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How do I record from 'outboard preamp' to computer?
Old 4 days ago
  #1
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How do I record from 'outboard preamp' to computer?

Hello seasoned forum members!

I am new here, so I look forward to learning from your expertise and assistance.

I have gone back to playing drums after 8 years away and want to record. I have an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra 8R, however, it is sub-optimal in channel count - since I plan to record 12 mic channels but cannot chain it, sound quality, and preamp gain.

I have been researching different ways to record and came across 'outboard preamps' and their major improvement in sound quality and gain compared to all-in-one interfaces; so I am now learning about these and considering investing in a 16 channel or a couple of 8 channel preamps.
The issue is even after reading dozens of threads about signal flow I still do not understand how to connect an outboard preamp to the computer's DAW.

I plan to record 12 channels directly into the preamps - because of their quality and gain - and somehow into my computer, and do all the EQ and compression in the DAW.
I was considering a Focusrite Clarett 8PreX but read many threads that recommended outboard preamps instead due to their much improved input quality, hence I am considering these. All this talk about converters, patchbays, compressors etc, however, has only served to confuse me more.

I am a complete novice in this scene and do not understand the majority of jargon used, so I hope you can help me out!

Looking forward to your assistance.
Old 4 days ago
  #2
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BT64's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Megyalila Ballad View Post
.. how to connect an outboard preamp to the computer's DAW.. .
Through an audio interface (with enough inputs).
Old 4 days ago
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BT64 View Post
Through an audio interface (with enough inputs).
Thank you for your response.

What would I use for example? A Clarett 8PreX linked by ADAT to a Clarett OctoPre?

Would that mean I am using the gain and quality from the outboard preamps or would it limit me to the gain and quality of the Clarett combo?

Does the quality of the interface matter if the preamps are being bypassed anyway? So would it matter if I used Scarlett as opposed to Clarett?

Is this the most cost-effective way? I do not necessarily want to compromise on sound but I also do not want to sell my limbs for this investment.

I appreciate your assistance.
Old 4 days ago
  #4
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BT64's Avatar
There will be different opinions on this but if you connect via line inputs you bypass the preamps on the interface.
My personal opinion is that the "outboard preamps" won't make that big difference (not what you want to hear).
Old 4 days ago
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Megyalila Ballad View Post
Thank you for your response.

What would I use for example? A Clarett 8PreX linked by ADAT to a Clarett OctoPre?

Would that mean I am using the gain and quality from the outboard preamps or would it limit me to the gain and quality of the Clarett combo?

Does the quality of the interface matter if the preamps are being bypassed anyway? So would it matter if I used Scarlett as opposed to Clarett?

Is this the most cost-effective way? I do not necessarily want to compromise on sound but I also do not want to sell my limbs for this investment.

I appreciate your assistance.
As long as you don't use any additional gain from the Clarett 8PreX, you should not need to worry about compromising the sound. Just get sufficient gain from the outboard preamp. Now it may be correct to say that the preamps in the Clarett are never totally bypassed, even with no additional gain from them. But I would think that would be a very minimal concern in practical use.
Old 4 days ago
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sagefields View Post
As long as you don't use any additional gain from the Clarett 8PreX, you should not need to worry about compromising the sound. Just get sufficient gain from the outboard preamp. Now it may be correct to say that the preamps in the Clarett are never totally bypassed, even with no additional gain from them. But I would think that would be a very minimal concern in practical use.
Thank you for your response.

I see. Even if they are not completely bypassed, since I am not going to require the preamps on the Clarett 8PreX interface wouldn't splurging on one one just for its interface capability be in vain? Would it not be better to spend on some sort of alternative (which I am unaware of) that doesn't have the added cost of the included preamps?

I recently read up about something called an 'intermediary card' or PCIe which apparently an A/D signal converter plugs into which subsequently plugs into the PC.
What are these and how do they work?

Can these be plugged into my laptop via USB or Thunderbolt?
Are there any good quality affordable alternatives to these?
Would this be more cost effective than spending on a Clarett 8PreX and Clarett OctoPre linked by ADAT just for their interface use?

I appreciate your assistance.
Old 4 days ago
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BT64 View Post
There will be different opinions on this but if you connect via line inputs you bypass the preamps on the interface.
My personal opinion is that the "outboard preamps" won't make that big difference (not what you want to hear).
Thanks for your reply.

I wouldn't doubt that after watching this video: https://youtu.be/EMLZl52az6g

I liked the recording on the Clarett 8PreX more, but reading around gearslutz the majority recommend external/outboard preamps over internal all-in-ones like the Clarett 8PreX.

I came accross the Daking Mic Pre IV during my research and noticed how it has 70db of gain (though the knob shoes 75) as compared to 57db of the Clarett 8PreX, which I should assume the former to be better for kick, snare, and overhead mics than the latter (though very expensive compared to the Focusrite).

What are your thoughts on this?
Old 4 days ago
  #8
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BT64's Avatar
Any ADC (audio interface input side ) has an analog (electric) stage.
The max voltage / bit (0dBfs) ratio needs to be determind, or by forehand (internal by builder) or with a gain knob.

I'm guessing you won't need that mutch gain (by far) for drums.
Unless you use a sm57b or some ribbon microphones.
Old 4 days ago
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Megyalila Ballad View Post
Thank you for your response.

I see. Even if they are not completely bypassed, since I am not going to require the preamps on the Clarett 8PreX interface wouldn't splurging on one one just for its interface capability be in vain? Would it not be better to spend on some sort of alternative (which I am unaware of) that doesn't have the added cost of the included preamps?

.
I would say yes. If you don't intend to use an interface's preamps, you might look at alternative ways of connecting to your DAW. Of these, though, I am pretty ignorant, so I have no advice or suggestions. Btw, I use a Clarett 8pre as my interface and use outboard preamps.

Last edited by sagefields; 4 days ago at 10:10 PM.. Reason: wrong word
Old 4 days ago
  #10
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Owen L T's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Megyalila Ballad View Post
Thanks for your reply.

I wouldn't doubt that after watching this video: https://youtu.be/EMLZl52az6g

I liked the recording on the Clarett 8PreX more, but reading around gearslutz the majority recommend external/outboard preamps over internal all-in-ones like the Clarett 8PreX.

I came accross the Daking Mic Pre IV during my research and noticed how it has 70db of gain (though the knob shoes 75) as compared to 57db of the Clarett 8PreX, which I should assume the former to be better for kick, snare, and overhead mics than the latter (though very expensive compared to the Focusrite).

What are your thoughts on this?
The preamps on the Clarett will be absolutely fine, providing plenty of clean, transparent gain. Yes, expensive mic pre-amps can bring additional character to a recording chain. So if a particular mic-pre has a particular character that you know you want, and can afford, then have at it. But for capturing a clear, clean recording of your drums, the Clarett's built-in pres are more than decent.

Sure, everyone on GS will have their preferred pre-amp, but don't come away with the impression that those on the Clarett will be audibly inferior - especially if you're tracking drums in an untreated room, through okay-but-not-great mics, listened to on budget monitors, for personal enjoyment.

You could wind up spending a heck of a lot more on "better" pre-amps, for only the smallest marginal improvement.
Old 4 days ago
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sagefields View Post
I would say yes. If you don't intend to use an interface's preamps, you might look at alternative ways of connecting to your DAW. Of these, though, I am pretty ignorant, so I have no advice or suggestions. Btw, I use a Clarett 8pre as my interface and use outboard preamps.
What preamps do you use with it?
Do you plug them into it? Any offensive gain or heating/unwanted noises at the Clarett?
Old 4 days ago
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BT64 View Post
Any ADC (audio interface input side ) has an analog (electric) stage.
The max voltage / bit (0dBfs) ratio needs to be determind, or by forehand (internal by builder) or with a gain knob.

I'm guessing you won't need that mutch gain (by far) for drums.
Unless you use a sm57b or some ribbon microphones.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by the 'ADC/analogue' function and the 'max voltage/bit ratio'? I'm a novice at this so I don't understand what you mean.

What do these imply? Kindly explain to me in layman's terms.

Thank you for your patience.
Old 4 days ago
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Owen L T View Post
The preamps on the Clarett will be absolutely fine, providing plenty of clean, transparent gain. Yes, expensive mic pre-amps can bring additional character to a recording chain. So if a particular mic-pre has a particular character that you know you want, and can afford, then have at it. But for capturing a clear, clean recording of your drums, the Clarett's built-in pres are more than decent.

Sure, everyone on GS will have their preferred pre-amp, but don't come away with the impression that those on the Clarett will be audibly inferior - especially if you're tracking drums in an untreated room, through okay-but-not-great mics, listened to on budget monitors, for personal enjoyment.

You could wind up spending a heck of a lot more on "better" pre-amps, for only the smallest marginal improvement.
Thank you for your objective response. I appreciate it.

I see. I think I understand what you mean. I have watched quite a number of YouTube videos that stress the importance of the acoustics of the room first and foremost, then the player as well as mics.

I am investing in some rudimentary quality home studio equipment - just the bare basics - in the case I ever decide to operate a part-time recording studio in the future. A small semi-professional home studio with a treated room(s) is something I am considering in the not-so-distant future; but, evidently the knowledge of operating it currently alludes me.

I am certainly still unsure of what sort of 'colour' or 'character' I want since I don't have experience with these different concepts let alone preamps and their recording results, so that is something to consider before blasting some $K's. I wanted to learn about all of this then perhaps a good choice will become clearer with better understanding of the subject.
I have no clue what impedance, high/low Z etc mean, so if I were to make a choice I still have a lot to learn before then, unless I decide irrationally based on others' judgements.

How would you suggest I acquaint myself with the different preamps' sounds?

I want to invest in a quality FET condenser microphone for my snare drum, and an Earthworks set of mics down the line that's sound quality I should want to maximise. I am wondering if this marginal improvement would be worth the time invested in learning about the subject of analogue recording and money spent on a high quality home studio.
Would the difference in gain input be recognisable when both tracks recorded from the Clarett and the Daking respectively are listened to back-to-back?

What are your thoughts?
Old 3 days ago
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Megyalila Ballad View Post
What preamps do you use with it?
Do you plug them into it? Any offensive gain or heating/unwanted noises at the Clarett?
I have an older Focusrite Red two-channel preamp, and I also use the preamps on my Louder Than Liftoff Silver Bullet. Absolutely nothing offensive contributed by going through the Clarett's pre's on the way in. I also go through a mixing board before it hits the Clarett, and that in itself may add a little color to the signal. I keep the knob all the way to the left (no gain) on the Clarett, but in a pinch I wouldn't sweat it if I kicked in a little gain. As the previous poster said, the Clarett's pre's are pretty transparent.
Old 3 days ago
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Megyalila Ballad View Post
Would the difference in gain input be recognisable when both tracks recorded from the Clarett and the Daking respectively are listened to back-to-back?

What are your thoughts?
BT64's earlier comment on this was on point. There are a couple dynamic mics - the SM7B and RE20 - that are notorious for needing a TON of gain. It's possible, in the case of those two mics, that the additional 13 dB could make a difference. Then again, I've just checked the settings on my ISAone, which I use with an RE20, and it's set to 53dB of gain. Pretty sure the last thing I tracked was a flute, so ... even with an RE20, the Clarett ought to be fine.
Old 3 days ago
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Megyalila Ballad View Post
I was considering a Focusrite Clarett 8PreX but read many threads that recommended outboard preamps instead due to their much improved input quality, hence I am considering these.
the mere fact that a preamp is "outboard" does not make it any better. Inexpensive interfaces usually include inexpensive preamps because a really good preamp will cost a lot of money. More than the whole damn interface. Expanding the amount of channels you have is one issue - easily taken care of at a reasonable price. Getting a high-end preamp is not going to be cheap. Getting one for every channel is going to be prohibitive for most newbies.

Quote:
investing in a 16 channel or a couple of 8 channel preamps.
I don't know what your price range is, but an "outboard" preamp that costs less than @ $1000 per channel is unlikely to make a big improvement that you can hear. It is not going to be an "investment" the way one high-end pre would be.

Your built in interface preamps are not "bad", it's more that some high-end outboard stuff might be "exquisite".

If (let's say) your 8-channel interface has ADAT in, you can get an expander with 8 preamps to ADAT to bring your total up to 16. The Presonus Digimax for example will do this. But the preamps on that unit are roughly equivalent to those preamps built in to your interface. They are fine, but certainly not better because they are outboard.

People will buy ONE or TWO very high end outboard preamps and use them for their most critical channels. If tracking drums, maybe you use them for your overhead mics, then if you are overdubbing vocals and guitars, use your high-end preamp for every overdub. Etc etc. One or two high-end channels and keep re-using your best channels can take you pretty far.

16 channels of high end preamps will cost you! While most "onboard" preamps are inexpensive (since would drive up the cost of the unit) "outboard" preamps could be anything - very cheap or very expensive. TBH, I would not even bother with the 'middle ground'. Save up for a great one. But in any case, the "outboardness" is not what makes it good.
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