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Pre-amp for keyboards.


Shiver

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Hi everyone,

...so i'm curious. When i'm recording vocals, drums, etc and i'm using condensers, i've got all these choices about what kind of mic pre's to go rent and they make a huge difference. What about when i'm tracking keyboards? they always sound 2 dimensional....what's our options here? I've heard alot of people use Radial DI's....do these have a similar effect as using a great mic pre? What do you guys use?

Cheers,

Shiver

Rule #2: Don't sweat the petty stuff, and don't pet the sweaty stuff.
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Originally posted by Shiver:

Hi everyone,

[recorded keyboards] always sound 2 dimensional....what's our options here? I've heard alot of people use Radial DI's....do these have a similar effect as using a great mic pre? What do you guys use?

Cheers,

Shiver

 

The main purpose of a DI on a keyboard is to isolate the earth of the keyboard from the earth on the mixer, and to convert the signal from unbalanced to balanced. (Why expensive keyboard gear still comes with unbalanced outputs is a mystery to me - comments from the group?)

 

If the keyboards you are recording have digital outs, you may want to try connecting to those instead - this will avoid the D/A convertors in the synth which can be a weak link. For instance, on my QS8, the digital link gives noticably better sound than coming out the inbuilt convertors.

 

Either of these things will help you get the most accurate sound possible but probably will not fix your problem. "Two dimensionality" (or lack of realism) is sadly, still state of the art on keyboards = nobody has a realistic piano; the closest I have heard was General Instruments modeling piano and that keyboard was too limited in other ways for general use.

 

(Of course, as anyone who has spent an afternoon in a piano showroom knows, most real pianos don't sound like real pianos either and amongst the better quality pianos, there are quite distinct qualities while there are plenty of low end grands out there that really suck (though not all - check out Kohler and Campbell))

 

There are some things you can try:

 

1/ Try layering similar sounds from different keyboards/modules.

 

2/ Put the keyboard through a tube pre-amp. I saw one in a second hand store the other day with an impressive number of knobs to twist - I have no idea what they do. Or you can build a simple one for yourself from the kit electronics place

PAIA

 

You really would like to do this on the dry sound and then add effects after the tube pre-amp. Certainly reverb and rotating speaker effects are going to sound funny if done ahead of the pre-amp.

 

3/ Try adding a touch of chorusing to the sound. Most synths allow you to do this internally but you may not be able to do this internally without losing some other effect. As for reverb, its more likely that you need to wind back the reverb on the sound in the synth (and then possibly add better reverb externally) than that you need to add even more reverb on top of the internal effect.

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ROTFL....Byrdman, that was the most honest thing i've ever heard an audio guy say: >it has an impressive number of knobs to twist....i have no idea what they do<.....

 

i don't know why, but that just killed me.....i'll check this stuff out and then reply to you guys in a few...gotta go stop laughing here.

shiver

Rule #2: Don't sweat the petty stuff, and don't pet the sweaty stuff.
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I've had some luck running synths thru a Joe Meek VC3Q. It gives it a little more edge and grit, hard to describe. Works pretty well for analog leads.

Korg Kronos X73 / ARP Odyssey / Motif ES Rack / Roland D-05 / JP-08 / SE-05 / Jupiter Xm / Novation Mininova / NL2X / Waldorf Pulse II

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I have a GT VIPre that I like to use to track synths. It has eight tube stages, and can really warm up a digital synth nicely.

 

It sounds pretty frickin' great with an analog synth run through it as well (the Mini is a frequent visitor).

 

dB

:snax:

 

:keys:==> David Bryce Music • Funky Young Monks <==:rawk:

 

 

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  • 2 years later...

I think the resistance to using an outboard pre comes from a very practical obstacle: many modern synths have an effects section. Putting a pre AFTER a reverb stage really sounds goofy. I wish keyboard workstations had either an "all effects bypass" or "reverb bypass" button. "All effects bypass" would not be nearly as useful since many patches rely on effects as part of the overall character of the sound.

 

I use an Avalon 737 when there's anything critical, but there are a bunch of software compressors and pseudo pre's that, in my opinion, do the job in a mix just as well.

 

Of course, I'm not listening through a pair of Adams...just lowly Genelecs and M-Audios for me. :D

"For instance" is not proof.

 

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Synths don't sound two-dimensional - it's just the treatment they recieve that's often two dimensional ; }

 

That is to say, I used to play through anything in the racks, and stomp boxes, and mic and/or DI guitar and bass combos, etc.

.
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Well I'm glad that most stuff comes with unbalanced outs because most "balanced" outs are not really transformer balanced, and if they were they'd use cheap crummy transformers, which would sound awful (like the usual cheap DI suspects), and they wouldn't likely have decent line drivers so they couldn't drive long cables without major losses anyway.

 

So unbalanced outs save on a lot of crummy circuitry you don't need, and let you plug into the good stuff you do need, if you are driving long cables. Or if you just want to put some nice transformers in line to warm things up, and add some dimension in the best cases.

 

I have 2 stereo units of the Manley DI's. I haven't used them in a while, due to some other kind and super-spendy Manley stuff I use instead, and I've been thinking on selling one of the stereo DI units. They are rather rich in tube and transformer harmonic distortion, which results in a sound rather like it's been put through a stage-type tube amp, and some nice 3D dimension to things that makes DI tracks blend well with mic'ed tracks with no need for reverb. Not as good for piano, but I really like it on most other sounds. I've had wonderful luck just recording through these things to digital, BUT- you still need a mic pre! It's not a preamp.

 

So you might just want to look at a preamp that accepts line inputs, or a DI that offers some gain. mercenary.com is a good place to look at all these things. Little Labs DI's are solid state but very good and give you some gain, at least some models do. I do think I remember that the Avalon DI's give you gain too.

 

For preamps, you can find Manley Dual Mono preamps for about $1200 used most times, and those have a nice instrument input, or you can plug into the mic inputs. More tube and tranny dimensional stuff, easy on the ears, but not super linear or super clean, although you might find them a lot cleaner than most of the solid state stuff that purports to be clean, at least until you are spending quite a bit.

 

Good luck!

A WOP BOP A LU BOP, A LOP BAM BOOM!

 

"There is nothing I regret so much as my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" -Henry David Thoreau

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I just saw this October's Keyboard

 

Korg\'s TP-2 and TPB-2 Tube Preamps Offer Optical Compression

 

 

TP-2

(Click for a close-up)

July 24, 2004

New from Korg is the Dual Tube Preamp with Optical Compression and Digital Output (TP-2), designed to provide sound enhancement for any recording application. Similarly, the new Dual Tube Preamp Board with Optical Compression (TPB-2) offers the same functionality in a user-installable option to enhance Korg's D32XD and D16XD recorders. Both incorporate a specially tuned version of Korg's Valve Force vacuum tube circuitry (made popular in the Triton Extreme and Electribe SX/MX) to add analog tube warmth and richness, as well as optical compressors that offer a quick response.

 

Features include:

 

Dual, classic-style, analog VU meters

Valve Force circuitry featuring two 12AX7 tubes

Two independent channels that can be linked for recording stereo sources

Independent phantom power, pad, phase, low cut and Hi-Z switches for each channel

Balanced XLR and 1/4" TRS inputs and outputs

Coaxial and optical digital outputs (TP-2 only)

 

http://namm.harmony-central.com/SNAMM04/Content/Korg/PR/TP-2-sm.jpg

MY Toys - Kurzweil PC1X, Roland A-90, Yamaha KX88, Yamaha CS1x, Novation 49SL MkII, Presonus Studiolive 16.4.2, JBL PRX615M

 

My Music Page

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The reason we use a preamp with a mike is becaus we have to. Mikes don't emit line level signals -- they're much lower, and we need nice sensitive electronics to amplify the signal without cranking out noise.

 

We don't need preamps with keyboards, which generate line-level signals to begin with. Add any gear between keyboard and soundcard, and you're just muddying the waters.

 

Of course, there's bad mud and good mud. Good mud can come from tubes. You you like 'em, fine. Software tube amp modelers keep getting better, but they're still a far cry from the real thing. So for lots of keyboard sounds (esp. vintage sounds like Rhodes, Hammond) a tube preamp does make a lot of sense. For a keyboard, a preamp is nothing more than another effect to try.

 

A preamp without tubes would be about as useful for keyboards as screen doors on a submarine. (Unless you crave the transistor distortion sound.)

 

There's very little benefit to balanced for short runs, unless you have a ground loop problem. Balanced is nice for avoiding that. But otherwise, there's just no point. Use balanced for runs over 20 feet.

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I'm REAL skeptical about this Korg thing. REAL skeptical! Looks like a gimmick, glowy things and all that.

 

The market is flooded with junk like that- don't be fooled! Make sure the tubes are doing ALL the gain work.

A WOP BOP A LU BOP, A LOP BAM BOOM!

 

"There is nothing I regret so much as my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" -Henry David Thoreau

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If you're operating your studio at +4 you will need something to bring up the level of your synths. I use a pile of outboard mic pre's for recording synths. A Manley dual mono tube pre, Great River MP2nv, Focusrite ISA-110, Wunder PEQ-1, and Neve 1272's. They each have 1/4" DI inputs and very different characters. The manley has tons of vibe. String patches often sound great through the neve's. So I'd have to disagree with learjeff, every pre has somehting different to offer in recording keys.

Rob Hoffman

http://www.robmixmusic.com

Los Angeles, CA

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I usually need some gain to get the old MP9000 output up to healthy digital levels- say, -10 dB peaks at 24 bit. But really you could do all right with -24 dB peaks at 24 bit- no need to chase high levels working at 24 bit.

 

If you are recording to tape, you will have a narrower sweet spot to hit and will probably need some gain.

 

Mic pres usually put out a minimum of 20 dB of gain, often as much as 40 dB or more, which is probably more than you really need to get decent levels to the recorder- most times you end up turning the gain way up in the mic pre and then attenuating it (turning it down) later in the mic pre- which is not a real healthy levels practice.

 

Better to just get as much gain as you need and no more. Which sends us off once again on the search for a really quality line mixer...

A WOP BOP A LU BOP, A LOP BAM BOOM!

 

"There is nothing I regret so much as my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" -Henry David Thoreau

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I have 2 stereo units of the Manley DI's. ... ...just recording through these things to digital, BUT- you still need a mic pre! It's not a preamp.
Ted, what kind of pre do you usually go into with Manleys? considering they already added the 'colour' you were after, do you tend to use a 'cleaner' pre?

 

I've been looking at Avalons U5 for a while now - they are DI with mic level out, but also have a line pre built in with secondary out w balanced line levels - are they any good? i usually see people drive avalons into GR NV or APIs.

 

Robmix, Ted, or anyone else:

 

NEVE, API, MANLEY seem like a great choice for adding 'thickness' or 'character', but what would you guys use in a case where preservation of original signal is important - like , for example, i'm recording Andromeda with its tremendous low end and i don't want some active DI to add colour to that. What would u use in that scenario? Radials passive into Millenia HV3,or TD1 perhaps?

 

thanks

http://www.babic.com - music for film/theatre, audio-post
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I was able to use a Summit Audio stereo tube preamp on the studio and it really made a huge difference in the sound of my keys. Of course I think its about 3k or so. The speakeasy thing looks cool a well. Anyone using one now?

"Learn the changes, then forget them."

 

-Charlie Parker

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Interesting thread. I'm just curious how much benefit you would get in a LIVE set up compared to doing recording. I was checking a few budget renditions. Example:

 

http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/TD100/

 

Is this worth looking at or is it a toy?

 

Tom, are you referring to your live sound or when you recording as far as gaining the improvement in your keys sound?

 

Thanks,

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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Originally posted by clusterchord:

I have 2 stereo units of the Manley DI's. ... ...just recording through these things to digital, BUT- you still need a mic pre! It's not a preamp.
Robmix, Ted, or anyone else:

 

NEVE, API, MANLEY seem like a great choice for adding 'thickness' or 'character', but what would you guys use in a case where preservation of original signal is important - like , for example, i'm recording Andromeda with its tremendous low end and i don't want some active DI to add colour to that. What would u use in that scenario? Radials passive into Millenia HV3,or TD1 perhaps?

 

thanks

I tend to use either my Focusrite ISA-110 or 428 mic pre's for non-colored stuff. Also the Great River MP2nv can be pretty clean depending on how you drive it.

Rob Hoffman

http://www.robmixmusic.com

Los Angeles, CA

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Originally posted by robmix:

[QBI tend to use either my Focusrite ISA-110 or 428 mic pre's for non-colored stuff. Also the Great River MP2nv can be pretty clean depending on how you drive it.[/QB]

i see, 428 is actually quite affordable considering you get 4ch and , if i'm not mistaken, it has variable impedance so you can fine tune your input. Maybe Millenia is too clean.

 

Rob, except Millenia TD-1 and Summit TD-100, the Avalon U5 is the only DI with pre on board. this is an obvious advantage in cost because you could go straight to A/D, avoiding purchase of another whole 2ch mic pre. but, i'm not sure if this is quality solution - most people use U5 as DI only. Do you have any thoughts on quality of its pre-amped (bal line) outs? i've read somewhere that they differ a bit in sound from the mic level outs.

 

since i can't afford two different paths for now, paired Avalon U5's seem like a nice solution covering lot of ground. A while ago, Fletcher told me that, for keyboards, i couldn't do better and more versatile than a 2ch GR NV, but it is still out of my range..

 

thanks

http://www.babic.com - music for film/theatre, audio-post
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Tom, are you referring to your live sound or when you recording as far as gaining the improvement in your keys sound?

 

Thanks,

 

Mike T.

Live sound generally. I am using a piss-poor behringer mixer now. NO life to the thing, but only cost me $80 so I shouldn't complain too much. I want to buy a Summit pre, but I think thats more of studio tool and its very expensive. Maybe something in the middle somewhere that can ad warmth and presence to the sound of the keys.

"Learn the changes, then forget them."

 

-Charlie Parker

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The trouble with using tubes live is the complexity of it. There's the "effects before pre" problem which others have stated. Then there's the "what's appropriate gain for this specific sound" problem. So it really seems most useful for a keyboard (electro, etc.) with a few sounds that sit in a mix in roughly the same way.

 

Of course you could just rack a number of efx boxes and use a mixer to vary your levels, but that's going to make your patches and setups unwieldy. The Korg Triton Extreme has a tube in it, and while it is no Neve or Millenia, I find this architecture attractive, precisely because you can position a tube before onboard effects.

 

Additionally (I believe) it is midi controlled, so gain can be modulated along with something else. Yes, you've got an extra DA/AD conversion, but it's not going to blow your live sound.

 

I would love to see more synths setting up a valid "hardware efx" section that is midi controlled and can be patched in different ways. A lot of synthesis techniques have been bundled into effects in the past (resonant filters, etc.). It won't kill us if we go the other way and synths bring some traditional hardware onboard. That would make multi-dimensionality a whole lot easer to create ... live.

 

Jerry

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Jerry,

 

Would it work if there were only Piano and Rhodes sounds going through the pre with a little reverb? I never realized that effects before the pre in the chain was a big problem. I know a lot of people are using speakeasy stuff for live use, but maybe its in a more complicated setup than that. I am looking for a way to send a L R signal from a line mixer to a pre and make it sound good. Maybe its not worth getting all that stuff. I know someone mentioned a tube DI above, would that work?

"Learn the changes, then forget them."

 

-Charlie Parker

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Originally posted by hermanjoe:

Fletcher told me that, for keyboards, i couldn't do better and more versatile than a 2ch GR NV, but it is still out of my range..

Cluster,

 

What exactly is this preamp? Who makes it?

 

Thanks

It is Great River MP-2NV . It is a Neve 1073 clone without the EQ section. It has transformers on output, and by varying the i/o ratio you can drive them softer for more transparent sound, or harder, where trasnformer saturation and colourisation comes into play - making the famous vintage NEVE sound, or sometimes reffered to as "Iron" sound.

 

of course it has HI-Z inputs to be used for git,bass or keys.

http://www.babic.com - music for film/theatre, audio-post
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robmix:

If you're operating your studio at +4 you will need something to bring up the level of your synths.

Good point, which I forgot about.

 

In any case, boosting a line signal by 12 dB (which is roughly difference between -10dBV and +4dBu) is a much easier task than boosting a faint microphone signal by 40dB, and an inexpensive unit should be up to the task.

 

But frankly, if your mixer is pretty good, there should be enough range in the fader to boost by 12dB without sacrificing quality, and that's llikely to work better than adding yet another gain stage, unless it's a fancy expensive one. (Not that a fancy expensive one should be needed.)

 

For a mixer like the cheap Behringers, you can use the 1/4" "line" inputs on the XLR channels and use the gain knob to boost the sensitivity. (This should work on any mixer where the gain/trim affects the "line inputs", which are really more like hi-Z mike inputs.) Frankly, it should sound pretty good -- the electronics in the Berry are probably quality to the output stages of your synth.

 

I think it's silly to use a thousand-dollar preamp to boost a signal coming from the off-the-shelf transistors in your typical synth. (No doubt, there are exceptions!)

 

This is beside the point of vintage tube-driven or electromechanical gear and intentional coloring, of course.

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