vocal preamp?

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by cptnhook, Sep 20, 2005.

  1. I'm considering getting a preamp to improve the tone of the vocals in a live mix. I'd like the vocals to be a little thicker and fatter. Any suggestions?

    I'm looking to spend as little $ as possible, we're on a pretty small budget.

    Mods, feel free to relocate if this is not the appopriate forum.

  2. el_Kabong


    Jul 11, 2005
    Have you got a compressor dedicated to the vocals? If you don't have much to spend you might find that you really can't hear the difference between the desk pre's and a cheap outboard pre, especially through a pa. If you don't have a vocal compressor I'd recommend acquiring one before worrying about preamps. It will 'fatten' the vocal and keep it more consistently up front in the mix. If your buget is tight the cheap behringers are ok, despite the flogging the brand cops here. You can get the 4 channel multicomp for very little money. They do a decent job as long as you don't ask too much from them. The auto attack/release is ok if you're not feeding it an entire mix and the sound is fine if you're only using it for a few db of gain reduction. Of course there's heaps of other brands too, just relating my experience.
  3. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Most people don't think about this, amazingly enough, but the simplest upgrade in a vocal chain is a new microphone. A compressor won't necessarily fatten up a sound, and depending on what board you're using, a mic pre might just overdrive the inputs. Some mic pre's are just that, more preamplification, with very little sound coloration, and often just result in distortion or feedback problems. Try a different microphone, most music stores have an array to try out through headphones. Singers don't like to spend money on a $200 microphone, but it's often the easiest and most significant change they could make, besides singing lessons ;)
  4. Thanks for the responses.

    I'm running an SM58 into a DBX 166 compressor into a MixWizard board. The whole mix goes through a maximizer on the way to the amp.

    Any other suggestions?

    Jabberwock, any suggestions on upgrading the mic?
  5. remo


    Jan 15, 2005
  6. el_Kabong


    Jul 11, 2005
    Is that the actual signal path, the sm58 hits the DBX before the board, ie the DBX isn't in a channel insert?

    I don't know that I'd describe it as 'fat' but the shure sm87a is a very clear and detailed live vocal mic. Hypercardioid too which is useful on a loud stage. If the vocalist is delivering the goods it will put them up front with a big sound. A fat sounding but not exactly cheap pre is the TL Audio 5051 Ivory 2 channel strip. It's got 6 valve stages, 4 band eq and compression, sounds great on live vocals and it is fat. Definitely worth a listen if it's within your budget.
  7. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    The AT2020 is probably the best cheap condensor going right now, and usable for much more than vocals--I believe it clocks in at ca. $200. This depends on what your budget is--one chinese-made $99 condensor sounds much like any other, with rare exception, and the market is flooded with so many models of discount condensor, I couldn't begin to list them all, much less try them out. If your vocals are going through an SM58 or 57 now, though, darn near any condensor will sound great to your ears. Make sure to get a pop filter with one, and make sure you have phantom power available to use.

    Most GC's will let you try a mic before you buy, and in this case I'd recommend dragging the vocalist you'll be recording primarily around to one to try mic's out, if not buy right then. Expirimentation is the key, and your ears are your guide, not your pocketbook (how smarmy does THAT sound? Still true IME, though)

    There aren't any hard-fast choices for vocal mics, ever, but you can't go wrong with Neumann, if you've got the bucks. I think their new "cheapie" line dials in at $1,495 or so, and well worth the investment, although nowhere near "budget" pricing for anything. If it were my studio, and I were budget-concious, I'd look at the Audio Technica cheapie line, Shure's KSM series, or CAD's offerings in the price range. They're good for the money.

    Just avoid brands that advertise the world in features and response for $99, they always sound thin and cheap in a mix. Don't let the extended high-end range fool you, they won't sound "fatter". Oktavia and Behringer, I'm looking at you...
  8. el_Kabong


    Jul 11, 2005
    AT2020 or KSM's for live vocals??? It'd had better be an awfully quiet stage or the bleed is going to be a major issue. I've never used one but I understand the neumann ksm105 is a wonderful sounding mic (I've got a tlm103, very nice mic too) but if you do some homework you'll find lots of reports of problems with excessive bleed on loud stages. The shure sm87a is also a condensor so you get that big open sound but it has a very tight pickup pattern that works on a noisy stage.

    I think you've actually got a decent live vocal setup (that's an A&H desk isn't it? I've got a GL2000, nothing wrong with the preamps in that). If you want to get an audible improvement I think that you've got to have a realistic budget in mind. If you get some cheap stuff then I think it will be money wasted.

    All imo of course.
  9. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Oops!! That's what I get for not reading closely enough. It was my understanding that we were talking a live recording, otherwise, yes, the mikes listed are entirely unsuitable, unless you're playing on a huge stage and using in-ear monitors.

    I actually liked Sennheiser's live condensor better than Neumann's, but that's only for my voice, not necessarily someone else's. I haven't tried Shure's 87a yet, but generally, a live condensor will buy you clarity, which may or may not result in "fatness." I know a few vocalists who use a dynamic's exaggerated proximity effect for a large, fat vocal sound, and that ability is compromised with a lot of condensors.

    For fattening live vocals, though, unless you're willing to shell out lots of dough on high-end preamps, or spending lots of time finding the --perfect-- compressor for your vocals, your best bet is to try and find a better mic (a career-long quest for some,) use some type of effect, i.e. delay, chorus, etc, or just try to modify your vocal tone itself, possibly with the help of a vocal coach. Like Kabong said, you'd be hard pressed to find a preamp that made a huge difference in quality over Allen and Heath's pre's without spending some money, IMO.

    EDIT: I'm not a huge fan of EQing anything unless ABSOLUTELY necessary, but you HAVE tried simply dialing in some low-mids on the vocals, right?
  10. hyperlitem

    hyperlitem Guest

    Jul 25, 2001
    Indianapolis, IN
    a vocal preamp is not something to cheap out on. The new line of focusrite stuff is great, they have a single channel pre for like $300 thats pretty nice and cheap. A new mic will also make a big difference, the rode nt-2a is a great cheaper vocal mic with switchable patterns so itll work really well for other stuff too.
  11. Thanks for the suggestions. Yes, our system is strictly for live use. The MixWizard is indeed an A&H Board, I believe the entry-level model.

    The EQ has certainly helped, but I havent been able to get the tonal coloration I'm looking for from the EQ. The best analogy I can think of is that the sound right now is slightly overly "solid state" sounding, and I'd like a little "tube warmth/fatness" - if that makes any sense.

    So would it be fair to say that given the board I have, it's probably better to leave good enough alone than getting a budget pre (e.g., presonus, joemeek, art, etc.)? We're only looking to spend a few hundred dollars, but if there's nothing to be had in that range that would be useful, I would be more inclined to hold off.

    Do they sell a 2U rack-space effect with a single, backlit button labeled "studio magic"? :cool:

    Yep, but I am definitely open to suggestions. I was under the impression that the parallel inserts were used more for effects (reverbs, etc.) and compressors are ideally run in series.

    But this raises another question: where is the best place to put the compressor? before the board, between the board and the amp, or in the parallel insert? I believe it might depend on the function of the compressor - I was not looking to use it as a limiter nor as a squish effect, but mainly to "even out" the vocals so that the quieter passages are audible and the louder passages are not overwhelming.

    Thanks everyone!
  12. el_Kabong


    Jul 11, 2005
    Channel inserts are in series, not parallel. Sounds like you're thinking of the direct outs, not the inserts? You're right, most of the time you want a compressor in series. (though there's some good sounds to be had running in parallel, squishing the signal hard and mixing some back in with the dry signal). You need an insert lead to get it going, trs at one end, two ts at the other(s). I'm surprised the threshold on the dbx goes low enough for you to get any gain reduction with the way you are currently configured? Anyway I'd definitely put the dbx in the vocal channel's insert and spend a bit of time experimenting with the compressor's config.