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Recording greif

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by ToddC, Apr 22, 2009.

  1. I was told this weekend that a bass with active elctronics cannot (does not) record as well as a bass with passive electronics. "They sound great live" but "They don't record well".

    Frankly I think its a crock of $%^&.

    Can anyone provide insight?

  2. Nick Kay

    Nick Kay

    Jul 26, 2007
    Toronto, Ontario
    I can provide tons of insight on the matter: it is indeed a crock of various sorts of fecal matter. Admittedly, some active basses might suck on tape, but an equal proportion of passive basses also suck on tape. Whether or not there's a preamp in the bass doesn't determine how good it's going to sound in the mix.

    Then again, you could just cite all of the session musicians in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville using souped-up Fender clones like Sadowskys, Valentis and Laklands. That should put an end to the matter. If someone still isn't convinced, you can point to the thousands-long catalogue of hit records cut with a Musicman Stingray.
  3. evergroove


    Apr 15, 2009
    Evergreen, CO
    The problem is more in the quality of the active electronics. As long as you have a GOOD active section I'd tell the engineer to get bent. If, however, it's a budget line-doesn't sound GREAT but sounds okay-active section then... well... give it a shot and see how it goes.

    Is he/she planning on tracking a DI and amp signal, just DI, just amp? What preamps are being used, etc? Every piece of that puzzle contributes to the sound.

    Then again, recording engineers shouldn't always stick to some sort of dogmatic view and be unwilling to try something for the sake of the client.

    Also consider this... how experienced is the recording engineer? Perhaps they know something you don't as far as the mix is concerned? That is one thing, as a recording guy myself, I am always trying to think about is how will this fit in at mix time?
  4. atheos


    Sep 28, 2008
    Tampere, Finland
    A good bass is a good bass, it has nothing to do whether it's active or not. Whoever said that has obviously recorded some POS cheap active bass (or just one with dead battery or faulty electronics) and decided that they're all bad.
  5. OK so let me be more specific. I wanted to use my Ibanez 506. The engineer wanted me to use the studios' fender P bass. My 506 did have some noise if the treble control was not touched. So I switched. But the Fender did the same on the tone control.

    BTW I do not have this problem with my 506 in my home studio. My Jazz bass does but not my 506.

    The engineer is quite experienced. He's a nice guy too. But if I hear a line that needs the B string then I want to use the B string. He doesn't like B strings either. ANd he want to control the bass sound. If I want more growl its not possible. He tells me to turn the controls to flat or full on. Regardless of the tune. argghhh....

    How do I communicate in a constructive way how wrong this is?
  6. What kind of music are you recording? If it's country, or blues, or whatever, then the engineer may be right. He's the one who needs to fit the bass in the mix, and even if the P doesn't sound better played, it might sound better in the over all mix.

    On the other hand, if you're playing rock, metal, punk, or one of dozens of other genres, or you're playing highly original music, then it should be up to what the tone is. Or rather, up to the band. It's your responsibility to use a tone that works with the other players in the band.
  7. teleharmonium


    Dec 2, 2003
    I happen to agree with whomever said that, except that I don't think active basses sound great live.

    Bass players tend to have very subjective views about the role and ideal sound of their instrument, just like guitarists and drummers. Good recording engineers tend to not have that problem. A big part of the learning process about recording involves understanding the importance of level matching when making comparisons; civilians and even many pro musicians usually don't do this, and so the active bass that has much higher output than a passive bass sounds "better" when they try one bass and then the other through the same amp. That seems like a fair comparison to a bass player, and it makes a certain amount of sense for live use considering that the bass player also controls his volume and is going to use the same amp either way, but it's largely a meaningless exercise, since we know that the louder sound always sounds "better" to most people. Match the perceived levels and then repeat the a-b comparison, and IME a good passive bass always wins. In the studio, the extra output from the active bass is not an advantage, there are many steps after the bass itself by which the bass volume will be controlled for the final mix.

    Active pickups are nothing more than passive pickups wired directly to compact, relatively cheap preamps and EQs. A good recording studio has higher quality preamps and EQs than what is in even the best active bass, because their equipment is not subject to power supply, space, weight, cost, and other design constraints that are major factors in an onboard system. So why not use the best pre and EQ that is available ? Cheap EQs tend to be especially nasty sounding.

    Sounds like you are onto something there.
  8. You make a good point, but, I feel the only rebutal needed is: Musicman Stingray.
  9. teleharmonium


    Dec 2, 2003
    Leaving your passive volume or tone knobs in any position other than full up means you are throwing away part of the signal. It's a bad idea for recording. If you want to be quieter or darker for some song or some section, no problem, just play quieter then, and communicate that goal to the engineer/producer if you don't hear that happening in the mix.

    The engineer will most likely achieve this with volume automation or EQ which will be set according to overall mix considerations rather than just abstract bass tone considerations which don't matter since nobody will be hearing the bass by itself, because it sounds better to use less gain in a preamp than to attenuate the signal from a passive pickup. The passive pickup is producing the best sounding and cleanest "gain" (it's not really gain, but it serves just as well for this comparison) that is possible in your signal chain. It's always better to go with the biggest possible passive source and the least amount of active amplification further down the chain because all electronic amplification on an analog signal of any kind adds noise. Using the bass controls is never going to work as well.

    Maybe you should just give the engineer the benefit of the doubt until you hear the results ?
  10. teleharmonium


    Dec 2, 2003
    I've heard some Stingrays that sounded good to me, and many others that didn't, but just to illustrate how subjective all this is, to me the checkmate rebuttal is: Hofner bass, in the hands of Family Man or Robbie Shakespeare.
  11. I have a Valenti J5 that has an Aguilar OBP-3 preamp that is not bypassable. I was told by 2 engineers that I work with regularly that this bass is perfect for recording. It has a great tone when set flat and sometimes I like to solo the bridge pickup and cut the treble while boosting the mids and that's a wonderful tone for a fat burpy fingerstyle tone, live or recorded. I even asked him if he ever wanted me to bring my Fender Jazz in to record and he said that he wants me to use my Valenti as much as I can, his words not mine.

    IMO, anyone who says that you need a passive Fender to sound good in the studio is a lazy person who hates his job. I can understand if the bass is noisy or if it has cheap electronics and can't be EQ'ed to sound good but come on, most guys who say this are used to the limited way of recording and either don't know what they're doing or are too lazy to do it. Active basses are no different than other basses if you know how to EQ the right tone.
  12. atheos


    Sep 28, 2008
    Tampere, Finland
    Not true. Besides, you're talking about hybrid electronics (passive PUs + active preamp) - active pickups are a different beast. They are like condenser microphones while passive PUs are dynamic, although the actual difference is not quite that dramatic. There are high quality active preamps but naturally you don't see them in cheap instruments. If the bass is a $500 ESP-LTD, the the preamp is going to suck and you're better without.

    As for the tech details, (high quality) active pickups generate less noise, have wider dynamic range and more transparent tone - which is why some people hate them and others love. They also often have a wiring that is safer for the player in case of amp failure etc. (although you can make one for passive, too).

    If you forget the cheap POS preamps, the active vs. passive is only a matter of opinion.
  13. teleharmonium


    Dec 2, 2003
    Exactly what part of that are you saying is not true ?

    How ?

    Well, kind of, because a condensor mic has an amplifier built in by necessity due to the relatively weak nature of the signal from the transducer itself. But the type of transducer itself in a condensor is fundamentally different than a dynamic mic; that is not the case in bass pickups. All of the transducers themselves in any magnetic pickup, are of the same basic type. Active vs passive refers only to electronics that may or may not follow in the signal chain.

    That makes no sense. Comparing passive to active in a recording environment (where the output is irrelevant) is essentially comparing cheap preamp to no preamp, and no preamp is objectively better because it means you are adding no noise.
  14. teleharmonium


    Dec 2, 2003
    This is a straw man argument driven to a dubious conclusion that ignores the above factual information. The guy didn't say you "need a passive Fender to sound good in the studio". Saying passive basses are preferable to active for recording does not necessarily imply that active can't sound good; only that passive will sound better, all other things being equal, for recording purposes. And preferring a particular Fender to a particular Ibanez doesn't mean the guy is a Fender nazi.

    If the guy cares enough to get that particular about the bass sound, he's not lazy. Lazy would be just taking whatever he gets from the player at his first try.

    Active basses are different than other basses because they have a different gain structure and they generally involve adding a cheap EQ to the signal. This is not an opinion; that's what it means to have an active bass. Gain structure is a big deal in the recording process, and a good engineer takes the matter seriously all the way back to the source in order to get the best results. He's probably got a Pultec style EQ sitting in a rack that kicks the ass of the one built into the best active bass in the world, and he also knows he is going to then run the bass into a compressor which you may not be monitoring when you are playing, but will make a big difference to the perceived relationship of lows-mids-highs in the bass and relative to the mix, which you are likewise not going to be aware of when you are tracking because it won't happen until later.

    In other words, by definition any active EQ you apply on the front end is an uninformed decision relative to the purpose of the music you are playing, using an inferior tool compared to what is sitting a few feet away and available for your use.
  15. id rather record ANY passive bass, but i have an extreme bias and id never be able to get an active bass to sit right in a mix. but thats just me.

    the point made about the bass pre vs studio pre is very valid. im sure when there are nice rack preamps sitting around, your bartolinis can just bugger off. ill take a squier P bass though a UA610 over an alembic any day.

    part of using an engineer is having to deal with their opinions, their bias, and their ego. i just laid my out.. and most engineers will do the same. i had an instructor once who said he didnt want to work on anything but an SSL 9000J, and all of the controls had to be set to their default positions, or he would not sit down. we all have quirks.

    as to dealing with him.. well if its you're band, then try to get the point across that its your tone, and you're paying HIM to put it down. you'll likely piss him off in the process.. but its like arguing with the police. you wont win, ultimately.

    if you were doing session work.. well then someone else is paying him, and that same person is paying you, so you might as well just do your part, get your check and take off.
  16. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    I've recorded a ton of music using an active Ibanez SR505, Lakland 55-01 & 55-02 and Tobias Deluxe in as many as 100 different studios from project to big name studios. Not once did any engineer ever tell me he could not do anything with the sound coming from any bass. I have never been told to use a 'studio' bass either! In addition, he's supposed to be recording you and your sound not telling you what you 'should' sound like or telling you what bass you 'should' play! I have way too much experience to have any engineer call my shots! What style of music do you play?

    And I don't want to hear anything about active basses not recording well. Try listening to some contemporary jazz or some urban gospel! I'm willing to bet that 99% are active basses. Maybe it's the genre.
  17. As an engineer I have never told a musician what he/she should do. I have given options. More often than not I ask if they are happy with their sound. That said I usually worked with a familiar team of players and in studios I was familair with.

    I've had to go through this same technology discussion with egnineers about engineering intsruments. "SSL boards suck" or "Neve is the best" or "nobody builds better warmer boards than Cadac" or the "MCI digital sounds better than the Sony 3024". And everyone has a viable technical reason. But nobody talks about music. They just talk about the tone or color of specific pieces of the sonic chain.

    Also I have strong reservations about whether the engineer "knows", when laying down rhythm tracks, how the bass will sound in the mix either. He/She has a better idea if there is a fixed arrangement and is the negineer for the whole recording. Horns? Strings? Choir male/female/mixed? OR they constantly do similar kinds of music with the same people in the same environment.

    I don't mean to say engineers don't know a good sound when they hear it. I'm just saying its a bit bullish to say engineers know what it will sound like in the mix. There is a sound that certain genres target. Some engineers will know this sound because they do it often enough and have sufficient cause to believe it will work "in the mix". Many recording projects won't have the same engineer mixing. Ha... that's a whole other story. Now the engineer mixing the project declares how lousy the recording was because of ya da ya da ya da. (usually some compression complaint (philosophy again)).

    So I guess my point is stop stopping and start encouraging. I guarantee the next big music thing won't be just like the last one.

    I guess this experience affected me more than I realized..... I need to work on temperance :>)
  18. seedokebass


    Mar 21, 2009
    I agree with the OP. I think some engineers are caught up in older techniques/styles, or the past in general. Not everyone plays a straight up Precision or Jazz. We can play below a low G on the E string... home/car audio can handle it!

    One of the very first quality recordings I did was with an Ibanez SR 810, all stock. Granted it was plugged into an Avalon U5 and blended with a miked cab, it still sounded great in a rough mix with minimal to zero EQ'ing.

    If what you have doesn't work, you can always go to GC and "rent" a nice bass for a few days!
  19. teleharmonium


    Dec 2, 2003
    Fair enough, there are all kinds of engineers including many crappy ones, but I'm observed similar behavior from musicians, not least around here. It's a lot easier to talk shop about gear than it is to put forth the work it takes to bring your own skills to the next level (not talking about anyone in particular). I'm not excusing those engineers, I'm saying that we're not any better as a class.

    I can relate, but it still sounds like a bass player centric point of view. The other side of it is that the engineer's comment probably came about due to his past experiences, which would put it at an equally subjective level to what you are saying here.

    From their perspective, too many musicians want themselves to be the loudest thing in the mix and to have their over the top effect laden fusion tone to be on the record regardless of style or whatever else might be more deserving of the listeners attention in the mix. Their job is to please the artist who is paying them and make a good sounding recording, and to be blunt, those goals are frequently at odds with what musicians on the date want for their own sounds, and this is not entirely unconnected to the fact that those guys are sidemen for somebody else's material and vision.

    Ultimately the entire recording process exists to serve the recorded song. If the bass player is arguing that the engineer should be taking his sound as is because it's his sound, and the engineer is arguing that he needs the best possible sound for the recording no matter how much the bass player loves his usual sound, it is at least arguable that the engineer has the better sense of priorities.

    There's no clear cut answer if you look at it as a territorial dispute, because clearly there is overlap. The bass player is producing a sound and the engineer/producer is capturing a version of it and will be subsequently modifying it to use it in a larger project which he is responsible for.

    There is no such thing as just using the bass sound as is in a recording without changing it. It just doesn't work that way; all recordings are different sounds compared to the sources.
  20. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    remember recording hears a lot things you don't. A lot of active basses are noisy, users tend to boost too much adding even more noise and mud. Also that hot signal emphasizes all the little string and fret noise you never notice on a live gig. Recording is about getting a great performance down with a clean solid signal the engineer can work with.

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