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Console vs. Preamps

News

With the release of SSL's new SiX console, some debates about dedicated preamps vs consoles came up in our weekly show, PPA: Unfiltered. In this article, David and Jay duke it out and state their positions on the matter. More importantly, you'll find out why and can then apply these approaches to your recording setup.

David's Opinion

Q: Do you prefer multiple preamps or a console for tracking and why?

A: I very much prefer using a console for a few reasons. I started learning how to record on an analog console and I learned how to properly drive the preamps. The thing is though, it has to be a good one. When I say console, I don't mean the average IC-based preamps in a cheap mixer. I'm currently using my Yamaha PM-1000 with lots of headroom and transformer outputs.

Consoles are also multiple preamps running off of the same power supply. When everything is running on the same power rails and working in tandem together, it sounds more cohesive in a mix to me - especially for drums. That might just be my imagination, but I definitely hear a difference.

Of course, I do like rack preamps because it offers a different flavor. But I have my sound and my console plays a huge part in that.

Q: What are the pros and cons of your choice?

A: Pro: Everything on analog consoles is very linear (at least in terms of signal flow) and it makes ergonomic sense to me. I end up working better and faster when I have a console.

Another pro is the cost per preamp. When you buy more, you tend to spend less per channel. Of course, you will probably be spending more money in the end, but you get more for your money as well.

My last pro is aesthetics. When you think of a recording studio, do you think of a fancy control room with a huge console, or do you think of a bunch of rack preamps. I know this one is a little shallow, but it helps change the mindset of my clients. I always get lots of compliments on the board and people really take the process seriously.

Con: Consoles can be very expensive and tend to require lots of maintenance. It's not just the upfront cost of consoles, but the peripherals needed to use them. Thing like converters, cabling, patching and a desk tend to be common investments. They also eat up lots of space which can be a problem for home studios.

Jay's Opinion

Q: Do you prefer multiple preamps or a console for tracking and why?

A: I have always preferred using different mic preamps on each session. Whether it's a nice tube mic preamp for a vocal, or for some room mics, or an API style mic preamp for direct drums, or a Neve style preamp for guitar and drums, it's always nice to have different flavors to pick from. I find that I get the best results when I can mix and match. That said, I've been lucky enough to record on a lot of great consoles as well. I've done sessions on a lot of different boards, including SSL, Neve, Trident, Sony, MCI, Yamaha (PM1000 Baby) and more.

Depending on your music style, if you have a choice, it can make your session a lot easier if you can go to the board that best matches the music. I tend to like Neve style consoles for rock bands, where SSL consoles, with their clean, pristine sound, work awesome for pop music, rap, and so on. I always go back to the fact that there isn't a right answer here. It's whatever works for you, and the session you're working on. That may sound like a cop out, but I believe it's true. I also think you can make a great recording either way, but in my ideal world, I always have a nice buffet of preamps to dine on.

Q: What are the pros and cons of your choice?

A: If you go with a bunch of different preamps, it can make the session more complicated, and take longer to setup. I don't think there's a down side with regard to the sound of the session. It's just a matter of how quickly you can patch stuff together, and if that slow down sucks the life out of the musicians. If you're familiar with a studio, it tends not to be an issue.

Consensus

There is no right answer to these questions. We both had the opportunity to work with consoles and preamps in sessions. We found what works for us, so you can use this information to help you find your preference.

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