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Is it the Preamps or the Converters?
Old 29th September 2022
  #1
Here for the gear
 
Is it the Preamps or the Converters?

Hello!

I know this is a newbie question, which is why I'm posting in this section of the forum. Hopefully, some NON-newbies can provide some insight.

My question is this:

When listening back to a recorded track...how do you know what aspect of the final sound is a result of the preamps, and what aspect of the sound is a result of the converters??

I frequently see people on the forum talking about audio interfaces, using statements such as, "I love the sound of the preamps, but I don't like the sound of the converters." How does the person actually know? I've tried to understand this, but it's got me scratching my head.

To put this in practical terms...

Let's say that I plug a microphone into my audio interface, record a few moments of something into Logic, and then listen back with my headphones plugged into the headphone output of my interface. Then let's say that I don't actually like the sound I'm hearing back (maybe it's kind of muddy sounding). How do I know if that muddiness is a product of the preamps...or the converters...or my headphones...or even the mic that I originally recorded with?

I apologize if this is a silly question. Like I said, I read comments all the time on this forum where people seem to distinguish between the sound of the preamps vs. the sound of the converters. I can't wrap my head around how they're making the distinction. Thanks for any clarification!
Old 29th September 2022
  #2
Lives for gear
 
Korcraft's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flanyc ➡️
Hello!

I know this is a newbie question, which is why I'm posting in this section of the forum. Hopefully, some NON-newbies can provide some insight.

My question is this:

When listening back to a recorded track...how do you know what aspect of the final sound is a result of the preamps, and what aspect of the sound is a result of the converters??

I frequently see people on the forum talking about audio interfaces, using statements such as, "I love the sound of the preamps, but I don't like the sound of the converters." How does the person actually know? I've tried to understand this, but it's got me scratching my head.

To put this in practical terms...

Let's say that I plug a microphone into my audio interface, record a few moments of something into Logic, and then listen back with my headphones plugged into the headphone output of my interface. Then let's say that I don't actually like the sound I'm hearing back (maybe it's kind of muddy sounding). How do I know if that muddiness is a product of the preamps...or the converters...or my headphones...or even the mic that I originally recorded with?

I apologize if this is a silly question. Like I said, I read comments all the time on this forum where people seem to distinguish between the sound of the preamps vs. the sound of the converters. I can't wrap my head around how they're making the distinction. Thanks for any clarification!
They don't know. They can't separate the sound of the preamp from the convertor.

Whatever sound makes it into your DAW will be a combination of the preamps and the convertors. No one can audibly deconstruct the different factions of the sound.

Now...If one was using an external preamp. They could say "I like the sound of the preamp when I'm not using it with these convertors"...But that is different from what you are asking.

Pretty much all modern interfaces are built to be as transparent as possible...meaning they are trying to add as little color as possible to the original sound...And strictly perform their main function. For a preamp, it is to raise the signal level to something more appropriate...For convertors...it is simply to interpret one type of signal and change it into another as accurately as possible.

Also...it doesn't really matter. You don't need to be able to tell what part of the sound is from the interface's preamp and which is from the convertor.

For 1...If you are happy with the sound...Then who cares? And for 2...there are so many other factors that have way more of an impact on the sound like...different mics, and the room you are recording in...

You could take the same mic, in the same room with the same musician and record it with two different similar quality interfaces and I bet you wouldn't be able to tell the difference in an A/B test.

However, if you used the same interface...but swapped out the microphone, you would likely be able to hear the difference. Especially if you swapped from a condenser mic to a dynamic mic for example. Same goes for the room. If you recorded through the same interface, same mic, same musician...but the first take was in your living room and the second take was in your closet...Be extremely easy to hear the difference.

Now, if you are looking for color from preamps, then you wouldn't be looking to do that with the preamps in your interface. You would be looking into specific standalone preamps that have a distinct sound.

Interfaces are designed to have as little "sound/color" to them as possible.
Old 29th September 2022
  #3
Gear Nut
 
In a blindshoot out nobody can really distinguish them. Without it people in here shows off how sensitive they are claiming that they hear differences even with cables.
Old 29th September 2022
  #4
Gear Nut
 
By the way if you dont like something on your recordings chances are:
1) bad acoustic 50%
2) bad microphone 45%
3) bad preamp 2,5%
4) bad conversion 2.5%.
And i am exageratting the importamce of them.
Old 29th September 2022
  #5
Lives for gear
 
standup's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
The most important thing is the source. Does what you’re recording sound good?

Second most important is the microphone. Which mic you’re using, and how you position it, will have a huge impact in the sound, many times greater than the preamp or the converters. If it doesn’t sound good use a different mic, or move the mic around until it sounds good.

When I got my first good preamp (API) I could hear a pretty big difference between that and whatever budget gear I had at the time. The preamp can help the mic pick up better detail and a more pleasing sound. But just getting the mic right makes a bigger difference.

Last in importance are the converters. I do not have the “golden ears”, I’m nobody. But I have two different sets of converters here, in my MOTU interface and in a Focusrite isa428. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed much difference between the two.
Old 29th September 2022
  #6
Here for the gear
 
Thanks for the replies, everyone! I appreciate the input.

Fortunately, I am not actually having any recording difficulties at the moment. My example about getting a muddy sound was truly just a hypothetical example.

From my own experience, I can say that the microphone and the space make a HUGE difference in sound...just as many of you have stated. It really is true, especially with voiceover work (which is where most of my recording experience lies).

I was asking about the preamps vs the converters because of statements that I keep encountering while shopping for an interface. I have read countless threads on this forum about the various interface companies (especially RME, Audient, and Apogee). Almost every thread eventually features somebody stating that the PREAMPS on certain interfaces are "detailed"...or "warm"...or "sterile"...etc. And then someone else inevitably starts talking about the CONVERTERS, which are supposedly really "clear" or allow you to hear nuances that were previously inaudible...etc. etc. etc.

Those posts left me confused as to how a person could accurately make such statements about an interface. The replies that I received here make me think that a person probably CANNOT accurately make such statements about an interface...unless there is some whole other side to this that we have not yet touched on.

Thanks again, everyone.

Korcraft, I feel that I need to give you an extra THANKS for such a detailed reply. Much appreciated.
Old 30th September 2022
  #7
Gear Guru
 
🎧 20 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flanyc
I read comments all the time on this forum where people seem to distinguish between the sound of the preamps vs. the sound of the converters.
If they have outboard converters and outboard preamps, they can try this converter with different preamps, or that preamp with different converters.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Flanyc ➡️
When listening back to a recorded track...how do you know what aspect of the final sound is a result of the preamps, and what aspect of the sound is a result of the converters??
Is someone actually saying they can listen to the recorded track - all by itself - and parse the "contributions" of the mic, preamp and converters that went into it? Just from listening?

IMO, the only way someone could possibly make a such a statement would be to do extensive double-blind testing that involved isolating the components. Try using preamp A with converters B and C etc etc. Record the passes and then put on the blindfold.

Even if you had the magical ability to "hear the contribution" of the converters in a recorded track, on many interfaces, you can't get in there to separate the preamp and the converters anyway. Also, on many basic interfaces, the "line" input is not a true line, but just the mic input padded down. So the old preamp is always "there" on top of whatever preamp you are trying to test. Even with perfect, accurate knowledge of what the contribution of each component is, it won't do you much good on an an interface that does not have a way to patch in substitute outboard units.

I personally am of the opinion that I will worry a lot about my mics, worry a bit less about my preamps and worry a lot less about my converters. Take a professional album from 25 years ago. Compare it to your studio and your USB interface. Are your mics as good as the $$$ mics they used? Honestly? Are your preamps as good as the preamps they used? Probably not, right?

Are your converters as good as the converters they used? No, your converters are probably much, much better.
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