One of the most important factors in recording is the series of devices used in creating the signal chain. I had microphones be the topic of an earlier posting. This post picks up, if you will, where the microphone left off. Excluding the cables themselves (which should not be underestimated), the next step in the audio chain is typically a microphone preamplifier. As most professional microphones are low level instruments, the sonic output of the microphone itself is next to nothing. One typically plugs a mic (okay, technically it’s the mic cable, but you know what I’m saying….) into a preamp, be it on a P.A. mixing board, a recording console, or, as is the case in most studios now, a rack mounted or standalone preamp.
The quality of the preamp is critical to the quality sound production your microphones can and will deliver. The subtleties and characteristics of the pre have a definite and resounding result on the tone of the mic. Some will strongly argue that a high end mic pre is more important than the mic quality itself. I’m not taking sides in that argument. Yes, I have heard some less than spectacular mics really come alive due to the preamp. But, I see the best of all situations being a proper mic through a proper pre. Magic can happen! If you haven’t experienced a fine microphone through a fine pre, your jaw may drop upon hearing it. The depth of tone, the clarity, the presence, the body of sound….all of these things are recognized. Once this is heard, it’s hard to go back to just making due with whatever is lying around the rehearsal space.
This is also why so many high end mic pres have such a high end price tag to match. There are certain names that exemplify some of the most desired mic preamps: Neve (or their clones, such as Vintech or Brent Averill), API, Universal Audio and Avalon to name a few. Certainly there are more, and they each have a sonic fingerprint, some more so than others, that are found to be quite desirable for certain applications.
The point here: When you’re ready to record, consult the studio of your choice and ask about the preamps they have to offer. Let them know what your are wanting to record (drums, electric guitar, vocals, etc…) and ask for their recommendations. If you are personally intrigued, schedule some time to come in and audition the mic/preamp combinations your chosen studio offers. What you pay in studio time for this is negligible, but what it returns to you in knowledge and experience is priceless. One can immediately hear the difference of a good, better, best signal chain, even at the early stages involving only the mic and pre (yeah, yeah, I know….the cable’s in there, too!).
Until next time…..