Recording - October 2015 - 70

in consoles or standalone), and designs from Benchmark
Media Systems, John Hardy, Gordon Instruments, and
Earthworks. The now-discontinued MP-2 preamp from
Great River was like this; the current designs have a Neveesque flavor.
Many of the "vibey" preamps get their flavor from
transformers at the input (or, more rarely, the output), but
the presence of a transformer doesn't necessarily mean a
colorful-sounding preamp; Great River's MP2 was one of
the most neutral designs ever made-they used a very
good (and expensive) Jensen transformer on the input.
John Hardy preamps are also outstandingly neutral-and
their transformers are even costlier.
You'll notice that I used the weasel-words "intended to
be" in my descriptions. That's because, though most inexpensive mic preamps aspire to neutrality, some of them
have a characteristic "cheap" sound that imposes itself-
thin, bright, and one-dimensional.
I once reviewed a preamp, and said that my reference preamp made an acoustic guitar sound like a box with a definite size, living in a definite space, while the device being
reviewed made it sound like a point source in no-space. That
feeling of solid three-dimensionality, the sense that you can
reach out and touch an instrument or voice, is characteristic
of better preamp designs... either neutral or flavorful. And,
unfortunately, most of the time you get what you pay for.
What flavors do you get with "flavorful" preamps?
Mostly they depart from neutrality by having what's often
described as a "big" sound; Neve-designed preamps, for
example, are famous for making drums sound huge.
Preamps made by Universal Audio (both tube and solid
state) tend toward the mellow-sounding-not muddy or
murky, but very slightly sweet. API preamps, on the other
hand, have a sound often described as "aggressive", one
that matches rock, punk and metal music well.
And sometimes it's hard to find words to describe a preamp's sound meaningfully. When I reviewed the Little
Labs LMNOPre, for example, I couldn't find a better
adjective to describe its sound on acoustic guitar than
"beautiful". That doesn't help very much, I know; the business of trying to describe sounds with words is the hardest part of a reviewer's job.
There are a few urban legends in the mic preamp field;
one of them is that the preamps of past years, used in studios like Bill Putnam's Universal Audio and EMI's Abbey
Road, were really terrible, and the great recordings which
came out of those studios were great precisely because the
preamps (and consoles and recorders) were so awful.
Well, they weren't; real professional recording gear
has, since about 1955, sounded excellent. The devices
that build on this urban legend by including "toob" overload stages designed to imitate the supposed awfulness
of earlier years are, in my opinion, barking up the wrong
tree; all they do is make signals sound murky. You won't
hear murk in the recordings of Frank Sinatra or the
Beatles; their recordings sound rich and three-dimensional. Enough said.
Preamps at the example recording session
For the Ottoman Underground session which generated
the clip that this series is dissecting (once again, you can
70

RECORDING October 2015

find it at is.gd/RECFirstStepsClip1), I mostly used the preamps built into
the studio's console, which was built by SSL. They're basically neutral,
which is what I wanted for this recording which was intended to be
"documentary" in style. Each channel of the console has a lowcut filter, and I used one on the channel carrying Will's voice to compensate
for the mic's proximity effect.
For two channels, however, I used a pair of "color" preamps, the
Little Labs LMNOPres. These went on the mic that recorded Shlomo's
bass amp and the amp's direct feed.
I made this choice for two reasons. One was that Shlomo expected to
switch to a dumbek (hand drum) later in the session, and it's been my experience that the LMNOPres have an affinity for drums of all sorts. I wanted
to make the transition, when he switched instruments, as seamless as possible, without disturbing the flow of the session-because keeping the musicians' focus is just as important as using the right gear (or more so).
In the case of Shlomo's bass, though, there was another factor. A
mic placed in front of an amp's speaker delivers its signal slightly later
than the signal coming from the amp's output, because the sound
takes time to propagate from the speaker to the microphone. If that
were the only issue, then sliding the direct-feed track in the DAW to
line up with the miked track would have solved it.

Figure 2

But there was more going on than a simple delay. An amplifier,
because its frequency response doesn't extend to infinitely low frequencies, garbles the phase response on the bottom end; a speaker
does the same thing. When I say "phase" here, I really mean
"phase", not polarity; this is about when signals of different frequencies arrive at the recorder from the miked and direct feeds. If they
combined without some correction, the sound of Shlomo's bass would
be muddled rather than tight and tuneful.
Fortunately, these preamps include devices to compensate for precisely this problem, the In-Between Phase (IBP) circuits. I connected the
line-level outputs of the preamps to line inputs on the console, and listened to the two channels, mixed together, while Shlomo ran through
the pieces. I twisted the IBP dials until I found a position where the
sound of his bass snapped into focus.
This was an example of matching a particular mic preamp, with a
characteristic sound and particular controls, to a particular situation in
the studio. If I'd had more time while setting up, I might have used
some of the other "color" preamps the studio offers (a couple of Nevefamily Focusrites, two channels of Universal Audio preamp, etc.). But
I wanted neutral sounds, and the simplest way to achieve that was by
using the preamps in the studio's console. So I did.
Next month, we begin to examine the signal processing I did on the
recorded tracks, starting with compression-stay tuned!
Paul J. Stamler (stamler@recordingmag.com) is a recording musician, engineer, educator, and collector of bizarre vintage recordings,
living in St. Louis.


http://is.gd/RECFirstStepsClip1

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - October 2015

Contents
Recording - October 2015 - Intro
Recording - October 2015 - Cover1
Recording - October 2015 - Cover2
Recording - October 2015 - 1
Recording - October 2015 - 2
Recording - October 2015 - 3
Recording - October 2015 - 4
Recording - October 2015 - 5
Recording - October 2015 - Contents
Recording - October 2015 - 7
Recording - October 2015 - 8
Recording - October 2015 - 9
Recording - October 2015 - 10
Recording - October 2015 - 11
Recording - October 2015 - 12
Recording - October 2015 - 13
Recording - October 2015 - 14
Recording - October 2015 - 15
Recording - October 2015 - 16
Recording - October 2015 - 17
Recording - October 2015 - 18
Recording - October 2015 - 19
Recording - October 2015 - 20
Recording - October 2015 - 21
Recording - October 2015 - 22
Recording - October 2015 - 23
Recording - October 2015 - 24
Recording - October 2015 - 25
Recording - October 2015 - 26
Recording - October 2015 - 27
Recording - October 2015 - 28
Recording - October 2015 - 29
Recording - October 2015 - 30
Recording - October 2015 - 31
Recording - October 2015 - 32
Recording - October 2015 - 33
Recording - October 2015 - 34
Recording - October 2015 - 35
Recording - October 2015 - 36
Recording - October 2015 - 37
Recording - October 2015 - 38
Recording - October 2015 - 39
Recording - October 2015 - 40
Recording - October 2015 - 41
Recording - October 2015 - 42
Recording - October 2015 - 43
Recording - October 2015 - 44
Recording - October 2015 - 45
Recording - October 2015 - 46
Recording - October 2015 - 47
Recording - October 2015 - 48
Recording - October 2015 - 49
Recording - October 2015 - 50
Recording - October 2015 - 51
Recording - October 2015 - 52
Recording - October 2015 - 53
Recording - October 2015 - 54
Recording - October 2015 - 55
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Recording - October 2015 - 58
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Recording - October 2015 - 80
Recording - October 2015 - Cover3
Recording - October 2015 - Cover4
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