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Mic Preamps, Are They Really Needed?
Old 1 week ago
  #1
Mic Preamps, Are They Really Needed?

When you record direct to your DAW you are getting exactly what your mic is picking up. Right? Why not simply use plug in to do what a tube pre amp does and color the sound that way?

Also, a why not use a mic with the flattest response such as a PZM and EQ it to match a high end mic?
Old 1 week ago
  #2
Gear Head
Why use a plugin to try and simulate something that i can just print on the way in?
Old 1 week ago
  #3
Lives for gear
 
loujudson's Avatar
Because a mic has a low voltage output and needs PRE-amplification. Color is an added side effect.
Old 1 week ago
  #4
JAT
Lives for gear
Not if you don't record anything acoustic and merely do soft synths. Otherwise, a preamp amplifies a mic's small signal up to line level. If you used a mic to get a signal into your DAW, most likely you've used a preamp along the way.

A tube premap can add color, or not. A solid state pre can also add color, or not.
Old 1 week ago
  #5
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by JAT View Post
Not if you don't record anything acoustic and merely do soft synths.
The OP is identified “SingerSongWriter”, so I’m guessing that microphone recording is a necessity.
As to recording with a very accurate neutral mic and using plugs to get whatever various colors mics, pres, tubes, transformers, etc might give you, OK. Buy the Slate system and have fun. You are very unlikely to be able to buy and try a large number of the hardware options in that modeling system (unless you have a couple of oil wells in your back yard).
Old 1 week ago
  #6
Gear Maniac
 

You actually mean "Why use an external or seperate micpreamp?" because if you plug a mic into an audio interface it still has micpreamps, they are just built in to the interface.

Do you want an external micpreamp? Well maybe or maybe not. Some have more gain than those built into interfaces or lower noise or different sound or loading characteristics, because some have transformers, descrete transistors, tubes. or just different designs.

Differences between micpreamps can be subtle and especially so if you are not all that experienced.

So do you need an external preamp? No, you can get good sounds recorded with even the bult in preamps in fairly budget interfaces. Externals are a luxury that you might or might not want to pursue. It's a choice of how you want to work, how much money you have to spend and what matters to you sonically. Just like with electric guitar some prefer tube amps while some like what digital modelers have to offer, some like vintage type pickups and others choose more modern style active or noiseless ones
Old 1 week ago
  #7
you are getting exactly what the mic is picking up right? wrong, only accurate (often high end) microphones pick up the true sound of the actual space, most microphones add their own sound and EQ 'character', it's very hard to make a microphone that sounds good off axis as well as on axis, as well as flat or close to flat frequency response whilst not sounding sterile. What you will find with ultra flat mics is that they sound super boring, it's not what our ears like to hear, it can actually sound sterile and lifeless, so not ideal for recording music, but good for measuring say a room frequency response in a scientific way to work out how to deal with acoustical issues.
Old 1 week ago
  #8
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by pencilextremist View Post
you are getting exactly what the mic is picking up right? wrong, only accurate (often high end) microphones pick up the true sound of the actual space, most microphones add their own sound and EQ 'character',
ALL mics do; it's a question of degree. No mic is perfectly flat or 100% "true" to what goes in. But many mics get close enough that's it's negligible (subjective also).

But yeah I think the OP's question is really external preamps, not preamps in general as JLast said.
Old 1 week ago
  #9
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by pencilextremist View Post
you are getting exactly what the mic is picking up right? wrong, only accurate (often high end) microphones pick up the true sound of the actual space, most microphones add their own sound and EQ 'character'
I'd suggest the complete opposite of what you're saying, measurement (ie flat/accurate) mics are usually not that expensive even budget ones do a good job - flat and accurate aren't necessarily "musical". Most top-end mics - particularly vintage ones - are anything but flat - anyhow this thread is about pre's.

It's already been said in this thread about the ability to get good results from interface pre's - that's absolutely the case, most modern (even budget) pre's are pretty good. If you're struggling for cash then an external pre is pretty far down your list of "must-haves" - actually it's not a must-have at all! If you're set on using particular low-output mic because you just love the sound or a particular example really suits your voice, then getting a pre with more clean gain will usually pay dividends - other than that, don't worry about it. There's far too much to learn to start confusing yourself with mic pre's at this stage.

In the early 2000s I recorded several singer/songwriter albums using a dbx mini-pre and an AKG C1000S mic - both considered to be junk these days - nobody complained about the sound - including the mastering engineer. Today's budget gear blows that combo out of the water.

Last edited by Scragend; 1 week ago at 08:59 PM.. Reason: typo
Old 1 week ago
  #10
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yule View Post
Why use a plugin to try and simulate something that i can just print on the way in?
Because a plug in can do the same thing but with more control.
Old 1 week ago
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by pencilextremist View Post
you are getting exactly what the mic is picking up right? wrong, only accurate (often high end) microphones pick up the true sound of the actual space, most microphones add their own sound and EQ 'character', it's very hard to make a microphone that sounds good off axis as well as on axis, as well as flat or close to flat frequency response whilst not sounding sterile. What you will find with ultra flat mics is that they sound super boring, it's not what our ears like to hear, it can actually sound sterile and lifeless, so not ideal for recording music, but good for measuring say a room frequency response in a scientific way to work out how to deal with acoustical issues.
Maybe I should have said, You are getting exactly what the mic is capable of picking up.

It would make sense to record exactly what is there so would it not be best to use the most accurate mic for everything such a PZM? I have seen videos with engineers saying to use the correct mic for the singer but why not use the most accurate mic and EQ the vocal track for the best sound? EQ can add the "character". Right?

Say you are recording a guitar amp and the guitar player has set it so it sounds great. Why not record it as accurately as possible? Same goes for other instruments and then add and subtract as needed.

Live, I can see using an appropriate mic for live performances that gives the singer the best sound but why not record vocals accurately?
Old 1 week ago
  #12
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by SingerSongWriter View Post
Because a plug in can do the same thing but with more control.


I disagree. No offense, but I am guessing (remember no offense intended)... just guessing if you are talking like this then you haven't worked a lot with good hardware.
Some plugins are amazing, until pushed. Some plugins mimic 99%, but can feel different which can alter one's performance.

Go to a studio for a day and just try some different things out. If you're happy with what you have then there you go. On the other hand my mileage is different.
Old 1 week ago
  #13
Lives for gear
A modeling mic or a measurement mic will give you flat, uncolored pickup. Some of them are inexpensive, and none of them are “vintage tube LDC” expensive. So, sure, go ahead and record everything with those mics and trust that EQ will deliver everything you need to make competitive mixes.

Don’t stop to wonder why no one is already making hits that way. Or why no one has ever made hits that way.
Maybe no one else has ever been as smart as you. Maybe no one in recording history has thought of this or tried it.
Let’s all just move out of your way and be prepared to say we were on Gearslutz the day the future of recording changed forever!
Looking forward to it!
Old 1 week ago
  #14
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by SingerSongWriter View Post
d but why not record vocals accurately?

Couple reasons.

1. "Accurately" doesn't exist. No mic is perfect. No preamp is perfect. Even reference mics aren't perfect, though they are flatter than a lot of the classics.

2. Fix it in the box how, exactly?

The difference from mic to mic, pre to pre, aren't just EQ. Response varies all over the place, including dynamics, texture (like the distortion a transformer imparts), smoothing of transients, etc. Just the input impedance of the mic pre might change how the mic responds.

Here's a better example. As I noted, transformers tend to impart a little texture due to their very nature, which I could go into in great detail about, but you'll have to trust me on that. So you get a bit of phase shifting that's not uniform across all frequencies, and if you drive a transformer hard you get a tiny bit more texture, and different types of transformers are more perfect than other types, etc. This is NOT the same character that EQ can impart.

As an aside, traditional analog eqs impart phase shift, as well, and in a different way than mic pres. In the box EQs sometimes emulate this, but you have to get someone doing some convolution trickery to make in the box sound like out of the box. Like a Slate VMS or something, which I haven't used personally but is more than just EQ.

That said, a good, clean mic preamp with plenty of headroom, that doesn't impart character, is perfectly fine. Great in fact. If I'm recording a fantastic player on a stellar acoustic instrument in a good room, that's exactly what I want.

But for a singer, it's not the same as a symphony. With flat, non character mics in a nothing special room, once you get "good enough" on a preamp it's not going to buy you very much. But, if you have a mic that responds particularly pleasantly through a specific preamp, well you might as well use it with that preamp.

The thing with character is that, if you like it, why spend a lot of time doing adjustments and crap in the box to get to that state? For me, as a singer, I'm not trying to make myself sound accurate. My voice is all kinds of awful, I'm not looking to sound just like me, I'm trying to make myself sound good. And good in context of the music I'm making. If I can print something that sounds good, with no extra effort after the fact, that'll mix well, I'm just going to do that right away. And if a certain mic pre imparts that character then I'm going to use that mic pre. Making things sound good as early as possible is just good workflow and "We'll fix it in the mix" generally isn't.

The sooner stuff sounds good, the better. None of the "We'll fix it in the shrink wrap" for me.

By the way, I assume you're a troll. I normally don't respond to posts like this, today is different. Mostly I'm stuck at home and bored to tears so I've been writing long posts. But if you're serious, this is my opinion. I hope you get a chance to hear the difference one day.
Old 1 week ago
  #15
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by SingerSongWriter View Post
Maybe I should have said, You are getting exactly what the mic is capable of picking up.

It would make sense to record exactly what is there so would it not be best to use the most accurate mic for everything such a PZM? I have seen videos with engineers saying to use the correct mic for the singer but why not use the most accurate mic and EQ the vocal track for the best sound? EQ can add the "character". Right?
1 - Not necessarily
2 - Mics can add "character" too. Why do you think you have to do that with only EQ vs a mic (or any of a great number of other avenues for that matter)?

The bottom line is to get the best possible sound, which isn't necessarily the most "accurate" sound. EQ is but one tool of many to do so.
Old 1 week ago
  #16
Gear Head
Quote:
Originally Posted by SingerSongWriter View Post
Because a plug in can do the same thing but with more control.

Which plugin can do the same thing as what preamp?

And as others have explained, clean is not always preferred.
Old 1 week ago
  #17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scragend View Post
I'd suggest the complete opposite of what you're saying, measurement (ie flat/accurate) mics are usually not that expensive even budget ones do a good job - flat and accurate aren't necessarily "musical". Most top-end mics - particularly vintage ones - are anything but flat - anyhow this thread is about pre's.

It's already been said in this thread about the ability to get good results from interface pre's - that's absolutely the case, most modern (even budget) pre's are pretty good. If you're struggling for cash then an external pre is pretty far down your list of "must-haves" - actually it's not a must-have at all! If you're set on using particular low-output mic because you just love the sound or a particular example really suits your voice, then getting a pre with more clean gain will usually pay dividends - other than that, don't worry about it. There's far too much to learn to start confusing yourself with mic pre's at this stage.

In the early 2000s I recorded several singer/songwriter albums using a dbx mini-pre and an AKG C1000S mic - both considered to be junk these days - nobody complained about the sound - including the mastering engineer. Today's budget gear blows that combo out of the water.
here's the info regarding a neumann km84, note how flat the frequency response is, they also sound amazing.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf km84.pdf (204.5 KB, 27 views)
Old 1 week ago
  #18
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by SingerSongWriter View Post
Maybe I should have said, You are getting exactly what the mic is capable of picking up.

It would make sense to record exactly what is there so would it not be best to use the most accurate mic for everything such a PZM? I have seen videos with engineers saying to use the correct mic for the singer but why not use the most accurate mic and EQ the vocal track for the best sound? EQ can add the "character". Right?
You are giving an awful lot of credit to a PZM as somehow being capable of audio perfection... it's not.

It's just another slightly odd mic that has it's own unique set of characteristics.

Sure it is going to be on the low side with phase issues as it is a half omni but it's still just a mic not a magical device.

Mics don't hear things exactly like human ears do, even ones with flat frequency and good phase relationship work differently.

The closest you can get to mics actually doing this would not be a PZM mic but the Neumann dummy head, however now your problem (as someone here mentioned earlier) would be... do you really want your voice to sound the way it actually does??
Old 1 week ago
  #19
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by pencilextremist View Post
here's the info regarding a neumann km84, note how flat the frequency response is, they also sound amazing.
Yeah a really common vintage vocal mic - not.
Old 1 week ago
  #20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yule View Post
Which plugin can do the same thing as what preamp?
Paul Frindle said in an interview that theoretically it would be possible to do something software-wise where the plugin actually acts as mic pre, gain and all... if that was part of the OPs question... personally even if it happens i'm with the other poster who said why, when you can do it on the analog side.
Old 1 week ago
  #21
Lives for gear
Some thoughts (because I'm also sat at home without much work to do)...

- The only "flat" mics are omni. It's rare that you want to record, say, a vocal take with an omni mic. Part of a vocal performance can be to move up close to a mic and take advantage of the extra bass to provide richness for those quieter passages. An omni mic has no proximity effect, so that aspect of the performance is lost and cannot be replaced with software.

A further problem with omni mics is that you're going to hear an awful lot of room reverb. That's rarely something you want.

- You're making the very very large assumption that accuracy = musicality. Sometimes oil paintings are more pleasant than a super-hi-res photograph of the same scene.

- Mics aren't just a frequency response. I'd say that's a first-order approximation. A second-order approximation would include frequency response and harmonic distortion profile - clearly closer to that vintage mic, but it's still not all the factors. What if the mic body resonates in such a way as to give a pleasant "bloom" to the lower-mids, which is only picked up when you're actually singing into the thing? Other stuff like polar pattern (can't EQ the room reverb separate to the main event) will also factor in.


I think others have covered about hardware vs software pretty well, so I'll leave it at that.

Chris
Old 1 week ago
  #22
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by chris661 View Post
Some thoughts (because I'm also sat at home without much work to do)...

- The only "flat" mics are omni. It's rare that you want to record, say, a vocal take with an omni mic. Part of a vocal performance can be to move up close to a mic and take advantage of the extra bass to provide richness for those quieter passages. An omni mic has no proximity effect, so that aspect of the performance is lost and cannot be replaced with software.
Thanks for noting this. I was focused on the "preamp" part, but this is a big deal, depending on the environment. What if you're looking to capture a live to multitrack performance and want to have some isolation? Can't do that with a close to perfect mic.

Oddly, when doing keeper takes in my old place I often liked to go omni or figure of 8 to reduce proximity. I have a "problem voice" to quote a vocal teacher I used to know, and I liked mixing an omni in front of acoustic guitars when the player doesn't hold still, etc. But my current room sounds like crap, I don't want to use an omni for my scratch tracks, I want some isolation from the room even on so I'm back to cardioid. Terrible for "perfect" sound.
Old 1 week ago
  #23
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Moose22 View Post

Oddly, when doing keeper takes in my old place I often liked to go omni or figure of 8 to reduce proximity.
Figure of eight to reduce proximity???

Figure of eight mics have some of the most proximity of mic patterns.
Old 1 week ago
  #24
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by JLast View Post
Figure of eight to reduce proximity???

Figure of eight mics have some of the most proximity of mic patterns.
Sorry, wasn't clear. Omni to reduce proximity effect on closer work like close mic'd vox.

I also uses fig8 a lot, but for 2 mic work where I want the side rejection and am sitting back from it. Like on an acoustic guitar / singer, where I can mic up with the side rejection facing the guitar but the mic isn't right up close to the vocalist. I get good sound, reasonably controlled bleed, and don't have to have a mic right on the singer's lips.

Similar reason, though, I want to have the mic farther away so I don't get proximity issues and a more natural sound. Yeah. there was always a touch of bleed, diffuse reflections though, and you could hear the room, where getting a cardioid close to the singer's lips sounded less "folky" and more "rock" to me even if it had less bleed.
Old 1 week ago
  #25
Quote:
Originally Posted by melodic dreamer View Post
I disagree. No offense, but I am guessing (remember no offense intended)... just guessing if you are talking like this then you haven't worked a lot with good hardware.
Some plugins are amazing, until pushed. Some plugins mimic 99%, but can feel different which can alter one's performance.

Go to a studio for a day and just try some different things out. If you're happy with what you have then there you go. On the other hand my mileage is different.
I've seen mic shootouts and with a little equalization the cheap mics can sound as good as the very expensive mics.

As to vocals, my thought is to record several tracks and pick the best performance. I've seen mic shootout where the same part was sung using different mics and what I noticed is that what sounds best is often a matter of taste.

I've worked a few times in well equipped studios with high end mics going back to the days of tape and ADAT. For me, tape sounds best.

Do you think there are better suited mics and front end gear for analog vs digital? I ask because mics color sound and so does tape. Digital is unforgiving and so are flat mics. A agree that plug ins can fall short.

I worked with a lot of vintage gear live such as the Effectron 2, Aphex Aural Exciter, Space echo and Electro Harmonix stuff. That stuff sounded good.

Cause I'm an older guy, my reference for sound is analog mixes. I'm one of these people who thinks older music was better and that it has a better sound even when it has been digitally remastered but that could be due to my reference point.

Maybe my thinking is theoretical and philosophical but with digital you get exactly what you put in, so which is best, inputting unadulterated data or coloring the data with front end processing or sweetening the sound post and track by track and during the mastering?

The desire of a lot of people seems to be to get back to an "analog sound." But you can only get a virtual analog sound with digital recording. My thinking is, input flat spectrum sound and then adulterate it with really good plug ins that accurately emulate tape of maybe put the whole digital mix or individual tracks on tape put it back into the DAW and master it there?
Old 1 week ago
  #26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SingerSongWriter View Post
Maybe my thinking is theoretical and philosophical but with digital you get exactly what you put in, so which is best, inputting unadulterated data or coloring the data with front end processing or sweetening the sound post and track by track and during the mastering?

The desire of a lot of people seems to be to get back to an "analog sound." But you can only get a virtual analog sound with digital recording. My thinking is, input flat spectrum sound and then adulterate it with really good plug ins that accurately emulate tape of maybe put the whole digital mix or individual tracks on tape put it back into the DAW and master it there?
I'm not saying this to knock, but the "data" we're talking about here is music! Part of the beauty of music is that it's utterly subjective. And it's all about color, right?

I say this as someone who, despite decades of experience making records, only bought his first mic preamp months ago. I picked up a CL 7602 and can't live without it now. It's a pre and EQ, and it colors my voice in a way that really works for me. My voice needs certain boosts and certain cuts.

I get the appeal of going in clean and "adulterating" later - sometimes that's where all the fun happens. But after years of doing my home recordings that way, I'm now very keen to get my sounds sorted in the first place and move from there. Whatever suits the song, though, and there ain't no right or wrong. I just don't wish to see people getting tripped up over imaginary technical ideals at the expense of musical enjoyment, adulterated and all!
Old 1 week ago
  #27
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by SingerSongWriter View Post
I've seen mic shootouts and with a little equalization the cheap mics can sound as good as the very expensive mics.

As to vocals, my thought is to record several tracks and pick the best performance. I've seen mic shootout where the same part was sung using different mics and what I noticed is that what sounds best is often a matter of taste.

I've worked a few times in well equipped studios with high end mics going back to the days of tape and ADAT. For me, tape sounds best.

Do you think there are better suited mics and front end gear for analog vs digital? I ask because mics color sound and so does tape. Digital is unforgiving and so are flat mics. A agree that plug ins can fall short.

I worked with a lot of vintage gear live such as the Effectron 2, Aphex Aural Exciter, Space echo and Electro Harmonix stuff. That stuff sounded good.

Cause I'm an older guy, my reference for sound is analog mixes. I'm one of these people who thinks older music was better and that it has a better sound even when it has been digitally remastered but that could be due to my reference point.

Maybe my thinking is theoretical and philosophical but with digital you get exactly what you put in, so which is best, inputting unadulterated data or coloring the data with front end processing or sweetening the sound post and track by track and during the mastering?

The desire of a lot of people seems to be to get back to an "analog sound." But you can only get a virtual analog sound with digital recording. My thinking is, input flat spectrum sound and then adulterate it with really good plug ins that accurately emulate tape of maybe put the whole digital mix or individual tracks on tape put it back into the DAW and master it there?
Why is there a question mark at the end of your statements? They aren’t questions. They are statements of what you believe you can do. So do it. Experience is the teacher.
Old 1 week ago
  #28
Lives for gear
Microphones are to recording like:
Spices to making soup
Brushes for making an oil paining.

They are tools for a job. Some spices and brushes cost a ton. It's all a matter of quality control and details of design. This is why some mic's cost over $5,000 and some $100.

When a signal comes out of a mic, almost all of the time the signal needs to be boosted. Amplifying the signal is a critical step, good ones cost more than $1,000 each channel. Under $500/ channel they often take something away from the quality of the signal.

Options that most high end studio's use for competing are add good EQ and compression into the chain.

All this before the signal ever hits the A/D converter. Getting a quality signal to the converter is the competition this forum is much about winning.

Once in the computer, then the playing field of near level now days with all of the plugs available to all. Then it's all about mixing. Simulating a preamp is just one of the plugs available, often because that preamp had an EQ like the 1073. One of the more popular tracking EQ's out there because of the magic a real inductor EQ adds.

I'm just a home studio guy for my own fun, and I have over 60 different mic's and 8 different preamps because each one is different.

Now to answer the OP. Some mics are not effected much by the preamp, others are effected tons. The most important issue there is transformer islolation. A mic without a transformer is tied tighter to the quality of the preamp.

Often there is a Ying-yang relation between the mic and preamp. Bright mic+dark preamp, or Dark Mic+Bright preamp, or Tube mic + Solid State preamp, or Solid State mic + Tube preamp.

Some people could care less about the preamp. Many good albums have been made with just whatever preamps are on the mixer available. The Source, Song, Musician, Engineer, and Room are all more important than the mic or preamp.
Old 1 week ago
  #29
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by SingerSongWriter View Post
My thinking is, input flat spectrum sound and then adulterate it with really good plug ins that accurately emulate tape of maybe put the whole digital mix or individual tracks on tape put it back into the DAW and master it there?
Then do it. You don't need our permission.

Get an RNP (which is characterless, honest, and cheap. I LOVE mine as an uncolored utility pre) or just use the pres on your recording interface, plug in a reference mic, and go to town.

It ain't the how, it's the how good. If you can work this way and get good results, do so. Be sure to share your favorite plugins and results, too, because people here like good plugs as much as good hardware.

Sounds like you don't actually care about "why" people are using certain preamps, though.
Old 1 week ago
  #30
Lives for gear
 

SM7 and Soyuz Launcher.
(drops mic)

Chris
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