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Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

For fans of synths, pianos or keyboard instruments of any sort.

Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Collie » Tue Dec 22, 2015 5:40 pm

I'm Looking to invest in a decent Preamp for recording Key/synths,I don't own any vintage synth gear so feel like some of my tracks lack Warmth I do own some of the newer Analogs(Prophet 8/Voyager) and a few digitals but feel they may benefit from a decent Hardware Preamp to add some character.

I've Not got a set budget in mind as I'd like to hear pros/cons of every end of the spectrum,plus its something that I plan to invest into that will last me a good few years if the unit is half decent so would consider a higher end unit but also would like to hear cheaper alternatives,although my only requirement is that its a Hardware unit,and stereo in/Out and Rackmountable although I would consider mono preamps too would prefer stereo.

I'm not interested in software plug ins and stuff as I prefer to have a tactile hands on approach,I basically want it mainly for tracking synths into my recording hardware plus maybe doing the odd vocals although vocals aren't the main use for it.

What units do other use/recommend for warming up their tracks,I'd like to get a list together for a starting reference from those with real world usage of preamps and find somewhere that I can demo in person and decide for myself,I would rather go somewhere with some preamps in mind rather than blindly go in and get sold something by a box shifting sales guy.
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby The Elf » Tue Dec 22, 2015 6:14 pm

This is all going to depend on what you deem as being 'warmth'.

A dedicated keyboard pre-amp is a rare thing. I have a VKP-1 valve pre that was specifically designed for keyboards, but I've yet to see a second. Maybe try a valve-based processor, such as an EQ to see what it can do for you when it's driven.

You could run your synths into a DI box and from there into a mic pre and push the pre's input.

You might try putting your synths through guitar pedals, amps and speakers to dirty them up a bit. This is something I do quite often. I use an ART cleanbox to handle the level/wiring differences to achieve this.

Don't forget that if you want to preserve any of your synths' stereo output you are going to need two of anything you choose to pass it through.

Is this going to give you what you consider 'warmth'? Maybe, but maybe not. You may be looking for a magic 'make it better' box when some careful programming, or a little work with EQ might be all you need.
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Richie Royale » Tue Dec 22, 2015 6:15 pm

I doubt any pre-amp is really the issue here. You want 'warmth' but this term is quite subjective and the age of the synth isn't likely to change the sound and make it 'warmer'.

My synths either go directly into my interface, via my Mackie or via my Focusrite Penta. There is no discernable difference between each of those inputs, except the Penta has a button to add 'warmth' which is basically distortion. And that last point is essentially what most people are referring to when they talk of warmth, it is usually pleasant sounding distortion, but one man's pleasant is another's harsh and horrible.

I expect there may be something out there that might distort your recording path that you will find pleasant, but I don't expect ti is truly needed. 'Warmth' can be coaxed from the synths by suitably programming and judicious EQ. Distortion comes in many flavours and you may find that pushing the gain on a mixer adds the 'warmth' you seek, but you may need something more extreme or different which can be got through distortion pedals. Or you may find that a small amount of top end taken off the sound makes it sound 'warmer'.

In any event, unless you really know what sound you are after, I doubt a piece of equipment will instantly fill it.
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Richie Royale » Tue Dec 22, 2015 6:16 pm

Elf - snap! :D
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Wonks » Tue Dec 22, 2015 8:00 pm

For warmth you could always try playing the synth through a clean valve amp e.g. Fender Twin or Rolland Jazz Chorus, and then miking it up. Natural loss of almost everything above 6kHz and a lot more mids. Fairly standard way of amplifying synths live in the '70s. Or you could try an equivalent amp plug-in.
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Dave B » Tue Dec 22, 2015 8:09 pm

If 'warmth' is the same as 'character' then you could try putting your ordinary synths through the Mooger Fooger filter. Wonks does that and it definitely adds to the sound.
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Wonks » Tue Dec 22, 2015 8:13 pm

Yes, I can put my KARP through the MF filter and it does impart a certain thickness to the sound, as well as a Moogy 'flavour'.
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Dec 22, 2015 9:45 pm

Wonks wrote:For warmth you could always try playing the synth through a clean valve amp e.g. Fender Twin or Rolland Jazz Chorus, and then miking it up. Natural loss of almost everything above 6kHz and a lot more mids. Fairly standard way of amplifying synths live in the '70s. Or you could try an equivalent amp plug-in.

Yep, that would be a sure way to change the sound for a 'warmer' version, by concentrating on the more powerful areas of the spectrum while removing the sizzle.


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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Wonks » Tue Dec 22, 2015 11:01 pm

And you can always blend an amped-up sound with a DI'd one and balance to suit.
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Collie » Wed Dec 23, 2015 9:14 am

Thanks for all the suggestions Guys will take your points on board,I think half the problem is since I've switched to a digital desk(Yamaha 01V96)which was more for convenience with total recall/Scene memories etc I seem to have lost some of that fullness and roundness that some of my older recordings I did on an analog Allen and Heath seemed to have.

No matter what I do with the Yammie it just never seems to have that same tone,Obviously I know its going to be different being digital and I am running most of the Keys via the XLR ins to take advantage of the Desks preamps, but being digital it just doesn't seem to have the grit or Lo fi ness of the Analog desk,part of the problem is i got used to the cleanliness of digital recording gear that I hadn't realised how much better things sounded previously on the older gear Until I'd rediscovered some of my older works,either that or my ears have grown tired of the crispness of a louder cleaner digital signal I'd made the change to digital for the best possible clean signal path but in the process lost some of the quality of the innocence of Analog,
the EQ on the Yamaha although it has two different modes its just never that musical,either that or I have yet to discover its sweet spots.

I was hoping a tube preamp would be able to colour the sound and get some of that lofi fullness of my older recordings,I see a lot of these newer producers having mostly digital gear or ITB but always have some dedicated outboard preamp for adding warmth or depth so was wondering how I could perhaps incorporate this.

I have used guitar pedals in the past for keyboards(Mainly EH stuff)part of the reason I fell out of love with that method is more to do with patching things in and out all the time and trying to remove as much Noise from the signal chain as possible in order to keep things as clean as possible I've been eyeing up the Strymon series(Big sky etc)but was thinking the money would be better spent on an Analog Preamp as I already have several dedicated FX units
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby ef37a » Wed Dec 23, 2015 9:27 am

Do you still have the A&H? If so try it in an FX loop.

My ZED10 has FET line inputs with a 20dB boost that adds "attitude" (they say, not my ball of interest) you might find one of those on The Bay?

Or, since the synths come out at line level how about some really cheap 1:1 audio transformers?

A pedal with a proper valve with proper 300V HT you might not have tried is the Blackstar HT-Dual? Mono of course but two would not break the bank.

Oh! And the Dual has an emulated speaker output which will kill the fizz.

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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby The Elf » Wed Dec 23, 2015 10:19 am

I would just get that Yammy mixer out of the process altogether. When you record an instrument, bypass the mixer and plug it directly into your audio interface. I'm betting you hear an improvement immediately.
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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Jan 01, 2016 3:47 pm

The Elf wrote:I would just get that Yammy mixer out of the process altogether. When you record an instrument, bypass the mixer and plug it directly into your audio interface. I'm betting you hear an improvement immediately.

Spot on Elf - the first time I bypassed my old mixer and plugged one of my synths directly into my amp my jaw dropped to the floor at the sonic improvements :beamup:


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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby ef37a » Fri Jan 01, 2016 5:19 pm

Martin Walker wrote:
The Elf wrote:I would just get that Yammy mixer out of the process altogether. When you record an instrument, bypass the mixer and plug it directly into your audio interface. I'm betting you hear an improvement immediately.

Spot on Elf - the first time I bypassed my old mixer and plugged one of my synths directly into my amp my jaw dropped to the floor at the sonic improvements :beamup:


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Re: Preamps for Keyboards/Synths

Postby damoore » Sat Jan 02, 2016 12:29 am

I have a couple of ART MP Pres that warm up my VK8 nicely plus there is an "opl" compressor button that grunges up EPs nicely. Best thing is they are cheap - worst thing is that they use a wall wart that delivers 9V AC, which is decidedly odd and hard to replace.

Another possibility is the tube preamps from paia, but I have not tried those myself.
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