Pick A Preamp | Media

Do Expensive Mic Preamps Make A Difference?

Published in SOS October 2012
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Technique : Recording / Mixing

Sam Inglis

These audio files accompany the 'Pick A Preamp' article in SOS October 2012 (/sos/oct12/articles/preamps.htm). Using Realpiano's Yamaha Disklavier MIDI grand piano, we used a Prism Sound Orpheus interface to record the same demo composition through a total of 24 different combinations of microphones and preamps, at 24-bit/44.1kHz. 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.

Download | 85 MB
Download | 83 MB
Download | 83 MB

A test-tone generator and small active monitor were used to set levels. These were then matched as closely as possible in post-production. No EQ or dynamic processing was applied at any stage, but the files have been dithered to 16-bit.

Our aim was not to 'shoot out' different preamps to find out which was the best. Instead, we wanted to put a representative range of different designs to work — from budget mixer preamp to expensive solid-state and valve boutique designs — to find out how audible the differences are. The eight preamps we tested were, in alphabetical order, the API 3124+; ART Pro MPA II; GP Electronics PML 200E; the preamps in a Mackie 1402VLZ Pro MkII mixer, recorded from the insert points via an ART DTI transformer balance box; Maselec MMA-4XR; AMS Neve 1073LB; Prism Sound Orpheus; and SSL Xlogic VHD Pre. To level the playing field, these examples have been anonymised and placed in a different order. Note that the order is different in each case, so that for example Brauner_A is not necessarily the same preamp as Royer_A or MKH_A. The differences between the microphones are clear and obvious — but are the high-end preamps audibly better than their cheaper cousins? Head to the SOS Forum to share your thoughts. To find out the results, you can view them here.

(If you downloaded these files before Monday 24th September, you might have noticed that the Brauner_H file was faulty. This has now been corrected. If you just want to download that file on its own, click braunerhrevised.wav.)  .

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