Learn More About Audio Recording

Beyond Mics and Preamps

The Four T's:

     The keys to a smooth, high-fidelity, harmonically rich sound are the four T’s: tubes, transistors, transformers, and tape. The greatest circuits are assembled by hand using individual components. Tubes are old, hot, expensive, and electrically inefficient, but they are inherently far more linear than the transistors embedded into cheap “IC” based amps. Because of this, tubes simply capture the transient magic of your sound in a smooth, musical way. Tube circuits tend to add some harmonic distortions, but these are almost universally loved by artists. Does anyone ever complain that a Marshall amp colors their sound?

     Discrete transistor designs tend to be cleaner than tube designs. Although clear and detailed, a good transistor design can still have plenty of richness and transient magic. The vast majority of big-budget, classic albums were recorded with the discrete designs built into a studio’s console. The most highly regarded preamp of all time, the Neve 1073, uses the exact same design topology as our Langevin preamp. Watch the documentary “Sound City” on Netflix, turn on some Fleetwood Mac “Rhiannon”, and just imagine how you will sound after your voice has traveled through the clean but silky magic of a real preamp.

     Every preamp we own has one thing in common: transformers. Transformers are expensive to make. In fact, the individual transformers used in some preamps cost as much as $150 per channel. Cheap designs use inexpensive chips to try to mimic the most important preamp function: balancing the mic signal. But the passive nature and the saturation characteristics of transformers create a smooth, buttery, full sound that cannot be mimicked any other way. Engineers call this the sound of “iron”, referring to the way transformers saturate their magnetic cores in a way very similar to tape.

     In our opinion, the best sounding records use tape. For a taste of warm, analog sound, listen to some Pink Floyd. Unfortunately, there is no way to bring a reel-to-reel to your home, nor would it be worth the trouble. Luckily, as you will see in the “A/D Converter” section, we have invested in converters that utilize transformers and discrete topologies to mimic the magic of tape.

A/D, D/A Converters:

     Many people invest in mics and preamps, but then process their signal using cheap converters. The idea of taking a top studio mic, amplifying it with a world-class discrete preamp, and then passing the signal through a cheap chip amp before digitization…well…makes us want to cry. While the mic and preamp do tend to have a greater impact on the sound, a great converter preserves a subtle three-dimensionality and resolution that is instantly recognizable.

 

     Think 4K TV vs DVD. Can you make a great movie with DVD? Sure. But if you can capture your video in extraordinary 4K resolution, why wouldn’t you? On some occasions, we might find that we don’t like the higher resolution, and would like to smear the sound a bit. Amy Winehouse's Back in Black is a perfect example of low-res magic. In our own case, we have dozens of tools we can use in post to take our hi-res capture and make it sound like it was captured on a dirty old 4-track tape.

     Like great preamps, great converters use discrete components and low-jitter conversion techniques to capture the sound with clean, clear, natural fidelity. Go back and listen to records recorded in the 90s with early high-jitter conversion technology, and then compare it to records made with analog tape. Our Apogee converters are the same converters used in top studios. They are widely regarded as “the closest thing to tape” you can get in the digital world.

The Mix: Cubase and Waves Plugins:

     As much as we would love to transport you to a top-of-the-line late ‘70s multimillion-dollar studio with a Neve console, or to the mid ‘80s and a half-million dollar SSL, we have embraced the amazing versatility and cost savings of modern tools. We record, mix, and master using Steinberg Cubase and Waves plugins. The Waves plugins do a great job of simulating many of the classic equalizers, compressors, and even tape machines of the past. Listen to the greatest sounding records in history, from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Great models of these exact tubes, transistors, and transformers are at our fingertips when we mix and master your tracks.

      However, we don’t always use Cubase to mix, master, and sum. We sometimes use our analog equipment to do analog summing, equalization, and compression. Although this is a bit more time-consuming, it can be the final “analog polish” that a great record needs.

Have Fun!

     The whole point of RMPS is to give you the expertise and equipment needed to capture a great sound, but not distract you from the thing that really matters: your art. Let us bathe your sound in velvety richness while you focus on your performance. If you want to geek out with us, we are all too happy to oblige. Otherwise, we will do our thing and let you do yours.