Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Losing My Religion

For the last 20 years or so I've been inclined toward high-end (preferably Neve) microphone preamps. This is in part because I felt I was suddenly able to make things which sounded like real songs once I started using real preamps.
It seemed and seems that mixing is much easier when everything's been tracked through some API's or Neves. That may be in part due to what Alan Douches calls the "accumulation of subtleties" which is what goes into making a good mix.
But then again, it may not.
With some exceptions it can be very difficult to hear the difference between a high-end preamp and some cheapo $10 preamp built into an interface or cheap audio console. I mean while just listening to it alone. And without having the ability to A/B the cheapo preamp against the Neve 1272 you have sitting there in your rack you won't be able to listen to a track and just straight-up say "Oh, that's the preamp built into this Souncraft mixer on this snare drum track".
But presumably we can hear the "buildup" of tracks all recorded through (say) a Trident A-range versus the same tracks recorded with a Mackie mixer which has been sitting underneath your dirty laundry since you quit that job mixing that web-series in 2005.
I say "presumably" because you absolutely cannot get the same performance out of a whole bunch of instruments to do a true A/B test.***
Is it too late for me to become a Hammond organ player?

So let's pretend that there's an accumulation of subtleties in recording, that is: the mix is better because of all the very slight increases in quality brought about by high-end microphone preamps.****
Those increases in quality are nothing, nothing at all, compared to having better instruments to record and, you know, actually practicing more.

Yeah. Practicing more. Now there's a subtlety that'll definitely accumulate.*****

So basically, the guiding religious principal of recording that I've been operating has developed a schism. Although I can't help but feel that preamps somehow magically make the music sound better, I can't prove it. And the fact is we're using four channels of Neve 1272 preamperage and another two of Lindells (which are vastly less expensive but still theoretically better than the built-in Tascam preamps in the A/D converter).
So, you know, we should be ahead of the game as far as the sound is concerned.
The drums are typically being replaced in Drumagog so it's basically irrelevant what the preamps are (or what the microphones are).******
That leaves us with just a bass or a guitar not recorded with a high or higher-end preamp.
Having recorded the bass in Diatomaceous Earth a number of ways I have to admit I don't really get bent out of shape when we use the Tascam's built-in preamps for it.
I've non-blind A/B'ed between the Tascam and the Neves for bass guitar and although I should be prejudiced toward the Neves I'm just not feelin' it. I can feel the difference between basses and have my preference there, but not with the preamps.

Which, in a way, is almost too bad because there's a world of loveliness out there in the world of preamps nowadays. Seventh Circle Audio makes some cool kits (non 500-series based.) There's a whole DIY culture too

But I've lost it. I don't have the faith that those things would make nearly the difference that would... well... make a difference.

I'll stay with the preamps I have. I mean, I'm not going to curse the gods when my sacrifices have already been made. But there's no need to sacrifice more. That I know of.


***That's almost true. But if you were recording entirely electronic instruments which you pushed through the high-impedance inputs of preamps you could do an A/B test. Hasn't anybody done this?
****And yeah, that's preamps. Not "microphones". So many great sounding records have infamously (or famously) been recorded using Shure SM57's that it's impossible to count. But in my experience, it's the preamps that make the biggest quality difference in the mix.
***** As a guitar player I'm... pretty terrible. I have exactly one trick: I can make the guitar sound good. I can't play fast, nor accurately. But I can get a decent guitar sound. Enough that if I play slowly and simply it seems like a choice rather than a necessity.
(I just need to practice more. Specifically I need to practice playing rhythm. I do not have a funky bone in my body. It has been strongly... er... requested that I become better at this. So I'm... gonna work on that. Oddly this particular point is not relevant to my thesis here as the one thing I can do is sound -- recording-wise -- good.)
******Note that the overheads -- which is where we get all of the cymbals -- are recorded using nice microphones with a pair of Neves.

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