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The $100 and under tube pre-amp shootout...

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by White_Knight, Apr 30, 2003.

  1. White_Knight


    Mar 19, 2000
    Hello everyone, I've got some questions.

    Ok, what I'm looking at are tube preamps that are $100 or less. What I want to do is basically warm up my tone a little bit, and also have the option to add a -little- bit of drive occasionally as needed. In general though, I want a clean tone with just some added warmth - no distortion. Also, I'm looking for a preamp that I can plug my bass straight into so that I can run it before my Behringer PEQ-2200 (as I don't think the inputs on the Behringer were made for a straight up instrument level signal - though it does sound surprisingly good); but on the same hand, it would be nice if the unit can also handle the line level output of my effects loops on my amps. Also, if any of you have read my gear posts before, I'm a stickler for equipment that is dead quiet. I've been told that once you introduce a tube into the equation that your noise floor rises though. Is this true? And if so, just how much noiser is it than a solid state preamp? And finally, sometime in the future I might also at times run a microphone off of this preamp to mic up my rig.

    So, here's the ones I'm considering...(let me know if there are any other good ones that I'm missing)...
    Presonus TubePre
    ART Tube MP / Tube MP Studio / Tube MP OPL
    dbx MiniPre

    Does anyone have experience with these products with regards to using them as a bass preamp? I've searched for reviews of them here on TB as well as elsewhere and there doesn't seem to be any consistancy to the reviews - for example, some people say that the ART Tube MP's are great and really fatten the sound up, while others will say they sound really distorted and are noisy. Granted, some of this will definitely have to do with people's opinions, but what's the overall word on the street?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. vanselus


    Sep 20, 2000
    Boulder, CO
    My friend has been trying to find a mic pre that gives a little extra for recording - so I tried what he's bought for bass too... the first thing was a behringer 2 rack space thing that was trying to look like the Avalon - but it sucked ass. Didn't do much of anything to the sound, cept make it worse that direct. Now he's trying the presonus, but really, it seems like a glorified effects box. You can get some fuzz on the tone, but it doesn't seem to have much room for "warm" between "clean" and "distorted". I didn't play with it for long though.

    In my experience, you're better off going with an outboard preamp like the Aguilar DB924 or the Sadowsky than some tube thing - unless you're spending the money to get something that actually works. A $100 solid state pre is going to be nicer than a $100 tube pre every time... IMHO of course :D
  3. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    The ART I have heard, the others I have not. I found it to be sort of like a cartoon of "the tube sound".

    A good tube preamp and a good solid state preamp really should sound alike, you know.

    But since people think "tubes = warmth", just starve the power supply voltage so the tube clips just a bit (adds extra harmonic content for "sheen") and then roll off the highs a bit (less treble = "warmer" you know) and voila, boy doesn't that thing sound like a tube preamp or what :rolleyes:

    Since these things mostly use wall warts there is a potential for them to be a bit noisier than units with more sophisticated power supplies...the fiiltering of the supply to the filaments is what's important in keeping noise low in tube circuits.

    Since mike pres are not intended to be used as fuzz boxes, to get distortion you must keep your bass output cranked up and drive the preamp gain up until you're "in the red". Don't expect the complexity of an overdriven SVT, though or much control since you have little or no EQ.
  4. vanselus


    Sep 20, 2000
    Boulder, CO
    I agree totally - although the presonus was giving significant distortion when only 1/2 way up (I was playing a sadowsky in passive mode)
  5. White_Knight


    Mar 19, 2000
    Wow! Thanks for the info guys. Yeah...bascially I'm just trying to figure out if a preamp under $100 is even worth the money. I guess maybe I just outta wait until I can get a nice rackmount unit or something sometime in the future. Keep the opinions coming though.
  6. 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.
    White Knight: I just ordered a used Ampeg B1 preamp for $150.00, so there are plenty out there to be had if you are willing to go used.

    In fact, go to somewhere like www.musicgoround.com and search for "preamp". i know the store in NC has an old ADA MB-1 for $179.00 and it's a solid pre from my understanding.

    Of course, there's always ye old ebay route. Either way, I recommend going used if you're looking to keep costs down (like I always am).

    Of course, it you want a new amp, I'll sell you my Trace Elliot AH600* for CHEAP! ;)

    *Coming soon to the Classifieds page.
  7. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    OK, so here is some different input. I've got both a Sadowsky outboard and the ART Tube MP. The Sadowsky has got minimal to marginal balls, but does have tone controls. The ART is practically the Swiss Army Knife of input modification. My experience is that it allows almost any bass to sound great. However, it has no tone controls. As for distortion, whoever claimed that maybe didn't set it properly. It is necessary to set the input gain just shy of clipping and then adjust the output level based on the headspace of the main amplifier input. I've used this with passive J's, bartolini soap bars, and StingRay pup's. All great. I have used these with a Walter Woods and and an Acoustic 360 with great results. My rack has a Tube Channel going into an Alembic F1X. That works great as well and is extremely flexible.

    The small ART's with the Wall Wart do cause hum in some situations, especially with ground loops with some lighting and PA setup's. The Channel has a grounded chassis and does not seem to be an issue.

    I will also say that I replaced the 12AX7 with a 5751. These have a little lower output, but are significantly less noisy.

    - pt
  8. patrickj


    Aug 13, 2001
    Ellicott City, MD
    Endorsing: Spector Bass Guitars
    Behringer pre-amps are pretty nice.. good on the $ too.
  9. White_Knight


    Mar 19, 2000
    Hmm...hadn't really thought about changing the tube out. I suppose the original tubes in these probably aren't the best quality to begin with?

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Keep them coming. Actually, I am kinda thinking along the used market - I've always liked Ampeg's preamps but I've never been able to afford them. Maybe I'll go see what I can find. And hey, I'll bet used ART's are dirt cheap as well.

    Thanks again for the info people.
  10. Turock

    Turock Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2000
    I think the ART Tube MP souds good for bass, and I agree with bucephylus that it is a "Swiss Army Knife".
  11. jondog


    Mar 14, 2002
    NYC metro area
    Yeah, used is the way to go if you want to get under $100.

    I use a Tubeworks Blue Tube that I got for $90. Any of the BK Butler designs from Tubeworks or Chandler are FAT. I run the drive on 3, anywhere past 5 is too much distortion for me.
  12. smarvelous


    Jun 2, 2002
    Albany, CA
    Another option: Peavey TG or TB Maxx, for guitar and bass, though I am told they are identical. They use two 12AX7's. I've played through a TG and it sound pretty good, though I bet it could be improved with new/better tubes. The low/mid/treble controls are very useful for tone shaping bass. It is built well with a built in powersupply (no wall wart)

    You can pick up one on ebay for $100, I bet.

    Here's the manual:

    <a href=http://www.peavey.com/media/pdf/manuals/80301117.pdf>http://www.peavey.com/media/pdf/manuals/80301117.pdf</a>
  13. jokerjkny


    Jan 19, 2002
    NY / NJ / PHL
  14. corinpills


    Nov 19, 2000
    Boston, MA
    The idea of running your bass through a dinky 12AX7 tube to give it warmth is a bit of a red herring. I can kind of see getting some overdrive that way since they're essentially pre-amp tubes, but a lot of the warmth associated with tube amps is from the output stage. For $100, you're just going to get some BS aproximation of a tube tone. Might as well just get any old stomp box that sounds good on bass.
  15. For sure a cheap pre-amp isn't going to give you the beefed up sound of a vintage ampeg or even sound as good as an amp simulator that purports to replicate that sound, however the preamps will boost your signal and allow the natural sound of your bass to come through. I personally think DIing out of the amp is a better route.

    I've used the ART MP and currently use the Presonus Blue Tube and "coloration" is about the same on both, pretty indistinct and certainly not enough to be described as character. The distortion capability of either of these pres is pretty limited, 12AX just don't crunch more like a crinkle.

    That said, I like the BlueTube better than the ART overall for bass and vox, think i paid 130
  16. fender58

    fender58 Guest

    Sep 8, 2000
    Southern California
    Well I ended up geting the Art Tube MP on E Bay for $54 before the S&H etc. Got it from a E bay store @ Isaac@HollywoodProAudio.com
    Nice guy-he even called me to make sure all was well with order. I really just wanted a DI in case the Ashdown went down in a gig but I guess I can use this for other things. I hope I am happy. Can I use it to take the signal frm a record player and input it into a IMac to record vinal onto CD's? Perhaps I should start a post about this....hmmm...
  17. White_Knight


    Mar 19, 2000
    Well, after hearing what you people had to say and reading some more reviews, I'm think I'm gonna shelf the idea for now. I figure I'll just keep playing for awhile and save some money and maybe at some point get something along the lines of an Ampeg or SWR (Grand Prix if I can find one at that time - they seem to be getting more and more scarce now that they are out of production). Thanks all!

    This is kinda off topic of my post, but in response to jokerjkny - I'm not into compression very much. Just don't like what it does to my sound, but in saying that I've also never used an extremely high end compressor, so maybe things would be different then. Regardless though, that's why I didn't add the Levelar to the list at the beginning. Who knows though? Perhaps I can demo one someday.
  18. Mattski


    Jan 6, 2003
    Cleveland, OH
    Another vote for the Levelar (as a compressor, not a pre-amp). They are cheap on the bay. I bought a second one as a back-up. Smooth, transparent, silent ( I have not had a humming issue. The Wall wart is 9VAC vs DC which may not have anything to do with anything) and great for bass. Did I mention cheap?

    For an inexpensive pre, I vote along the lines of a Aguilar db924, a Sadowski, or my favorite, a sans amp BDDI.
  19. this here is probably the single most important element when considering tube unit be it a preamp or what. Manufacturers like Eden and SWR like to flaunt their "tube-driven" rigs but in fact feed those bottles a very meagher voltage indeed. this will give you a more "compressed" tone prone to break-up. Some think that sound to be the bee's knee's but once you hear a tube properlly fed with substantially more plate voltage the differences are very obvious. the classic Fender design of the F-1X is a great example of why you don't neccasarily need five tubes in your preamp for a fat sound. Their is only one in the Alembic, driven by a 300v plate voltage for a very wide open sound and loads of "tube warmth." I actually like the Ampeg SVTIII Pro for it's "tube gain" knob that allows you to toggle from a fuzzier, compressed tone up to a higher-voltage, wider tone; I think that is a very cool feature.
    I really think the ART to have a very high plate voltage? I read that _somewhere_ but can't find anything about it. A better power supply from your local electronics parts supply store is a quick and easy solution for any noise troubles.

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