Neve isn’t always the answer
Yes, you read that right. Just because you have a Neve (vintage or new) doesn’t mean it’ll be the mic pre that’s suitable for your source. People have this misconception that a Neve will get your vocals or whatever source to be perfect but that’s not true. Here’s some knowledge that my friend Carlos Castro (instagram @watersoundpro , a 12 time Latin Grammy Award Nominated Producer) told me that really changed the way I select my mic pre. Also, have to thank him because my recordings just went up a notch and they sound better than ever, so thank you Carlos!
There’s few different categories of mic pre amps out there (in my opinion, and I know there’s some gear nut out there reading this that’ll tell me that I am wrong); transformer, transformer less, Solid State, and tube. We all know that they all sound different ranging from extremely clean, to colored. It’s extremely important that choosing a mic pre is very similar to mixing. When we listen to a song or break down a song, we quickly learn that “good” mixers use very contrasting flavors to bring out important parts and to blanket the supporting parts. Just like life, it’s all about balance. I believe people “lean” more toward Neve mic pre’s when they record because people today mostly use digital samples, or VST instruments that are not being run through transformers, or tubes. It’s kind of like having the both lead and rhythm guitar run through the exact efx such as reverb, and wondering why the lead guitar isn’t standing out. You can’t simply expect your recordings to sound as in depth or 3D (as many say) like Al Schmitt’s recordings. The reason why A list engineers use analogue gear when they record is for the sounds of the transformer, tubes, the solid states! When you combine them together, they all sound harmonious and start adding weight to your recordings. Just like contrasting tones, you need a very colored mic pre at the same time a transformer less mic pre that will pick up every nuance of your source.
So my set up at home (it’s very humble) consists of 2x BAE 1073MP, UA 6176, Dizengoff D4, 4x UAD Apollo Unison mic pre, UA 4-710d, and lastly ART Mic Pre II. I purposely chose these mic pres to be in my studio for few reasons. One, they all have different sounds from clean to colored, and two my favorite recording engineers all seem to have them! Now, second most important thing to choosing your mic pre is choosing the right microphone to your mic pre. First here’s the mics that I currently own. 2x Vanguard V13, Avantone BV-12, Audio Technica AT 4038, Beyerdynamic M160, 2x Shure SM57, Shure SM7b, Samson drum kit mic kit, KEL HM7U, KEL HM 3C, and Neumann TLM193. Every microphone has different EQ curves and how fast they react to sound source hitting them so it’s very important that you match your mic and your mic pre wisely. I know for a fact that when I cut vocals and I end up using my Vanguard V13 into my BAE 1073, they are both very smooth gear so I have to turn up about 3-5db of shelf EQ at about…. 4kHz and above. I typically use that on lead vocals that are purely acoustic tracks (no electronic instrument/samples) it sounds the most natural to me that way. But on the other hand, if I was to record a rap vocal per se, I would use my TLM193 into my UA 6176 or my BAE 1073. Now why the UA 6176? TLM193 is a transformer less microphone and in my opinion it’s extremely colorless and bright. When I run it into my 6176, it just tames the highs a bit in a pleasing way but not making it dull.. See the 6176 and BAE 1073 helps the vocal sit in different places in the mix. To be quite honest, I have easier time placing the 6176 to be more up front in the mix than trying to have the TLM193 recorded into BAE 1073 sound in your face. Maybe it’s the way I had the stems mixed out, I don’t know, there’s so many possibilities but it’s been working for me so I’m happy.
Not going to describe every single mic pre because that’ll take me years, but here’s some characteristics I realized few of my favorite mic pre’s tend to do the best:
NEVE type of mic pre
-add low mid
-great for trying to smooth out a source
-very warm but not too dark
API type of mic pre
-great for things that need help in the mid range
-doesn’t take up as much low end
Grace Design (CLEAN) type of mic pre
-Very clean (literally picks up the source as you hear it)
-picks up details very well
-picky with microphone choice
Take a look at the picture below. It has many mic preamps in categories from clean to colored.
I hope my blog post helps many out there, and I’m still learning everyday as I record more and more too!