Day 5 – One Good Preamp [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 5 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

HSC31DaysLogo_400.jpgOn Day 3 we talked about getting to know one good microphone, but what about a preamp for that mic?

What is a microphone preamp?

A preamp is simply an amplifier that boosts the level of a microphone’s signal to a usable level. Microphones and guitars put out a very quiet signal. Without some sort of amplification, these signals are virtually unusable.

If you’ve ever tried to plug a microphone into a line input on a mixer, you know what I’m talking about. There’s little-to-no signal there. That’s why a microphone always needs to be plugged into a preamp before anything else. (See Intro to Preamps.)

So…what’s the deal with preamps?

Preamps can have a huge impact on the sound of the microphone. A really nice, $3,000 microphone won’t sound very good through a $30 preamp. Conversely, an $80 microphone can sound much better through a nice preamp versus a cheap one.

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3 Channel Strip Warnings

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.

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Ask Joe #22 – Pro Tools, TuneCore, Summing, and more

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