Is building Mic Pres worth it?

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Is building Mic Pres worth it?

Postby Virtual Aaron » Tue Sep 27, 2005 2:33 pm

G'day guys, I'm the new guy, here's my question for you all.

Great Mic Pres are greatly expensive.
I can solder, read a schematic, and find time if I "have to".
The parts are available and yes, great transformers are expensive, but most of the other stuff isn't.
Would a DIY API/NEVE etc be as good sounding?
Am I an Idiot for thinking for a second that I can build a classic Pre for half the bucks?
Surely someone would have built one if this was possible (copyright issues?)
Theres a guy in the states (can't find the link just now) that builds a Neve replica and sells them in a boring looking 1 rack unit for around 1 grand US a channel.
Anyone been down this road before?

Cheers
Aaron
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Postby JustinS » Tue Sep 27, 2005 3:00 pm

Pop your head in here...

http://www.prodigy-pro.com/forum/index.php

Have a look at the Meta's (see the top of the page)

Then pop in a search for 1272 or 312 and spend a while reading & thinking!

Justin.
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Postby chris p » Tue Sep 27, 2005 9:22 pm

But why go O/S when you've got the very talented JLM Audio right here in OZ with his 1U dual JLM99V pre: transformer balanced, dual stage gain - he's also got a smaller "one knob" micro1290 kit.

Around $1000 would get a pair of either.
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Postby Peter Knight » Tue Sep 27, 2005 9:45 pm

My answer is no, it's not worth it. But then again I suck at getting my head around electronic concepts.
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Postby harry » Tue Sep 27, 2005 11:44 pm

my 2cents..........

slightly off topic, but i'll remember the first time i heard my buddies ssl comp clone in action -

he had been in on the diy thing way earlier than me - buying langevin am16 mic pres for $100 off ebay and audix 35102's for $300 (regarded as almost identical to the neve 33....something or other / 1073)

we put the drum intro to mj's billie jean through the ssl and played with the controls - adjusting the threshold simply brought the back of the mix (reverb tail) from the background to the foreground in an amazingly natural way. I had heard compressors before but this was truly something different - i have since heard a real al smart c1 and can say that the clone is in the same ballpark.

this diy buddie then built a pre based on a millenia op amp and it sounded ........... slightly worse than the 001 pres of which a 001 pre is definently better (i.m.h.o)

i think he wired the transformers wrong?

so i think the best way to approach it is to find the most highly regarded kits or diy projects and start on the ones that are the most documented (this millenia was guesswork).

try the gyraf.dk site for links to a pretty cool looking dual valve mic pre/inst di.

then check out the posts on groupdiy to find out a bit more about the subjective qualities of the unit.

The jlm stuff is highly regarded by the folks over in the us, so it might be worth starting of with joes kits?

really depends on what kind of pre you want to build (colour, detail / clarity, valve, transistor-discrete, op amp etc???)

i'm about to build the g9 valve pre (mainly for it's di) in the near future - will post when it's done.


the key will be to make it more of a hobby or something equivalent to a movie / pub night with some of your other audio buddies or chip away at it, building when you have an hour to spare here or there. there is nothing more frustrating than having spent $400 on parts, soldering all day just to find that it dosent work!

as i mentioned in the start of the thread - it might be quicker to buy raw modules and add audio transformers / attenuators and powersupplies,

buying a 35102 and recapping, powering and racking would sure as **** beat the hell out of reconstructing a 1073 - unless you are up for that sort of thing - chris of linear recording did it! with great results but he is obviously a special individual (not being sarcastic by the way!).

oh my look at the size of this reply..........man i think i need therapy.

p.s go for it!
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Postby Virtual Aaron » Wed Sep 28, 2005 4:05 am

Thanks for all replies, I have done much googling and am obviously excited about something as it is past 3:00 AM and I'm still at it.
I've all but decided that I will build a JLM kit, probably just 1 channel of the 99v one with DI option.
It is not compleatly clear to me exactly what parts I need to source myself to compleate the kit. And if I need to build a power supply for it aswell (I'm guessing I will) and what parts I need for that etc.
These, of course, are questions for Joe rather than you lot, learned but you are.
As for what sounding pre I want. ..well...... something that sounds good when pushed is always pleasing, something that doesn't clip and crackle like a packet of chips when all you want is a little LOVE.
thanks again guys.
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Re: Is building Mic Pres worth it?

Postby Linear » Wed Sep 28, 2005 11:21 am

Virtual Aaron wrote:G'day guys, I'm the new guy, here's my question for you all.

Great Mic Pres are greatly expensive.
I can solder, read a schematic, and find time if I "have to".
The parts are available and yes, great transformers are expensive, but most of the other stuff isn't.
Would a DIY API/NEVE etc be as good sounding?
Am I an Idiot for thinking for a second that I can build a classic Pre for half the bucks?
Surely someone would have built one if this was possible (copyright issues?)
Theres a guy in the states (can't find the link just now) that builds a Neve replica and sells them in a boring looking 1 rack unit for around 1 grand US a channel.
Anyone been down this road before?

Cheers
Aaron


Hi,

OK, here's my 2c.

There are two ways you can DIY a mic pre: you can either a) try and design and build your own from a schematic or b) take an existing PCB layout and make one from there.

The second option is far easier, as most of the work is done for you. The first option is better if you want to learn what is going on. If you've never etched a PCB then this can be a challenge also, it's trickier that it looks.

I made a 1073 clone soley from the schematic, and it was very difficult and time consuming. I wouldn't go down this road unless you were very keen.

The DIY world has lots and lots of info and projects, most of the hack work has already been done. I'm pretty sure that copyright isn't really an issue unless you plan to mass-produce, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an organisation that would target someone making a one-off clone for themselves.

You can most definitely build stuff for cheap, the trick are the key esoteric components such as transformers and inductors. Everything else is standard and can be found in a Farnell catalogue.

I'd give the JLM pre a go, it looks great.

Cheers

Chris
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Postby mfdu » Wed Sep 28, 2005 12:45 pm

the JLM kits are higher priced than the DIY stuff at the prodigy black market.

but that said, the JLM is a complete kit, and supposedly fits like a glove.

something like the green pre (we've been chatting about that on the "those who frequented tech talk" thread) has the potential to be bloody marvelous. but you gotta source the parts yourself. and make decisions - which input trannie? etc.

if it's your first build, and you want it to be good and clean, then go the JLM.
(surely one channel is just a tease? at least do two into a single rack - makes more effective use of the power supply)

but if you want to build stuff that's gonna pump crunch smash rock or whatever, then going the full DIY path can be great fun.

as long as you have a bench with plenty of light, and an understanding partner.

either way, when you first flick that power switch on you'll wet yourself with excitement

"i made it myself!!!!"

chris.
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Postby JustinS » Wed Sep 28, 2005 3:02 pm

Hey mfdu,

One of the benefits of making the green is that there is no input transformer, so the project is darn cheap & there really aren't any esoteric parts. As for the JLM's depending on the transformers you use, you can go from nice and clean to phat(I hate that word!) and coloured - the higher the input ratio the more level pushed into the 99v amp the more distortion you get out of it... and then there are all the differences in sound between the different trannie manufacturers... And anyway, the hunt for "esoteric" parts can be half of the fun!

Justin.
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Postby Virtual Aaron » Wed Sep 28, 2005 3:28 pm

MFDU - your right - I pre is a tease and I will build two as you suggest, maybe with different input trannies so I can get a feel for what they're doing.
So what Input transformers do what for the sound?
Whats a good one for a detailed vocal pre for eg?
Or one thats rocking with transients and bass for drums?
I wonder what the JLM 1:4 Input transformer is like?
I havent had my hands on a JLM pre yet so I don't know what they're on about really. (would love the TMP-8 http://www.jlmaudio.com/8packoftrans.htm but that's another story/thread)

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Postby mfdu » Fri Sep 30, 2005 2:52 pm

from what i've heard around the diy boards (get onto http://www.prodigy-pro.com/forum/index.php and http://www.diyaudio.com/ ) JLM are great as either your only preamps OR as additional "nice" pre's.

also (from what i've heard, again) if you just build it as per specs, you'll be a happy man (shizzle yo nizzle?).

once its all working, you can mod to your hearts content

but build it first. then you'll have a bassline to work from with trialling other trannies etc.

main thing is - use sockets for your IC's and trannies so you can swap them around later (lesson learned!!!)

and . . . enjoy.

chris
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Re: Is building Mic Pres worth it?

Postby Henry » Fri Sep 30, 2005 6:32 pm

[quote="Virtual Aaron"]G'day guys, I'm the new guy, here's my question for you all.

Great Mic Pres are greatly expensive.
I can solder, read a schematic, and find time if I "have to".
The parts are available and yes, great transformers are expensive, but most of the other stuff isn't.
Would a DIY API/NEVE etc be as good sounding?
Am I an Idiot for thinking for a second that I can build a classic Pre for half the bucks?
Surely someone would have built one if this was possible (copyright issues?)
Theres a guy in the states (can't find the link just now) that builds a Neve replica and sells them in a boring looking 1 rack unit for around 1 grand US a channel.
Anyone been down this road before?

Cheers
Aaron[/quote]

It's worth it if you need a certain type of preamp or comp and can't afford the real thing.

But if your on a budget and just want high spec gear then there are lots of products that are as good, sometimes better or more versatile than the big ticket counterparts!

A couple of ppl here who have probably invested a small fortune into their studios would be pulling their hair out disagreeing with me but the reality is high spec is getting cheaper every year.

Just trawl any major Audio Forum and you'll see the most critical ppl are usually those who have made huge investments and get upset when a company like FMR launches a LA2A style compresser for a few hundred dollars. Cheapskate specialists like Harvey Gerst loves them, along with most ppl like me, but there are also those who vehemently disagree.

To buy a JLM, or Seventh Circle Kit will cost you about $500 AUD with shipping. Both are excellent kits, probably the best in the World imo.

Or for example you could buy a Rane MS1B for $149 USD new or a Grace 101 for $500 off Ebay or a Broadhurst Gardens BG1 stereo preamp for $500 USD new, all of which are very high spec, highly regarded by the pro's and you don't have to build a thing!

If you don't need a WOW factor preamp, a Beh ringer AD8000 is amazing quality for $400 AUD or a Digimax LT 8 channel for $600 USD Ebay both with digital outs.

I could mention the cheap high spec Compressers too but it's a sore point for some here.
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Postby Virtual Aaron » Sat Oct 01, 2005 1:34 am

Thank you Henry, what you speek does seem to make sense to my reasoning that:
If I can build a great pre for X dollars, then someone else is already building on a large scale a great pre for a lot less than X dollars, and can possibly even sell them, after mark up, for less than X dollars.

I DO want a 'wow factor' pre amp. I have a whole desk of A+H (not brilliant) and a Toft Audio ATC-2 http://www.soundpure.com/showProduct.do?id=8

The ATC-2 is clean enough but isn't a real player in the low mids, It's more of a specialist in the 7khz zone of things. (The EQ rocks however)

I'm not hell bent on making my own, I've built a few things and while I don't hate it, It's a means to an ends more than a 'fun weekend inside'.
SOUND then MONEY are my priorities, but I don't want my hard earned dollars to pay of one cent of 'brand' (so that rules out a 1073)

If I can get something that sounds like an API 512c
http://www.legacyaudio.com.au/legacy.products.php?x_prod_key=35 that costs $600 rather than $1249 (without a PSU!) then I will buy it or build it happily.

The question is: where can I buy a Class-A transformer I/O pre, with a PSU, for $600 built?


PS: go on Henry, mention the compressors, I'm sure the pained members will look away!
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Postby Martinez » Sat Oct 01, 2005 9:11 am

hey is it possible to clone eq's like a old pultec or something like that?
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Postby Henry » Sat Oct 01, 2005 10:43 am

From the Joe Malone site,

"Just for clarity
The only thing the Deane Jensen 990 Design and mine share is the pinout configuration. The JLM99V is more like a Neve Class A Preamp on major Steroids. It is a pure path device with the signal path only travelling through three transistor junctions. It has gain limited to about 60dB with no feedback applied. When setup right the THD with feedback is 0.005% at normal operating levels heading up to 0.5% 2nd Harmonic as its output swing reaches closer to the power rails. It has a 1v DC offset on the output due to the -input of the opamp being an emitter input. It runs best on +/-34v but can run on +/-24v."

This preamp is a major Class A wow factor! And costs maybe $400 dollars if you know where to get parts cheap!
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Postby wez » Mon Oct 03, 2005 5:54 pm

[quote="Martinez"]hey is it possible to clone eq's like a old pultec or something like that?[/quote]

one of our guys is currently putting together 4 channels of pultec-style, 3 band EQ. the prototype is being used constantly, and we're discussing plans for a no-compromise mastering version.

the thing that makes it practical for us is that we have a stash of sowter, marinaire, and other neve-type trannies lying around. plus a couple of guys with a great blend of experience and enthusiasm. the circuits themselves are relatively simple (like most classic designs).

the history of recorded music is the history of custom-built equipment. embrace it, it's a beautiful thing!
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Postby Martinez » Mon Oct 03, 2005 8:54 pm

cool!

but I wouldn't know my soldering Iron from my curling iron!
(not that I have a curling iron)

Its also a matter of cash flow!
I'm a normal working stiff with a wife and kid to support.
and I have champaine tastes on a beer income.
man you can tell thats an old saying, even beer is expensive now!

I just want some decent sounds for my little studio.

three decent comps.
one for drums, one for vocals and one for the mix.

about five decent mic pres.

and a couple of nice eq's

is that to much to ask?
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Postby JustinS » Tue Oct 04, 2005 8:56 am

Another kinda DIY solution for preamps that I just remembered are the Hamptone kits:

http://www.hamptone.com/newkits.htm

Check them out - all of the hard work has been done for you (including metalwork) & you get either 2 channels of tube pre for $799.00 US or 2 channels of FET pre for $549.00 - both tranny in & out with very decent Altran trannies.... check out the website and do a google search, I've never used one but the reviews are great!

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