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The World of External Preamps

June 23, 2011

I’ve recently been looking at buying an external preamp or two for my setup. As much as I like the preamps in my two Firestudio Projects, I want to get a different coloured sound. I’ve been looking at valve preamps, mainly because I love that really obvious, fat, warm and over-saturated sound you can get with some of them. Although I’ve also been looking at the Golden Age Project Pre-73 which emulates the sound of a Neve 1073, but I can’t find anywhere in the UK that stocks it besides a dodgy website from Yorkshire.

I asked a question on my favourite recording questions website, conveniently named recordingquestions.com, suggestions on what mic pre would give me that over-saturated valve tone at a relatively cheap price. The site owner, Justin, said that really good sounding pres come at a price of around $600, anything below that isn’t really up-to-par (I’m paraphrasing but it was to that effect). I reckon that’s a good rule of thumb.

I’ve read reviews on things like DBX’s 386 which hasn’t received a lot of praise; the ART Tube MP I have says it’s a “valve pre” but because it’s fed a low voltage, you can’t get an overly-saturated valve tone from it; reviews I’ve read about Summit’s 2BA-221 say that it’s quite clean sounding in the valve section (and I can’t find any sound examples of it being used); and the Universal Audio Twin-Finity sounds too clean to my ears as well, and gives an overdrive distortion effect when you crank the valve which isn’t what I want at all.

It certainly seems that with all these other mic pres some ranging from really cheap to middle of the range, the Universal Audio Solo/610 ticks all the boxes for the sound that I’m after. It gives that really obvious valve tone without distorting too much when you crank the valve, and fattens up the instrument you’re recording.

Watch the videos below from Gearwire; you may laugh that I’m recommending Gearwire as a reference, but they seem to have picked themselves up now and are churning out better content (particularly with recording equipment anyway). Although the video is only in 360p, listen to how fat the acoustic guitar sounds, especially with the finger-picking style; then watch the video of the Twin-Finity with the same mic and guitar being used (albeit the placement of the mic is different), the tonal colour is so much different with the Twin-Finity than the Solo/610. The 610 is certainly darker and more “vintage”.

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