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Tube/valve Mic Preamps - worth it?

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My current home recording setup is quite simple - mics -> Focusrite interface -> computer. It does a decent enough job, and I've been certainly been impressed by how much the Focusrite has improved the sound going into the computer.

But, as ever, GAS finds a way to strike, and I see that it's possible to get one's hands on some relatively affordable mic preamps with valves in them. As I'm mostly recording acoustic stuff at the moment, I've found myself adding a touch of "tube-like" saturation in the mix to warm up the overall sound, so I've wondered whether it's worth trying a valve preamp in between the mic and the Focusrite. Has anyone else tried this, and does it make a worthwhile difference to the sound?

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Got hold of the cheapest Behringer to try ages ago... tried different valves in it (including a Mullard), just to give it a chance to sound decent.  You can certainly alter the tone with different valves, but I didn't like the sound of it whatever I loaded into it.... 

 

Edited by OldG

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A mate of mine used to swear by the ART V3 thing. I never got a chance to get one cheap when I used to sell them. Keep on hoping to find one nice and cheap. Unlikely...

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I can recommend the ART V3 - particularly when recording vocals, but it's a decent all rounder. I think one of the problems with sub-£500 interfaces, is that after a while you realise that the pre-amps (never mind the converters) don't quite cut it; nevertheless, what do you expect? 😉 I just checked on-line and you can buy a V3 new for around £80. Well worth it imho. 👍

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Cheap valve pre’s Normally have tubes running at low voltages, so not really getting the best out of them. The sound may be bit harsh (and definitely more noisy than your interface preamps) but if you like the colour it gives, go for it.

Don’t forget that transistor designs (eg any Neve 1073 type design - eg Golden Age Preamp Pre73 being one of the most affordable) can also give a very pleasing warmth / saturation. If you can find one at a similar price, i’d Take one over a tube preamp at the same price point.

It is a rabbit hole though: the outboard preamp by itself may get you closer to the ‘polished studio sound’ - but then there’s EQ, compressor (or two), hardware reverb  etc etc.  

Point being: decide what and how you ultimately want to record. Most interfaces these days have preamps that would be acceptable even for any level of recording project. If you want just a bit more colour, it could be nice to have something different - it won’t be the final and only piece of kit you need for the sound ‘in your head’ but if it inspires better performances it’s worth it....

if you do end up getting it, try to run it though line inputs (generally no need to run signal through two separate mic pres).

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I've got an ART MP studio V3. It's good in the sense that using it doesn't sound worse than going straight into the interface but there's no startling improvement in what you hear, IMO, YMMV, etc. The biggest audible differences occur as one scrolls through the various pre-sets and that's as much down to EQ variations.

Before you lash out on a valve pre-amp, just for fun it might be worth checking out some VST saturators get a sense of what sounds are available. There are scads of freebies out there including the Ferric TDS a tape simulator which doubles as very flexible saturator / compressor, also the Shattered Glass 1566 and the Klanghelm IVGI. I've used all three, they sound nice and they have their uses.

Edited by skankdelvar
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On 06/11/2019 at 19:54, skankdelvar said:

I've got an ART MP studio V3. It's good in the sense that using it doesn't sound worse than going straight into the interface but there's no startling improvement in what you hear, IMO, YMMV, etc. The biggest audible differences occur as one scrolls through the various pre-sets and that's as much down to EQ variations.

Before you lash out on a valve pre-amp, just for fun it might be worth checking out some VST saturators get a sense of what sounds are available. There are scads of freebies out there including the Ferric TDS a tape simulator which doubles as very flexible saturator / compressor, also the Shattered Glass 1566 and the Klanghelm IVGI. I've used all three, they sound nice and they have their uses.

Thank you most kindly for those links - I've been quite pleased with the saturator plugin that comes with the Calf Audio set, but I'd be interested in experimenting with some different ones. Better if I can chop and choose a few bits of software to ultimately get the same result from filling up more space in the house with several underwhelming bits of gear.

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Hello, 

From personal experience I have found the cheaper (sub £300- £500) Pre-amps with tubes don't do a great deal, maybe a tube in starved plate (low voltage) adding a bit of dirt or "warmth"  . Higher Voltage tube circuits are more desirable. I would like to try the Universal Audio stuff.  I have a protools home setup

Golden age stuff is very good (Neve inspired)  and warm audio gets great reviews. 

https://www.goldenageproject.com/outboards-2/pre-73-mkiii/

https://warmaudio.com/microphone-preamps/

Thanks Neil 

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If you want to buy something without upgrading later on I can vouch for the GAP 73, a very nice usable piece.

But the poster did say tubes so I would say a hidden sleeper is the older TLA PA1 or PA2 mic pre valve unit made in England models. Absolutely othing wrong with these and pretty cheap as well.

Another heavier coloured unit would be the ZOD IDDI unit. That has a fair amount of gain  and it can also be used as a mic pre if you have a hot enough LDC mic. Cheers

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Unless you are willing to pay big bucks just don't bother, use a vst. 

 

Seriously, never heard a tube pre that does noticeable 'magicks' that wasn't eye-wateringly expensive.  

 

Tubetech pres are frickin awesome

Edited by 51m0n

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