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Mic Preamp – Why Quality Matters

api-512c-mic-preampMic Pre Mojo

If you have an M box, a mixer, an iPhone or anything you can plug a microphone into, you have a microphone preamplifier AKA Mic Preamp. You may not see it or even know that it’s there, but it is.

I am a Microphone Preamplifier lunatic. If I’m producing a recording, I insist on using a studio with the quality of mic preamps that I use for my productions. It is that important!

Some might naively say “But Jim, a mic pre can’t possibly make that big of a difference”. To which I would reply “Oh contraire mon frère, an audio chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.”

If the 1st thing your microphone hits is a substandard mic preamp, you are battling uphill from there. If you’er recording dozens of tracks (as I normally do), the sound will seem much less vital and clear with a cheaper mic preamp. You may not notice the lack of quality as much when you’er recording a single track, but when you multiply the lesser quality with many tracks, the difference will be quite apparent. It takes a quality mic preamp to help capture the true sonic properties that make a voice or instrument sound clear and present in the mix. Without quality mic preamps, you get little clarity and a lot of mush.

Much like plugging your guitar into a cheaper amp or a good amp, you can hear the difference. Like guitar amps, mic preamps have different sound qualities according to make and model. So saying which mic preamp is the best is a matter of taste and opinion.

One of the big problems with mic preamps is of course their cost. Ranging from about $800 to $5000 for a single mic pre, the typical home recording user (usually) isn’t going to buy 20 quality mic preamps. But a good studio will!

People ask me all the time, why records sound the way they do. Well, Great songs, great performances, great Production and engineering, great gear and Great Mic Preamps!

What I Recommend:
If you are recording at home and are serious about your sound quality, I would create a quality single chain by purchasing the following:

api-512c single-channel • One – API 512 mic preamp $800

• One – Empirical Labs Distressor (compressor) $1200. el8-distressor

Not cheap I know, but for 2 k you would have the same channel found in many professional recording studios and the sound to match.

That’s it for now, Good luck. Jim

Recording with or without effects

“Jim, Should I record with effects like reverb or delay on the track?”

recording-with-effectsAs a Music Producer and audio Engineer, this is another question I get frequently. Typically, the answer is no, but it comes down to personal taste.

Personally I record a lot of my guitar effects thru the guitar amp as if the player is performing live. Why? Because I LIKE THE SOUND of guitar effects thru the amp while the guitarist is cutting the track. “But Jim, then you cant change it”. Correct, but I LIKE IT…..so I have made a production decision.

That being said, my preference is to record vocals dry with no effects and adjust them later according to the mix. I do however record vocals with some level of compression. The amount of compression I use is dictated largely by the genre of music the track is for. Pop music is very compressed so I’ll use some compression while tracking and maybe a bit more when I mix. When recording and producing a Jazz record, I will use much less compression while tracking as this genre dictates that.

A lot of keyboards have built in fx. Again, If I like the sound, I’ll use it. If I don’t, I’ll have the player remove them.

When recording Bass guitar, I’ll usually take a direct line straight from the bass and maybe a line from the amp so I can add dirt or distortion if need be. Both of these will get a bit of limiting (high ratio Compression) and I will blend the two later.

When recording Drums, I rarely ever use delay or reverb while tracking. BUT I use a fair amount of compression on the overheads and rooms. Why? Because I love the sound of compressed drums. I will also put a bit of compression on the Snare and kick when tracking. You need to be very careful with this as snare compression can pull unwanted hi hat into the snare mic. We will pay very close attention to mic placement so we usually don’t run into the bleeding hat problem.

A lot of how I record is based on my opinions, preferences and experiences. Some engineer/producers prefer to do all effects/ compression at mix. I do a combination of both. The point is, if you love the effect or sound ….record it. You may not get a chance to get it back later.

Hope this helps, Jim

Recording with or without effects