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The impact of the outboard pre
Old 12th October 2013
  #1
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The impact of the outboard pre

After asking around and reading many opinions on these forums, I had developed extremely low expectations for the outboard preamp I purchased. After finally getting it and hearing it, I cannot believe the impact it had! As soon as I recorded one track I was like "whoa!!" (Perhaps the low expectations helped in this regard...)

Before the Daking, I was using the not-too-shabby RME built in preamps. The upgrade was a huge difference. The difference is almost intangible, but the results just sound so professional, warm, punchy and awesome. Maybe the SM7B is just the perfect mic to showcase a good preamp? But, ultimately, I want to voice my opinion to the contrary of what many have said on the forums. Outboard pres do have a serious, and completely audible impact on your sound! My recommendation: get one/many!
Old 12th October 2013
  #2
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Outboard professional quality preamps are great, but most of the interfaces today do not
include an option to completely bypass the on board pre-amps.

They have all been short sighted providing hardware switching for +4 or -10 signals.
Those who do make provisions for hotter +4 signals, seem to only do so with a software pad.
Old 12th October 2013
  #3
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The RME also doesn't have that feature. RME's stance, from what I've read, is "turn the gain down to 0 and it should be fine." I.e., it may effect the sound in a very subtle way because it does pass through the preamp circuit, "but," they say, "our preamps are designed to be uncolored and clean at any gain level, especially 0." (These are not direct quotes, but paraphrased quotes.)

Still, plugging in the Daking into the RME with RME gain on 0 offered a huge improvement. I love it!
Old 12th October 2013
  #4
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My M-Audio Project Mix only has one way to bypass the pres, going through the front 1/4" guitar input.
Old 12th October 2013
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
Outboard professional quality preamps are great, but most of the interfaces today do not
include an option to completely bypass the on board pre-amps.

They have all been short sighted providing hardware switching for +4 or -10 signals.
Those who do make provisions for hotter +4 signals, seem to only do so with a software pad.
In most cases(*), passing through an onboard preamp isn't going to make so much difference that it really matters. Just set it up correctly (make sure you've got it set to line level and have it at, or near, its unity gain point) and get on with recording. Any changes it makes to the signal coming from your outboard pre (or any other outboard device) should be slight enough that simply changing the settings on the external pre or moving the mic slightly is likely to make a bigger difference. People get way too paranoid about this kind of thing. I don't know what the OP is using for an interface or how they're running the external pre's signal into it, but they've obviously found that this isn't an issue.

Conversely, if it's a big enough issue for you, just make sure you buy an interface (or set of external converters) that does have straight line-level I/O.

(*) The cases where it does make a difference are where the built-in pres are very deliberately highly coloured (and I can't think of any built-in interface pres that I'd describe like that) or where they're so unspeakably bloody awful that they utterly mangle anything you pass through them - in which case, they're going to make everything you pass through them sound like crap and you're probably already shopping for an new interface rather than an additional preamp. They don't have some magic ability where they suddenly say to themselves "Oh, this is a signal from an external pre, must activate the 'make it sound lousy' circuit". They either make everything sound awful or they're useable, whether that's with an external pre or anything else.
Old 12th October 2013
  #6
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Trying to run my DAV BG-1 through the Project Mix, all pads engaged, the signal was still difficult to control at all.

I have not tried it yet, but I did buy a Rolls Promatch MB15b Two way stereo converter that has the internal +4 to -10 switching to help me control the input signal.
Old 12th October 2013
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
Trying to run my DAV BG-1 through the Project Mix, all pads engaged, the signal was still difficult to control at all.

I have not tried it yet, but I did buy a Rolls Promatch MB15b Two way stereo converter that has the internal +4 to -10 switching to help me control the input signal.
Just out of interest, did you go XLR-XLR from the DAV into the back of the ProjectMix or XLR-TRS? If you did the former, that might have been part of the problem you had. I guess you did it the right way round, but I just wondered since I've known lots of folks get it wrong.
Old 12th October 2013
  #8
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IC based mic preamps are often virtually the same when used with low gain/pad as the line amps. Because there is no significant gain applied, pretty much any amplifier sounds relatively clean in this setting, so going through a "mic preamp" on the interface doesn't necesarely mean that you're loosing any more quality than you would by going through a dedicated line input.
Old 13th October 2013
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adrianww View Post
Just out of interest, did you go XLR-XLR from the DAV into the back of the ProjectMix or XLR-TRS? If you did the former, that might have been part of the problem you had. I guess you did it the right way round, but I just wondered since I've known lots of folks get it wrong.
I tried it going from the GB-1 XLR- XLR and also XLR into the one 1/4" Guitar input, both ways the signal was way too hot for the Project Mix.

I allowed a friend to try the DAV BG-1 through his 24 channel board and he encountered similar problems.

These all inclusive home recording, project studio interfaces are primarily designed to work with -10 signal.

They provide internal pre-amps so there's no need for outboard preamps, so while this may be convenient for an all-in-one unit,
they just made no provision for +4 outboard gear.

If they have, it comes in the form of a software pad setting in the unit's software.
Old 13th October 2013
  #10
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I thought about adding a better 2 channel interface or replacing the M-Audio Project Mix I/O, but the unit is working O.K. otherwise and I see no point in buying another FireWire Interface.

I'm going to have to try the Rolls step down box to see how it works.
Old 13th October 2013
  #11
Registered User
I totally agree. You can make good sounding tunes with Built in pres, but nicer high end stuff makes it so much easier.

I had the same experience with Fireface pres to API, Daking, Vintech. They just get you there so much faster and easier.
Old 13th October 2013
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
I tried it going from the GB-1 XLR- XLR and also XLR into the one 1/4" Guitar input, both ways the signal was way too hot for the Project Mix.
The option I'm not seeing there is XLR-TRS into the line input on the back of the Project Mix. Which is the one I would have expected to have worked.

If you were going XLR-XLR into the Project Mix, then I'm not surprised it was too hot. You would have been passing a line-level signal into the full range, unpadded mic pre, which was probably adding several dB of additional gain, even when turned all the way down. Same for the instrument input - leaving aside any impedance issues - it was probably applying some significant gain to the incoming signal.

If the Project Mix is the same as a lot of other interfaces with built-in pres, the line inputs may pass through the same variable gain stage as the mic pre, but they will either be padded down or they won't be passing through an additional fixed gain circuit that is switched in for mic-level inputs. The line inputs would, therefore, offer a gain range that runs from some level of attenuation (negative gain) through the unity gain (0dB) point and on to some level of positive gain.

For example, on my Yamaha n12, connecting to the mic inputs gives you an input gain range of +16dB to +60dB. In other words, even when it's turned down all the way, it's still adding 16dB of gain to the incoming signal. Run a line-level signal into that and it's still going to be coming in damned hot. However, when you connect to the line-level input, you're still passing through the same variable gain stage, but the gain range is switched/padded down to something like -34dB to +10dB. So you can achieve a unity gain (0dB) signal path or you can turn the incoming signal down (if it's a very hot one) or boost it slightly (if it's a bit feeble). Similarly, my Focusrite LS56 provides a +13dB to +60dB gain range for signals coming in through the mic inputs, but that's switched down to a range of -10dB to +36dB on the line inputs.

I do think that some folks do experience problems with external pres (or other outboard) running into onboard pres/line inputs on low-end and mid-range interfaces and, therefore, assume that there's some kind of general issue with this kind of thing. In some cases, that may well be because there is some kind of problem with the design or manufacture of the interface itself (hey, manufacturers can screw up sometimes, it happens). However, in some (many?) other cases, it's just because they're not setting it up quite right. Either because they don't know the right way or because they just haven't thought it through or have forgotten to select the right inputs/gain ranges.


Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
I allowed a friend to try the DAV BG-1 through his 24 channel board and he encountered similar problems.
Hard to say without knowing which board he was using, but if he was running XLR-XLR into a mic input, he would almost certainly have seen the same kind of problem. If he was running into a line input, that's a different issue and could just have been down to choosing the wrong gain range or not engaging a pad if it was needed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
These all inclusive home recording, project studio interfaces are primarily designed to work with -10 signal.

They provide internal pre-amps so there's no need for outboard preamps, so while this may be convenient for an all-in-one unit,
they just made no provision for +4 outboard gear.

If they have, it comes in the form of a software pad setting in the unit's software.
Sorry, but that's just not true at all. Most of the low-end and mid-range interfaces are quite capable of handing -10dBV or +4dbu signals. They have to be - the manufacturers have no idea what kind of gear they're going to be used with and they can't afford to make any assumptions one way or the other. However, they do depend upon the user setting it up right, using the correct inputs and getting their gain staging/settings correct. And I'm not saying that to have a go at you (or anyone else), it's just the way it is and we've all occasionally wired something up only to find that a moment of brain-fade or generalised carelessness has caused us to screw it up somehow.
Old 13th October 2013
  #13
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Wow, this thread was derailed in an extreme way!
Old 13th October 2013
  #14
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Mick made up a pair of custom XLR to TS short converter cables for me on special request,
but it was Avid/M-Audio rep who told me to use the front guitar input to bypass the internal preamps.
Also indicating to me that there was only 1 input in the unit that completely bypasses the internal preamps.

With my 1952 Ampex 403-P, I can run a dual mono signal out of the headphone jack into the Project Mix as the only practical way
to use it though this interface.

My Project Mix is first generation, so I'm not certain they might have made a few improvements.

I'll try your suggestion when I get around to it.

The DAV BG-1 is a fantastic 2 channel preamp for the money, I just haven't used it much through the Project Mix because the input gain is so difficult to control.

Quote:
Originally Posted by adrianww View Post
The option I'm not seeing there is XLR-TRS into the line input on the back of the Project Mix. Which is the one I would have expected to have worked.

If you were going XLR-XLR into the Project Mix, then I'm not surprised it was too hot. You would have been passing a line-level signal into the full range, unpadded mic pre, which was probably adding several dB of additional gain, even when turned all the way down. Same for the instrument input - leaving aside any impedance issues - it was probably applying some significant gain to the incoming signal.

If the Project Mix is the same as a lot of other interfaces with built-in pres, the line inputs may pass through the same variable gain stage as the mic pre, but they will either be padded down or they won't be passing through an additional fixed gain circuit that is switched in for mic-level inputs. The line inputs would, therefore, offer a gain range that runs from some level of attenuation (negative gain) through the unity gain (0dB) point and on to some level of positive gain.

For example, on my Yamaha n12, connecting to the mic inputs gives you an input gain range of +16dB to +60dB. In other words, even when it's turned down all the way, it's still adding 16dB of gain to the incoming signal. Run a line-level signal into that and it's still going to be coming in damned hot. However, when you connect to the line-level input, you're still passing through the same variable gain stage, but the gain range is switched/padded down to something like -34dB to +10dB. So you can achieve a unity gain (0dB) signal path or you can turn the incoming signal down (if it's a very hot one) or boost it slightly (if it's a bit feeble). Similarly, my Focusrite LS56 provides a +13dB to +60dB gain range for signals coming in through the mic inputs, but that's switched down to a range of -10dB to +36dB on the line inputs.

I do think that some folks do experience problems with external pres (or other outboard) running into onboard pres/line inputs on low-end and mid-range interfaces and, therefore, assume that there's some kind of general issue with this kind of thing. In some cases, that may well be because there is some kind of problem with the design or manufacture of the interface itself (hey, manufacturers can screw up sometimes, it happens). However, in some (many?) other cases, it's just because they're not setting it up quite right. Either because they don't know the right way or because they just haven't thought it through or have forgotten to select the right inputs/gain ranges.




Hard to say without knowing which board he was using, but if he was running XLR-XLR into a mic input, he would almost certainly have seen the same kind of problem. If he was running into a line input, that's a different issue and could just have been down to choosing the wrong gain range or not engaging a pad if it was needed.



Sorry, but that's just not true at all. Most of the low-end and mid-range interfaces are quite capable of handing -10dBV or +4dbu signals. They have to be - the manufacturers have no idea what kind of gear they're going to be used with and they can't afford to make any assumptions one way or the other. However, they do depend upon the user setting it up right, using the correct inputs and getting their gain staging/settings correct. And I'm not saying that to have a go at you (or anyone else), it's just the way it is and we've all occasionally wired something up only to find that a moment of brain-fade or generalised carelessness has caused us to screw it up somehow.
I talked to the Apogee rep about my issue and was told they accommodate +4 signal through a software pad setting.

To the OP, didn't mean to derail, but when upgrading to a good external preamp, you should make sure your interface can handle
the signal.
Old 13th October 2013
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dans595 View Post
Wow, this thread was derailed in an extreme way!
Er...yeah, sorry about going off on a bit of a tangent. Although I'd hope that it's at least relevant to some extent. I see people getting worried about not being able to use an external pre with their interface because you can't bypass the onboard preamps or I see people being unhappy with the results they're getting with their setup and, a lot of the time, it's just about setting it up right and working with it to get the best out of it.

As the OP has discovered, an external pre can be a great addition to your signal chain, even if you can't bypass the onboard pre on the way into your interface.
Old 13th October 2013
  #16
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When was this purchased?

I have my hunches that somebody has the case of new-gear-giddiness. I come down with a case of that every-time I get a new piece of gear.

The Daking is a very nice preamp, but I highly doubt that it's "night and day" from the RME. I've heard the Daking on the ZenPRO clipalator. It's a good clean sounding pre.

Can we hear some samples of each?
Old 13th October 2013
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
Mick made up a pair of custom XLR to TS short converter cables for me on special request,
but it was Avid/M-Audio rep who told me to use the front guitar input to bypass the internal preamps.
Also indicating to me that there was only 1 input in the unit that completely bypasses the internal preamps.
If you're actually asking about bypassing the pre entirely, then the M-Audio rep is quite possibly right that the instrument input is the only one that doesn't pass through the mic pre gain stage(s). But that doesn't make it a line-level input, it's still an instrument input and is probably applying a fair amount of gain just like a mic input would, since it's expecting to see a very low-level signal from a set of guitar pickups, not a line-level signal from a piece of outboard gear. Dropping a line-level signal into there is almost certainly going to be way too hot.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
With my 1952 Ampex 403-P, I can run a dual mono signal out of the headphone jack into the Project Mix as the only practical way
to use it though this interface.

My Project Mix is first generation, so I'm not certain they might have made a few improvements.

I'll try your suggestion when I get around to it.

The DAV BG-1 is a fantastic 2 channel preamp for the money, I just haven't used it much through the Project Mix because the input gain is so difficult to control.
I'd certainly suggest trying XLR-TRS into the line-level inputs on the back of the Project Mix and see what you get. The same for the signal from your Ampex if it has line-level outputs on XLRs (or use normal TRS-TRS cables if it has line level outputs on TRS). I can't guarantee that it would work, since it is always possible that the Project Mix doesn't have its line inputs padded down the way that most other things do, in which case you'll just run into the same problems as you did with the XLR-XLR connection. But if it does have the line-level input gain switched/padded down from the full range of the mic pre, you should find that you can then tweak the input gain control to get your levels wherever you want them. I'd hope so anyway.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
I talked to the Apogee rep about my issue and was told they accommodate +4 signal through a software pad setting.
That's effectively what most interfaces do, whether the pad is applied by a switch in the software, a physical switch on the hardware or just by plugging into the right hole (whether that's a separate XLR or TRS line input connector or the central TRS part of a combi jack or whatever). Even if an interface has straight line-level inputs without any kind of variable gain stage (i.e. they do bypass the mic pres and any gain stages that may be in there) they will often include a switchable pad to provide +4dBu/-10dBV level matching, whether that pad is controlled via software or hardware.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
To the OP, didn't mean to derail, but when upgrading to a good external preamp, you should make sure your interface can handle
the signal.
Me too - sorry about wandering off again. But it already sounds like it works great for the OP and I'd say that's going to be the case for most modern audio interfaces, even lower-end ones. It's just a question of getting it all set up right. Of course, if you want the cleanest possible signal path with nothing extra in there to worry about, finding an interface with straight line-level inputs is still a good idea, but I still wouldn't worry too much about connecting any piece of gear via line inputs that pass through a built-in pre or variable gain stage.
Old 13th October 2013
  #18
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I can get luscious rich sound out of my system using my external pre amps, but No matter which way I tried to set things up, dropping in every pad in the signal chain down to minimums and the signal was still too hot without great care.

Everything down to minimum settings and still edge of clipping.

I'm going to try my Step Down Box to see how that works.

I'd love to be able to take advantage of my BG-1 .
Old 13th October 2013
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guitarboy94 View Post
When was this purchased?

I have my hunches that somebody has the case of new-gear-giddiness. I come down with a case of that every-time I get a new piece of gear.

The Daking is a very nice preamp, but I highly doubt that it's "night and day" from the RME. I've heard the Daking on the ZenPRO clipalator. It's a good clean sounding pre.

Can we hear some samples of each?
The preamp is a new purchase. Maybe it is "new gear giddiness..." But I usually don't get that at all. I'm almost always disappointed with a purchase, and I always feel like it was going to get me further. I typically suffer from "new gear disillusionment." This time, I went in with zero expectations, and was very pleasantly surprised. Night and day? Perhaps that's not 100% accurate... To try to paint a more accurate picture - there is a (indeed, subtle) difference between RME pre vs Daking. And, while the difference isn't completely enormous in any quantifiable way, it's exactly the right type of difference.

Well, you asked for samples. I'm not much of a singer, and I've just recorded these first thing in the morning in about ten seconds for this post. The first is the Daking, the second is the RME.

(Also (of course (:P)) I found the difference to be starker on a demo I was working on the other day, but that's not ready to be shared yet.)

As far as my original post, it does sound a bit aggressive and perhaps giddy. I'd say... take out the italicized "huge" and replace it with "noticeable" (not italicized) and replace the word "serious" by "noteworthy."
Attached Files

daking_samp1.mp3 (497.1 KB, 243 views)

daking_samp2.mp3 (497.1 KB, 245 views)

Old 13th October 2013
  #20
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Thanks for posting!

I listened to both samples a few times. I do agree that the Daking has a little more purity to the sound, but it's subtle to my ears and both sound nice to me. Nothing wrong your voice either!

Honestly, I've come to find that outboard compressors add a ton more character and impact to a signal chain than most preamps. For the budget minded, old DBX 160's and Joe Meek's can really sweeten things up and add punch. I think outboard compressors are often neglected these days in favor of the preamp craze. What I like about colored compressors is that they let you know what they're doing loud and clear. I think a lot of times what people are looking for in a preamp (color, thickness, punch, presence) is much more easily produced by means of a colored outboard compressor. It's very easy to forget that compressors can do a whole lot more than just compress. IMHO of course.
Old 13th October 2013
  #21
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Right - I totally want a compressor. One of the things about having the outboard pre is I can run it through a line level compressor without having to do weird things with my Babyface like run the output through the compressor and ultimately go through the AD/DA twice.

By the way, I listened to some of your music a while back. Good stuff! I'd gladly trade voices.
Old 14th October 2013
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
My M-Audio Project Mix only has one way to bypass the pres, going through the front 1/4" guitar input.
Wow That sort of sounds like an 80's pop rock lyric.
Old 14th October 2013
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by glenn Taylor View Post
Wow That sort of sounds like an 80's pop rock lyric.
Just realized the thing is 13 years old, so I'm just glad its still working.

The thing is, here we are 13 years later and the tech is still struggling to move
beyond FireWire to Thunderbolt.

The Thunderbolt Interfaces are still mighty expensive, so I have to go with what I've got for now and just be happy to have a complete working system.
Old 14th October 2013
  #24
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the daking is a world class preamp. it has depth, air and warmth. I love mine.

so dans it's not giddiness. now imagine that preamp through a decent set of converters.
the difference..... becomes......even more dramatic.
Old 14th October 2013
  #25
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Hi
Not that I suppose anyone cares but the signal level going into the A/D converter chip itself is around +2dBu for FULL SCALE digits. Therefore line level inputs must be attenuated by some 14 dB or more and mic signals must be brought up to that sort of level.
How this is achieved of course varies by each design but most amplifiers at minimum gain setting will have pretty low 'colouration'.
Matt S
Old 14th October 2013
  #26
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I care. direct coupled cares. :-)
Old 14th October 2013
  #27
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by adrianww View Post
... quite possibly right that the instrument input is the only one that doesn't pass through the mic pre gain stage(s). But that doesn't make it a line-level input, it's still an instrument input and is probably applying a fair amount of gain just like a mic input would...
Yup. The main difference is impedance, not level. If you want to use a +4 outboard pre with an interface's instrument input, you might want to try a reamp box.
Old 14th October 2013
  #28
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Gouge - What would be an example of "decent converters." I thought that RME's would be "decent," though that is a subjective word. I'm just curious. (I went the RME/Forte/Duet route because I thought the converters were supposed to be OK.)
Old 14th October 2013
  #29
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I'm a BIG preamp fan, but like I've said many times before TRY before you buy. The room you're recording in. The talent in front of the mic. The MIC. Think about replacing all of those WAY before we start talking preamps.

If you do have all of these checkboxes checked off then it's time to go to your next weakest link which may be your preamp.

I've only had 2 preamps in my life that I absolutely HATED.

1. Focusrite Trakmaster

2. ART Pro Channel

Since then I've bought and SOLD

Aphex 207
ART MPA GOLD
Presonus VXP
ART MPA
Presonus Blue Tube DP

Now all I think that's neccessary is a Clean preamp and a Colored preamp. One of each, maybe I should think about a tube preamp as the 3rd color? The only one that has set my ears on fire has been the Solo 610 which is $1000 so I'll wait or pass on that. Just buy what you need, a average pre in a good sounding room with great talent will get you a lot further.
Old 14th October 2013
  #30
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A good preamp will give you a richer, more detailed sound, but they can also expose the weakest links in your signal chain, meaning you could be doing a lot more upgrading than you might have been planning on.

My system is working right now so I'm reluctant to pull it all apart to try the Step Down Box, but Chris at Redco says it's supposed to be neutral and quiet.



I'll get around to it and I think it will help a lot.
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