World's Best Tube Preamps?

Discussion in 'Preamps / Channel Strips' started by mark4man, Oct 28, 2004.

  1. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the reply Scott, good to have you here. You got great reviews in tape op.

    I was wondering if you could comment on some of the design challenges, hurdles, or reasons, that keep most tube based gear, particularly (non hybrid) at the higher end of the price spectrum, even with many of the designs their based on relatively well known vintage/classic topology? Or maybe comment on some things that are omitted or compromised in some of the entry or mid level tube offerings?

    This is in no way a complaint or anything negative, I’m just wondering about the reasoning behind it is. My guess would be QC, and the inherent danger of working w tube voltages, and pure labor?

    I’ve spent many hours tracking just about anything with the Manley dual mono, and found the summit tla-100 compressor to be just right for certain things that need some silky darkening. I’ve never heard a thin sounding tube unit, but beyond that, they seem to have a large range of sonic qualities.
     
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  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Well-Known Member

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    Welcome to RO! :)
     
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  3. Scott LaChapell

    Scott LaChapell Active Member

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    Thanks! And, great question...

    There are a lot of reasons why high-end tube gear is typically priced higher. The biggest reason stems from the low quantity production numbers. Pro Audio tube gear isn't made by the thousands. Boutique pro audio gear is sometimes not even made in the hundreds. Take the chassis for example; it's very expensive to design a metal box and have a reputable sheet metal shop fulfill orders of 50 units without the final unit price coming in 2 to 3 times higher than if the order was for 500 or 1000 units. Then that chassis heads to a paint booth... and a silk-screener all with their own set up fees for "small orders." Sourcing good tubes and pre-testing/burning them in takes a lot of time and usually generates reject tubes that end up in the trash. Then there's the time to hand assemble the units. Again, these are low quantity units so most of the work ends up being performed by hand (which I prefer) because of the minimum quantity issues mentioned above. Labor in these situations is much higher.

    Add to that the cosmetic touches that guys like me enjoy adding to the design like LED tipped toggle switches, large VU meters, CNC front panels milled from solid 5/8" stock... Those details add up. And, I would argue that they're necessary in order to stay competitive with some of the other beautiful gear out there. But in the end, we hope people would also notice a difference between driving a Mustang and a Porsche (no offense Mustang owners!!). If something looks like time went into the layout and feels expensive, it's a safe bet that the internal design received the same level of precision and scrutiny.

    Sorry for the book!
     
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  4. Davedog

    Davedog Well-Known Member

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    I have one of the last Manley DMMP's. One of the ones that goes from 40-60db of gain. It really does sound great on anything. Plus it's stoopid/simple.....You can add the Aspen Pittman tube pres to the boneyard. I also have a ViPre which I have yet to find ANYTHING that does what it does. Especially to a great vocal chain.

    I think there's a misconception to a lot of people about what a tube circuit can do besides providing distortion ala guitar amps being driven hard. Some of that misconception might have been continued with the advent of the 'starved tube' designs of which most had an actual distortion adding knob which had nothing to do with driving a tube into the type of distortion that is actually pleasant to the ear and musical in its content.
     
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  5. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    I played guitar for over ten years before using a tube mic pre, and was under this very misconception. I was shocked at how clean the Manley was.

    These days I assimilate the distortion of transformer based stuff with the way a tube guitar amp breaks up.

    I’m curious to try the retro 176 remake since I love the 1176 distortion characteristics on its own with all buttons out and no compression. Very much interested in how the tube circuitry affects that type of thing. I would guess bigger and smoother?
     
  6. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    That’s some interesting insight there. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on if tubes are more effective or important in certain pieces of gear like say a pre amp vs an eq or compressor?

    Also, are there places where there not effective like say in the old digitech RP-7 or something like the ART pre amp? Are designs like these ‘incomplete’ for lack of a better word, or are there designs or units (like stompboxes for example) where tubes are unnecessary or ineffective? In other words are there certain elements to a tube design that are required, to realize the full effect of what makes great tube based stuff so cool or magical?

    Again not looking to trash anything, more just to better understand the design philosophy behind nice tube based stuff. Thanks in advance for any insight.
     
  7. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Well-Known Member

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    Well said. While the sound is obviously the first priority, there is certainly the added attraction to something that feels solid, with an outward aesthetic that is appealing. If attention to detail is apparent on the outside, that's a pretty good indicator that attention to detail and quality is also on the inside.
    Slate Digital recently released a very transparent sounding preamp, as the front load to their Virtual Mic System. Reviews have been great for the most part - but every single review I've read mentions that the pre itself "feels cheap". The switches, even the weight, feels "inexpensive" to many of the users. Apparently, it's not an accurate indicator of the sound, as many reviews have been very favorable, and have mentioned how clean and transparent it is, and that the sound is definitely a 'pro'; but obviously, the overall feel of the device mattered - or at least mattered enough for the various reviewers to mention it as a "con".
    FWIW
    -d.
     
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  8. Davedog

    Davedog Well-Known Member

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    I agree that sometimes appearances can be deceiving. I don't find it too obvious however. I think the 'feel' of a product can, in most incidences, hint at it's internal quality. I'm a fan of the well designed front panel of a piece. There are lots of iconic designs from the past which are to this day, interesting and exciting to admire. I love the look of the Painton fader groups on the REDD consoles. It's like Buck Rogers controls on the rocket ship! And whether they were controlling the V72's or the REDD 47 mic amps they are obviously meant to do their job without fail.

    Some of the problems with mid-level gear is the money goes into the front and the box and not what's inside. Could be a great theory and idea for what is supposed to happen electronically, but won't ever achieve simply because of the cheap components housed internally. Marketing? Yep. The Avalon gear is a good example of an overreach on looks and stylistic design and a bit of a disappointment in performance.> My opinion only at this juncture.<

    And then you have pieces without a lot of fancy scrollwork or knobs with a basic screening of what and how much on the front and the sounds are sublime. John Hardy, the older Manley stuff, API, etc....Take away the iconic knobs on the Neve stuff and it's pretty bland......
     
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  9. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    I’ve never used a piece of gear that felt expensive, but wasn’t. Probably the closest experience to that I’ve had is the nice feeling faders on the digidesign command 8 control surface. Which imho felt better than any live mixer I’ve used, a trident 24 console, and a mackie d8b. The C-8 was a nice feeling control surface.

    Guitars are interesting from appearance point because they’re graded by the wood, which is graded by how straight the grain is. So that AAA maple top does means it’s visually appealing, but has nothing to do with the sound, all other things being equal. Guitars are one of the few things in audio where price or looks don’t necessarily correlate with the sound in all cases.
     
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  10. pcrecord

    pcrecord Quality recording seeker ! Well-Known Member

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    Great built brings confidence that's for sure..
    One I had that was deceiving was the DBX silver series. I had the combo preamp/comp for a few years (when I didn't know better)
    It was better than my mixer's preamp but not what it claimed to be... I later learned that the tubes was all looks. Everything sounded nazal on it. (good on guitars but bad on vocals)
    It felt well built, knobs case and meters, but I opened it a few times ; was all cheap built. (specially the push buttons).
    Far from the LA-610 design and sound that's for sure !!

    mic-pre-2.jpg
     
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  11. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

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  12. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    I almost bought one of those instead of an ART. The salesman said the Dbx was better. Years later at the studio I used a dbx unit and found the same nasal / over bright upper mids as you. Made me glad I didn’t spend the extra money.

    There seems to be a trend in gear with tubes in the power or amplifing stages that is where the magic lives. I’m trying to wrap my head around it from a technical standpoint.
     
  13. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

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    according to Coil Audio's website most tube mic pres are based on one of two different types, the first "a two-stage amplifier based on circuits used by Langevin, Collins, Gates, and Telefunken during the 1950s and 60s. It utilizes a unique Negative Feedback/Tone shaping circuit that allows the amp to be voiced from smooth, dark, and distant to very bright and forward" and the second being "a two stage circuit designed by Western Electric in 1913. Between the 1930s and 50s, RCA, Gates, Langevin, and Western Electric all utilized this elegant and simple single ended design."
     
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  14. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    Interesting Kurt!

    Here’s a couple pics from the cool audio site. First is the “two stage amplifier”, second is the “two stage circuit”. It’s amazing to me how few parts/components there seem to be. Very cool.


    80F5747E-98D1-4F96-AF34-98C0495EF5B3.png



    F840231E-DFB4-4641-95E0-D003844ADC92.png
     
  15. Davedog

    Davedog Well-Known Member

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    I tried to post a youtube video presentation with Aspen Pittman and his explanation of all things ViPre as well as tube preamps through digital media in general. It was unavailable apparently. However if you go to youtube and type in Aspen Pittman it will come up. It's very interesting. Anyone with greater computer skills that I have, which is most of you, can probably post this in the thread. A very useful thread indeed.
     
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  16. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Well-Known Member

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    Marco... are you saying that it had "tubes" that actually weren't? Or that weren't connected to the staging? Like it was just 3 glass components that lit up like tubes do, but didn't serve any purpose?
     
  17. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    Not sure if this is the one.

     
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  18. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    After watching these vids, it really makes a lot of gear out there seem pedestrian. It’s amazing how much time variance can be achieved with these things. I’m starting to understand where I need to go in the next phase of my audio journey. As lucky as I have been so far, I’ve yet to use gear on this level. 200 soldering points on the switch of the virpre. Lmao!!!

    I noticed the tree audio console has tubes in the PSU, does anyone know what purpose they serve?
     
  19. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

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    power amplification. solid state power supplies have transistors.
     
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  20. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

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    Cool thanks Kurt!

    Are there any potential advantages or disadvantages to this design? Sonically or technically?
     

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