Bass preamp vs. mic preamp

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by Ludvig, Jan 21, 2019.

  1. Ludvig


    Jan 21, 2019
    Hi, newbie here. I´m having trouble finding a good, normal bass tone. I don´t get the low, fat, focused bottom "growl" that professional recordings have. I play acoustic/electric pop in the style of Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and Teenage Fanclub. When I compare my mixes to reference tracks I always find that my bass lack the deep, clear bottom. But when I turn up the fader I only get a flabby, empty,"balloony" sound that disturbs the whole mix.

    I have tried pretty much everything when it comes to eq- and compression, and various plugins (R-bass, Low Air, CLA-bass, saturation etc. etc.) without any change. I have also changed my playing, from pick, to thumb, to fingers, soft and hard and in between, without result.
    I therefore assume that I need some type of preamp or mic preamp to get the heavier bottom end? I tried a Sansamp Bass Driver DI, but to no avail, it only colored the sound, no more than a bass vst amp simulator.

    I live in an apartment with thin walls, so an amp and a speaker is not an option.
    After reading posts here and watching You-tube videos, it seems to me that most of you bass players use DI:s such as Reddi and Avalon U5, but you also talk about mic preamps, such as Neve 1073 and API 512. DI:s, active nor passive, as far as I understand are not preamps since they don´t raise the output level enough. But is it the Reddi DI that produce the weight to the bass, or is it the mic preamp?

    I have saved up ca 1000 dollar that I am prepared to spend on gear, but I really need advice on what to spend it on. When it´s a deep, low, fat bottom I want, should I go for a DI, like Reddi or Avalon U5, or should I get a mic preamp, like a Neve or API (or rather, an affordable clone)?

    I have a Steinberg UR RT-2 audio interface, that has Rupert Neve Designs transformers on the preamps.

    Very grateful for answers.
  2. hbarcat

    hbarcat Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2006
    Rochelle, Illinois
    The simple answer is you shouldn't expect to get the bass sound of a studio recording coming directly from your preamp. That sound is the result of extensive processing involving multiple levels of equalization and various types of dynamic alteration.

    If you get the chance to check out a recording session in a studio (professional or hobbyist) you can hear what the raw bass track sounds like as it's recorded. Then, if you compare that to the sound after it's processed, you'll be amazed at how much difference there is.

    Let me ask you what you intend to do with the "low, fat growl" sound. Are you making recordings? Playing live shows? Just practicing at home?
    lz4005 likes this.
  3. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Before you drop a bunch of cash, I suggest you study up on masking, frequency slotting, and compression. The trick is not generally to get the bass to sound good by itself, it is to get the bass to sit well in the mix. So do some Googling, read some blogs, and listen to some "how to" videos.

    Also listen to recordings of soloed bass backing tracks...they solo tracks usually sound awful.
  4. Ludvig


    Jan 21, 2019
    Thanks for the answer.
    I just write and record songs as a hobby at home. But the lack of a normal bass tone is beginning to take all the joy away from it.
    Can I ask how you would record bass, if you didn´t use an amp and a speaker? Would you use an external preamp and/or a DI, or should it be enough to just plug into the audio interface Hi Z?
  5. Ludvig


    Jan 21, 2019
    Thanks for the answer.
    The bass sounds pretty normal before I compress (deep, focused) and then it becomes diffuse and light, so I guess I might be compressing wrong. I first use Klanghelm MJUC and then a multiband C4 compressor for 250 Hz to 40 Hz. Then I add a VST amp on a duplicate track for texture. I EQ after compression, just a slight hp 40 Hz, a little cut at the boxy area around 250 and a slight bump around 800.

    From reading on the Internet I have gotten the impression that you need a good preamp to get a deep fat bottom, since the compressor reigns in the deepest strongest tones. But I might be wrong. I´ve downloaded a trial for the Waves CLA classics compressors to see if I can get it right with those. I also use a MV2 plugin to increase the low end.

    But I would still like to know: which is most important would you say- the mic preamp (i.e. a WA 12, Art Tube MP etc.) or the bass preamp/DI (i.e. Reddi, Avalon U 5 etc.)?
  6. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    IMHO the most important thing is for you to develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and techniques. Yes a REDDI or Avalon U5 would be a great investment that will give you great tone, but these devices are expensive and they are not silver bullets that will magically fix all of your problems. If you simply must have a high-end preamp DI, throw the Sonic Farm 2DI4 on your list of contenders as well. For a project study you might also consider more modest bass specific preamp DI's like the Mesa Subway or MXR offerings.
    Mesa Boogie Subway Bass DI Preamp | MESA/Boogie®
    MXR - Electronics - Products  

    But if you already have basis IO worked out, you are better off saving your money and learning how to use EQ to properly slot the bass into the mix so it sounds big and fat even though it's not.

    Full transparency: My expertise is live sound rather than recording.

    I find it challenging to get the bass and bass drum to be fat simultaneous. I often mix one fat and one punchy so they compliment. If you simply must have both super fat, then as a minimum you need to slot the bass to make room for the bass drum. Determine the tuning frequency of the bass drum and notch it out of the bass channel.

    Another thing you can do is use ducking (sidechain compression). I have also read of sidechain gating is sometimes is if the bass and bass drum always play together.

    The Icon article touches on the kick tail length, but doesn't really say how to manage it. Start with tuning the drum and finish with gating as necessary.

    Here are a few articles.
    How To Use Sidechain Compression To Make Kicks Cut Through The Mix
    Kick and Bass Mixing Tips | Icon Collective Music School
    How To Use A Sidechain On A Compressor And A Gate

    The need for a compression on bass depends largely on the skill of the bassist, the sound you are after, and the style of music. In the sessions I have done, the engineer used either light, wide-band compression or none because my technique is very even. Too much compression can make the bass sound anemic. If you are using a multiband compressor and hitting only range 40Hz-250Hz, then of course the bass sound is going to thin out, because almost all of the fat is well within this range. Multiband compression is very cool, but the way you describe using yours sounds like the potential source of your problem.
  7. Ludvig


    Jan 21, 2019
    Thank you very much for all the advice.
    I´ll read your links and give it another try before I buy any gear. And use less or none multiband compression.
    Wasnex likes this.
  8. Try the waves max bass plugin
    Ludvig likes this.
  9. SirMoak


    Jan 6, 2017
    Multiband compression is not a bad thing. In fact it is one of the most useful tools for bass processing. Regarding the comment that compressed low frequency band makes the bass sound thin consider this: on multiband compressors you usually have gain after the compressor as well. Since this gain only works on the specific frequency band it acts like an EQ as well. After squashing dynamics you will usually use volume in that band. If you don't counteract this by raising the gain, you are effectively EQing out that band.
    Wasnex likes this.
  10. Aloe


    Apr 10, 2016
    well, it's common for some (not very good) preamps to lose both bass and treble. actually I had experience with D-PRE preamps on a Yamaha console and they did sound like this (and they're not really Neve designed).

    if your signal is strong enough, try EQ first. your DAW should have some bass EQ presets like this, start with something alike and tweak to taste:
    Screenshot 2019-01-23 13.43.21.png
    Ludvig and Wasnex like this.
  11. After trying many different bass amps, bass preamps etc. I have to say I prefer the sound of a good mic preamp, a 19" compressor and an EQ to every bass amp I ever tried.
    There might be single cases but I never heard from a professional recording, where the DI out of a Bass Amp was used to record the bass.
    The most important question might be: what kind of music, what kind of bass sound do you have in mind?
    I'm pretty sure someone who is into metal or rock in general might prefer bass amps and pedals.

    Most of the bass sounds I have in mind - from Jamerson to Roxy Music to Amy Winehouse or Reggae - were recorded going direct into the mixing desk. Those old analog very expensive mixing desks.
    The Api or Neve inspired mic-preamps as the Neve and Api inspired Compressors are mostly basesd on modules taken from those mixing desks. These always had a HZ input for guitar or bass.
    I was more than satisfied with my sound for the first time, when I used mic preamps. Not the most expensive ones: I own a Warm Audio Tonebeast and a GAP 73 DLX. Even more important for me: a Warm Audio 1176 compressor (after trying many different compressor pedals).
    I prefer the sound I get through my budget Focal Alpha 50 monitors at the end of the chain to the sound of every bass amp and cabinet I ever tried.
    If I wouldn't already own this chain I would try the API Tranzformer pedal.

    IMO a mistake many make is to emphasize the real low frequencies. If you want bottom end without getting that "ballony" sound try to emphasize the frequencies around 100 hz a bit, maybe even try 300 hz, lower the real low frequencies a bit or even use a High Pass filter around 50 hz and - if you use a Fender Jazz or Precision: turn the tone know down, completely and if it is a Jazz: turn the volume of the bridge pickup down completely!
    Wstrindade and Wasnex like this.
  12. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    first, make sure you have a good level while tracking. the loudest peaks should not clip of course, but if they are up around -6db that will be good.

    i recommend removing all plugins from your bass track and starting with just an EQ. turn DOWN the low bass, and find a sweet spot around 300hz and another around 800 or 1k. boosting narrowly in those ranges should give you meat and focus. lowering the low bass (either with shelf or HPF) will make the bass sit nicer with the kick drum in the mix. alternatively you can cut the low bass on the kick and leave the BG full down there, depends on the song / the drum sound. i would say almost never boost the low bass frequencies on the bass, unless it's a specific type of music that calls for that and you have made room for it in the mix. and even then, you probably will get what you're after cutting high frequencies rather than boosting lows. LPF at 4k can do wonders if you're not after a really "modern" sound.

    you can also try, with the bass soloed, setting a band of EQ as narrow as it will go, boosting it as high as it will go, then sweeping the frequency until it sounds absolutely awful (it will all sound bad but some frequencies will sound REALLY BAD). when you find the worst sounding frequency, set the EQ to cut there by a few db and the whole thing should sound better. un-solo the bass and the whole mix should sound better. this trick can be used on anything and usually helps everything.

    don't even try a compressor unless you notice the level of the bass being sometimes too loud, sometimes too soft. you don't need compression if you don't have a dynamics issue to solve that can't be solved with fader automation. if you don't fully understand attack, release, ratio, and threshold--just using compression to use it because you're not satisfied with the tone... 9 times out of 10 you are going to make things sound worse. if you do have a problem with inconsistent dynamics, some "dummy" settings that will work on most bass tracks (impossible to know without hearing the source material): ratio 4:1, attack 10ms (longer for more note definition), release 250ms, threshold just low enough so it does nothing on the quiet parts and the loudest parts hit not more than 8db of gain reduction (none of those are hard and fast rules, just guidelines to start with for bass if you're unfamiliar with how compressors work). tweak the makeup gain so the overall volume of the track stays the same with the compressor in or out. see if the compressor has solved your dynamics problem, and tweak things if it hasn't.

    good luck and have fun!
    FDR Jones, Ludvig and Wasnex like this.
  13. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    The term for this is make up gain. Also if you apply multiband compression to an instrument you might actually want to compress the entire range of the instrument....the advantage of compressing different ranges is you can apply different attack, release, and ratio parameters. This allows you to maintain tonal balance but adjust the attack or way the notes speak.

    There are/were multi- or dual-band limiters made specifically for bass.

    EBS multicomp EBS MultiComp Studio Edition |

    Also Trace Elliot used to offer an SMX Dual Compressor pedal.

    Here's a link to the manual
    Here's a link to a review that mentions a few other dual band compressors: Trace Elliot SMX
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2019
    Ludvig likes this.
  14. Ludvig


    Jan 21, 2019

    Thanks for all the answers everyone! A lot to go through, and a lot of good advice.
  15. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Don't get me wrong...buying gear is cool too ;). Good luck and have fun! :thumbsup:
  16. Ludvig


    Jan 21, 2019
    I have been thinking about a WA Tonebeast. It´s suppose to be a API emulation i think, with a more "clinical" sounding, but deep, bottom.
    What I´m looking for is that deep "growl" underneath the warm "bloomy" sound. I use Avalon and More than this by Roxy Music often as reference tracks, and it´s always annoyingly obvious that my bass is lacking that wonderful depth that they have. It seems to give more headroom - the bass is glued to the floor and lies below the vocal and the snare instead of right behind them. Fleetwood Mac (Hold Me and Seven Wonders), Eagles (Try and love again) and Carly Simon (You´re so Vain) are other reference tracks I use, that has the bass tone I´m trying to aim for. (The sound missing in my bass is hard to describe in words but "growl" comes really close - a deep underlying raspy sound that "anchors" the bass to the very bottom of the room of the song. And above it streams warm non-boomy overtones. A bit like a choir with Barry White humming behind them.)

    I obviously have a lot to learn EQ-ing and compressing, but it seems to me, from reading on the internet, that the mic preamp is the main source for the "growl". Especially the Neve and API ones.
    Does the Tonebeast or the GAP achieve this, in your experience? I.e. does the bass reach deeper and seem to lie lower in the overall sound image when using Tonebeast or Gap?
  17. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    The examples you provide are not particularly deep sounding. I believe the growl you are describing is a combination of the right EQ contour and possibly a bit of transformer saturation/light distortion. Using a P-Bass strung with flats might help as well.

    If you're interested in an API bass channel strip I found's not cheap :rollno: but it seems to be able to produce the tone you want:

    Plenty of other videos are available.
    Wstrindade likes this.
  18. Ludvig


    Jan 21, 2019
    Really interesting. But I don´t think it has the output level of a mic pre. I would still have to use the preamps on my audio interface. The bass tone on the videos would be a dream for me though.
    For now I think I´ll try the flatwound tip, and continue to tweak the knobs on my EQ and compressor plugins.
  19. hbarcat

    hbarcat Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2006
    Rochelle, Illinois
    I never use an amp and speaker for studio recording.

    90% of the time I use a decent mic pre (I prefer tube pres but I have a bunch to choose from and none of them are very expensive) then into the board. All the tone shaping and processing is done in the DAW.

    10% of the time I have a specific bass tone I want so I use a bass pre that will give me that sound.

    -- Ampeg SVT bass DI
    -- Mesa Boogie bass DI
    -- Tech 21 SansAmp bass DI
    Wasnex likes this.
  20. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    You are correct the XLR is line level and the spec sheet says the max output is +27dBu.

    I suggest checking the specs for you audio interface for the max input levels. Often there is a mic/line switch which inserts a 30-40dB pad.