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Preamps: Kern vs. Alembic vs. Demeter vs. Aguilar vs. Ampeg

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by matt.larson@excite.com, Apr 25, 2002.

  1. matt.larson@excite.com

    matt.larson@excite.com Commercial User

    Jan 8, 2001
    Holladay, Utah
    Free-lance musician; I have a discounted pricing agreement with Gallien-Krueger.
    I live in an area where no store carries any of these, so before laying down a huge wad of cash, I'd like to hear what everyone thinks of these? I'd love to hear both positives and negatives about each. Strengths and weaknesses would be great too. Does anyone know where there might be audio samples of these?

    Also, are there any other high-quality preamps that I should be considering? I've heard that Epifani is coming out with one (probably pretty pricey though). Anybody heard it? Thanks in advance for your opinions.
  2. incubus2432


    Mar 21, 2002
    Grafton, Ohio
    I've got the Ampeg SVP-Pro preamp and love it. For the money (about $475) I felt it provided the best value. I owned one a few years ago and sold it (for some silly reason I'm sure) and have wanted that great tone ever since. I haven't compared it to the other brands because the Ampeg had the sound I wanted so why look around?
    It compliments my Rics' tone perfectly. I get a nice mellow overdriven sound then get a real nice "Lemmy-like" growl when I need it. The footswitchable eq comes in handy. When I want it (rarely :p ) a few tweaks of the knobs gets me a great clean (sterile) tone that comes in handy for delicate finger plucking (kind of an acoustic bass tone).
    It suits my needs great....for what you require, I don't know.
    Good Luck
  3. jokerjkny


    Jan 19, 2002
    NY / NJ / PHL
    oi, how many times have we've seen this post? hehe... ;)

    k, here's what i got from my research...

    Alembic F-1X's are akin to old Fender Bassman's and Dual Showman's of yore. creamy dreamy tone that's as rich as custard, but at the cost of very little midrange or control to speak of. Bgavin has said that its flat setting is treble:2, midrange:10, bass:2. not very promising for someone who needs a versatile EQ section for difficult rooms.

    Demeter VTBP-201s. classic james demeter design: clean, clear, and articulate voice all with that juicy, delicious tone people have come to love over the years. But, some say, the EQ is a little limited and might not have enough low end for some. also, dont expect an Ampeg like growl. this guy is clean cut and straight laced.

    Aguilar DB659. like an Ampeg on steriods. growly enough but with a tad more hifi edge. nice round full low end. classic Aguilar sound. but lots of guys say its NOT the cheaper version of its bigger bro, the DB680, and have gotten tired of its tone pretty quickly. yet, still a good middle of the road pre that gives you that Aggie tone.

    Kern IP-777. according to BP's review 2 yrs. back, like a cross between the Demeter's clean articulation, and Alembic's creamy dreaminess; a more versatile EQ for those who need it; and a DI tone to die for. too good to be true? maybe, cause Henry Kern pretty much burned many of his bridges when he bailed out on alot of his vendors and their backorders when he fell off the face of the earth for a few months. so, take his word and lead times with a grain of salt. but those with Kern's say he's been nothing but cool to deal with and his product easily stands the riguers of gigging. so, go figure...

    Epifani is coming out with the "Quest", and last that both Devilman and I heard was that it was headed off to the factory for final mass production tweaking. Nick says its based on the Alembic F-1X and that classic Fender Bassman tone. Word on the street is that Jim Bergantino might have one in the works as well. Only time will tell. along with this forum... ;)

    Good luck, and try them and make your own call. if there's a shop that honors an evaluation period, then go for it. a little lost in shipping is well worth the search for tone. And again, my observations are grossly exaggerated due to MHO, so anyone's welcome to correct and flame me. :)
  4. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    I think you pretty much summed it up, jokerjkny. Those are all fairly accurate, and realistic summaries of the pres. I mean, once you enter that level, it is not really a matter of quality, but of personal taste. It'd be great if some of these manufaturers could post an mp3 of, say, a Fender Jazz bass through one. Why a Fender Jazz? Because everyone knows what the sound like, for the most part. And, that would give a fairly good representation of the different characteristics.

    I wonder if Bass Central would sell more units if they posted a sound file of Beaver Felton, Dave LaRue, Grasshopper, or Gard playing the same bass through all of the preamps...

    I personally couldn't leave well enough alone (I'm currently on gear buying frenzy), and in addition to my DB750 that is paid for and on it's way (in the next 3-4 weeks:( ), I found a killer deal on an Alembic SF-2 Super Filter. :D That should be here on Wednesday in addition to my second Aguilar 1x12 cab. :cool:

    So, there is another option in the search for "the Tone." Some people use it as a stand alone preamp. I have never done that, so I can't tell you what the result is yet-- but, I'm sure I'll post a full report when it shows up.
  5. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Yeah, there's another you need to add to your list: EBS.
  6. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    I've not played through one, but I've heard good things. Is the EBS a tube head?

    I think one just popped up on bassgear.com for a decent price.
  7. LarryJ

    LarryJ banned

    Dec 12, 1999
    Encino, CA (LA)
    I've "A/B" 'd all of the above plus the Demeter
    H. This was under ideal conditions, with a range of the best speakers, and a tube compressor in the rack, and an "unbelievable" bass and .....
    anyway- THE CORRECT CHOICE IS......

    I can't decide!
  8. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    "Gotta Get 'Em All!"--It's not just for yer Poky-Mon collection, folks!
  9. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    The Fafner has a tube placed in the signal path between the preamp and power amp. It is as warm as any tube amp out there.

    The new HD350 has modeling capability. While it's not a true tube, it's as tube as the Sans Amp or any other units out there.
  10. jasonbraatz


    Oct 18, 2000
    Oakland, CA
    you forgot my favorite preamp -

    SWR Interstellar Overdrive

    pretty versatile, adjustable "drive" isn't just some cheesy distortion, instead it puts a variable amount of power to the REAL power tubes so you can get that super fat clean tone, sounds like the lovechild of SWR and Aguilar - it still retains the clean hi-finess while adding more real tube warmth.

    Listen to it played with a Warwick SSII
  11. Badenough


    Dec 30, 2000
    Oslo Norway
    Demeter VTBP-201s. classic james demeter design: clean, clear, and articulate voice all with that juicy, delicious tone people have come to love over the years. But, some say, the EQ is a little limited and might not have enough low end for some. also, dont expect an Ampeg like growl. this guy is clean cut and straight laced.

    Don't forget the Demeter HBP1 I ended up wit this one. Very flexible. It has a two band parametric EQ in addition to the basic Demeter controls. I sold my Alembic and I do not use my Aguilar much anymore. Get plenty of growl with this Demeter.
  12. Chuck M

    Chuck M Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    San Antonio, Texas
    I have tried or owned:

    Alembic F-2B, Alembic F-1X=Great tube tone. Very warm and big sounding. Wide EQ range with plenty of mid control IMO. The 2/10/2 settings are recommended by Alembic as being closest to flat.

    Aguilar DB659=Very nice sounding preamp. Warm, clear and nicely detailed tone.

    Trace Elliot V-Type=Big and warm sounding but lacks clarity and definition.

    Ampeg SVP-PRO=Fat Ampeg tone. Very wide EQ range but EQ is pretty noisy. DI was unusable due to noise. Lacks clarity and detail. Good sounding overdrive.

    SWR Grand Prix=Tone is very harsh in the lower mids and highs with the OEM tube. AN RCA 7025 or 12AX7 changes this preamp into a beautiful tone machine. Crystal clarity with sweet sounding highs and deep, clear lows. Great EQ. Very versatile preamp that I use for upright bass and electric bass.

    Demeter VTBP-201=Unmatched clarity and detail. Big and warm bottom and the best sounding detailed highs of all preamps I've tried. Plenty of EQ range because I almost never change it. Actually the EQ range is less than other preamps but the Demeter is voiced so beautifully that I run mine close to flat in most rooms with most basses. This is consistantly the most musical sounding preamp I've tried. I have the older 1 1/2 rack space Demeter.

    I use Stewart power amps and Eden 210 and 410 XLT cabinets.

    I've found the Eden tube preamps (I've owned several of the heads) to be less effected by the type of tube than most tube preamps. I assume that is true of the Navigator. The SWR seems to be most effected by tube types and the Demeter sounds great even with tubes that sound pretty bad in some other brands. However, I've found that tubes can really help me get the tone I want from my tube preamps. I have a pair each of the Demeter and Grand Prix preamps. One Demeter has Telefunken ECC83's in it and the other has RCA 7025's. One GP has a black plate RCA 12AX7 and the other has an RCA 7025.

    I've been scrounging hard to find tubes for a couple of years now and can supply some if you need help getting the tone you want.

    Preamps in order of my preference:

    1 1/2 rack space Demeter

    1 rack space Demeter

    Aguilar DB659 (I'll bet the 680 sounds better)

    SWR Grand Prix

    Alembic F-1X

    Ampeg SVP-PRO

    Trace Elliot V-Type

    Keep in mind that, in matters of tone, your ears are the final authority. We all hear things differently and produce different tone with the same equipment. So take all this with a healthy dose of YMMV.


  13. geshel

    geshel Supporting Member

    Oct 2, 2001
    *cough* :eek: You mean 2/10/2. :)
  14. My fav is the new Summit TD-100... no eq... just a pre/DI box... the sound is tight and the bottom is AMAZING... my rig is that a summit TLA-50 tube compressor, a hafler P4000 and on monday when I get it a EA VL210 :D
    the TD-100 isn't the most flexiible pre but... then again the eq on my lightwave is more than enough to give me "good sound"

    my 2 cents anyway

    -Prof X
  15. Chuck M

    Chuck M Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    San Antonio, Texas
    Thanks, Geshel! I've corrected my earlier post. Working my day job and gigs at night does not leave much time for sleep and this old brain........., well, it needs rest!

  16. matt.larson@excite.com

    matt.larson@excite.com Commercial User

    Jan 8, 2001
    Holladay, Utah
    Free-lance musician; I have a discounted pricing agreement with Gallien-Krueger.
    Hey guys,

    Thanks all for the suggestions/comments. To answer Josh's question, I live in Salt Lake City. After I wrote my post, I remembered that the Ampeg is sold at a couple of places here, so I can test that one out. There's also a place that can get the Alembic but he rarely if ever carries them, so I don't think I'll ever gt to try that one out. My only other option for the others are to maybe buy them all, and then send back the ones I don't choose. I'd kind of like to go the used route though, so that means I may have to buy without hearing them...Oh what's a bass player to do!

    Thanks again all, one more question perhaps. I've heard the brand/type of tube you use makes a big difference on the tone. What are some of your favorites and why? Also, where do you buy tubes? I may just start a new post about it but thought I'd ask here. Thanks again!
  17. Planet Boulder

    Planet Boulder Hey, this is a private residence...man

    Nov 10, 2001
    6,482 feet above sea level
    I once had impure thoughts. Oh, and I pluck my ear hair.
    See if you can find a used Fodera 2000 online somewhere. I got mine for a steal, but they are hard to find.

    It's a stompbox that gives you a sick Fodera sound and even features a seperate switch to cancel out the mids for slapping.

    I LOVE the thing!
  18. jokerjkny


    Jan 19, 2002
    NY / NJ / PHL
    hey all,

    just thought i'd chime in again, and its great to see lots of points that i missed.


    dont get me wrong, i love the Alembic. Nick Epifani uses one hooked up to a QSC power amp for guys to try his cabs, and it sounds pretty killer. for most guys, i'm sure the mid cut EQ wouldnt be a prob, but some guys want mucho amounts of mids for whatever reason. oh well...

    also, how could i forget about the Sansamp? The RBI or PSA-1. I always loved Robert Deleo's tone. my fav rock player by far. both are great for that rock overdrive saturation, and IMHO, prefer it over the SWR for overdriven rock stuff. but that's ever sooo slightly... ;)


    i dont wanna "color" your thoughts on these pre's, but i kinda some pre's doing certain styles better than others. i might get a couple flames, but its just MHO!!!

    the Aguilar seems to do the rock thing or Bootsy like funk very nicely. big, thick, and juicy like a nice porterhouse. the demeter's complex yet clear voice would be great for jazz. The Alembic richness for old skoo tones. Kern could sorta do whatever, but its more jazz to me.

    if you're more a rock guy anyways, i'd just hunt down a nice Sansamp PSA-1 or SWR Interstellar Overdrive. Rob Deleo, like i said, uses a PSA-1 and gets some monster tones. And tho he's more a jazz/funker, Marcus Miller uses an IOD, and he gets some sick sick overdriven tones.

    Tube wise,

    there are many choices. sensibly speaking, i like Sovtek's 12AX7LPS'. relatively cheap, and great sounding, but do look hard, cause they've been a little shoddy these days. Svetlana's are good steady brand as well. but in all honesty, with the pre's i mentioned, the tubes that are in them, are pretty nice, and are picked for their tone, so why mess with a good thing? i'd only very very carefully consider doing a swap, if it was bought used.
  19. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    I again assume that you left off the Eden Navigator because it's already Number One on your list, and you just want to see what oughtta be Number Two.
  20. jokerjkny


    Jan 19, 2002
    NY / NJ / PHL
    LOL! :D

    You can always count on the ever-so-laconic bunga-man to bring things back down around, upside down to a triple axle...

    but, to be honest, i've never tried it! yea, sounds heretical, but i figured since it already widely accepted for its kickbuttikus tone, i might as well try others. guess, i kinda took it for granted. oh wells...

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