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Good Preamp Into Inexpensive Interface
Old 4 weeks ago
  #1
Gear Head
 

Good Preamp Into Inexpensive Interface

So lately I've been using the preamps on my interface out of laziness , and I sort of have been thinking they are just fine and any difference between those and the more expensive ones I have are minimal or non-existent.

So I was just reading threads about whether preamps really matter these days, and came upon someone saying this:

Most interfaces built today have op amps which are chosen because they are ideal for the rest of the circuit for the class range they target. Even if you do plug a higher end preamp into the interface its still going to pass through the line level op amps on the way in and the op amps of that device on the way out so the external preamp is going to be bottlenecked by that interface line level preamp no matter what you do.

If that's true, perhaps that's why I'm not hearing the greatness of my better preamps!

True?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #2
Gear Head
 

What preamp are you using? And what interface?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #3
Quote:
Even if you do plug a higher end preamp into the interface its still going to pass through the line level op amps on the way in and the op amps of that device on the way out so the external preamp is going to be bottlenecked by that interface line level preamp no matter what you do.
This is true for everything in life. Your weakest link is your weakest link
Quote:
If that's true, perhaps that's why I'm not hearing the greatness of my better preamps!
Greatness doesn't come form a pre-amp. It comes form you. I can can great sounding vocals using a $200 sound card and its pre-amps
Old 4 weeks ago
  #4
Lives for gear
 

no way around any bottleneck and/or the weakest link...

however, i recall a situation when a setup with a very nice preamp in front of an ordinary interface/preamp/ad-converter did make a very noticeably difference:

a friend of mine wanted to record guitars in his rehearsal space for later cd-release so i lent him some neuheisers and schoeps mics and another friend his focusrite 4-channel mic pre (from the original red series), signals then going into a yamaha aw-4416.

while the aw-4416 on its own was quite ok/good, the focusrite brought out things which anyone (including folks not knowing anything about recording technique/gear involved) noticed and much preferred over results of the more simple signal path...
Old 4 weeks ago
  #5
Quote:
Originally Posted by JL1000 View Post
So lately I've been using the preamps on my interface out of laziness , and I sort of have been thinking they are just fine and any difference between those and the more expensive ones I have are minimal or non-existent.

So I was just reading threads about whether preamps really matter these days, and came upon someone saying this:

Most interfaces built today have op amps which are chosen because they are ideal for the rest of the circuit for the class range they target. Even if you do plug a higher end preamp into the interface its still going to pass through the line level op amps on the way in and the op amps of that device on the way out so the external preamp is going to be bottlenecked by that interface line level preamp no matter what you do.

If that's true, perhaps that's why I'm not hearing the greatness of my better preamps!

True?
Not necessarily true at all. The bold quotes is an assumption that the interface isn't capable of transparently passing signal to its A/D, which most cheap interfaces are capable of doing a great job of, IME. As an example, I posted a scientific significant-based shootout between a relatively high end converter and a Steinberg MR816X interface a few years ago, running the signal through the Steinberg preamps. Nobody was able to reliably tell the difference (90+ confidence level). Perhaps other cheap interfaces aren't as transparent, however. I can't know for sure, as I haven't tested them. I will say that I would happily run my high end preamps through the Steinberg without worrying about it, but I have since upgraded to the RME UFX and XTC. I also own two higher end A/D converters, but I do not really have a preference these days. Modern interfaces and A/Ds are the least of my worries. The performance, room, mic, and mic positioning is a million times more important in my world.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #6
Gear Nut
 
Clive Banks's Avatar
 

Not completely true.

Not all the nuances of a great preamp lie outside of 20hz-20khz and 96-120db of dynamic range ,
which is what even the cheapest of interfaces do these days.

Bottleneck is also an extreme word.
The analogy would be more like a over-sized man trying to get through a narrow doorway... which he does in the end but he might lose a little skin.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #7
Gear Guru
 
monkeyxx's Avatar
I don't think that quote was written by a super technical person, so to read it on a level where it's now being closely analysed, I don't think it really holds up.

A huge percentage of stuff in a studio passes "through an op amp." What do you think is in there? Swiss cheese? A little gnome man running around plugging things in and out? Magic farie dusted gold nuggets?

Use good preamps, use a good interface. It's pretty simple.

The better interfaces, and even a lot of the affordable ones, have perfectly fine line inputs. The original quote is way too generalized.

Interfaces are designed by teams of professional engineers that know how this stuff works on a very technical and specific level. If there's a brand name with a good reputation from users and good products you can trust them.

Sure, using a crap interface is going to muck up your tracks. Buy something you feel good about and can trust.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #8
Lives for gear
 
12ax7's Avatar
 

The problem with a lot of those cheap boxes is that when taking in a (so-called) "line-level input", what is actually happening is that the line-level signal is first padded down to mic level, and then run into the mic pre-amp.

...In other words, no matter what "input" or "level" you choose, what's going in to the damn thing goes through the mic pre-amp anyway!

This is (of course) a ridiculously foolish thing to do (from the standpoint of proper gain-staging), and should really be considered a design flaw.

...However, this scheme is often intentionally implemented in a lotta these cheap boxes because its cheaper to do this (for several reasons) than it is to "do it right".
.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #9
Gear Guru
 
monkeyxx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by 12ax7 View Post
The problem with a lot of those cheap boxes is that when taking in a (so-called) "line-level input", what is actually happening is that the line-level signal is first padded down to mic level, and then run into the mic pre-amp.

...In other words, no matter what "input" or "level" you choose, what's going in to the damn thing goes through the mic pre-amp anyway!

This is (of course) a ridiculously foolish thing to do (from the standpoint of proper gain-staging), and should really be considered a design flaw.

...However, this scheme is often intentionally implemented in a lotta these cheap boxes because its cheaper to do this (for several reasons) than it is to "do it right".
.
Yes that is true. However you have to judge on a case by case basis. To simply generalize something like "cheap interfaces" and then say "every one of them" and then say "runs through the mic preamp" I don't think that's going to hold up when you start looking at products individually.

It's funny that the MR816X got mentioned. I thought my UR824 (same design but USB) had an incredibly colored line input. Presumably from running through the Yamaha D-Pre which is pretty colored, for an interface preamp.

But people couldn't pick that out blind? I find that kind of surprising.

Almost every other interface I've used besides the UR824 I've had 0 problems using the line inputs. I think this concept has become something of a gearslutz-phobia.

I've heard more coloration coming from a cheap 500 series lunchbox power supply, than in most line inputs, for example. There are other factors that can affect mic preamp performance.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #10
Gear Guru
I do find a lot of people ragging on or feeling perfectly fine gear is inadequate. I am all for top shelf gear and using the best. However at the end of the day personally I make demos and music that will be used in broadcast. I hire people who have great gear and ears to match. The gear I have is light years to what I had growing up and honestly prosumer these days is as good as mid level studios back in the day. Plenty of great music was made with a lot less.

Obviously a lot of little things add up. You gotta be on the level that you can actually hear it and it bothers you, to start spending the kind of money it takes to chase that 10% that pros make their living delivering. These days you can get a great mic, converter and preamp for less than $2K (or $1K in a pinch). That's amazing.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #11
Gear Head
 
IGotWorms's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by monkeyxx View Post
A huge percentage of stuff in a studio passes "through an op amp." What do you think is in there? Swiss cheese? A little gnome man running around plugging things in and out? Magic farie dusted gold nuggets?
.

I'd like to hear more about this gnome man, does he maintain a garden? Does he have a little round elf gnome cottage for the quiet nights? Why does he only make swiss cheese?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #12
Quote:
Originally Posted by monkeyxx View Post
Yes that is true. However you have to judge on a case by case basis. To simply generalize something like "cheap interfaces" and then say "every one of them" and then say "runs through the mic preamp" I don't think that's going to hold up when you start looking at products individually.

It's funny that the MR816X got mentioned. I thought my UR824 (same design but USB) had an incredibly colored line input. Presumably from running through the Yamaha D-Pre which is pretty colored, for an interface preamp.

But people couldn't pick that out blind? I find that kind of surprising.

Almost every other interface I've used besides the UR824 I've had 0 problems using the line inputs. I think this concept has become something of a gearslutz-phobia.

I've heard more coloration coming from a cheap 500 series lunchbox power supply, than in most line inputs, for example. There are other factors that can affect mic preamp performance.
Not when the mic input is padded and the gain is set to minimum (on the MR816X). Very transparent.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #13
Gear Guru
 
monkeyxx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by IGotWorms View Post
I'd like to hear more about this gnome man, does he maintain a garden? Does he have a little round elf gnome cottage for the quiet nights? Why does he only make swiss cheese?
The Gnome man is named Grisnach. He works very hard to make Swiss Cheese for his wife Trindel who is a gnome from Switzerland. Unfortunately his cheese makes for reasonably good audio so audio designers are always using it and this keeps him very busy. He is hoping to retire to a cottage in the Alps when he is old enough and has made enough cheese to please the EE's. He keeps a garden of pear trees to feed his children who are very hungry. He uses a special set of hooks and belts to get up in them trees.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #14
Gear Guru
 
monkeyxx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aural Endeavors View Post
Not when the mic input is padded and the gain is set to minimum (on the MR816X). Very transparent.
All I remember is I thought it was a very good sound at the time.

I guess it was a stark difference from the Audiofire 12 I had been using for years.

I have toyed with the idea of picking up a used MR816 for fun, since they are about 200 bucks on the used market. But I have no real reason to do so.

Sort of like being nostalgic about an old car or something.

I think the UR824 is still being made and sold.

You could certainly make something good with one of those.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #15
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by IGotWorms View Post
I'd like to hear more about this gnome man, does he maintain a garden? Does he have a little round elf gnome cottage for the quiet nights? Why does he only make swiss cheese?
To gnome is to love him.
Chris
Old 4 weeks ago
  #16
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by chessparov2.0 View Post
To gnome is to love him.
Chris
I should have gnome it was you as soon as I read it.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #17
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sdelsolray's Avatar
 

Without getting too technical, there are two different kinds of "line level inputs" in interfaces. The first is a simple input jack with no level control. Any inputed signal is routed as directed, usually to AD converters or analog outputs. The second has a level control and is usually just a padded mic input preamp circuit.

The first kind usually has little to no effect on the inputted signal. The second kind may have an effect of the signal when processed though the pad and preamp circuitry of the interface.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #18
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
no way around any bottleneck and/or the weakest link...

however, i recall a situation when a setup with a very nice preamp in front of an ordinary interface/preamp/ad-converter did make a very noticeably difference:

a friend of mine wanted to record guitars in his rehearsal space for later cd-release so i lent him some neuheisers and schoeps mics and another friend his focusrite 4-channel mic pre (from the original red series), signals then going into a yamaha aw-4416.

while the aw-4416 on its own was quite ok/good, the focusrite brought out things which anyone (including folks not knowing anything about recording technique/gear involved) noticed and much preferred over results of the more simple signal path...
IME sometimes it's all about matching the mic to the input, we all know that different impedance will change how a given mic sounds, sometimes a lot.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #19
Lives for gear
 
12ax7's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by monkeyxx View Post
[...] To simply generalize something like "cheap interfaces" and then say "every one of them" and then say "runs through the mic preamp" I don't think that's going to hold up when you start looking at products individually. [...]
Agreed!
...However, the OP doesn't mention what interface is being used...

...And I didn't say "every one of them" (I just said "a lot of 'em"), so...
.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #20
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by 12ax7 View Post
The problem with a lot of those cheap boxes is that when taking in a (so-called) "line-level input", what is actually happening is that the line-level signal is first padded down to mic level, and then run into the mic pre-amp.

...In other words, no matter what "input" or "level" you choose, what's going in to the damn thing goes through the mic pre-amp anyway!

This is (of course) a ridiculously foolish thing to do (from the standpoint of proper gain-staging), and should really be considered a design flaw.

...However, this scheme is often intentionally implemented in a lotta these cheap boxes because its cheaper to do this (for several reasons) than it is to "do it right".
.
Interesting.

Does focusrite do this in their Saffire or Scarlett range?

Even if so, I’m safe though if I go into one of the extra line inputs in the back of my Saffire 14 that doesn’t have a mic pre, right?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #21
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by sdelsolray View Post
Without getting too technical, there are two different kinds of "line level inputs" in interfaces. The first is a simple input jack with no level control. Any inputed signal is routed as directed, usually to AD converters or analog outputs. The second has a level control and is usually just a padded mic input preamp circuit.

The first kind usually has little to no effect on the inputted signal. The second kind may have an effect of the signal when processed though the pad and preamp circuitry of the interface.
I guess this answers my question!
Old 4 weeks ago
  #22
Gear Guru
 
monkeyxx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by sdelsolray View Post
Without getting too technical, there are two different kinds of "line level inputs" in interfaces. The first is a simple input jack with no level control. Any inputed signal is routed as directed, usually to AD converters or analog outputs. The second has a level control and is usually just a padded mic input preamp circuit.

The first kind usually has little to no effect on the inputted signal. The second kind may have an effect of the signal when processed though the pad and preamp circuitry of the interface.
Just to mention a 3rd variety

The Focusrite Clarett line inputs go through the variable gain section of the input, but they are not "padded mic input preamp ciruits." This is mentioned somewhere by a tech that works at Focusrite.

They just use a part of the available circuit.

So again it's not always black and white.

Last edited by monkeyxx; 4 weeks ago at 12:03 AM..
Old 4 weeks ago
  #23
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12ax7's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mendocino beano View Post
Interesting.

Does focusrite do this in their Saffire or Scarlett range?

Even if so, I’m safe though if I go into one of the extra line inputs in the back of my Saffire 14 that doesn’t have a mic pre, right?
I have used neither the 'Saffire' nor the 'Scarlet' units, so I really don't know the topology employed in either of them...

...However, I have every confidence that if you send a line-level signal into an interface that has no mic pre-amp, then your signal most assuredly is NOT going to go through a mic pre-amp!
.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #24
Gear Head
 

Old 4 weeks ago
  #25
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mendocino beano View Post
What preamp are you using? And what interface?
Various preamps...API, 610....

The interface is a Mackie 400f with Onyx preamps, which is now pretty old, errrr, vintage.

I looked at the schematic of the 400f and the line ins go straight to the converters....

but I was wondering, based on that statement I quoted, if an apparently "cheap" line in would have as much of a negative impact as implied.

As of now, I feel there is virtually no advantage of the better preamps over the ONYX ones. I don't think anyone could hear any sort of difference at all.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #26
Gear Guru
 
monkeyxx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by JL1000 View Post
Various preamps...API, 610....

The interface is a Mackie 400f with Onyx preamps, which is now pretty old, errrr, vintage.

I looked at the schematic of the 400f and the line ins go straight to the converters....

but I was wondering, based on that statement I quoted, if an apparently "cheap" line in would have as much of a negative impact as implied.

As of now, I feel there is virtually no advantage of the better preamps over the ONYX ones. I don't think anyone could hear any sort of difference at all.
I personally like the Mackie Onyx preamps for some things. Like especially, synthesizers and stuff like that.

I do think they sound quite a bit different to an API or UA 610.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #27
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by monkeyxx View Post

I do think they sound quite a bit different to an API or UA 610.
Really?

I used to think there was a difference....

but when I do comparisons, it seems there is really no difference, and perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me.

What differences do you hear?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #28
Gear Guru
 
monkeyxx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by JL1000 View Post
Really?

I used to think there was a difference....

but when I do comparisons, it seems there is really no difference, and perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me.

What differences do you hear?
The API preamp is a chameleon. Because of the 2520 op amp spot, you can make it sound a bunch of different ways. Currently one of mine is "stock" and the other one is more "Quad Eight" which I prefer for vocals. The stock CAPI/API build is more punchy in the mids, that's the classic "API Sound"

The 610 is slightly dark and soft sounding but it's pretty flattering, good bass.

Not sure how I would describe the Onyx since I never used it outside of a whole VLZ4 mixer. The sound is slightly dark and kind of pumped up in the mids, a little slow sounding transient response. Really good for a Moog or DX7 bassline. Kind of regret selling my 1202s.

You need a good monitoring environment to "zoom in" on little differences like these. As well as spending time getting to know them on different sources.
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