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Preamp examples

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Preamp examples

Postby jodaki » Sat Oct 10, 2020 8:32 pm

When you read the blurb about preamps exemplifying ‘the sound of the 50s/60s/70s/80s/90s’, ‘used on countless records’ etc. I find myself wanting a bit more detail...

Can anyone give concrete examples of preamps that were used on particular recordings? Especially examples where the preamp expresses the qualities that they are famed for.
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby CS70 » Sat Oct 10, 2020 9:10 pm

The "sound of the 50s, 60s" is mostly due to the recording techniques that became possible over time and the way musicians were, and how they were playing. Few available tracks, little or no overdubbing, the sound of the room.. stuff like that. Surely the various microphones that were invented... and then the recording medium: tape generation losses when overdubbing became more common, the tech gizmos that were invented to counter it (the Aural Exciter for example). In these decades you go from mono to stereo recordings, which of course has a deep effect on the sound.

And the consoles... from the one-off jobs of the 50s to the more standardized specimens of later decades.. They are much more than just the preamp circuit - from the input/output transformers (or not), the EQ signal path etc - they make the sound as much if not more than the preamp itself. In the late 50s, early 60s you start having serious effects like plate reverb (the size of a sofa) and then these effects explode and you start having digital ones - the first Lexicon is from 1979. Then in the 80s comes in automation, digital recording (sometimes with questionable converters), 48 tracks and more etc.

Fascinating stuff, could go on for hours. In all this the preamps contribute a little bit... but I don't think they can define the sound of an era.. they are one of the components, and probably far from the most critical.

However, for your question.... you'd need a book for answering!! And books exist, and they're very worth reading if you like this stuff!! :) In the 50s and 60s preamps mostly were tube ones, many "standard" pieces came directly from broadcast equipment and often (as the consoles) they were engineered and manufactured in house, and then of course you get the Neves, the APIs and later again in the 80s, the SSLs gain the upper hand because of automation (I actually recorded my first guitar session at around 22, in a studio running a SSL.. a gigantic beast straight out science fiction movie! I had no idea what it was but it looked a million dollars!)

So, well aware of the gross generalization, I'd say: 50s - run a 610, 60s find a REDD emulation or clone, 70s - go for Neve and APIs (there's many flavors), 80s get an SSL unit and after that all bets are off :D But I doubt you can take a song of any era and say "it sounds like this and this because of the preamp they used".
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby James Perrett » Sat Oct 10, 2020 11:00 pm

CS70 puts it much more eloquently that I would but I'd certainly agree. The mic preamp is one of the least important parts of a professional recording chain.
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby Martin Walker » Sun Oct 11, 2020 12:53 am

James Perrett wrote:The mic preamp is one of the least important parts of a professional recording chain.

...unless you intend to drive it hard for special effects, in which case the Neve 1073 is generally regarded as adding beef and warmth, the API is punchy and forward, while the SSL sound is transparent and tight ;)


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Re: Preamp examples

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Oct 11, 2020 6:14 am

In a 50's recording I suspect we'd be hard pressed to hear the preamp's noise and distortion above that of the tape.
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby Arpangel » Sun Oct 11, 2020 8:02 am

Tim Gillett wrote:In a 50's recording I suspect we'd be hard pressed to hear the preamp's noise and distortion above that of the tape.

I think a lot of equipment back then was designed to play down, or overcome the limitations of whatever ancillary equipment was being used, EQ curves were designed to enhance and eliminate, mic amps had to "cut through" they were liked because they were good at overcoming certain problems, like the use of various types of noise reduction reducing the high end, noise, and tape issues.
These sounds have stayed with us, but are they still relevant? basically we are using stuff that was created with a problem in mind, that today doesn’t exist, but we now use these things as sounds in their own right, to reference a particular era, so yes, they are still valid.
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby ef37a » Sun Oct 11, 2020 9:02 am

To put a tiny point in this learned company?

It should be remembered that in the vast majority of cases the makers of the pre amps, Neve, SSL, BBC! Were trying to make the BEST, low noise, low distortion, flattest response electronics they could with the given technology. To most of them the idea of a "sound" from their products would have been anathema.

Then, until the likes of the Beatles came along with their financial clout, 'Moosicians' were not allowed to bugger about with VERY expensive studio equipment, that was the province of recording 'engineers' and many were in fact graduate engineers with a love of music and often good performers in their own right. A balance engineer had to be able to read a score.

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Re: Preamp examples

Postby Arpangel » Sun Oct 11, 2020 9:58 am

ef37a wrote:To put a tiny point in this learned company?

It should be remembered that in the vast majority of cases the makers of the pre amps, Neve, SSL, BBC! Were trying to make the BEST, low noise, low distortion, flattest response electronics they could with the given technology. To most of them the idea of a "sound" from their products would have been anathema.

Then, until the likes of the Beatles came along with their financial clout, 'Moosicians' were not allowed to bugger about with VERY expensive studio equipment, that was the province of recording 'engineers' and many were in fact graduate engineers with a love of music and often good performers in their own right. A balance engineer had to be able to read a score.

Dave.

I’m not sure I agree with this cross-over between musicians and engineering.
Engineering should be your passion, albeit through an interest in music, and engineering is what you devote your life to. You are "not" a musician, engineering is a completely different mind set.
Put aside home studios, and multi-tasking etc, in a professional environment there are still two sides to the control room glass, although the knobby side is much more sympathetic than in days past.
I’ve been witness to more than my fair share of frustrated engineers/musicians with chips on their shoulders, sneering at musicians, and thinking they know better, these are the people that shouldn’t be engineers at all, and they do more harm than good, also, if I want advice, I’ll ask for it, and that’s a different thing altogether.
Great engineers are always in demand, because they love what they do, and they want to get the best possible results for their artists. I can speak for a lot of musicians I’ve worked with, and all you really want is to get on with recording with the minimum of fuss and hassle, knowing you’ve got an experienced, knowledgable, and confident engineer to back you up, who, is also sympathetic towards you and your music, but he’s not there to write your album, or get annoyed at you because he thinks you’ve made the wrong musical decisions.
A good engineer should be invisible, things should just happen, and successful bands that have their own engineers pick up on this, and take them on board.
There are exceptions, George Martin, Joe Meek, and many more, but they were almost co-writers, and producers, as well as engineers, and it was all agreed from day one.
These days we are constantly told we have to wear many hats, it’s a pain, and I still loath engineering. It’s really nice when you go into a studio and all that responsibility is taken away from you and you can just concentrate on making music, and that’s where really good engineers come into their own.
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby blinddrew » Sun Oct 11, 2020 10:38 am

Arpangel wrote:I’m not sure I agree with this cross-over between musicians and engineering.
Engineering should be your passion, albeit through an interest in music, and engineering is what you devote your life to. You are "not" a musician, engineering is a completely different mind set.
Sorry, but this is an extrapolation into nonsense. Just because you don't think like this doesn't mean that other people can't.
I agree with all your points about the benefits of a good engineer, and the separation of roles, but it doesn't mean someone can't be both an excellent musician and engineer.
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby Arpangel » Sun Oct 11, 2020 10:47 am

blinddrew wrote:
Arpangel wrote:I’m not sure I agree with this cross-over between musicians and engineering.
Engineering should be your passion, albeit through an interest in music, and engineering is what you devote your life to. You are "not" a musician, engineering is a completely different mind set.
Sorry, but this is an extrapolation into nonsense. Just because you don't think like this doesn't mean that other people can't.
I agree with all your points about the benefits of a good engineer, and the separation of roles, but it doesn't mean someone can't be both an excellent musician and engineer.

I agree, there are exceptions, but they are rare, and I do think you definitely need a different mind set.
I think I’m a lousy engineer, I’m not commenting on my musical ability, I’ll let others do that.
I’m on the SOS forum a lot, trying to learn all the time, it’s because I have little interest in engineering in general, that I need constant hand holding.
If anyone should ask me about my studio, and me, I just say I’m a musician, I never say I’m an engineer.
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby ef37a » Sun Oct 11, 2020 11:01 am

It is all water under a bloody big bridge decades ago Arp'!

I was referring ONLY to the situation in studios roughly 'pre Beatles' . Back then virtually all music was made on acoustic instruments. The only microphone the average muso would get his hands on was the crystal mic that came with the very early domestic tape recorders.

Touring big bands might have had a primitive PA but only the singer and the conductor acting as MOC would use that. (STC 'Ball & Biscuit like as not) .



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Re: Preamp examples

Postby Arpangel » Sun Oct 11, 2020 11:31 am

I know, and I’m not going on about it as it’s not fair to the OP, as this could be a separate thread.
I know what plugs to put in what holes to get the sounds I need, to make my music. All this would be useless knowledge to anyone but me, I’d make a completely useless commercial engineer, as I don’t have that breadth of knowledge.
My engineering skills are just enough to enable me to what I want to do.
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby CS70 » Sun Oct 11, 2020 11:42 am

blinddrew wrote:
Arpangel wrote:I’m not sure I agree with this cross-over between musicians and engineering.
Engineering should be your passion, albeit through an interest in music, and engineering is what you devote your life to. You are "not" a musician, engineering is a completely different mind set.
Sorry, but this is an extrapolation into nonsense.

Yeah, that's a very narrow perspective. For some reason the great majority of people nowadays think that specialization is the rule and one can be truly good at only one thing. Guess it's because it serves society very well, easier to make little walking cogs protective and proud of their little role.

Personally, I can even make a killer tiramisu. Don't ask me to tend a plant or a garden though :D
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Oct 11, 2020 11:49 am

To drag it back to the original question, Dave is absolutely right that equipment designers in each era were trying to get the best technical performance they could from the technology of the day, be that valves, germanium transistors, silicon transistors, op-amps or whatever. And yes, the specific characteristics of this devices did embed some recognisable sonic characteristics under some (but certainly not all) circumstances. And Tim is also right in that much of the time some of those characteristics were completely swamped by the limitations of the recording Techology of the day!

But the 'sound' we associate with the classic records of the 50s / 60s / 70s and 80s is, I think, much, much more to do with the production techniques used at the time, and the sounds of the studios -- certainly in the days when the band all played in the same room at the same time. The kinds of mics popularly used at the time also influenced the sound to an extent...

Phaedrus Audio make a preamp called the Hydra which is switchable to provide one of four different 60s/70s vintage transistor preamps (EMI, Trident, and two eras of Olympic), and it's interesting to compare their sounds...

https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/phaedrus-audio-hydra

And finally, to Tony's argument. Yes, audio engineering is clearly a very different mindset to creating or performing as a musician. But in my experience the two aren't exclusive, and the best engineers are always very musical, if not highly talented musicians. And from what I've seen, engineers generally find it easier to embrace musical performing/writing, than musicians tend to be able to embrace engineering!
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Re: Preamp examples

Postby ef37a » Sun Oct 11, 2020 12:03 pm

My guitarist son went through a phase in his teens of trying to recreate the sound of the guitars on the old Beatles, Quo, AC/DC etc records. Dad spent much time with solder irion modding a Dominator clone and son was trying to get "that tape sound" with a Teac A 3440.

He concluded that he really needed a vintage AC30. Dad was not so keen! (no, he never got one, funny story tho.....)

More than 25 years on he has come to realize that it was NOT just the sound of the guitars or the amps or even "The Hands" that made "Hard Days Night" sound the way it did but all of everything involved in the production (the Germans have a word for it?)

He is a far, far happier man now than in those teenage years doing Bach and Mozart transcriptions to classical guitar.

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