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Unscientific Guess-the-Preamp Comparo: Demeter, Monique, Genz (with others later).

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by MarkA, Apr 11, 2015.

  1. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Hmm. I wonder if it has something to do with tracks being panned L/R vs. up the middle. The soloed bass tracks could also be louder since Garage Band normalizes on mixdown. I'll have to go back and listen again, myself.

    Just to be clear, when I refer to "the original 'A' track," above, I mean the one from the original comparison, weeks ago. Sorry if there was any confusion there.

    That aside, how'd you like this pre? Either on its own merits or relative to the others. If the latter, probably better to use the soloed, up-the-middle tracks as a basis for comparison.
  2. Hard to compare it to the others, but it does have the solidity and articulate tone with natural bass depth, harmonic richness, good sustain, and a minimum of electronic signature that I like. To be a 'functional' pre it would need to have some EQ capability. It is otherwise in the same family as Monique and the Demeters.
    Last edited: May 4, 2015
  3. That's freaking amazing. AstroSonic correctly identified 5 out of 5 preamps by listening to recordings. You must have a lot of critical listening experience.
    Last edited: May 20, 2015
  4. Chalk it up to good clean living, and bass playing. :)
  5. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Okay, been meaning to add to this for awhile. I feel bad not making a game of it again -- I'm labeling the tracks this time -- but I hope that you find it worthwhile anyway.

    Recorded these late-ish last night. Differences from last time -- everything is "flat" (controls at noon) on each pre except for the GAIN, where applicable, which I set by ear/feel, all filters disengaged (for better or worse). Different pickups (Reed James this time, EMGs last time) on the bass (but I included a direct-to-interface recording for reference). Same strings, though. ;) Some different tubes from last time (in description).

    Bass is still my trusty Fender Power Jazz Bass Special (a reverse P with the Jazz pickup, near as I can tell, halfway between 60s and 70s position). First bit of each clip is on the bridge pup, second is on both, favoring the bridge just enough that the harmonics start to speak a little more, last is on the neck (up about 95% -- didn't move it from blended position).

    There are a few other clips, recorded at different times, that I'll add to the pool soon, but here are these for now:

    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
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  6. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Notes from the description on Soundcloud:

    Sort of a continuation of round 1 of this, that I did several months ago. Some important differences: different pickups in the bass -- for round 1, my Fender Power Jazz Bass Special (a reverse-P/J) was loaded with old-school EMGs, now it is sporting a set of Reed James Vintage Vibe pickups and 500 K pots. Same strings are on it, though -- a set of Ken Smith Burners, in surprisingly decent shape, still.

    First round, the preamps, though recorded direct, were set more-or-less how they sounded best to me at apartment volume through my cab (a MAS-112 by Michael Arnopol). Here, they are all set "flat" (all knobs at noon), with any boosts, deep switches, etc., disengaged. This might not be entirely fair, for various reasons, but it is what it is. The one exception I allowed myself was in using the gain control with the various amps -- turned it up to where it was still clean with each amp, but I started to feel a bit of tube compression/bounce/character. This was a bit of a judgement call, as tiny changes in knob position could correspond to palpable changes in feel and tone, but is still much more fair and consistent, I think, than leaving the gain at noon, with whatever arbitrary levels that might correspond to on each amp. I will say that each amp goes into compression/overdrive in its own way and at different places.

    Last time I recorded the GBE 1200, I mixed the FET and tube channels, dialing in clean lows on the former and some grit on the latter. That can be great for some things, but doesn't really show the character of the tube channel. Recorded only the tube channel (flat) here.

    Tubes: The Zephyr is recorded with an old Hammond 12AX7 in V1 and a JJ 12 AU7 in the "cathode-follower" position (which Micah, its maker, says shouldn't affect feel or tone -- might try something else in there some day, anyway!). The Demeter is recorded with a Yugoslavian EI ECC83 in V1 ("These are prewar Yugoslavian tubes made on Telefunken tooling," says Micah) and a JAN/Phillips 12AT7 in V2. I tried the EI in the Zephyr -- which sounds a bit bigger but less even with it -- and the Hammond in the Demmie -- which sounds a bit more hi-fi with it, but feel they're better the other way around.

    The Walkabout is recorded with the Hammond in V1 and the EI in V2 -- best tube combo I've tried in that amp so far -- too bad I only have one of each!

    The Hammond put in a third appearance with the GBE.

    Monique is recorded with its stock tubes (two 6SL7 - Shuguang, I think, an Electroharmonix EZ81, and a 12 AX7) with the exception of the 12 AX7 -- I think there is a "new" (i.e. not real) Mullard in there -- a relatively cheap and nondescript tube except that it seemed to tighten/brighten up Monique just a bit when I was trying different 12 AX7s and EZ81s in there (never got around to the big tubes) some time back, which is what I was looking for.

    First bit of each clip is on the bridge pickup, second is on both, just barely favoring the bridge (just enough for the harmonics to clear up a bit), last is on the neck (same setting as when both pickups are up).
  7. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Posted the two clips in the below quote in the Arkham Zephyr Tube Bass Preamp thread a couple of weeks ago -- main difference here is that the pres are EQed a bit, with the Bass and Treble boost switches engaged on the Zephyr (which, I think, puts it a bit closer, voicing-wise, to the Demmie).

    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
  8. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    I got to spend time with one more preamp that merits inclusion with these others. A few months ago, JGR was kind enough to send me a prototype of his Super Box O' Tone and let me play around with it for a few weeks. I blabbed on about it in the Reiner Amplification Megathread and posted some knob-twiddling clips and recordings through different cabs.

    Here are two direct recordings with it from that thread. The first is on the neck pickup with no filters engaged (same Reed James pickups and strings -- though slightly fresher here, I suppose -- as in the above clips). The second is a sketch I made, with two tracks ("bass line" on the neck pickup, melody on both pickups), recorded with the treble and bass boosts on the BoT engaged.

    Both Micah at @Arkham Sound and @JGR have been cool to deal with, as have been Jule, James D., and Jeff Genzler when I've had occasion to correspond with them over the years. In the case of several of these amps, I can pick up the phone and talk to the person who made it, which is pretty cool.

    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
    JGR likes this.
  9. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Unfinished business from last time:

    Astrosonic declined a fabulous prize (but inspired me to do something nice for someone else).

    The "mystery pre" was a humble, little ART mini-pre type box from ADK (itself a pre-production model) from a decade ago that I had lying around in a box somewhere. It runs on 9V AC (not DC). Sounded pretty meh, until I replaced the generic 12AX7 with a 12AT7 (a JJ, I think), which made it better all around, to my ear. I did try some other, new production 12AX7s before that.

    That is all I have on anything tube-related at the moment.

    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
  10. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Correction: First Box O' Tone clip, above, starts with no filters engaged, then engages Gain, Bass, and Treble boosts, singly and in various combinations.
  11. I imagine that a lot of TB'ers are listening to the clips, and, like me, are a bit overwhelmed. The inclusion of the DTI (direct to interface) was very helpful. In theory, the best preamp would sound the most like it. OTOH, maybe a preamp could drive the cable and interface better than the passive pickups. Further, we are talking about an electric bass, and instrument composed of not only a bass guitar, but a preamp, power amp and speaker. So, alteration of the bass guitar's signal by the other parts of the instrument could legitimately improve the tone of the instrument.

    The DTI had a little upper mid - lower highs emphasis. It was very articulate, and surprisingly rich in harmonics. The Zephyr (flat) most closely matched the DTI. The GBE and Walkabout were close behind. The Walkabout had a richer bass, was a little more dynamic and articulate. The GBE subtracted a little bass fullness, dynamics, clarity, solidity and harmonics.

    The Monique, Demmie, EQ'ed BOT and EQ'ed Zephyr were as a group very similar. All added to the DTI in positive ways: more warmth (without causing softness or bloating), more articulation, improved dynamics, and more (apparent) harmonics. The added harmonics, to my ear, are present in the DTI - the preamps just brought them out. The improved harmonics seem to not be the result of added harmonic distortion - they can be heard in the DTI, and they seem not to soften or defocus the sound like harmonic distortion often does. I'm not saying that the tubes are not adding harmonic distortion. Just that it is not present in audible amounts. These preamps are clean, very clear and detailed.

    The inclusion of flat and EQ'ed Zephyr tracks demonstrated the importance of EQ. Flat, it sounded very good, but a full class lower than the Monique and Demmie. With a little EQ, it is world class, along with the Demmie, Monique, and BOT. Interesting that the Walkabout (flat) was, to my ear) very close to that world class group. It has me wondering how much of that tone gets through its solid state power amp.

    The GBE (flat) was quite an accurate (pre) amplifier, but as a musical instrument preamp was a distant 3rd. In as much as it was a tube pre, like the others, it is puzzling why if behaved differently. I wonder if it had a less than optimum tube, or if it is one of those tube pre's that is operated at a low voltage. I don't know.

    None of the pre's exhibited any HF edginess or harshness. There is a time for that (when it's a positive contribution to tone), but in clean clips, the sound should be, well... clean.

    Which to choose? IMO, the Demmie, Zephyr, Monique and BOT are VERY close in tone. Given the demonstrated importance of EQ flexibility, I would probably choose the most flexible, or at least the one having EQ that I was comfortable with. Interesting that the Zephyr most accurately reproduced the sound of the DTI (when set flat), and had world class tube tone when EQ'ed. This is one fine pre.

    The Walkabout is very close to the 'world class' group. A great alternative IF that tone largely gets through the ss power amp.

    A comparison of the 'world class' group to a high quality solid state preamp (or two) would be very informative. All set maximally flat (not just with filters off and EQ knobs set at 12 o'clock).

    Thanks for another great comparo! I know a lot of work went into it.
    ghorvers likes this.
  12. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    It often times does, of course. I didn't think it did in this case though, the DTI recording was by far my favorite this time.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2015
  13. RE: "It often does of course." Just came in from doing some astronomical observing (cold and tired), so I may not be at peak awareness... so I'm not sure which statement you are referring to.

    I like the sound of the DTI a lot. However, I felt the DTI, in comparison to the Monique or Demmie (and the EQ'd Zephyr), was less articulate, less dynamic and a little thin. Overall, it sounded 'smaller'. The best of these pre's made improvements without subtracting anything. IMO :) YMOV
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2015
  14. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    Edited for clarity. And yep, my mileage does vary a lot in this case. Interesting given how close our tastes were the first time around. [​IMG]
  15. I am afraid that I mixed a lot of value judgements in with my observations in post #71, so try and ignore that (if possible :)). I would be interested in your observations on the tone/sound quality of the various preamps.
  16. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    All good, and I PM'ed you my first off the cuff impressions. It'll take a fair amount of critical listening to do justice to Mark's effort in recording all this stuff though.
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  17. nutdog

    nutdog when I'm a good dog they sometimes throw me a bone Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2009
    in the dog house
    Holy Bat Ears, Batman!
  18. I did a second audition, this time through the hifi. Relative to the computer and headphones, the bass was more prominent, while the mids and highs were less so. Results were the same in a relative sense: 'A has more bass than B'. The DTI now sounded well balanced. However, the Monique, Demeter and (especially) the Walkabout have excessive (even bloated) bass. The Demeter, Monique and Walkabout were 'clicky' (upper mids emphasis). The Zephyr had a little extra bass, but not enough to sound soft or bloated. I continue to be puzzled by the GBE's relatively poor showing (IMO).

    Just using the hifi results, I prefer the Zephyr and BOT. These were the only 'world class' pre's in the group. The others were pretty much out of consideration.

    A more interesting point is... which is more accurate? The Computer/headphone results or the hifi results. And, won't a similar situation arise when different cabs are used? Ultimately it's the sound of the entire rig that counts. I do think that a pre that subtracts from the signal is problematic, as it's harder to restore whats not there.

    Again, thanks for all the work Mark.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2015
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  19. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2005
    Syracuse NY
    Endorsing artist: Dingwall Guitars
    I recently did some studio time and we had both an Avalon U5 and my Monique DI running. Side by side they were actually pretty close on a big set of Genelec studio monitors. There were some differences in the deep lows and the 'note envelope' but I don't believe that anyone considered the Mo to be bloated in the deep lows, even with me boosting it a bit.
    AstroSonic likes this.
  20. lo-freq

    lo-freq aka UFO

    Jan 19, 2003
    DFW, Texas
    I only read the 1st post (late to the party - as usual).
    A, B, & E sound fairly close through my inexpensive (but decent) earbuds, but I'll take a stab at them all.
    C & D sounded very nice to me with D being more my Cup-O-Tea.
    A - Demeter 201
    B - Genz GBE 1200
    C - Monique
    D - Sonic Farm 2DI4
    E - Dem HBP

    Now I'll look & see what's what from MarkA.

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