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Do I need a more powerful preamp?

What makes the difference in a professional mix? Is it the equipment, or clever mixing techniques? Or is there more to it than that?


A question recently received from a Audio Masterclass visitor...

Hey David...

My name is Greg Stalling, and I am a producer from the Charlotte area.... My question is regarding sound

I have been chasing the “Industry Sound” for a long time. Though I am using the same mixing process as the major studios in my area, my  tracks lack the punch of Industry Tracks. I was told by one engineer that the mastering phase is what is missing. Another told me that most producers run their keyboards ador drum machines through powerful pre-amps.  While they both sound like logical assessments, neither is quite a clear reason. I also understand that software is not on the level of hardware yet, leading me to believe that I need a pre-amp. Just wanted a third professional view......

FREE EBOOK - Equipping Your Home Recording Studio

Equipping Your Home Recording Studio

Here is some of my equipment:

  • Sonar 4.
  • Yamaha Motif Rac
  • Velocity DXi for Drum Sound
  • EMU 0404 Sound Card
  • 24-Bit Environment

 Thanks a lot!

Greg Stalling
Boy Scouts of America

There is a common misconception that there are 'quick fixes' that will turn mediocre mixes into professional recordings. To give this a more accurate perspective, anyone who has just started out in recording could compare himself or herself to a house painter. Now compare a house painter with Rembrandt. People who mix for a living are in the Rembrandt class and get paid as much as $2000 a song.

From this it should be plain that there isn't one simple solution, nor even a combination of simple solutions. The mixing process is an artistic process and its success or failure is determined by an infinite complexity of interweaving factors.

There are some things that are for sure...

  • You can't make a good recording of bad playing.
  • You can't make a good mix from a poor recording.
  • You can't master a poor mix into perfection.

All three of these points have to be attended to, otherwise even a Rembrandt of mixing couldn't do a good job.

Looking at your equipment list, it may be a bit on the short side but there is nothing there that is limiting you. You will find Pro Tools easier to work with than Sonar. I can only repeat again that Pro Tools is seen everywhere in the professional industry. Sonar is hardly a blip on the radar.

A preamp will not help much unless you are recording vocals, and there is no such thing as a 'powerful preamp'. Most microphone preamps are perfectly adequate and capture an accurate sound from the mic. More expensive preamps are often used because they can add a subtle 'sheen' due to carefully controlled distortion. But many great records have been made with pretty ordinary equipment.

The reality is that what's missing for most people is the skill and artistry, not the equipment, nor clever techniques.

Skill and artistry is achieved by emulating the work of people you admire. And when you can do that, branch out and develop your own sound.

By David Mellor Tuesday June 28, 2005