A producer recently came over to my home studio (some synths, PC with Soundblaster Live! Platinum soundcard) and helped me to mix and master some tracks. I asked him for his opinion about the quality of audio from my soundcard. He said that it was pretty good but suggested that I buy a preamp and use it as a "front‑end" to my home studio. He particularly mentioned dbx's 386 preamp, which has a digital out I could use with the digital in of my soundcard. He said not only that this would "warm up", my audio but also that the A‑D converters of the preamp are of top quality and since I would use the digital in of the Live! card, none of the quality would be lost. Is this really something that works? Should I record everything — synths, samplers, guitars, vocals, through a preamp? I never even thought that I would need one. It is not such a small investment and it is impossible to test them at a store (like a synth, for example) so there is some kind of a risk in such a purchase.
Editor Paul White replies: It's true that the Live! card doesn't have great converters or analogue circuitry, so using a voice channel with a digital output should make a difference. The dbx 386 is great value and performs well. Being a stereo device, you can use it to record either mono sources or stereo (most synths these days are stereo). Alternatively, why not run your synths direct into the mix, sync'd via MIDI, rather than recording them? That way at least part of your mix won't need to use the soundcard's circuitry at all.