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Clean pure, high headroom preamps (that don't cost as much as a small car...)

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by alexclaber, Dec 14, 2005.

  1. alexclaber

    alexclaber Commercial User

    Jun 19, 2001
    Brighton, UK
    Director - Barefaced Ltd
    Finally starting to want a cleaner, flatter preamp than my SWR Grand Prix and am wondering what's out there?

    Key features:

    Very high headroom (enough to handle EMG pickups and OBP-3 on 18V)
    Minimal (or even no) EQ, with bypass switch
    XLR (preferably) or 1/4" out that can drive a PLX 3002 to full volume
    Second XLR out that won't be so hot it clips most desks
    Tough enough for gigging - this precludes external power supplies IMO

    The Avalon U5 looks a strong contender - downsides are possibly a lack of headroom, and the pops and clicks it produces when changing settings. The FMR RNP looks good on the headroom but less good on the durability front - and would near TRS-XLR adaptors. I'd rather avoid tubes.


  2. Jack


    Sep 6, 2003
    Newcastle, UK
    I cant think of anything that matches your list exactly (not really my thing, this hi-fi business.) But here are some to get you started.

    Sound Pressure Labs Gainstation. Thats a fantastic piece of gear, but its european so American availibilty/pricing may be a concern. Cons - blendable tubes (dont use it?)

    Id also be looking into the Toft Audio units, the Presonus Eureka, and the Mindprint Envoice. These all do have an extensive eq section, and really need a rack. Bear in mind this is just a quick list to help you out, so some of these might not have ALL of the features you need. (Thinking about the second XLR).

    I mean hey, if you want cheap, you have to compromise somewhere. These make a comprimise on some of the fetures, but they all sound FANTASTIC and are rugged. Maybe youre different, but sound and reliability matter above all else to me. You dont have to use the eq! :D

    Maybe the hi-fi experts can find exactly what you want.

  3. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota

    The Avalon U5 is real close to what you describe. If you want to spend a little more, the Millennia TD-1 looks killer.


    I', also kinda looking for a small preamp for myself. I have the new Focus SA power amp (4 pounds, 450 watts. 10"X6"X3") and Bergie HT112 that sound killer. I am currently using a PodXT but I don't know for sure yet. It's nice and all, but I may want just a small preamp that can go in the Focus bag for a really compact rig.

    I'll be following the thread...
  4. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    the u5 isnt a bad unit. my experience with it is that it isn't as clean sounding as an swr, but then again, few things are.

    talking about tone is kind of like fishing about spaghetti, the best thing to do is bring your preamp, poweramp, and cab(s) to wherever you can find other preamps and do some side-by-side comparisons. (bring your bass too). I've done this many times and it has helped me immesurably. there is really no other way to do it if you want to hear real differences for yourself. For the most part, the differences between preamps are subtle, and you need to use your own rig to hear what they are going to sound like for you.
  5. alexclaber

    alexclaber Commercial User

    Jun 19, 2001
    Brighton, UK
    Director - Barefaced Ltd
    Just to clarify, I've been experimenting with plugging my bass straight into my PLX 3002. It sounds great - very smooth, clear and fat, and really makes the SWR's colouration (though slight compared to most bass amps, especially since replacing the tube with a NOS 5751) obvious. I feel the SWR adds top end, stringyness to the mids, and slightly reduces(though possibly tightens up) the bottom. In comparison, the sound is cleaner (definitely less harmonic distortion), thicker yet less in your face, warmer and rounder yet clearer with the SWR bypassed.

    So why don't I just run my bass straight into the power amp? Because I can't quite get full volume, and if I bypass my onboard preamp (which I often do, so I can have switch my EQ on the fly) the EMG pickups (though active) have too high an output impedance and the level drops hugely. That does bring up the option of having the QSC modded for greater sensitivity, but that still leaves me pondering how to get a balanced XLR out for recording or running to PA system.


  6. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota

    I am going to try something similar with tonight. I have a Radial JDI that I'm gonna try. Go into the DI and take the 1/4" send to my Focus and the XLR to the PA. I liked the sound when I tired it at home.

    As far as a boost when you go passive, maybe something like the Radial Bassbone. That intrigues me as well.
  7. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
  8. pickles

    pickles Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2000
    Ventura, CA
    I just picked up a Demeter 201S and I'd say it might be a good fit for you. I was wondering if I could get the tubes to break up a little, so I plugged my active MTD into the passive input and cranked the gain ... it was still clean as a whistle. Great, pure tone and subtle but GOOD sounding EQ.

    I may have got a great deal, but it was under $400 USD used :eek:
  9. jacochops


    Jul 2, 2000
    Suzhou, China
    You've gotta try Brian Barrett's Tru-Voice preamp...sounds friggin' FANTASTIC, and only about 5 bills. As simple and straight forward as it gets!
  10. Speaking of flatness...

    For a while, I had a U5, a Read Purity, and an old Demeter 201 sitting here at the same time.

    A/B/C tested them thru a PLX and a new Eminence Delta equipped 210 cab.. My test bass was an exceptionally clear sounding JB-2 with a set of fully broken-in TI flats on it.

    The U5 and the 201 sounded distinctly flatter/cleaner to me than the Purity.

    Between the 201 and the U5....my impression was that the 201 was audibly cleaner, actually "squeaky clean". This surprised me, as my ears are'nt the greatest, and the Demeter has tubes (Telefunkens, in this case) in it.

    I still have the 201, the others are long gone. They were good, but this old 201 is a helluva preamp.
  11. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    i also put my 201 against the u5 and found the demeter to be a much "clearer" sounding preamp, but that's just me. YMMV
  12. eots


    Dec 18, 2004
    Morris, IL.
  13. You could run an XLR cable out of channel 2's input when in parallell mode. I don't know how "balanced" the signal would be but it would work.
  14. TaySte_2000


    Jun 23, 2001
    Manchester, UK
    Endorsing Artist: Mojohand, Subdecay, Overwater, Matamp
    Something like the new Bergantino Line Driver would do this I would have though.

    The Tru-Voice preamp looks like it would be another good choice although with the tube sticking out maybe not are durable as you need.

    Worth a look though
  15. The DI straight into the poweramp is about as uncoloured as you are gonna get I think, as long as that lets you get enough gain to the poweramp...
  16. Alembic FX-1.
  17. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    Lots of good options, really. I do like the Read Purity, but either of the Demeter preamps are also excellent choices. I find their tones to be different, but equally good. The Purity really sounds a lot better in EQ bypass mode, IME. Others to consider would be the Kern IP-777, the Alembic F-1X (though it can be a bit dark sounding, IME, compared to some of the others - as can the Kern), or ither Aguilar preamp (659 or 680; very different from each other, but I love them both). I like the U5, too, but I have not really explored the extent of its headroom, so I can't comment there just yet.

    But, I should point out that the True Voice might really hit the nail on the head. It has extremely good headroom. I mean headroom for days! That 6SN7 tube is known for lots of clean headroom (you won't get it to overdrive, BTW). I like the True Voice a lot, but I would note that it can sound very different depending on which tube you use, so if you get one, ask Brian to let you try multiple tubes so that you can find the one that you like. I found it to be a warm, full sounding preamp with good articulation, and definite "tube characteristics" (a little musical compression, a slight rounding of the lows, good midrange focus, etc.).

    Two contenders coming down the pike that will definitely be worth considering are the Bergantino line driver and Pete Skjolds preamps. I have a (very) prototype line driver, and it has tons of headroom, super clean signal, and the most extended frequency range I have heard. In fact, I didn't realize that some of my preamps were truncating both the low frequencies and the highs until I got the line driver. The production model will have a top notch DI as well. Pete Skjold is coming out with both a "table top" and a rackmount preamp based upon a 12SX7 tube (it is most similar to the 6SN7/6SL7, and also has gobs of headroom). I have Pete's rackmount prototype, and it will have some interesting (and very musical) tone controls, which will be bypassable.

    So, fortunately, you have a lot of options!

  18. jz0h4d


    Apr 26, 2005
    Funny so many people are mentioning the Demeter, as it has no flat posistion and a basic (Fender) tone stack. It is not at all flat sounding but is very musical.
    Thr RNP is a good unit although with no EQ and I haven't had any problems with durability.

    Big Daddy