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Where to spend: mic, preamp, or interface?

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Where to spend: mic, preamp, or interface?

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:05 am
by rggillespie
New to this forum and relatively backward technically, please forgive any nativity on that score. Ive recently had a wonderful experience with a warm audio wa47 valve mic having previously only used inexpensive mxl and tbone mics. The difference was beyond believable to me, everything's now sounding three dimensional, solid and real compared to before, and no sibilance. The other major benefit was I can actually hear what differences the changes are with eq, compression, reverb etc it's very clear now. At home I record guitar, electric and acoustic, vocals into Cockos reaper and wondered if there would be worthwhile improvements to had in the rest of my recording chain, as it's about 12 years old now? The mic goes into a spl gainstation 1 mic pre and then an rme fireface 400 this has the latest download installed. I go direct into this chain for bass and synths too. I don't tend to go straight to rme as I find on its own it sounds bland. Reading up recently, I was wondering if the tech has moved on sound quality wise to make getting a replacement for the rme worthwhile? Or if it's worth spending my budget on a neve ams or thermionic culture rooster pre amp instead. The aim is in the end is to have equipment that will last and give a high quality home recording signal chain. I record everything one track at a time. Without having experience of these things it's hard to know where the improvement would greatest or if any there's to had at all. Any advice would be much appreciated, I've sold a couple of guitars so a budget of 1500-2000 is there.

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:45 am
by Hugh Robjohns
rggillespie wrote:...wondered if there would be worthwhile improvements to had in the rest of my recording chain, as it's about 12 years old now? The mic goes into a spl gainstation 1 mic pre and then an rme fireface 400 this has the latest download installed.

Nothing at all wrong with that signal chain. Both preamp and interface are good quality items. While the practical lifespan of FireWire is probably limited and might not survive your next computer upgrade, I don't think there's any real benefit to be had from changing that interface now .

I was wondering if the tech has moved on sound quality wise to make getting a replacement for the rme worthwhile?

It has advanced, of course, but only very incrementally and I wouldn't rush to change the RME just yet....

Or if it's worth spending my budget on a neve ams or thermionic culture rooster pre amp instead.

Again, nice things, but they won't really bring much to the party unless you like to 'abuse' your preamps to create a sound character as opposed to capture a recording!

Instead, I'd urge you to invest in decent acoustic treatment for your recording and listening space(s) -- that will make a far greater improvement than any new interface or preamp -- and then upgrade your monitoring chain. You can't judge improvements to the recording path unless you have a pristine monitoring chain!

H

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:47 am
by Bob Bickerton
An esoteric preamp may make a difference if it’s driven, but the difference is unlikely to be nearly as great as that made by microphone choice. Acoustic treatment of your room will be paramount, but maybe you’ve sorted that already.

I tend to record clean and the use quality plug ins, in my case UAD, to achieve any effects I need.

Bob

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:52 am
by Martin Walker
Agreed - I would go with (in order of effectiveness):

1. More acoustic treatment

2. New microphone

3. New mic preamp last of all if at all ;)

Oh, and welcome to the SOS Forums rggillespie! 8-)


Martin

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 2:41 pm
by Humble Bee
Your setup looks good as it is but if you want to add some preamp mojo to enjoy I suggest trying an UA Apollo twin. Their preamp simulations sounds great and it's a solid interface.

But I think getting a few more high quality microphones would be the best thing to do.
A dynamic (SM7b, RE20, MD421, M88 etc)
A Ribbon (Royer, Coles)
Small diaphragm condenser (KM184) A pair?
Or some other legendary mic. Great fun!

But acoustic treatment for your recording space if you don't have that already...

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 3:47 pm
by rggillespie
Thank you all, I'm very grateful for your kindness in taking the time to reply, I'd not considered room treatment at all. At some stage, I was going to to get the walls 'fabric walled' as I can get this done at no expense via work. It involves having the walls covered with 6 oz polyfill wadding like you'd get in a poly quilt. Fabric is then stretched over that and stapled off and finished with braid. It's something you'd see at a national trust house or large art gallery, at first glance you'd assume it was wall paper. It has the effect of deadening and insulating the room so I think would be a form of acoustic treatment with echoes and sounds not bouncing around a room. As its a work perk it seems worth doing, I was just using a reflexion filter screen for vocals but not doing anything else. I'd noticed that almost any bass line with 'b' in it sounded strange. My solution was to avoid b chords at all costs, but room treatment hopefully will solve or help with that! Though perhaps it's to do with room modes/nodes? Anyway it's a relief to know I can go on with the gear I have, strangely but not totally surprisingly perhaps, I find you become quite attached to gear after a few years together. I'll look into other room treatment in general and then monitoring. I listen to music daily on focal speakers with berrilium tweeters so that's a sound I know and like, I'll look to them first. My eyes have now been opened to the world of microphones, at some stage something specially dedicated to my acoustic recording will be in order. It seems to be the hardest thing to record so it sounds like the sound I'm hearing. Anyway I'm humbled to have had this kind considered response and welcome. I will be recording again this weekend with renewed enthusiasm!

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 4:29 pm
by Wonks
Room modes will be an issue, especially at the bass end. Your fabric walling will help with higher frequency sound reflections and absorption (possibly even too much but you can always add in some hard surfaces again to compensate), but you will almost certainly need some bass trapping in the corners using denser material such as rockwool. There's a lot about bass trapping on the forum, so have a search and see what you can find. It's something you can never really have too much of.

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 4:35 pm
by Hugh Robjohns
rggillespie wrote:I'd not considered room treatment at all.

You're not alone in that, but it really does make a far more audible and beneficial difference than any change of preamp or interface, and usually much more than a different mic, too!

I'd noticed that almost any bass line with 'b' in it sounded strange. My solution was to avoid b chords at all costs, but room treatment hopefully will solve or help with that!

That's a fairly common problem associated with 'room modes' or standing waves. To resolve that kind of problem you'll need to invest in some proper bass trapping which is rather more involved than your fabric wall idea -- although the latter will certainly help with mid and high frequency acoustic issues.

Our ears/brains are very good at assimilating and then processing out room acoustics, but microphones don't have that capability and just capture what's really going on... and once recorded, the lack of 3D directional spatial information inhibits the brain's abilities to do the same thing with the recorded sound. So getting the room acoustics under control really does make a massive difference to any acoustic recordings!

We've discussed it often here in the past, but the hierarchy of importance when it comes to recording acoustic music is as follows:

The Music
The Performance
The Recording Environment Acoustics
Mic Placement
Mic Selection

That's what determines 98% of the quality of what you're recording.

After that, it could be (and often is) argued that:

The Monitoring Acoustics
The Monitor Speakers/'Phones

...are next most important since without an accurate monitoring system you won't be able to judge the optimum placement or selection of the microphones, let alone process the signals properly.

With that lot optimised the next most important elements are:

The Mic Preamps
The Converters/Interface
The DAW/Recorder
The Processing/Plugins

H

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 8:50 pm
by Sam Spoons
I have recent first hand experience of the difference proper room treatment can make. I have had a home studio for years, and I did do a certain amount of acoustic treatment to improve it as a rehearsal space (mainly foam panels over the drum kit). Last year I had a minor flood that wrecked the carpet but, fortunately no equipment so I undertook a, long overdue, refurb. As well as tanking and cosmetically improving my basement space I installed a number of wide band absorbers and bass traps. Construction and placing of these came from these forums and the result is both good looking and effective and was not too expensive (way cheaper than your suggested replacement preamp). I documented my budget refurb in a thread on here, PM if you want a link.

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 8:59 pm
by CS70
Hugh Robjohns wrote:We've discussed it often here in the past, but the hierarchy of importance when it comes to recording acoustic music is as follows:

The Music
The Performance
The Recording Environment Acoustics
Mic Placement
Mic Selection

That's what determines 98% of the quality of what you're recording.

After that, it could be (and often is) argued that:

The Monitoring Acoustics
The Monitor Speakers/'Phones

...are next most important since without an accurate monitoring system you won't be able to judge the optimum placement or selection of the microphones, let alone process the signals properly.

With that lot optimised the next most important elements are:

The Mic Preamps
The Converters/Interface
The DAW/Recorder
The Processing/Plugins

Amen.

We should make this a sticky! :)

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:26 pm
by Wonks
Apart from the obvious fact that those Mpingo tuning disks should be at the top of the list.

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 1:44 am
by awjoe
Interface. I'm voting even before I start reading this thread.

Oh, hang on... nope, the topic was different than I thought it was. I was wrong. But the thread's good.

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 5:50 am
by awjoe
Wonks wrote:Apart from the obvious fact that those Mpingo tuning disks should be at the top of the list.

"This extra heavy century old ebony root which were immersed in the swamps of Africa has a unique power that no other wood possesses."

But they're ungrammatical! I think they have to come a couple notches down the list.

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 1:07 pm
by blinddrew
awjoe wrote:But they're ungrammatical! I think they have to come a couple notches down the list.
Harsh, but fair.

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 2:00 pm
by rggillespie
Thanks for all the detailed feedback, it's looks like room treatment is the way forward for me.

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 3:32 pm
by Martin Walker
rggillespie wrote:Thanks for all the detailed feedback, it's looks like room treatment is the way forward for me.

Bravo!!! :clap:

Let us know how you get on, and how obvious the audible improvements are :thumbup:


Martin

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:25 am
by rggillespie
Just replying on this as requested, I've now finished the room treatment as recommended to me by those who kindly took the time to reply to my query.
Treating the room has really made a huge improvement and it's far beyond what I had anticipated. In the end I opted for a set of primacoustics london panels and a gikacoustics ceiling cloud was added later. Both suppliers were very helpful with my queries and recommended things to me based on photos and dimensions I emailed to them. Installation was straightforward, and the first time I played back things I had recorded and knew well it was a eureka moment. Everything is that much clearer and defined, in every respect timbre, spatially in the mix, top to bottom. I can best describe it as having the music pulled into focus, you can hear it all clearly in a way that wasn't there before. So it was a success from mixing point of view and also from a recording point of view. I had some bass anomalies and they seem to have cleared up, and issues recording my acoustic have gone. It just makes the possibilities open up and having done it, I feel as if I can concentrate on the music making side of things as I'm not having issues with whats been recorded. There is much less of gap between what I'm hearing in the room and what I'm hearing when its recorded and played back.
In short I cant recommend room treatment highly enough, certainly over buying new gear until the room itself is sorted out. Thanks again for the guidance!

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:28 am
by Bob Bickerton
Thanks for reporting back. Yes, working in a treated space makes all the difference!

Bob

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:39 am
by Wonks
Great news. Welcome to your new studio!

Re: Where to spend mic preamp or interface

PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2019 12:46 pm
by Martin Walker
rggillespie wrote:Treating the room has really made a huge improvement and it's far beyond what I had anticipated.
...In short I cant recommend room treatment highly enough, certainly over buying new gear until the room itself is sorted out. Thanks again for the guidance!

Hi again rggillespie, and thanks for reporting back!

Excellent news, and worth repeating, as this revelation happens to most of us in the end - when discussing new gear or acoustic treatment, I always like to think of the latter as making EVERYTHING sound more expensive :thumbup:


Martin