May 2, 2013 - Mic Preamps
A lot of artists, musicians, and music engineers especially, love debating the merits of microphone preamps. There are thousands upon thousands of reviews, comparisons, and shootouts in print and all across the internet. And there are hundreds of different mic preamps that you can buy - ranging in cost from around $100 up to $3000 or $4000 or even more for a stereo pair.
What's all the fuss? Well getting a great signal from your microphone obviously is the impetus for so much time and energy spent discussing the subject. I myself often get calls from prospective clients asking, "what kind of preamps do you have?"
But do they really make that much of a difference to warrant all the attention that they get?
I say "no."
Once you are firmly in the world of pro preamps, it has been my experience that by and large, most preamps sound mostly 99% the same. Meaning that when I do hear a difference between two different preamps (which is certainly not always the case) that I'd say the difference between them is really miniscule - about a 1% difference. Occasionally you'll hear one that is noticeably darker or brighter or thinner or fatter or even "better" - but really not by all that much. Some preamps have other features that make them special - like maybe a lower noise floor or the ability to saturate the signal in a pleasant way. And yes, I'd rather have a preamp where the 1% difference that I hear leans more towards my tastes, but still I find all of the hoopla over preamps to be way overblown. Yes there are subtle differences, but not as much as many would have you believe.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Precisely because of this question about their relevance over the years, there are now resources out there that let you compare many different preamps right in your own home. My favorite is the 3d Pre CD by Lynn Fuston (http://www.3daudioinc.com/). It's an audio CD which compares recordings of the same source material through 34 different preamps. You gotta be pretty geeky to buy a CD like that - but yeah, I own it. You can also try the zenproaudio.com website, although the methods employed here are not nearly as scientific or exacting.