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mid priced (or less!) tube gear
Old 21st July 2002
  #1
Lives for gear
 
hollywood_steve's Avatar
 

mid priced (or less!) tube gear

I got involved in the tube preamp thread over on the Hi-End forum and realized that my off topic rambling really belongs over here, where we discuss gear on a budget

The marketing of "tube" gear that consists of a chip-based circuit and a single 12ax7 behind a "viewing window" shows no sign of slowing down. "Tube" sound cards are only the most recent example of "they'll buy anything if we market it correctly."

This is directed at anyone who can't afford a Manley or DW Fearn or other top quality tube product, but still wants to buy into that "fat, warm" world of tube audio. When you look at the current Sweetwater catalog, there are countless products offering all the "fat & warmth" of tubes from equipment that probably runs fine even if you pull the tube out of its base and toss it aside.

I'm suggesting that anyone considering any of these products might also want to consider older tube equipment. The top line products from the 50's/60's are priced far beyond even the high end new products from the top manufacturers. But there was a ton of good solid "broadcast" quality gear built back then and much of it ist still running fine today, 40 years later.

The products are usually so incredibly straightforward in their design that almost anyone can learn the basics of maintenance necessary to insure that they continue to operate for another 40 years, or more. But if you want some expert help to initially refurb the unit, these products just don't have enough going on inside for service to cost too much. As long as you haven't killed a transformer, service/repair costs are usually minimal. This allows you to purchase and restore a real tube preamp (compressor, whatever...) for around the same price as those $500 models with the little windows that litter the racks at Guitar Center.

From an economics viewpoint, its not much of a comparison; a 40 year old tube product in good, well maintained condition should not lose ANY value. On the other hand, there probaby ain't much demand for used gear with a little viewing window.

And this isn't a case of "Old is Good, New Sucks"). I would love to purchase two of everything made by Manely, Pendulum, DW Fearn, Requixite Audio, Mercury, Inward Connections, etc. But if you can't afford a new DW Fearn preamp but you are gonna buy something with the $500 in your pocket, you might be happier with an old Altec 1566a than you would be with the newest make believe tube preamp.

OK, I'm done.


steve
Old 21st July 2002
  #2
Lives for gear
 
Fleaman's Avatar
 

Don't forget that one of the benefits of newer high end toob gear of today is the much lower noise floor than the toob gear of past
(this applies to the non-toob stuff also).

Kinda get your cake and eat it too (rich noiseless soundheh )

Although it is gonna cost ya (with some exceptions)

Fleaman
Old 22nd July 2002
  #3
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

The upcoming Summit tube pre for around $600 looks interesting.
(forgot what the model # is)

Chris
Old 22nd July 2002
  #4
Gear Head
 

fought down my wariness of ART gear and bought an ART Dio tube preamp. mainly because of its digital outputs, "di" functionality and the price point. am quite happy with it. compared it to a focusrite platinum voicemaster's preamp and (for the heck of it) my behringer mixer's preamp. same singer, same mic, same song is the best i could do. the behringer, as expected, stood no chance, "papery" is the word that comes to mind, thin and sucked out. i could'nt decide if i liked the focusrite or the art though, the art did'nt have as much high frequency content as the focusrite, i guess you could call it "warmer", but perhaps somewhat less detailed than the focusrite. i did'nt mind it though, quite liked the sound. usually am not comfortable with the focusrite's highs. the "tube voicings" on the ART which offer subtle changes in the chatracter of the sound, the Output Protection Limiter and the inserts are useful enough. bonus

i guess i'd recommend it as being a great buy for the money, as an additional colour in your cabinet or your main preamp if $280 is all you've got. get rid of that behringer, BTW.

i'm quite aware that there are a number of the users of this forum are way more experienced at this kind of thing than i am, i have no experience with really high end gear. i'd honestly like to hear one of them say that it is all bullshit (the art dio and not a generic "models with the little windows that litter the racks at Guitar Center"). i'm sure it does'nt stand a chance against the manleys of the world, all i can say is that it sure sounds better than an o2r's preamp and costs too little to mind.

jsiyer
Old 22nd July 2002
  #5
Lives for gear
 
sonic dogg's Avatar
when i was searching gear to bring my studio to a bit of an upgrade, i looked closely at pre's of every caliber and price range...one common thread i found...a $5k pre through a crappy sounding mixer or through a poorly designed converter is a waste of money...theres many reviews and publications touting this or that gear but it seems i remember there being an old adage stating that 'it will only sound as good as the weakest link in the chain'....so on that basic concept i bought the best sounding console i could fit into the budget and then bought 'appropriate' outboard gear to compliment it...for thr price of two channels of fearn or manley i got 32 channels of soundcraft ghost...not saying that a channel of it is even in the same ballpark as the afore mentioned pieces but i did get a lot of very usable musical sounding channels....this allowed me to try and find some bargains in rack gear and i feel i have...i did get a couple of ART pieces...pro MPA and pro VLA...they actually do sound decent if used within their limited parameters...most of the 'cheep' tube pres just dont have the gain and the ability to be driven like the the high-end stuff...so using them takes a bit of knowledge as to their limitations....but then ive got less than $400 tied up in the pair and a bargains an bargain.........
Old 23rd July 2002
  #6
One with big hooves
 
Jay Kahrs's Avatar
I dunno. When I first started working as an engineer at a commercial studio I cut some decent (but not amazing) sounding things with the stock converters on a Panasonic 3700. Granted, it was all top-notch gear but the converters weren't holding me back. That was very apparent when I left and started freelancing on Mackie's and Adats. Even though the quality of A/D converters stayed the same the overall quality went down. The room, mics and preamps have way more to do with the final product then an A/D converter. Sorry but it's true.

I really can't recommend any of the starved plate stuff like ART, dbx Silver (which even has a yellow LED in the center of the tube socket!!!!tut ) or even the Bellari stuff though the latter isn't all that bad especially if you want to drop a little time and money into upgrading some of the parts. For the $300 that you spent on a muddy sounding effect preamp you could double that and get a single channel of Grace, Summit, or this Old School Audio API-alike that I've had here for a while. For older stuff, you could find Telefunken, Altec, Gates etc. and still have a better sounding preamp that you won't want to use just as a paperweight in 2 or 3 years.

Real tube circuits can sound very clean and sweet. Perfect for many things including mostly transparent audio. Badly designed or starved plate tube circuits (aka toob gear) will cloud your high end and add piles of ugly low mids to the sound.
Old 23rd July 2002
  #7
Lives for gear
 
hollywood_steve's Avatar
 

> mid priced (or less!) tube gear

I dunno. When I first started working as an engineer at a commercial studio I cut some decent (but not amazing) sounding things with the stock converters on a Panasonic 3700. Granted, it was all top-notch gear but the converters weren't holding me back. That was very apparent when I left and started freelancing on Mackie's and Adats. Even though the quality of A/D converters stayed the same the overall quality went down. The room, mics and preamps have way more to do with the final product then an A/D converter. Sorry but it's true.
******************************************

What he said!!! Jay, I couldn't agree more, but no one believes me. Although I would like to pick up an outboard set of A/D converters for my sv3800, I have been using it for two years as my "live to 2 track" recorder with great results. When your signal chain consists of a pair of neumann KM184s, a Vintech 1272 or Siemens V78 preamps and then straight to tape (sv3800), you can make some very nice recordings. A very simple straightforward signal path can sound a lot nicer than a complex route through a dozen inexpensive boxes, even if they are the latest technology.

How long before we see the first "Vintage" panasonic dat on Ebay?

steve
Old 23rd July 2002
  #8
Here for the gear
 

i fell for all the great reviews of the mpa. i got it home and used it for a few weeks then took it back. too muddy, cloudy and full of im distortion. i got an ok di bass sound though. i recently found a peavey vmp2 used for $550. this sucker sounds pretty good. i think new they are around a grand. just getting into though but it's pretty good so far. it's heavy, maybe 25 lbs. lots of iron. anyone else use one of these, like to know what you think.
Old 23rd July 2002
  #9
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

My Aphex 107 "toobessence" dual mic pre does quite well with a
Sennheiser 421 MKII for my vocals-so well it probably won't get sold now!

Has anyone ever met a "starved plate" pre they liked?

Chris
Old 23rd July 2002
  #10
Here for the gear
 

oh by the way that was my first post. this forum is great
Old 23rd July 2002
  #11
Gear Addict
 
Markus Stock's Avatar
 

This thread fits quite nice to my latest second hand buy. I bought an SPL Charisma 8 channel Tube Limiter at ebay for 500$. Guys, this thing rocks. You can either use it for adding subtle overtons (works great on POD or Sans AMP Guitars, Vocals, Acoustics) or for some heavy tube saturation, which comes very close to tape sound, really. This thing adds a nice colour to everything you put it through - increased transparency and 3D sound. Everything seems just more real sounding....I have read comments people compare it to an analogue, "cheapo FATSO" - I strongly recommend you check this out.
Otherwise all of this "toob gear" sucks ass, I think. I've got one of those Behringer Pre's - it's godawful. Scooped out midrange, harsh high end and no bottom at all. Everything you put through just sounds bad. On the other hand I have that Bellari Tube Compressor. While it's not really usable in a normal kind of way (transparent, stylish compression) it's nice to squash things to death. I use it on room mics for adding compression and distortion alot....
Old 23rd July 2002
  #12
I dunno I think the TLA 5051 (Radius 40) is a good n cheap item.
Old 23rd July 2002
  #13
One with big hooves
 
Jay Kahrs's Avatar
I have a VMP-2 that I like a lot. I paid $600 used and the best new price I found was $750 IIRC maybe $800, it was a while ago. While I wouldn't want to use it for everything there are somethings that I really like it on. Vocals with a TLM-103 because it takes the edge away, guitars, bass, I've even used it for overheads going to digital. I've tried it on kick, snare and other percussion and it's not fast enough, feels like I'm trying to send the audio through a sponge. But, I like it on floor tom with a 414 or other LDC.
Old 23rd July 2002
  #14
Here for the gear
 

thanks. i'm running the same vocal chain, tlm-103 to the vmp-2. this is my home project studio guys, not work! let me emphasize "project studio". i haven't done a vocal with it yet but it seems like it might be pretty good. guitar through a '57 sounded good, recorded a trumpet didn't like it so much, much better through my grace 101. using it as a di on bass worked well. smooth not "tubby" i'm thinking it might be nice on cymbal overheads. i generally send overheads to my 1" 8 track and then dump it into the computer from there. gonna try a mandolin today, i'm expecting it not to fare to well. i generally like something "fast" and "clear" on this instrument unless i'm going for that old time bluegrass sound. can't wait to try vocals, think it's going to be good.
Old 24th July 2002
  #15
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

My understanding is that with the forthcoming Summit pre you can
vary the load impedance ala Vipre. (No I don't work for them!)
Sounds like a pretty cool idea...

Chris

P.S. By the underwhelming response, I guess NONE of you have
heard any "starved plate" designs that you liked.
Old 24th July 2002
  #16
One with big hooves
 
Jay Kahrs's Avatar
Not really. Though I wouldn't mind owning an ART Pro VLA if I found one cheap enough. A few years ago I had the Dual or whatever the single space thing was called and it was cool on somethings. It had a low and high ratio and the high ratio always sucked and was unusable but the low was cool for some things. I sold it to a friend for $150 and I kind of wish I still had it at times. Usually when I get around to those final things in a mix like a guitar solo and I need one more light compressor.

The VMP-2 is great for vocals. A few times I've set it up with a Blue Baby Bottle (sometimes), TLM103 and even an SM57 and it usually sounds pretty good. Thicker and darker mics like the 414B/ULS and the AT4047 don't sound as good. Maybe if someone has a really thin voice that needs to be thicker but that's about the only time I'll pair those up. One of my default chains for vocals is the 103 > VMP > 1176. Usually sounds pretty good if I'm working fast and don't have time to experiment with different mics. If that chain doesn't work somethings kinda wrong and needs to be very different or the "singer" just plain sucks.
Old 24th July 2002
  #17
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

Funny how my (very limited) experience with the newer 414's makes me
think they're brighter than a '57.

Alan Hyatt, the owner of Studio Projects,whom I respect very much, has
just started shipping his new mic pre out to dealers, the VTB-1.
It has a street price of about $180 and is supposed to have an adjustable
"tube blend" concept. The website is www.studioprojectsusa.com if you
want to take a look.

Chris
Old 24th July 2002
  #18
Lives for gear
 
sonic dogg's Avatar
As i posted earlier i wound up with both an ART Pro VLA and a Pro MPA...yes they are two of that 'plate starved' toob generation of gear(we really LOVE gear that lights up and has huge vu meters dont we??!!)i got em both very cheep and so far i really like the VLA...makes the old strat real nice and chunky without a whole lot of fiddlin around...the MPA...i'm not too sure of yet...since we've just been doing basic tracks as of late i've yet to 'chain' it up for a vocal...i did use it for a banjo chain...ADK51-MPA-to hard disk and it performed well...i've only got $175 in it so its got to be a bargain of sorts...if it proves to be lacking for a vocal chain then it goes onto the 'dr. of toobs' bench to be screwed with...i'm sure if it has the capabilities in its basic design then after that it will no longer be 'plate starved' in any way!! if the results from this mod are as good as the dr. can make it, i'll post the results and make it possible for you other owners of such devices to enjoy this too...by the way...the dr. has a design for a toob pre that hes wanting to build...some it goes back to the old telefunken/siemens school of design and some of it is a freekin secret...let ya'll know what becomes of this endeavour as it develops....could be a new generation of affordable pres...
Old 24th July 2002
  #19
Gear Nut
 
Diginerd's Avatar
 

Must say I love my TC Gold Channel. Not exactly a tube piece of gear, or that budget for that matter, but the DRG (Digital Radience Generator) and the onboard compressor & EQ is pretty good.

Not as nice as a Manley etc, but certainly good.

I sold my DBX386 dual Pre about 3 days after buying it. I was very disappointed. Oh well, you get what you pay for!
Old 24th July 2002
  #20
One with big hooves
 
Jay Kahrs's Avatar
The DRG can be ok at times, at least on the Finalizer. It's like any other tool, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

As far as the 414 vs. 57 thing. The 414B/ULS has a pretty pronounced low mid hump and sounds rather dark. When I think of a bright mic I'll reach for a 103, 451, 414 TL II or the older 414EB with the CK12 which is probably too bright for my tastes on most things.
Old 24th July 2002
  #21
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

One simple way to get more warmth (oops I used the "w" word!),
IMHO is to start out with a "dark" sounding microphone.
The Oktava MC-012 small diaphram condenser with the cardiod capsule,
or the Audio-Technica AT3527 small diaphram condenser work very well
for my vocals. The 3527 is a "sleeper" microphone IMO, that AT
(of course) discontinued BTW. Its' low sensitivity is good for home studio
type recording as it's an omni.

Chris
Old 27th July 2002
  #22
Here for the gear
 

anyone try that hhb radius 40? i've come across a used one for $500. may be able to talk the seller down to $450. go for about $700 new. i never have tried one and it would be quite a drive/schedule arranging for me to personally check it out. would it be worth checking out? i'm kind of leary of the "channel strip" concept, it's got 4 bands of eq and a compressor also. i'm more interested in sound quality than whiz bang gadgets. generally i track straight in sans eq and compression unless it is really needed. i.e. the "talent" is not very good or i'm doing mobile stuff. any hands on experience here?
Old 27th July 2002
  #23
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

spandau, did you see Jules' post on the first page about the Radius 40?

Jay, you had a good point about toob pre's adding low mid's.
I cut about 2db at 600Hz in a recording chain that was;
SM57 > Aphex 107 toobessence mic pre>Joe Meek VC6Q (600 Hz cut)
and it sounded MUCH better on my vocals-night and day!
Oddly enough though my 421 MKII wasn't affected as much by the Aphex.
Also it sounded better to turn the 421 one click from "M" rather than using
the Meek's EQ low cut to counter the proximity effect.

Chris
Old 27th July 2002
  #24
One with big hooves
 
Jay Kahrs's Avatar
The reason you heard more of a difference with the 57 then the 421 is due to input impedance and what the mic wants to see and what the preamp has available. That's one of the reasons that having different mic preamps to pick from is good. Yeah, sometimes the low cut on the mic is better then doing it with EQ. Most of that depends on the EQ your using, what the corner frequency is and what the slope of the cut or boost is. When it's done on the mic it's usually pretty gentle and you won't hear it.
Old 28th July 2002
  #25
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

Excellent explanation.

Thanks
Chris
Old 28th July 2002
  #26
Gear Guru
 
Drumsound's Avatar
A lot of people dog the ART toob stuff, but I kinda like it. I've got the MPA and the VLA. I especially like the VLA. You can do a fairly large amount of gain reduction and it handles it well. It's really nice on BD and SD. The mix pre can smooth out cymbal and actually handles voices nicely. As far as the HHb radius line. The studio I bought out had the 4ch mic pre, two of the 2ch comps and the 2ch EQ. I only bought the EQ. I hate the mic pre and the comp is just a big pain in the ass to get a useable sound. If you can find "the spot" it is all right. I also didn't buy the silver series DBX toob stuff because I rarely found a sound I liked out of either the preamp (harsh) or the comp (uneventful, dull).

My$.02
Old 29th July 2002
  #27
Lives for gear
 
sonic dogg's Avatar
:eek: ....Gosh...I was beginning to think I was the only one or I was crazy, thinkin the ART pro stuff was kinda okay...thanks Tony...the discussion of my own particular crazy can wait for another time ....this weekend we cut some serious vocal trax using the neuman rooskie(oktava 319) through the PRO MPA direct to the harddisk and i gotta say.....kewl!...all of the odd sounding mids were gone and the mic had a nice balanced character to it..also very controllable gain...i havent used the MPA on drums as yet...i dont usually compress till afterwards on those and try and get the sound naturally with the room and mic placement but now i'll give that a try too...i do have two aphex compellors and two aphex expressors that i use a lot.....anyone familiar with these??Anyway, this whole ART bashing thing makes me wonder just how much of these negative opinions have basis on use and how many are just taken as gospel based on whats been heard about em....dont get me wrong ...theres much much better gear out there...and i do agree with some of the opinions of certain pieces based on my experiences with them...the silver series dbx is a dissappointment...the bellari stuff sounded unusable to me...i hated the joe meek british channel....i really prefer my MPA to that one...the ART pieces (not the PRO series) have all sucked something fierce and couldnt be considered a bargain at any price...ahhh just my quarters worth...peace
Old 29th July 2002
  #28
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

sonic, I've found that a little Joe Meek compression goes a long way.
What was it specifically that you didn't like?

Using the VC6Q's compression conservatively, it seems to help thicken the
sound ala tube/toob. The RNC as a limiter helps to tame digital overshoots
in working with the Meek.
Old 30th July 2002
  #29
Here for the gear
 
Wayne Butler's Avatar
VMP-2

Quote:
Originally posted by spandau fondue
i recently found a peavey vmp2 used for $550. this sucker sounds pretty good. i think new they are around a grand. just getting into though but it's pretty good so far. it's heavy, maybe 25 lbs. lots of iron. anyone else use one of these, like to know what you think.
Same chain you and Jay are using (TLM103). Works extremely well for me on bass and guitar. It seems to handle ribbons very well and I use it with Beyer M500 and M160. Vox and sax. Percussion sounds better through a Great River or other preamp. I've had to load the front end down with the TLM103 and AKG414TLII in order to control overloading the preamp. It also provides some headroom to drive the tube if you want to.

Wayne
Old 30th July 2002
  #30
One with big hooves
 
Jay Kahrs's Avatar
Quote:
Originally posted by sonic dogg
i do have two aphex compellors and two aphex expressors that i use a lot.....anyone familiar with these??
Yup. I have a pair of solid state Aphex Expressors that I use all the time. I can't think of anything they haven't been used on at some point.
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