James Ivey, Dan Cooper & Mike Aiton met up at Mike’s Twickenham studio to follow up on our hugely successful (and hotly debated) microphone shoot out. This time we move down the recording chain to the microphone amps!
It was like Christmas day all over again as we unwrapped the goodies chosen kindly provided by Paul at KMR Audio. We had asked for a wide selection of products, from budget friendly, to 500 series value, to “make James seriously envious” products (otherwise known as boutique).
We chose to use the “Rolls Royce” Brauner VMA valve microphone as our transducer of choice as it was the most popular In the mic shoot out (nit to mention it makes James dribble uncontrollably). We are also reliably informed by friend of the blog, Steve Genewick, that this is one of audio legend Al Schmitt’s modern mics of choice, so we felt in good company! We wanted to give our mic amps the best possible chance to shine.
The Sources Recorded
For sources, we wanted to have a mixture of instrumentation and vocals, so that it would relate to most of our followers. We wanted dynamic sources that would show the transients and also the detail of the mic amps (rather than the noise floor), with a wide frequency range source. We elected to have the following:
- Dan Cooper playing his beautiful large body Epiphone acoustic guitar, both finger picking and strumming – for contrast.
- Wayne Urquhart, who (as well as Head of Audio at A&E UK) is a successful Guildhall trained soloist & session cello player for artistes such as Moby. The cello has deep lows and requires a flat freq response or honks will most certainly show up. There is also plenty of HF detail in the bowing, so it is a very revealing source. We chose a dynamic piece, the Elgar Cello Concerto. Wayne played his very warm German cello from the 1850s (incidentally which is for sale).
- James Ivey sung part of Gotta Be Good, an original song by Pro Tools Expert team member, Rex Strother. We figured that you would all be familiar with James’ voice from the podcast, and his singing from his excellent music videos. James can also sing nearly as loud as Steven Slate (“Raven…….”), so it was a good test of headroom as well as dynamics and detail.
Dan played to a click track and previous take, and James sung to a mix of Rex's song. Wayne played wild (no click) – and its amazing how well his recordings line up.
The Techy Stuff
The recording was at 48Khz, 24 bit into my Avid Omni HDX (12.2), with no processing what so ever. The only exception was the MBox3 mic pre, which was recorded at 16bit onto James’ laptop, and bit depth converted to 24 bit upon import to the master session.
No eq or dynamics processing was applied to the recordings afterwards. We attempted to record everything at the same level on the way in (approx. 23 LUFS) so that we could avoid any true peak distortion, as measured by Nugen Audio’s VisLM2 (Mike's loudness meter of choice). After the recording, the only retrospective processing used was Nugen’s LM Correct AudioSuite plug-in, to remove any minor performance loudness variations.
The Mic Amps Tested With Approximate UK Prices
- Avid Mbox3 (£250)
- Avid Omni (£1750 – an interface as well as a mic pre)
We wanted to see how the Omni would stack up against the Mbox, and how similar was it to the Focusrite, whose heritage it partially shares.
Moving on, with revealing instruments how does our old classic mid range pair stack up?
- Focusrite ISA One £500
- Broadhurst Gardens DAV BG1 £500
Then we had a batch of 500 rack series mic preamps, but who can win the lunch box wars?
- Crane Song Syren £800
- Maag PreQ4 £750
- Neve 88LB: £800
We also wanted to find out how does the Neve 88 channel strip compares to the lunch box version? Will the infamous 1073 (it weighs a ton and oozes quality) compare to the newer designs?
- Neve 8801 channel strip £2000
- Neve 1073 DPD £2000
Next we wanted to test the new kid on the block...
- Lev Integrity £1500
The Lev is from Israel, and we wanted to hear how flat and how quiet this mic amp is. Its one to watch according to our spies…..?
- Tubetech RM2 with PM1a Pre £2000
This is the take no prisoners, and make no compromise valve daddy! Again we hear it’s an Al Schmidtt fave….
Character Mic Pres
Some of the pre amps featured character settings, such as the air band on the Maag, and the negative feedback valve loop on the Crane Song Syren. We chose to record two versions of each, one as clean as possible, and one with some “character” so that you can hear the difference.
As a team we have decided to offer you the option to download the Pro Tools session, so that you can all quickly and easily audition in your own time, with your own familiar monitoring, as well as web based streaming for when you are avoiding working!
The Pro Tools session is PTX session file and the audio is 24 bit. Dan’s guitar, Wayne cello playing and Jame’s singing are all there in the session for you audition at length. The session is super simplified and will be easy to just add your monitoring. Alternatively you can listen to the options using the Soundcloud playlists here below....
As usual we would love to know your opinions (keep it clean please) about what you prefer and why. We recommend you take the time to listen carefully and decide which one you prefer and vote accordingly. Remember you are voting for the one you like the sound of the most. Then in a week or so we will reveal the results and you can see what your preferred choices were.
We hope you enjoy watching and listening to our test and have as much fun as we did.
Thanks to Dan and James for a long day of their time, to Paul at KMR Audio, our partner brand, for organizing the gear, to Ollie at Bigger Boat for the loan of the Tube Tech gear, and to Wayne Urquhart (available via wayne“at “wulfnoteDOTcoDOTuk +44 7976 743827) for his most excellent playing.