Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dedicated Preamp or Directly into Your Soundcard?

I've gotten this question a couple times, so I figured it was time to throw some equipment at the problem.
Should you plug your mic directly into your soundcard (or mixer), or should you invest in a dedicated preamp?

The answer is "yes".



Let's take a listen!
For today's experiment, we're going to use my M-Audio Solaris because it's a decent budget condenser microphone, and it's become one of my favorite work horse microphones.

The two preamps we're going to compare it with are the Behringer T1953, which I've had for a while now...

...and, an ART Tube PAC, which I've only just recently acquired.

To keep everything as neutral as possible, I'm recording into my Firewire 410.

All recordings were done 6 inches from the mic's diaphragm, and have not been edited (unless noted) accept for compression to 320Kbps MP3 for streaming (initial recording were done @ 24/96).
The PAC was used low threshold with 3:1 compression.

Solaris direct to FW410 (very quiet):
Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

Solaris direct to FW410 Normalized (loud):
Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

Solaris with Behringer T1953 (loud):
Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

Solaris with Art Tube PAC (loud):
Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

OK, so what can we glean?
Well, none of these sound "bad" to me. I prefer the sound of the PAC, it's a little fuller than the direct to soundcard, but I still feel like that sounds like me, natural.
The T1953 sounds "hotter" or "louder" (odd as it doesn't have a compressor like the PAC), but it adds a slightly unnatural timbre or edge to my voice. It's a subtle texture that's not unpleasant, but I don't feel that's what I really sound like. Also the T1953 adds a bit more noise to the chain than the PAC.
The direct to soundcard is the cleanest of the group, but is also the plainest to me. It's not bad, just vanilla, and we all know that vanilla is the best "base" ice cream. I think this recording would probably be the easiest to EQ and mix in front of music on a commercial.

As with so much of what we do, if you're already working a mic you like with a good soundcard, then adding a preamp (especially ones like my budget preamps) isn't going to bring an earth shaking difference to your recordings. It can make editing easier however as it instantly brings up the level of your recordings, giving you a nice hot signal to work with, but it can also make editing harder if your preamp is noisy.

For us VO people, I can only recommend buying a dedicated Pre if you've compared a few, and you've picked one out that compliments your mic and soundcard in accentuating the qualities of your voice you MOST want people to hear.

And of course, everything in this article can be purchased through SOME AUDIO STORE, LOL!
someaudioguy some audio guy voice over recording auditions VO voice acting equipment kit gear microphone preamp soundcard digital audio interface


  1. I think you're post might be a bit misleading.

    It doesn't seem that you're going into your soundcard. You're going into an interface that goes directly into the firewire port giving a fairly clean signal. This isn't really what people ask about. They usually want to know if they can plug their mic into the soundcard, as in a soundblaster or some such and get professional results.

  2. This wasn't a specific question, but a general one I've gotten regarding a slew of products ranging from internal to external cards from many people.
    I'll say "Sound Card" is a global term to qualify all of them, though.

    "A sound card (also known as an audio card) is a computer expansion card that facilitates the input and output of audio signals to/from a computer under control of computer programs. Typical uses of sound cards include providing the audio component for multimedia applications such as music composition, editing video or audio, presentation/education, and entertainment (games). Many computers have sound capabilities built in, while others require additional expansion cards to provide for audio capability."

    You can call a pro sound card an audio interface, but I disagree on what connection method is used determining what you call it.
    Lynx and Delta's are "cards", and feature external add-on interfaces. The direct PCI connection will be just as clean as Firewire, and can outperform USB1.1 connections in terms of latency, sample and bit rate. What determines quality recordings is the quality of the A/D D/A converters, which gaming cards don't sport (at least good ones anyway).

    An M-Audio Audiophile is a PCI card that augments a computer's ability to play and record sound, hence a recording "Sound Card". The main difference between the Audiophile, and say a Firewire Solo is the connection used. The computer will rely on either the same way. Software will use either the same way. Where people get into problems is when they buy a gaming sound card expecting pro recording results, so you are definitely correct there.

    Aside from my headline being a bit general though, I think we can see that direct connection to any sound card (even an awesome interface like mine(LOL), with a decent +48v Neutrik/105SNR/66db gain) will STILL require processing of some sort to increase volume to an acceptable level.

    As always, the point here is to help alleviate some of the confusion in buying gear, so thanks for the comment!

  3. If you start the second one, wait till you say "ladder", start the next one and then the next in the same way you can listen to yourself read about biology in a round. "Row, Row, Row your boat!"

  4. Anon...

    That's quite possibly one of the funniest things I've read on my blog ... ever ...

    I'm going to go try it right now!