Affordable quality mic pre-amps

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by FFTT, Dec 19, 2005.

  1. macrumors 68030

    FFTT

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #1
    I've spent the last few weeks looking at just about every good quality 1 and 2 channel mic pre-amp available.

    I'm not kidding, this was one of the most difficult purchase decisions I've ever had to make.


    Instead of talking to music chains that mostly cater to wannabes, I went to the pro engineers and other project studio owners for their advice.

    I must thank the members of OSXaudio and Gearslutz for all the help they've given me.

    There are so many choices and the sky is the limit.

    The best quality "affordable" offerings were:

    The Groove Tubes Brick $399
    http://www.groovetubes.com/
    [​IMG]

    FMR Audio RNP (really nice preamp) $475.00 (at mercenary.com)
    http://www.fmraudio.com/productspage.htm
    [​IMG]

    The DAV electronics BG-1 $690.00 (direct sale only)
    http://www.davelectronics.com/index.htm

    The Universal Audio 610 and 110/Solo $799.00
    http://www.uaudio.com/products/analog/index.html
    [​IMG]


    The AMI TAB Funkenwerk V78 $975.00
    http://www.mercenary.com/amitav.html
    [​IMG]

    and the Brent Averill 1272 Single Channel pre $1089
    http://www.brentaverill.com/1272/
    [​IMG]

    You'll note that some are single channel pres and some are 2 channel.

    Beyond this, it really makes more sense to get into the API 500 series compatible racks and lunchboxes.

    [​IMG]

    You can buy totally PRO mic pres, compressors,limiters, EQ's as components from a large growing assortment of vendors.
    Each component generally runs $500-$1650 but these are the finest.

    API, Brent Averill, Neve, Old School Audio, Purple and so on.
    The empty racks with power supply run $450-$899 and are all inter- compatible.

    This is the way I would go if I had and extra $1000 to play with.
    This also looks like the direction the next generation of engineers will be going since they can literally take " their sound " with them to any studio.


    After MUCH consideration,

    I went with the DAV BG-1
    I wanted 2 good high quality clean channels for vocals, mic'd instruments and keyboards.

    This unit is rock solid and is ideal for studio or stage.

    [​IMG]

    Mick at DAV was the lead designer/engineer for Decca Records for 28 years.

    Considering the caliber of DAVelectronics' clientel,
    I was greatly impressed with how well I was treated.
    All my concerns were answered in a friendly, professional and timely manner.

    It's no wonder that word of his product line is spreading so rapidly.

    I hope what I have learned with help some of you with your decision.

    My next priority is a great all purpose vocal mic
    and a good 2 channel compressor.

    I'll keep you posted.
     
  2. macrumors G5

    CanadaRAM

    Joined:
    Oct 11, 2004
    Location:
    On the Left Coast - Victoria BC Canada
    #2
    I have been a fan (on paper at least) of the Really Nice Compressor and Really Nice Preamp. Almost got a RNC on eBay a while back but was sniped at the last moment.
     
  3. thread starter macrumors 68030

    FFTT

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #3
    The RNP's are supposed to be pretty darn good and better than most of the stuff you see in the big chain catalogs.

    Two good channels for $475.00 isn't bad.
    FMR Audio's RNC and RNLA are also considered pretty good buys in their
    price range.

    However, several of the people who just tried out their new BG-1's are now immediately putting their RNP's up for sale. It's that dramatic of a difference.

    The BG-1 is very clean without coloring the sound and still very much
    alive.

    What really blew my mind in all this research is that not one person mentioned or recommend the Focusrite platinum series.

    I do have to say that the Universal Audio solo models were neck and neck
    for my business, but the exceptional service I received from MicK at DAV
    won me over.

    I also learned that someone extremely influential purchased a BG-1 the morning before I ordered mine.
     
  4. macrumors G5

    CanadaRAM

    Joined:
    Oct 11, 2004
    Location:
    On the Left Coast - Victoria BC Canada
    #4
    OK, send'em my way, I'm not proud but I loves me a bargain.
     
  5. thread starter macrumors 68030

    FFTT

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #5
    Even though I would absolutely love to buy a matching DAV BG-6 compressor,
    I'll probably end up going for the RNC/RNLA combo rack for $430.00

    The DAV BG-6 goes for $799 and it's really beyond my reach for now.
     
  6. thread starter macrumors 68030

    FFTT

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #6
    I'm also talking to an expert about getting my father's vintage '50's
    Ampex 403-P pre-amp restored if at all possible.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  7. macrumors 6502a

    steelphantom

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2005
    #7
    I've heard a ton of great things about the GT Brick. I'm considering picking one of those up in the near future. I've never heard of the BG-1 before. I'll have to look into that one.
     
  8. Moderator emeritus

    WinterMute

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2003
    Location:
    London, England
    #8
    Excellent work FFTT, I've stuck this post as a good resource for others searching as this question comes up a lot.
     
  9. thread starter macrumors 68030

    FFTT

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #9
    The GT Brick is definitely on my wish list.
    Fantastic quality and bang for the buck in a tube channel.

    There are certainly even better stand alone pre-amps of all sorts out there,
    but prices are $1200 and way up for most of them.

    I was trying to review those more likely to work well in a project studio.

    According to the engineers I talked to, once you go above $1000.00
    for one component, it's time to start looking at the API 500 series professional rack gear that is found in most high end consoles.

    Pre-amps are almost like another instrument.
    Each one can add a certain flavor to your results.

    In most cases 1 or 2 channels are all you need while laying down a track,
    so unless you are recording an entire band or a full drum set live, this is the best way to go.
     
  10. macrumors member

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2006
    Location:
    LA
    #10
    Just curious, did you even consider the Apogee Rosetta or Mini-Me pre's?!? They are a bit expensive, but are mostly found in high-end recording studios. I played with them at Full Sail :D
     
  11. thread starter macrumors 68030

    FFTT

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #11
    Apogee is great gear, but I still needed so many other items, that blowing
    so much for one component was out of the question.
     
  12. macrumors member

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2006
    Location:
    LA
    #12
    i totally hear you there. thanks for the research info, you had one up there i hadn't considered. good deal :cool:
     
  13. macrumors 601

    zimv20

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    chicago
    #13
    the rosetta line doesn't have pre's, they're converter-only boxes. and the mini-me has conversion built-in, so imo it's a bit out of place in a conversation about preamp boxes.

    i've found the rosetta800 conversion to be pretty darn good, though. plus, i rented an ad-16x for a tape dump project recently and was definitely impressed.
     
  14. macrumors 601

    zimv20

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    chicago
    #14
    fftt -- so long as we're around the $1000/channel range, i think the phoenix drs-1 should definitely be added to the list. it's my go-to pre these days.

    [​IMG]


    also, don't forget the brent averill 312a. it's what i use when i feel i'm using the drs-1 too much :)

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  15. thread starter macrumors 68030

    FFTT

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #15
    Zim, you and the rest of the gang over at OSXaudio and Gearslutz have proven to be right on helping me to get my system rolling.

    I was pretty much maxing out my budget spending $680USD for my BG-1,
    but yes the field goes wide open when you start hitting the $1000 mark.

    A few comments from others about the BG-1
    http://gearslutz.com/board/showthread.php3?t=51757&page=1&pp=30
     
  16. thread starter macrumors 68030

    FFTT

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #16
    Zim, you know more about this than I do.

    Perhaps it might help others here if you could explain the primary difference between these outboard specialty preamps and those the average user might get in their typical A/D interface or their Mackie console.

    BTW, I just caught the link to the new Apogee Ensemble, Maestro and the very cool Symphony PCI-Express card.

    Impressive indeed!~~~
    http://mixonline.com/news/headline/apogee-maestro-symphony-011806/
     
  17. macrumors 601

    zimv20

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    chicago
    #17
    well, each piece has to be judged on its own merits and its applicability in a certain application, of course. and within the user's budget.

    that said, i believe that you more or less get what you pay for. when looking at, say, a $1280 mackie onyx 1640 vs. the $1450 2-channel brent averill 312a, it's useful to do a quick calculation on what might have been spent on each preamp.

    for the BAE, figure $500/channel plus $500 for the housing and power supply.

    for the onyx, if we figure $500 for the housing, power supply, monitoring section and converters, that leaves $780 for 16 channel strips, or under $50 per channel. even if half goes to the preamp, that's only $25. note, however, that this calculation ignores differences in volume pricing and labor costs (BAE is made in california, mackie in china).

    regardless, that's one way of looking at it. i've not heard the onyx so i can't say whether the BAE pre is 20x better. plus it really depends on user needs, anyway. if i were recording a full band, i'd rather have the board than only 2 channels of BAE, for example.

    otoh, if the goal is sonic performance, one would be right to be drawn towards the pricier pieces. imo, my BAE 312a kicks the living crap out of the pre's on my (now broken) mackie 1642.

    lastly, one way to judge a preamp is to see how well, at mix time, it stacks up against other tracks recording with the same pre. this is where my mackie board utterly failed, and the FMR RNP shined. such a test helps reveal preamp deficiencies where a user's monitoring setup may otherwise cloud the picture.
     
  18. macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2003
    Location:
    Brooklyn, NY
    #18
    Two more to consider under $1000: Hamptone and Sytek

    I own the Sytek MPX 4aii (a 4-channel pre that retails for around $850)
    and have recently heard some raves about the Hamptone (which comes in two varieties - tube an solid state - and is available in both kit for and pre-assembled and starts in teh mid $500s for the kits).
    cf www.hamptone.com
     
  19. macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2005
    #19
    My advice might not be amazing, but in my home studio, I use 2 m-audio octanes along with an M-Audio Firewire 1814. That gives me a total of 16 pre-amps. They all work great, and quality is good too.

    -airkarol
     
  20. macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2002
    Location:
    Toronto, CANADA
    #20
    as a professional audio engineer, i recently bought an API lunchbox with two mic-pres(512C), two EQ's (550A 3-band) and two compressors (525). www.apiaudio.com

    this box is the best thing i have ever heard (next to an authentic neve). things recorded through the API stuff just "sits in the mix" better than any other pre-amp we own (we also have focusrite, neve and a few others). all the tonal quality and harmonics are all there. the EQ's are sweet and never sound harsh, no matter how much you boost or cut. and the compressors and absolutely sublime. really fast attack (15 microseconds!) but it doesnt sound compressed. still sounds natural and dynamic.

    if i saved all the money i spent on POS gear in my time, i could have another lunchbox and maybe a u47 as well. if anyone here wants to get the "real deal" then API is it. you can still get them brand-new (like I did) rather than scour ebay for stuff that you dont know the history of. and beleive me, maintenance on vintage gear is a labor of love and lots and lots of cash.
     
  21. macrumors 603

    netdog

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2006
    Location:
    London
    #21
    If you really want something on the cheap, I bought an M-Audio Firewire Solo and find that it works quite nicely.
     
  22. macrumors 601

    zimv20

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    chicago
    #22
    to really test a pre-amp: record 10 or more tracks through it, and see how easy it is to mix the song. this is where the pre's on a mackie VLZ board, for example, utterly fall apart.
     
  23. macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2006
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    #23
    Yeah,

    If you can land some API or Neve stuff, you'll be amazed at the sound quality.

    I just built a mic preamp that models a Neve pre...sounds pretty good.

    However, when I'm doing a lot of drum tracking, I typically find myself going to my M-Audio Octane 8-channel ADAT preamp. It's about $600, but if you think you'll be doing more than 2 channels, it's definitely an option. I find it to be much cleaner than most of the other ADAT pre's on the market...like the Digimax LT and whatnot from Presonus.

    The Octane, for all you engineering folk, has some nice options:

    2 DI's on the first two channels
    Pads on each channel
    Phase reverse on every other channel
    An M/S Matrix on channels 7-8.
     
  24. macrumors 601

    zimv20

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Location:
    chicago
    #24
    seventh circle?
     
  25. macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2006
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    #25
    I believe it was from there. A buddy of mine ordered all the parts and we're all building them together.
     

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