- Aug 12, 2022
This is excellent and it is certainly the debate today that I hear a lot.I think we can consider some mic preamp like part of the sound processing.
The infortunate part is that I can't find measurements anywhere to describe this "sound" you're speaking about, fir the main reason I can't find any serious "preamp with sound" measurements at all.
I can measure my Millennia HV-3C, and it's pretty transparent, powerfull, and has a wide, flat, impedance forgiving, frequency spectrum (which I expect could translate in some "speed" or "attack" not being smoothen ir compressed.
I can also measure RME interfaces, luke the excellent 12Mic I'm happy to have now in my rack (now that's a 21st century preamp !).
But Neve and the likes, nada.
The only think I have is a Focusrite Liquid 4Pre, wjich is a pretty good, flat, transparent preamp + ADC that includes some impedance adaptation and convolution engine to emulate some of the most famous preamps.
And that's pretty much the point today:
Similarly to the DAC topic, where "audiophiles" are in awe about the soecial "sound" of some DACs... which, of course, measure as disasters, because that's the only way to make them different...
The whole point is: why not to have all those devices just do what they are supposed to do: a DAC, an ADC, a mic preamp, an amplifier,...
And recreate this sound much more easily with some VST or other software plugin in the DAW or on the streaming software. In a computer.
This is a very idea to the Kemper guitar head idea: everything, including the amp and speaker is made flat, and the effect -and that can be oretty complex- is recreated in the box, un software, with a proper convolution.
Or just like those "vintage film" effects you may add to your photo in post prod.
Isn't that a more sensible way to go in 2023 ?
There is a clear difference between audiophiles and professional engineers. I find a lot more "snake oil" in the audiophile world because you're dealing with people who don't have as much of a trained ear. Many of the DAC's measure poorly and people generally like the distortion that is added.
But it's different when we're talking about recording equipment and professional engineers who spend a lot of their lives finding what sounds better in what situations. We're not concerned with how a preamp measures. We're concerned with how it sounds to us and how it helps something fit into a mix. We experiment with "in-the-box" DSP plug-ins and compare them to analog processors. Spoiler alert; the analog stuff usually wins although the digital world just keeps getting better.
Your question of "why don't those devices just do what they're supposed to do?" is a great. But what we find is that the inconsistencies are the gold. I have run mixes through Pro Tools in the digital world and compared them to mixes that ran through an analog console. Nothing was changed except it was run through a console to get everything down into 2 channels. The mix in the console is pretty much always better and the difference is staggering. What causes that? The inconsistencies in the console. The capacitors that aren't quite working up to value. The fact that no two transformers are exactly the same. The distortion caused by taper faders. When these devices don't do exactly what they're supposed to, we get great results (sometimes we get bad results if it's too far off). The analog world is inconsistent but beautiful to the ear.
Now, this is the opposite of the hifi world where we are usually striving to recreate the music without coloring it.
My beef here is that the audiophile world and the professional engineer world is very different. Audiophiles are easy to fool. Pro Engineers are not. Pro Engineers have been working with phase, DSP, EQ and the like for many years. Pro Engineers don't just listen to music in their house or in their car. Pro Engineers are comparing microphones, preamps and all of the equipment they can get their hands on in many different situations. It's just a different level of experience.