Author Topic: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?  (Read 13190 times)

Numina

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 454
    • View Profile
I personally know of 1 or 2 people who use a preamp in their synth rig so it's not a widely used effect but does anyone here use a preamp with synths on a regular basis? If so, what are you using? What do you like about it? Is it a must-have for you? 

Chad Kettering

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 33
    • View Profile
    • Music of Chad Kettering
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2010, 05:56:05 AM »
Jesse,

Most of my synths go directly into my ADDAs. There are a few that have very low output levels that need extra gain that I send through some type of preamp gain. The problem with using a straight ahead microphone preamp is that you will also need a DI. This can add up quickly in terms of price per channel. This is why using a mixer that can accept both line level and microphone signals is cheaper. Preamps, depending on the color, can add some extra weight to the sound.

Julio Di Benedetto

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 531
  • Life is a privilege, not a right!
    • View Profile
    • Digtalvoices
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2010, 10:56:09 AM »
Hi

My Synth Chain starts with a Speck Electronics X-Sum Line mixer, then into the pre amps on a Metric Halo ULN2. Whats nice about the X Sum is it excepts balances or un-balanced 1/4 TRS and outputs the same, so the signal can leave the X Sum balanced and go right into the mic pres,so no external DI's needed, although the Metric Halo's pre amp connection is a combo xlr/trs I prefer to stay balanced as much as I can.  This setup works really well for stereo recording.  The signal path is pristine without being sterile. 

However as Chad pointed out pre amps can effect the tone of the signal going into them.  I used to use a Manley Dual Mono Tube Pre amp that I ran my synths through the DI,  I got it not just to amp the signal but for the color the tubes added to the signal......digital synths or analog that went through the Manley took on a rich full presence. 

I am currently going through the process of add an additional pre amp w/eq and another AD converter for it.  It cost a lot of money but its worth every penny!

Regards.....Julio

Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 335
    • View Profile
    • Paul's Myspace
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2010, 07:23:50 AM »
I almost always run my synths (hardware and software) through a Chandler TG-2, and a pair of Blue Robbies, depending on the colour I want.
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

Julio Di Benedetto

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 531
  • Life is a privilege, not a right!
    • View Profile
    • Digtalvoices
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2010, 07:02:25 AM »
Heres my new pre amp, had it for about a week and still tweaking the tonal possibilities, I believe these are prototype pictures and are better than the ones on the company website. Having the ability to select different transformers on the input & output leads to creative signal processing.  On analog synths a combination of Iron input and Iron output sounds very thick, Nickel input and Nickel output is cleaner.  Using Iron on digital synths with FAT engaged smoothes out that digital bite in the mid to mid hi frequencies. And using......&,&,&.  Lots of possibilities.

For me this is a must have, to answer Jesse's question.  A very good pre amp is essential, followed by great AD/DA converters, good monitors so you can hear, and lastly an acoustic treated room so you can really hear whats only coming out of your monitors.  Its the whole chain thats important, not just one aspect of it.

Regards.....Julio






Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 335
    • View Profile
    • Paul's Myspace
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2010, 01:30:57 PM »
I agree with what Julio said about a good pre being essential!!!

The Atlas units are really nice and get some rave reviews and are great if you want some sonic choices. I would love to hear more impressions as you use it.

You are right too, I am pretty sure this is a prototype picture and Nathan has tweaked it since then.



Paul
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

Numina

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 454
    • View Profile
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2010, 08:24:52 PM »
If you can afford it.  I'm also not convinced it is essential when it comes to recording ambient music, I think the sound enhancement is far too subtle for it to be worth it.  Other styles of music is a different story.

Prove me wrong though. I'd love to hear some A/B references if you have any Julio and/or Paul.

Julio Di Benedetto

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 531
  • Life is a privilege, not a right!
    • View Profile
    • Digtalvoices
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2010, 07:52:46 AM »
Hi Jesse,

I believe it is those subtleties that do make the difference, imho.......it comes down to trying to make the best recordings we can using the best equipment available to us at the time to capture a performance, and its the performance thats the hard part because gear does not make the music, though it can make it sound better.

It certainly is expensive and perhaps the word "essential" is not appropriate......food is essential to sustain life.

I read some where that if pre amp A is 5% better than pre amp B, over a whole recording session with many tracks the difference between the two would add up quickly, same applies to converters.

I don't think I could prove you wrong Jesse......If I ran a patch through my Metric Halo ULN2 and then the same patch through my new Juggernaut twin pre going into a Lavry Blue AD/DA converter you would hear a difference.  The Metric Halo is no slouch, but to my hears the Juggernaut / Lavry combo is better.  You might prefer the Metric halo which is a 1/3 of the cost of the other 2 units.

Im glad Paul is on this thread because in my mind I believe he has proven it....."Seed"  He and James Johnson created a sonic gem with that CD, from the recording to their choice of mastering engineer.  I have no idea of the gear they used, but beyond the beautiful music, the sound is astonishing, and imho this is where ambient music if we need to be genre specific should use as a reference cd.....I do!

Personally I have gotten to a point with my synths that I have what I need, there's always something out there but I don't really need it.  What I did need was a signal chain upgrade, and a pre amp way of working is my preferred method.

Cheers.....Julio



« Last Edit: November 30, 2010, 07:56:40 AM by Julio Di Benedetto »

Scott M2

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 606
    • View Profile
    • dreamSTATE
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2010, 09:35:11 AM »
I love "Seed" and I value good production and engineering highly when listening at home,
yet here I am at work listening to a soundscape through a $25 pair of Labtec plastic speakers
(which are actually quite "musical") along with a Buddha Machine (with Godawful noisy loops
though a Godawful sounding little plastic box) which have both given me many, many hours of listening pleasure.

Wearing my Devil's Advo hat,
Scott

Numina

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 454
    • View Profile
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2010, 10:38:23 AM »
I understand that those subtleties can add up, but I think I'll leave that to the mastering engineer. It's probably more economical for me to approach it that way, granted I lose out on tweaking individual tracks this way.

Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 335
    • View Profile
    • Paul's Myspace
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2010, 10:57:23 AM »
Good, points on all fronts guys, and thanks for the kind words about Seed.

As you can probably guess from many of my posts and my music, sound quality is very, very important to me, and as such I have spent a great deal of time "learning and experiencing" it.

Also a great deal of money over a 18 year period. I also run a professional studio with mostly rock and folk clients, so my needs and opinions may be different to your own...

Both of the last posts are right. We are in essence talking about a 5%...ok maybe more like a 20% difference, that some may hear and most will not, and even if they do, they probably wont loose sleep over it. I am glad Julio mentioned the build up, as that is really where you hear the difference, its not necessarily on one track, but on many...it is in essence the same as how a good console would have made the music sound back when every studio had a neve, ssl or api.

Yes there are some pre-amps like say a Universal Audio 610 that would be instantly recognizable in its thick warm signature, but other than that, the choice and even necessity of a good preamp is akin to choosing a fine wine.

At a certain level it becomes a matter of taste. There is also the experience needed to tell the subtle complexities apart. Then again as with sound quality, there is a whole crowd of people who are plainly satisfied with whatever is the best price, is it simply red or white? Whatever it tastes fine.

Audio has become the same way. I was recently at the national Audio Engineering Society convention and sat in at a seminar of high profile companies and engineers who feel that the time is now when we need to "take back the night" so to speak in terms of audio quality.

So in that sense the argument of "it all sounds the same on my computer speakers or little white ear buds" begins to loose water. The fact is that more people listen to music more often than any other point in history, and yet because of that in many ways music has become disposable.

The time is coming however when smaller speakers will continue to improve in sonic quality, earbuds are getting better and better, and most of all eventually music will become full resolution again, not low res MP3.

So in preparation for that time I believe that when you create music as an artist, just as a painter uses the best paints and brushes, or a printer and photographer would use acid free paper and vegetable dye inks, we need to create music with the best sound quality possible if we hope it to last through the transitions of audio formats.

The best advice I ever got was when the label owner at Mirage, encouraged Chris, John (Vir Unis) and I to track and mix down "Imaginarium" at 24 bits back when it was rare and expensive. It was a lesson for me as an engineer to not just be satisfied and conscious of now, but also of then and the future.

The sad fact is, and this is a bold statement that I am sure will tick some people off, but most of, yes most of the music recorded in our genre today is sonically mediocre at best. I am not talking about the performance of or the musical ideas, just the sonics.

I am usually not surprised when I find out it was done in a bedroom, with an all in one sub $400 box of the week. Even though many of said $400 boxes of the week sound fine. I usually tell people when I get asked advice on what gear to buy, that in this day and age, there should be no excuse for bad sound, you just need to get what accomplishes you goals, learn it inside and out and then set a new plateau of goals and repeat.

So it then comes down to the skills not the gear. Being able to plug-in a stereo quarter inch cable into a sound card and press record does not make you a good engineer or even an audio engineer at all. Just as being a wine drinker does not make you a wine connoisseur...and that's OK. Its the job of the engineers and the wine connoisseurs to help lay people figure out whats good, without getting in the way.

Skill wise while it seams like a, "you need to cut your teeth and save up and even pay to play" idealism, it is and it isn't. It is because it is a tried and true method that worked. It isn't because there are exceptions to every rule and there are some killer guys out there with just a DAW and a soundblaster, but trust me those people eat, sleep and slave away at their limited tools kust the same.

Sticking in our genre, back in the 80's and 90's just to have a home studio and do electronic music was a serious investment, and you HAD to learn about signal flow, noise floor, hooking up and maintaining gear. You had to learn what a high pass filter did and how to use EQ and Compression and effects and how to program a synth from scratch every time you turned it on...

Point being even if you were self taught, it was still a long hard road of self discovery and healthy failure that made you grow and each recording experience get better and better.

Now we plug-in, fire up the DAW and largely everything is a flat-line, it just always sounds the same (again, sonically, not musically), it just works, I have plug-ins and presets and I am good to go...no work needed, if I don't want to. And since it is easy and we are so self important to our own processes, yet so fragile to criticism and outside help that we get constant statements like: why do I need a mastering engineer, why do I need a mix engineer, why do I need an outside producer, why do I need an outside studio, why do I need better gear.

If you can ask many of those questions, you are probably the person who needs them. Even after my 20+ years of experience, I kick around the thought of using an outside engineer to mix my albums because I want to see that 10% I am missing or can still learn, and I almost never master anything which I have recorded myself. I want the perspective, damn the costs. If I have brought my art this far and painted the picture, it deserves the best frame I can afford.

Now to get back on track with why do I need a dedicated pre-amp?

Well the easy answer is, you don't.

Everything has them built in, even an M-Audio sound card or Behringer mixer, so again its like choosing and educating your self about wine.

I have even seen it go in reverse, hey I have this awesome mic pre or synth and, well I just don't need it, I can accomplish my goals with what I already have...how can I push that stuff.

Also in audio there are huge diminishing returns...try having a microphone discussion on gearslutz, the ones where, if the mic don't cost $4k - $7k its crap. That's just ridiculousness too.

Back to Jesse's original question, you may get great use out of a dedicated high-end mic pre, you may not. The fact that you are asking about one is a good sign because it shows you have that hmmm how can I make my product better and that curiosity keeps things moving forward.

Now as to your comment about "if you can afford it"... I did have to chuckle Jesse. Don't you pretty much own one of every synth produced in the past 10 years?  -   ;D I am exaggerating I know  ;D     -

Anyway happy hunting and decision making.

Ok, I am done...discuss or ignore at your will  :D
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

Scott M2

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 606
    • View Profile
    • dreamSTATE
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2010, 11:18:53 AM »
Wow! Great essay Paul. I particularly like your comparison to acid-free paper with regard to future usages.
While I had never imagined that the public would start to move to lower & lower quality for their main sound systems,
I can still imagine that the trend will someday reverse.

It did also cross my mind that Jesse could buy a la-di-da preamp instead of the next la-di-da synth that trys to seduce him.  ;D

mgriffin

  • Hypnos Founder
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6854
  • Life is a memory, and then it is nothing.
    • View Profile
    • www.hypnos.com
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2010, 04:20:55 PM »
There's some great discussion here.

I take seriously the need to pay attention to sound quality, but most recording artists need to address more significant problems than upgrading their preamp. Far more often, recordings are muddy or hissy, or including irritating or grating frequencies.
[ Mike Griffin, Hypnos Recordings ] email mg (at) hypnos.com | http://hypnos.com | http://twitter.com/mgsoundvisions

APK

  • Global Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2166
    • View Profile
    • DataObscura
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #13 on: November 30, 2010, 05:05:48 PM »
Yep, its the damned resonating frequencies that drive me nuts ! >:(
www.dataobscura.com
www.dataobscura.com/apk
The Circular Ruins / Lammergeyer / Nunc Stans

mgriffin

  • Hypnos Founder
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6854
  • Life is a memory, and then it is nothing.
    • View Profile
    • www.hypnos.com
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #14 on: November 30, 2010, 05:10:32 PM »
That's my own weak spot as a recording artist, actually -- there are certain lower frequencies that I like in larger doses than most people. It's not a problem with my gear, but with my brain!
[ Mike Griffin, Hypnos Recordings ] email mg (at) hypnos.com | http://hypnos.com | http://twitter.com/mgsoundvisions

APK

  • Global Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2166
    • View Profile
    • DataObscura
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #15 on: November 30, 2010, 05:15:33 PM »
There you have it.
You can have the best gear in the world, but it doesn't even out the fact of different ears and brains and misguided tolerances in the users.  ;)
www.dataobscura.com
www.dataobscura.com/apk
The Circular Ruins / Lammergeyer / Nunc Stans

Julio Di Benedetto

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 531
  • Life is a privilege, not a right!
    • View Profile
    • Digtalvoices
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #16 on: November 30, 2010, 10:30:46 PM »
Brilliant Paul.......you opened this thread wide open, and really you sounded the call to arms for this genre.  The need to make better recordings.  

Every Artist owes it to him or herself to seek sonic excellence for their work and to cut corners at the very place where genius meets the analog & digital domain is something that cannot be recovered. You cannot fix it in the mix and certainly you cannot fix it in the mastering

Perhaps this Pre Amp thread has become a metaphor for the pursuit of sonic excellence.

It is so much more than just a discussion of the pros an cons of a high end Pre amp, well actually there are no cons, just the sticker price , because once you make the decision to go down this path it becomes something much more holistic......its somewhat pointless to run a high end pre into as Paul said a "sub $400 box of the week", everything has to come up to the same level.  

In reality the signal chain is paramount......we all get seduced by the synths that actual make the sounds we love to hear, but often little attention is payed to the signal chain.
Its cool to spend several grand on a synth but it seems its heresy to spend $40 on cables to connect it.

In actuality we have looked at pre's as a stating point,  and I know this is Jesse's initial question, but the story really is reversed.  It all starts with the room and works backwards....... Acoustic treatment, Monitors, cables, DA converter, Irrelevant Daw, AD converter, Pre amp, Mixer X/interface.  Each has to hold its own wait, so to speak, so to quibble about the price of a pre is just the beginning, it gets much more expensive.

This is about caring deeply for the music you make, about giving your genius the wing to sonically fly. So.....?

Kudos to Paul for expressing the longevity of the music we make, don't sell yourselves short.....strive to make the best music you can and capture it to disk in the the best way that you are able to..... plus!

Ciao.....Julio  

« Last Edit: November 30, 2010, 10:50:46 PM by Julio Di Benedetto »

Numina

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 454
    • View Profile
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #17 on: December 01, 2010, 12:02:12 PM »
Well said Paul & Julio.

As for me owning every synth, I did it for you Paul.  For you.  To make you happy.  You told me to "make beautiful music" and I did it.  For you.  :-*

Seriously though, I would love to pick up a high quality pre-amp and a Manley Massive Passive (which I'd prefer to have first) but my finances just don't cover it - I was making decent money, but like countless other, have been unemployed for a year and battling debilitating health issues with no end in sight quite frankly.  So, people, pop on over to numinamusic.com and buy some music.

I did recently (under the radar of my wife) buy an RME FF800 in hopes its preamps sounded "better" than my MOTU... but that's all I can afford to use, as the FF also does double duty as my audio i/f.  Interestingly, I'm not so sure I like the sound of it compared to the MOTU 828.  Believe it or not.  Still trying to work things out with it and I also need a new recording PC asap, but will have to make due for the time being.

I think I've resigned myself to just making the music I do as best I can given the tools I have (which aren't just junk) and rely on a 3rd party mastering engineer (should I choose to use one) for the final touches... I came to this conclusion awhile back actually, and I based it a few recordings that were recorded only with Mackie mixers direct to a DAW/DAT - including Robert Rich's "Calling Down the Sky" and a few of Steve Roach's live albums and the sound from these albums are among my favorite, sonically speaking - gratned I do not know if outbard gear was used at the mastering stage, but even if so, it was over a 2-track mix.  "Seed" is also phenomenal, I know that James Johnson is a studio perfectionist, (and that's a compliment) especially at that time and you guys managed to capture an amazing recording.

So, out of curiosity, what is a pre-amp or perhaps an analogue eq you recommend that's sube $1000?  Also, what do you think about these: http://www.radialeng.com/di-jdi.htm I've read excellent reviews on these things adding some "warmth" to synths.  They're relatively affordable too.

As a side note, whatever happened to James?  I miss him.  What does he do now?  Is he just producing loop libraries?


Julio Di Benedetto

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 531
  • Life is a privilege, not a right!
    • View Profile
    • Digtalvoices
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #18 on: December 01, 2010, 02:28:14 PM »
Jesse, the bottom line......You do make beautiful music and ultimately thats what counts so all this high end gear certainly won't make your music any more beautiful and we have said quite enough about the the things it could do.

I used to have a MOTU 828.....the pres where decent enough but like many of these interfaces the AD/DA converters are the weak link, not so much the pre amps.

The radial JDI is a great box from what Ive heard but it is passive and the Jensen Transformer does nothing to the sound, in regards to warming up the sound.

You might want to consider a good DI box, that can impart a sonic quality to the signal you send through it.......I was considering going this route myself.  Below are some units to consider and will all add "character"


I have read great reviews on the Phoenix Audio Nice Di for Keys/synths, and was my top pick, do a search on Gearslutz, lots of information.   Heres the Mercenary Audio Link http://www.mercenary.com/phoenix-nice-di.html



I have used the Manley Dual mono Tube Pre Amp and loved it, this would get you so serious "tubessense" but it would not actually boost your signal.
http://www.mercenary.com/manstertubdi.html


Heres another tube option that is also supposed to be great on Keys/Synths, as you will need a pair it might be more than you want to put out.  I don't think this thing is that big :o
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/REDDI/

There are more options out there, but I think I have used up all the bandwidth Im aloud with that last image.

I have had the honor of having a Massive Passive come through my studio when it was setup for mastering.....its a special piece, not sure I would want to track with it, just because it requires attention to dial in what you might need and this can distract from the creative aspect of making music.  For me a smaller three band eq is fine for tracking.

Perhaps Paul has some ideas one DI Box or another approach all together.

Regards.....Julio



mgriffin

  • Hypnos Founder
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6854
  • Life is a memory, and then it is nothing.
    • View Profile
    • www.hypnos.com
Re: Who's using a Preamp (outboard hardware) in their synth signal chain?
« Reply #19 on: December 01, 2010, 03:14:02 PM »
I think this sort of gear makes a lot more difference if we're talking about music that's much clearer-sounding, less reverb/delay, less lush & multi-layered.  Recording something like say Michael Hedges or David Darling, a microphone or a pre-amp or a A/D converter makes a massive difference.

Something with a bunch of synths run through a variety of heavy reverbs, I'd argue a multi-thousand-dollar pre-amp or A/D results in a shift in fine details which may be somewhat lost beneath the reverb.

Not arguing against attention paid to sound quality, just saying that in some cases the efforts may be more worthwhile, and in others, less.
[ Mike Griffin, Hypnos Recordings ] email mg (at) hypnos.com | http://hypnos.com | http://twitter.com/mgsoundvisions