Leannan Sidhe and I were kicking around at an estate sale – she was looking at some PA kit that had been advertised, turned out really not interesting – and I noticed a little neglected microphone pre-amp sitting in the corner. I’ve never bothered with separate microphone pre-amps, much less tube-driven ones, but I was curious about it.

So I went to the manager running the show, and said, “I don’t need this, but it might be fun to play with, what’s your best price?” And so I strolled off with it, and today I set up a pair of side-by-side M-Audio NOVA large-cap condenser microphones to make some simultaneous recordings. Both mics ended up going through my TASCAM interface, with one going through the tube preamp first, then to the TASCAM with the TASCAM’s gain cranked down to zero. The control mic gain on the TASCAM was set to match final recorded levels. A few samples are linked below.

First thing I noticed: jfc this thing has gain. If I need something LOUDed at the pickup level, I now have that piece of kit. I kind of had that kit already, but that was the ribbon-mic preamp I built specifically for the ribbon mic I built, and that can’t provide phantom power like this does. (And it shouldn’t; phantom power destroys some ribbon mics, including mine.)

The second thing I noticed is that… the difference is pretty subtle. I mean, I expected that. And part of that might’ve been having both lines going through the TASCAM at the end – but it had to go through something for digital conversion, or I can’t record.

In studio, I can hear small but audible differences. The TASCAM’s preamp seems to like mid-bass more than the ART TUBE MP. I think there’s a little quicker response in low base in the ART, in a way that I recall from tube amplification equipment like EICO and Dynaco gear.

Outside the studio, though – on a good consumer headset on my laptop? I’m not hearing much of any difference in 320kbps mp3. I think I’m hearing a little in uncompressed WAV files, but not a lot. That may be the laptop’s D/A converter, I don’t know. On the laptop speakers, I don’t hear anything different – though really that has to be expected.

Worth it? For what I paid, sure! I have a serious business gain DI/pre-amp out of it. Sound-wise? I dunno. I really do think there is some subtle difference and if I’m in an environment where I’m having to rein in mid-bass and pop the low end a bit, maybe it’d be better to do it with this thing than in equalisation later. Probably would be, in fact. But it has a pleasant enough sound to it, regardless. I’ll probably play with it on bass guitar, later.

Anwyay, here are some recordings – they’re edited so that consecutive repeated musical phrases alternate between the ART tube amp and the TASCAM interface’s built-in mic preamp. What do you think – do you hear anything?

Irish bouzouki: WAV mp3
Octave mandolin, tuned to open E5: WAV mp3
Bodhran, two different strikers (traditional, bamboo): WAV mp3

eta: I make a point of not talking American politics here much, but I do elsewhere, and watching the GOP’s civil war start in earnest is kind of neat.