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Have you used tube preamps for recording acoustic and classical music ?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #1
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ISedlacek's Avatar
Have you used tube preamps for recording acoustic and classical music ?

Transparent sound and preamps are nice , but sometimes a kind of "thick" sweetness can be welcome too (like for some solo tones on nylon string guitar, gentle percussion, string instruments etc.).

I wonder - has somebody successfully used some tube preamps for recording classical and acoustic music with some advantage ? I used and tried Pendulum, Thermionic Earlybird, Lachapel etc. - but their sound was a kind of too decent ...

At present I am quite tempted by some of these: https://sonicfarm.com/pro-audio/crea...entode-preamp/

https://sonicfarm.com/pro-audio/berliner/

Also intended to use for a kind of dreamy spherical vocals and spoken word ...

What do you think ?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #2
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brhoward's Avatar
 

Have you tried D.W. Fearn?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #3
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lukedamrosch's Avatar
 

Awaiting Maestro Plush's response...
Old 2 weeks ago
  #4
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Spindrift's Avatar
 

Yes. I have had excellent experiences with the tube-based QES Labs SMP-2 made in Italy. I have yet to try the D.W. Fearn on classical duties but hope to in the coming year.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #5
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IMHO, trying to use tube based mic preamps to achieve some kind of saturation effect is generally a mistake for acoustic music production. Well-designed tube gear is meant to deliver clean gain. In order to change that, you must either overdrive the tube gain on the input side, or the output side, or both - any of which create generally undesirable distortion of the original signal. While Hudson is surely devoted to high-end tube based gear, I believe his favorite mic preamps are the sonosax units, and when he wishes to achieve something a bit “richer” or more intimate (I can’t think of a better word there...) than digital recording, I suspect he might employ a tape machine (Stellavox perhaps) rather than trying to overdrive tube-based preamp circuitry. However, I do not purport to speak for Plush, and hopefully he will join this discussion to share his experiences.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #6
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standup's Avatar
Awesome-designed tube pre is transparent. A local studio has lots of channels of DWFearn and records a lot of folk and probably classical too
Old 2 weeks ago
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ISedlacek View Post
Transparent sound and preamps are nice , but sometimes a kind of "thick" sweetness can be welcome too (like for some solo tones on nylon string guitar, gentle percussion, string instruments etc.).

I wonder - has somebody successfully used some tube preamps for recording classical and acoustic music with some advantage ? I used and tried Pendulum, Thermionic Earlybird, Lachapel etc. - but their sound was a kind of too decent ...

At present I am quite tempted by some of these: https://sonicfarm.com/pro-audio/crea...entode-preamp/

https://sonicfarm.com/pro-audio/berliner/

Also intended to use for a kind of dreamy spherical vocals and spoken word ...

What do you think ?
What do you exactly want from a tube preamp in this context? The normally very neutral Earlybird can be thick and colourful by "pushing" it: turn down the output gain and increase the amplification. If you want to go into further distortion you can even select the low input impedance. So I wonder how this cannot be enough for you.

There aren't many classical recordings of mine that do not include tube amplification. Spots in particular blend much better with a main array when recorded with a valve amp. This is caused by the slight compression effect that valves give. Spots will not cause dynamic spikes that will stick out in the mix, with that "decent" amplification. Another trick for this better blend is to use ribbons for spots.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ISedlacek View Post
Transparent sound and preamps are nice , but sometimes a kind of "thick" sweetness can be welcome too (like for some solo tones on nylon string guitar, gentle percussion, string instruments etc.).

I wonder - has somebody successfully used some tube preamps for recording classical and acoustic music with some advantage ? I used and tried Pendulum, Thermionic Earlybird, Lachapel etc. - but their sound was a kind of too decent ...

At present I am quite tempted by some of these: https://sonicfarm.com/pro-audio/crea...entode-preamp/

https://sonicfarm.com/pro-audio/berliner/

Also intended to use for a kind of dreamy spherical vocals and spoken word ...

What do you think ?
Aavalon 737 works well strings.

creamer is going to be too dirty IMO
Old 2 weeks ago
  #9
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Tube circuitry will only simulate compression when the tube(s) are overdriven, which, again, means that you are altering the original signal and adding distortion. When I worked at Deep South in the early 70s, our console was all tube, and we were positively anal about never overdriving the channel inputs, so I guess I will never understand the supposed mystique of overdriven tubes or transformers. If you want a different sound, use a different mic or mic placement.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #10
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Some, but probably not all, tube mic amps have some sort of 'drive' or 'warm' rotary control which will introduce that overdrive or saturated sound at your chosen % of the overall output. Studer's D19 even kowtowed to the trend in the late 90's and included a small tube with a silly sounding name** for the effect ! ** 'Angel Zoom' (pic below)

Of the tube preamps that don't include such a drive control, and by design also don't tack it on the output without telling us, how do they sell their product (at typically higher than solid state prices) with any sort of differentiation from their SS brethren ?

In other words, in the absence of any kind of visible or invisible implementation of an overdrive/sat function, is a tube amp operating purely within linear, low distortion parameters (as Jim described above) going to operate (or sound) different from a similarly designed solid state amp ?

Can anyone give a real world example of such a tube amp, which doesn't try to draw attention to itself by selling those 'tube sound characteristics'....and/or giving you manual control of same.... but is simply an extremely well designed, low distortion/low noise mic preamp... which just happens to have tube architecture at its core ?

I can see a (tube mic pre) manufacturer being very fearful of bringing to market such a worthy, high spec amp...at 2x or 4x the price of a similar SS device...and then having buyer-listeners reject it by saying " it sounds identical to the SS micpre....so I'll buy the cheaper one for the same performance "

I'll venture the proposition that, faced with such cold-sweat fear and blunt market failure, most tube mic pre builders will simply crumple at the knees...and throw in that big 'warm drive' knob, for customer-expectation product differentiation !
Attached Thumbnails
Have you used tube preamps for recording acoustic and classical music ?-image.jpeg  

Last edited by studer58; 2 weeks ago at 05:50 AM..
Old 2 weeks ago
  #11
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Studer - there is quite a thriving market for extremely sophisticated tube preamps and power amps which offers no such “overdrive” facility. It is, however, marketed not at studios, but toward the high-end audiophile market for playback.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #12
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ISedlacek's Avatar
I tried DW Fearn last week, it was not exactly my cup of tea, a bit too much in your face and with some extra demanding high frequency it seemed. Here are few samples in comparison with Forssell SMP-2 (played in the friend's studio):

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/xxta83dzh...nav_tracking=1
Old 2 weeks ago
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ISedlacek View Post
I tried DW Fearn last week, it was not exactly my cup of tea, a bit too much in your face and with some extra demanding high frequency it seemed. Here are few samples in comparison with Forssell SMP-2 (played in the friend's studio):

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/xxta83dzh...nav_tracking=1
Do you happen to know if the Fearn was loaded with JJs or vintage GE 5 Stars?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #14
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I have heard good reviews about the cranborne audio Camden 500. A clean preamp with a mojo knob
Old 2 weeks ago
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jnorman View Post
Studer - there is quite a thriving market for extremely sophisticated tube preamps and power amps which offers no such “overdrive” facility. It is, however, marketed not at studios, but toward the high-end audiophile market for playback.
I know the audiophile side of the preamp market, I bought an Audio Research preamp back in the early 90's and found it be great: maybe I was taken in by the tube revival hype back then, and I'm sure now there could have been any number of solid state devices that would have done an equally good job.

The audiophile community certainly tended to avoid the 'classic tube sound' ( a warm, mushy ill-defined bass, rolled off highs, large amounts of 2nd harmonic distortion) in favour of something which retained the transient speed, tightness of bass and extended HF of solid state....with some of the sharp edges shaved off. I'm sure, as 'audiophile' as that description sounds, you can appreciate what was being sought.

Even Nagra made a venture into the hifi world with a tube preamp....highly regarded, although I never got to hear it. There's probably a niche-place in the pro mic preamp market today for exactly that type of tube mic preamp...without resort to overt warming features. The research and design work was already mostly done in those earlier times by the hi-end boutique hifi component mfrs, so it wouldn't take much work to wrangle them around to mic pre duties.

It would be great to see and hear the modern mic-preamp corollary of the ilk of that Audio Research or similar devices....or simply entice those present day mfrs now catering to the playback side to produce something for the recording side.

There is such a thing as tube sound, but it's much more easily identified when it's amplified or exaggerated to draw attention to itself, as a departure from linearity, flat EQ response, low distortion etc. The classical/acoustic/early music crowd want (vehemently require) a particular clean, transparent and detailed, revealing capture of the instruments, their dynamics and harmonics, and the space enclosing them....so fidelity to those ideals is pretty much the design spec/brief.

Last edited by studer58; 2 weeks ago at 10:13 AM..
Old 2 weeks ago
  #16
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ISedlacek's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spindrift View Post
Do you happen to know if the Fearn was loaded with JJs or vintage GE 5 Stars?
Vintage GE
Old 2 weeks ago
  #17
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ISedlacek's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
There is such a thing as tube sound, but it's much more easily identified when it's amplified or exaggerated to draw attention to itself, as a departure from linearity, flat EQ response, low distortion etc. The classical/acoustic/early music crowd want (vehemently require) a particular clean, transparent and detailed, revealing capture of the instruments, their dynamics and harmonics, and the space enclosing them....so fidelity to those ideals is pretty much the design spec/brief.
Yes, but many classical recordings sound a bit sharp, thin, small ... Especially for some solo instruments, some sweeter, bigger than life sound image could be sometimes welcome ? Not speaking of some not purely "classical" but rather "abstract" acoustic instruments ... For vocals and spoken word it is often better if they do not sound too transparent and natural but a decent enhancement is always pleasant and welcome.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ISedlacek View Post
Yes, but many classical recordings sound a bit sharp, thin, small ... Especially for some solo instruments, some sweeter, bigger than life sound image could be sometimes welcome ? Not speaking of some not purely "classical" but rather "abstract" acoustic instruments ... For vocals and spoken word it is often better if they do not sound too transparent and natural but a decent enhancement is always pleasant and welcome.
Indeed, and lots of opportunities within (even before...) the recording chain to adjust that: change instrument, trim fingernails, use a different gauge of pick, new strings, change mics (SD, LD, ribbon ) distance and angle of mics, room/space treatments, use cables with different capacitance characteristics, different mic preamps, selectable mic loading in some preamps, plus more.

Then you have post-recording production options .....although it's infinitely better to fix the problem at source, using measures above. A valve/tube mic preamp is one of your variables...but not the only one.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #19
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ISedlacek's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
Indeed, and lots of opportunities within (even before...) the recording chain to adjust that: change instrument, trim fingernails, use a different gauge of pick, new strings, change mics (SD, LD, ribbon ) distance and angle of mics, room/space treatments, use cables with different capacitance characteristics, different mic preamps, selectable mic loading in some preamps, plus more.
Yes ... and by that you will spend 95% time of trying, comparing, not being able to decide etc. and 5% of actual music creation

I know this symptom Sometimes maybe better to have only one option and just to play and record
Old 2 weeks ago
  #20
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When you say you want to make recordings which don't sound thin, sharp, small....are sure that the instruments you are recording don't sound that way in the room, just to your ears before recording?

If they don't sound that way to your ear...that they are rich, warm, full of harmonic diversity etc, then something about the room or recording chain is subverting their natural sound in an undesirable direction....and you need to find what's causing that within the chain.

If the instruments do in fact sound naturally thin, sharp, narrow, pinched...then you are looking to the recording chain to make a transformation from unsatisfactory at source to something magical. That is a much bigger, and probably unfair and unreasonable task for the recording chain and hardware to achieve.

Let's assume you're honest and truthful...that your instruments innately have a beauty, complexity and depth/richness to their native sound. Then you are wanting the recording chain to simply intensify these qualities....which is probably what a tube preamp with a 'warming' control' knob should be able to achieve for you.

If the source, native sound is flawed, fix that first before expecting the recording gear to do this
Old 2 weeks ago
  #21
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I've been through a lot of tube mic pres and I do love them.

Currently I'm using some Gyraf Audio Gyratec IX 2 channel tube mic amps. Also using Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard mixer (Limited Edition Green unit), and Tube-Tech MP2A, Tube-Tech PM1A.

All other tube mic pres have been sold off here. The reason is purely to do with lugging big heavy equipment out to recording locations. I now have a fetish with miniaturization instead.

I am using a lot of tube mics here, however.

I have owned:
Tube-Tech MP2A--Member of the Royal family, refined beautiful tone, tubey
Tube-Tech 2 units PM1-A in Tube Tech RM-2 rack--Duke of Earl, member, Royal Family. MAJOR tone, tubey
Gyraf Audio G IX-Boutique of the boutique. Admirable sound with refined character. Princely.
Various DW Fearn VT1 units--very clean, sparkle-y tube character
Thermionic Culture Early Bird 1.2--super clean, high tube character
EAR 824--super clean, neutral, highest headroom--the best
Edwards Audio LE-10--super headroom with appealing tube character
Manley 2 channel--thick tube sound with high noise level
Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard--premier tube mixer. Can have a heavy tube modus sound. Super high headroom. Recommemded

All were used for orchestra recording (CSO, MSO, St. Louis, Lyric Opera, etc.)

All of the above are clean sounding tube units. I don't overdrive them. The best vacuum tube preamps are never made to be overdriven. Tube sound can be some of the cleanest and most accurate sound that there is. The best tube mic amps are made to never be overdriven.

Tube mic pres are offering a highly desirable sound. Tube circuitry is faster than solid state but at the same time rounds off transient edges in an appealing way.

Headroom is huge with the EAR 824 offering the highest headroom of ANY mic amp. This is due to the circuit design and the huge transformers used by Tim de Paravicini.

Headroom also HUGE with Gyraf preamp.

Pop studio love to overdrive and abuse the mic amp. This can add grunge and character but that is the province of pop recording, not classical.

Some units have a heavier tube modus. Coil Audio 70 comes to mind when one wants a thick and syrupy tube sound.

I have always had a foot in both camps--clean tube and super clean solid state.


For my work these days I now use only:

SONOSAX SX-R4+ and SONOSAX SX-AD8+--the best in the world--16 channel recorder
SONOSAX M2D2 miniature mic amp / ad/da converter
SONOSAX SX-ES64 mixer

Pueblo 60 volt
John Hardy M-1 and Hardy Jensen Twin Servo "Sony Classical" edition (multiple units)
GML (multiple units)
D.A.V. electronics (multiple units)
Gyraf Audio G9 tube mic amp
Green Fat Bustard
Rens Heijnis Custom Built 60 volt (multiple units)
RME Micstasy
Tube-Tech MP2A
Tube-Tech PM1A (multiple units)

Now primarily transformerless set ups. More 3D sound with these designs.

Last edited by Plush; 2 weeks ago at 06:53 PM..
Old 2 weeks ago
  #22
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Thanks Plush for your considerable listing and qualitative appreciations of these mic-amps you've owned and become familiar with.

Do you believe that these tube designs are able to satisfy more of the classical recording person's essential criteria checklist items, largely because they have the benefit of a much longer evolution lineage and development period than the solid state equivalents...though you've hinted you have favourites on both sides of that fence ?

In other words, have tube amps been at the top of their game for much longer than solid state, and are thus a more fully matured device in general ?

I never get the feeling that significant tube preamp mfrs have ever torn up the rule book and started from scratch....rather that the best modern stuff rests upon (and builds upon) the shoulders of esteemed giants of a previous era, where accuracy and fidelity to the source was always a paramount design goal ?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #23
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In general, tube preamps are quieter today than they have ever been. It is good to copy earlier designs where the early designs were cost no object units. The best thinking in tubes comes from Tim de Paravicini. His mic amp is $12,500.

Purists who want to run transformerless do have that option on some tube mic amps such as Peach Audio.

I find that the tube preamps can offer a bigger than life sound and I DO find that enjoyable for big orchestral pick ups. 4 mics across the front of the stage powered by tube preamps can offer a very involving and lush sound.

Also excellent on singers.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
Thanks Plush for your considerable listing and qualitative appreciations of these mic-amps you've owned and become familiar with.
this! . . .but in bold text, and with an exclamation mark!
Old 2 weeks ago
  #25
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Also, don't underestimate the care, skill, mojo mystique and sheer dogged trial and error that went into transformer winding.

These remained some of the most closely guarded trade secrets during the first 'Golden Age of Tubes' in the 50's and 60's.

In many cases this winding process was (reputedly) entrusted to a solitary female employee, of advancing age...with fanatical attention to detail, unwavering loyalty and possessing infinite patience, who became that company's singular secret weapon ! They typically remained in the employ of their company for the term of their natural life....though probably not locked in the factory's basement for the duration thereof !

Last edited by studer58; 2 weeks ago at 12:16 AM..
Old 2 weeks ago
  #26
Hudson, thanks for this post. Super informative!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
I've been through a lot of tube mic pres and I do love them.

Currently I'm using some Gyraf Audio Gyratec IX 2 channel tube mic amps. Also using Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard mixer (Limited Edition Green unit), and Tube-Tech MP2A, Tube-Tech PM1A.

All other tube mic pres have been sold off here. The reason is purely to do with lugging big heavy equipment out to recording locations. I now have a fetish with miniaturization instead.

I am using a lot of tube mics here, however.

I have owned:
Tube-Tech MP2A--Member of the Royal family, refined beautiful tone, tubey
Tube-Tech 2 units PM1-A in Tube Tech RM-2 rack--Duke of Earl, member, Royal Family. MAJOR tone, tubey
Gyraf Audio G IX-Boutique of the boutique. Admirable sound with refined character. Princely.
Various DW Fearn VT1 units--very clean, sparkle-y tube character
Thermionic Culture Early Bird 1.2--super clean, high tube character
EAR 824--super clean, neutral, highest headroom--the best
Edwards Audio LE-10--super headroom with appealing tube character
Manley 2 channel--thick tube sound with high noise level
Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard--premier tube mixer. Can have a heavy tube modus sound. Super high headroom. Recommemded

All were used for orchestra recording (CSO, MSO, St. Louis, Lyric Opera, etc.)

All of the above are clean sounding tube units. I don't overdrive them. The best vacuum tube preamps are never made to be overdriven. Tube sound can be some of the cleanest and most accurate sound that there is. The best tube mic amps are made to never be overdriven.

Tube mic pres are offering a highly desirable sound. Tube circuitry is faster than solid state but at the same time rounds off transient edges in an appealing way.

Headroom is huge with the EAR 824 offering the highest headroom of ANY mic amp. This is due to the circuit design and the huge transformers used by Tim de Paravicini.

Headroom also HUGE with Gyraf preamp.

Pop studio love to overdrive and abuse the mic amp. This can add grunge and character but that is the province of pop recording, not classical.

Some units have a heavier tube modus. Coil Audio 70 comes to mind when one wants a thick and syrupy tube sound.

I have always had a foot in both camps--clean tube and super clean solid state.


For my work these days I now use only:

SONOSAX SX-R4+ and SONOSAX SX-AD8+--the best in the world--16 channel recorder
SONOSAX M2D2 miniature mic amp / ad/da converter
SONOSAX SX-ES64 mixer

Pueblo 60 volt
John Hardy M-1 and Hardy Jensen Twin Servo "Sony Classical" edition (multiple units)
GML (multiple units)
D.A.V. electronics (multiple units)
Gyraf Audio G9 tube mic amp
Green Fat Bustard
Rens Heijnis Custom Built 60 volt (multiple units)
RME Micstasy
Tube-Tech MP2A
Tube-Tech PM1A (multiple units)

Now primarily transformerless set ups. More 3D sound with these designs.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #27
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i'm sometimes using valve pres for classical music, occasionally on string instruments but mostly on singers - and specifically for tango, when destinctive colouration and even some amount of distortion is highly desirable to evoke the aura of recordings from the old days.

millennia stt-1, occasionally more 'coloured' pres such as drawmer 1960 or summit tpa-200b.

electronic instruments often go through a radial firefly or again the summit pre (or td-100 di) - sometimes however (heresy alert!) i'm using digital emulations...
Old 2 weeks ago
  #28
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Recorded with a pair of EAR 824 pres small groups (quartet, double quartet+bass, etc) and soloist (string, brass, wind, and acoustic guitar) -- no big full orchestral dates. They were great and transparent. They were owned by the studio and the only tube mic pres kept around (later a Tube Tech MP1A was added.) The 824s were expensive back then (not crazy levels yet) but the price on the EAR stuff has continued to skyrocket since then. Now they are at the "crazy" level.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #29
I use 4 channels of Tube Tech MP1As frequently recording strings. So far with good results with instruments that take some saturation well.

But, I probably would rather use some John Hardy or Forssell.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #30
I have always enjoyed the use of tube mic preamps. The newer ones are incredible. In my youth I did a lot of recordings using Ampex, Concertone, and Crown tape decks with tube preamps. Those still are some of my favorite recordings. I also did a lot of recordings using a Lang modified pair of Altec 1567A's with an Ampex 350/351 Tape deck. If I had the money and the client base that could appreciate the use of higher end tube preamps I would purchase some in a heartbeat. Long live tubes!!!
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