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Next logical step for upgrade Dual-Channel Preamps
Old 10th January 2018
  #1
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Thread Starter
Next logical step for upgrade

Hello all,

I need a bit of help about what would be a the logical steps for me to upgrade my recording kit. It would mainly be for solo acoustic guitar recording.

The thing is that I have my computer in my bedroom, but I have a nice place in my living room upstairs to record.

Right now, I plug a AT-4040 and AT-4041 in a Zoom H5. I then use some plugins in a DAW. Even though the mics are great sounding, there is still a bit of hiss that I attribute to the Zoom.

Would it be better to:
1) Go for a par of Fetheads.
2) Go for a preamp like the new WA-73 or ISA Two and plug it in the Zoom.
3) Go for an audio interface like the Apollo or Antelope and move the computer up when recording (it’s an iMac).

I would normally go for option 2, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Would the Zoom préamp drop the quality of the preamp before it ?

Best wishes !
Old 10th January 2018
  #2
Let's think about your signal chain...
You've got your mics - they have a relatively low self-noise rating of 12 dB (AT4040, not specified for the AT4041). And their sensitivity is reasonable - you shouldn't need to add lots of gain. however, your interface MAY not be providing the full amount of phantom power they require, and THAT can add noise. Keep that in mind.
Then you have your preamp - part of the Zoom H5
Then you have your Analog-to-Digital converter - also part of the Zoom
Then you have your digital chain which unless you're deliberately adding noise via tape emulators or other plugins, or using a bit depth of 8 bits or so should be clean.
Then you have your Digital-to-Analog converter, which I guess is part of the Zoom
Then you have your amplifier, and finally your headphones or speakers.

Question is, how much "noise" is there if you play back your DAW tracks with the output muted? That noise is coming from your Zoom and/or amplifier for sure.
Assuming the "muted playback" test is quiet, then upgrading your interface would be the first step. You could get an interface with better preamps, or you could get an interface without preamps and get a separate preamp.

My recommendation would be to try some interfaces and play commercial tracks through them (so you know they're not adding noise at the output) and then look for clean quiet preamps in the interface by testing them with your mics. When you want some "colour" in your signal you then can use an outboard preamp, and feed the signal in through the interface with the interface set for zero gain.

Ribbon mics, unless "active", generally require lots of clean gain, and you will probably not like them with "average" preamps.

Best wishes,
Old 10th January 2018
  #3
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jnorman's Avatar
In your case, I would suggest that you first get the zoom completely out of the signal chain. If you need a portable recorder, consider the new sound devices mixpre3 or mix pre6.
Old 11th January 2018
  #4
While we're on the subject of Sound Devices, let's not forget the USBPre 2. No built-in recorder, but it's arguably better-suited for use as a straight-forward audio interface and basic monitor controller. It's very simple to operate, and once you hear the preamps and converters, you will never want to use your Zoom again. But if you ever need to do a no-computer remote gig, you can use the SD unit as a preamp and send line level to the Zoom. Any cheap USB battery brick will power the USBPre 2 for many hours. Speaking of bricks, this interface is built like one: it's probably the only thing in my studio that would survive an earthquake. And the meters -- boy do I love those meters! The only thing I don't like about it is that the phantom power control is on a dip switch, but I simply unplug the USB power cable before I plug or unplug mic cables.

David L. Rick
Seventh String Recording
Old 11th January 2018
  #5
Here for the gear
 

Thread Starter
Thanks to the three of you ! All of those are useful advices.

You’re right that the hiss may come from different sources and it’s not that noticeable, but still a bit louder than ambience noises. I checked the voltage because you raised an excellent point as I was using another brand of mics and they could be set either at 24 or 48 volts. The setup was good though at 48V.

So I’ll make other tests to find the source. The noise does get louder when the preamps go from 5 to around 5.5 and it’s apparent on the Zoom but also on the computer afterwards.

As for the SoundDevices, they seem to be quite a good option that I will need to investigate further. Do you think they have enough “horsepower” if I want to use one day a ribbon or my dynamic Beta 57 ?

Would it be a nice interface to plug studio monitors if I want also to upgrade that part later ?

Thanks again and best wishes !
Old 11th January 2018
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Krugie_Mtl View Post
Thanks to the three of you ! All of those are useful advices.

You’re right that the hiss may come from different sources and it’s not that noticeable, but still a bit louder than ambience noises. I checked the voltage because you raised an excellent point as I was using another brand of mics and they could be set either at 24 or 48 volts. The setup was good though at 48V.

So I’ll make other tests to find the source. The noise does get louder when the preamps go from 5 to around 5.5 and it’s apparent on the Zoom but also on the computer afterwards.

As for the SoundDevices, they seem to be quite a good option that I will need to investigate further. Do you think they have enough “horsepower” if I want to use one day a ribbon or my dynamic Beta 57 ?

Would it be a nice interface to plug studio monitors if I want also to upgrade that part later ?

Thanks again and best wishes !
The USBPRE2 has outputs that would drive either an amp, or powered monitors.

The definition of a "clean" preamp is one that can add lots of gain without adding noise, or distorting the signal. I'd expect the Sound Devices to meet that standard. But if you can, see if you can go to a place (Guitar Center or equivalent), and take your mic in and listen to various interfaces through headphones.
Old 11th January 2018
  #7
Here for the gear
 

Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally Posted by TMetzinger View Post
The USBPRE2 has outputs that would drive either an amp, or powered monitors.

The definition of a "clean" preamp is one that can add lots of gain without adding noise, or distorting the signal. I'd expect the Sound Devices to meet that standard. But if you can, see if you can go to a place (Guitar Center or equivalent), and take your mic in and listen to various interfaces through headphones.
You are absolutely right. I made the mistake once of buying mics without testing them...

Best,
Old 11th January 2018
  #8
I would suggest consider full backup system. Take existing system as backup, add with prestige (quality, not price) mic and pre (recorder). I don't like computer based system, only my preference. In your case, maybe a Sound Devices MixPre 6 is the best choice.
Old 11th January 2018
  #9
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tourtelot's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Krugie_Mtl View Post
As for the SoundDevices, they seem to be quite a good option that I will need to investigate further. Do you think they have enough “horsepower” if I want to use one day a ribbon or my dynamic Beta 57 ?

!
The Sound Devices units, all the ones mentioned above, are really good choices; you can get SD units that will do any number of things really well. Great preamps, great converters, some record, some are multi-track, some are a few channels, some a lot. All really good with no reservations. But nothing but a top-of-the-line preamp will do well with passive ribbons. AEA TRP, Grace, and a few others that I know of. The SD stuff will probably do okay with dynamics like the Beta 57 etc.

My advice? Buy the best SD box you can and then, at some point, buy some in-line ribbon amps like FETHeads or Mogaines (not Cloud Lifters if you ask me) until you can afford a good ribbon preamp which you can then run into the SD box line-level in and rock on.

I am still a super-fan-boy of the Sound Devices 788T which I think does everything well, but the littlest oldest MixPre all the way to the newest MixPre10T are amazing, and the customer service is impossible to beat. Two thumbs up!

I did say I was a fan-boy, right?

Oh, and sell the zoom

D.
Old 14th January 2018
  #10
Gear Addict
 

One thing to consider is that if you don't need a portable recording setup for other uses, how would running a few cables to the upstairs room from your bedroom be?

This is something I've done at a friend's place, where the conundrum was how to record drums when he can't put them in his bedroom studio and his studio wasn't portable to bring to the cellar, where we could have drums. We just ran a very simple snake to the basement with the mic cabling and monitoring signal. Worked much easier than it sounds : ) and has been easily repeatable. In fact, if I wanted to, I can remotely control the DAW with a web interface or IOS app from the basement.

I mention this because a new, small recording interface with good pres would be all you'd need to spend money on. It's a different approach but it's one you could dry run before buying anything, and if it works for you up the mic pres and you're done.

Last edited by rboy; 15th January 2018 at 03:36 AM..
Old 15th January 2018
  #11
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tourtelot's Avatar
Yes, true. My head is always in the "location recording" mode since that's all I do. Good call.

D.
Old 15th January 2018
  #12
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tourtelot View Post
Yes, true. My head is always in the "location recording" mode since that's all I do. Good call.

D.
Well, this IS the "Location" forum : )
Old 15th January 2018
  #13
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tourtelot's Avatar
Hmm. You are right. Location forum. I now have the answer to every question

D.
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