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Sam Inglis
SOS Features Editor


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Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views!
      #1009249 - 20/09/12 10:49 AM
Hello,

In October's issue of Sound On Sound we tried to cut through some of the hype surrounding mic preamps, to find out how much of a difference they really made in one particular real-world recording situation: tracking a grand piano. Jonathan Dodd of Realpiano was kind enough to let us use his Yamaha Disklavier, which can reproduce the same performance from a MIDI file with uncanny accuracy. Session pianist Matt Cooper created a short MIDI piece that gave the piano a full workout, and we recorded it... over and over again!

We used three different mic setups: a pair of Brauner cardioid valve mics, a pair of Sennheiser MKH20 omni small-diaphragm capacitor mics, and a Royer SF12 passive stereo ribbon mic. These were recorded in turn through eight different preamps, representing a wide range of design approaches, from the preamps in a budget mixer to a valve preamp costing over £2000. Subscribers can read the full article here, and the audio files are available for everyone to download here. The catch is that I've removed any reference to which preamp is which from the names of the files...

...so, how much of a difference can you discern between the preamps, and can you guess which preamp is which? The key will be revealed in due course, but as a quick reminder, the eight preamps featured were:

AMS Neve 1073LB
API 3124+
ART Pro MPA II
GP Electronics PML 200E
Mackie 1402 VLZ Pro MkII
Maselec MMA-4XR
Prism Sound Orpheus
SSL XLogic VHD Pre

These are referred to (not in the above order) by the letters A to H in the audio examples.

We're very curious to hear SOS readers' opinions!


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tiberius



Joined: 17/03/06
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009366 - 21/09/12 01:38 AM
I'm quite curious to find out which is which, I could do with a second preamp and I hope that
I prefer one of the cheaper preamps.

However the more I listen to them the more confusing it gets so I've just listened to the
first section to keep it simple.

Favourite
(A) Smooth 'tubey' top end.
(H) Sounds more stereo than others?
(E) Clean accurate, neutral and smooth.
(D) Good not much character. is this cheap?
(B) Classy vintage sound. is this expensive?
(G) Clean accurate neutral
(C) Vague/dreamy mids
(F) Dark
To Least Favourite

Listening to the next microphone section somewhat changes the ratings,
so I guess I'm just rating the combination of Brauner and pre.

Edited by tiberius (21/09/12 01:46 AM)


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AndersM



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009384 - 21/09/12 07:22 AM
Having only listened to the SF12 variations so far. To be perfectly honest, this kind of makes me want to send back my semi-expensive preamps to the dealer... The differences between these preamps are -from what I can hear, totally negligible for the type of (pop) productions I am involved with.

Maybe a little difference does add up once you start piling tracks on top of each other, but unless someone convinces me otherwise, I'm inclined to think I'd be just as good off with my standard interface preamps for that floor tom at the back of the mix.


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James PerrettModerator



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: AndersM]
      #1009397 - 21/09/12 09:20 AM
When I started recording, just about everyone used the preamps in the desk and just got on with it. A few people, mainly American, talked about using different preamps but most engineers didn't think that the small difference between properly designed preamps was worth the effort. Mic choice and positioning is still far more important than preamp choice but I guess the marketing people have taken over now and confused everyone.

James.

--------------------
JRP Music - Audio Mastering and Restoration.
http://www.jrpmusic.net


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Richie Royale



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009408 - 21/09/12 10:24 AM
Interesting, I'll have a listen later, not that I really use pre-amps in my music, but it will be interesting nonetheless.

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009425 - 21/09/12 11:33 AM
It was a very interesting test to do -- and finding the Disklavier was the key to making this work as we could think of no other way of ensureing reliably repeatable performances for each mic/preamp combination.

When we were listening back to the recordings -- in full knowledge of what preamp was in use -- we were convinced we could percieve significant differences. But when the recordings are anonimised it is actually remarkably difficult to accurately identify each preamp!

We specifically chose to challenge the preamps with low output ribbons and high output capacitor mics, and to use a wide dynamic range source... but we didn't try deliberately 'pushing' the preamps to force preamp character that way -- these were all essentially purist recordings and, as you can plainly hear, even the cheapest modern preamps manage to deliver a perfectly usable sound that is pretty accurate and uncoloured.

James is quite right when he says mic choice and positioning are far more critical in terms of sound quality and character... although I think the better preamps still do manage to capture or deliver something that is subtly preferable given a choice.

H

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1009445 - 21/09/12 01:54 PM
Fascinating one this! Like Hugh I felt that all the preamps put in a usable performance -- certainly from a mixability perspective within a normal commercial production context.

That said, I probably wouldn't choose preamps F (slightly 'plasticky' somehow), C (felt a touch boxy tonally), and B (too strident in the midrange) based on these files, and my opinion was that A, D, and E gave the clearest presentation across all the mics. G and H were also alright, but the former rather muffled at the high end, while the latter seemed to be the opposite in that it seemed a little zingy. To use the most scientific of terms...

But I'm almost positive I couldn't reliably tell which one I was listening to in a blind test.

--------------------
Recording Secrets for the Small Studio
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio.


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Martin WalkerModerator
Watcher Of The Skies


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009453 - 21/09/12 03:06 PM
This is a fascinating test, particularly since I'm currently evaluating a range of Nebula 3 character preamp presets for a forthcoming SOS review that include an API and ART tube models. It also echos my views (already mentioned by Frank) that mic, mic placement and acoustic treatment choices are all mroe important that any tonal difference between preamps.

Thanks for putting in all the effort guys, although I suspect a few people may consider that 96kHz files might demonstrate any tonal differences more clearly!

OK – on a fairly brief listen I'll throw in my two pennorth.

Quote Sam Inglis:

I forgot to mention one thing... The letters are NOT the same for each set of mics. In other words preamp A for the Brauners is not the same as preamp A for the Sennheisers or Royers. Apologies for the confusion - I thought it would be best to change the order each time as that can have quite an influence on one's perceptions.




DOH!!

Here are my original notes for all three separately then

Brauner

A nuetral and rich - NICE!
B slighty veiled at top end, otherwise rich mids and low end
C slightly harsh midrange
D bigger bottom end NICE!
E clearer, more transparent NICE!
F close & intimate
G slightly distant
H closed in


MKH

A no particular sound
B intimate, can hear further in NICE!
C slightly hard midrange
D nuetral
E intimate
F warm, close and detailed
G warm and intimate
H rich mids



Royer

A less detailed
B shrill top notes
C warmer bottom end
D delicate, intimate
E less detailed
F detailed yet nuetral, with midrange richness - NICE!
G less detailed
H shrill & slightly harsh


Your mileage may vary



Martin

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YewTreeMagic


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DVallet



Joined: 12/07/11
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009465 - 21/09/12 04:39 PM
Hi,

Nice test !

The first thing I could say is that differences are really really subtle ...

But I'll go for the E !

Edited by DVallet (21/09/12 04:40 PM)


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Richie Royale



Joined: 12/09/06
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009488 - 21/09/12 07:19 PM
H is the most obviously different over all the mics. I've only had a quick listen but it stands out against the others; something veiled or murky about it makes the low end a bit more prominent.

What is the piston like noise? Is it the mechanism playing the keys?

The most obvious thing is the difference between the mics, which sound quite different, but both nice. I think the Royer would be mice choice, but I've not listened properly yet.

--------------------
http://soundcloud.com/richie-royale
http://www.mixcrate.com/richieroyale


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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009489 - 21/09/12 07:22 PM
I need to listen properly to work out an order of preference but they only one that made me sit up was E. Great clarity.

I noticed the loudest part of the track clips briefly....was this intentional so we could hear the preamps pushed to their limit?!


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Sam Inglis
SOS Features Editor


Joined: 15/12/00
Posts: 1768
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009496 - 21/09/12 09:30 PM
I forgot to mention one thing... The letters are NOT the same for each set of mics. In other words preamp A for the Brauners is not the same as preamp A for the Sennheisers or Royers. Apologies for the confusion - I thought it would be best to change the order each time as that can have quite an influence on one's perceptions.


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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009497 - 21/09/12 09:33 PM
Quote Sam Inglis:

I forgot to mention one thing... The letters are NOT the same for each set of mics. In other words preamp A for the Brauners is not the same as preamp A for the Sennheisers or Royers. Apologies for the confusion - I thought it would be best to change the order each time as that can have quite an influence on one's perceptions.




Ha, good idea. In which case, I meant that E in the MKH20 lineup stood out for me!


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Sam Inglis
SOS Features Editor


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1009498 - 21/09/12 09:36 PM
Quote mjfe2:

I noticed the loudest part of the track clips briefly....was this intentional so we could hear the preamps pushed to their limit?!




No! It was a boo-boo. I thought we were recording a bit hot, but at the time we didn't spot it on playback so I let it go. There's also a problem with the Brauner H file which has just been pointed out to me. I'll fix that on Monday.


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gennaroschiano



Joined: 14/01/11
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009512 - 22/09/12 05:43 AM
interesting article. Preamp examples are pretty hard to pick apart from each other. I tended to prefer D, E and H and only really had an issue with C which sounded a little thin to me. On another type of source (horn etc)... I might prefer A which sounded especially roasty. (For the Brauner comparison)

Edited by gennaroschiano (22/09/12 05:47 AM)


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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009513 - 22/09/12 07:05 AM
Quote Sam Inglis:

I forgot to mention one thing... The letters are NOT the same for each set of mics.




I'd assumed they were -- I'll have to have another listen! My comments above were mostly based on the Brauners, though. Still, the fact that I didn't notice illustrates how little I can reliably identify which preamp is which!



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Recording Secrets for the Small Studio
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio.


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tiberius



Joined: 17/03/06
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009549 - 22/09/12 01:51 PM
Ah that explains a lot. I thought I'd need a different preamp for each microphone...


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
SOS Technical Editor


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #1009577 - 22/09/12 05:15 PM
Hmmm... I think the point is already proven: while there are subtle differences between preamps, they really are very, very, very subtle and not terribly significant in the grand scheme of things for most situations. If you like to push the preamp for deliberate colouration, of need unusually high gain for distant ribbons the differences might become more important. But in general, modern preamps are all remarkably good -- even many cheap ones!

H

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1009578 - 22/09/12 05:20 PM
Quote mjfe2:

I noticed the loudest part of the track clips briefly....was this intentional so we could hear the preamps pushed to their limit?!




No, not intentional at all -- it was an annoying faux pas. Our host was 'old school' and liked to work with negligible headroom... And was caught out on occasion. The large number of permutations we had to work through and the limited time meant we weren't able to audition all the playbacks and repeat takes. Profuse apologies -- but I don't think it detracts too much from the aim of the comparisons.

H

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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1009579 - 22/09/12 05:29 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote mjfe2:

I noticed the loudest part of the track clips briefly....was this intentional so we could hear the preamps pushed to their limit?!




No, not intentional at all -- it was an annoying faux pas. Our host was 'old school' and liked to work with negligible headroom... And was caught out on occasion. The large number of permutations we had to work through and the limited time meant we weren't able to audition all the playbacks and repeat takes. Profuse apologies -- but I don't think it detracts too much from the aim of the comparisons.




No worries, it hasn't detracted from what is a great comparison. As for 'old school', if only people appreciated that old school is really leaving 20dB or so of headroom! If only everyone read this: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep10/articles/qa0910-1.htm


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dmills



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009584 - 22/09/12 05:44 PM
Not really an unexpected result, as you say, anything reasonable is usually not going to be the weak link.
Preamp choice is as much about studio marketing as sound engineering, the client wants a U87 with an Avalon preamp, fine, that is what hire is for, will it make a difference, probably not on a technical level, but if they are happy, odds are I will get a better take.

I do notice however that the SF12 is the only mic in the test that lacks an active output stage, all the others have the impedance converter in the mic (which is effectively the first stage of the preamp), it might be that throwing an SM57 or RE20 or something in there would have been rather more revealing of any differences that were there?

Given that for me this test is as close to a null result as makes no difference, I am just wondering if some of the claimed 'major' differences between preamps might be down to preamp/mic interaction, which will surely be reduced substantially by using mics with built in power gain.
Some of it is clearly differences in clipping behaviour, and most of it is probably marketing bulshytt aided by a healthy dose of nobody calling the emperor out for public nudity, but I just thought I would flag up the (quite reasonable) limitation of the study.

Regards, Dan.

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Audiophiles use phono leads because they are unbalanced people!


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: dmills]
      #1009597 - 22/09/12 07:02 PM
Yes, it does seem as if you avoided testing microphones that MIGHT have responded differently with different preamps. Whether it would take anything more than a suitable shunt resistor to level the field is another question!


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dmills



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1009598 - 22/09/12 07:18 PM
Yea, going there is a combinatorial explosion however, and it is not even clear that there is a meaningful effect there to be found.

Regards, Dan.

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Airfix



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: dmills]
      #1009615 - 22/09/12 08:50 PM
this is a lovely example of the craft - the craft of capturing audio properly. Mics and mic placement - rooms are gifts or curses. Good ears know the difference. Some of us have 'it' some of us dont.


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Gianluca5080



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Airfix]
      #1009660 - 23/09/12 08:57 AM
For me the best preamp is A.
Warm, clean and detailed.
But I listened only on headphones, when I'll have enough time I'll try listening on my speakers.
Very useful test.
Thank you SOS!


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Sam Inglis
SOS Features Editor


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1009666 - 23/09/12 09:36 AM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Yes, it does seem as if you avoided testing microphones that MIGHT have responded differently with different preamps.




Not at all, that was exactly why we included the Royer ribbon mic. In theory, a passive ribbon mic with a transformer balanced output should be sensitive to the preamp's input impedance, and also of course requires a lot more gain than most capacitor mics.

We did think briefly about trying a pair of SM57s or similar. But then we thought 'Who the hell records a grand piano with a pair of 57s?'

I have seen it claimed repeatedly on other forums that preamp choice makes a massive difference even with modern, high output capacitor mics...


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Sam Inglis
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Gianluca5080]
      #1009668 - 23/09/12 09:37 AM
Quote Gianluca5080:

For me the best preamp is A.





Again let me reiterate that A is different in each set of files - the order is not the same.


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R W



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009674 - 23/09/12 10:07 AM
Apologies if I've missed it but... are the actual results anywhere? I bought the magazine and I cannot find the actual results. They are not on here either. It's only fair to actually put the results somewhere and let people choose to know or not know whilst they listen to the results.


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Sam Inglis
SOS Features Editor


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009676 - 23/09/12 10:11 AM
Yes... they're in a text file on my computer at home!

We will be making the key available later on, but for the time being, it's a blind test for everyone.


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R W



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009680 - 23/09/12 10:27 AM
Fair enough - could you blummin' hurry up then! Will it be today? Just put a link up that people can either choose to click on or not, should they want to know.

Regarding Preamps in general, there is certainly an obsession, especially in the U.S where I've known people refuse to record until their chain is in place... the correct mic is not enough. Neve or Neve-alike pre's usually get the nod for vocals with API for recording drums or bass. Neve alike pre's can be an attractive option with the Aurora being a favourite and the Great River pre's being a nice neve'ish option.

I can say from personal experience, mics can sound a lot different through different pre's and I think people do underestimate the link. For instance, I have a Peluso VTB and for vocals, through an API pre, it sounds brilliant, same through an Apogee (Mini-Me) - however through a UA 610, it does not sound right at all. I want to trial a Neve with this mic. On the flipside, other mics sounds right through the 610. The 610 seems to impart a darkness to the signal and can be nice hooked up to a brighter mic with less bottom.

Anyway, I'd like to see a similar test done to the one here but with different sources - as some will shine in one area whilst others will shine elsewhere. Ideally, a test with these pre's but with vocals, drums, etc etc; would have been brilliant.


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Sam Inglis
SOS Features Editor


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009681 - 23/09/12 10:32 AM
Thanks RW. I guess it would be easy enough to do a similar test for electric guitars, thanks to the wonders of re-amping, but with sources such as drums and vocals, you run into the problem of how to ensure a precisely repeatable performance.


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R W



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009682 - 23/09/12 10:44 AM
Quote Sam Inglis:

Thanks RW. I guess it would be easy enough to do a similar test for electric guitars, thanks to the wonders of re-amping, but with sources such as drums and vocals, you run into the problem of how to ensure a precisely repeatable performance.




I agree but I think people would forgive you for not being able to accomplish the exact same take - it might still show some of the characteristics of different pre's. Maybe one for a future issue... the 'pre-rematch'!


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jaminem
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009689 - 23/09/12 11:26 AM
RW has nailed it for me.

Good as this comparison is, I don't think it addresses the real reason why I think people want different pre-amps which is - what Pre-amp/mic combo is more likely to suit the source.

Its widely agreed that you should select an appropriate mic for the source/room, so why not a pre-amp? It may make a smaller difference but if it makes even a small one its worth it. Anyone who has purchased any high end piece of audio gear is aware of the law of diminishing returns, but we do it as any improvement however small is usually worth it.

As has been stated, If you do rock guitars and have either ribbon or dynamic mics, you are going to find an API style pre-amp does the business more often then not due to its fat mid push, and tight low end

Acoustic guitar recorded through some SDC's? Neve style pre-amp is probably going to do it for you, as its general character has a sweet top end and big bottom.
Thin/harsh or 'reedy' vocal through an LDC - Neve again is probably a good place to start for similar reasons as above.

It doesn't work in every case and you should always try a few pre's/mic on things you are unfamiliar with, but as a general default it works, and at the very least provides a good starting point or frame of reference...


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: dmills]
      #1009690 - 23/09/12 11:32 AM
I quite agree that the mic / preamp interface can be a major source of audible differences with passive mics, and that's why we included the Royer mic in the test. Even so, differences are still often very subtle and mic positioning is still the dominant factor.

Hugh

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: jaminem]
      #1009693 - 23/09/12 11:50 AM
Quote jaminem:

I don't think it addresses the real reason why I think people want different pre-amps which is - what Pre-amp/mic combo is more likely to suit the source.




Surely that's precisely what this comparison questions? The mic positioning is clearly critical, and the sound of the mic is significant in the overall tonality, but does the mic pre really make that much difference, or is it actually largely wishful thinking? It became fashionable to pair mics, pres, and sources, to the extent that it has entered urban mythology and become 'widely agreed'... But how much validity underlies that?

Yes, transformers and valves can impart audible character that can be help or hinder depending on the situation, but I would suggest its never a deal breaker, and the desired character can usually be obtained through different mic choice or placement. That's the way I was trained, anyway, because the only pres were those in the console -- and that's the way thousands of hit records were made!

It's always worth questioning 'widely agreed' things from time to time...

Hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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R W



Joined: 12/09/09
Posts: 28
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1009694 - 23/09/12 11:56 AM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote jaminem:

I don't think it addresses the real reason why I think people want different pre-amps which is - what Pre-amp/mic combo is more likely to suit the source.




Surely that's precisely what this comparison questions? The mic positioning is clearly critical, and the sound of the mic is significant in the overall tonality, but does the mic pre really make that much difference, or is it actually largely wishful thinking? It became fashionable to pair mics, pres, and sources, to the extent that it has entered urban mythology and become 'widely agreed'... But how much validity underlies that?

Yes, transformers and valves can impart audible character that can be help or hinder depending on the situation, but I would suggest its never a deal breaker, and the desired character can usually be obtained through different mic choice or placement. That's the way I was trained, anyway, because the only pres were those in the console -- and that's the way thousands of hit records were made!

It's always worth questioning 'widely agreed' things from time to time...

Hugh




I agree for the most part and for sure, mic and position is the biggest deal but I can honestly say that different mics can work and interact differently when paired with different pre's and in my experience, the difference can be quite big; I'm talking mainly on vox, in my case. Of course, there's then the whole other argument about driving a pre - such as an API for more saturation VS keeping it clean.

In any case, it's a great test you've done and it's good to see the pre' myth being questioned / tested and brought to the fore.


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: R W]
      #1009695 - 23/09/12 12:02 PM
Quote R W:

I can say from personal experience, mics can sound a lot different through different pre's and I think people do underestimate the link.




OK. Do you agree, however, that this test indicates that mics DON'T sound a lot different through different preamps?

It's most heartening that a gear-based magazine should have published a comparative test of master clocks ending with "but you probably don't need one" and now a blind test of preamps demonstrating (would you agree?) quite conclusively that they make little if any audible difference.

Cheekily withholding the information that A in the first test wasn't necessarily A in the second should have made a few people (a) feel slightly embarassed then (b) think pretty hard!


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dmills



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009696 - 23/09/12 12:04 PM
Performance first, then Instrument, Mic positioning, Room, then a long way behind the details of the rest of the chain.

The obsessing over really tiny details I mostly do not really get, I mean even the cheapest prosumer preamp and ADC are orders of magnitude better then the stuff they used to capture Muddy Waters, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and the Beatles....
What is usually not better is the room, the performances and the skills of the operators.

Sure it can be interesting to measure and experiment with the small stuff, but it is very much the case that it is mostly interesting to recording types rather then being something likely to make a major impact on the shipping product volumes.

Preamps are largely a marketing thing at every level of the trade, from manufactures marketing four colour glossies, down to studios selling on having the shiny kit (Why do you think the Avalon stuff has that massively machined front panel?).

One interesting thing to do is to take a high end condenser and two speakers and do some IMD tests on the thing, it usually fairly quickly becomes apparent why condensers have a reputation for a slightly sizzly top end (Hint, it is mostly non harmonic mixing products due to the mics non linearity, which is why it does not show up on a single tone sweep), against a glaring issue like that, the details of what the preamp does are largely irrelevant.

About the only piece of the recording chain that is not so close to perfect as makes little difference (even with cheapish, but not bottom feeder kit) is the transducers at either end, and the room they are in, everything else is noise in comparison.

Regards, Dan.

--------------------
Audiophiles use phono leads because they are unbalanced people!


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R W



Joined: 12/09/09
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1009699 - 23/09/12 12:18 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Quote R W:

I can say from personal experience, mics can sound a lot different through different pre's and I think people do underestimate the link.




OK. Do you agree, however, that this test indicates that mics DON'T sound a lot different through different preamps?

It's most heartening that a gear-based magazine should have published a comparative test of master clocks ending with "but you probably don't need one" and now a blind test of preamps demonstrating (would you agree?) quite conclusively that they make little if any audible difference.

Cheekily withholding the information that A in the first test wasn't necessarily A in the second should have made a few people (a) feel slightly embarassed then (b) think pretty hard!




Well, I think the test they've done is good - I'm just saying that from personal experience, I have some nice mics and pre's to hand and, on vocals, I can hear quite a large difference. To the extent that, I would now never pair my VTB with my UA pre. Whilst I may pair another mic with it. I completely agree that the performer, mic and room are more important than the pre, no doubt about it. That doesn't mean that it's not worth exploring these things. One thing to note is that any tiny difference becomes magnified when you stack tracks... so for vocals, for instance, if you stack a ton of tracks, the character of the pre can become very evident. Neve pre's seem to have a pleasant harmonic top end that may seem almost inaudible in some cases - but it is there and if you have a ton of tracks recorded though a Neve, that pleasant 'feature' does add up.


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Aten



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009707 - 23/09/12 01:40 PM
So what is the legend? Which pre amp correponds to A? to B? etc? Have I missed something here
?


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jaminem
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1009708 - 23/09/12 02:24 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:


It's always worth questioning 'widely agreed' things from time to time...

Hugh




Hugh if you're going to paraphrase me you should at least read what I wrote.

I said its widely agreed you should pick the best mic for the room/source.
I doubt you'd disagree with that?

My point simply is - if one pre-amp sounds better than another on a particular source however subtle the effect and you have them, then use them.

If you don't have options, like in the old'un days when all you had was a console, then that's what you'd use.

Put an SM57 on a guitar cab, through a DAV pre-amp and then an API pre-amp. Play some rock, chances are you'd pick the API because it does make a huge difference to the sound.

That'll be why people recording that kind of music for a living favour that product, because it does suit it better.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: R W]
      #1009716 - 23/09/12 03:42 PM
Quote R W:

...but I can honestly say that different mics can work and interact differently when paired with different pre's...




Absolutely, I quite agree, and it's something we have discussed inthe magazine and in this forum many times before. The input impedance of the preamp can certainly make a noticeable difference when using dynamic mics and some old-school transformer-balanced mics, and/or when the preamp impedance is unusually low or high.

But in my experience it is rarely significant when using modern active-output capacitor mics, and even where the sound is affected it's still a relatively insignificant element of the whole recording chain.

Put it this way, while I prefer to work with decent, well designed, high-end preamps (who doesn't?), I can't think of any occasion where I had no option but to send the talent home because I couldn't get the desired sound using the mics and preamps available to me at the time! Not even when using a budget Mackie console and low-cost mics! Performance and mic position matter so much more...

Quote:

...there's then the whole other argument about driving a pre...




Agreed again. If you want a specific form of overdrive distortion then the choice of preamp becomes critical because of the way it behaves when abused, and different designs will inevitably behave differently. That kind of specialised application was outside the remit of our comparison on this test, but I think we may well have a feature considering that kind of thing in a future issue.

hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Aten]
      #1009717 - 23/09/12 03:48 PM
Quote Aten:

So what is the legend? Which pre amp correponds to A? to B? etc? Have I missed something here
?




As Sam has already explined further up the thread, he will reveal which preamps correspond to which letters in each of the three separate comparisons after we've given everyone a decent chance to (a) buy the mag, (b) read the article, (c) listen to the examples, and (d) discuss their views here.

Stand by...

hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Gianluca5080



Joined: 29/11/07
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009718 - 23/09/12 04:01 PM
Quote Sam Inglis:

Quote Gianluca5080:

For me the best preamp is A.





Again let me reiterate that A is different in each set of files - the order is not the same.




Yes, it was my fault, I intended I liked best the combo A preamp with Sennheiser MKH20s.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: jaminem]
      #1009722 - 23/09/12 04:21 PM
Quote jaminem:

My point simply is - if one pre-amp sounds better than another on a particular source however subtle the effect and you have them, then use them.




Of course! Who wouldn't compare and choose the sound they preferred -- if they have a choice.

However, the fact is that most people don't have the choice because of budget constraints. Yet 'what preamp should I buy' is one of the most common questions on this and most other audio forums (just behind what 'monitor' should I buy for £200... ) -- and the reason people ask that question is becuase they are regularly cajoled by 'widely agreed' views expressed in magazines and forums into believing that they must have an API preamp for recording drums, or an Avalon for vocals, or whatever because no other combination is capable of delivering acceptable results.

As you will already realise, that's not a view I share. To me, a good preamp is a good preamp, full stop. Okay, so not all preamps are good -- particularly some older designs. I used to work regularly with a Soundcraft TS24 console in the early 1980s and that had shocking mic preamps --something that was glaringly obvious when recording 12-string acoustics. I often resorted to using a Neve suitcase mixer for the more critical inputs, but even so, my colleagues and I still achieved very acceptable recordings using that console.

And yes, some preamps have noticeable characters when directly compared, and which can be used to good effect, if the option arises, to enhance or compensate for the characteristics of specific microphones or sources -- but the differences are never night and day, it's way more subtle than that, and rarely particularly significant in the grand scheme of things. At least, not to me.

Of course, others may have different views and that's their prerogative, but I think Sam's comparison does highlight just how minimal the differences usually are. The grand piano is about the single most challenging source to record, with complex harmonics and vast dynamics. Distortions and colourations are easy to spot. We've compared preamps at both extremes of budget here, and with the common classics also included. Most people will 'widely agree' that the difference between an API and a Neve 1073 preamp is night and day... yet it seems most people are actually struggling to reliably identify them -- or even form a common consensus of preference -- when faced with the anonymised comparisons in this article!

That should give some pause for thought and re-evaluation, if nothing else.

There's nothing wrong with comparing and contrasting different preamps with different mics, or of choosing one combination over another for subjective and personal reasons. Everyone with the option will do that naturally, and feel they have gained something worthwhile in the process. That's human nature -- and we're certainly not saying that there is no difference in character and tonality because there clearly is.

But what we are questioning is just how great those differences really are, and whether they are as significant as popular opinion would suggest -- because that matters to those on limited budgets who might feel inadequate when forced to record drums using their Saffire preamps instead of a rack of APIs.

It's certainly nice to have the luxury of being able to record through Neve or API or Avalon, or whatever flavour preamp appeals, and to be able to compare them directly. And I'm well known for appreciating the quality of high end preamps...but to my ears the differences are relatively subtle and for most of our readers the actual recording quality is limited by the venue acoustics in 99% of cases, not the recording chain.

hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Richie Royale



Joined: 12/09/06
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009723 - 23/09/12 04:29 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddQjDei2zbY

Robot drummer for the next test?

--------------------
http://soundcloud.com/richie-royale
http://www.mixcrate.com/richieroyale


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mjfe2



Joined: 11/10/09
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: jaminem]
      #1009728 - 23/09/12 05:13 PM
Quote jaminem:

Its widely agreed that you should select an appropriate mic for the source/room, so why not a pre-amp? It may make a smaller difference but if it makes even a small one its worth it. Anyone who has purchased any high end piece of audio gear is aware of the law of diminishing returns, but we do it as any improvement however small is usually worth it.




None of this constitutes an argument! To your first sentence I'd answer, because countless (great sounding) hit records were made on console preamps. And I completely disagree with your next two sentences. The law of diminishing returns is not the same for every category of product. It's very likely that a £1000 mic is going to be a bigger improvement on a £200 mic than two equivalently priced preamps. (And even with mics, the recent vocal mic shootout in SOS showed that expensive mics aren't always preferable.)

So I would say that small differences are not always worth it, especially when they cost thousands of pounds. Think what you could buy with the money instead. Better mics, better monitors....you could even hire a better room!

Anyway, thanks SOS for withholding the results, I think people need to sweat a litle longer! And maybe in the meantime someone can try and link pre X on mic A with pre Y on mic B and so on

Incidentally, in the classical world I think esoteric preamps become even more irrelevant. But I do know one very good producer/engineer who said the one time he heard his Millennia pres really come into their own was on a huge orchestral crash (bass drum and everything). Apparently the explosion was handled 'effortlessly'.


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Daniel Drummond



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: R W]
      #1009730 - 23/09/12 05:23 PM
Quote:

One thing to note is that any tiny difference becomes magnified when you stack tracks... so for vocals, for instance, if you stack a ton of tracks, the character of the pre can become very evident. Neve pre's seem to have a pleasant harmonic top end that may seem almost inaudible in some cases - but it is there and if you have a ton of tracks recorded though a Neve, that pleasant 'feature' does add up.




That is the argument most used by some friends of mine, although I am currently not inclined to believe them. What do you guys think of that? Maybe that would require another test...

--------------------
www.estudiodrummond.com.br


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R W



Joined: 12/09/09
Posts: 28
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Daniel Drummond]
      #1009731 - 23/09/12 05:27 PM
Quote Daniel Drummond:

Quote:

One thing to note is that any tiny difference becomes magnified when you stack tracks... so for vocals, for instance, if you stack a ton of tracks, the character of the pre can become very evident. Neve pre's seem to have a pleasant harmonic top end that may seem almost inaudible in some cases - but it is there and if you have a ton of tracks recorded though a Neve, that pleasant 'feature' does add up.




That is the argument most used by some friends of mine, although I am currently not inclined to believe them. What do you guys think of that? Maybe that would require another test...




I believe it to be true. API pre's can have a tiny mid range presence that through stacking can become obvious. That's my personal experience and I have spoken with others who share the exact same conclusion.


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R W



Joined: 12/09/09
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1009732 - 23/09/12 05:30 PM
Quote mjfe2:

Quote jaminem:

Its widely agreed that you should select an appropriate mic for the source/room, so why not a pre-amp? It may make a smaller difference but if it makes even a small one its worth it. Anyone who has purchased any high end piece of audio gear is aware of the law of diminishing returns, but we do it as any improvement however small is usually worth it.




None of this constitutes an argument! To your first sentence I'd answer, because countless (great sounding) hit records were made on console preamps.




I might be missing something... but these consoles you speak of; what preamps were in them?


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R W



Joined: 12/09/09
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1009733 - 23/09/12 05:35 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:



But what we are questioning is just how great those differences really are, and whether they are as significant as popular opinion would suggest -- because that matters to those on limited budgets who might feel inadequate when forced to record drums using their Saffire preamps instead of a rack of APIs.




This is a key point and worth highlighting. I may be coming across as pro-pre here, speaking of high end pre's but it is certainly true to say that most decent pre's will get the job done and done well. I'll not dispute that. I have heard amazing recordings done through an Mbox1 and a £30 microphone; so it's worth not losing sight of what Hugh is saying. Never-the-less, it's a worthy avenue to explore and I'm glad SOS have.


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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: R W]
      #1009734 - 23/09/12 05:59 PM
Quote R W:

Quote mjfe2:

Quote jaminem:

Its widely agreed that you should select an appropriate mic for the source/room, so why not a pre-amp? It may make a smaller difference but if it makes even a small one its worth it. Anyone who has purchased any high end piece of audio gear is aware of the law of diminishing returns, but we do it as any improvement however small is usually worth it.




None of this constitutes an argument! To your first sentence I'd answer, because countless (great sounding) hit records were made on console preamps.




I might be missing something... but these consoles you speak of; what preamps were in them?




True, but they weren't always high end. The point I'd prefer to make (which was made earlier in this thread) is that 'choosing a preamp' for each session wasn't one of the creative decisions made. It was pragmatic: we've had this desk for X years now so we don't even think twice about whether we're going to use its preamps (let alone match them to certain mics).

I am interested in the idea of layering up preamps though. That's one thing that the shootout doesn't address (actually I haven't read the article yet..). Perhaps this will be the next super-accurate plugin to come out? But then the plugin manufacturer would have to convince people that an average preamp will do in the first place...


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Sam Inglis
SOS Features Editor


Joined: 15/12/00
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: R W]
      #1009741 - 23/09/12 06:55 PM
Quote R W:


I can say from personal experience, mics can sound a lot different through different pre's and I think people do underestimate the link. For instance, I have a Peluso VTB and for vocals, through an API pre, it sounds brilliant, same through an Apogee (Mini-Me) - however through a UA 610, it does not sound right at all. I want to trial a Neve with this mic. On the flipside, other mics sounds right through the 610. The 610 seems to impart a darkness to the signal and can be nice hooked up to a brighter mic with less bottom.





R W - out of interest, have you done a blind test of this? Because in fact what you're saying here exactly parallels our experiences while we were doing the tests. When we listened back in the knowledge that we had just recorded a Neve or API or whatever, we were convinced we could hear significant differences. But when that psychological expectation was removed, suddenly the differences seemed minute...


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Sam Inglis
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009742 - 23/09/12 06:59 PM
The question of how preamps 'stack' across many tracks is an interesting one. I can believe that, say, the mid-range emphasis of an API would become more obvious in that situation. But is it an effect you couldn't recreate simply by EQing the master bus?


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R W



Joined: 12/09/09
Posts: 28
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009747 - 23/09/12 07:23 PM
Quote Sam Inglis:

Quote R W:


I can say from personal experience, mics can sound a lot different through different pre's and I think people do underestimate the link. For instance, I have a Peluso VTB and for vocals, through an API pre, it sounds brilliant, same through an Apogee (Mini-Me) - however through a UA 610, it does not sound right at all. I want to trial a Neve with this mic. On the flipside, other mics sounds right through the 610. The 610 seems to impart a darkness to the signal and can be nice hooked up to a brighter mic with less bottom.





R W - out of interest, have you done a blind test of this? Because in fact what you're saying here exactly parallels our experiences while we were doing the tests. When we listened back in the knowledge that we had just recorded a Neve or API or whatever, we were convinced we could hear significant differences. But when that psychological expectation was removed, suddenly the differences seemed minute...




The tests have been blind, indeed. If someone put my mics (that I know well) through my pre's in any order, I reckon I could tell which pre was used. Now I know that sounds like a challenge best left to one of Matthew Kelly's 'You Bet' stars but I am sure of this. I will say that Hugh made the point, that people may feel inadequate with what they have at their disposal due to these kind of discussions and I'd never want that to happen. I agree with the idea that no half decent pre will ever stand in the way of a good recording...


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R W



Joined: 12/09/09
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009749 - 23/09/12 07:26 PM
Quote Sam Inglis:

The question of how preamps 'stack' across many tracks is an interesting one. I can believe that, say, the mid-range emphasis of an API would become more obvious in that situation. But is it an effect you couldn't recreate simply by EQing the master bus?




Yes it could be dealt with with EQ but I'm not always sure the 'presence' is that simple. There have been a few blind tests, that I've heard of, where Neve was always chosen for vocals... but again, this may just be feeding the myth.


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Chopstix



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009758 - 23/09/12 08:38 PM
I'm curious about how the stacking myth still continues to confuse people this day and age...
Haven't heard any such effect during the years - and it has also been sorted out and explained very nicely by Ethan Winer: http://audioundone.com/the-stacking-myth .

However - if you have the same preamp on all tracks (if you don't use transparent preamps, that is), the coloring might feel a bit annoying since it's the same on everything - but since you normally use eq and other stuff to color the tracks in the mix, that's hardly a problem anyway...


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Daniel Davis



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009763 - 23/09/12 10:27 PM
That you could hear the expected character of each pre-amp when you know which was which but your choices became unreliable when anonamised seems to simply confirm how powerful a phenomenom confirmation bias really is.

--------------------
Daniel Davis
Edinburgh Recording Studio Windmill Sound


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Wetlabs



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009766 - 24/09/12 12:29 AM
An amazing comparison that reminds me very much of the old 'expensive hi-fi interconnect' debate: When blind A/B tests are conducted, differences become very minimal and it is hard to say what is better/worse
We really need a phase accurate test though - I am guessing the Diskclavier is not that tight!
At this point it would be cool to mic up a repeatable file through a speaker and get some 'difference' analysis of the pres. Others will know better than I but I believe someone did a CD of hi-fi mythbusting with phase nulling tests?
Thanks SOS for a thought-provoking article. The only definitive result for me was that the Royer sounds very nice on piano!


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Exalted Wombat



Joined: 06/02/10
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Wetlabs]
      #1009783 - 24/09/12 09:24 AM
Quote Wetlabs:

We really need a phase accurate test though - I am guessing the Diskclavier is not that tight!





Even that won't convince the believers! It's strange, but you need a much stronger argument to prove the obvious fact that there ISN'T a God than to justify the bizarre opinion that there IS. Almost as if divine intervention is distorting our minds... :-)


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Sam Inglis
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009791 - 24/09/12 10:01 AM
The problem with the Brauner_H file has now been fixed. If you already downloaded the entire archive, you can also just download the revised Brauner_H file:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct12/articles/preampsmedia.htm


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Wetlabs]
      #1009817 - 24/09/12 01:30 PM
Quote Wetlabs:

The only definitive result for me was that the Royer sounds very nice on piano!




It does, doesn't it? Even with such a non-standard position, too!

hugh

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Daniel Davis]
      #1009818 - 24/09/12 01:33 PM
Quote Daniel Davis:

... seems to simply confirm how powerful a phenomenom confirmation bias really is.




Absolutely -- yet few seem to believe it!

hugh

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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1009833 - 24/09/12 02:33 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote Daniel Davis:

... seems to simply confirm how powerful a phenomenom confirmation bias really is.




Absolutely -- yet few seem to believe it!





Careful! Carry on with this tack and half the magazine can be replaced with "Oh, by the way, there's a new XYZ out. But don't bother - the one you've got is just fine!" :-)


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1009857 - 24/09/12 04:16 PM


hugh

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Daniel Drummond



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Chopstix]
      #1009862 - 24/09/12 04:30 PM
Quote Chopstix:

http://audioundone.com/the-stacking-myth



Great article about the stacking myth.


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dmills



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1009886 - 24/09/12 06:14 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:


Careful! Carry on with this tack and half the magazine can be replaced with "Oh, by the way, there's a new XYZ out. But don't bother - the one you've got is just fine!" :-)



And wouldn't that just be a breath of fresh air!

Actually, SOS is nowhere near as bad as some are in this respect, but it is as always a fine line to tread.

"There is a new XYZ out, it does this well, and that not so much, if you already have the room and the monitoring sorted it might make a difference to FOO. It is broadly comparable to a JKL, a little more expensive but the build quality is better, you might also wish to look at a QWE (Better protools integration, balanced IO) or a VBW (More front panels controls and less menus), the improvement is subtle and it takes a good room and excellent monitoring to hear the difference....."

IIRC it usually goes something like that!

Regards, Dan.

--------------------
Audiophiles use phono leads because they are unbalanced people!


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c0ff



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Daniel Drummond]
      #1009913 - 24/09/12 09:33 PM
Quote Daniel Drummond:

Quote Chopstix:

http://audioundone.com/the-stacking-myth



Great article about the stacking myth.




Not that I'm trying to protect the "stacking myth" but the article is a gross simplification to say the least. If preamps differed only in static frequency response, there would be no sense to have so many different preamp flavours - they all could be emulated with an EQ .. in a world where any equalisation is a completely linear process.


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Jorge
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1009929 - 25/09/12 01:51 AM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote Daniel Davis:

... seems to simply confirm how powerful a phenomenom confirmation bias really is.




Absolutely -- yet few seem to believe it!





Careful! Carry on with this tack and half the magazine can be replaced with "Oh, by the way, there's a new XYZ out. But don't bother - the one you've got is just fine!" :-)




One of the reasons I have been a long time subscriber to SOS is the reputation the magazine has developed for identifying expensive solutions with diminishing returns, accurately characterizing the situations in which those subtle advantages are important and worth the money, and helping your readers identify the higher yield investments first. Virtually all my purchases that have been guided by your reviews have performed as expected from your descriptions. When you occasionally point out an inexpensive solution that works nearly as well, the same, or better than the expensive solution, you do a real service to your readers. That we can all agree on. The additional challenge is to get your sponsors to understand the importance of unbiased reviews to helping your readers (and googlers) make the best decisions for their specific needs. Certainly this helps your readership numbers, but it probably also results in greater sales of products that perform well and fewer mistaken purchases and returns of disappointing products, although it might be hard to document that last assertion objectively.

So SOS, keep up the great work (and don't wait too long to publish the key to the preamp identities).


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ef37a



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1009937 - 25/09/12 06:20 AM
Most illuminating!

I had dabbled with sound recording many years ago and the only "pre amps" were the ones in the recorder. I built a 4 chan' triode mixer which was not bad noisewise but the transformers I could afford (Radio Spares 1:60) did not go much past 12kHz! Then we were ALWAYS told in Tape Recorder to... Buy a Better Mic!

What a revalation then was the Behringer BCA2000! It had other, "digital" problems but the mic pres were incredible! Plenty of gain (even if the control was cramped, a common problem on much better gear) low noise, we would have killed for these 40yrs ago. They were even just about useable on my 30Ohm Reslo RB ribbons in fact it was hum pickup due to "unbalanced" wiring that was the noise limit (stick one in the garden, no problem!)
Now I understand that the Berry "Imp"is a rip of the Mackie? Well all I can say is that the two discrete input transistor + ic circuit has been around on the internet for ages, so who WAS the originator?

No, these results do not suprise me in the least. In fact I have a 35quid Wharfedale mixer that is if anything quieter than the Berry!

Dave.


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Kwackman



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: ef37a]
      #1010008 - 25/09/12 02:35 PM
I've spent almost an hour listening many times to just one of the sets.
I'm listening in a treated room and on good speakers.

After many repeated listenings, I could not hear a difference, never mind choosing a preferred one!
My hearing probably isn't as good as I hope it is, but I thought I would be able to dectect some differences- but in all honesty- I can't!

Piano sounded great though!

--------------------
Cubase, guitars.


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Glenn Bucci
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: jaminem]
      #1010037 - 25/09/12 04:18 PM
I agree that many of the mic pre's in this example sound very similar with the piano. However when you compare Mackie pre's to API on a drum kit, there will be little guess work which one is which. When you get a acoustic guitar and compare a API to Great River or Rupert Neve pre's, you will hear a difference. They had the Listening Sessions web site that had comparisons of many mic 'pre's on guitars, bass, drums, and you clearly heard difference with different pre's. The site is no longer around though.

I used to have a Focusrite Voicemaster, and when I went to a Langevin DVC, I clearly heard better representation of the original source...so much that I sold the Voicemaster. Discrete Class A gear compared to consumer mic pre's clearly offer more detail. But once you get to high end mic pre's, the difference between clean pre's like a GML or Grace may be very very subtle. When comparing two pre's on a single source, the difference on some may be small. However you will notice a bigger difference when you record over 10 tracks using consumer pre's and compare them to 10 tracks using the higher end pre's. I also have done A/B comparisons with a Manley tube pre, to the Avalon 737 and there is a clear difference is tonality with the Manley adding more color and the Avalon being a cleaner smooth sound. In comparing the Manley Slam tube pre, it offered less color than the Manley standard pre, and offered a lot more in the high end over the Avalon737.


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_ Six _



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010041 - 25/09/12 04:46 PM
I have to agree. I only had my Focusrite Saffire pres for years until I invested in an SSL X-Logic channel. The difference was remarkable.

Although, the quality of the converters probably had a lot to do with that too...


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Glenn Bucci]
      #1010043 - 25/09/12 04:52 PM
Quote Glenn Bucci:

I agree that many of the mic pre's in this example sound very similar with the piano. However when you compare Mackie pre's to API on a drum kit, there will be little guess work which one is which.




I'm not so sure the difference would actually be as 'night and day' as you suggest -- provided you're not clipping the preamps. There are differences, of course, but I really do think 'expectation bias' plays a much greater part in people's impression than most people realise.

Of course, if you are clipping the preamps -- something which is quite easy to do with drums in particular -- the overload behaviour will be quite different and result in clearly different tonality.

But clearly there is a lot more milage to be covered in this kind of preamp comparison, and if we can figure out a way of generating reliably consistent snare drum hits perhaps we will return to this topic in the future and prove, or disprove, this very widely held belief.

hugh

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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1010049 - 25/09/12 05:31 PM
So when are SOS going to do an A/D converter shootout?!


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Glenn Bucci
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1010060 - 25/09/12 06:18 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote Glenn Bucci:

I agree that many of the mic pre's in this example sound very similar with the piano. However when you compare Mackie pre's to API on a drum kit, there will be little guess work which one is which.




I'm not so sure the difference would actually be as 'night and day' as you suggest -- provided you're not clipping the preamps. There are differences, of course, but I really do think 'expectation bias' plays a much greater part in people's impression than most people realise.

Of course, if you are clipping the preamps -- something which is quite easy to do with drums in particular -- the overload behaviour will be quite different and result in clearly different tonality.

hugh




What I have noticed when tracking drums with the API's is the fast transience response they provide which you would not get with Mackie's, or even 1073's. Hence the reason why engineers like Andy Johns likes to use API pre's on drums. So we are not just talking about the "character of the mic pre" but how it captures the signal...or how quickly it does.

I remember an article in SOS where the A/B comparison of a classical recording you made on a stage with your GML equipment and Paul did with his equipment. It was remarked that the differences with your recordings vrs his with his less expensive pre's was not as drastic as one would think. Perhaps certain instruments, and equipment make more of a difference with different pre's?


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Mattyy



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010075 - 25/09/12 07:45 PM
Inspiration --> composition --> arrangement --> performers/performances --> environment --> mic placement --> mic, etc... and in that order.

Remember everybody, that this was on a SOLO piano piece. Add other instruments and these differences are... NOTHING -- at least compared to 6 steps before. I do understand that as audio engineers, we have less to do with the other steps but if we focus on supporting artists during these processes then I think that we will be far better off than if we can afford Neves or APIs. IN FACT, I would go so far as to argue that messing around with different preamps and mics at the expense of previous steps has done more to DESTROY music than help. I would much rather listen to a Beethoven piano sonata performed by an experienced concert pianist in a great hall captured in just the right spot on a Candle tape recorder than most of the rip off/rushed/thrown together/financially motivated/recorded through a million dollar signal chain music that has been assaulting my senses lately.
Thank you SOS for trying to better MUSIC :-)
And all of you gear junkies - that's fine, I'm with you but the best investment you can make is listening... plus maybe lessons - LOL!!

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Just a fan of music...


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ef37a



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010076 - 25/09/12 07:51 PM
Oooo! "They" are going to wriggle! Oooo! "They" are going to huff and puff!

Re levels. Of course spikey stuff like drums has to be watched. Then the common hybrid mic pre does produce rather more distortion at higher gain levels and will probably sound "rougher sooner".

Discrete "op amps" do not seem to me to offer any great advantages (and may well be worse for stability) except in terms of ultimate headroom since the supply rails can be almost as high as we like, but if pro converters stop at +24dBu is there really any point in 10-15dB more than this?

Then there is the class A debacle. Might be something to it if going class A preamp direct to converter but any kind of desk will put probably 1/2 doz class AB chips in the signal path. Do said converters use class A drive and output circuits? What of active monitors? Anything above 5 watts per speaker is going to be class AB (unless it is class D!).

And finally transient response. Did I not learn many years ago (about the time of the great TIM tizzy) that provided the system did not ring, speed was simply proportional to system bandwith? In this case almost certainly defined by the microphone.
Dave.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Glenn Bucci]
      #1010090 - 25/09/12 08:19 PM
Quote Glenn Bucci:

What I have noticed when tracking drums with the API's is the fast transience response they provide which you would not get with Mackie's, or even 1073's.




The transformers in the 1073 certainly restrict both bandwidth and slew rate -- both affecting the transient response -- and so the 1073 does sound noticeably different to API or Mackie preamps as a result. But the differences between API and Mackie preamps are rather more subtle, with the rest of the Mackie mixer signal path compromising the quality of the preamps, which is why we used the inserts as outputs. But I don't think you'd find much difference in a transient response measurement between an API and a Mackie preamp... And plenty of hit records have been made with Mackie mixers without anyone complaining of a problem with the drum transients!

I fear we're still in the groove of the 'widely agreed' mantra here!

Quote:

I remember an article in SOS where the A/B comparison of a classical recording you made on a stage with your GML equipment and Paul did with his equipment. It was remarked that the differences with your recordings vrs his with his less expensive pre's was not as drastic as one would think. Perhaps certain instruments, and equipment make more of a difference with different pre's?




The differences were, indeed, very small, and actually could be ascribed to the small variations in mic positions as much as the different equipment. The greatest differences tended to appear at hotter signal levels, as the more expensive, elaborate, and better designed equipment revealed the advantages of its higher headroom margins.

So I would suggest again, that preamp differences are most obvious when they are driven hard, either deliberately or accidentally, and it's more about how they handle overloads when they become non-linear as much as, if not more than, any other aspect. And it's perfectly valid to take musical advantage of that kind of behaviour in appropriate circumstances. But where there is no need to 'drive' the preamp, perhaps preamp choice is rather less significant than many have been led to believe.

Hugh

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Mattyy]
      #1010091 - 25/09/12 08:25 PM
Quote Mattyy:

IN FACT, I would go so far as to argue that messing around with different preamps and mics at the expense of previous steps has done more to DESTROY music than help.




I think I would agree with you, and your earlier point about the overwhelming importance of the earlier stages of the music change.

Hugh

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Bob Bickerton
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1010105 - 25/09/12 08:59 PM
Quote mjfe2:

So when are SOS going to do an A/D converter shootout?!




Ah, no, let's go for a room shoot out!

Actually, I'm serious! There's always lots of talk about how important room acoustics are.

Would it be of use to create an article which demonstrates this? Perhaps a series of recordings of one source in a variety of rooms, miked the same way, or even miked at different distances to show how the room has more effect. Maybe start with an untreated room and record differences as the room gets incrementally treated (no doubt a supplier of acoustic treatment would sponsor this and I'm sure there would be a willing guinea pig who would like their room treated).

Some of my favourite recordings have been close miked in large beautiful acoustics, not something that can be done at home, and different to dry studio plus reverb.

I don't have time to review the samples, but this is an interesting read and confirms something I long suspected.

Bob

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www.bickerton.co.nz


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The Elf
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010110 - 25/09/12 09:20 PM
As a Focusrite Liquid Channel owner I'm well used to the joy of comparing subtleties between pre-amp emulations - but I actually have to come up with a permanent recording decision when I go through the process!

I'm going to hold my hand up and say that I expected the differences to be much greater, given the wide spread of pre's in the test (and the difference between my LC's emulations are typically less subtle!). And I'm going to also say that there are some examples here that I prefer to the others, but I doubt it has much to do with cost. If was hearing a vocalist, as opposed to a piano, through the same range of pre's I'd likely come up with a different favourite.

So as far as giving the lie to those who verbally trash one perfectly decent pre over another I'd say job done, SOS! It doesn't mean I wouldn't prefer one over another on any given day, but the choice would be based on:

a) what I hear in that particular situation on that day
b) whether one pre offers me something over another (e.g. the SSL's VHD control, for instance)

Sometimes my choice would be based on noise levels, or available gain. Not many pre's have the ultra-low noise-floor of my SSL Superanalogue Channels, and this may be important for a harp, or an acoustic guitar, but for some signals I care less about low-noise and more about character. Some may turn their noses up at my TLA EQ's mic pre's, but I get some very good close-mic'd drums sounds through them that arrive all the better for having hit a valve or two on the way.

Anyway, to the test...

Brauner:
I liked G/H for their smooth character, E for its warm lows and C for its detail. If I had to choose a favourite it would be E.

MKH:
I liked F for it's overall balance of lows/highs and G for its detail. B seemed to have more depth and ambience. On this day I'd choose F for the cut.

Royer:
(Lordy, I want one of these mic's!)
D had a richness I liked. H had warmer lows. C seemed to capture a delicacy I liked. A, F and G had a slight 'edge' that, although I wouldn't notice in isolation, in comparison with the others here I found less appealing. Today I'd choose C.

Fascinating exercise - let's do more of these!

--------------------
An Eagle for an Emperor, A Kestrel for a Knave.


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The Elf
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Bob Bickerton]
      #1010111 - 25/09/12 09:21 PM
Quote Bob Bickerton:

Would it be of use to create an article which demonstrates this? Perhaps a series of recordings of one source in a variety of rooms, miked the same way, or even miked at different distances to show how the room has more effect. Maybe start with an untreated room and record differences as the room gets incrementally treated (no doubt a supplier of acoustic treatment would sponsor this and I'm sure there would be a willing guinea pig who would like their room treated).



I'm prepared to selflessly volunteer my room!

--------------------
An Eagle for an Emperor, A Kestrel for a Knave.


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fHumble fHingaz



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Bob Bickerton]
      #1010132 - 26/09/12 12:23 AM
Quote:

Ah, no, let's go for a room shoot out!




Fantastic idea!

At least that would be a clear (probably quite dramatic) demonstration...

Then we could point people to it when they show up on a forum & ask "I've got all this money burning a hole in my pocket, what should I spend it on first?", before they get caught in the frustrating vortex of misinformation & pointless expense.

--------------------
http://soundcloud.com/coldroom-studio


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skatebird



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010142 - 26/09/12 07:15 AM
Thanks for a really good and well executed test! I love this kind of stuff.

I also found the differences between preamps really small. I would recommend using a ABX software (like http://emptymusic.com/software/ABXer.html) for testing if you really can tell two preamps apart. I couldn't


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Mike Stranks
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010153 - 26/09/12 08:45 AM
Another vote here for a room shoot-out... we even have a volunteer - thanks Elf.

It's clear from posts here that people are often debating replacing monitors or other gear when they're working in untreated rooms.

[I know there's a whole sub-discussion about multi-purpose rooms, but that needn't be the "can't do it" argument that's sometimes raised. I won't take that any further here!]

I worked for far too long in untreated rooms until circumstances dictated that I had to do something. Even the modest treatment I've used has been a revelation...

So, yes... as near as possible record and mix identical pieces with identical instruments, amps mics, monitors etc in a good room and an untreated one. Sales of Rockwool and pre-assembled panels will rocket!


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Mike Stranks]
      #1010161 - 26/09/12 09:04 AM
Quote Mike Stranks:

Even the modest treatment I've used has been a revelation...




And that's what we have found time and time again with the Studio SOS features. What we generally do in most of those is incredibly simple and inexpensive, and usually only involves the absolutely most basic treatment of early reflections. Yet without fail everyone has been able to hear significant improvements in clarity, definition and stereo imaging. Most volunteer the opinion that it's like they've just got new, much more expensive monitors becuase they can now hear so muich more of what the monitors have been trying to tell them all along!

Sorting out troublesome bass modes can be difficult and costly, and that's where a good acoustician comes in. But dealing with early reflections that destroy midrange clarity and imaging is trivially simple to do and, as you say Mike, it can be a revelation.

hugh

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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thefruitfarmer



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1010196 - 26/09/12 10:49 AM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:



Sorting out troublesome bass modes can be difficult and costly, and that's where a good acoustician comes in.






Not necessarily.

I was happy with the treatment of my 8'6" cube room, with lots of RW5.

I do not doubt that someone experienced would have treated the room in less time and perhaps made the trapping more efficient.

However, how much would they want to do this?

and yeah....

The difference between a treated and untreated room makes the perceived differences in preamp appear very small indeed, also moving the mic makes more difference than using a different pre amp.


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Nolum



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010244 - 26/09/12 03:24 PM
So, regarding the preamp shootout, what is the takeaway here? In light of many people (myself included) hearing very little difference, how does one go about buying a preamp? Or choosing a particular preamp for a particular source? Is there justification for spending 4 digits for a single channel? Are there really things to be considered beyond quality of parts and construction, as well technical specs (self-noise, etc)?

I feel like my world has been flipped upside down.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Nolum]
      #1010265 - 26/09/12 05:24 PM
Quote Nolum:

So, regarding the preamp shootout, what is the takeaway here?




I think the take-away is that there really isn't as much difference as many people think between the sound character of decent preamp designs -- provided that they are used within their designed limits (ie, not overdriven).

And what that means is that for general recording duties, where the gain structure is optimised so that the signal isn't pushing the headroom margins, it really doesn't make a lot of difference which preamp you use. I'm not saying there isn't a difference, because there is... but changing the mic or repositioning the mic will result in a much more significant change of character.

I certainly wouldn't hold off recording my drum solo until I could afford an API...

Quote:

In light of many people (myself included) hearing very little difference, how does one go about buying a preamp?




Buy something that is as well designed and well built as your budget can afford, with the facilities you require. There are plenty to choose from. But above all, buy what you need, not what an internet forum says you absolutely must have for any given source!

Quote:

Or choosing a particular preamp for a particular source?




This isn't something I've ever subscribed to, so I can't help... I will admit that Ido sometimes choose to use transformer-coupled preamps on sources where I want a slightly softer, thicker sound (depending on what the mic is giving me). But in practice I am quite happy to use whatever preamp comes to hand, and concentrate on positioning the mic to get the sound I want. Of course, I tend to record classical acoustic sources with lots of headroom specifically to avoid overdriving the preamp -- for me it's all about transparency, not colour.

Quote:

Is there justification for spending 4 digits for a single channel?




Gear lust means that if you want something, you'll find a way of justifying it whatever the cost! But personally, I'd struggle to justify spending four figures for a single channel... Some have tempted me -- like the Grace M201 -- but I restrained myself! The Grace Design 201 is a beuatifully constructed preamp that has superb engineering inside and out, sounds fabulous and and is a joyous thing to use... but I'm quite happy with my ISA428, GML8304, SSL Xlogic VHD, and SADiE slither preamps which all get the job done very nicely thank you! I have also made very high quality recordings using the preamps in a Mackie 1402VLZ mixer, a little Sound Devices two channel battery-powered mic pre, and a Yamaha DM1000 mixer...

Quote:

Are there really things to be considered beyond quality of parts and construction, as well technical specs (self-noise, etc)?




It's really all about the design -- electronic and ergonomic -- the quality of the components and construction, the facilities, and the tech specs, of course -- and then how it interfaces with your mics. Ribbons and dynamics generally like much higher input impedances, for example. But if you are into running things hot for effect, then you really have to listen to how the preamp reacts becuase that's wehen the really obvious differences start to appear.

Hugh

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Exalted Wombat



Joined: 06/02/10
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1010275 - 26/09/12 06:17 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

The Grace Design 201 is a beuatifully constructed preamp that has superb engineering inside and out, sounds fabulous and and is a joyous thing to use... but I'm quite happy with my ISA428, GML8304, SSL Xlogic VHD, and SADiE slither preamps which all get the job done very nicely thank you! I have also made very high quality recordings using the preamps in a Mackie 1402VLZ mixer, a little Sound Devices two channel battery-powered mic pre, and a Yamaha DM1000 mixer...





Do I still detect a trace of denial? :-)

"Sounds fabulous"? More fabulous than the work-a-day preamps you mentioned? You mean there IS a noticable difference...?


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_ Six _



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010276 - 26/09/12 06:24 PM
Cue lots of ebay auctions for no longer needed expensive pre amps.

I've got my wonga ready!


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Mattyy



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010277 - 26/09/12 06:25 PM
Alright - in the spirit of the "game":
Royer: I liked D and G with the D seeming to have more detail and the G being a little clearer.
Sennheisers: I liked D, it seemed to be a bit more natural than the rest for me.
Brauners: I liked E and H with E seeming to have more depth/evenness and H having just a little more clarity or separation.

To be honest, I didn't like the Brauners on this instrument. The sound seemed slightly muffled to me. Bear in mind that I am listening to these samples under less than perfect conditions to say the least. I almost want for you to tell me that there is no difference in the preamps and that this was all a hoax to "egg all of our faces" because, as a less than professional, I had a hard time distinguishing all of the samples but it was fun and if I find out that there was any consistency in my answers then I'll definitely audition my preferred preamp!
Thanks again and PLEASE keep these coming!!! Audio fidelity is pretty much the only thing that matters to me when making these decisions.
Cheers.

--------------------
Just a fan of music...


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Random Guitarist



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010281 - 26/09/12 07:05 PM
One small doubt I have about this comparison is that I suspect that the VLZ pre-amps may not be entirely typical of the 'budget mixer' genre. I'd suggest that they are an unusually good preamp in that category.

So it could be a little misleading to go from this test to wider generalisation that budget mixer preamps are all at this level?

Having said that I applaud the test and the thought and work that has gone into it.
I'm still trying to find time to listen carefully to all of the samples though...

--------------------
I've never liked a solo violin, you need at least five for a proper fire.


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Sam Inglis
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Nolum]
      #1010282 - 26/09/12 07:09 PM
Quote Nolum:

So, regarding the preamp shootout, what is the takeaway here? In light of many people (myself included) hearing very little difference, how does one go about buying a preamp?




For me personally, I think that what this comparison has demonstrated is that you can take a decent level of sound quality almost for granted in modern gear, which means that I would tend to choose more on the strength of what features are offered. For example, to me, having stepped or digital gain controls is a massive plus, especially for stereo recording. I don't want the hassle and frustration of trying to match gains across two channels using Mackie trim pots unless I have to! And again, for my own use a decent amount of clean gain for ribbon mics is high on the list.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1010283 - 26/09/12 07:18 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Do I still detect a trace of denial? :-)




Quite possibly! I've never denied that there are differences... I just don't think the differences are as significant as many would have us believe. And this SOS comparison would seem to confirm that.

Quote:

"Sounds fabulous"? More fabulous than the work-a-day preamps you mentioned? You mean there IS a noticable difference...?




I think I said the M201 sounded sublime with a clean and neutral sound -- and I'd stand by that. other preamps are sublimely clean and neutral too -- I have several... I also said it had a huge headroom and that is where high end preamps often stand apart from the less costly wannabes.

The thing with the Grace though, is that you really feel you know where the mopney has ben spent. It feels as good to use as it sounds. If you appreciate good engineering, it's all there in the Grace Design m201...but at a cost. If I had oodles of money then I'd love to own a rack of Grace preamps... but I can get the same quality of sound with lots of others that are less expensive, and perhaps not quite as rewarding to use at a tactile level.

hugh

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Random Guitarist]
      #1010287 - 26/09/12 07:24 PM
Quote RhinoTime:

I suspect that the VLZ pre-amps may not be entirely typical of the 'budget mixer' genre. I'd suggest that they are an unusually good preamp in that category.




The second generation VLZ-pro preamps were certainly ahead of the game for budget consoles when they were first introduced a good few years ago, but I think many of the other reputable budget consoles have more or less caught up now. Most budget mixer preamps are surprisingly good these days, and we would have killed for that level of performance 30 years ago, where even fully professional consoles often sounded pretty grim in comparison! It's often the rest of the budget mixer circuitry that lets the side down, with limited headroom and other issues.

hugh

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Folderol



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010308 - 26/09/12 08:28 PM
Hmmm. Talking about room shootouts. I have one that would challenge a saint.

3M x 4M
Bay window on the 3M
Chimney breast on the 4M
Glass window opposite the bay (going to adjacent room)
Plasterboard paneling opposite the chimney breast, with something inside that rattles
Bouncy wooden floor (cellar underneath).

I suspect that when I eventually get round to it, I'll abandon this and use the dining room instead

That is of course after I've finished the kitchen

--------------------
It wasn't me!
(Well, actually, it probably was)


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skatebird



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Random Guitarist]
      #1010310 - 26/09/12 08:36 PM
Quote RhinoTime:

One small doubt I have about this comparison is that I suspect that the VLZ pre-amps may not be entirely typical of the 'budget mixer' genre. I'd suggest that they are an unusually good preamp in that category.




I think you are right. When I studied sound engineering way back in 1998 a classmate did some measurements on mic preamps and found out that the VLZs had lower noise and THD than the preamps in the school's SSL desk.


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ef37a



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010313 - 26/09/12 08:45 PM
"I think the take-away is that there really isn't as much difference as many people think between the sound character of decent preamp designs -- provided that they are used within their designed limits (ie, not overdriven)."

Hugh, I recall an amplifier manufacturer saying much the same thing many years ago and even putting his money where his mouth was!

AFAIK no one proved him wrong and collected the cash but people are still talking bllx about superb but different power amps decades later!

I am sure the same will obtain with mic pres. Extremely interesting and WELL worth doing tho it was I suspect the exercise will sink into obscurity and like Darwin the naysayers will still be there!

There is at least one advantage to buying a top range pre..Reliability. I have never read a post in SoS or any other forum of a Grace, AD or any other such make going wrong and I am pretty sure if people paid that sort of money and one popped they would shout!

Dave.


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The Elf
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: ef37a]
      #1010317 - 26/09/12 09:07 PM
Quote ef37a:

There is at least one advantage to buying a top range pre..Reliability. I have never read a post in SoS or any other forum of a Grace, AD or any other such make going wrong and I am pretty sure if people paid that sort of money and one popped they would shout!



Shout!

One of my SSL Superanalogue Channels failed twice in the space of a year. It cost me the price of a decent pre to get it fixed the first time. The second time (and it looked like the same fault to me) SSL were a bit sniffy about fixing it under warranty, but after a bit of horse trading we arrived at a mutually agreeable solution.

I dont regret getting these pre's now, but the cost and repairs have made me less likely to invest that kind of money again.

--------------------
An Eagle for an Emperor, A Kestrel for a Knave.


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Random Guitarist



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1010322 - 26/09/12 09:25 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

but I think many of the other reputable budget consoles have more or less caught up now.




I'd accept that, but the word 'reputable' in it is kind of what I'm driving at.
For someone who comes along and reads the comparison stuff how do they know which side of the reputable line a particular maker/model sits on.

I'm assuming that you took the vlz signals from the direct outs on the mixer? And that's another thing that maybe needs to be brought out, a reputable mixer with a direct out will do better than one that forces you to use the rest of the mixer signal chain. How much better?

--------------------
I've never liked a solo violin, you need at least five for a proper fire.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Random Guitarist]
      #1010327 - 26/09/12 10:03 PM
Yes, we took the Mackie output from the insert point, and routed via an ART transformers box to balance and isolate the output.

Hugh

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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ef37a



Joined: 29/05/06
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Random Guitarist]
      #1010329 - 26/09/12 10:12 PM
Quote RhinoTime:

Quote Hugh Robjohns:

but I think many of the other reputable budget consoles have more or less caught up now.




I'd accept that, but the word 'reputable' in it is kind of what I'm driving at.
For someone who comes along and reads the comparison stuff how do they know which side of the reputable line a particular maker/model sits on.

I'm assuming that you took the vlz signals from the direct outs on the mixer? And that's another thing that maybe needs to be brought out, a reputable mixer with a direct out will do better than one that forces you to use the rest of the mixer signal chain. How much better?




That last might be food for the next test! It is recieved wisdom that a signal chain should be as short and simple as possible. But in fact how many NE5532's can be daisy chained before the result can be told from the original source on a double blind A/B test. I suspect the number of stages needed would be impracticably large.

Dave.


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Jorge
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010333 - 26/09/12 10:39 PM
So this discussion would suggest that we can generalize these findings to a degree, and will likely find a reasonably quiet and uncolored good quality analog mixer mic preamp like a MixWiz or Zed to be adequate for most vocal or instrument recordings and most recording mics. In addition this suggests that the built-in preamps in many of the better quality audio interfaces will be fine for most of these uses as well. Would anyone take issue with, or want to qualify, these generalizations?


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ef37a



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Jorge]
      #1010336 - 26/09/12 11:14 PM
Quote Jorge:

So this discussion would suggest that we can generalize these findings to a degree, and will likely find a reasonably quiet and uncolored good quality analog mixer mic preamp like a MixWiz or Zed to be adequate for most vocal or instrument recordings and most recording mics. In addition this suggests that the built-in preamps in many of the better quality audio interfaces will be fine for most of these uses as well. Would anyone take issue with, or want to qualify, these generalizations?




Not at all Jorge! "Our" (son and I) rig for a long time was a Behringer Xenyx 802 feeding a 2496. Using Sontronics STC-2, AKG P150s and latterly an SM57 he made recordings he was happy with of amplified and acoustic guitar. I then upgraded to a ZED10 and that is undoubtably a better piece of kit, but! In all honesty, although the mic pre has a wee bit more gain in hand the recordings he makes of acoustic G and with the 57 are not noticeable better in terms of noise (in fact the locale limits my noise floor!)or any other quality we can discern. One big advantage of the 10 is the HP filter on each channel (and yet how few "booteek" £xxxx mic pres provide these!).

Of course my noise floor is only just adequate and then only in the wee smalls. Had I a 30dBspl studio things MIGHT be different?

Dave.


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James PerrettModerator



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1010372 - 27/09/12 09:23 AM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Most budget mixer preamps are surprisingly good these days, and we would have killed for that level of performance 30 years ago, where even fully professional consoles often sounded pretty grim in comparison!




And I wonder if this is one of the main reasons for the mic preamp myth. Originally, the idea of using separate mic preamps instead of the console preamps was intended to overcome the limits of console mic preamps. I've owned a couple of consoles from the early/mid 80s where the mic preamps were obviously noisy and coloured. I managed to produce some interesting recordings on them but they would have been obviously improved if I had access to decent mic preamps.

Once low noise input transistors became affordable, the quality of preamps on affordable consoles improved dramatically and effectively removed the need for additional preamps - but old school engineers carried on using them and the marketing machine went into overdrive.

I can certainly understand the need for preamps with eq built in where the eq is a big part of the sound. There are also plenty of people nowadays who don't use a console so they will also need separate preamps. As Hugh says, some consoles have shortcomings in later stages so some engineers will try to avoid the console all together.

I can't help thinking that this is similar to the summing amp myth that was hopefully debunked a little while ago.

James.

--------------------
JRP Music - Audio Mastering and Restoration.
http://www.jrpmusic.net


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The Elf
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: James Perrett]
      #1010387 - 27/09/12 11:31 AM
Quote James Perrett:

I can't help thinking that this is similar to the summing amp myth that was hopefully debunked a little while ago.



Head for another forum and you'll see that no matter how much a myth is systematically and methodically de-bunked some people just *want* to believe and won't take any evidence as irrefutable. Even perfect null tests are dismissed under those circumstances.

After all, it's better to believe in wichcraft than to accept that you can't make a decent recording, isn't it?

--------------------
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Glenn Bucci
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010397 - 27/09/12 12:23 PM
I have not compared newer consumer mic pre's to all discrete mic pre's in my studio in over 5 years. However I have spoken to mic pre designers in the past about not having cheap chips in their gear. Not only that but having higher end transformer coupled balanced and direct humongous metalized film MultiCaps capacitor coupled unbalanced outputs which help provide better spec's.

I WANT TO CHALLENGE EVERYONE TO TAKE THEIR OWN TEST. I want you to record a vocalist with a condenser microphone of at least the quality of a AT 4033. Make sure the level into your DAW in the same and the distance between the vocalist is the same. Record with a consumer mic pre (Behringer, Mackie, Presonus, etc.) and then borrow a higher end pre (Neve, Manley, Pendulum, Avalon, SSL, etc) and do a A/B. Carefully listen to the lows, then mid's, and then the high's. What ever difference you hear, just think of adding that difference to every track on a song. After having over 20 tracks with the higher end mic pre. the difference on a entire song will be a lot more noticeable than one track. I have done this test multiple times in my studio, and I have always found the higher end mic pre's to deliver more information than the consumer pre's. Granted cleaner pre's will sound different than colored pre's, but the overall sound quality of higher end pre's with better spec's and higher end components still does make a difference. Have consumer pre's improved over the years.....yes. The question only you can answer is, is the difference enough to justify the cost of the higher end pre. There is no right or wrong answer. The answer is what do YOU think and does the cost for YOU justify the cost.

One experiment I did was with the Focusrite Voicemaster, Mindprint DTC, Focusrite ISA 220 and the Langevin DVC (Manley Labs). I clearly heard a difference between all these mic pre's, and the Langevin DVC to my ears was clearly the best sounding pre. So for me, the cost of the higher end mic pre was clearly well worth it. I personally wanted to buy the Mindprint after reading Hugh's review, but just singing into each mic pre and playing them back clearly allowed me to hear the difference. For your ears and taste perhaps the difference is not justified, and that is fine. But when you learn to hear the subtle differences and again think about multiplying the difference on every track of your song, that differences is magnified.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Glenn Bucci]
      #1010401 - 27/09/12 12:55 PM
Quote Glenn Bucci:

...just think of adding that difference to every track on a song.




...except that it won't be the same difference will it? And it probably won't be anything like as many as twenty tracks either -- at least not for most home musicians.

The use of different mics with the same preamp will alter the tonal signature of the combination quite radically, and most people will use two different mics for vocals and guitar etc, so the 'stacking' concept is already looking dubious.

And for most home recording sessions we're looking at a main vocal, possibly a couple of backing vocals, a couple of guitar parts (acoustic/electric) and maybe some hand percussion, but that's about it as far as live recording is concerned. Pretty much everything else will be samples, virtual instruments or DIs. So ten tracks tops, and often six or less.

I agree completely that the better designed preamps sound better -- and the bottom end is a particular area where differences become more obvious -- but we really are talking pretty stubtle improvements here. Worth having if you can afford it, obviously, but not worth worrying about excessively because it certainly won't affect record sales!

In days of old, long before samples and virtual instruments, everything was recorded live, and everything went through the same console preamps. Some sounded better than others, but the hit records still emerged quite happily, despite excessive 'stacking'. I think the perspective has been distorted quite considerably over the years because of changing working styles and marketing BS, and sometimes it's worth just stepping back for a moment and re-evaluating just what is critically important and what are 'nice to have luxuries' that quickly get lost in the noise.

hugh

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The Korff
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1010406 - 27/09/12 01:13 PM
Totes +1.


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Glenn Bucci
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1010408 - 27/09/12 01:14 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote Glenn Bucci:

...just think of adding that difference to every track on a song.




In days of old, long before samples and virtual instruments, everything was recorded live, and everything went through the same console preamps. Some sounded better than others, but the hit records still emerged quite happily, despite excessive 'stacking'.
hugh




Us home engineers have to remember, its all about the song and the performance. Even poorly recorded Jango Reinhardt, and Robert Johnson recordings are still loved by many today. No one says, oh how I wish he had a U47 through a Neve mic pre. They just love the music.


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Sam Inglis
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Glenn Bucci]
      #1010416 - 27/09/12 01:53 PM
Quote Glenn Bucci:

I WANT TO CHALLENGE EVERYONE TO TAKE THEIR OWN TEST. I want you to record a vocalist with a condenser microphone of at least the quality of a AT 4033. Make sure the level into your DAW in the same and the distance between the vocalist is the same. Record with a consumer mic pre (Behringer, Mackie, Presonus, etc.) and then borrow a higher end pre (Neve, Manley, Pendulum, Avalon, SSL, etc) and do a A/B.




Yes... but be sure to accurately match the levels, and use an ABX program as was suggested by a previous poster, so that you are doing the tests blind. Because what our experiences in doing these tests show is that the effect of bias (the psychological expectation that something will sound a certain way because of the name on the box) is much greater than we had expected.


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markc2



Joined: 27/09/12
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010419 - 27/09/12 02:16 PM
Wow this is really very cool, thank you.

I would like to put in my vote for Royer_A, the depth of the harmonics and physicality of that recording are beautiful, it's not as super clean on the top as the Brauner-A recording but the richness makes up for it.

I've played piano since I was a kid, and know nothing of the recording industry except I got to be in a recording studio for a day being recorded as part of a band. I am one of the nuts that likes to buy home audio (mcintosh/dynaco/quad) and we get into arguments all day long about "no this sounded more organic, can't you hear the door closing backstage during the 2nd movement of this concerto?"

I do realize that I will never know what it truly sounded like because I wasn't in the room when it happened, I have to trust people in your field to do an excellent job and transport me to that moment.

Thanks

Mark


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Heinrich
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010461 - 27/09/12 07:15 PM
Always intrigued by these evaluations, have done my own modest tests previously and concluded I could tell no difference between different preamps I had to hand (when run clean) - but with the level matching and the personal blindfolding being crucial! Even tiny differences in level would draw me to prefer the louder, and I wondered if I was suffering from that a little here with the first couple listened to under the Brauner set, where I thought Brauner_A was slightly blurry and indistinct compared to the next listened to (Brauner_B...) it also had less distortion around the 0:50 mark which doesn't necessarily mean anything about it's level but made me experiment with edging the level up a tiny amount with Brauner_A only, at which point (after going through all the other Brauners it went from -marginally- the one I would NOT choose to the one that seemed the most solid. Anyone else find this?

Even A:B-ing in pairs at a time you get continuity confusion and fatigue going through permutations (well I certainly do and it seems amazingly easy - even without expectation bias - to convince yourself of a pattern that does not appear to be there an hour later (maybe after listening through a different set of the samples).

It also varied between sections of the music - A:Bing different sections produced different results. I also thought I was maybe being unfair where I felt the top end seemed slightly more prominent - maybe actually these were more detailed and I was imagining the fragility of the rest of the sound... arf

Anyway, happily, I couldn't reliably agree with myself on anything although having a stinking cold with bunged up glooping tubes is perhaps not helping, nor my Bronze Ears battered by age and years of loud music... but in the spirit of a game of minesweeper I'll offer a couple of shots just for fun and in full expectation of imminent destruction:

Brauner Set: (More 'stereo' detail but less naturalistic)
- B and E seemed (sometimes!) more brittle/less solid so by subtraction I will say these are the Mackie and ART MPAII though maybe not in that order.

MKH: (More diffuse stereo)
- I found it harder to come to any opinions about the preamps with the MKH set. Maybe the cold was worsening.
I'll take a wild stab at C&G being the same preamps as B&E in the Brauner set. (ie. ART + Mackie)

Royer: (Didn't grab me so much at first, though perhaps mentally saturated by that stage, but after reading here how much everyone likes it I now also think it sounds very sweet (no I really do)
- Here perhaps the least natural sounding seemed to be D. So, er...

...boom aargh!


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rmatichak



Joined: 03/06/11
Posts: 1
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010491 - 28/09/12 12:05 AM
Alright. I'll throw my hat in the ring.
I only had patience to compare the Brauner set.

I best liked "A" then maybe "H". Least liked "B" & "C".

Can't wait for the reveal!

--------------------
Montreal, Canada


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ar316



Joined: 03/12/08
Posts: 4
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010496 - 28/09/12 01:11 AM
OK, here goes. Listened with my Sony MDR-7506 headphones. I haven't read anyone else's responses and am not familiar with these microphones. The only preamp I am familiar with is the Mackie VLZ.

Brauner

A – Liked it. Had a bag being shuffled around noise at downs. Keys moving? (upon listening to all the files this is consistent.)

B – Good as well. Sounded grainy during some of the louder portions. Bad distortion, even.

C – Favorite so far. Clean but smooth.

D – Equal in quality to C.

E – Sounds a little duller than the rest. Not too bad though, nothing a little EQ wouldn’t fix.

F – Equal in quality to C and D.

G – Sounds good. Not as smooth as C/D/F but good. Transients were sharper/harsher but nothing to complain about.

H - For whatever reason this was my favorite. A good balance of smoothness without sounding dull.


MKH


A – On the dull side. Stereo panning is more consistent. Distortion in the lows at 0:50 .

B – Sounds nicer than A. More “musical” and dynamic than A.

C – Duller than B but better than A.

D – Has a rich quality to it. Similar to B.

E – Nothing objectionable. Similar to B and D.

F – Similar to B/D/E. Perhaps slightly duller but not bad.

G – A little sharp in the mids but good.

H – Overall nice frequency balance. Much like B/D/E/F. Not as detailed as G but still nice.


Royer

A – Not as detailed as the previous microphones. Has a dull quality.

B – Also sounds dull. A little brighter than A but still not as great as the previous microphones.

C – Nicest so far.

D – Better than C. The difference between preamps is much more noticeable with the Royer than with the previous microphones.

E – About equal to B.

F – About equal to B/E.

G – My favorite so far. Brighter/cleaner with more dynamics.

H – About equal to G.



The biggest difference was between the microphone changes. Also there seemed to be a loudness difference and panning difference between the files. Nonetheless I was happy with most of the recordings. EQing would "fix" nearly any differences. The only one that stuck out as "bad" was MKH_A.wav . There was something I really didn't like about that file. It was both dull and it distorted several times.


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Airfix



Joined: 07/05/12
Posts: 460
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: ar316]
      #1010507 - 28/09/12 05:11 AM
bit of a double post there -

Edited by Airfix (28/09/12 05:13 AM)


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Airfix



Joined: 07/05/12
Posts: 460
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: ar316]
      #1010508 - 28/09/12 05:13 AM
Welcome ar316
I like your style - only Mackies eh? - right to the point! excellent


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didier.brest



Joined: 07/03/10
Posts: 10
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010511 - 28/09/12 06:47 AM
I listened to the Royer SF12 tracks, both most enjoyable and a priori more revealing about the preamps because of the low sensitivity from the microphone.

First rank
C sounds very accurate and fast and has both deep and tight lows. It shall be a first class preamp on the neutral side. Maselec is my best guess for this one.
E has some nice colour. Would it be the quite confidential valve preamp GP PML 200 ?

Second rank
A and G, let me say Neve and API.

Third rank
I did not care so much about the other D,F and H.

Fourth rank
B like Bad.

My guesses are just preconceived ideas about how shall sound these preamps because I never had my hands on them. And I would not bet that that I could discriminate consistently between them in an ABX test.

Edited by didier.brest (28/09/12 06:48 AM)


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ar316



Joined: 03/12/08
Posts: 4
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Airfix]
      #1010521 - 28/09/12 08:36 AM
Quote Airfix:

Welcome ar316
I like your style - only Mackies eh? - right to the point! excellent




Haha thanks. It took me a little under 4 years to make my first post so I hoped it was a good one. My "forum home" is at Gearslutz but this article really interested me.

Two questions for the SOS testers: What was the reason for using the ART DTI box?

Also, is the VLZ Pro MkII = 1402-VLZ3 with the XDR2 preamps? http://www.mackie.com/products/1402vlz3/

I tried Googling VLZ Pro MkII and didn't find anything.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
SOS Technical Editor


Joined: 25/07/03
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Loc: Worcestershire
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: ar316]
      #1010526 - 28/09/12 09:03 AM
Quote ar316:

What was the reason for using the ART DTI box?




It was because the insert send from the Mackie is unbalanced, and we were running fairly long cables back to the Prism Orpheus whichn was running from a different mains sockety. So it was principally to ensure we had no problems with ground loop hum.

Quote:

Also, is the VLZ Pro MkII = 1402-VLZ3 with the XDR2 preamps?




No, it was the previous generation (VLZ Pro) as opposed to the current third generation VLZ3.

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep99/articles/mackie1604.htm

hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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ar316



Joined: 03/12/08
Posts: 4
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1010529 - 28/09/12 09:22 AM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote ar316:

What was the reason for using the ART DTI box?




It was because the insert send from the Mackie is unbalanced, and we were running fairly long cables back to the Prism Orpheus whichn was running from a different mains sockety. So it was principally to ensure we had no problems with ground loop hum.

Quote:

Also, is the VLZ Pro MkII = 1402-VLZ3 with the XDR2 preamps?




No, it was the previous generation (VLZ Pro) as opposed to the current third generation VLZ3.

<a href="/sos/sep99/articles/mackie1604.htm" target="_blank">http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep99/articles/mackie1604.htm</a>

hugh





Thanks for the quick response! I'm using insert outs from my VLZ3 (XDR 2) preamps which were improved over the VLZ Pro's, or so I've read. They sound good to my ears. The tech specs in the manual all had measurements from the insert outs so I started doing that about a year ago. Since you guys recorded that way for the test that reaffirms that choice.

My insert to interface cables are only 6 feet and the mixer + interface are plugged into the same power strip so I should be all right.

Like was stated earlier, monitoring/acoustically treating your control room makes a big difference. I used to record/mix on the dull/muddy side because my speakers and the untreated room had a high-mid/high boost. Once I put some foam and bass traps (rockwool) in to reduce those early reflections and then bought IK Multimedia's ARC system to top it off...recording and mixing became much easier.

I really appreciate SOS' committment to a much smaller amount of BS versus other engineering magazines.

Edited by ar316 (28/09/12 09:31 AM)


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Kentala



Joined: 16/08/10
Posts: 1
Loc: Helsinki, Finland
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1010939 - 01/10/12 01:32 PM
Hello,

long time lurker, first time poster!
Thanks for the shootout (and for a great magazine)!
Forgive me if this has already been discussed but I want to point out that there are some real differences in performances between the files (like notes missing during a quiet passage at 0:26 on some of the files).
I suspect that some of the dynamic differences I hear in the files are actually differences in the performances and not in the recording chain.
I guess that's realism, a reminder that even using something like a disklavier the differences in performances far outweigh the differences in the preamps.

However, for a test like this I think it's important to have the same exact performance re-recorded (a speaker and a mic in a room).

BTW, I also recommend using something like the ABXer software to make sure one can consistently pick out the differences between the files blind.

Harri Kentala
Helsinki, Finland


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Hansraube



Joined: 04/11/10
Posts: 1
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1011240 - 02/10/12 05:18 PM
Wow makes me want to pack up my studio and go live in a cave... The differences are so subtle... Makes me think that most of the time our imaginations are convincing us that "Oh yes this Vocal sounds incredible through this pre"

I will not even attempt to describe the differences, really great sounding recording though!


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mjfe2



Joined: 11/10/09
Posts: 614
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1011521 - 03/10/12 06:52 PM
I've noticed that Hugh often praises high-end preamps in reviews for having 'good headroom'. But what does this mean in the context of digital recording? Is it the case that the preamp can take peaks beyond what its analogue metering shows (in which case the meters aren't so useful and we should check our digital meters for clipping instead)?


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dmills



Joined: 25/08/06
Posts: 2429
Loc: High Wycombe, UK
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1011547 - 03/10/12 10:20 PM
Pretty much, yea.

No analogue meter can ever really be peak reading, the mechanics are just too slow even in something like a PPM, all that said, analogue meters are just fine, you just have to understand your tools.
I would personally advise setting things up so that the preamp will always clip before the ADC, in which case I really don't have to watch the digital meters at all, and simply turning up until I see something sane is sufficient (And if I want to hammer the pre for its sound, I can do so and still be sure of not clipping the ADC).

If you are having to worry about running into digital clipping, odds are you are doing it wrong.

Loads of headroom (At the output) is only really valuable if the rest of the chain can take the abuse, no point in having a preamp that can output +24dbu if the ADC clips at +18 ( A 10db pad would make this well behaved however), headroom at the input is helpful if you plan to plug a line level source into a preamp and turn the gain down to unity, some will take it, most will clip.....

Regards, Dan.

--------------------
Audiophiles use phono leads because they are unbalanced people!


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Joris de Baat



Joined: 04/10/12
Posts: 4
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1011761 - 04/10/12 10:10 PM
Dear SOS,

Thank you very much for this interesting article + testmaterial.
Many of us seem to agree that with the Brauner mic preamp nr A differs from all the rest.
More warmth and more body.
My guess is that this preamp is nr B with the MKH's and nr D with the Royer.

But Now For Something Completely Different... why did you dither the samples from 24 to 16 bit?
I wouldn't be surprised if at least 95% of your readers have a 24 bit soundcard.
It seems such a shame to lose all that resolution, especially in a listening-exercise like this!

Greetings from Rotterdam, Holland
Joris de Baat


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
SOS Technical Editor


Joined: 25/07/03
Posts: 22093
Loc: Worcestershire
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Joris de Baat]
      #1011769 - 04/10/12 10:41 PM
There is no loss of resolution through dithering. It's time that myth was put to rest!

The only change is to the signal-noise ratio which, with signals peaking close to peak level as they are in these optimised samples, is in unimportant. The theoretical 93dB signal-noise ratio is more than sufficient for a processed example.

H

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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dmills



Joined: 25/08/06
Posts: 2429
Loc: High Wycombe, UK
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1011776 - 04/10/12 11:08 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

There is no loss of resolution through dithering. It's time that myth was put to rest!




A worthy quest but one that I am afraid is doomed to failure (I have been fighting a losing war against the 'R' word applied to digital audio for years).
The fact that dither actually preserves the ability to hear the low level stuff is for some reason lost on people.

Other places you are onto a loser: Teaching guitarists basic anatomy (No duckie, those are your knees, the ears are further up, yes if you point the combo at the EARS it is too fecking loud, we have been saying this for weeks....), singing drummers (just say no), guitarists using way too much distortion, vidiots demanding an audio feed (And 5K more light!) five seconds before the opener... Some battles are I suppose worth fighting even if you know you are going to loose.

Regards, Dan.

--------------------
Audiophiles use phono leads because they are unbalanced people!


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Fran Guidry



Joined: 23/04/10
Posts: 73
Loc: Walnut Creek, CA, USA
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Joris de Baat]
      #1011796 - 05/10/12 02:22 AM
Quote Joris de Baat:

Dear SOS,

Thank you very much for this interesting article + testmaterial.
Many of us seem to agree that with the Brauner mic preamp nr A differs from all the rest.
More warmth and more body.
My guess is that this preamp is nr B with the MKH's and nr D with the Royer.
...
Greetings from Rotterdam, Holland
Joris de Baat




In my listening I would want to know that someone double blind ABXed a pair of files before I agreed that we agreed on anything. The way human perception works, even a blinded test gets skewed very quickly if labels are on view.

If you can identify A from B 13 times out of 16 trials in a double blind ABX then there's a meaningful basis for discussion. Absent that kind of evidence of audible difference, it's just jawing at the pub to me.

Fran

--------------------
E ho`okani pila kakou ma Kaleponi
www.kaleponi.com & www.homebrewedmusic.com


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ef37a



Joined: 29/05/06
Posts: 6865
Loc: northampton uk
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: dmills]
      #1011803 - 05/10/12 05:45 AM
Quote dmills:

Quote Hugh Robjohns:

There is no loss of resolution through dithering. It's time that myth was put to rest!




A worthy quest but one that I am afraid is doomed to failure (I have been fighting a losing war against the 'R' word applied to digital audio for years).
The fact that dither actually preserves the ability to hear the low level stuff is for some reason lost on people.

Other places you are onto a loser: Teaching guitarists basic anatomy (No duckie, those are your knees, the ears are further up, yes if you point the combo at the EARS it is too fecking loud, we have been saying this for weeks....), singing drummers (just say no), guitarists using way too much distortion, vidiots demanding an audio feed (And 5K more light!) five seconds before the opener... Some battles are I suppose worth fighting even if you know you are going to loose.

Regards, Dan.


......AND...RMS bloody watts!

Dave.


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PianoPerson



Joined: 18/04/09
Posts: 30
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: ef37a]
      #1011833 - 05/10/12 08:53 AM
Just wanted to say that I enjoyed this listening test immensely. Very instructive indeed, and what lovely recordings; congratulations to SoS on doing this!

Like other people, I found it hard to tell the preamps apart. In the Brauner recordings I think I detected a certain stridency with preamp C, while I liked H least: noticeably less pleasant than the others, probably the one preamp on the list that I would avoid. I think that overall I preferred A. Looking forward to the key!

It seems overwhelmingly clear that the microphones make a much bigger difference. I really liked the Sennheisers: lovely presence, realism and depth. The Brauners are slightly more rounded (compare the second note of the recording [a D]). My sense is that the Sennheiser is probably truer to the actual sound of the Yamaha grand but the Brauners have a slightly more pleasant sound. Given the purely hypothetical choice I would probably buy the Brauners...

Thanks again to the SoS team!


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Joris de Baat



Joined: 04/10/12
Posts: 4
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1011866 - 05/10/12 10:55 AM
Dear Hugh,

On the SOS-page where these samples are offered for downloading, it says: “[…], but the files have been dithered to 16-bit.”
At the risk of sounding presumptuous: I don’t think this is the correct way of describing what you have done.
One cannot “dither” a sample to 16 bit.
A sample is “re-quantized” – re-calculated - from 24 to 16 bit, and while doing that, one has the choice “to dither or not to dither” (as Shakespeare would have phrased it).
Wouldn’t you agree that dithering is a separate element in the processing of a sample, where a slight amount of noise is added in order to avoid – or rather: to mask – distortion in the low-level portions of the material?
Distortion that is caused by interpolation-errors that occur when the information that is contained in the “last” 8 bits (the difference between 24- and 16-bit information) is lost and therefore has to be rounded off.
It seems evident to me that – taken the common technical meaning of the word ‘resolution’ in the context of translating audio (or for example images) into digital data – a 24 bit sample has a higher resolution than a 16 bit sample.
Of course one can have a discussion about the question whether, taken into account the restrictions of dynamic range of the human ear, it makes a difference to have either 24 bit or 16 bit data.
Or, to put it into the analogy of a photographic picture: the fact that – given the limited possibilities of the human eye to see detail – there is little practical point in storing a picture in 25 megapixel form, if one knows that it will never be viewed on a screen larger than, say, 2 x 3 inch.
On the basis of personal experience I’m convinced that yes, in the case of audio, it DOES make a difference. Being a lifelong Beatles-fan, I purchased the remastered box-sets (stereo & mono) of all the albums when they came out a couple of years ago. The original analoque mastertapes were remastered to 24 bit audio, but because of the CD-format, still had to be re-quantized to 16 bit audio. Some time later I downloaded the 24 bit FLACs (i.e. the remastered material before it was transferred to the 16 bit CD-format) that someone had taken from the USB-stick that Apple offered parallel to the CD box-sets (and kindly uploaded to an internet newsgroup).
I can assure you: having paid several hundreds euros for the CD box-sets, psychologically my mind was all set to hear NO difference between the two. But boy did I! And still do!

Regards,
Joris de Baat


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
SOS Technical Editor


Joined: 25/07/03
Posts: 22093
Loc: Worcestershire
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Joris de Baat]
      #1011923 - 05/10/12 01:42 PM
Quote Joris de Baat:

At the risk of sounding presumptuous: I don’t think this is the correct way of describing what you have done.




Possibly... it is a bit of a textural shortcut, but I think the intended meaning is still very clear.

Quote:

One cannot “dither” a sample to 16 bit. A sample is “re-quantized”




As one pedant to another, I can only agree!

Quote:

..one has the choice “to dither or not to dither” (as Shakespeare would have phrased it)




If the requirement is to preserve low level information that was previosuly contained in the truncated bits, then dithering is an essential part of the whole process and cannot be omitted. So there is no choice. The ability provided in many DAWs and plug-ins to switch dithering off is really for special effects and test purposes and isn't appropriate for quality applications.

Quote:

Wouldn’t you agree that dithering is a separate element in the processing of a sample, where a slight amount of noise is added in order to avoid – or rather: to mask – distortion in the low-level portions of the material?




No. I wouldn't agree. I don't see dithering as a separate element -- it is a vital, necessary and integral part of word-length reduction. And although you started off right in your explanation of dither you blew it at the end! Dithering does not mask quantisation distortion in any way at all. It completely linearises the quantisation process and thus prevents distortion.

Quote:

It seems evident to me that – taken the common technical meaning of the word ‘resolution’ in the context of translating audio (or for example images) into digital data – a 24 bit sample has a higher resolution than a 16 bit sample.




A lot of people share the same view, but it is a concept based on a complete misunderstanding of the processes and science involved -- and the association with a picture pixel analogy simply compounds the error, I'm afraid, because it is a totally different paradigm.)

There is no loss of audio precision -- resolution, if you will -- when reducing the wordlength from 24 to 16 bit with appropriate dithering, and it is trivially simple to demonstrate the ability to hear undistorted audio at -120dBFS from a 16 bit audio file that should -- by your reasoning -- have nothing below -96dBFS.

You might find the sections on quantisation and dithering in this article helpful, along with the related audio examples here. In particular, there are some examples of a 16-bit piano recording that has been truncated and dithered to just 3 bits. The signal to noise ratio is quite appalling -- as you'd expect -- but the piano is completely audible and undistorted across it's entire dyanmic range, even though the quietest tones are well below the noise floor.

Quote:

Or, to put it into the analogy of a photographic picture




Please dont! It is an inappropriate analogy that doesn't relate to the audio situation.

Quote:

I can assure you: having paid several hundreds euros for the CD box-sets, psychologically my mind was all set to hear NO difference between the two. But boy did I! And still do!




I can't comment on that specific comparison because I've not heard that material myself. However, (and ignoring the issue of pirated files...) several thoughts spring to mind. Firstly, I presume the replay chain was rather different (CD player vs computer playout system) which might well account for some of the perceived differences. Secondly, confirmation bias and subconsious preferences are very difficult to overcome and only true ABX testing can provide statistically meaningful confirmation of something like this.

But most importantly of all, you're talking about material that was recorded to analogue tape, often involving one or more transfers between tape machines, to build up complete songs. The dynamic range just isn't there in the source material to reveal any significant differences between 24 bit and properly dithered 16 bit versions -- and the noise floor of a sixteen bit system is still significantly lower than that of the source tape, and hence certainly not a quality-limiting factor. Of course, the noise floor of the 16 bit files will inherently be higher than that of the 24 bit files and this may well be what you were percieving as 'reduced resolution'. In my view, anyway...

Hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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James PerrettModerator



Joined: 10/09/01
Posts: 10826
Loc: The wilds of Hampshire
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Joris de Baat]
      #1011936 - 05/10/12 02:40 PM
Quote Joris de Baat:


I can assure you: having paid several hundreds euros for the CD box-sets, psychologically my mind was all set to hear NO difference between the two. But boy did I! And still do!





Have you done a null test? Any differences due to word length should result in some very low level noise. If the differences are more substantial it means that they've gone through different mastering processes.

James.

--------------------
JRP Music - Audio Mastering and Restoration.
http://www.jrpmusic.net


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Sam Inglis
SOS Features Editor


Joined: 15/12/00
Posts: 1768
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1011967 - 05/10/12 04:27 PM
A heads up... I'll be revealing which preamp is which some time next week. We have collated the comments people have made so far, and they make for very interesting reading. It'd be great to get more 'blind' opinions to see whether there is any consensus among SOS readers, so please do download the files and post your views if you haven't already done so. Many thanks to all who have contributed.


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Joris de Baat



Joined: 04/10/12
Posts: 4
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1011970 - 05/10/12 05:03 PM
Dear Hugh,
I really appreciate the time and effort you took to go into my assertions so deeply (bit by bit, and without dithering or requantization of words and paragraphs to save time - so to speak).

I jumped to your article Digital Problems, Practical Solutions, and even a quick scan tells me there is still a lot to learn for me in there!
I - in turn - will take time and effort to read it thoroughly.

However, all this somehow doesn’t answer my initial question, why SOS didn’t offer the 24 bit master material for download. If only ‘alongside’ the 16 bit versions for those few readers who still own a 16 bit soundcard.
Maybe it’s all subjective & perceived, and maybe I’m ‘jawing at the pub’ (as another contributor to this thread puts it), but don’t we all love to be and stay as close to the source(-material) as possible…?

Regards,
Joris


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dmills



Joined: 25/08/06
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Joris de Baat]
      #1011979 - 05/10/12 05:28 PM
While 99% of readers may well have a 24 bit DAC (most manage maybe 18 - 20 bits in reality), only a vanishingly small number will have a room and repro chain that has even 16 bits of dynamic range, so why increase the file size by a third to no benefit?

This I suspect is where an Engineering decision (ship the files at 16 bits) and peoples expectation of what they would like to be audible, but usually isn't collide. 24 bits is a good idea for capture (where leaving headroom is useful, for all that the recordist on this one apparently did not), but is fairly pointless for distribution.

Regards, Dan.

--------------------
Audiophiles use phono leads because they are unbalanced people!


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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1011982 - 05/10/12 05:32 PM
In a recent promotional article, John Rutter made an interesting point about mic preamps when recording choirs: "Choral music can generate very fierce peaks which demand very forgiving mike pre-amps. Dual soprano parts in thirds, for example, tend to generate huge energy spikes. The DAD AX24′s pre-amps really do absorb them, are ultra-reliable and have very low internal noise." (http://www.emerginguk.com/?p=1693).

I'd be interested to know what people think about this. Intuitively it seems to make sense to me, though I think that the biggest tester for choral peaks is the mics themselves. On the other hand, I suspect I'm going to be told that unless you're using valve/non-linear pres the audio signal will be captured identically by the preamp, regardless of level? So perhaps another way of saying what Rutter wrote is that when recording music with as large a dynamic range as choral music, you are made aware of any colouration or deficiencies in the preamp at the points where it gets suddenly loud?


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dmills



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1011986 - 05/10/12 05:37 PM
Yea, a good test of the recording chains dynamic range (And in all probability the mics impedance converter will be where the problem most likely manifests) but not much more then that.

Regards, Dan.

--------------------
Audiophiles use phono leads because they are unbalanced people!


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Joris de Baat]
      #1011998 - 05/10/12 06:31 PM
Quote Joris de Baat:

... (bit by bit, and without dithering or requantization of words and paragraphs to save time - so to speak).






Quote:

However, all this somehow doesn’t answer my initial question, why SOS didn’t offer the 24 bit master material for download.




To be honest, I don't know. Sam prepared the files. I presume it was to minimise the download file size. It's nearly 250MB as it is. 24 bits files would have made it 30% bigger still. And as I said earlier, there would be o significant benefit. The room and mic ambient noise floor was the dominant factor and could be contained within the 16 bit dynamic range.

Quote:

don’t we all love to be and stay as close to the source(-material) as possible…?




To my mind, the ideal is to capture sound as cleanly and accurately as possible, and 24 bit converters aid that process by enabling a sensible headroom margin without compromising the signal-noise ratio. However, there are precious few monitoring systems or listening rooms that can cope with the potential dynamic range of a 24 bit system. Many semi-pro monitors and listening rooms struggle with 16 bit dynamics! So for consumer auditioning, optimising the material levels and dynamics to suit the medium is sensible, and that's what professionals have been doing for a century of recorded music. That's why we've always recorded on high quality tape machines with wide fast tape, but released on cassettes and vinyl! in this case, Sam didn't apply any dynamic processing, but did optimise the signal levels.

Sam took great care to level match the separate recordings and remove the now redundant headroom margin, and the 16 bit format was perfectly able to handle the result. It also makes it easy for people to burn the files to CD did they wanted to item that way, of course.

H

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Joris de Baat



Joined: 04/10/12
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1012014 - 05/10/12 07:47 PM
Dear Hugh,

One more afterthought and then I'll shut up - at least as long as I haven't read your article.
While washing the dishes just now, it occurred to me that my analogy of a picture-image might be valid after all. In the sense that one can compare the dynamic range of my (the average reader's) audiogear and monitoring room to the 2 x 3 inch screen I was talking about.

Have a good weekend,
Joris


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Bob Bickerton
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Joris de Baat]
      #1012019 - 05/10/12 08:11 PM
Beware random thought!

If looking for a visual analogy to bit length (and I'm not saying I am) wouldn't it be better to compare it to contrast rather than resolution?

So you might say a 24 bit file is equivalent to a visual image some of which is blacker than you can see on almost all screens, so it's better to have a contrast which matches that which can be seen on most screens........

Running for cover as he types..........................

Bob

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dmills



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Joris de Baat]
      #1012020 - 05/10/12 08:20 PM
With video, adding more points per radian of subtended angle does increase the resolution because video is traditionally run through an optical filter to remove high spatial frequencies before it hits the sensor to prevent spatial aliasing, ever seen a tweed coat on a old style pal telly shot with a cheap consumer camera....

The nearest analogy that works is saying that for any video standard as you get closer to the screen the effective sample rate drops (and indeed the spatial sampling frequency does fall as you get closer to the screen), eventually reaching the point where the lowpass filter to meet the sampling criteria becomes visually problematic.
HOWEVER, for any given resolution there is a distance beyond which an increase in resolution will not be noticed, because the eye cannot resolve the increased detail, this is equivalent to saying that the eye cannot resolve more then so many lines per radian, much as we say the human ear cannot resolve anything above ~20K (I should be so lucky!).

The video argument is actually one for NOT sampling faster the sampling theory says you need to, but that is not obvious and you usually get the simplistic 'more dots is better....'

Regards, Dan.

--------------------
Audiophiles use phono leads because they are unbalanced people!


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Ramirez



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012038 - 05/10/12 10:03 PM
Right, that's it. My DAV BG1u is going. I could get a whole new interface for what it's worth!

Very interesting reading it was. I've been slowly accepting that the DAV is overkill for my needs and the rest of my equipment.

--------------------
Bill Withers while Tom Waits, and Stan Getz


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Fran Guidry



Joined: 23/04/10
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: PianoPerson]
      #1012044 - 05/10/12 11:00 PM
Quote PianoPerson:

...

It seems overwhelmingly clear that the microphones make a much bigger difference. I really liked the Sennheisers: lovely presence, realism and depth. The Brauners are slightly more rounded (compare the second note of the recording [a D]). My sense is that the Sennheiser is probably truer to the actual sound of the Yamaha grand but the Brauners have a slightly more pleasant sound. Given the purely hypothetical choice I would probably buy the Brauners...

...




What's overwhelmingly clear is that mic position and mic pattern make a substantial difference in the sound that is captured.

From the information accompanying the download:

Quote:

The microphones used were a pair of Brauner valve large-diaphragm capacitor mics in cardioid mode, a pair of Sennheiser MKH20 small-diaphragm omni capacitor mics, and a single Royer SF12 stereo ribbon microphone. The Brauners and the Sennheisers were positioned as spaced pairs approximately 18 inches above the soundboard, while the Royer was placed over the keyboard, just above head height.




The Brauners and Sennheisers were placed in a similar location, but that location is inside the range of proximity effect, which alters the tonal balance of a cardioid like the Brauner but does not impact the Sennheiser omni. The Royer (presumably configured in Blumlein) is in a different location. The difference in patterns (cardioid, omni, figure 8) all result in different degrees and kinds of room interaction as well.

So is your real preference for the Brauner and the magic that invariably accompanies a $5000 price tag, or is it a matter of the cardioid frequency balance matching your taste? If the latter you might acquire your preferred sound with a bit of change left over.

Fran

--------------------
E ho`okani pila kakou ma Kaleponi
www.kaleponi.com & www.homebrewedmusic.com


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Glenn Bucci
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012055 - 06/10/12 03:39 AM
I wish they did the test with a female and male vocalist. I have a feeling hearing pres with lundal transformers and transformer-less pre's for this example would bring something different to the table compared to a piano


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didier.brest



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012077 - 06/10/12 09:36 AM
I whish more people report about what their hear from these 24 takes (or at least from 8 takes recorded with the same mic, in this case I would suggest to select the Royer) rather than what they think about the test or the preamps in general.


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ef37a



Joined: 29/05/06
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Glenn Bucci]
      #1012082 - 06/10/12 10:35 AM
Quote Glenn Bucci:

I wish they did the test with a female and male vocalist. I have a feeling hearing pres with lundal transformers and transformer-less pre's for this example would bring something different to the table compared to a piano




I would guess the best source to show the differences (if indeed they are present) would be a pink noise radiator? But boooorING!

Re the R word. I have come to visualize 24 bit as 30ips tape, all that gets improved there is the noise level (yes, the HF goes potentially higher but only for bats, 15ips is more than good for 30kHz).

Dave.


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Henry Olonga



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012097 - 06/10/12 12:30 PM
Thanks for doing this test guys. I can judge here that there are differences but they are subtle.

Best wishes

H

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Glenn Bucci
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: ef37a]
      #1012102 - 06/10/12 12:48 PM
Quote ef37a:

Quote Glenn Bucci:

I wish they did the test with a female and male vocalist. I have a feeling hearing pres with lundal transformers and transformer-less pre's for this example would bring something different to the table compared to a piano




I would guess the best source to show the differences (if indeed they are present) would be a pink noise radiator? But boooorING!

Re the R word. I have come to visualize 24 bit as 30ips tape, all that gets improved there is the noise level (yes, the HF goes potentially higher but only for bats, 15ips is more than good for 30kHz).

Dave.




In my experience I could clearly hear differences more own voice through different pre's than the test done here. Dale Pro Audio Guitar Center Pro, and B& H in NYC allow you to switch between different mic's and pre's in their store. Granted the differences in many set ups can sound similar. But I tried a Manley pre, DW Fearn pre and the ttwo LaChapel pre's .....(one transforrmerless and one with a transformer). They each have their own character. Granted the differences are 15 percent or less from each other but they clearly sounded different. I would think SSL, Mackie and A&H pres may sound a lot closer than the tube pre's tests I have done.


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Guy Johnson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012118 - 06/10/12 02:48 PM
Verree Interesting. I'd got as far as preferring the 4th one on the first set, then stated to worry about level differences. So I took some screenshots, that show level differences and LR differences as well. Although I moved them pretty close in Logic, I know the tracks are not time-aligned, which will affect the meters, and the relative L/R levels will look a bit different on the meters with the different overall levels on different tracks ... here are the pics, of the same bit of the music on all tracks:


Brauner:
.

MKH:


Royer:


I'd imagine the ART box would change the Mackie's sound somewhat, though only subtly. I'm going to have another listen after tweaking the levels and LR in Logic and see if that makes any difference. Oddly, some of my more spacious and 'nice' choices are with slightly lower levels.

Off to play now!

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Facebok Page for acoustic music PA-ing in smaller venues


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PianoPerson



Joined: 18/04/09
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Fran Guidry]
      #1012150 - 06/10/12 09:30 PM
Quote Fran Guidry:


So is your real preference for the Brauner and the magic that invariably accompanies a $5000 price tag, or is it a matter of the cardioid frequency balance matching your taste? If the latter you might acquire your preferred sound with a bit of change left over.




Good points, Fran; thanks. My preference for the Brauners probably also has to do with the fact that they're cardioids and the related proximity effect. For relatively small rooms like the Realpiano studio, I guess I like to have as little room sound as possible, and I like a generous helping of low-mid in piano solo recordings. Any purchase of the Brauners (or something in that price range) is purely hypothetical, by the way. I don't have that kind of cash flying around, and if I did, I couldn't justify spending that much on microphones. I sadly must make do with a set of Josephson C42s (which are cardiods) and the Audient Mico. With a good instrument in a good room, that can sound very nice indeed.

Edited by PianoPerson (06/10/12 09:31 PM)


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Fran Guidry



Joined: 23/04/10
Posts: 73
Loc: Walnut Creek, CA, USA
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Glenn Bucci]
      #1012153 - 06/10/12 09:51 PM
Quote Glenn Bucci:

...

In my experience I could clearly hear differences more own voice through different pre's than the test done here. Dale Pro Audio Guitar Center Pro, and B& H in NYC allow you to switch between different mic's and pre's in their store. Granted the differences in many set ups can sound similar. But I tried a Manley pre, DW Fearn pre and the ttwo LaChapel pre's .....(one transforrmerless and one with a transformer). They each have their own character. Granted the differences are 15 percent or less from each other but they clearly sounded different. I would think SSL, Mackie and A&H pres may sound a lot closer than the tube pre's tests I have done.




Did you by any chance match the gains on those units to under .1 dB? The way our brain-ear combination works, small level differences are not recognized as changes in volume but as differences in quality.

Not to mention the impact of labels and the differences in performance.

After all, if we read the specs on these units, the FR, noise, THD are all well within the tested limits of transparency to the human auditory system. On that basis alone, if one of these preamp has a "sound", it's broken.

Fran

--------------------
E ho`okani pila kakou ma Kaleponi
www.kaleponi.com & www.homebrewedmusic.com


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Exalted Wombat



Joined: 06/02/10
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Fran Guidry]
      #1012159 - 06/10/12 11:50 PM
Quote Fran Guidry:

Did you by any chance match the gains on those units to under .1 dB? The way our brain-ear combination works, small level differences are not recognized as changes in volume but as differences in quality.





Tests are usually designed to look for differences. I'd suggest rather that the aim should be to make setups sound the SAME by playing with levels, simple eq etc. When two units CAN'T be made to sound the same, then there's a real difference!


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DC-Choppah



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012170 - 07/10/12 02:29 AM
Thanks SoS. My subscription just paid for itself! This is fantastic to be able to listen to all these pre-amps.

I am comfortable now spending my hard earned cash on other things than pre-amps. I am content to know that my Mackie VLZ's, which always sounded great to me, are actually identical to the other more expensive models.

And great that you didn't id them and kept them scrambled across the takes to takeout the psychological bias.


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didier.brest



Joined: 07/03/10
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: didier.brest]
      #1012173 - 07/10/12 05:53 AM
Quote didier.brest:

I would not bet that that I could discriminate consistently between them in an ABX test.




Well now I might... Provided that the number of runs is not too large. I got 5 out 5 on Foobar ABX performed on the 5 first seconds of Royer_B and Royer_C, respectively my less preferred and most preferred Royer takes. But I needed much more time at the 5th trial than at the first one for making my choice based on the lows being better focused on C. Then I started to write this post. And I got back to the test and succeeded easily a 6 th trial. But no way that I could succeed 10 trials in a row because of the listening tiredness. According Foobar, probability achieving 6 out of 6 just by randomness equals 1.6%, which means that the probability that I really hear something different between B and C is larger than 98%.

PS I Just got a seventh success! 7 out of 7!


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: DC-Choppah]
      #1012187 - 07/10/12 10:28 AM
Quote DC-Choppah:

I am content to know that my Mackie VLZ's, which always sounded great to me, are actually identical to the other more expensive models.




I wouldn't go as far as saying they are identical, but they are certainly extremely competent designs -- and far better than many of the console preamps used for so many hit records of the 60s, 70s and 80s! But the point is that a Mackie VLZ preamp certainly isn't going to be the weak link in a recording chain. In 99% of cases the weak link is far more likely to be one of more of the following:

* the music
* the performance
* the recording environment acoustics
* the mic placement
* the mix



hugh

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Guy Johnson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012399 - 08/10/12 03:18 PM
Phew! I think I've had enough piano!

So, my thoughts. I decided I'd not fiddle with levels in the end and keep the test as everyone has done it. And each piano rendition probably explains most the differences I saw, rather than pre-amp gain settings. So ...

The pre-amps were all pretty similar I thought, except on the ribbons.

Brauner: I changed my mind on further listening
Best... 2,7,8

MKH
Best... 8, and least liked 1,3,4,5

Royer
Best... 7,8 disliked 1,5 ...
2 I liked though it was a bit more different: kind of smokey, richer. Valve?
Noise: going from 1 to 8, 4 a bit noisier, 6,7 more still and 8 had a spiky buzz on the LH channel, which became more apparent with a touch of signal, ie modulated by the signal a bit.
I found that noise was not the factor for me when choosing these faves, but in a different circumstance in an acoustic with the mic further away, it would become very important and would therefore make me go to number 2 or 8, and 8s spiky buzz may have been a local phenomenon and there were long lines I believe.

Er ... I await the results with pre-reddedned cheeks, I'm sure!

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Xadovitch



Joined: 09/10/12
Posts: 1
Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1012520 - 09/10/12 08:27 AM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

In 99% of cases the weak link is far more likely to be one of more of the following:

* the music
* the performance
* the recording environment acoustics
* the mic placement
* the mix



hugh




That is exactly why I bought an expensive preamp to record myself. Now I can't blame my gear anymore. If I've got poor results it's all my fault. That makes me work harder.

ps: feel free to correct my english (I'm a native french speaker)


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Guy Johnson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012525 - 09/10/12 09:07 AM
I wonder who's going to have fun tabulating all the faves and unfaves!

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Xadovitch]
      #1012530 - 09/10/12 09:21 AM
Quote Xadovitch:

That is exactly why I bought an expensive preamp to record myself. Now I can't blame my gear anymore. If I've got poor results it's all my fault. That makes me work harder.




I know exactly what you mean -- and that's my philosophy too!

hugh

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Guy Johnson]
      #1012538 - 09/10/12 09:47 AM
Quote Guy Johnson:

I wonder who's going to have fun tabulating all the faves and unfaves!




Me... Already done it. It is interesting, but completely inconclusive because the sample size is tiny. Amusingly, most preamps are placed both first and last by different people -- there's no acounting for tatse!

However, there does appear to be a slight trend of popularity towards one preamp, and against another in each of the mic sets, with the rest being more or less evens -- but I don't have Sam's cheat list yet so I don't know how these slight preferences relate to the specific preamps either... yet.

H

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1012550 - 09/10/12 11:04 AM
BTW, I should have posted my own views earlier... but only got around to listening properly this morning and I've driven my wife completely mad with looped piano extracts!

To be honest, I'd be quite happy to have recorded any of them... although I'd want to reposition the Brauners and rotate the Royer a bit... If I had to pick a preference, I'd pick the Royer over the other two mic arrays -- loved it! -- and wouldn't care much about which preamp was being used... Yes, I'm a heathen!

Opinions: I don't honestly think I could say with any real confidence absolutely which preamp was which from these examples. There are hints of character evident on the louder transients and bass notes, but the preamps were all working so comfortably within their 'safe zone' that audible differences are minimal. There are some differences in noise floor level and character, but again very subtle and they wouldn't affect a recording like this -- although they might in a more challenging situation.

So... My own preferences were:

Royer: D. This seemed to have the nicest combination of delicacy and precision, detail and warmth.

MKH: B. This seemed to pass on slightly more information and detail than the others and just seemed the most natural.

Brauner: E. Same reasons as above. Seemed slightly more natural to my ears.... but I prefered the sound obtained by the Royer's first and the MKH second.

I am really intrigued to see the crib sheet now! I've been polishing my sword ready for falling upon should I have picked the ART throughout!

H

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Guy Johnson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012563 - 09/10/12 11:47 AM
Yes, I'm sure my choices will be contradictory! And I agree they were all very close, with the Royer ones a bit more different ... I just went for the truly scientific 'Magic' and 'Hmmm' when listening! And in some parts of the same piece, I preferred different preamps !

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Facebok Page for acoustic music PA-ing in smaller venues


Edited by Guy Johnson (09/10/12 11:48 AM)


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Guy Johnson]
      #1012586 - 09/10/12 12:59 PM
Quote Guy Johnson:

And in some parts of the same piece, I preferred different preamps !




Yes... I guess that's the problem with a piece of music that is both loud and soft, gentle and percussively dynamic, rhythmic and sustained, and which uses the full range of the keyboard.

H

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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Fran Guidry]
      #1012602 - 09/10/12 02:44 PM
Quote Fran Guidry:

The Brauners and Sennheisers were placed in a similar location, but that location is inside the range of proximity effect, which alters the tonal balance of a cardioid like the Brauner but does not impact the Sennheiser omni. The Royer (presumably configured in Blumlein) is in a different location. The difference in patterns (cardioid, omni, figure 8) all result in different degrees and kinds of room interaction as well.

So is your real preference for the Brauner and the magic that invariably accompanies a $5000 price tag, or is it a matter of the cardioid frequency balance matching your taste? If the latter you might acquire your preferred sound with a bit of change left over.

Fran




Hi Fran!

All well and good, but are you aware that the preamp results (i.e.A, B, C, D, etc) were shuffled for each set of tests? (see previous confusion about this earlier in this thread ) Unless I'm missing something we're therefore not able to choose between mics in these tests - only which preamp we preferred and why for each of the three mic setups

That's why I'm waiting with such interest for Sam to officially name the three sets of preamps later on this week - only then will those of us who provided any feedback find out whether we preferred the same preamp in each of the three mic tests, or whether we liked different ones depending on which mic was being used.

I'm half expecting to discover I liked several preamps quite well across all three mics, that I loved one or two but only with particular mic setups, and even that I really liked the odd preamp on one mic but actively disliked it with another


Martin

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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Martin Walker]
      #1012639 - 09/10/12 06:40 PM
Quote Martin Walker:

Quote Fran Guidry:

The Brauners and Sennheisers were placed in a similar location, but that location is inside the range of proximity effect, which alters the tonal balance of a cardioid like the Brauner but does not impact the Sennheiser omni. The Royer (presumably configured in Blumlein) is in a different location. The difference in patterns (cardioid, omni, figure 8) all result in different degrees and kinds of room interaction as well.

So is your real preference for the Brauner and the magic that invariably accompanies a $5000 price tag, or is it a matter of the cardioid frequency balance matching your taste? If the latter you might acquire your preferred sound with a bit of change left over.

Fran




Hi Fran!

All well and good, but are you aware that the preamp results (i.e.A, B, C, D, etc) were shuffled for each set of tests? (see previous confusion about this earlier in this thread ) Unless I'm missing something we're therefore not able to choose between mics in these tests - only which preamp we preferred and why for each of the three mic setups




Oh, I read Fran as simply asking whether the Brauner mics per se sounded beautiful or if it was just that in comparison with two omnis and figure-8s, two cardioids up close sounded best (i.e. they could have been cheaper than the Brauners and still sounded relatively 'beautiful'). I may have mis-read too, but I don't think he was talking about comparing preamps across the mics.

However, I do have a question about the proximity effect, which several people have mentioned in relation to the Brauners -- does it really come into play when the mics are a foot away, like in this test? I always thought it needed the mics to be more like a couple of inches away from the source. I guess it varies from mic to mic as well?


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1012649 - 09/10/12 08:19 PM
Quote mjfe2:

However, I do have a question about the proximity effect, which several people have mentioned in relation to the Brauners -- does it really come into play when the mics are a foot away, like in this test? I always thought it needed the mics to be more like a couple of inches away from the source. I guess it varies from mic to mic as well?




The strength of the proximity effect increases with proximity (funnily enough), but I can't think of any mics that still exhibit the effect when placed 18-inches or more from the source... Some certainly do start to show it at 12-inches, and most are suffering some bass tip up at 8 inches.

H

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Martin Walker]
      #1012650 - 09/10/12 08:23 PM
Quote Martin Walker:

That's why I'm waiting with such interest for Sam to officially name the three sets of preamps later on this week - only then will those of us who provided any feedback find out whether we preferred the same preamp in each of the three mic tests, or whether we liked different ones depending on which mic was being used.




I've just discovered that I picked the SSL twice and the ART once! Didn't expect that!

Sam will reveal all tomorrow... But I can tell you that you picked different preamps for the Royer and MKH sets. In the Brauner set you had three 'Nice' ratings, one of which was the same as one of the other sets, and the other two were different preamps again! You fickle man!

H

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Sam Inglis
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012654 - 09/10/12 08:59 PM
To be precise, I'll be unveiling the results first thing on Thursday, so you have 24 hours to add your responses to the blind test. Thanks to all the readers and forum users who have contributed so far... The conclusions are fascinating and not a little surprising!


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Fran Guidry



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1012665 - 09/10/12 09:55 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote mjfe2:

However, I do have a question about the proximity effect, which several people have mentioned in relation to the Brauners -- does it really come into play when the mics are a foot away, like in this test? I always thought it needed the mics to be more like a couple of inches away from the source. I guess it varies from mic to mic as well?




The strength of the proximity effect increases with proximity (funnily enough), but I can't think of any mics that still exhibit the effect when placed 18-inches or more from the source... Some certainly do start to show it at 12-inches, and most are suffering some bass tip up at 8 inches.

H




It's my understanding that proximity effect is present out to about a meter, which is why that distance is used to specify FR.

Because there's a doubling of effect at each halving of distance, the real drama takes place in the last bit, the big boomy sound that we associate with proximity, but there's an impact on frequency response well before that.

Fran

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PianoPerson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012691 - 10/10/12 01:50 AM
Quote Sam Inglis:

To be precise, I'll be unveiling the results first thing on Thursday, so you have 24 hours to add your responses to the blind test. Thanks to all the readers and forum users who have contributed so far... The conclusions are fascinating and not a little surprising!




In that case I'll provide a response for all three microphones (my first response was only to the Brauner recordings):

Brauner: preferred A, liked H least
MKH: preferred G. Seemed to have very slightly more presence. D sounded very similar to G. But everything sounded good to me here.
Royer: Very difficult to express any preference here. I think I liked D best by a very small margin.


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matthewtryba



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012701 - 10/10/12 07:00 AM
I am very grateful for this test. After listening to all the audio my main conclusion was that I was able to "feel the performance" on EVERY single example. To me, there was no single preamp that stood well above or below the others (which we would assume considering some of the "budget" pres that are present in the investigation). Sure, I could hear different "colors" but if I were engineering a piano recording like this I feel as though I could pick any of the pres and achieve the sound in my head by simply manipulating mic placement to compensate for the different colors.

Overall, this test has helped me to have more confidence in the gear that I own. As long as you stick the the "good rule": musician, instrument, room, mic, placement... the preamp is almost a non-issue (you're already 99% there if you take care of everything before the preamp). I feel better about not lusting after uber-expensive preamps and I'm just gonna keep on making music. I say just get decent pres that don't make a bunch of noise and go for it! Besides, a vintage 1073 never made anyone a better musician. Great performances of great songs will move people regardless of which mic preamps you used.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: matthewtryba]
      #1012731 - 10/10/12 10:16 AM
Quote matthewtryba:

Overall, this test has helped me to have more confidence in the gear that I own.




I think that's brilliant -- and exactly the conclusion that I had hoped would emerge.

And certainly a lot of people are going to have to question their preconceptions -- which is always a good thing!

hugh

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Martin WalkerModerator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1012811 - 10/10/12 03:02 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Sam will reveal all tomorrow... But I can tell you that you picked different preamps for the Royer and MKH sets. In the Brauner set you had three 'Nice' ratings, one of which was the same as one of the other sets, and the other two were different preamps again! You fickle man!




I'm just as interested to find out which were the preamps that weren't my favourites, such as the Brauner C that I described as having "slightly harsh midrange", the Brauner H that was "closed in" and the Royer H that I thought was "shrill & slightly harsh"

It could well be egg on face time, or then again I might find myself buying a budget ART preamp as I've liked their added warmth on other listening tests


Martin

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Martin Walker]
      #1012845 - 10/10/12 06:14 PM
All will be revealed soon. No egg on face though, for anyone. It just goes to show how subtle the differences are between preamps used in this way, and that personal preferences are exactly that -- personal.

It's interesting to collate people's comments. The same preamp could be rated as favourite to some, but hated by others -- and that happened several times with several preamps. In some cases a preamp was described as dull by some, but shrill and harsh by others... So it's really about about individual personal perceptions, or perhaps the continually changing nature of the performance created false impressions, highlighted because the actual differences are so small.

H

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Sam Inglis
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1012942 - 11/10/12 09:39 AM
Key will be posted shortly, we're just trying to resolve some technical difficulties with tabulating the results in the forum software!


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Sam Inglis
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013056 - 11/10/12 03:27 PM
With thanks to Hugh... the results are now available in this thread.

Edited by Sam Inglis (11/10/12 03:29 PM)


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nathanscribe



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013059 - 11/10/12 03:54 PM
Ha! I suspect a certain budget manufacturer will be selling a couple more units this month...

Just goes to show. Even in my own (limited) pre-amp experience, my UA gets less use since buying an A&H mixer than when I had a Mackie/Presonus. It clearly hasn't changed, but I feel less inclined to require it as the A&H inputs are quite nice enough. Maybe I should 'downgrade'...

Very interesting experiment, thanks chaps.

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013060 - 11/10/12 03:59 PM
Thanks Sam,

It's fascinating to see that the Neve is described by some as Classy, vintage, and rich -- in accordance with the usual received wisdom about the design -- while others describe it as strident, veiled and grainy, or natural and neutral, less detailed, edgy and even bright and clean!

So much for consistent impressions!

Similarly, lots of people described the Maselec as being slightly dull and muffled, while others suggested it had a hard midrange, shrill and with sharper transients.

... and equally contrary opinions are apparent throughout which goes to show how varied and entirely subjective personal opinions can be!

The comments and ratings published in the other thread aren't particularly scientific, and the poll size is ludicrously small so there is no valid statistical evidence there, really. We had more comments about the Brauner set, probably just because people lost interest after auditioning the first eight, although the higher number of participants provided a slightly more statistically interesting set of results.

Overall though, it seems no one could reliably identify any specific preamp, and even where one or two managed a hit in one set they missed in the other, which would imply no better success than random selection.

And so there is the message to take away: When used simply to raise the output of a microphone to line level -- without being deliberately overdriven for effect, and when used within their intended gain structure and headroom design limits -- the audible differences between modern preamps are vanishingly small -- regardless of price, topology, or active devices.

Moving or changing the mics will make massively more difference to the perceived quality.

That's not to say that expensive preamps don't offer features and virtues that are worthwhile if they can be afforded -- most certainly do -- but if you are seeking to improve the sound of your recordings the odds are that the preamp isn't the problem, even if you're using a relatively modest interface or budget mixer preamp.

My experience bears that out too. A good engineer can create great recording using budget equipment quite easily. Inexperienced or unskilled people can't even with the best mics, preamps, converters and everythign else!

As my wife is always telling me, it's not what you have but what you do with it that matters...

Food for thought, anyway!

H

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The Elf
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013067 - 11/10/12 05:01 PM
I was hoping I'd preferred the ones I could best afford, but it looks like I need to budget for an Orpheus and more SSL pre's!

Thanks guys!

What do you mean I missed the point?!

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Mattyy



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013083 - 11/10/12 05:40 PM
ABSOLUTELY AWESOME!!! I think that you guys may have just earned a lifelong subscriber here! What other magazine would do this? Request: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do a similar type of comparison with analog to digital converters. I feel that this would be a much more pertinent and important exercise considering the digital age that we live in and the overwhelming choice in product designs. I, personally would love to hear the differences between a Lavry, Apogee and perhaps a ART usb device or equivalent. Thanks again!

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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Mattyy]
      #1013087 - 11/10/12 05:57 PM
Quote Mattyy:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do a similar type of comparison with analog to digital converters. I feel that this would be a much more pertinent and important exercise considering the digital age that we live in and the overwhelming choice in product designs. I, personally would love to hear the differences between a Lavry, Apogee and perhaps a ART usb device or equivalent. Thanks again!




Ah, but the die-hard fans at Gearslutz would say you couldn't make a reliable comparison without a Prism DAC to listen to the results!


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013089 - 11/10/12 06:08 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

...And so there is the message to take away: When used simply to raise the output of a microphone to line level -- without being deliberately overdriven for effect, and when used within their intended gain structure and headroom design limits -- the audible differences between modern preamps are vanishingly small -- regardless of price, topology, or active devices.

...That's not to say that expensive preamps don't offer features and virtues that are worthwhile if they can be afforded -- most certainly do...




Still a bit of wriggle-room then, to placate the owners who KNOW their pricy gear is better? :-) Shall we now test them driven a bit harder? And what are these "certain" virtues of the higher-priced models?


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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013091 - 11/10/12 06:19 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

And what are these "certain" virtues of the higher-priced models?




Build quality, reliability, ergonomics, and gain matching between channels!


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1013093 - 11/10/12 06:26 PM
Quote mjfe2:

Quote Exalted Wombat:

And what are these "certain" virtues of the higher-priced models?




Build quality, reliability, ergonomics, and gain matching between channels!




Quite likely. Not necessarily. Now we're going strictly evidence-based, let's have the test results? :-)


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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013098 - 11/10/12 06:39 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Quote mjfe2:

Quote Exalted Wombat:

And what are these "certain" virtues of the higher-priced models?




Build quality, reliability, ergonomics, and gain matching between channels!




Quite likely. Not necessarily. Now we're going strictly evidence-based, let's have the test results? :-)




Well you can't systematically test everything! I'm happy to take Hugh's reviews of hardware as proof of the first two points (though I know you said you'd had problems with your SSL pres!). Also, forums like these assure me of certain companies' reputations when it comes to warranties and fixing problems. As for ergonomics, that's subjective. But it's something you can easily test yourself! And as for gain matching, Hugh is very systematic when it comes to testing things in reviews, but I also meant that more expensive preamps tend to have notched gain controls, which for classical recordists is definitely a 'certain' virtue.

But I agree that it would be good to know what a valve preamp sounds like when pushed. Then I'll know whether to spend money there, or on a valve mic, or on a decent plugin that adds second order harmonics to the signal! Incidentally, does a transformer-based preamp sound different when pushed? I've always been careful with gain structure when using my LA Audio MX2 preamp, but I'd be interested to know if there are supposed sonic benefits to pushing the input gain.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013106 - 11/10/12 07:17 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Still a bit of wriggle-room then, to placate the owners who KNOW their pricy gear is better? :-)




There are many reasons why more expensive preamps could be 'better'... but sound quality might not always be the most significant factor.

Quote:

Shall we now test them driven a bit harder?




We do have plans to develop something along those lines, and principally because that is likely to reveal clearer differences between preamps. However, to be brutally realistic, most recordings are not made with 'pushed' preamps. Most of the time we just want to raise the level of a microphone signal without adding any distortion or colour -- which is what we did in these comparisons.

Quote:

And what are these "certain" virtues of the higher-priced models?




Build quality, reliability, ergonomics, flexibility, control linearity, serviceability, support, headroom, channel gain matching precision, nice-sounding saturation, decent RF rejection and CMRR, lower noise (maybe), hum-free power supplies, etc etc (E&OE)

Hugh

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1013108 - 11/10/12 07:23 PM
Quote mjfe2:

Incidentally, does a transformer-based preamp sound different when pushed?




Different to what?

But yes, if the transformer saturates nicely, then it might provide a desirable characteristic... provided the rest of the circuitry can cope with the output from the overdriven input transformer.

Quote:

I'd be interested to know if there are supposed sonic benefits to pushing the input gain.




Lots of people think so -- but not all preamps react nicely to being overdriven -- that's what separates the favourites from the discards!

H

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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013119 - 11/10/12 07:43 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote:

I'd be interested to know if there are supposed sonic benefits to pushing the input gain.




Lots of people think so -- but not all preamps react nicely to being overdriven -- that's what separates the favourites from the discards!





Oh dear! This is all getting muddy again! Are you saying the tests didn't cover a common and popular usage situation - mild overload - where the units WOULD sound noticeably different?


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Mixedup
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013122 - 11/10/12 07:57 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Are you saying the tests didn't cover a common and popular usage situation - mild overload - where the units WOULD sound noticeably different?




To be fair, it was never claimed to be an exhaustive test of everything about all preamps. Within the confines of the test it does indeed show some surprising (to some) results. I suspect there'll be quite a few readers that on the back of this test won't burn cash unnecessarily on preamps to 'correct' the faults in their recordings/mixes, but will instead persevere with mic choice and placement, getting the source sound right etc. Which can only be a good thing.

The tests neither explored 'driving' preamps, nor 'stacking' preamps. They might be interesting additional tests, of course — certainly my own non-scientific tests suggest more differences than that — but they don't detract from what's been done here. Also bear in mind that some preamps make this easy — eg a 1073 has an output trim — whereas others don't — they give you an input gain and that's it, so you need external attenuation, which brings another factor into play. Also, it's easy to test some repeatable sources (DI bass/guitar) and less easy to test others (multi-miked drums, which have already passed through a preamp...).


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013134 - 11/10/12 08:55 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

This is all getting muddy again!




Don't think so.... But perhaps you're still confused about what we were investigating.

Quote:

Are you saying the tests didn't cover a common and popular usage situation - mild overload - where the units WOULD sound noticeably different?




Yes. We made it very clear from the outset that we were comparing eight different preamps, across a wide range of prices, with all the different topologies and active devices, amplifying three different kinds of microphones in a very typical, standard, common, normal and popular application. CLEAN AMPLIFICATION

I don't know what's so hard to comprehend there, but hopefully that has clarified the aim for you.

And the result was that, despite so many claims to the contrary, the differences were negligible.

It may well be that deliberately adjusting the preamp for mild overload would produce greater differences -- in fact im sure it will -- and we are working on plans to examine that too. But that wouldn't be a typical methodology for recording a baby grand piano, or most other sources forth at matter, and we have some work still to do to find a reliably consistent and relevant sound source for the overdrive comparisons. Also, there are far fewer preamps that can easily be overdriven, of course.

H

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Mattyy



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: mjfe2]
      #1013139 - 11/10/12 09:08 PM
So no ADC comparison? :-(
Or am I giving away something here ;-)
LOL!

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Jorge
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013150 - 11/10/12 10:20 PM
+1 a huge thanks to the SOS crew for doing this. I think you did this project just right, using the blind testing methodology specifically for the most subjective and important aspect of mic preamps, the "sound". Blind judging by knowledgeable readers with trained ears also has the advantage of removing any perception by either readers or manufacturers of bias on the part of the testers. SOS reviewers have always had high credibility in my view, but the blind testing using the community of professionals on this forum takes it up to a new level and adds a whole new dimension when it comes to these subjective aspects of the reviews.

That said, I think it is valuable to us as readers, and certainly would also be to manufacturers, to continue to do your thorough detailed reviews of all the other aspects of the products you review. As others are saying above, the many other factors from ergonomics, to build quality, to ability to handle moderate overload in some realistic situations, to customer support, do not lend themselves easily to blind testing by forum members. This ideal combination of detailed expert reviews and blind testing by peers really improves my ability to make confident purchasing decisions for the products I need to buy. In these times, making wise purchases is even more important than ever. Keep on doing what you are doing!


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Guy Johnson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013151 - 11/10/12 10:31 PM
To get comparable sounds, how about some well-recorded stuff, such as drums, bass, vocals — played though a fab big monitor such as an ATC 100 in a good room.

You'd get absolutely consistent sounds to test with.

Doesn't matter how the sounds were recorded (let's not get into the stacking fallacy!) As long as they are very good recordings, it's the sound of a good drum, cymbal, bass, voice etc. that would be the point.

And those sounds can then be played to different mics and preamps, with complete control and regularity to capture the sounds and a bit of real room as well.

--------------------
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tiberius



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Xadovitch]
      #1013154 - 11/10/12 11:07 PM
Before the results are revealed I will have to remove my high rating for the pre that sounded more stereo than the others. I think one channel just had the polarity reversed by accident. So discount that one. When are the results out?


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ef37a



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013155 - 11/10/12 11:12 PM
Yes, +1! Great"! Excellent excercise.(I suspect there are quite a few BOFs like me that are thinking "Not suprised, Keep it clean and you can't tell").

The muddying by the "mild overload" brigade is IMHO a bit wrong headed and if SoS are considering following that line of research I believe it to be going up a blind alley chasing a red fish.
I see such useage (abusage?)of pre amps as a fairly modern "arty" thing and I see parallels in my own world with guitar amps.

There would have been no point in asking Mullards in the 1950s how to design a good rock guitar amp. The concept of "good" distortion would have been totally alien to them!

The idea of using a very high quality monitor is interesting but speakers do not radiate sound in the same way as real instruments (which is where and why recording is 50% art and 50% persperation)so I cannot see the results of ribbons V diaphragm mic being comparable?

Hey! If you want repeatable live drums, wheel in a paper card driven fairground organ! Some REAL bells and whistles to boot!

Dave.


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013166 - 12/10/12 01:38 AM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote:

Are you saying the tests didn't cover a common and popular usage situation - mild overload - where the units WOULD sound noticeably different?




Yes. We made it very clear from the outset that we were comparing eight different preamps, across a wide range of prices, with all the different topologies and active devices, amplifying three different kinds of microphones in a very typical, standard, common, normal and popular application. CLEAN AMPLIFICATION





Understood. I phrased my question badly. That's good to know - if you're looking for a clean recording, spending £££ on a preamp is silly. Can we now have a similar test with a range of units being run a bit harder? My instinct tells me there's no particular reason an expensive box's grunge should sound more desirable than a cheaper one's, but it would be fun to find out!


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: tiberius]
      #1013203 - 12/10/12 09:36 AM
Quote tiberius:

When are the results out?




Yesterday... HERE

H

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013205 - 12/10/12 09:39 AM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

My instinct tells me there's no particular reason an expensive box's grunge should sound more desirable than a cheaper one's, but it would be fun to find out!




It will certainly be interesting... and I'm sure there are significant differences. I guess it depends where the 'grunge' comes from.

Transformer saturation will sound very different to valve stage saturation, and different transformers and valves behave differently too. Discrete transistors do something else again, as do ICs... the latter generally not going into overdrive in a very nice way at all unless a lot of clever circuit design is employed.

So generally, the more expensive products, with more elaborate circuit design, behave in a more musical way when pushed... at least, that's my experience.

Hugh

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James PerrettModerator



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Mattyy]
      #1013208 - 12/10/12 09:50 AM
Quote Mattyy:

What other magazine would do this?




The only other similar comparison that I remember was in Studio Sound in the early '90's where they tested complete mixer channels. I seem to remember the budget Studiomaster channel doing very well against its more expensive counterparts.

I really miss Studio Sound although I haven't picked up a subscription to its successor, Resolution as I don't have so much time for magazine reading these days.

James.

--------------------
JRP Music - Audio Mastering and Restoration.
http://www.jrpmusic.net


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013225 - 12/10/12 10:51 AM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote Exalted Wombat:

My instinct tells me there's no particular reason an expensive box's grunge should sound more desirable than a cheaper one's, but it would be fun to find out!




It will certainly be interesting... and I'm sure there are significant differences. I guess it depends where the 'grunge' comes from.

Transformer saturation will sound very different to valve stage saturation, and different transformers and valves behave differently too. Discrete transistors do something else again, as do ICs... the latter generally not going into overdrive in a very nice way at all unless a lot of clever circuit design is employed.

So generally, the more expensive products, with more elaborate circuit design, behave in a more musical way when pushed... at least, that's my experience.

Hugh




You see my point though? It was a lot of people's "experience" that different preamps, used in their linear range, sounded a lot different. Until this week, when you actually tested it.

This is exciting! Like the Archbishop of Canterbury calling up Richard Dawkins and saying "..er...just run that past me again, will you...?" Strictly evidenced-based choice of equipment! In with asprin and Viagra, out with homeopathy and acupuncture. "Yes, I KNOW you have "experience" they work. Now test it!"


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013260 - 12/10/12 12:34 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

You see my point though? It was a lot of people's "experience" that different preamps, used in their linear range, sounded a lot different. Until this week, when you actually tested it.




Presumption and wholesale swallowing of urban myths, rather than 'experience'! Those with real first-hand 'experience' knew fully well what the outcome would be.

While I own and use regularly several recognisably high-end preamps (GML, SSL, Focusrite ISA, AEA,), I'm just as happy to use more modest preamps when more convenient or appropriate, including SADiE, Sound Devices, Mackie and Yamaha. I've made dozens of high-quality recordings using Mackie preamps and know fully well that the preamp really isn't the quality-limiting factor in 99% of situations.

Quote:

This is exciting!




It's certainly refreshing

Quote:

"Yes, I KNOW you have "experience" they work. Now test it!"




All in good time...

H

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tiberius



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013281 - 12/10/12 01:57 PM
That is great news - my favourite preamp is pretty damn cheap.
I'm glad I don't have to drop a ton of money to get a great sound.


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013409 - 13/10/12 12:25 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

While I own and use regularly several recognisably high-end preamps (GML, SSL, Focusrite ISA, AEA,),




You're into pushing levels past the linear zone then? What sort of source would prompt you to choose one of these, rather than just "what's on the board"?


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013414 - 13/10/12 12:48 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

You're into pushing levels past the linear zone then?




No, only very rarely. Most of the music I work with requires the utmost transparency and linearity.

Quote:

What sort of source would prompt you to choose one of these, rather than just "what's on the board"?




I often do use 'what's on the board' -- as I already explained. Mackie, SADiE, Yamaha etc...

But I use the AEA primarily for its very high imput impedance and huge gain range that suits ribbon mics very well. The GML and Focusrite also both provide a lot more clean and quiet gain than any console preamp I have available, so I tend to use those if I'm using low output mics, working with quiet sources, or at large source-mic distances -- all fairly common situations in the classical and choral recording that I tend to do mostly.

The SSL is used mostly for colour on occasions when that is appropriate.

But fundamentally, these are all well made, well designed, products with professional reliability, features, ergonomics and support. And that means I can trust them and not have any concerns that they will be a weak link when I'm recording on location miles from any backup facilities!

H

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013444 - 13/10/12 03:24 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:


But fundamentally, these are all well made, well designed, products with professional reliability, features, ergonomics and support. And that means I can trust them and not have any concerns that they will be a weak link when I'm recording on location miles from any backup facilities!





Yes those preamps on the Mackie boards fail all the time! Lord knows why, there's so few components in them :-)

I'm sure I've recently seen another report that small-market equipment was often much less reliable. Not sure if it was anecdote or evidence-based.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013447 - 13/10/12 03:37 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Yes those preamps on the Mackie boards fail all the time! Lord knows why, there's so few components in them :-)




Very amusing -- you're on fire with this one aren't you!

Fortunately, I've never had a problem with my 1402VLZpro... so far... but I'm sure you'll recall the many threads we've had in this very forum about relatively common failures in many Mackie desks caused, typically, by corroding wire links between boards.

Thankfully, modern production processes have improved the reliability of all forms of modern electronics enormously over the last few decades. Nevertheless, I would still rate reliability as one of the important advantages that justifies -- to me -- the cost of some of the preamps I choose to own and use.

hugh

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013450 - 13/10/12 03:49 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Very amusing -- you're on fire with this one aren't you!




I don't suppose we'll actually get an owner of an expensive preamp to come out with: "Yes, I was taken for a ride there, wasn't I!" But it's fun trying :-)


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Bob Bickerton
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013471 - 13/10/12 06:06 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Very amusing -- you're on fire with this one aren't you!




I don't suppose we'll actually get an owner of an expensive preamp to come out with: "Yes, I was taken for a ride there, wasn't I!" But it's fun trying :-)




I'd almost fall into that category, but don't particularly want to winge about it here........

Bob

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013479 - 13/10/12 07:13 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Very amusing -- you're on fire with this one aren't you!




I don't suppose we'll actually get an owner of an expensive preamp to come out with: "Yes, I was taken for a ride there, wasn't I!" But it's fun trying :-)




The concept of value for money is a largely personal one. I couldn't justify buying a grace design m201, but I can understand why others can. I can justify buying the preamps I have because they all do things I value in ways I like. And I enjoy using them, and they meet my needs. That's enough for me.

H

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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013516 - 13/10/12 11:40 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

The concept of value for money is a largely personal one.




But we've made a good start towards making it more objective! Let's not back-pedal.

Really, this preamp test (along with the "you don't really need a seperate master clock" one) are the most encouraging reports I've seen in any gear mag for a long time.


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DC-Choppah



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013523 - 14/10/12 02:13 AM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

... I would still rate reliability as one of the important advantages that justifies -- to me -- the cost of some of the preamps I choose to own and use.

hugh




Oh man. I love the sound of my Mackie VLZs and your test tells me they sound pretty much the same as others. But I hate the fact that all of the pots on my mixing board need to be professionally cleaned often (which requires a full disassemble). Sometimes I get a complete dropout and go wiggle a knob to find that the aux send, or something has flaked on out me.

Since you have established sonic equivalence, would love to know which board stays cleanest over time with real world use. That will be my key parameter when I upgrade I think.

Edited by DC-Choppah (14/10/12 02:18 AM)


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ef37a



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: DC-Choppah]
      #1013525 - 14/10/12 07:21 AM
'Twas ever thus CD-C'.
Decent pots and switches cost!
Farnell list the Grayhill 16way single pole at £22.48. With VAT that is more than 1/2 the price of a quite decent 2 mic input mixer!

Then there are cheap components, even ICs about. I know of the first production run of a product where several NE5532s"blew up"! My own experience with a Behringer BCA2000 was that 12 months in the chip on chan 1 mic amp died. SM tech so I put an NE on a postage stamp sized bit of stripboard and wired it in. Worked fine then a few months later chan 2 went down and I can't be arsed! I now have a ZED10 and the Berry gathers dust. Shame because in many way that AI has never been surpassed for facilities at any price that I have seen.

"There is always someone who can make a thing a little worse for a little less" (attrib Slugger Sugar?).

Dave.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013543 - 14/10/12 09:19 AM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

But we've made a good start towards making it more objective! Let's not back-pedal.




No back pedalling, but you seem to be pushing in a different direction entirely.

This comparison was not about saying "all preamps are the same", or that "a cheap one is every bit as good as an expensive one" -- which seems to be the thrust of your comments.

What it was trying to show was that the sound quality of cheaper preamps -- when used to provide moderate levels of clean gain -- is virtually indistinguishable by most people from very expensive models. A budget preamp needn't be the weakest link in any recording chain, because the technology has improved radically over the last decade or so.

That's it. Something that will hopefully inspire people to hone their skills rather than blame the equipment!

But, only someone with a fetish for wearing blinkers and being deliberately contrary would try to deny that spending more money on a preamp brings worthwhile benefits. How worthwhile, how relevant, or how cost-effective becomes a matter of personal judgement, of course.

For example, I really don't like the way virtually all budget preamps end up with most of the gain range squashed into the last ten degrees of rotation of the gain knob. I will gladly pay more for a preamp designed in a better way so that it has much better ergonomics. You, perhaps, might not mind that at all.... Different personal preferences and judgements...

Quote:

Really, this preamp test (along with the "you don't really need a seperate master clock" one) are the most encouraging reports I've seen in any gear mag for a long time.




I'm pleased you appreciate our efforts. There are more things to debunk and other ways we want to help readers re-focus their attention on the things that really matter.

H

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Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013553 - 14/10/12 10:53 AM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

But, only someone with a fetish for wearing blinkers and being deliberately contrary would try to deny that spending more money on a preamp brings worthwhile benefits. How worthwhile, how relevant, or how cost-effective becomes a matter of personal judgement, of course.




A certainty that spending more money MUST bring worthwhile benefits may be the blinkers!

Come on, you've done a great job. Don't get scared now and hedge it with "of course we all know the expensive ones are REALLY better, even though they sound much the same". If they're better, show us - with blind testing.

Remember the old joke in the early(ish) days of computing? Set up a company, stick a couple of floppies and a CPU in a box, add a flashy model name and an even flashier price tag. The Post Office will buy one, for "evaluation". That'll do!


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Guy Johnson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013555 - 14/10/12 11:10 AM
Another plus for the Mackie amps is that we heard them through another stage of electronics, namely the Art box.

--------------------
Facebok Page for acoustic music PA-ing in smaller venues


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Exalted Wombat



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Guy Johnson]
      #1013560 - 14/10/12 12:07 PM
PLEASE don't start listing all the loopholes in the preamps test! It was such a satisfying result :-)


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1013571 - 14/10/12 01:09 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

A certainty that spending more money MUST bring worthwhile benefits may be the blinkers!




It may be... but I didn't say MUST

Quote:

If they're better, show us - with blind testing.




You can't assess build quality, reliability, ergonomics, flexibility, control linearity, serviceability, or support through blind testing...

I understand what you're digging at, but things aren't anywhere near as black and white as you make out. What we've done here is hopefully to enhance the contrast and saturation a bit, but it's still a colour picture!

H

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DAGGILARR



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013593 - 14/10/12 03:43 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:



For example, I really don't like the way virtually all budget preamps end up with most of the gain range squashed into the last ten degrees of rotation of the gain knob.




H




Where would you say the price point begins where this is no longer the case ? I have a Focusrite Pro24, OK preamps but this suffers from this gain range squashing you speak of.

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ef37a



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: DAGGILARR]
      #1013597 - 14/10/12 04:14 PM
Unfortunately Daggilarr this is a very difficult problem to solve if you want a gain more than about 50dB and insist on a continuous control.
A far better solution is stepped gains from a rotary switch but even if the cheapest possible switch was employed you still need about a dozen fixed resistors, some of way out of series values and not least the space to fit it all!

Some preamps used a relay to switch in another set of resistors. You could use a twin gang pot with different track values and switch them over. Or a pot with a "pull boost" to kick in another 15dB or so?

This is of course where the £1000+ boys score. They can use relay ladder attenuators and software control. But since us poor folk only really need the highest gains for dynamics and ribbons, invest in a Cloudlifter and keep the mixer/AI gains low? I actually solved the problem on my Fast track pro but only because it has inserts. I built an NE5532 20dB booster to put in the inserts and thus I could keep the pro's gain pots at about mid point. (no need now, have the ZED10 and Ka6)

But of course this all C.O.S.T.S!
Dave.


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vinyl_junkie
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013607 - 14/10/12 04:55 PM
Couldn't they just use a linear taper pot instead of a logarithmic pot?

Edited by vinyl_junkie (14/10/12 04:55 PM)


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: vinyl_junkie]
      #1013612 - 14/10/12 05:25 PM
Nope. Most preamp designs actually need a reverse-log pot, and even then control law linearity is ALWAYS a problem.

H

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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: DAGGILARR]
      #1013615 - 14/10/12 06:00 PM
Quote DAGGILARR:

Quote Hugh Robjohns:

For example, I really don't like the way virtually all budget preamps end up with most of the gain range squashed into the last ten degrees of rotation of the gain knob.






Where would you say the price point begins where this is no longer the case ? I have a Focusrite Pro24, OK preamps but this suffers from this gain range squashing you speak of.




I was surprised when I got my RME Octamic recently that even this does it. But there's no way I can afford a Micstasy just to get stepped gain controls. I'm still pleased with my purchase because it feels solid and I know the A/D side with RME is particularly solid.


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dmills



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013617 - 14/10/12 06:08 PM
And reverse log pots are like rocking horse droppings in small quantities (And end resistance can be a big issue, as can the huge DC blocking cap needed to retain a reasonable 3dB point at only tens of ohms or resistance)......

You could probably do something like start with a fixed 10 or 20dB, then put a VCA in the feedback loop of an opamp to provide dB linear gain from there out, but then your noise rises and your technical specs are worse.... And again,it all costs!

Other ways to skin it include using a TI PGA2500 or a THAT 5170/5171 programmable gain mic preamp chip with a small micro and optical encoder, but that rather limits your choice of architecture, and again it all costs in both development time and BOM....

Doing it right is easy, doing it cheap is easy, pulling both off in the same product is what separates the men from the boys.

Regards, Dan.

--------------------
Audiophiles use phono leads because they are unbalanced people!


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Mike101
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013662 - 15/10/12 12:44 AM
This was an excellent article. The closest thing to a placebo control double blinded scientific study. I first listened to the files on my iPad with Bose headphones and then through a Benchmark converter with Sennheiser HD 600 headphones and I was unable to hear any significant variations within a microphone series except for the Brauner H which sounded like the mics had been moved giving a wider stereo separation. Clearly in todays high level of quality across the spectrum, the preamp contributes little and Boutique gear is unnecessary.
The most important points in the sound chain are were mechanical energy is converted to electrical (i.e. the mic) and at the other end where electrical energy is converted back to mechanical (i.e. the speaker) Microphone design and quality, placement, acoustics in the recording and listening environments and speaker design and quality are where to spend your money. In my earlier days we also had the conversion of electrical energy into magnetic flux and back in addition to the conversion of electrical energy into mechanical and back again in a vinyl record. Today the converter is the next most important step when electrical energy is converted into numbers and back again. Regardless, most end users are listening through ipod converters and amps and ear buds or low quality speakers which still sound better than expensive equipment in the 60's. Today all I record is classical music and what matters is the hall the mics and mic placement.
It really all comes down to material, talented musicians, engineers and producers; not some imagined difference between $2000 preamps.


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Phil Reynolds



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013664 - 15/10/12 01:21 AM
scuttles in/

I'm in the process of building a mic made from an old phone and half a pair of broken headphones for people to shout down. Don't think all the preamps in the world are gonna make a difference there...

/scuttles out



--------------------
"We knocked on the doors of Hell's darker chambers..." But no-one answered, so we went to the pub instead.


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James PerrettModerator



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: ef37a]
      #1013685 - 15/10/12 09:42 AM
Quote ef37a:

Unfortunately Daggilarr this is a very difficult problem to solve if you want a gain more than about 50dB and insist on a continuous control.





It all started when Mackie introduced their padless preamp. Before then people were happy with a sensible gain range and an attenuator switch to cope with the loudest sources.

James.

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JRP Music - Audio Mastering and Restoration.
http://www.jrpmusic.net


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Guy Johnson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013712 - 15/10/12 12:01 PM



This arrangement works well on my fave desk. The line switch also acts as a pad when using the mic input, so you get two pads, both of the same value (not stated).

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ef37a



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Guy Johnson]
      #1013743 - 15/10/12 01:30 PM
Nice one Guy but I hope there are a couple of blocking caps we can't see to keep spook juice off the line input?

Dave.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Guy Johnson]
      #1013765 - 15/10/12 02:33 PM
Quote Guy Johnson:

This arrangement works well on my fave desk. The line switch also acts as a pad when using the mic input, so you get two pads, both of the same value (not stated).




Looks a pretty standard arangement to me. Don't quite understand the comment about the line input switch, though. The implication is that the line input is actually in parallel with the mic input (post phantom power connection, obviously).

H

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Guy Johnson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013793 - 15/10/12 04:49 PM



Eek! Where to stop with the diagramme? Anyway, here's more of it .. with caps!

The effect of the line switch (apart from routing from the line trs) is as a pad, when using the mic input. So with the line switch and the one labeled pad, one can stick rather silly voltages in, though I've never needed the double-pad scenario!

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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Guy Johnson]
      #1013803 - 15/10/12 05:44 PM
Quote Guy Johnson:

The effect of the line switch (apart from routing from the line trs) is as a pad, when using the mic input. So with the line switch and the one labeled pad, one can stick rather silly voltages in, though I've never needed the double-pad scenario!




Yes... normally a line 'switch' does exactly that -- switches away from the mic input and passes only the line signal. You're saying it still passes the mic signal...

So from that I have to presume that both the mic and line sockets are wired in parallel and routed through the same switch which acts, as you describe, as an additional pad, before routing the now mic-level signal to the mic preamp. Your diagram does show some rather ambiguous normalled connections between the mic and line sockets.

Could it be that the mic signal is routed through the line socket normalling if nothing is plugged in, and thus appears as a very well attenuated signal if line mode is selected with only a mic signal connected? I can see some sense in that facility... althoguh I'd have thought the pad button was no longer functional in that mode

H


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Edited by Hugh Robjohns (15/10/12 05:50 PM)


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ar316



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013838 - 15/10/12 09:17 PM
It looks like I'll be pulling the trigger on the Digital MPA II I've been debating purchasing.

Hugh, were the stock tubes used in the MPA II for this shoot-out?

Edited by ar316 (15/10/12 09:19 PM)


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Persuazion



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1013845 - 15/10/12 10:17 PM
Even my trusted Audient desk (8024) pres suffer from a gain jump up top as well as noise with some ribbons. More than enough for me to make an obvious decision and go to my DAV pres for distant ribbons and the like. And in fact would get a bit 'jumpy' if I didn't have the DAVs to hand. And I really wouldn't like to use my Saffire 26i/o pres on a ribbon mic at the back of a church (fair enough a ribbon might not be a good choice here but you get the gist..)

This article hasn't really altered my views on nice preamps at all. I know I will be buying some more fancy, expensive preamps in the future, I just have my eye on preamps with clear differences - Audient Black with HMX, Thermionic Rooster, Chandler Germanium, LA 610 (the 610 has clear character for me when pushed). I know most of these are more than just preamps and so not exactly what we're talking about.

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Sam Inglis
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: ar316]
      #1013885 - 16/10/12 08:23 AM
Quote ar316:

were the stock tubes used in the MPA II for this shoot-out?




Yes -- I don't think it had even been out of the box before.


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Goddard



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013907 - 16/10/12 10:04 AM
Quote Sam Inglis:

Quote ar316:

were the stock tubes used in the MPA II for this shoot-out?




Yes -- I don't think it had even been out of the box before.




I may be mistaken, but afaik the ART tube pres (all?) use a solid state input stage before the signal ever gets to the tube "drive" stage anyway. What interests me is the input impedance adjustability.


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Matt Houghton
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Goddard]
      #1013915 - 16/10/12 10:34 AM
Quote Goddard:

What interests me is the input impedance adjustability.




Yes, I know what you mean. In my own experience, some dynamics seem to be more audibly affected by this than others. The SM57 for example. If you're not aware of it, the Magneto Labs VariOhm might be of interest.

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Goddard



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Matt Houghton]
      #1013966 - 16/10/12 01:04 PM
Quote Matt Houghton:

Quote Goddard:

What interests me is the input impedance adjustability.




Yes, I know what you mean. In my own experience, some dynamics seem to be more audibly affected by this than others. The SM57 for example. If you're not aware of it, the <a href="/sos/jan12/articles/magneto-variohm.htm" target="_blank">Magneto Labs VariOhm</a> might be of interest.




Matt, thanks, yes I'd seen Hugh's review already and had appreciated his pointing out there that the typical condenser mic-oriented fixed input impedances of many preamps and interfaces makes them less than optimal for the dynamic and ribbon mics many of us also may wish to use, a point I wish all the mfrs would appreciate inasmuch as implementing a basic input impedance adjustment functionality in their products would not really be that difficult nor costly at even lower price points and could even be a big selling point as some mfrs like ART seem to have grasped.

As it stands now, the choices available are to accept less than optimal dynamic mic performance with many pre's and interfaces, purchase a higher-priced pre with adjustable input impedance, purchase an add-on impedance adjuster, or DIY. In this last regard, you and Hugh might be interested in an article by Paul Stamler which appeared some time back in another publication (which I won't mention or link to here but which can easily be located online by searching for "SM57 impedance gizmo").


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ef37a



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Goddard]
      #1013968 - 16/10/12 01:31 PM
http://cpc.farnell.com/pro-signal/psg01351/adaptor-phase-reverse/dp/AV1451 9?in_merch=Featured Products&MER=e-bb45-00001001

Buy a couple of the above and remove the phase wires and use the switch to load the mic with two different resistors.

Dave.


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Dave Anderson



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Sam Inglis]
      #1013994 - 16/10/12 03:00 PM
Thanks to the SOS team for doing this test. I am interested in how the recordings were rated and the scoring methods. Whilst the overall conclusion seems to be that the differences between these pre-amps in a listening test are very small; the scoring would suggest the opposite.

The ART pre-amp attains the highest score (7.5) when used with the Brauner mics. It attains the highest score (7.4) with the Sennheisers and a joint 4th place (5.6) with the Royer. I think this is a fantastic result. The Mackie achieves 2nd place with the Brauner (6.8), a very good 3rd place with the Sennheisers (5.6) and 6th place with the Royers (3.8). Again, a good result with two out of three mics. However, in the Brauner test the ART scores 7.5 and the API only manages 2.9. In the Sennheiser test the ART has 7.4 and the Maselec only 3.5. The differences between first place and last seem fairly wide using this scoring method. Yet it is supposed to be difficult to tell them apart. Shouldn't the scores have been a bit closer?

Dave.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Goddard]
      #1013997 - 16/10/12 03:10 PM
Quote Goddard:

...implementing a basic input impedance adjustment functionality in their products would not really be that difficult nor costly at even lower price points and could even be a big selling point as some mfrs like ART seem to have grasped.




It's a marketing gimmick with little practical benefit in my view, and isn't a very intelligent engineering solution. Okay, so there are sound technical reasons for using a very high input impedance with ribbons, and since some old-school dynamics were designed to work optimally with the even older-school 600-ohm input Z of some ancient console mic preamps, loading them properly allows them to perform as the designer intended.

What we're talking about here, basically, is taming unwanted reasonances in the mic to preamp interface resulting from old-school design assumptions that are no longer relevant.

But within reason, variable input impedance makes no difference whatsoever to any electronically driven mic (ie. pretty much all modern capacitor mics and all active ribbons and dynamics), and is not appropriate for more modern dynamic mics designed with typical modern day mic preamp interfaces in mind. Added to which, it potentially compromises preamp noise performance.

Rupert Neve had the right idea when he adopted something around 5k Ohms as a standard input Z on a lot of his later designs...

In many ways it's the mic preamp comparison all over again. While messing with mic impedance will produce subtle tonal differences with some specific types of mic, it's still less than changing or moving the mics -- and the tonal changes are even less predictable than swapping mic preamps!

Most modern mic preamps usually have an input Z of between 1.2 and 1.5k, while a few are a little higher (up to about 2.5k ohms). Rather than add in complex and potentially performance-robbing variable impedance facilities just to cope with the odd ancient mic designed for a different world, wouldn't it actually be better to modify the ancient mic to work with the modern world?

So stick your 600 ohm resistor across the back of the XLR connector inside the Sm57 and be done with it! Ancient mic design instantly adapted to work in the modern world. Moving on...

hugh

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James PerrettModerator



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Goddard]
      #1013999 - 16/10/12 03:17 PM
Quote Goddard:


As it stands now, the choices available are to accept less than optimal dynamic mic performance with many pre's and interfaces,




I wouldn't call it less than optimal as a 2k ohm input impedance has been standard for many years and most mic designers will have designed and optimised their mics with this in mind. Think of the variable input impedance as another eq control - a way to alter the sound to your taste.

James.

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http://www.jrpmusic.net


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Dave Anderson]
      #1014003 - 16/10/12 03:26 PM
Quote Dave Anderson:

I am interested in how the recordings were rated and the scoring methods.




As I think Sam explained in his conclusions, the scoring isn't in any way scientific or statistically meaningful. I did it just as a way of trying to see if there were any significant trends. The problem was that the number of people who offered opinions at all was very low, and those that did offer opinions did so incompletely -- often only mentioning and 'rating' two or there mics in each set anyway.

Of course, we had far more results posted for the Brauner set than either of the others, which make the statistics for that mic a little more relevant, but it's still only a very vague indication of trend.

As to the process, where people voiced opinions of each mic I allocated a corresponding score from 1-8. 8 meaning they picked it as first (or equal first) choice, down to 1 where they rated is least liked, or failed to say antyhing about it at all. Intermediate numbers were allocated on a subjective basis according to the subjective descriptive terms. I then divided the total by the number of contributions to arrive at an averaged 'rating'. I also totted up the number of times each mic was rated first choice as a backup means of identifying trends.

It was really just as a 'bit of fun' -- there is no statistically meaningful data there. If only one person voted first place for one mic, it would have scored 8!

Quote:

Whilst the overall conclusion seems to be that the differences between these pre-amps in a listening test are very small; the scoring would suggest the opposite.




Not really, if you look at how many people contributed views, and how the trends developed in time as previous listeners revealed their scores and influenced the decisions of others.

It's actually a lot more interesting and relevant to read the subjective comments from people. Where some said a mic was smooth, rich and full, others described it as shrill and bright. Where one person picked a high end preamp as 1st choice, they often picked a low-end one as second choice (and vice versa). There was no consistency in identifying any of the preamps, either within an individual's choices, or across the group as a whole.

The ART did seem to get picked more often than the others, which was a surprise... but when people publish their preferences on line, as they did here, that will inherently influence the decisions of others, and I think that's what we're seeing.

H

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mjfe2



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Exalted Wombat]
      #1014024 - 16/10/12 05:17 PM
Quote Exalted Wombat:

Really, this preamp test (along with the "you don't really need a seperate master clock" one) are the most encouraging reports I've seen in any gear mag for a long time.




+1 And I bet a similar test could be done for A/D converters above a certain price point.

But I think amidst all this debunking that saves us money it's worth remembering that a good room and nice instruments are crucial and cost money. So if we want to make better recordings it's still an expensive hobby/profession, we just need to sacrifice some of our gearlust and be prepared to pay for a decent live room or concert hall. That being said, unexpected gems can be found for free e.g. schools on the weekend.


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Goddard



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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: your views! new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #1014086 - 17/10/12 01:16 AM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote Goddard:

...implementing a basic input impedance adjustment functionality in their products would not really be that difficult nor costly at even lower price points and could even be a big selling point as some mfrs like ART seem to have grasped.




It's a marketing gimmick with little practical benefit in my view, and isn't a very intelligent engineering solution. Okay, so there are sound technical reasons for using a very high input impedance with ribbons, and since some old-school dynamics were designed to work optimally with the even older-school 600-ohm input Z of some ancient console mic preamps, loading them properly allows them to perform as the designer intended.




Your "marketing gimmick with little practical benefit" statement seems a bit at odds with what I took away from your recent VariOhm review.

Quote Hugh Robjohns:

What we're talking about here, basically, is taming unwanted reasonances in the mic to preamp interface resulting from old-school design assumptions that are no longer relevant.




Don't know how many people using ribbons are plugging them directly into audio interfaces rather than into a better spec pre first, but there still seem to be quite a few pro/semi-pro d