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Thread: My first few hours with the DVD

  1. #11
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    Hi, Mike. As I said earlier, "R" was my pick that first night. The more I listen, the more I'm coming to really appreciate and love "E". I may purchase "E" one day just to live with it for a while. However, I think that first impressions are very important--they're the emotional reactions before the logical mind begins to take over--so I'd still say that "R" is my #1.

    I'm using the Cubase template provided on this site. I'm not doing too much "blind" listening. Usually, I can see the name of the preamp I'm listening to as I'm listening. That actually helps me. For instance, "U" appeals to me right off the bat, but knowing that it's "U" helps me discern that maybe there's some artificial "exciter" kind of action happening due to distortion at the top end. Does that make any sense?

    Once in a while I do listen blind. I'm happy to say that I'm totally consistent in disliking the one preamp in the bunch that I'd say sounds downright bad, whether listening blind or not. And I'm getting better at identifying the "Neve" sound. (The "transparent" sound has always been easy for me to hear.)

    Also by the way, I'd like to give a shout out to "G." I'd heard about it for years of course, but it's great to hear it in action. It's another favorite of mine, with its own sound, I think. It doesn't remind me of "V," even though I had thought that it was supposed to. To my mind, "G" is better.

    I'm really loving this experience. Hearing all the pre's without having to buy them is like eating candy all day long without gaining an ounce!

  2. #12
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    Lynn, my apologies for such a ridiculous question (regarding the eq) however I was up til 4am, but of course,
    using eq would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise.
    (i think i was thrown off by your comments about the "EQ'd preamp,"...but that was you refering to Confusionator's
    little experiment.)

    Confusionator, yeah wasn't sure if your "drop-dead-gorgeous" pick was the same as your "first impression" pick.

    ~ brainless at 4am
    Last edited by Mike Derrick; 04-04-2006 at 09:22 AM.

  3. #13
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    Default that gain knob

    Hey Lynn,

    More questions about the preamp DVD, (as I'm interested in learning more about what I'm listening to.)
    I've looked through all the documentation and watched the movies, but was still wondering about how you determined how much gain to use
    on each preamp? Where could I find that info?

    I would assume that each mic as well as each performer would yield enough changes in gain level that you would have to adjust each preamp
    for each performance?
    Which then makes me wonder, where you set each gain, for each performance, for each preamp?

    Was everything always pushed so that the loudest peak from the sound source was just under "peaking" levels?

    Is it not possible to get differences in character of sound from one mic preamp alone, simply by how much you crank the gain (or back off on it)?

    You indicate that each preamp was calibrated within +/-.1dB...wondering if you could explain that further, (since I assume that might be relevant to my question.)

    In the movie, I didn't notice anyone watching levels on any of the preamps while you were recording,...was someone?, or is that where the calibration comes in?

    ~ mike
    Last edited by Mike Derrick; 04-04-2006 at 10:47 AM.

  4. #14
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    Default Here you go.

    Interesting. I've covered it so thoroughly so many times in the past on the other projects that I probably just forgot to go into detail about it on this one.

    The calibration is, by far, the most time consuming part of the entire process. Here is the method.

    1) Pick a reference preamp to use for the first preamp on that instrument. This is done by experience or by experimentation. "I know Preamp _ always sounds great on guitar cabs, so let's use that first."

    2) Decide which mic(s) that we will be using. For the guitar cabinet example, we knew that we were going to use a 57 since it's a standard. I also agreed with Michael Wagener that doing a 121 would be a good idea, since we could set both, alignment time would not be increased too greatly and we could learn about how the preamp responded to a ribbon mic. Plus that's all MW uses on electric guitars. On other sources, we auditioned alternatives, like for kick drum, snare, drum overheads, vocal mic, bass cabinet mic, piano, and acoustic guitar. Pretty much everything else was decided by listening to mic options, so we were wide open to hearing what sounded best in the track.

    3) Once we decided on the mic, we would pick the positioning. Sometimes that's as easy as having the vocalist move closer or farther away from the mic. Sometimes, like with the gtr cab, it can be time consuming (watch the video).

    4) Then we have the performer play into the mic, along with the prerecorded tracks, and set the level for the preamp/mic/performer combination. This is done very conservatively with peaks usually no hotter than 2-3 dB away from 0 dBFS, in order to allow headroom for each performance.

    5) After deciding the reference level for the preamp, for example 40 dB of gain for the vocal preamp, then the performer was dismissed and the calibration began. 40 dB is off the top of my head, not the actual number from the session. The actual amount of gain may be more or less than the front panel marking, but this is a rough guideline, a starting point.

    6) We position a speaker in front of the mic roughly at the player's position. In the past, putting an Auratone a consistent six inches (example only) away from the vocal mic worked very well. It's not so easy when you have to position a speaker on a piano or near the drums. The important thing at this point is consistency of speaker placement, which would ideally be in a place that would not move, or being able to measure the speaker's position relative to the mic(s). The other challenge this time was to find a calibration level that was hot enough to offer fine resolution, but still not cook the speaker. We did cook at least one driver while calibrating the drum mics.

    You can see the calibration speaker positions in pictures of the singer (behind her), the piano (outside the body) and both electric guitar and bass cabinets, since the actual cabinets themselves served as the test tone sources.

    7) Once the speaker is positioned relative to the mic(s), then a test tone (1K) is run through the speaker and the level is measured at the output of the preamp(s). The measurement is provided by an Audio Precision test set. At this point, the actual output, say 18.7 dBFS for example, would be noted and used as the reference output level. Now we have the calibration level.

    8) At this point, the calibration of the preamps begins. Since we had 20 channels of the GML mixer that we were using for fine level adjustments, we could pre-calibrate for that many channels. For the singer (1 channel), that meant we could calibrate 20 preamps (20 divided by 1). For the drums, that meant only 5 preamps, since we needed 4 preamp channels (kick, snare, overheads left and right) for each performance (20/4 = 5).

    We used the GML mixer for fine tuning the output levels of the preamps since we wanted resolution no courser than .1 dB. Many preamps only offer gain in 5 dB steps, far too course for this test. So after setting each preamp at the nearest gain setting, the GML was the final adjustment for each and every preamp. The signal path to and from each preamp to the ADC was the same.

    9) After calibrating a group (20 channels) of preamps to the same output level, then the performer was brought back and each performance was recorded. This is the fast part, since we were able to go from Preamp A to Preamp B to Preamp C in just the amount of time that it took to switch the cabling to and from the back of each preamp to the corresponding inputs to the GML mixer. You can watch David Streit doing this on the MAKING THE SUMMIT video, at the Second Engineer Cam section.

    10) Once the performer is satisfactorily finished with that group of performances, then he/she is dismissed and we begin calibrating the next group (Step 8 again). This same procedure is followed until all the preamps are calibrated and all the performance recorded. For one performer, this could take as little as 3-4 hours for the vocalist or as much as 12 hours for the drummer.


    This is the calibration method we have established and used for the Pre CD Volumes 1 & 2, the Mic CD, and the Preamps in Paradise DVD-ROM. You can see more pictures of the procedure on this page.

    http://www.3daudioinc.com/3daudio_prelppix2.html

    I will gladly answer any further questions.

    [EDIT]

    Like this one I didn't address.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Derrick
    In the movie, I didn't notice anyone watching levels on any of the preamps while you were recording,...was someone?, or is that where the calibration comes in?
    The reason no one is watching the preamps is that many of them (most?) do not have level indicators. And once they are all calibrated to identical levels, then what the meter on the unit indicates is of no consequence. What you don't notice is Jerry McPherson writing down the digital peak levels from each performance, to see how similar/different they are and making sure that none of them is overloading the Cranesong HEDD ADC. If there is an audible or measured difference in level that anyone notices while we are recording, then we would pass on that preamp and go back and recal and do it again with the next group.
    Lynn Fuston
    3D Audio

    Making beautiful music SEEM easy since 1979.

  5. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Derrick
    Is it not possible to get differences in character of sound from one mic preamp alone, simply by how much you crank the gain (or back off on it)?
    The answer to this question is yes.

    Was it within the stated goal of this test to evaluate all 24 preamps at multiple "drive" levels on all these instruments? No.

    Some people have commented in the past that this test only shows how things will sound through a group of preamps driven at relatively conservative levels. That is very true.
    Lynn Fuston
    3D Audio

    Making beautiful music SEEM easy since 1979.

  6. #16
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    How conservative?

    I have used a Great River before, any idea of what notch you were operating at and for which sounds?
    That would give me a reference point for what kind of sound you were getting out of the River, as well as a reference point for how "conservative" you were running your gains.

    Were there significant differences between the preamps in the amount of headroom left from the gain level you chose compared to the amount each preamp had left to give before distorting? And do you have a rough idea of what the extremes might be (between most to give and least to give) and what preamps would be at those extremes?

    I realize that by using your calibration method it makes the comparisons "scientific."
    However, would you ever consider doing an "unscientific" comparison along side of a "scientific" comparison next time. so,... having audio files (like the DVD) which were calibrated, but also an extra session and extra files representing preamps driven to "just under" peaking/audible distortion.

    Of course I just doubled or tripled your work load,....(yikes!)
    but thought an unscientific comparison may give more of a "real world" comparison...(maybe not, just wondering, I suppose it depends on whether most engineers keep their preamps at conservative levels while recording or if they regularly push them to near max.)
    While listening to PreAmps in Paradise I was noticing how nicely some of the preamps "open up" with depth and sparkle as,...say the drummer hits the snare harder or drives the kick drum with a good thud

    ~ mike
    3D VIP

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Derrick
    How conservative?
    You can see the levels we printed. These days, leaving 1-4 dB of headroom instead of compressing/limiting and trying to push the digital record level up to .5 dB is what most people consider conservative.

    I still watch the analog meters on the console when setting levels. How old fashioned is that?

    I have the gain levels written down somewhere. They are not so low as you might think. They are the same levels I use when making records. But we weren't cranking the inputs and padding the outputs. That would've been unfair to those preamps that don't offer that option.
    Lynn Fuston
    3D Audio

    Making beautiful music SEEM easy since 1979.

  8. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Derrick
    Were there significant differences between the preamps in the amount of headroom left from the gain level you chose compared to the amount each preamp had left to give before distorting? And do you have a rough idea of what the extremes might be (between most to give and least to give) and what preamps would be at those extremes?
    You can find out how much headroom each unit has by looking at the specs and comparing. We did not make any attempt to measure it. We had our hands full with the task at hand.

    I have no answer for your second question.
    Lynn Fuston
    3D Audio

    Making beautiful music SEEM easy since 1979.

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3daudioinc
    You can see the levels we printed. These days, leaving 1-4 dB of headroom instead of compressing/limiting and trying to push the digital record level up to .5 dB is what most people consider conservative.

    I still watch the analog meters on the console when setting levels. How old fashioned is that?

    I have the gain levels written down somewhere. They are not so low as you might think. They are the same levels I use when making records. But we weren't cranking the inputs and padding the outputs. That would've been unfair to those preamps that don't offer that option.
    Lynn,

    thanks for explaining, I assumed that you would have probably set-up so that most preamps would be reasonably cranked.
    It was interesting hearing Grant describe his preamp gain stages, which just further made me wonder what level you ended up using.
    However the fact that you said the levels were the same as levels you would use for everyday recording satisfies my curiousity.
    That's as real world as it gets.
    Thanks again to you and all involved for all the time, energy, and technical dedication you put into the Preamp in Paradise.
    The more I learn, the more I realize what an undertaking it was.

    ~ mike
    3D VIP

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