Adventures In Audio with Audio Masterclass
The three microphone preamplifiers (one of them bad!) REVEALED!

The three microphone preamplifiers (one of them bad!) REVEALED!


Harking back to this article…


It's often thought that the selection of microphone preamplifier is crucial to getting a good recording. So here are three common preamps tested, with audio.

'Preamp anxiety'. So many people suffer from this that it is on the point of being listed as a medical condition. Do you have the right preamp, or is someone else having all the hit records because their preamp is better?

The debate could be endless, but a little audio might help shed some light. Here are four short audio clips (WAV format) of three preamps (there are two recordings of one of the preamps, with different settings) used on female speech. The microphone is a CAD GXL3000.

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That was all from the previous article. Now the new stuff…

The four preamps are…

  1. Yamaha AW1600 digital audio workstation internal preamp (low gain setting, normalized)
  2. Digidesign Mbox 2
  3. Yamaha AW1600 (correct gain setting)
  4. M-Audio DMP3

As I said, these are commonly found preamps, not esoteric, so perhaps we should not expect too much.

There are certain constants in the test, which was sent in to me by a Audio Masterclass visitor. The voice talent is a constant (and giving consistent performances), the microphone position is constant, the room is a constant, the background noise in the room is a constant and the microphone is a constant. All in all, everything is pretty typical of a home recording setup. We can see clearly therefore whether the choice of microphone preamplifier is going to make a significant difference.

Let's start with the shocker of the trio – the Yamaha AW1600.

Yamaha does know how to make preamps. In fact they know how to make audio equipment of all types used up to the highest levels in live sound and broadcasting.

So why did they get it so wrong?

But firstly, exactly what is wrong..?

Well, it's noisy. Simple as that. Curiously, it is less noisy when used on a low gain setting. When the gain is set to the correct value, the noise suddenly becomes stronger.

Of course, all microphone preamps will pick up more background noise when the gain is higher, but it will be in proportion to the level of the signal, so the signal-to-noise ratio should be maintained.

I find it difficult to believe that Yamaha made an error here, unless they were breaking in a junior designer. Perhaps they intentionally degraded the performance of the preamp so that their more expensive equipment seems better in comparison.

Oddly enough, I have heard great recordings made with the Yamaha AW1600 and its predecessors, using the internal preamps. Yes there is some preamp noise, but in the context of a mix it would be very unlikely for it to be noticeable.

Now for the Digidesign Mbox 2 and the M-Audio DMP3…

You may know already that Digidesign and M-Audio are both divisions of Avid, the video editing company.

Perhaps the design teams are different. Certainly the preamps are different.

To me, the DMP3 has a rather edgy quality. The Mbox 2 is smooth in comparison. But it might sound different to you – it's all very subjective.

So, let us know which one YOU think is the winner. And what do you think might be achieved if we compared it to a real high-end unit?

David Mellor



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David Mellor



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