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TLA 5051 preamp

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by Sparkl, Jul 9, 2019.


  1. Sparkl

    Sparkl

    Apr 23, 2011
    Europe
    Hey guys!

    This thread is hopefully more a motivator for people than anything else.

    So my story is as follows:

    I am a professional bass player and I mostly gig around and occasionally teach upright and bass in music schools.

    2 years ago I finally found a hobby to replace my primary hobby which was playing bass before (you know, the kind of hobby to relieve from work stress). I found studio recording to be my happy heaven. I simply enjoy tweaking the knobs and producing something that sounds pleasant to my ears.

    Started mixing live gigs (brought my recording gear to the gig, took all channels and started mixing at home), recording stuff at my small studio, bought recording gear, bought logic pro, yamaha hs8 etc.

    Thing is, all of my mixes and especially recordings sounded really thin and muddy when I listened to them on other sound systems, especially the bigger ones.

    My biggest challenge was to separate drums and bass so that they both have weight and clarity. You know what I mean :)

    So I kind of got into a depressive state because everything I did with the plugins (pro logic stock ones) it didn't improve things much "weight-wise". I could alter characters, true, but for the love of god I couldn't do anything impressive to my ears by mixing my recordings recorded straight into my Focusrite 8i6 Scarlett. I went through countless tutorials on how to mix, how to do it, and it just didn't work. Started thinking my ears and understanding of studio business are severely lacking even though I tweaked every plugin in my Logic for hundreds of hours.

    Friends that I know, who are studio technicians, kept telling me that I should definitely invest into some studio preamps and other analog gear since they can and will do wonders if you record through them. I didn't really want to believe it since I thought hey, what they get through the preamp, I could simply get by tweaking digital EQs enough right?

    Boy was I wrong. I caught someone selling his TLA 5051 for mere 150eur (sub 200$?) and yes, while you might argue this isn't among the best preamps out there, oh boy oh boy - I recorded something for fun today, spent like 10 min on the mix, didn't even touch the digital EQs in my DAW and everything sounds like 100x better than anything I've ever mixed before and spent hundreds of hours on. It literally sounds good enough for me to happily send the mix to a quality master service, which was definitely something I was very hesitant to spend money on before.

    Like, how is this even possible? I am a believer again lol :D This little thing, this preamp literally saved my studio crisis I have had for the past few months.

    The downside of this is that I have just found another money sinkhole to waste my money into (instead of building a house or something). Oh well. What can I do :)

    What we could do in this thread though (if you bothered reading so far into this text lol) is maybe share what you think should be your idea of the critical list of components one should own if he/she wants to really get into learning to make professional mixes and recordings (we can exclude the mics since this is a a whole another debate, just the analog and digital equipment you deem necessary). What I mean by this is critical components needed to "eliminate" hardware as a potential culprit for someone giving up on studio mixing because his/her mixes never sounded right no matter what (getting a decent, solid raw recording material to start working with).
     
    And I likes this.
  2. And I

    And I Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    I have 6 channels of "good" preamps. Definitely the first thing one should upgrade when trying to upgrade their end-result. Next thing on my list would be proper monitors and acoustical treatment of your listening space. After that would be a few channels of good analog compression to use gently while tracking. But misused compression will kill a recording instantly, and it's very easy to misuse a compressor.

    So before this list even comes into play, one needs to upgrade their ears, their knowledge (theoretical, scientific, and practical), their experience, spend dozens/hundreds of hours under a great mentor, etc before trying to make "professional" anything. A pro can make a better recording on low-end gear than a hobbyist can make with high-end gear.

    I don't mean this to be discouraging to you, but the most important component to any "professional" recording and/or mix is the professional him or herself.
     
    Sparkl likes this.
  3. Sparkl

    Sparkl

    Apr 23, 2011
    Europe
    Absolutely. I fully agree with what you said, I am very aware of that (last paragraph of your quote). Thing is, with this preamp, even raw recording stands much better in the mix than anything I did before. I realize that i could make the mix kind of work by just using basic equipment but not to my personal standards of taste. i could get solid resolution of the mix but it always sounded too thin for my taste, when I tried adding warmth it usually failed. With this preamp I get way more warmth out of the raw recording and it stands much better in a mix already and I found myself adding like 1/3 of the plugins I used before and achieve better results, at least to my ears. Also, for some reason, my mixes now transfer much better from sound system to another. Even on a phone, which was my greatest enemy before.

    I also realize that the preamp might as well just mask or "correct" some things naturally, that I don't know how to correct myself so it might be doing me a favor. Anyhow, I am enjoying it a lot. I still don't get THE Hollywood production sound obviously, but hey, it is quite a few levels better than anything I had before. If not for else, it encouraged me to spend more money into analog gear.
     
    And I likes this.
  4. And I

    And I Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    No doubt, you picked the right place to upgrade to improve the quality of your recordings. I find things recorded with better preamp "take" eq better. There are lots of tricks to make less than perfect audio sound / work better but improving the quality of the source is the best upgrade! Enjoy the process, I'm glad you've have had some successes!
     
    Sparkl likes this.
  5. Sparkl

    Sparkl

    Apr 23, 2011
    Europe
    Thanks!

    Yes, this is the word - it takes Eq better. I found it the same too. That's a cool way of describing it :)
     
  6. S.F.Sorrow

    S.F.Sorrow

    Dec 6, 2014
    First of all: The fact that your mixes (presumably) sound great at your setup but thin/muddy elsewhere strongly suggest that you need to improve your monitoring. Perhaps you need better monitors? Better room acoustics? Room acoustics should NOT be underestimated! Your mixes will NEVER translate well if you do your mixing in an untreated room. If you're mixing at home and acoustic treatment isn't possible you should at least consider room correction software like Sonarworks Reference which is also available for headphones. Of course it would still not be advisable to rely solely on headphones for mixing but at least you will get a flatter response. Sonaworks Reference works surprisingly well but it's even better in combination with acoustic treatment IMO.

    The DI input on interfaces like the Scarlett is usually poor. A separate good quality DI will always be better. I expect you are using the DI input on the TL5051? That's definitely an improvement over the Scarlett but a high quality external DI would still be an improvement. The Radial JDV is a great choice for a clean allround DI but there are of course a lot more colorful options out there too.

    I personally think the Scarlett micpres (as opposed to the DI input) are decent so adding an external micpre would be more about color for me. Personally I prefer Neve-style preamps for bass. Or at least something dark'ish with transformers that I can push into fatness! I'm a big fan of vintage tube/transformer gear. Standard stuff like LA2A, 1176, Pultecs, etc. Anything that adds a bit of analog vibe to digital recordings.

    I'm not surprised that you like the TL5051. I think TL Audio is HIGHLY underrated, even the cheapest Ivory series. I think TL Audio suffered from being priced a LOT higher in the US than in Europe. Usually it's the other way around. If I remember correctly the Ivory units were around $1000 in the US. In Europe they were more like $400-500. As a result TLA was thrashed on the US-dominated forums like Gearslutz and got a completely undeserved reputation for being poor quality IMO.

    The 5051 has a really nice warm, if slightly veiled sounding preamp. I like it a lot for bass or bright instruments that I need to "soften" a bit. Great for taming harsh cymbals. It's not the best choice for maximum clarity and airy highs though. The slight lack of clarity is probably down to the tubes being run at a lower voltage than more expensive tube gear. They're not quite in the starved plate territory but they're close. The eq is decent but nothing special. The compressor however is surprisingly good!

    The only real problem with the Ivory series is that they have very limited headroom so they can be a bit fiddly to set up fast. They require a bit of careful tweaking to hit the sweetspot without distorting at peaks. I love them for recording my own projects when it doesn't matter if have to redo something because I accidentally drove the Ivory unit into distortion. But I would rather use something "safer" that's faster&easier to set up with a paying client in the studio.

    If you're planning on upgrading the 5051 you may not get the massive improvement you might hope for. You're already way into the area of diminishing returns. Personally I use TL ivory units side by side with Neve, API, Chandler, UA and lots of other high end stuff.

    And one last tip: If your TL5051 still has the stock Sovtek tubes REPLACE THEM! Those particular Sovtek tubes that TLA used are the worst sounding 12AX7s I've ever tested, BY FAR!!! In fact, these tubes may well have contributed to the poor reputation the Ivory series got at the time. ANY 12AX7 would be a massive upgrade on those Sovteks. And they're very easy to change, no bias adjustment required, just plug'n'play. But be aware that the chassis screws TLA used are poor quality and VERY easily stripped. I've never managed to open a TLA chassis without having to drill out 2-3 screws... but I'm sure it can be done if you're more careful than me.
     

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