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Upgrade Mics or preamps
Old 10th July 2012
  #1
Gear Maniac
 

Upgrade Mics or preamps

I am just starting to attempt to get some better recordings. Currently I am just using the onboard pres on my Tascam US-1800 and am recording using lower end mics, (57, AT2020 etc). I am looking to upgrade but need to know what to purchase first. I don't have a ton of money, maybe 500 max. So would it be better spent on better mics, or a better preamp?
Old 10th July 2012
  #2
Quote:
Originally Posted by TNA View Post
I am just starting to attempt to get some better recordings. Currently I am just using the onboard pres on my Tascam US-1800 and am recording using lower end mics, (57, AT2020 etc). I am looking to upgrade but need to know what to purchase first. I don't have a ton of money, maybe 500 max. So would it be better spent on better mics, or a better preamp?
Why not both? A good LDC and a good pre both used would work out pretty well- maybe an ISA or an RNP for a pre (the RNP is 2 channel, so that could be a sweet deal), along with an ADK Hamburg, Avantone, Kel, or similar midrange mic used.

A used ISA is about $250, and most of those mics are around $300-400 new, so should come in around there used as well. It's at the top of your budget, but you'd get a solid, versatile signal path.

If you only do one, then I'd go for an upgraded pre- the SM57 and AT2020 are pretty solid (57 especially), and a good pre would be usable with all of them, and would improve all of their sounds, rather than a single new mic would not improve your other mics.
Old 10th July 2012
  #3
Lives for gear
 
Beat Poet's Avatar
 

This is a predictable response, but don't forget to keep working on your instruments and room!
Old 10th July 2012
  #4
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Beat Poet View Post
This is a predictable response, but don't forget to keep working on your instruments and room!
Instruments are well invested in, I've been a musician much longer than I have been recording. The room, well, it is what it is. Due to having space and money limitations there is only so much that can be done.
Old 10th July 2012
  #5
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by alexevans917 View Post
Why not both? A good LDC and a good pre both used would work out pretty well- maybe an ISA or an RNP for a pre (the RNP is 2 channel, so that could be a sweet deal), along with an ADK Hamburg, Avantone, Kel, or similar midrange mic used.

A used ISA is about $250, and most of those mics are around $300-400 new, so should come in around there used as well. It's at the top of your budget, but you'd get a solid, versatile signal path.

If you only do one, then I'd go for an upgraded pre- the SM57 and AT2020 are pretty solid (57 especially), and a good pre would be usable with all of them, and would improve all of their sounds, rather than a single new mic would not improve your other mics.
Thanks for the recommendations . I can't seem to find a lot of used gear, (I'm not much of an ebay guy) and craigslist has been pretty unhelpful in getting deals recently. I was leaning more towards getting a pre for the reason you stated. But I'm also a drummer primarily and only getting a single good pre isn't going to help that much for drum sound.
Old 11th July 2012
  #6
Gear Addict
 
tedpenn's Avatar
 

What the application? What are you recording?

I don't consider the 57 a "low end" mic, and in some applications it's my first choice even up against mics that are many many times the price.

For example, if you're mainly recording electric guitar, I'd steer you towards some pres. If it's vocals, I'd suggest you shoot out some various LDCs or even some ribbons. It really all depends...
Old 11th July 2012
  #7
Lives for gear
 
uncle duncan's Avatar
 

What do you struggle with in your recordings? Vocal sounds, instrument sounds? Determine your needs and then buy accordingly. I'd suggest another mic, something different from the AT2020, so if both the 2020 and the 57 suck on a source, you'll have a third option. A new preamp won't give you a third option, it will only make your first two options suck a little less.

If you're not familiar with microphone frequency response graphs, go to the KEL website and listen to their sound samples, which also include graphs for every mic. Once you get a handle on the concept, it will make it much easier for you to make sense of all the different mic choices. You can also listen to mics at the Zenpro Audio website with their "clipilator" interface.

You'd also want to go to the Studio Acoustics forum and read about DIY sound treatment. You can jerry-rig a couple of bass traps for next to nothing. You'd be amazed at the difference that could make.
Old 11th July 2012
  #8
Lives for gear
 
Cathedral Guitar's Avatar
Get great mics, as they are a lifelong investment, and they will never need upgrading, and after you get to know them you can make them work very well with almost any preamp.

Think about the guys who bought 47s 67s and 87s when they first came out. These are still in constant use to this day. Imagine having worked with them constantly for 40+ years.
Old 11th July 2012
  #9
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tedpenn View Post
What the application? What are you recording?

I don't consider the 57 a "low end" mic, and in some applications it's my first choice even up against mics that are many many times the price.

For example, if you're mainly recording electric guitar, I'd steer you towards some pres. If it's vocals, I'd suggest you shoot out some various LDCs or even some ribbons. It really all depends...
Well I am mainly recording my own band. Which is guitar, bass, drums, vocals. I play drums, so obviously I am a bit biased to getting the best sound for myself. Mics I own are, 3 57's, 2 AT2020's, a beta 52, an e609, and a pair of cheap cad small condensers. If I'm looking at mics, I think my weak area is my overheads, and possibly my toms.
Old 11th July 2012
  #10
Gear Addict
 
tedpenn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TNA View Post
Well I am mainly recording my own band. Which is guitar, bass, drums, vocals. I play drums, so obviously I am a bit biased to getting the best sound for myself. Mics I own are, 3 57's, 2 AT2020's, a beta 52, an e609, and a pair of cheap cad small condensers. If I'm looking at mics, I think my weak area is my overheads, and possibly my toms.
Great- that's all good to know.

As far as mics go, you're looking ok on drums to have the basics covered. In addition to the typical snare use, those 57's are pretty decent on toms too, with possibly the exception of your floor tom (if there is one). The low end rolls off pretty quickly with a 57, especially when not used very close, but give it a shot and see how you like it. If you did want to replace your tom mics, I'd look at some used 421's on ebay/craigslist. You could get a couple and maybe 3 of them and still stay in your budget.

My personal preference on kick is a D112 over the Beta 52, but it's certainly a fine choice. I have no personal experience with the AT2020's, but they're well reviewed, and I love just about everything else AT makes (4033, 4050, 4060). They're most likely perfectly adequate for your overheads and possibly vocals (depending on the particular voice). If you want to add 1 or 2 rooms mics to your drum setup, you could look at some inexpensive ribbons like the Cascade Fatheads. A pair of those is an absolute steal, and they sound fantastic in that role. If you'd rather spend your money elsewhere, you could still throw up those CAD SDCs for rooms and get something useable.

The e609 is a great choice on electric, or you could overdub with one of your 57's.

For bass, I'd record it direct with a decent DI (have one?).

For vocals, I'd try one of those 2020's, and see how you like it. There are definitely a bunch of great LDCs out there well within your price range if you're wanting other options. The MXL V69, for example, is a great tube LDC that sounds great on many voices and can be had for about $300. I own one myself, and on some voices it's even beat out U67's in shootouts. There are a handful of other well-liked LDCs in that price range that you'll find discussed all over GS.

So the good news is that your mic collection looks pretty good, and anything I would swap or add is probably within your budget. The bad news is that on the preamp side, it's hard to stay under $500 and really be doing any significant upgrade to your pre's. As a rule of thumb, good mic preamps start around $800-1000 per channel, although there are a few exceptions out there. Look at some of the single channel pre's from True, Grace, Radial, Summit, and UA. There are some in or slightly above your price range. Although, if it were me I'd save up a bit more and look at a used Neve'ish pre like a Great River, or Neve clone. API or Daking would be my second choice. That would be a substantial upgrade both on your vocal chain, electric chain, and perhaps your snare or kick chain.

I should stop and point out that I am making some assumptions in these recommendations about the styles of music you may be recording. What type of music is it?

I'd also be remiss to not ask you what the room you're recording in is like...
Old 11th July 2012
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by TNA View Post
I am just starting to attempt to get some better recordings. Currently I am just using the onboard pres on my Tascam US-1800 and am recording using lower end mics, (57, AT2020 etc). I am looking to upgrade but need to know what to purchase first. I don't have a ton of money, maybe 500 max. So would it be better spent on better mics, or a better preamp?
First I dont think SM57 is low end mic, it is pretty high end . If you can, buy some preamp with clean or mid colored characteristics, so you can use it for almost all instruments (my bet here is Daking mic Pre one, very high end and universal preamp). Later you can start to buy more colored and specific preamps and also microphones. And dont forget that with dynamic mics it is very important to what preamp you plug it. For example SM57 will sound 10 class higher conected into Daking than into Tascam
Old 12th July 2012
  #12
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tedpenn View Post
Great- that's all good to know.

As far as mics go, you're looking ok on drums to have the basics covered. In addition to the typical snare use, those 57's are pretty decent on toms too, with possibly the exception of your floor tom (if there is one). The low end rolls off pretty quickly with a 57, especially when not used very close, but give it a shot and see how you like it. If you did want to replace your tom mics, I'd look at some used 421's on ebay/craigslist. You could get a couple and maybe 3 of them and still stay in your budget.

My personal preference on kick is a D112 over the Beta 52, but it's certainly a fine choice. I have no personal experience with the AT2020's, but they're well reviewed, and I love just about everything else AT makes (4033, 4050, 4060). They're most likely perfectly adequate for your overheads and possibly vocals (depending on the particular voice). If you want to add 1 or 2 rooms mics to your drum setup, you could look at some inexpensive ribbons like the Cascade Fatheads. A pair of those is an absolute steal, and they sound fantastic in that role. If you'd rather spend your money elsewhere, you could still throw up those CAD SDCs for rooms and get something useable.

The e609 is a great choice on electric, or you could overdub with one of your 57's.

For bass, I'd record it direct with a decent DI (have one?).

For vocals, I'd try one of those 2020's, and see how you like it. There are definitely a bunch of great LDCs out there well within your price range if you're wanting other options. The MXL V69, for example, is a great tube LDC that sounds great on many voices and can be had for about $300. I own one myself, and on some voices it's even beat out U67's in shootouts. There are a handful of other well-liked LDCs in that price range that you'll find discussed all over GS.

So the good news is that your mic collection looks pretty good, and anything I would swap or add is probably within your budget. The bad news is that on the preamp side, it's hard to stay under $500 and really be doing any significant upgrade to your pre's. As a rule of thumb, good mic preamps start around $800-1000 per channel, although there are a few exceptions out there. Look at some of the single channel pre's from True, Grace, Radial, Summit, and UA. There are some in or slightly above your price range. Although, if it were me I'd save up a bit more and look at a used Neve'ish pre like a Great River, or Neve clone. API or Daking would be my second choice. That would be a substantial upgrade both on your vocal chain, electric chain, and perhaps your snare or kick chain.

I should stop and point out that I am making some assumptions in these recommendations about the styles of music you may be recording. What type of music is it?

I'd also be remiss to not ask you what the room you're recording in is like...
Good to know. I was aware that I pretty much had my bases covered in terms of mics. Just wondering how significant of an upgrade getting some better mics would be. But as you said most pretty much all of my mics are perfectly acceptable, and I think I'd have to put in some real money to make that big of an upgrade. Unfortunately I kind of knew how much good pres cost. I got to use a True, a Great River, and an API at recording classes and they sounded great. I'll search around more and see if anyone has any other recommendations in my price range. Since I am recording the whole band I was hoping to get more than one channel. But I think I'd definitely want one good pre over a couple adequate ones.

My band is a hard rock/alternative rock kind of band. Think like Muse, or Foo Fighters.

Unfortunately we're in a garage, so far from ideal room settings. But we take what we can get for right now.
Old 12th July 2012
  #13
Last Foo Fighters album was recorded in garage....
Old 12th July 2012
  #14
Here for the gear
 

I had these same questions last week. I went for versatility. The Daking Mic Pre one is highly praised and will be a good option no doubt. I ultimately went with the Grace m101. Picked up a used one for about $400. Check the classifieds here, i've gotten two items and both sellers were very communicative and I got great products.
Old 12th July 2012
  #15
I will break the trend and say I am less and less fond of the SM57 as the years go by. I use an SM57 as little as possible these days. I hate the midrange honk that it imparts on stuff--especially how it can emphasis exactly the wrong tone I am listening for out of toms. Use what you have and make the SM57 work, but if you are considering spending more $$$ on mics, a great tom mic and generally all around good performer to consider is the CAD 179. LDC on toms sound really great if it is the right mic, in my experience. These CAM 179 mics are cheap, too! Check them out.

For drum OH, you should consider what sort of sound you are seeking---more tom/ drum sound, or generally more cymbal sound. I use either a pair of SDC or else a pair of ribbon mics depending upon what I want to emphasis on the drum OH. A pair of ribbon mics placed for stereo really bring out a big drum/ tom sound--when I do that, I generally like to place a few mics at the hi hats, crash and ride. Ribbon mics make wonderful electric guitar mics, good for horns and some folk's vocals.

For your preamps, that mid-forward sound someone mentioned is often accomplished via input and output transformer based preamps. Think API 312. A cost effective alternative to the API stuff is being made by Black Lion Audio: the B12A---check it out: Black Lion Audio | Black Lion Audio B12A Preamp This would be a very good way to get that big drum sound. Of course they would lend themselves to use in a whole lot of other situations. If you can't afford many of them, think of choice places where they could be used, like the kick drum, the snare, maybe the drum OH.

There are really a lot of ways to go here. Do more reading and searching to find some more answers and suggestions. Good luck!
Old 2nd December 2014
  #16
500 series nutjob
 
pan60's Avatar
 

Room treatment is never a bad idea. Look at a good mic first then pres would be my thoughts. I would not just get more cheap LDC mics though. Get a really nice mic or just stay with the dynamics.

for the record i personally love dynamic mics, they have been used a LOT in this industry. : )
Old 2nd December 2014
  #17
Lives for gear
 

Mics over pres every single time... unless you're deliberately driving your pres hard... in which case they're distortion boxes, not pres in any case!

Yes, the OHs seem a weak point. SDCs like C451s or KM (1) 84s would be useful. A great more affordable choice would be Rode NT5s. Or look out for second hand SE Ekectronics stuff. Alternatively, invest in some versatile mics like C414 B-ULS. They work as OHs, combine well with 57s on guitar cabs, do stirling work on bass and most vox... and it can be used in fig8 in an MS room mic setup which can be great in a small space. The only thing I'd say on pres is that the 57 usually benefits from a higher impedance mic amp like a 1073 or something. Focusrite ISA might be a decent option there (variable impedance). But then I'd swap the 57s for RE20s or MD421s anyway! (RE320 is cheaper and lovely on kick and toms btw...)
Old 2nd December 2014
  #18
Gear Nut
I'm in a very similar situation. I've got a US-1800, a pile of inexpensive mics, and an okay recording space.

I just saw a thread where the consensus was that the poster would be better off buying a Coles 4038 than preamps/converters, having a Saffire Pro 40 and not much else. I was surprised, but it seems fancy preamps and outboard gear should be the last place to spend money.

Also, I wholeheartedly endorse the Rode NT5s as very good SDCs for the money. (You mentioned needing better overheads.) I've owned them for about two years, and have really enjoyed them as overheads, on acoustic guitar, and on vocals. I agree they're a little harsh and bright, but that's often complementary to the variety of close mics I'm using on drums. Customer service at Rode is also very good.
Old 3rd December 2014
  #19
I'm with the majority - I'd save a little bit more and upgrade your mics. However, INVEST (the key word) in a microphone. Stay away from the chinese knock-offs and re-brands as they don't hold value. Buy a used Neumann 184 or AKG 414 or NT and get more for your money. If all goes belly up and you need to sell, more than likely, you wont lose any money. Well...that's the ideal scenario.

Best of luck

Marty
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