Choosing the right microphone preamplifier is one of the most important decisions an engineer can make. Today the options are more diverse than ever with radical differences in price, performance and features from one preamp to the next. Ultimately, the choice boils down to personal opinion – making the decision even more difficult. Nashville’s 3D Audio has a solution: a CD featuring recordings of identical sound sources using 33 different preamps.
It is obvious that 3D Audio’s Lynn Fuston put much time, research and preparation into this project. The order of the preamps is completely random and the disc is designed so the listener can have a blind listen with no preconceptions. The CD’s liner notes offer complete technical details about the project’s creation, including a description of how the preamps were adjusted within .02 dB of each other. The CD includes recordings of both female voice and acoustic guitar. The recently released Volume 2 includes male vocal and snare drum.
I spent about an hour with engineer Micajah Ryan (whose credits include Bob Dylan, Megadeth and John Prine) listening through the female vocal recordings. We each kept notes and refrained from any discussion until the listening was complete. At that point we compared notes and I must say it was a phenomenal experience. We were both surprised many times over as our preconceived notions were often confirmed but sometimes contradicted.
There were some very expensive preamps that we both agreed just didn’t sound very good, and there were some lower priced pres that we both quite liked. Although we agreed more often than not, there were some preamps that I liked a lot that Ryan was not fond of at all, and there were some that he thought sounded fantastic that I didn’t find to my liking.
More than anything, this CD allows listeners to compare, as accurately as possible, an extremely wide range of microphone preamps.
Although combining 33 different preamps in one location is a mighty feat, I was a bit disappointed that a few of the industry’s mainstay preamplifiers were not included in the line-up. I would have liked to hear the Trident A Range, Neve 8108 and the Neve 8078. It also would have been nice to hear some of the common console preamplifiers, such as those found in the SSL and Neve VR desks. Maybe future editions of 3D Audio’s Mic Pre CDs will include 50 or more preamp varieties.
Needless to say, the 3D Pre CD is quite possibly the best $29.95 that any engineer – from a student to a seasoned pro – can spend. I anticipate it will be an eye-opener to anyone brave enough to listen. This, plus other listening CDs, can be ordered from the 3D Audio Web site at www.3daudioinc.com.