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Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby Jim C » Fri Oct 31, 2014 1:34 pm

Sam Inglis wrote:In October's SOS, we set out to see how much of a difference the choice of mic preamp made in one real-world recording situation: recording a close-miked grand piano. Thanks to Jonathan Dodd's Realpiano service, we were able to use a Yamaha Disklavier player piano to reproduce the same performance very precisely over and over again. This was recorded 24 times, through three different stereo mic arrays and eight different preamps.

Sam - Just caught up on this article and the demo files. It's BRILLIANT to see and hear this kind of testing. More!! - Jim!
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby Guest » Mon May 02, 2016 2:02 pm

This is Great , loved it , Thanks
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby AudioWonderland » Mon May 23, 2016 3:04 pm

Sam Inglis wrote:

The table below also lists the number of respondents who rated each preamp/mic combination as their favourite, and summarises the subjective comments that have been made about the sound. Thanks for listening!

Round 1: Preamp letter codes for the Brauner mic files:

A - ART Pro MPA II Rating: 7.5 Chosen as Favourite: 5 times
Comments: Smooth tubey top end, neutral and rich, especially roasty, more warmth and body

B - AMS Neve 1073LB Rating: 3.4 Chosen as Favourite: 1 times
Comments: Classy vintage sound, too strident in midrange, veiled top end, rich mids and lows, brittle, sounded grainy

C - API 3124+ Rating: 2.9 Chosen as Favourite: 0 times
Comments: Vague, dreamy, a touch boxy, slightly harsh midrange, disliked, clean but smooth, strident

D - Mackie VLZ Pro Rating: 6.8 Chosen as Favourite: 2 times
Comments: Not much character, big bottom end

E - SSL XLogic VHD Pre Rating: 6.5 Chosen as Favourite: 4 times
Comments: Clean, accurate, neutral, more transparent, warm lows, more depth and evenness, brittle, less solid, little dull, most information and naturalness

F - GP Electronics PML200E Rating: 4.2 Chosen as Favourite: 1 times
Comments: Dark, slightly plasticky, close and intimate

G - Maselec MMX-4XR Rating: 6.4 Chosen as Favourite: 2 times
Comments: Clean, accurate and neutral, muffled top end, slightly distant, smooth character, sharper transients

H - Prism Sound Orpheus Rating: 6 Chosen as Favourite: 4 times
Comments: Sounds more stereo, zingy, closed in, veiled or murky, prominent low end, smooth
character, more clarity and separation, smooth without sounding dull, disliked and would
avoid

Round 2: preamp letter codes for Sennheiser MKH20s

A - GP Electronics PML200E Rating: 5 Chosen as Favourite: 2 times
Comments: No particular sound, warm clean and detailed, on the dull side, probably txfm-less

B - ART Pro MPA II Rating: 7.4 Chosen as Favourite: 3 times
Comments: Intimate, can hear further in, more depth and ambience, sounds more musical and dynamic (same preamp as Brauner A and Royer D?), most information and naturalness

C - Maselec MMA-4XR Rating: 3.5 Chosen as Favourite: 1 times
Comments: Slightly hard midrange, Mackie/ART?, slightly dull

D - AMS Neve 1073LB Rating: 5 Chosen as Favourite: 1 times
Comments: Neutral, natural, rich quality

E - SSL XLogic VHD Rating: 5.5 Chosen as Favourite: 1 times
Comments: Intimate, great clarity, nothing objectionable

F - Prism Sound Orpheus Rating: 7 Chosen as Favourite: 1 times
Comments: Warm, close and detailed, best overall balance, slightly dull

G - Mackie VLZ Pro Rating: 5.6 Chosen as Favourite: 0 times
Comments: Warm and intimate, detailed, ART/Mackie?, sharp in the mids, probably txfr-less

H - API 3124+ Rating: 5.5 Chosen as Favourite: 1 times
Comments: Rich mids, nice frequency balance, not as detailed, possibly Mackie?

Round 3: Preamp letter codes for Royer SF12

A - Mackie VLZ Pro Rating: 3.8 Chosen as Favourite: 0 times
Comments: Less detailed, slight edge, not as detailed, slightly dull, Neve/API?

B - Maselec MMA-4XR Rating: 3.5 Chosen as Favourite: 0 times
Comments: Shrill top notes, slightly dull, bad!

C - Prism Sound Orpheus Rating: 6.8 Chosen as Favourite: 2 times
Comments: Warmer bottom end, delicacy, nicest so far, very accurate and fast, deep and tight lows, neutral, Maselec?

D - SSL XLogic VHD Rating: 6.6 Chosen as Favourite: 3 times
Comments: Delicate, Intimate, Richness, more detail, least natural (same preamp as Brauner A and MKH B?), delicate, precise, detailed and warm

E - API 3124+ Rating: 3.8 Chosen as Favourite: 1 times
Comments: Less detailed, slightly dull, nice colour, valve preamp?

F - GP Electronics PML200E Rating: 5.6 Chosen as Favourite: 1 times
Comments: Detailed yet neutral, midrange richness, slight edge, slightly dull

G - AMS Neve 1073LB Rating: 6.4 Chosen as Favourite: 3 times
Comments: Less detailed, slight edge, clearer, bright and clean with more dynamics, Neve/API?

H - ART Pro MPA II Rating: 5.6 Chosen as Favourite: 2 times
Comments: Shrill and slightly harsh, bright clear and dynamic

I am pretty amazed at how similar they all sound and how well the ART and Mackie units did in terms of rating etc. I have been debating where to upgrade next and have been reviewing a lot of different preamp options which is what brought me here. Considering how little difference there really was and how well my existing preamp's faired I think I may need to rethink my upgrade plans. I need more inputs for drums but it looks like it could be done and done well for a lot less money than I originally thought
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby CS70 » Mon May 23, 2016 5:30 pm

The consensus seems to be that whatever differences there may be, they would be audible in a blind test only if the preamps were pushed. It'd be interesting to *that* comparison too!
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby Martin Walker » Mon May 23, 2016 8:23 pm

CS70 wrote:The consensus seems to be that whatever differences there may be, they would be audible in a blind test only if the preamps were pushed. It'd be interesting to *that* comparison too!

Agreed, that would be absolutely fascinating.

However, you'd have to push each preamp by at least three or four different amounts to see how gracefully (or otherwise) they gradually overloaded and moved into distorted territory, and probably with three or four different types of instrument, so it would be a HUGE comparison to undertake :headbang:


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon May 23, 2016 8:40 pm

It still might be worth doing though, comparing a low end preamp with a mid range and boutique one, keeping to to just three might make to manageable?
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby Sam Inglis » Mon May 23, 2016 10:03 pm

It'd definitely be interesting. I think the problem would be finding a suitably repeatable source. A grand piano is something you'd typically want to record as clean as possible. People are more likely to want to overdrive their preamps on drums, or rock vocals.
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon May 23, 2016 11:09 pm

Yes, good point. Somebody in another thread suggested playing back a recording through a good monitor and then recording that would be the closest to repeatability but it's never going to sound the same as a live vocal, of course if you could get four examples of each preamp and a 1<12 way mic splitter :)

Maybe it doesn't have to be completely scientific across all four tests, as long as each preamp is represented at each gain level (only requiring a three way mic split) the the fact that the four performances were not identical would not matter too much as the performance at each GL would be identical.
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby ManFromGlass » Tue May 24, 2016 1:28 pm

shows me that I am ok in the pre department but I could use a disklavier! That would be cool! :D
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby CS70 » Tue May 24, 2016 2:56 pm

Martin Walker wrote: probably with three or four different types of instrument, so it would be a HUGE comparison to undertake :headbang

Well, with a little sistematic apporach and Excel, it's not like enormous. With say three levels, it would need produce 3n files, where n is the number of pres.. At least is linear!

Wouldn't make sense to take a recording starting from silence and using the same mic to capture the playback from a speaker?

By selecting a suitable clean recording and a mic and a speaker withe a volume where in their headroom range, and a former xing the mic position one would be left with the preamp gain as variable?
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby Martin Walker » Tue May 24, 2016 3:23 pm

CS70 wrote:By selecting a suitable clean recording, and a mic and a speaker with a volume well in their headroom range, and fixing the mic position one would be left with only the preamp gain as variable?

Any takers? :beamup:


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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby CS70 » Wed May 25, 2016 9:24 am

Martin Walker wrote:
CS70 wrote:By selecting a suitable clean recording, and a mic and a speaker with a volume well in their headroom range, and fixing the mic position one would be left with only the preamp gain as variable?


Any takers? :beamup:


Martin


Haha is someone's willing to ship me a Millennia STT-1 for the high-end bit, I'll be more than happy to oblige! :lol:
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby Mixedup » Wed May 25, 2016 10:18 am

CS70 wrote:a mic and a speaker with a volume well in their headroom range, and fixing the mic position

Could you not just convert the D-A's line output to mic level and patch it direct into the preamp input, rather than introduce the variables of speaker, mic and mic position? Or are you trying to determine if the behaviour/sound is different with different mics? If the latter, you're going to end up with a hell of a lot of sound files on your hands!
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby CS70 » Wed May 25, 2016 12:54 pm

Mixedup wrote:
CS70 wrote:a mic and a speaker with a volume well in their headroom range, and fixing the mic position


Could you not just convert the D-A's line output to mic level and patch it direct into the preamp input, rather than introduce the variables of speaker, mic and mic position? Or are you trying to determine if the behaviour/sound is different with different mics? If the latter, you're going to end up with a hell of a lot of sound files on your hands!


Sure you can. I'd thought about that, but wasn't sure how the "voltage down" effect would have treated the signal and if whatever it's used to bring the signal down to mic level might bring coloration by itself.

With the mic/speaker combo, the preamp would be be used the way it's intended - processing the signal produced by a microphone reacting to moving air. So long the tester's ears judge that what comes out of the speaker at the mic position is a reasonable representation of say a voice (only as reproduced by the speaker combo rather than a human throat), then the test would be a trifle more similar to real-world conditions. A further control check would be to listen to the recorded result in a "not pushed" preamp situation - it should sound natural (and you can use the wife test to check if she understand it wasn't produced by a voice in the first place).

That's why I opted for using that combo - to have some human brains in the loop to judge directly the quality of the input. On the other side, using a direct injection of sound in the preamp would perhaps eliminate even further variables (for example, air temperature if the test goes on for a long time).

But in principle is the same reasoning, and both methods would probably work.

And no, I have no intention to test different mics, that'd be masochism!
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Re: Preamp comparison in SOS October 2012: the key!

Postby keithjrichards » Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:35 am

So listening to these files in June 2020 - during Covid lockdown some 8 years in the future ! Pondering on buying a 1073 (from Neve not copy).

I currently use an ISA 220 (Mr Neve had something to do with that too ;o) - it was built quite a while beofre this article too !

Now keeping my money in my pocket £££ the ISA will do nicely .... Great article, kinda thought this was the case though, think a bigger difference would be observerd on dry spoke word / vocals - theres a lotta notes to remember in those wavs !!

By the way - was it just me or did anybody else spot that in the first round (Brauner) on pre-amp H the mics were connected the opposite way around to all the others !!!! Just saying .... not that it made a difference to width, depth, timing etc

Wonder if this post will be here in 20 years time ...
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