #16
Lives for gear
 
Mike O's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by QRS View Post
i've heard my 44 with a DWfearn VT12 ... what a wonderful combo, highly recommended!
or you just sell the R44 and get an A440, thats what i've done. you dont need another special preamp for that mic and can save some money there.
No offense, but as beautiful as the VT12 is, it is IMO unlikely to solve what *appears* (to me) to be a problem created by proximity (12 inches) to the R44, a mic with lots of proximity effect. The alternative is to back off the mic carefully, but that doesn't appear to be an option.

Too close to the mic (12 inches) and using a Pultec to compensate. The AEA 440, another gorgeous mic isn't going to solve the problem either. Nothing wrong with EQing a mic if it gets you where you need to go. But if EQ doesn't work you probably have the wrong mic. But the OP seems 'married' to the R44 (a beautiful mic), so there you have it....

A couple people have been very polite and implied the R44 in this particular room (s) is the problem. If the room/performer cannot accommodate greater distance, even in a GREAT room, it is likely that the mic, in this room/placement ,with this performer; is the problem.

Per the OP, "I have a feeling that a tube pre that emphasizes extremely clear and natural gain even at high levels is my path to nirvana for this particular application." If the OP had a tube pre with the characteristic that would not solve the problem. And if it did, so would a non-tube preamp.

I have a R44CX, designed to have 6db more gain than the R44. Even the tube preamps of a Manley Slam, IMO meeting the description do not solve the problem described. A change of mic, location or performer will.

Wishing the OP luck! Most of us have "been there" whether we knew it or not.
Old 16th February 2015
  #17
Gear Head
 

All,

Checking in to thank you for all the feedback so far, and to give a quick update.

First, I've heard (most of) you loud and clear. The best way I can find to back off the mic more is with a QSF from ASC. Putting in an order for the tube traps tomorrow.

Second, I've been testing with distance to see whether it solves my main concern --- which is the mouth noises that get exposed w/the RPQ (don't like) but are "eaten up" by the PowerStrip (do like) at the expense of the low mids clouding up b/c of how hard I have to drive the tubes (don't like).

The good and unsurprising news is the mouth noises get a lot better. While the distance needed to drop the mouth noises where I want them won't work with my current treatment, I'm expecting the QSF to make it workable in my current space and on the road.

Third, I was always pretty happy with what I could sculpt with the low-end response with the RPQ and Pultec's shelves. But in testing between the RPQ, the clean version of the Powerstrip's gain, and the pushed version of the Powerstrip's gain ... I find myself dramatically preferring the sound of the PS's clean tube gain. I get the same natural response with the RPQ, I just like what the tubes, transformers, and lower impedance seem to do to the transient response. There just isn't enough of it before it starts distorting.

The low mid's on the Powerstrip when the input tube is pushed (the more saturated tone the PS is capable of) are something to behold --- and that is holding true no matter whether I'm 12" or 24" off to the mic. The same issue is *not* present no matter whether I'm 12" or 24" off the mic with the RPQ or the cleaner version of the PS's gain.

*I can get the sound I want currently by using the PS as the pre, only using the clean gain, and then using the RPQ for makeup gain. I love and am very happy with this sound. But I lose ability to use the PS's compressor in that scenario, which is why I'm still looking for either a clean tube pre or a non-tube pre that has a similar effect on the R44's transients near or far.

To that end, I'm ordering the Creamer Plus tomorrow and should have an Earlybird here next week. We'll see...

I'll post another update soon.

Thanks again for all of the feedback, it is appreciated.

Michael

Last edited by mc2600; 16th February 2015 at 04:06 AM..
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