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All this 'Vintage' Talk about Pre's, what about that MODERN Sound!?
Old 20th December 2006
  #1
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All this 'Vintage' Talk about Pre's, what about that MODERN Sound!?

I am going to be making some home studio upgrades in the next few weeks, and man is there alot of options and assholes out there (ooops, I meant [I]opinions[I], not assholesheh ). I am looking first off, to improve my input sound for vox and instruments. For instance, right now, my 'goto' vox mic is my Soundelux U195 (I also have a Studio Projects C1) into one of my two Grace 101 pre's, and then through my MOTU 896. I can't help but think that maybe the Grace's are a little boring on some of the tracks, but what do I know? I've never really explored the world of higher end pre's, but I'm hoping it will make a big difference in my tracks. Especially vocals. I am looking to get that 'big, up-front, modern Pop hit single' sound out of my vox. I want the lead vox to have that 'exciting' sound. The only two damn adjectives I hear anymore when shopping for pre's are 'clean' or 'vintage'....Now to me, 'clean' means like 'recording orchestras' clean, and 'vintage' means 'the beatles'. Not to knock either one, but neither of those examples are what I am hearing on modern hit productions.

Now, my budget is going to hover around a grand, give or take a few bills. I hate making desicions like this! Here's what I've been looking at so far (mostly basing this list on what seems to be quality in my price range):

- Great River
- Chandler Germanium
- SPL Gain Station / Gold Mike
- Phoenix Audio

MAIN use will be for Vox. So a quality single channel might trump a dual, but something like the SPL Gold Mike seems really interesting, but I can never tell what is ****ty and what's decent anymore. Should I just shut up and buy the single channel Great River and get on with it?

And just to open up a whole different can of worms, do you think the converters on my old 896 are killing my sound before it even has a chance?

Thanks guys
halcyo

Last edited by halcyo; 20th December 2006 at 06:57 AM.. Reason: additions
Old 20th December 2006
  #2
Led
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Led's Avatar
If you want something modern you should probably look at class a transformerless designs. The Great River is awesome, but it has transformers. We have a bunch of prototypes that Al Smart built for us and they are what I would call modern - transformerleess, fast - I don't know if he's making them regularly but worth a look, also maybe the Millenia.
Old 20th December 2006
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by halcyo View Post
And just to open up a whole different can of worms, do you think the converters on my old 896 are killing my sound before it even has a chance?
halcyo
The AD on the 896 is not good, and I think you could improve the sound without spending a huge amount of money. I used to have one and had an RME ADI8 (AD/DAC) while back - although this is definitely a low/mid range converter it opened up my sound a huge amount at both tracking and monitoring levels.

As for the preamp I'd add the A-Designs Pacifica to your list. This is an amazing preamp - do a search - there is a lot of love for it on this board, and Peter Montessi, who builds them, is a regular here.
Old 20th December 2006
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by halcyo View Post
I am going to be making some home studio upgrades in the next few weeks, and man is there alot of options and assholes out there (ooops, I meant [I]opinions[I], not assholesheh ). I am looking first off, to improve my input sound for vox and instruments. For instance, right now, my 'goto' vox mic is my Soundelux U195 (I also have a Studio Projects C1) into one of my two Grace 101 pre's, and then through my MOTU 896. I can't help but think that maybe the Grace's are a little boring on some of the tracks, but what do I know? I've never really explored the world of higher end pre's, but I'm hoping it will make a big difference in my tracks. Especially vocals. I am looking to get that 'big, up-front, modern Pop hit single' sound out of my vox. I want the lead vox to have that 'exciting' sound. The only two damn adjectives I hear anymore when shopping for pre's are 'clean' or 'vintage'....Now to me, 'clean' means like 'recording orchestras' clean, and 'vintage' means 'the beatles'. Not to knock either one, but neither of those examples are what I am hearing on modern hit productions.

Now, my budget is going to hover around a grand, give or take a few bills. I hate making desicions like this! Here's what I've been looking at so far (mostly basing this list on what seems to be quality in my price range):

- Great River
- Chandler Germanium
- SPL Gain Station / Gold Mike
- Phoenix Audio

MAIN use will be for Vox. So a quality single channel might trump a dual, but something like the SPL Gold Mike seems really interesting, but I can never tell what is ****ty and what's decent anymore. Should I just shut up and buy the single channel Great River and get on with it?

And just to open up a whole different can of worms, do you think the converters on my old 896 are killing my sound before it even has a chance?

Thanks guys
halcyo

That "MODERN" sound you're talking about is a combination of several things: performer/mic/pre/compressor/FX in mixdown, and still in some cases 2" tape. You'll be suprised to know that the Neumann U47 VF14 (VERY vintage) is probably the most widely used mic for that BIG, modern POP "hit song" sound you're talking about (and YES, the Beatles used it regularly). Some are as old as 1947, and still sound unbelievable if properly maintained. Some are even "modded" so as to sound like they are on steriods. Have you ever sang thru one with a class A Neve pre/ 1176 "4 buttons in" combo ? You might suddenly hear that sound you are looking for, and be even scared of what you sound like at first.

Also, there are almost inevitably always some type of FX processing on the BIG modern/ pop vocal sound you are talking about (i.e.- reverb, chorus, distortion, delay, or a combination of several, and sometimes programmed and mixed so that they are hard to notice, but add a very important quality to the sound that gives it its' "bigness".

And don't leave out "mic tecnique" which is knowing how to sing 3 inches away from a U47 without overloading it, yet still sounding passionate and distinctive while at the same time "on key" -- NOT as easy a task as most would think.
Old 20th December 2006
  #5
11413
Guest
Quote:
- Great River
- Chandler Germanium
- SPL Gain Station / Gold Mike
- Phoenix Audio
Great River = boring
Germ.. the one application i dont really like the germ on is vox.. shines everywhere else tho
SPL... wouldn't go there
Phoenix... they're having production probs now

hmm.. for a "modern" sound mebbe an avalon vt737.. it definitely does that "white hot razor thru butter" sound on so many records... a lil over budget tho.. but you get an eq that goes to 32k and a mostly useless compressor... i wonder what a vt737 sounds like with mullard tubes
Old 20th December 2006
  #6
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Improv's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by 11413 View Post
Germ.. the one application i dont really like the germ on is vox.. shines everywhere else tho


Really? Do others feel this way, too? I just love it on vocals.

Though honestly, the projects I tend to these days don't require that hypermodern sound. Honestly, I'd go that way at the mix if it needed it anyway. The germ gets me great vocals that work in many contexts.
Old 20th December 2006
  #7
11413
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by Improv View Post
Really? Do others feel this way, too? I just love it on vocals.
strangely, i like vocals with a lil more top end bite... and i germ just about everything else... if i do vox thru the germ i'll keep the fb quite low.

that said, i usually have an odd way of doing things compared to most so i wouldn't expect my opinion to be popular
Old 20th December 2006
  #8
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Improv's Avatar
 

Hey not knocking your opinion. Yes, I usually do a sizeable hishelf boost on a germ vocal. But it does seem to work better than a similar boost on another pre. Just more natural

But "natural" isn't the name of the game for this thread so...
Old 20th December 2006
  #9
11413
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by Improv View Post
Hey not knocking your opinion.
no worries.. it's a given that audio engineers never agree on anything... heh
Quote:
But "natural" isn't the name of the game for this thread so...
hence the vt737 comment... not that i am particularly crazy about that box but it is a "modern" sound, for good or ill.

BTW, i'm almost impossible to offend, so no worries there
Old 20th December 2006
  #10
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iziphonics's Avatar
 

Quote:
strangely, i like vocals with a lil more top end bite...
Depends on mic a lot. I love Germanium with Brauner on vox.


Quote:
If you want something modern you should probably look at class a transformerless designs. The Great River is awesome, but it has transformers. We have a bunch of prototypes that Al Smart built for us and they are what I would call modern - transformerleess, fast - I don't know if he's making them regularly but worth a look, also maybe the Millenia.

I really like Millennia, but it would rather not give "that 'big, up-front, modern Pop hit single'" sound, unless you're after Celine Dion like sound. It's very clean.
Old 20th December 2006
  #11
I have used this preamp lately and it rocks. Very clean, free from distortion and in your face. I dig this preamp 'cus it really gives you the sound from the mic and nothing else....
Old 20th December 2006
  #12
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u b k's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by halcyo View Post
I've never really explored the world of higher end pre's, but I'm hoping it will make a big difference in my tracks.

it'll make a difference, but i don't think it's going to be as big as you're hoping for. for starters, you have a nice pre, albeit a clean one. your converters are a bottleneck for sure, and will diminish the variations between all this lovely gear. you'll still hear it, but all the goodness can't shine thru those motu's.

big differences happen in small, accumulated stages, as does your target: a "sound". a vintage pre doesn't automatically yield vintage productions, or every rock record on the planet would sound like the mid-70's (neve). vintage or modern sounding productions result from the gear choices, specific mic techniques, tape (or not) and, most importantly, the engineer's choices in putting it all together.

soundgarden's superunknown, e.g., has a distinctly modern ssl sheen to the tone, but the tracking choices and mixes all vibe like 70's rock on vinyl.

in my hands, a given set of tracks can end up sounding like the carpenters or the black crowes depending on how i play it. reverb, what type and how much, is one of the largest factors. eq choices come next, as well as balances. distortions are critical too, you can't cop a revolver vibe without tools that add a lot of hair.

honestly, in terms of gear, i think what's gonna do it for you the most is the right kind of compression, specifically an analog mix compressor. a focusrite red or smart/ssl will default to that modern pop sound, and it can be coaxed out of an api2500 if you know what you're doing. second to that, better converters would be good, as the cumulative effect of motu conversion is, ime, a thick layer of digital hash and gauze.

good luck!


gregoire
del
ubk
.
Old 20th December 2006
  #13
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The Great River should work fine. I agree, your converters need an upgrade. They may not be letting your gear show it's true self. You'd be surprised at how converters will help in attaining that modern sound. You'll gain an immediate improvement in clarity, which in itself is modern. Most modern vocal sounds incorporate something vintage whether it's the pre, mic, compressor, or EQ so try not to get too hung up on vintage pre's or modern pre's. With vocals, mic selection is often times a little more important than a pre decision. The Great River should be more than sufficient.
Old 20th December 2006
  #14
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jdjustice's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by halcyo View Post
I can't help but think that maybe the Grace's are a little boring on some of the tracks, but what do I know? I've never really explored the world of higher end pre's, but I'm hoping it will make a big difference in my tracks. Especially vocals. I am looking to get that 'big, up-front, modern Pop hit single' sound out of my vox. I want the lead vox to have that 'exciting' sound.

i don't think you will hear (at least at first) a major improvement in your vocal sound just by upgrading the preamp from your Grace. IMO the microphone choice is much more important than the preamp.

having said that i would go with the Great River. it is the most versatile pre on your list IMO and you should definitely hear some improvement, given that you have decent monitoring. JMHO.



~j.d.
Old 20th December 2006
  #15
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cdog's Avatar
The chain you're using should be enough to get a poppin fresh vocal sound. The Grace IS the "modern" sound you're after.

U195 --> Grace 101 --> Line In MOTU 986

Its not the mot pimptastic vocal chain ever but man thats VERY workable.

I think you need to work on your vocal mixing: compression, EQ, reverb.

Old 20th December 2006
  #16
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I do modern and vintage music. I wanted the most detailed, three dimensional sound I could get up front, then work it over with post-processing if I wanted to change the flavor.

Vocal mics -- U195 only made one track out of the hundreds I tried it on. No midrange flavor, little thin and boomy at the same time. Now using Neumann M149, Sony C48, AEA R84, Peluso 2247LE. All have life and respond differently on every source, so something will almost always work.

Preamps/mixer -- Grace was here too, with many others. Grace-U195 combo was very forward and bright. Little interest, just too polished, took all the hair off the music. Tried plenty of other pres, finished with Gordon, that is all I use now. It is a reference, always the same at all gains and with any output chain. No guessing about preamp compatibility, just choose the right mic and placement and press record.

AD/DA Converter -- Lavry Blue. Get out of the way of my music, just turn pressure waves into bits and let me do any processing.

Steve
Old 20th December 2006
  #17
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Yea, I know- Sometimes I wonder if I really just need to sit down and massage my audio a bit more. But now that I think about the MOTU converters being kinda ****ty, it makes me wanna explore that route a bit more, because conversion is something that can't be helped by mixing experience, ya know?

The other thing that's killed me up to now is that I don't have a whole lot of plugins/outboard to work with. I am using only the stock plugins from Digital Performer 5 (which I've heard are not exactly the most celebrated), with a few AU freebies from around the net like the Blockfish. I am also in the market for some processing upgrades, possible a UAD-1, to up my mixing capabilities.

Anyone else?
Old 20th December 2006
  #18
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nemisis633's Avatar
 

I would strongtly reccomend both the Great River and the Phoenix Audio Mic Pre's. I find when I'm looking for a nice modern rock vocal, the Great River is almost always a go to. It adds an imense amount of beef and depth. The Phoenix is also a great one for big female pop/rock vocals. I almost always end up here, despite keeping a very "up to date" rack with some of the newer peices.

Flame Suit On: I know those 2 pre's may have been the "it" pre's from a few years ago, but they still hit the spot for me perfectly. Sometimes track record out does trendy........


Good Luck In your Quest,
Jon
Old 20th December 2006
  #19
7om
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7om's Avatar
 

Personally, I like a mic-pre that is very clean. I look for color primarily in terms of mic selection and placement. I have the Millennia TD-1 and Great River, but recently have had access to GML 8302 and Grace 802. I really liked working with the Grace (and am considering buying one), so I have to question whether the Grace is really the issue. I have found the tranformer in the Great River can be useful at providing some body to the tone when needed, but I can't imagine the difference is as significant as what what you are looking for.

It has been my experience that there is a much more meaningful difference once you start using a selection of high-end mics that provide a variety of colors. Your U195 might very well be one of those colors, but using only the U195 might be part of the problem. I heard one in a shoot out, and it sounded like a good mic for the price, but I wouldn't want it to be the only color in my collection. Unfortunately, getting a small handful of really nice mics may be too expensive a solution for you.

Like others on this thread, I also suspect that a good compressor would help. From your description, it didn't sound like you were using compression much, if at all. And if you're using the MOTU plugs for compression, you could be making matters worse. I used DP for a long time and never was able to use the dynamics plugs to any acceptable effect. (The MW EQ, however, is surprisingly useful.) I ended up using a TC Powercore. The TC 1176-clone is decent, but didn't work in a lot of situations. I have found the Bomb Factory UA-clones more effective.

I have yet to do a shoot out between plugs and hardware. I do have a Drawmer 1968 and a Distressor, as well as access to original 1176's and LA3A's, but I prefer not to compress much when tracking. Instead, I prefer to establish compression settings during mix, as it affords an opportunity to find settings that are complementary from track to track. The plugins are more convenient while mixing, but I plan to explore hardware with my mix projects coming up next month.

Lots of smart folks who work regularly in ProTools say that plugin compression just doesn't compare with hardware at this point, but plugins may still provide a useful option for your home studio, as it gives you an opportunity to play with unique compression settings on multiple tracks. Buying a single hardware compressor requires considerably more time to explore complementary compression settings from track to track, since you have to record the processing on one track before moving on to the next.

Good luck!
Old 20th December 2006
  #20
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Sorry for the hijack but I've heard that Grace has an "extra gain" model of the 101. Is this true? Or is it an aftermarket mod?
Old 20th December 2006
  #21
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thermos's Avatar
I would get new converters and a new pre. Maybe the API a2d. The great river is great on vox too.

I never ever liked the 195 on vox. Too abrasive. I have a pearlman now, and there is way less mixing to be done.
Old 21st December 2006
  #22
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GearGuy's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by petsematary View Post
Sorry for the hijack but I've heard that Grace has an "extra gain" model of the 101. Is this true? Or is it an aftermarket mod?
Yep, Grace can do the modification for you, or some dealers sell the regular and the Grace modified ribbon version side by side.

http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/101/
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/101ribbon/

For what it's worth, I have the regular version, and I've never had any problems using it with Royer ribbon microphones (R121 and R122.) So it depends on which ribbon mic you would use...
Old 21st December 2006
  #23
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Thanks. I'm using an SM7b primarily but I've been thinking of adding a CAD ribbon sometime. Do you think I'll need the gain mod? Are there any differences between the stock and the +gain except...well, the amount of gain? Different sound?
Old 21st December 2006
  #24
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Also, the Oxford Inflator is indispensable for bringing the vocal to the front. I use it on all my vocals. Good mic or bad.
Old 21st December 2006
  #25
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Mattsson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by squeegybug View Post
I do modern and vintage music. .
What is modern and vintage music?

Let's just stop talking about old and new, and modern and vintage. And let's just see them as different colours available for anyone who wants to make his own uniqe blend of music.

Because great music and great sounding recordings are (at least to me) timeless and neither modern or vintage. But of course there is equpiment that have more or less distortion...and are more or less punchy. In other words, there is just something to fit all tastes and requirements. But using words like modern and vintage is just ******** (i think). Just different colours.

You would be surprised how many "modern" records are actually done with what you call "vintage" gear. The way it sounds is not always down to the equipment...but also the production. What you would call modern production.

So of course there are people like sqeegybug that make modern music on certain days and then vintage music on the remaining days of the week.

But to me good music and good sound is timless!

Peace, =)=)=)

R
Old 21st December 2006
  #26
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heathen's Avatar
 

Buzz Audio pre's rock.
Old 21st December 2006
  #27
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petsematary's Avatar
 

Right on, man. I just heard an old P. Floyd record in my car the other day and man, did it sound timeless and "now"!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mattsson View Post
What is modern and vintage music?

Let's just stop talking about old and new, and modern and vintage. And let's just see them as different colours available for anyone who wants to make his own uniqe blend of music.

Because great music and great sounding recordings are (at least to me) timeless and neither modern or vintage. But of course there is equpiment that have more or less distortion...and are more or less punchy. In other words, there is just something to fit all tastes and requirements. But using words like modern and vintage is just ******** (i think). Just different colours.

You would be surprised how many "modern" records are actually done with what you call "vintage" gear. The way it sounds is not always down to the equipment...but also the production. What you would call modern production.

So of course there are people like sqeegybug that make modern music on certain days and then vintage music on the remaining days of the week.

But to me good music and good sound is timless!

Peace, =)=)=)

R
Old 21st December 2006
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mattsson View Post
What is modern and vintage music?

Let's just stop talking about old and new, and modern and vintage.

So of course there are people like sqeegybug that make modern music on certain days and then vintage music on the remaining days of the week.

But to me good music and good sound is timless!
Well, you can call it whatever you like.

Yes, I record and also perform music that was written in the 1700s and early 1800s as well as music that was written yesterday..... sometimes in the same session. Got to have my variety.

But I would not necessarily call the old songs timeless. The instruments, language, rhythms, phrasing, etc. of the time all add up to affect the end result. And part of the challenge for me is to try to honor that history as the song was originally written, and still present it as meaningful for today.

It is all good, and my point was that for me the purest initial sound is the easiest to work into whatever final flavor I think the song needs. Can't make a colored, heavily textured tone clean again.

Steve
Old 21st December 2006
  #29
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Gregg Sartiano's Avatar
 

Depending on the vocalist, track, and/or style, doubling and JUDICIOUS USE of tuning (not just Auto-Tune) may play a role in the sound you're after. In some productions, vocal tuning isn't just used as a crutch/corrective mechanism. And it's not always apparent.

In fact, used wisely (and with the given intent of "hiding" it), drum sample replacement and vocal tuning can actually enable you to create a "drier" mix since you don't have to hide pitchy notes or mix around what the drum mics aren't giving you. In the right hands, these tools can actually make the final product sound more "natural." Again, that's not always the intent, either -- sometimes the producer wants the slammin' drum sample hard rock sound, or something. No prob.

I worked on a track recently -- the co-writer was a very big Nashville star who get her start singing demos (some of which turned into hits), and yes, judging by the raw tracks, she sings her butt off! -- there was a [vocalist] Tuned and a [vocalist] Untuned track (we were recording a new vocalist and using her tracks as guide vocs). And you could solo the Tuned track all day and not hear any artifacts. I'm the same way, I like to think -- I'll use Melodyne, AT, and Digi pitch shift in tuning a single track, keeping the dry comp in the background and flipping back and forth until it sounds RIGHT, as always, taking direction from the producer (or, if I'm producing, the expectations of the intended audience) as to how far to go with it.

And if you do that AND record & edit a double for pitch & rhythm, you can get a certain sound that is ONE of the "Modern" sounds you may be after. Some people's voices and styles "take" to doubling more than others.
Old 21st December 2006
  #30
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uncle duncan's Avatar
 

Black Lion mod for the motu. Throwing 2 or 3K at convertors instead of mics and pres would be a waste at this point. Heil PR40 dynamic is a nice vocal mic for rock & roll. Especially through a A-designs blue, which is a little more hyped than the P1. The 500 series is a good way to go. Having several different flavors in one box saves $ in the long run. The Eisen 'neve-ish' pre is a nice complement to the Blue - a little smoother/richer.
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