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Al Krow

Onboard bass pre-amps - what turns your EQ on?

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Aguilar OBP-3?

John East?

Sadowsky?

Something else?

If you've replaced your 'standard' onboard bass EQ - what did you go for and what 'more' are you finding from having shelled out another £150 to £300?

I'm guessing most of you who have swapped out are playing your basses actively rather than passively, or is this not the case?

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Love the john east but can disappear up its own backside a bit, but a great retro unit,, bass direct ones are true flat eq which is a far better staring point and not coloured when set neutral.

I do also love the obp3 preamps, not as sensitive and very usable.

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It would be a complete waste of money and time to put a £150+ preamp in a bass to them play passively. 

An alternative question might be who has gone back to passive in spite of the options and why having tried both. 

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I use the term lo-Z (low impedance) rather than active as it tells more about the important instrument output than "active" or "passive". Output, because it is the one seen by effects and amplifier inputs.

NOTE: The hi-Z output of the passive bass may behave differently (than a lo-Z) with certain effects (especially od/dist/fuzz and compressor) or amplifier's preamp. That sound may be hard or downright impossible to achieve with lo-Z output. Because the output of any effect is lo-Z, bass output can affect only the first unit after that instrument.

 

Bass signal route is usually like this:

pickups - blend - vol - tone - output

Blend - vol may be vol - vol but does not change the principle. If any part of the system is active the system output is low impedance (lo-Z). If you have an EMG fully active system (BTS + active pickups) the signal route is lo-Z all the way. Usually this is not the case.

Very often the "active bass" has only active tone sculpting electronics. Good side is that these modules are easy to bypass or replace. Bad is that the (cheap) hi-Z blend and volume pots affect the sound of pickups (except in the case of lo-Z EMGs). If you want to buy a preamp, an Artec costs around £20 and has practically the same parts in it as that £200 Aguiklangowsky. If you want to get lo-Z blend and tone to your hi-Z pickups, you need to buy something else (East) or put a puzzle together by yourself.

My choice was to include Noll's Mixpot (around £50) before a bartolini tone. Now the bass sounds different, yes. This setup was (relatively) cheap to me as the NTMB was already in the bass. Bad side was that I lost the A/P switch for the NTMB. It is of no use, as the Mixpot needs battery, too. (It might be feasible to have a simple override switch for all electronics, and be able to use the neck pickup in case of dead battery. Maybe.)

East is the most flexible system that I know at the moment, as it has both hi-Z and lo-Z signal routes. It is also cheaper than the active-only-Sadowsky tone, so I think it is the alternative to who ever thinks about high quality hi-Z and lo-Z system in one well designed set.

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1 hour ago, krispn said:

It would be a complete waste of money and time to put a £150+ preamp in a bass to them play passively. 

An alternative question might be who has gone back to passive in spite of the options and why having tried both. 

Same here. There's something about the sound of a passive circuit that I just cannot get out of active circuits. I still own a couple of active basses but their sound just doesn't put a grin on my face like the passives do. 

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Posted (edited)

I had a john east retro deluxe in my Fender Jazz but never could get the sound I wanted; close but being a consumer tart, I moved it on (plus the bass). I have Aguilar OPB-3 in my Roscoe which I can also get close but still something is missing. I love the whole guitar too much to get rid of it, however.

I now play a passive Dingwall and, for the moment (!) could not be happier. Also having a Fender P with flats which I love, I have decided I prefer passive basses (for the  time being).

 

Edited by Bobthedog
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2 hours ago, Al Krow said:

Aguilar OBP-3?  John East?  Sadowsky?  Something else?

All of those preamps sound great to me. I've owned the Aguilar and Sadowsky, plus Lakland/Barts, Wal and Stingray. They are all shades of greatness, but if you have good ears you can make most basses sound "good enough" and you should be able to make a good bass sound excellent.

I know a guy who is using the East Uni-pre with Bart pickups and he is getting one of the best bass sounds I've heard. On the other hand another player I know gets a totally different, but equally good, sound with an old passive Fernandes Jazz with foam under the strings, a home made bass cab and a BB800. I always sound like me, but I'd kill to sound like either of these players.

I upgraded my P bass with a Bart pre in the 80's and I have to say it didn't set my world on fire. It was only marginally better than the previous passive set up. If you've replaced a preamp and are using it passively then I'd suggest you bought unwisely. IMO passive basses can sound as good as active basses. On recordings of my passive Lull PJ5 you wouldn't think a preamp would make it any better.

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Seems to be a lot of love for the Aguilar OBP-3 and the John East Uni-pre on here already.

Jon Shuker also seems to be a fan of John East kit for his basses: 

"The John East unipre is very good, lots of adjustment on the bass and indeed inside to set upper and lower bass freq, treble freq, reshapes, etc. But also pretty neutral if you want it set flat. The addition of the active passive switch is a good ‘get out of jail’ option if the battery goes down, this can either be as just a mini toggle switch or a push/pull switch on a passive tone control, just depends how flexible you want the circuit to be.

The active passive switch version of John Easts circuit is a toggle switch - in passive mode you have master volume and pickup balance, the eq is switched out, works without a battery. In Active mode, the full EQ  is working.The active passive push/pull knob version, is a passive tone control (that works in either active or passive mode), active is on when the knob is pushed down, passive when its pulled up. In passive mode you have master volume, pickup balance and a passive tone control (cuts the treble like a normal passive tone), works without battery. In active mode the full EQ is working.  So if you want maximum flexibility then the active passive push/pull control knob is what you want."

Sounds like I'd be in for a treat if I went for either of these - I do like the amount of flexibility that Uni-pre with an active passive push/pull knob seems to deliver. And as I'm finding with my Yammy BB 735A if you've got a decent set of options on your onboard EQ in terms of tonal flexibility, that's very welcome.

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I think having an out board pre in pedal form is a solid option as it can be used on any instrument, no need to route or dig out space on a good passive bass. I’ve use outboard pres for years and I find the ones I’ve used generally more flexible than on board.  Many Multifx have the option to add eq to presets so one effectively has all these option available set up for each song with much greater overall flexibility than adding knobs and switches. I’m especially wary of dual concentric knobs where one could might inadvertently change a parameter or three way mid switches which can be easily knocked or misunderstood. Having a clear interface on a pedal just works better for me where I can see at a glance where things are set.

 

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I can't see the point in having an on-board pre-amp that just duplicated what you should be able to do better on your amp. The only on-baord pre-amp that I actually use on any of my basses is the ACG EQ1 as not only does it do something that I can't replicate elsewhere in the signal chain, but it also allows me to EQ each pickup individually.

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I have John East Retros in all four of my gigging basses, and I wouldn't go back to passives. In fact, I bought a very nice passive bass recently which is on its way out because I'm missing the control from the bass - the para mids specifically. I gig in a few different situations, some of which don't allow for easy EQ adjustments anywhere but the bass. I know how my basses sound, and how such a versatile and musical EQ as the Retros can make them sound, and it's much quicker and easier to shape the sound at that point in the chain, even with backline.

I use a Helix, and even with carefully created presets, some venues and stages benefit from a little more (or even better, a little less) of something in the EQ, and I can do it all from the bass.

I've used a lot of active EQs, and the East ones just work for me.

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On 30/03/2019 at 02:31, Al Krow said:

Aguilar OBP-3?

John East?

Sadowsky?

Something else?

If you've replaced your 'standard' onboard bass EQ - what did you go for and what 'more' are you finding from having shelled out another £150 to £300?

I'm guessing most of you who have swapped out are playing your basses actively rather than passively, or is this not the case?

All three of my basses are always active, with no bypass switch even installed. As usual, I roll my own preamps. What they do better for me is interact well with my amps (which I also built, naturally). I design the whole ball of wax as an integrated system, as much as possible.

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3 hours ago, BigRedX said:

I can't see the point in having an on-board pre-amp that just duplicated what you should be able to do better on your amp.

This is very good point. If that bass preamp can give as good a performance as that amplifier's preamp, fine. Think about Anthony Jackson's choice in his Foderas: a pickup, a wire and a Neutrik output jack. No preamp, no lousy pots. Maybe those mixing desks have somewhat better performance...

@Passinwind: Please tell me about your setup in greater detail.

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4 hours ago, BigRedX said:

I can't see the point in having an on-board pre-amp that just duplicated what you should be able to do better on your amp. 

I disagree. The reason is actually simple as to why. BRX plays in an originals band, where (I'm guessing) folk are there as much to listen to the music as to dance, and 'dead air time' is much less of an issue. 

Whereas playing in a covers band I want to be able link numbers without a gap and if I want to switch from vintage 50s / 60s sound to punchy modern it's nice to be able to do that from my bass and not have to go back to my amp for every change.  

I suspect I should be able to get the same result from using pedals with presets. I also take @krispn's point about a great preamp pedal being applicable across your whole herd and not limited to just one bass.

But if you can get a bass with a quality and versatile preamp, why not? And I do still enjoy the simplicity of bass - - > amp / cab with nothing in between. 

And frankly my Yammy BB735A does a very good passive vintage sound <- - > punchy modern tone a lot more quickly and easily than any amp I've come across. But I'm betting there are better preamps around than the one Yamaha have fitted in an, albeit excellent, £725 bass?

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It just basically boils down to what *you* want.  I started off with passive basses but found, when I bought my first active bass, that I became seduced when the door to all those different tones at my fingertips opened.  Several years  and probably many hundreds of £££s later I came to the conclusion that, actually, once everybody in the band has fired up the trusty old passive P bass is all I want, with a little judicious use of the tone knob. I found I became guilty of trying to overthink things until I had my epiphany.  Why did I make my life complicated and expensive?  Of course different situations call for different solutions - YMMV etc etc.

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So much can be done with the right pick up, right capacitor and a tone knob to manipulate a sound and not further tweaks originals or covers

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Posted (edited)
57 minutes ago, itu said:

This is very good point. If that bass preamp can give as good a performance as that amplifier's preamp, fine. Think about Anthony Jackson's choice in his Foderas: a pickup, a wire and a Neutrik output jack. No preamp, no lousy pots. Maybe those mixing desks have somewhat better performance...

@Passinwind: Please tell me about your setup in greater detail.

All of my preamps have signal/noise ratio and distortion specs comparable to most good commercial bass amps. Headroom is sometimes not as good, mostly due to 9V powering, but still more than good enough IMHO. Job one is a vanishingly low noise floor and anything that fails that is not going into my builds in the long term.

Each bass has a different onboard preamp format and my main two players came from a luthier who explicitly wants me to experiment a lot. So right now I have my DIY'er oriented open source "filter" one in my fretted 5 string bass, and my modular 2 + 1 band boards in my new fretless. The fretless features outboard power and can easily be configured to a Ric-O-Sound sort of format since I used a 4 pin XLR output.

Most of my amps have variable high pass filters and a single band full parametric EQ. I see those as mostly tools for room correction, but the HPF interacts greatly with my onboard bass control and allows bass peaking at a wide variety of frequencies, which can have other useful applications than just avoiding room nodes, aka unwanted boom or dead zones. Bass, mid, and treble controls are all crafted to interact in musically beneficial ways. Neither the onboard set or the ones in the amp are "better", and the idea is that the sum of the parts is greater than the individual bits might suggest.

At this point I'm just s retired tech/hobbiest, but I have done a couple of commercial designs for my luthier friend. Right now they only are available in his basses, but he expects that to change sooner than later. I have nothing to do with the marketing, and am wrapping up pre-production building after having done several runs of around ten boards at a time. The most popular format at NAMM over the last couple of years has proven to be active bass and mids coupled with a standard passive treble control - this is my friend's standard offering for his Jazz Bass oriented active bass builds these days. When you switch into passive mode the tone control is just like a stock Fender format, more or less. We're currently working on at least three different active treble control modules, some of which may keep the passive one in play as well.

Most of the amp builds are detailed over on Talkbass, and there is also a brief overview here: http://passinwind.com/DIY.html

 

 

Edited by Passinwind
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Is your signal route active from the blend to tone or just tone? I am interested in the buffered mixing to prevent load issues with the pickups. Passive carbon pots are something I downright hate. I built few step attenuators with metal film resistors. I tried few different alternatives of how many dBs one step is and the total resistance. Simple maths.

Now I have a Noll Mixpot before a bartolini NTMB in my Modulus Graphite. Sound got an upgrade.

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Sadowsky, Sadowsky, Sadowsky. Wish I could have it in all my active basses! Really should buy the outboard...

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1 hour ago, Paul S said:

It just basically boils down to what *you* want.  I started off with passive basses but found, when I bought my first active bass, that I became seduced when the door to all those different tones at my fingertips opened.  Several years  and probably many hundreds of £££s later I came to the conclusion that, actually, once everybody in the band has fired up the trusty old passive P bass is all I want, with a little judicious use of the tone knob. I found I became guilty of trying to overthink things until I had my epiphany.  Why did I make my life complicated and expensive?  Of course different situations call for different solutions - YMMV etc etc.

So are you now going just passive bass to amp & cab "simples" with nothing between, Paul?

38 minutes ago, TJ Spicer said:

Sadowsky, Sadowsky, Sadowsky. Wish I could have it in all my active basses! Really should buy the outboard...

Tell me more TJ, in particular what else have you tried to arrive at your "three" 😁 recommendations?

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32 minutes ago, itu said:

Is your signal route active from the blend to tone or just tone? I am interested in the buffered mixing to prevent load issues with the pickups. Passive carbon pots are something I downright hate. I built few step attenuators with metal film resistors. I tried few different alternatives of how many dBs one step is and the total resistance. Simple maths.

Now I have a Noll Mixpot before a bartolini NTMB in my Modulus Graphite. Sound got an upgrade.

Cool. My friend uses a fair amount of Noll stuff and I'll ask him to get a Mixpot for us to play with.

So far I've just been using a standard passive front end control set into the preamp inputs. Personally, I generally prefer two volume controls to vol-blend, and these days I tend to embrace pickup loading as a natural and often good sounding deal. But as usual, that just depends. In some builds I use conductive plastic or cermet pots, and I have used stepped attenuators in some tube preamps where signal/noise was well better than 110dB. Yep, pots continue to be a major thorn in the paw, no doubt. I've also looked at using digital encoders, which may not please purists but do offer some tangible advantages.

My friend has asked me about active blends and I'll probably get around to that soon. On my new fretless I'm looking at trying discrete signal paths all the way from the pickups to two amps, and also at a clean/dirty split with a blend function for that instead. I'm always interested to hear what does or doesn't work for others though, as my wants and needs are far from typical.

 

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11 minutes ago, Al Krow said:

So are you now going just passive bass to amp & cab "simples" with nothing between, Paul?

Pretty much.  I have a rather rudimentary pedal board in between the bass and the amp comprising wireless>tuner>compressor>'get-out-of-jail-free DI in bypass mode'.

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7 minutes ago, Paul S said:

Pretty much.  I have a rather rudimentary pedal board in between the bass and the amp comprising wireless>tuner>compressor>'get-out-of-jail-free DI in bypass mode'.

Nah that's not a "pedal board". That's a compressor 😀

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34 minutes ago, Al Krow said:

So are you now going just passive bass to amp & cab "simples" with nothing between, Paul?

Tell me more TJ, in particular what else have you tried to arrive at your "three" 😁 recommendations?

Haha! 😂 Well, that’s actually one of the reasons you’re now in possession of a rather lovely BBNE2 😉 

The Sadowsky pre is my fave for the following reasons:

1.  I love boost only pres. Cant remember ever cutting bass on a preamp.

2. Pull to passive. Amazing option and sometimes it sounds right for a recording.

3. Battery. I’ve had my Sadowsky pre for 7 years, I think I’ve changed the battery once. It’s crazy!

4. TONE CONTROL. Please - all circuit builders - just give me a tone control with your active circuit any day. Literally the important thing to me. 

5. That ‘Sadowsky magic’. Probably gonnna get hate for this one. The FET nature and perfect choice of EQ points kill for me. There’s something about the fets in the circuit that seem to do things I’ve not heard from any other active circuit. 

Any other tone shaping I do is simply between pickup selection and my hands. That makes the biggest difference to me and is the biggest ‘eq’ I find. 

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1 hour ago, TJ Spicer said:

Sadowsky, Sadowsky, Sadowsky...

...only has active tone. It does not have a completely lo-Z signal route. Just tone.

2 minutes ago, TJ Spicer said:

Any other tone shaping I do is simply between pickup selection and my hands. That makes the biggest difference to me and is the biggest ‘eq’ I find. 

And that is actually the hi-Z part of the preamp. Plain blend (and vol) pot.

I was after that Noll to get a lo-Z blend. Now I have it. It is different.

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