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#2548299 - 12/02/13 12:10 PM Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards?
cphollis Online   content
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Registered: 10/05/13
Posts: 2578
Loc: Massachussets, Florida
Forgive me if this has been discussed before at length ...

I mostly like my rig these days, but it can sound a bit harsh and sterile on occasions. Looking for options to "warm up" the sound a bit.

Tube preamps seem to be one option, also selecting amplification that uses birch cabinets vs. plastic. Futzing around with the EQ is unsatisfying -- sort of like taking a meat cleaver to the sound.

My rig: Nord Piano 2, Nord Electro 4D, occasionally a Stage 2. My amplification: some combination of the QSC K series. The band in question plays mostly americana, country, some very classic rock (e.g. The Band) -- so lots of acoustic pianos, B3, rhodes, etc.

Any and all thoughts would be welcome. Some of those tube preamps look pretty pricey, so cost-effectiveness is definitely a concern.

Thanks!
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#2548301 - 12/02/13 12:20 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: cphollis]
timwat Offline
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From my limited experience in recording studios, I think what you're generally looking for is a quality preamp, not necessarily tube.

Warmth can come from great solid state devices too - that distinction about "tube = warmth, SS = accurate" came to me from guitar players but with mic preamps, well, not so much.

The cheap tube preamps I've tried just get fizzy when you push them, not warm. I'm told by those who know more about this technically that the way inexpensive preamps implement starved plate design doesn't do the same thing that the expensive stuff does. If I was sure I was going tube, I'd probably try the Summit Audio stuff first.

Another solution I keep hearing about - but have never tried myself - is the solid state Overstayer Instrument Driver.

http://www.overstayer-inc.squarespace.com/instrument-driver/

Uniformly good reviews, a few users have raved about it to me, but again, I haven't used it personally.

Also, I know Dave Ferris has a lot invested in downstream equipment using a Nord Piano. Maybe he'll chime in on this again.

Tim
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#2548305 - 12/02/13 12:29 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: timwat]
Dave Bryce Administrator Offline
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Originally Posted By: timwat
From my limited experience in recording studios, I think what you're generally looking for is a quality preamp, not necessarily tube.

There's a definite difference between the two - one typically gives you more clarity and definition, the other more "warmth". Some hybrid/twin topology designs claim to give the best of both worlds....


Quote:
The cheap tube preamps I've tried just get fizzy when you push them, not warm. I'm told by those who know more about this technically that the way inexpensive preamps implement starved plate design doesn't do the same thing that the expensive stuff does. If I was sure I was going tube, I'd probably try the Summit Audio stuff first.

I use tube gear to warm up digital keyboards all the time. I don't use cheap ones, though...

My two go-to pres are the Summit TPA-200B and the Groove Tubes VIPre. The Summit is the one I use most for adding "warmth" to ROMplers, because it's easiest to control the ratio of natural distortion by fiddling with the balance of the Input and Output gain. It also has Hi-Z 1/4" inputs on the front panel, which make it easy to jack into it when it's rack mounted.

I also love tube compressors...but that's a whole other thread.

dB
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#2548306 - 12/02/13 12:33 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: cphollis]
ITGITC? Offline
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Loudspeakers are going to make the biggest difference in your sound.

If I decide to throw a big bag of money at this problem, a pair of RCF-TT08A would be a nice start.

KLONK

I know they are discounted from the published price, but still, $4,100/pair really cuts into my retirement fund.

I'm still trying to find a pair of something a notch or two down the ladder in price.

The size and weight are perfect.

I've heard they sound OK too. wink

Just ask Dave Ferris. He's got a pair.

Yup.

He's one of the guys 'round here who perpetuates this particular fragrance of GAS.

But... there are others.
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#2548307 - 12/02/13 12:40 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: ITGITC?]
cphollis Online   content
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All good advice, so thanks -- keep it coming.

BTW, I took a drive over to Fulcrum Acoustic's R&D facility which is just a stone's throw from my house. They were gracious enough to let me audition a pair of FA28ac units as well as the more substantial FA12ac. I'm still not over the GAS attack -- sell the car? mortgage the wife? There's got to be a way ...

So I know I can get a killer sound by throwing vast amounts of cash at the problem ...
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Keys: NP2, NS3C
Home: Bosie 200, Yam AG N3
Amps: FA 12acs, RCF TT08as, QSC K.2s, EVOX J8, SSv3
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#2548308 - 12/02/13 12:44 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: cphollis]
Dave Bryce Administrator Offline
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Here's another (less expensive) quality option for warming up your live rig - Tube DI. The A Designs REDDI is a great choice in that area. thu

You can also consider the Summit TD-100 - preamp and tube DI. Not terribly expensive.

dB
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#2548317 - 12/02/13 01:02 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: ITGITC?]
JeffLearman Offline
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I agree with Tom.

What's that funny smell?

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#2548321 - 12/02/13 01:15 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: Dave Bryce]
Theo Verelst Offline
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I don't want to rain on your GAS parade, but from what i know, it's a bit like with speakers: the more neutral, the more they won't bore in the longer run.

From experience I have, there probably isn't anything built in the Nords (correct me if I'm wrong if the system/dsp/sound-programmers feel otherwise) that will let your tube effects sink in "as intended". There are a few top brand machines about which I know or suspect that there's room for a dynamic, FFT-averaging preceded strong tube effect, mixed in pretty low like -40, -50 dB, possibly even in two bands.

Only adding some synth signal fully though a tube amp is probably going to add a little distortion (but of a "round" kind), a little (up to quite bit) transient mangling/smoothing (meaning signal volume changes and sudden peaks are made into some curve like an "auto-whawha" but then for volume, and possibly your digital instruments get the high frequencies filtered quite a bit by the tube transformers, and this too will induce distortion, probably nothing much likable (possibly you rather want a shelving equalizer set to 20 kHz to damp everything above that frequency).

Of course there's the "guitar amp" effect, so quite a bit of overdrive, or harmonically tuned distortion, which is cool effect, and there's the point in all the digital distortion (sampling error, not perfection..) harshness (the subject isn't it?) that a tube amp does some smooth stuff that isn't happening with those raggedy samples, fine of course.

But I wouldn't hold my breath until the boredom sets in, besides the obvious. The always present sampling reconstruction error is never really matched well by tubes, ever, so it isn't really a scientific solution.

T.

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#2548376 - 12/02/13 04:55 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: cphollis]
Kawai James Offline
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Registered: 01/09/13
Posts: 1151
Loc: Hamamatsu, Japan
I use a couple of ART pre-amps at home (just one on those rare occasions when I play live), and swapped the stock Chinese valves with an Eastern European brand (the name escapes me at the moment).



They're probably vastly inferior to the more expensive offerings mentioned above, but I think they work reasonably well, and can also double as a DI when plying live.

There are a number of pre-amp threads here (and on the Nord forum) - the one below is about a home-brew pre-amp project, but includes my initial post about the ART units, and additional discussion.

http://forums.musicplayer.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2463084/

Cheers,
James
x
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#2548391 - 12/02/13 06:33 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: cphollis]
Dave Ferris Offline
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Originally Posted By: cphollis

BTW, I took a drive over to Fulcrum Acoustic's R&D facility which is just a stone's throw from my house. They were gracious enough to let me audition a pair of FA28ac units as well as the more substantial FA12ac. I'm still not over the GAS attack -- sell the car? mortgage the wife? There's got to be a way ...

So I know I can get a killer sound by throwing vast amounts of cash at the problem ...


How are the FA28ACs ? I've been in contact with Stephen Siegel, the owner of Fulcrum Acoustic . He sent a demo pair to their So Cal rep, so hopefully I'll get to compare them to my RCF TT08As.

Yeah the speakers are more important for live stuff then any pre or di. The pre & di can help smooth out those harsh transients on piano, but I went the higher end speakers first, and used them in conjunction with a $200 Chinese A&H Zed10 mixer with excellent results.

As far as tube pres, I've posted here before how I took out the (widely considered "king of the mountain" tube pres) DW Fearn VT2 from Vintage King. Mainly with the intent of checking it out on recording my Steinway. The result was glorious and jaw dropping to say the least !

However when I ran my NP 88 into the Radial Duplex into the VT2, the end result was just ok at best. This was not recording, again just coming through my TT08As. I was actually surprised that the sound quality was minimally changed through the speakers on such a high end tube pre..

Maybe if I had run into his high end tube di--the VT3--then to the VT-2, I would have noticed a huge difference.
http://www.dwfearn.com/vt-3_tube_di.html

In any case, I'm not quite ready to spend over 2K on a 2 rack space tube di for a $75 jazz gig.. wink cry

I did get a much better and more noticeable sound on the Nord with the solid state, transformerless Forssell SMP-2. Again going in via the Radial Duplex. The acoustic piano recordings were stunning as well. I was all set to spring for one, even though it was 2K, until I ran across Mike Keith and his JMK Audio JM-110 di/pre, at half the price of the Forssell.

The JM-110 coupled with the TT08As, on the NP2, offers very pristine sound with just a hint of color. Similar to the John Hardy M1 pre. For me it was well worth the $1000, and kinda the icing on the cake in the chain. It's only an instrument pre/di and not set up as a mic preamp, so obviously that rules it out pulling double duty for Steinway recordings. But I'm mainly practicing and not recording so much these days, so it seemed ok. When I do get the piano recording itch again, I'll probably spring for the Forssell. I can't go on enough about how great the Forssell sounds ! Do a Google on Fred and you'll see how highly regarded his preamps & AD/DA converters are.

Again though, I'd upgrade the speakers first . The RCF NX10s are a good compromise. They are not as detailed and clear as the TTs, but actually have more bass with the 10". Same components as the RCF 700 series, but a birch as opposed to a plastic box. A friend bought a pair here in town somewhere off the internet, demo or open box, for under $1500. He uses the NP 88 and the A&H Zed 10. He's an excellent player, with discerning ears, and is happy with the results.

I don't play synth,clav or organ and very minmal EPs. So all my experiences with preamps & DIs are related to only digital piano fwiw. cool
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#2548450 - 12/03/13 04:53 AM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: Dave Ferris]
cphollis Online   content
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Registered: 10/05/13
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Thanks, guys -- this has been a wealth of information to go digest!
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Keys: NP2, NS3C
Home: Bosie 200, Yam AG N3
Amps: FA 12acs, RCF TT08as, QSC K.2s, EVOX J8, SSv3
Stuff: Stay stands, Key Largo, Vent II, X-Air 18

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#2548462 - 12/03/13 05:56 AM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: cphollis]
DanL Offline
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I still have a Speakeasy tube preamp that I used with my Leslie, I have that in my rack and run the organ output from my Stage to it. I'm not sure how much it adds but it does let me get a good gain structure going to feed into my Vent. I was using the 2nd channel for my Moog, there was some noise but I might try it again.
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#2548600 - 12/03/13 12:50 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: Kawai James]
solpincus Offline
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Registered: 09/13/11
Posts: 280
Loc: san francisco.ca, usa
Originally Posted By: Kawai James
I use a couple of ART pre-amps at home (just one on those rare occasions when I play live), and swapped the stock Chinese valves with an Eastern European brand (the name escapes me at the moment).



They're probably vastly inferior to the more expensive offerings mentioned above, but I think they work reasonably well, and can also double as a DI when plying live.

There are a number of pre-amp threads here (and on the Nord forum) - the one below is about a home-brew pre-amp project, but includes my initial post about the ART units, and additional discussion.

http://forums.musicplayer.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2463084/

Cheers,
James
x


I have used both , the ART MP3 and the SPEAKEASY CLASSIC, & SPEAKEASY SHOTGLASS with Barker on all of my clones, including my present NORD C2. After endless comparisons with and without the pre-amps, i decided that while all the tube pre-amps i just mentioned worked well with my OLDER CLONES (Viscount OP3,Voce V3 and Voce V5, Oberheim OP3 squared, with the NORD, to my ears, the tube pre amps were a total waste of time and money. HOWEVER…..
I found that the ART MPS3 ( or whatever the little blue one is called) on my ROLAND DIGITAL RD500 PIANO works GREAT. i ebay'd off my SPEAKEASY'S for about 50 cents to the dollar. I bought the NORD because of it's onboard features & simplicity, including the sound so i would not have to use any pre-amp, leslie sim, overdrive, reverb, etc . I got VERY tired of long, long, convoluted signal chains , especially for gigging. I even got rid of my MOTION SOUND PRO 3X . It, like the pre amps is great on older products made 10 years or so ago.
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#2956880 - 11/07/18 09:36 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: cphollis]
madaquando Offline
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Registered: 06/10/18
Posts: 2
Loc: México
I perform piano solo, small shows with a mix of live music, chatting with assistants, video projections, sometimes joining food&drink events; playing classical, blues, jazz, pop, rock, accompanying singers...
I’ve been concerned in the same topic: trying to improve my digital sound (I use Pianoteq Pro). I tried first with an Art compressor, which I think is not a bad device, but limited in this direction. When I searched info about decent tube preamps, or decent non-tube preamps, I realized it’s not something cheap. I also was concerned about gigging with a “delicate” device, which is usually used in a studio.
I just started an experiment that, maybe, can interest you: Universal Audio Apollo Twin in live use. You can use different emulations of good preamps, and of many other hardware devices. It seems that, in these days, emulations are really good. I think you can have 90 or 95% of the hardware spending a LOT less.
If you don’t like to use a laptop, it’s possible. You build up your setup in UA Console, then you can use the interface as a standalone digital mixer, it retains the last settings used. No problem if disconnected etc. The only limitation is that you can only use one session, if you want to switch between several sessions you need a laptop. It would be a good thing to use a MIDI controller, but UA seems to be dull about this (male, molto male!).
It’s a quite fresh experiment, only few days, but I think that this can be a very flexible and effective way to “warm up” your digital keyboard sound. My goal is using UA Apollo and plugins to recreate, in an actual perspective, some old good techniques of piano recording. And using that sound for recordings, but also live. Unfortunately, the analogue warmth that we often miss in digital sound seems to be the result of the WHOLE analogue process (mic, preamp, tubes, transformers, other hardware devices, tape…). It’s difficult that a single device (like an idealized tube preamp) can give you that result, in a single magic shot. So, I would like to use different UA plugins to recreate a certain version of that “old” sound, in different stages.
If interested, I suggest this article, I think it’s well sustained and non-rhetorical:
Analogue Warmth
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#2956881 - 11/07/18 09:48 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: madaquando]
J. Dan Offline
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Welcome to the forum! wave

Just curious if there are any presets that can get you into some soft overdrive, or are you stuck with digital clipping?
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#2956884 - 11/07/18 10:04 PM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: J. Dan]
OB Dave Offline
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Registered: 04/25/09
Posts: 1165
Loc: San Diego CA, US
The ART stuff is garbage. Run far and fast from any vacuum tube product that uses a wall wart power supply. This is your sure sign of a bullshit staved-plated design which will do little more than limit bandwidth and raise your noise floor.

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#2956930 - 11/08/18 07:17 AM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: OB Dave]
p19978 Offline
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Registered: 05/12/12
Posts: 143
Loc: KY
Originally Posted By: OB Dave
The ART stuff is garbage. Run far and fast from any vacuum tube product that uses a wall wart power supply. This is your sure sign of a bullshit staved-plated design which will do little more than limit bandwidth and raise your noise floor.


Truth, unfortunately.

If you do go the cheap ART route, and I have tried it, use a decent AU7 or AT7 instead of the typical Chinese AX7 preamp tube. It will cut down on the fizziness and will sound "cleaner". You can get NOS AU and AT tubes cheap... $10 or so.

The starved plate design just doesn't really sound the way a pushed, overdriven tube sounds.

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#2956940 - 11/08/18 08:19 AM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: p19978]
hardware Offline
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Registered: 03/04/14
Posts: 1499
Loc: Macau
Not really into ROMplers but ASIO tends to fizz out unless you use some type of voltage driven hardware.
My KeyLargo gives ASIO Streams some extra presence.
But my favorite is a modified Bellari RP562.
Swap out the OpAmps and replace the Tubes with NOS/NIB RCA Comamand Line circa 1950s and its a Sonic Tube Exciter.
Fantastically adds harmonic distortion to fill in the frequency gaps.
Also in the picture is the Radial Space Heater Tube Mixer.
3 different voltages and dual volume and drive gains.
It’s actually better on my discrete audio synths and HX-3.

But a decent mic pre like the FMR RNPs can re focus the sound, they can take an SM57 and make it thicker.



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#2956942 - 11/08/18 08:26 AM Re: Tube pre-amps to warm up digital keyboards? [Re: J. Dan]
madaquando Offline
Member

Registered: 06/10/18
Posts: 2
Loc: México
Thank you Dan.
I'm looking for small changes and nuances in color, for a still natural piano sound.
Anyway, It seems to me that UAD plugins let you overdrive from soft to hard without sticking rapidly in digital clipping, as others cheaper plugins do. If you use a UAD plugin in unison mode (directly on an analogue input) the effect seems to be very similar to the original hardware. If you use that plugin as an insert, on a track, maybe it's someway softer, but still very effective I think. Maybe you can listen to some demos (official UA demos, and not). You can find a lot of comparisons plugin/hardware, with decent audio files to listen to.

Another plugin that I tried before, and liked it, was Soundtoys Decapitator. Despite the name, I found it can add some good harmonic saturation to your digital piano tracks (with the first emulation, of five that it manages).

Originally Posted By: J. Dan
Welcome to the forum! wave

Just curious if there are any presets that can get you into some soft overdrive, or are you stuck with digital clipping?
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