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Seeking preamp "ahah!" moment
Old 4th March 2020
  #1
Here for the gear
 

Seeking preamp "ahah!" moment

I am an amateur and you will never hear my music on the radio or Youtube, but.....I love recording.

Having two UA Apollo interfaces, I am led to believe that their mic preamps are already pretty good. I have a number of UA plugins and have used them. Generally satisfied with the results but wondering if there is something better out there. So I am considering trying out an outboard preamp.

But......I don't want to go that expense unless what I buy gives me an "ahaa!" moment. If I can't tell the difference pretty easily then that path is not for me. I have listened extensively to shootouts of all sorts of gear and plugins, and although the presenters often wax lyrical about the effect of the gear I am not always sure I can hear the difference.

I have read extensively on this and other forums about mic preamps. To summarise it seems that mic preamps fall broadly into two categories, flavoured and unflavoured. I don't mind which way I go but would just like it to sound noticeably better that the UA Apollo preamps. Probably a slight preference for unflavoured because you can add flavour later but you can't take it out once recorded.

Also, it seems that the effect of having a good preamp may not necessarily be felt so much on a single track, but that having good preamps can noticeably improve a mix as more tracks are added. This may be the more important issue. So I would like to find a preamp that helps with this.

I am not interested in a channel strip or EQ. Don't care about DI (I already have an RNDI). I just want a good preamp that gives me the "ahaa!". I also understand that the "aha!" may not be instantaneous and that it might take a little while for me to really appreciate my new preamp.

The unit I am currently looking at is the RND 5211. It has caught my eye because of the potential to record clean tracks but also to add "colour" with the silk, so I could sort of have both sides of the flavour coin. A friend of mine with a good commercial recording studio, who knows my gear, thinks I will get my "ahah!" moment with the 5211.

I like the idea of a dual channel mic pre.

So my budget is around US$2000 (or A$3300 over here in Australia).

To fill out the picture a little, I have a few Neumann condenser mics, an MD421, an SM7B and a few Rodes. My recording room is not perfect but is not horrible either. So I would prefer this post not be about all the other things I should spend my money on instead of a preamp.

Main instruments recorded through the preamp would be banjo, acoustic guitar and vocals, but I mix these into folk, jazz and rock pieces.

There is almost nothing online about the RND 5211, certainly no audio comparisons, but what the 5211 is meant to be appeals to me for some reason. Although RND gear may not be everyone's cup of tea, I have never seen it seriously bagged so it must be fundamentally good.

Before I pull the trigger though.....any alternative suggestions for that "Ahaa!" feeling?
Old 4th March 2020
  #2
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BT64's Avatar
Preamps give clean gain, and some subtle color.
Don't expect "ahaa!" from a preamp.
Performance, mic position and room on the other hand...
Old 4th March 2020
  #3
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Papanate's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Amusong View Post
Before I pull the trigger though.....any alternative suggestions for that "Ahaa!" feeling?
You are searching for unobtanium IMO. Take your UA boxes and use the Neve 1073 emulation and if you aren't hearing a difference or improvement - then there really isn't any reason to get an external preamp IMO.
Old 4th March 2020
  #4
Lives for gear
 

If you can't make an aha moment with what you've got, there's always Ebay.
Old 5th March 2020
  #5
Here for the gear
 

Thanks for your responses folks. I do get all you are saying.

I do understand about all the other issues, mic, mic placement, room, instrument, performer etc, and am working on them too. I guess my question was just drilling down on one object in the chain, mic preamp, and asking what you would recommend. I also know there are endless threads on this very topic, but they get a bit esoteric at times and seem to obsess on things that I suspect are very subtle.

Perhaps if I restate my questions:

Firstly....given that all the other issues also need to be addressed too, but assuming that they are a constant......
For USD$2000 is there a dual mic preamp that you think might give a noticeable improvement in my recordings over the Apollo preamps?

This question is not about flavour or colouring but more about obtaining a quality signal that will mix and translate well.

Secondly.....has anyone got the RND 5211?

Thanks
Old 5th March 2020 | Show parent
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amusong View Post
Thanks for your responses folks. I do get all you are saying.

I do understand about all the other issues, mic, mic placement, room, instrument, performer etc, and am working on them too. I guess my question was just drilling down on one object in the chain, mic preamp, and asking what you would recommend. I also know there are endless threads on this very topic, but they get a bit esoteric at times and seem to obsess on things that I suspect are very subtle.

Perhaps if I restate my questions:

Firstly....given that all the other issues also need to be addressed too, but assuming that they are a constant......
For USD$2000 is there a dual mic preamp that you think might give a noticeable improvement in my recordings over the Apollo preamps?

This question is not about flavour or colouring but more about obtaining a quality signal that will mix and translate well.

Secondly.....has anyone got the RND 5211?

Thanks
You already have a quality signal. There will be no increase in quality necessarily. The quality you have is already appearing on countless recordings on YouTube, the radio, tv and film. For years we made records with way lower quality preamps than what you currently have and these records are still loved today. Put these thoughts out of your mind and go forth confidently in your musical explorations. Save your money for when a need is pressing– you will know.
Old 5th March 2020
  #7
Amusong, you're alluding to something nobody has ever said here at gearslutz...nobody talks about preamps or tone or sound or preamp mojo or preamp tone or preamps or colour in general. Never happened. There's no posts about it here. At least I've never read anyone saying anything about any of those things ever...at all.

Now stop asking questions about something that doesn't exist. Or I'll assemble a unit to gangstalk and belittle you.

Old 5th March 2020
  #8
There is some good advice on here, and I am sure you will find your choice, if at all, but I would say GET YOUR MUSIC OUT THERE! Lol. Seriously tho. Put it out. Put it on YouTube, digitally distribute it. You would be surprised how much your music will touch people. That’s part of the reason we do it. Cheers to you.
Old 5th March 2020 | Show parent
  #9
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Amusong
For USD$2000 is there a dual mic preamp that you think might give a noticeable improvement in my recordings over the Apollo preamps?
I would say at that price, there are quite a few. In fact, too many to list here. I love the Pendulum MDP-1. It is a tube preamp, but actually leans on the clean side.

Now when I say noticeable, I don't mean you are going to plug in your mic and record a track and immediately go: "oh yeah, man". I mean when you overdub everything through that preamp, and you go to mix you might "notice" something.

The way people talk about preamps here at GS is (just a wee bit) over the top. "The heavens opened up!" It's not like that. But IMHO, a great mic deserves a great preamp. If everything else is in order, it will make a difference... in the long run.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BT64 View Post
Preamps give clean gain, and some subtle color.
Don't expect "ahaa!" from a preamp.
Performance, mic position and room on the other hand...
I think you can obtain "ahah" from a preamp.

But you have to have been at This for a long long time, and you have to have already squeezed the maximum performance out of the rest of your gear and your ears have to be really attuned to what might seem to others to be small changes.

in the real world, going from 97% to 98% is hardly worth noting. But if you really have been plateaued at 97 for a while, then 98 will feel to you like a breakthrough. It's not big, and yes, it is further down the List than many other things, but a great preamp never hurts.
Old 5th March 2020
  #10
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BT64's Avatar
I just love blind test and a "great" preamp is not in it's price.
Old 6th March 2020 | Show parent
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BT64 View Post
I just love blind test and a "great" preamp is not in it's price.
I don't really know or care what the readers of a given magazine heard. I mself heard clear differences in a blind listening test of preamps I did many years ago. At the end, when I looked up my answers, which were keyed in a separate, sealed "booklet", I had picked the DW Fearn as my number one choice, on three out of four instruments.

This was out of over 20 preamps - and the identification "letters" were scrambled for each instrument. IMO, this beats a "lucky guess". I don't think it is about my 'golden ears', I think it's about a clearly superior preamp with a signature "sound". I bought Fearn immediately and have never regretted it. And the Fearn was one of the most expensive, at least among "new" preamps. (There were a few vintage models included in the test whose price also reflected rarity and collector's value.)

I did not pick the vintage Neve!
Old 6th March 2020
  #12
Here for the gear
 

Well....thanks so much for all your input chaps. There is a lot to reflect on there. I think my mission statement may be somewhat difficult to achieve in practice. Instantaneous "ahaa!" may be asking a bit too much. "Some noticeable improvement and mixes that stack up nicely in the long run" may be better to seek.

I found both references above to blind testing fascinating, and somewhat in line with my comment in my first post (paragraph 3). So much of this topic is subjective and the issues are in fact subtle.

One of the holy grails for me would be to record banjo nicely. I am a clawhammer player with 4 good quality, hand made, open back banjos, 3 of them custom made for me. They all sound excellent when just played, but when recorded they sound far from satisfactory to my ear - nasal and "stringy". I have tried everything I can think of, did extensive tests with mic and placement, padded my room to the max with thick mattresses and pillows, and even set up in a walk-in wardrobe full of clothes (pretty dead acoustically) to see if that made a difference. It all sounds much the same. Tried my KM184s, TLM 103, Rode M3 and Sennheiser MD421. Still haven't cracked it. I am therefore wondering if a nice preamp might help.

Acoustic guitar is another challenge. I am sure that I can develop a good sound of just the guitar with the mics and preamps I have, but am challenged when recording someone singing along at the same time. I have just bought a Fishman Rare Earth Mic Blend pickup and a Rupert Neve DI and hoping that might offer some improvement. Again.....would a nice preamp help?

Anyway .....I just thought I'd ask the "ahaa" question in the hopes that someone might have an answer for something that I have overlooked. Perhaps I am chasing rainbows, but I still think there is a reason people are prepared to pay some serious dollars for preamps (even in this age of Apollo, Prism, Lynx etx). I am still curious. I guess I am still going to buy a preamp.

Not so many opportunities to look at, hear and test audio equipment here in Australia, even in the major cities. And I am in the boondocks, so that sort of "look around and try stuff" that you guys seem to be able to do in the US is just not going to happen here. Dealers do not let you return stuff here so easily either, you can generally only return if it's faulty.

So I sort of have to read as much as I can, listen to as many tests as I can, sift through the bull****, and to pick something without ever having seen it or listen to it in the flesh, lay my money down and hope for the best.

Only in the last few days (here on Gearslutz) I stumbled across the Sebatron range of gear. http://www.sebatron.com It's made in Australia, and as far as I can make out it is pretty well regarded too. I have talked to Sebastian at length about his Axis 200 and like his style. They are much cheaper here than in the US where they sell for around $2000 (same as the 5211) so I am going to ponder further on whether to get one of Sebastian's preamps.

Again, thanks for all your input.

By the way I did my first recording in 1978. It was a 6 piece trad jazz band and I used SM 57's and a 4 track TEAC tape machine, single take, with everyone crowded into an untreated room, no isolation. With all its faults I still listen to that album of a dozen tracks today with great pleasure. So I do understand that Gear Does Not Necessarily Equal Pleasure...... but chasing rainbows is fun too don't you think?
Old 7th March 2020
  #13
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Daking
Old 7th March 2020 | Show parent
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amusong View Post
One of the holy grails for me would be to record banjo nicely. I am a clawhammer player with 4 good quality, hand made, open back banjos, 3 of them custom made for me. They all sound excellent when just played, but when recorded they sound far from satisfactory to my ear - nasal and "stringy". I have tried everything I can think of, did extensive tests with mic and placement, padded my room to the max with thick mattresses and pillows, and even set up in a walk-in wardrobe full of clothes (pretty dead acoustically) to see if that made a difference. It all sounds much the same. Tried my KM184s, TLM 103, Rode M3 and Sennheiser MD421. Still haven't cracked it. I am therefore wondering if a nice preamp might help.
It sounds to me like your issues are not preamp related. See if you can pinpoint the frequencies that are bothering you on your recording with an eq plugin and dial them out. If you search online for "banjo recording" you might also get some more mic placement and eq tips directed specifically at troubleshooting various issues like "too nasal", "too thin" etc.
Old 2nd August 2020 | Show parent
  #15
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Melgueil's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
I would say at that price, there are quite a few. In fact, too many to list here. I love the Pendulum MDP-1. It is a tube preamp, but actually leans on the clean side.

Now when I say noticeable, I don't mean you are going to plug in your mic and record a track and immediately go: "oh yeah, man". I mean when you overdub everything through that preamp, and you go to mix you might "notice" something.

The way people talk about preamps here at GS is (just a wee bit) over the top. "The heavens opened up!" It's not like that. But IMHO, a great mic deserves a great preamp. If everything else is in order, it will make a difference... in the long run.



I think you can obtain "ahah" from a preamp.

But you have to have been at This for a long long time, and you have to have already squeezed the maximum performance out of the rest of your gear and your ears have to be really attuned to what might seem to others to be small changes.

in the real world, going from 97% to 98% is hardly worth noting. But if you really have been plateaued at 97 for a while, then 98 will feel to you like a breakthrough. It's not big, and yes, it is further down the List than many other things, but a great preamp never hurts.
I’ll second this good post. It’s also about what you are aiming for as the preamp OP mentions can give you additional colour options, but you need to know what you are doing - and why. A well built piece of equipment will also généralise well across environments, handle AC power diversity, be more stable. Night and day « aha », likely not. Doesn’t diminish the value of investing in high end gear.

CDLT
Old 2nd August 2020
  #16
Gear Nut
 

Have you tried using a ribbon mic? It might take a little edge off and be more of what you’re looking for.
Old 2nd August 2020
  #17
Gear Head
Would other mics make a bigger difference ? Maybe a TLM102 instead of the 103 (103 is a bit of a bright mic imho). . I've been in a few country sessions in the last few years. I've seen the engineer put a U87 (not an ai) on the body of the banjo, and a KM84 up by the neck, with good results. I've also recorded through the UA preamps imho they are good preamps. That said, I'd favor a MSS-10 pre, over the UA interface preamps.
Old 3rd August 2020 | Show parent
  #18
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by gharrison0054 View Post
Would other mics make a bigger difference ?
IMO, changing the mic almost always makes a bigger difference than changing the preamp. That doesn't mean the preamp doesn't matter, but I feel 9 times out of 10 the mic matters more.
Old 3rd August 2020 | Show parent
  #19
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BT64's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
.. but I feel 9 times out of 10 the mic matters more.
And the mic placement and room acoustics.
Old 5th August 2020
  #20
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Melgueil's Avatar
 

Yep. I pulled a Gefell M300 out of my locker and got something close to perfection on acoustic guitar just by moving the mic around a bit. BTW, the pre’s were SSL SuperAnalogue - much maligned (unfairly). That combination at least for me was dead silent and very rich sounding. I’m lucky - I have a nice sounding room - doesn’t hurt :-).

Cdlt
Old 10th September 2020
  #21
Here for the gear
 

Preamp Ahaa Moment

I just thought you might be interested in the outcome of my preamp journey.

I ended up buying a Sebatron valve VMP QuadPlus 4 channel preamp back in late March. http://www.sebatron.com/sebatron-VMPQuadPlus.php

Sebastian was a real nice guy to deal with and I was also taken with the idea of buying Australian.

For one reason and another, although I took delivery of it back then, I had not connected it up and used it. I have just spent 3 months travelling in the outback of Australia, and then when I got back I tore my little music studio apart and re-built it (so the Sebatron would have a better home, among other reasons).

Connected it up today, stuck a KM184 on a stand, pointed it pretty randomly at the banjo, and plugged it into the Sebatron. Did not worry about tweaking any knobs, did just enough knob turning to get good levels going into Logic.

It sounded nice.

Simple words but..... for me that is a remarkable outcome. Struggled all these years to get a nice banjo sound, and just by plugging it into a nice preamp there it was! Ahaaaa!!!!

I am a happy guy and am now eyeing off a Sebatron SMAC compressor.

Thanks for all your help and input chaps.
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