One of the best upgrades you can make to your studio is to get a nice outboard preamp. But it can be hard to bite the bullet. After all, you’ve got preamps built into your audio interface, right? They sound fine, so why would you upgrade them?
Well, for one thing, you don’t know what you’re missing. Imagine that you grew up without access to computers, and someone showed you a 20-year-old IBM PC running DOS, you’d think it was amazing, right? You’d have no reason to think there could be anything better, but that doesn’t mean that better computers don’t exist. (Now imagine yourself fainting at the site of an iPad.) 🙂
The point is this – just because you’re happy with the stock preamps on your interface doesn’t mean your sound can’t be dramatically improved by investing in an outboard preamp.
I must preface this review with two things:
- Don’t succumb to Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Buying gear for the sake of gear is no bueno. However, if you’re in a position where you’re ready to upgrade, read on.
- The good folks at Presonus sent me this Eureka for free in exchange for a review. That said, I only do this with items I truly believe in. (I’ve turned down similar offers from other manufacturers.)
If you record for any length of time, at some point you’ll come across a channel strip. What is it? A channel strip is simply an outboard microphone preamp that has either EQ or compression built in, or both.
These can be AWESOME, because you can begin to shape the sound of your recordings before the audio ever hits your recording software. For example, you can use the EQ to get rid of some of the low-mid frequencies that are muddying up the sound. And you can use a little bit of compression to keep the signal from clipping your converter.
Of course, you can go over-the-top, too, by dialing in some very dramatic settings.
However, with the added features comes a better chance that you might mess something up. So here are three warnings for those of you using channel strips (or thinking about buying one).
1. Difficult to Control Clipping
Most channel strips (like the once pictured above) have some sort of meter on them. The problem, though, is that the signal is going through several different gain stages. There’s the input gain (preamp), there’s the gain on the EQ and/or compressor, and then there’s the output gain.
Unfortunatey you can only meter one of these at a time. So, if you’re watching the meter for the output gain, and it appears to be well below clipping, you could still be clipping the signal on the preamp. The reason it’s not showing up on the output meter could be because the compressor is turning the signal down before it hits the output.