Friday, January 18, 2013

Mic Pres - Location, Location, Location

In a world where audio gear just keeps getting better and better it takes constant work to find ways to make your work better as well. With microscopic detail within reach of so many people, here's something to help a little with noise reduction.

In the live world, sound systems are getting more and more faithful by the minute. Line array systems are a big factor in this but so is everything up stream. It's possible to hear the difference in the length of the speaker cables now, which is why guys like Dave Rat are flying their amp racks and feeding them digital signal. The big thing that has to do with location though is the mic pres. 

Digital snake technology is sufficiently robust that the mic pres can live on stage and the digital signal can be fed out to multiple desks over CAT-5 cable or coax. That means there's likely less than 100 feet of mic cable between the most distant input and the purity of the digital world. Things like RF interference and capacitance no longer take a toll on the signal.

In the studio this can make a difference too. If you think otherwise, arm forty-eight tracks and run the gain up to unity. Don't bother writing in, I know what you'll hear. The idea of getting the mic pres close to the source and keeping the cables with low level mic signal on them is a sound one. 
Some people are cringing now at the thought of running a bunch of lines back to the desk. They're probably remembering hooking up a CD player to a console with a splitter and a guitar cord back in junior high though. Balanced connections are the key. Mic cables are quieter than guitar cables because they're carrying balanced audio. TRS 1/4" cables do as well. Any RF or other noise will have less effect on a line level signal of somewhere around one volt than it will on an infinitesimal mic level signal. In a lot of cases the existing studio wiring can be used because a lot of mic pres use XLR outputs for line level signal to take advantage of  just such practices.  You could even go one better and put your converters right out in the live room and just get longer lines back to the computer.

It's not going to improve any one input by much. But multiply it by a few dozen channels and the difference will be real. Give it a try some time Brethren of the Knob and Fader and give yourself a leg up on the competition.

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