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Microphone preamp comparison testing
Old 4th August 2002
  #1
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Thread Starter
Microphone preamp comparison testing

Here's the scenario - you have 5 mic pre's that you want to compare to each other; how's the best way to do it? The test took place a week or so ago, (I'll let you know the details of that in a day or so), but I'm curious as to how ya'll would do this sort of comparison.

The problems, of course, are consistency in performance levels, volume, etc. - if you use one mic and try each preamp serially, or if you split the mic into all 5 preamps simultaneously, then you end up dealing with impedance issues which can skew the results. 5 mics (one for each pre) are not the answer for the obvious reason that the response and placement of each mic will have an impact on the result.

Suggestions?
Old 4th August 2002
  #2
Lives for gear
 

I suppose I'm a hyper-pragmatist.

At this point in time, any differences between 2 mic preamps that are too subtle to hear without ideal and perfectly matched conditions are nearly meaningless to me.

What I mean is this. If a singer moving 1" or having a slightly better/worse pass makes more difference in what's hitting the speakers in the C.R., than switching between the 2 mic pre's.....then I don't really care which one I'm plugged into.

Now I know this runs contrary to the true "Spirit Of Gearslutz". So in answer to your question, what I would do is set up a speaker and tone generator in front of the mic and gain match all the preamps. Then have the best singer you know take a pass per pre.

Heck, if that would be close enough to comp a great vocal from if using the same mic/pre, it should be able to tell you about the mics.

And I'll say this. I'll bet you could pick the 2 or 3 closest pres, maybe even all of them, and comp a vocal using those passes that would sound just fine.

And that's why I don't think the "perfect" setup is that critical. If the difference is not at least a little obvious, does it really, really matter which one you use? 10 other factors, mostly human, will affect the recording more than the mic pre.

In case this post sounds smart-ass, it's not supposed to. You know, the internet is strange that way. I fully dig Dave Martin and think he knows his stuff. I just wonder if we don't all get into "Which end of the egg?" sometimes ; )


Regards,
Brian T
Old 4th August 2002
  #3
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally posted by BrianT
I suppose I'm a hyper-pragmatist.

At this point in time, any differences between 2 mic preamps that are too subtle to hear without ideal and perfectly matched conditions are nearly meaningless to me.

Brian T
You are absolutely right, of course, EXCEPT that we weren't comparing preamps on a specific signal (singer, guitar player, etc.), we needed to compare them to each other...
Old 4th August 2002
  #4
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Talking anorack



well just for myself i would just try each one out 1 at a time
and that would tell me what i needed to know but i realise thats not stringent...to satisfy your conditions i would just run
a pre recorded signal back out thro a speaker/gtr amp
and record that sequentially

if that wasnt scientifik enuff i think i would have to call MIT
grggt

Old 5th August 2002
  #5
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sonic dogg's Avatar
Hey...now this is a loaded question...or is it? What are we comparing for? is it sound quality per pre? is it best value for the amount of performance? is it performance derived based on ones own mic selection? is it how neat the colored lights make the rack look? and if we get MIT involved we're gonna be all day just determining which cable has the most optimum impedance so we can begin the test!!....IMHO all of these comparative tests serve only as highly educational guidelines for most of us gear hackers who dont have the cash or havent had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with the 'high end' gear...i personally do love hearing about these things from all the incredibly knowledgeable pros out there and appreciate having the ability to tap into their experiences with these things...THANX GUYS!!! now, instead of sugar canes and candy swimming around my head as i fall asleep i get visions of vintage 610's and hardys swimming in a sea of upgraded neumans.......ahhhhh blissssss
Old 5th August 2002
  #6
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally posted by sonic dogg
Hey...now this is a loaded question...or is it? What are we comparing for? is it sound quality per pre? is it best value for the amount of performance? is it performance derived based on ones own mic selection? is it how neat the colored lights make the rack look?
All those things, of course. But mostly the setup was for listening to the preamps to see how close they are to each other in sonic quality.
Old 5th August 2002
  #7
Can I just say at this point that Dave is being slightly cryptic but there is a method to his...er cypticnessness.. or whatever...

Watch this space!

heh
Old 5th August 2002
  #8
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Smile little blue lights

rollz rollz rollz rollzrollz rollz

i like little blue lights

Old 5th August 2002
  #9
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Thread Starter
Re: little blue lights

Quote:
Originally posted by vsl666


i like little blue lights
THere was a little blue light involved. One, at least.
Old 5th August 2002
  #10
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Old 5th August 2002
  #11
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Stizz's Avatar
Quote:
Originally posted by Mats Olsson
A Press Box ?


/Mats
Only Problem with that Mats, is that it distributes a line level input - so the mics need to go through a gain stage first...


DAVE - you could have a Patch Monkey furiously swapping cables while someone with perfect timing mutes the mic...dfegad
Old 5th August 2002
  #12
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally posted by Stizz


DAVE - you could have a Patch Monkey furiously swapping cables while someone with perfect timing mutes the mic...dfegad
As much as I like that concept, here's what we actually did. Does this make sense to everyone as being a fair way to compre preamps to each other?

First, record a clean DI guitar track (Fender Strat, I believe) via the Littlelabs Distro box to a Euphonix R1- at 24 bit, 48kHz. That's the master (despite the fact that I suck pretty bad as a guitarist).

Bring that back out and through through the Littlelabs again and re-amp it through an Engl amp and a 4x12 cabinet. First with a fairly clean sound, and then with a dirty sound. Mic the amp with a Royer and bring the royer back through eack pre separately and back to the R-1.

Do the same with a bass (Fender P Bass with passive pickups and flat wound strings), but reamp that signal with a Randall solid state head and I don't remember what sort of cabinet. Mic was a TLM 103 with a pad on it (The Randall was pretty cranked...).

Last (couldn't think of a way to pre-record this), hit a snare drum - the pattern I was trying for was four hits which included the rim and 4 hits which didn't. Repeat many times (I figured that this way, my average level would be fairly consistent.

All passes were recorded into the R-1 so that comparisons could be made without any timing differences.

Comparisons were made two passes at a time, by putting two fingers on the mute buttons of a Sony DMX with one channel muted and the other not. After you punch the buttons a few times, it's impossinble to kniw which channel is active (Both of us have big hands, so the status lights for each channel were covered).

If the general consensus is that this is a good way to do this kind of comparison, I'll move on to the next step - Identifying the specific preamps...
Old 7th August 2002
  #13
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Thread Starter
No opinions? OK, here's what Michaeal Wagener, Bob Ohlsson and I wanted to to find out - How close are the various 1073 clones sold these days to a real Neve 1073 preamp.

In addition to a pair of 1073's (in a Boutique Audio rack, that Michael got from Rack 'n Roll Audio, Nashville), we had (in alphabetical order) preamps from Chandler, Great River, Shep, and Vintech. all we played with for this test was the preamp section, not the EQ's (on those units that had them - the Great River NV doesn't, of course).

All of this took place at Wireworld, Michael's studio.

It was actually a very interesting way to spend the day, with equally interesting results. Since we re-amped the same guitar track for each pre, the only thing that changed for each pass was the preamp itself.
Old 7th August 2002
  #14
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Smile ooo

:eek: oo you are a tease !

what happened next ?yuktyy
Old 7th August 2002
  #15
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sonic dogg's Avatar
:eek: tap tap tap...(waiting somewhat patiently):eek:
Old 7th August 2002
  #16
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David R.'s Avatar
 

And then...and then...

Our results were.....

What we thought was....

In summary....


OT - how do you keep a whole bunch of idoits in suspense?

grggt
Old 8th August 2002
  #17
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... and then ... ???

Old 8th August 2002
  #18
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mwagener's Avatar
Dave

as requested:

Old 8th August 2002
  #19
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Thread Starter
Excellent! Thanks, Michael.

OK, so we set all the preamps up and recorded the reamped guitar, bass, and a live snare. Bob O was present for the recording part of the afternoon, but since he actually had paying work to do, he left, I think before we actually tried to make any decisions (or he may have learned what he wanted to learn while the recording took place.

I mentioned earlier the method that Michael and I used to compare preamps - with either his hand or mine on the solo/mute switches on the Sony console, we could neither see the indicator lights or which button was pushed down (and in fact, I think the buttons are 'soft - you couldn't feel which one was pushed, either), so it was as close to a blind test as possible. The way we listened was to choose two preamps at a time, choose the one that we thought sounded best, look and see which one it was, then compare that one with the next one in line (on the console). Choose again, then move on. once we chose which pre we liked out of the 5, we compared that with each of the other 4 (obviously, either pre one or pre two would have been only have been listened to once). Does that make sense to everyone?

OK - now the results. On the whole, the preamps were very close to each other in sound. This is represented by the fact that of the five pre's, we liked a different one on each of the four instruments. So the winners are:

Clean Electric: Vintech X73 (or Great River)
Dirty Electric: Great River NV (or Vintech)
Bass: Neve 1073
Snare: Shep

The reason I listed 2 preamps on the guitars isn't so much because they were so close that we couldn't make a clean decision, but that I simply can't remember which pre we chose on those two. I know, not very scientific, but I can't find any notes I may have made. Hopefully Michael will refresh my memory.

I should say, though, that we also tried a GT Vipre on snare and it killed all of the Neve variants - Some of you may have noticed in another thread that Michael is buying another one...

I should add that I own both the GR and the Vintech. after doing this test (again - I also compared each to a 1073 when I wrote reviews of them for magazines), I'm still happy that I bought them.

Any questions?
Old 9th August 2002
  #20
I am just glad that I chose to record bass (amp & DI) via my 1073 pair today!

Phew! That was a close one!

heh
Old 9th August 2002
  #21
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Thread Starter
Pretty much it is close. I want a pair of 1073's on general principle (and because sometimes that 1% or 2% difference is actually a 10% or 20% difference), but truthfully, I don't feel the lack that overmuch. BOth the GR and the Vintech work fine.

By the way, I really wasn't simply trying to stretch this out before giving not a whole lot of useful information - Tuesday night, my wife's dog met a skunk, with certain deleterious aftereffects effects in the house. Wednesday, still dealing with the lingering skunk odor, I had a meeting with a lawyer at 10:30, then a full day of mixes. This morning was more of the same, then finally I could finush up while burning CD's for the Fed Ex run.
Old 9th August 2002
  #22
So... What did the lawyer say about the skunk issue? An out of forrest settlement?
Old 9th August 2002
  #23
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mwagener's Avatar
Quote:
Originally posted by Dave Martin
The reason I listed 2 preamps on the guitars isn't so much because they were so close that we couldn't make a clean decision, but that I simply can't remember which pre we chose on those two. I know, not very scientific, but I can't find any notes I may have made. Hopefully Michael will refresh my memory.
Here is a picture of the writing strips on the boards. The red Xs are our choices for that category.



First a disclaimer: the following is my personal opinion and is valid only for the test on that particular day at that particular studio with those particular microphones, cables and sources. To use Fletcher's words: YMMV

In general I thought that all the mic pres sounded close enough that somebody would not go wrong buying either one of them. If I had to pick one of the Neve clones I would probably go with the original 1073 for the EQ version (if I could find one in great shape for under $ 1,000,000) and the Great River if I didn't need the EQ. Unfortunately we didn't get around to checking it with vocals or percussion instruments, nor did we have time to check the EQ sections (that's what you get for having two immensely knowledgeable and experienced people in your studio with thousands of stories to tell, it was great, thanx Dave and Bob). Also, it would be great to hear how sounds recorded with those pres sit in the track.

My thoughts about the pres (in no particular order):
1. Neve 1073 - no comment, that's what we were comparing the others to, assuming this one is the sh*t. heh
2. Schep - sounded a little flatter than the Neve, not a s much depth, which was a plus on the snare but a minus on the guitar and bass.
3. GreatRiver - great sounding pre overall and a definite contender for my preamp rack in the future.
4. Chandler LTD-1 - this one had a little bit of a veil on the top end, which the EQ could probably take care of, but it didn't sound as open as the 1073.
5. Vintech X-73 - great sounding pre, very open with a lot of depth.

All that said and as Dave mentioned, I went and bought another VIPRE. The VIPRE wasn't part of the shootout, but whenever we plugged it in "just-to-check" I liked it more than the others. We did a listening test with the bass plugged into the instrument inputs of some of those pres and the VIPRE came out way on top. We didn't record this because not all the pres had the high-Z input and the ones on the original 1073 didn't work. In fact one of the original 1073s wasn't working at all.

All in all it was a very interesting day, to say the least. A special thank you to Rack 'n Roll in Nashville and Lyle from Wavedistribution for providing us with some of the pres.
Old 10th August 2002
  #24
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I went away with pretty much the same impressions.

(Going away was hard because both of these guys are the type I could easily wind up pulling all-nighters talking to. In fact it took me two tries because I left my laptop bag behind the first time.)

The VIPRE experience was really one of those rare audio no-brainers. There isn't much to say, the thing just sounded really good.
Old 10th August 2002
  #25
Lives for gear
 

OK, OK. I give.

The Vipre I was sent must have been broken in transit.

I'll have to try one again. Glad I saw this. This many people loving it must mean something.

Brian T
Old 10th August 2002
  #26
Gear maniac
 

I am planning on picking up a vintech. I see many people comment on how the x73 is good but the vintech 1272 sucks. I don't think I need the eq section so I am inclined to pick up the 1272 if the preamp is pretty close to the x73. Have any of you compared the two? I know that the x73 was a newer design so maybe they got it right at that point.

Also anyone know where I can get a Vipre at a great price? The best price I have so far is $2150 (if I remember right)

THANKS!

------------------------

Free Erik!!
Old 10th August 2002
  #27
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally posted by BrianT
OK, OK. I give.

I'll stick by the GR for a DI box (I'm embarrassed to day that I don't remember playing through the Vpre - I was playing and Michale was switching stuff around...)
Old 10th August 2002
  #28
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally posted by Jules
So... What did the lawyer say about the skunk issue? An out of forrest settlement?
Nah - he pointed out that while we could sue the county pest control service, the would argue that we bought the acrage because we WANTED the naural vibe, and skunks are natural. So the best shot at a settlement would be to sue Carolyn and the dog - after all, Peanut is her dog, and she let her back in the house.

We could have tried to sue Mother Nature, but we couldn't find anyone to accept the summons. Besides, it's not nice to sue Mother Nature.

We decided not to pursue it any farther...
Old 11th August 2002
  #29
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Our concentration was really on the Neve module and clones. The Vipre was a case of Michael saying "let me try this for a moment" followed by an exclamation, big grins, shaking of heads and then immediately returning to what we were supposed to be comparing. We only looked at the orange for a moment and then returned to comparing the apples. But it sure was one tasty orange!
Old 11th August 2002
  #30
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Thumbs up Re: Microphone preamp comparison testing

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