Hooray for vacuum tubes! (PreSonus Bluetube DP impressions)

We’ve had the Bluetube DP stereo mic preamp around for a few weeks now, and I’ve had a chance to use it in several different recording situations. It’s a pretty sweet-looking (the visible tube glow is cheesy but cool) little tabletop unit with two analog inputs/outputs and a solid-state gain stage on each channel that can be augmented with a tube-based circuit to varying degrees using a front-panel knob. We’ve always just used our board’s built-in pre’s since I’ve been around Pipeline, so the ability to swap in something else adds an interesting new degree of freedom to recording. It’s a nice piece of equipment overall, but I’ve found two situations where I really like this thing:

– For quiet singers/instruments that really need a high preamp gain, the Presonus doesn’t exhibit any of the “graininess” (Nick’s word, but it’s pretty accurate) or audible noise floor that our built-in pre’s are notorious for when you turn them past about 3 o’clock. I had the tube drive bypassed in most of these situations (it was just adding distortion that wasn’t appropriate), and the amp was smooth and, at least for our purposes, basically transparent. The VU meters on it are a little bit strange; they almost never seem to match up with the pre-fader input level on the board, and not really in any consistent way (sometimes higher, sometimes lower). I don’t know if that’s the fault of the unit or just some subtlety about the two indicators that I’m missing.

– The second application, and the one that made me fall in love with it, was something Nick and I discovered while recording the Black Clouds set last night (archive). They’ve got two guitars (one basically used as a bass) and a drum kit, and I initially had the two Presonus channels hooked up to each guitar, thinking the tube distortion might enhance that filthy garage-rock sound that I never seem to get tired of. Which it did, but not to any really interesting degree; a cranked-up amp and/or an overdrive pedal will generate a perfectly usable level of distortion if that’s what the band’s looking for; there’s really no need for any at the preamp stage as well. When the band listened to their first soundcheck and asked if we could make the vocals sound “more dirty” though, we switched the Presonus over to the two vocal channels and cranked the tube overdrive as high as it would go. The result was insane, almost unintelligibly distorted vocals (think Pussy Galore or Teengenerate) that fit perfectly with the band’s messy garage-punk sound; they loved it, we loved it, and overall I think it was the main contributor to one of the best sets I’ve recorded in awhile. When they were singing quietly or talking, the vocals were smooth and distortion-free without any knob-twiddling on my part, which is probably standard but I thought it was nice.

Conclusion: the Bluetube DP is awesome for adding clarity to quiet things when they need to be amplified above the noise floor of our stock pre’s, but even more awesome for adding nice-sounding distortion to things that need/want it (I’d imagine you could get the same effect on a DI’ed electric guitar or similar, but haven’t tried yet). The levels it comes into the board at don’t seem to be very consistent, as I mentioned, but that could be because the sets I’ve used it on have all been very different types of music (the Black Clouds were the loudest band we’ve had on in ages). Since geography dictates that we record an awful lot of messy garage-punk, I’d really love to keep this guy around when we’re done reviewing it.

Pipeline! Playlist August 30, 2005

Ten Years Old “The New Rock ‘n’ Roll”
Apollo Sunshine “Flip!”
Cave In “The World is in Your Way”
Feathers “Come Around”
Tiger Saw “Postcards and Letters”
Franklin’s Mint “Last in Line”
Cheater’s Club “Peace Offering”
Visitations “track #3”
Radar Eyes “Sweet Teeth”
Ashby “He Likes the Sound”
Mobius Band “Detach”
Edan (feat. Insight) “Science of the Two”
Pants Yell! “’83 in ’05”
Black Helicopter “Talk Out Loud”

the Black Clouds LIVE

the Rudds “Hot Child”
Pernice Brothers “Dumb it Down”
Brian Michael Roff “Drank the Lake”

the Black Clouds INTERVIEW

Boy in Static “Bellyful”

Jeff guest hosts the Pontoon Palace 8/25/5

Cinnamon “Nanimonai”
Corcoree Band “Tassa”
Charles Mingus “Ecclusiastics”
the Drifters “Money Honey”
Lewis and Clarke “Doc Holliday Was a Phony”
Clara Smith “The L & N Blues”
Eddie Harris “Silent Majority”
Lord Kitchener “The Underground”
Reigning Sound “When You Touch Me”
Ten Years Old “Career Opportunities”
Don Covay “Take This Hurt Off Me”
the Stooges “Not Right (alternate vocals)”
Bernice Reagon “I Won’t Crumble With You If You Fall”
Six Organs of Admittance “A Reflection of the Reflected”
King Floyd “Groove Me”
Joe Tex “Go Home and Do It”
Nilsson “Jump Into the Fire”
Holy Modal Rounders “Hesitation Blues”
Simon and Garfunkel “You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies”
PJ Proby “Won’t Be Long”
Dungen “Panda”
Bud Powell Trio “Jubilee”
the Monks “Complication”
Curtis Mayfield “Suffer”
Pretty Things “Trust”
Albert Ayler “Everybody’s Movin'”
Lee Dorsey “O Me O My”
the Bee Gees “I.O.I.O”
Bufo Americanus “Mating Call Recorded at Monett, MO”
Dirty Projectors “Tour Along the Potomac”
Guided by Voices “Gleemer (The Deeds of Fertile Jim)”
Bobby Darin “Questions”

Pipeline! Playlist August 23, 2005

Tiger Saw “Sing!”
Ponies in the Surf “Death of a Librarian”
Feathers “Angel in the Sky”
Ric Ocasek “In a Little Bit”
Low-Beam “Fathom”
Mobius Band “Doo Wop”
Apollo Sunshine “Lord”
Black Helicopter “Head of Steam”
the Rudds “Stand a Chance”
Embalmed by Vastness “Hammers and Hatchets”
Major Stars “Pocket”
Franklin’s Mint “Cabin Fever”
Casey Dienel “Cabin Fever”

User Shorty Patent Co. LIVE

Northern “Across the Turnpike”
Bunwinkies “Train Whistle”

User Shorty Patent Co. INTERVIEW

Juliana Hatfield “What Do I Care?”

se mics

I just wanted to throw a quick, pretty uninformed opinion about these se mics onto the net. I might come back with something better after having listened to the session and after having researched the mics. As Mike suggested via email, our situation didn’t give us a great opportunity to test the individual characters of the mics. We had eight people stuffed into the room, all of them banging on stuff and bellowing any which way they wanted to turn their heads. I couldn’t use a very small number of mics, as certain quiet insturments figured largely in their songwriting alongside louder instruments. I decided to group the people by instrument type and throw mics on the different groups, accepting the inevitable bleed but gaining some control over the mix. I used the usual kick mic, an re10 on the snare, an atm 25 on the tiny, gnarled bass amp and the 421 on the tiny, gnarled guitar amp. I put the drums in the corner by the studio door, and, continuing in a semicircle along the wall we usually use for the amps, along the divider to A control, along the wall with the lockers, and ending at the loading door, I placed the amps, the air organs, the percussive strings (banjo, balalaika, acoustic guitars, homemade-lookin’ stuff, etc.), the saw,
the soft-voiced singer with autoharp, the cello, and, finally, the violin. I used the se3’s in an x-y pair on the cello and violin (so they faced directly away from the drums), the earthworks on the singer (hoping to get a little autoharp, too), the large diaphram se at the foot of the (quiet) saw player, the omnis in an overhead, spaced (4 ft.) pair in the vicinity of the percussive strings (those guys sang a lot, too). The voices through the omnis sounded okay, but too distant and not well enough controlled. The earthworks sounded amazing, though it didn’t get enough autoharp. Sorry Ramsey. No drum overheads required. The drums, though pretty quiet, came through everything. The scheme worked okay. I don’t think the situation could have produced a flawless-sounding set. One omni would have sounded badly mixed and terribly distant. I don’t feel bad about the choices I made (though I may change my mind after I listen to the set).

Onto the se’s. First, like the ksm 27 (and most large diaphrams, I’d wager), the se large diaphram got pretty washed out by bleed. Unlike the 27, it didn’t seem to have so much of the dark, almost breathy quality I’ve heard in other large diaphrams. The saw’s mellow mids came through more or less untainted. It sounded nowhere near as clinical as the earthworks, but better tempered than I expected. If I’m right, the mic is more versatile than the 27. It would probably do amazingly well with smooth male vocals, or quieter, smoother electric guitar. The key here is smooth. I think I really like this mic. I tenatively agree with Kyle’s opinion of the se3’s. They made the violin seem a little screachy at
times, although their peak at 10k sort of complimented the omnis. Apart from that peak, I would say the se3’s had a more traspartent sort of sound than the 81’s. They sort of made me think I was getting the benefit of a condenser mic without a sound immediately identifying itself as a condenser. They didn’t seem to create that sense of cavernous space other condensers seem to create for me. That could be a good thing. Maybe, just maybe, the 81’s sound a little more clinical and detailed than the se3’s. I’ll need to hear the se3’s a little more. Finally, I got the impression I could really hear the graininess of our preamps through the se3’s. We had a bad connection between one of the se3’s snake channels and that channel’s preamp, so maybe that explains the graininess. Again, these are just impressions. I might totally disagree with myself in a day’s time.

Pipeline! Playlist August 16, 2005

Ten Years Old “Into Your Mind”
Franklin’s Mint “Another Good Deal Gone Bad”
Pants Yell! “Stop Making Music”
Feathers “Abacus”
Ashby “Eyes Open Wide”
Edan “Beauty”
Apollo Sunshine “Today is the Day”
Black Helicopter “Captain”
Pernice Brothers “Saddest Quo”
Leslie and the LYs “Beat Box Radio”
Mobius Band “Close the Door”
James Kochalka Superstar “I Am Rock”
Sunburned Hand of the Man “Skullcap”
Hotrod Fury “Lucky Prowler”
the Rudds “Always Cool”
Major Stars “Black Road”
Ponies in the Surf “Fairy in My House”

the Bunwinkies LIVE

Tree by Leaf “You Show All the Signs”

SE Microphones – First Thoughts

Andy recently brought down a couple microphones for us to review for Tape Op: an SE Z3300 large diaphram FET condesner and an SE 3 stereo pair from SE Electronics. I had the chance to use our new microphones this morning during a live session with A Hawk and a Hacksaw.

The instrumentation was an accordian and violin – no vocals. My better judgement told me to first try one microphone, maybe the Z3300 in a figure-8 pattern, but I was too eager to try both. The Z3300 went to the violin, about 15 inches to the players’ right side and at forehead level. The SE 3’s were placed about two feet away from the accordian’s keyboard.

Coupled with our new Samson monitors, the highs and upper mids were almost too much for my taste. The SE 3’s have a 5dB bump around 10k, which I thought was very noticeable. However, I’m going to have to get used to these monitors in different recording situations before I can really form qualified opinions. The noise level was very low for all the mics.

Anyway, feel free to have a listen in the archives. The performance began around 9:15, right after the concert report. I also recorded each microphone on a separate track in the ProTools session, so you engineers can audition each individually (route them to the optical outputs in ProTools and they should come into the board on tape channels 1-8).

Pipeline! Playlist 8-9-2005

Visitations “Track 2”
Little Wooden Men “Lay on the Tracks”
Reverend Glasseye “Sleep Sweet Countryman”
Mobius Band “The Loving Sound of Static”
Ashby “Won’t Remember”
the Sterns “Ruby in Paradise”
the Coffin Lids “Teenage Shakedown”
the Charms “Talk is Cheap”
Mike and the Ravens “One of These Days”
Black Helicopter “Buick Elektra”
the Beatings “All Dead Heroes”
Edan “Funky Voltron”
Leslie and the LYs “Tune in Tokyo”
james Kochalka Superstar “Copenhagen China Box”

Mr Airplane Man LIVE REBROADCAST 2/16/2002

the Stairs “This Town Let Me Down”
Brian Michael Roff and the Deer “This Yellowed Yield”
Tree by Leaf “That’s Why I Keep On”

Pipeline! Playlist August 2, 2005

Apollo Sunshine “Flip!”
Northern “Toledo, OH”
Brian Michael Roff and the Deer “For Pledges”
the Rudds “Something Great”
Low-Beam “Airstream”
Waltham “Cheryl (Come and Take a Ride)”
Franklin’s Mint “Gold”
Little Wooden Men “Paisley”
Major Stars “Pocket”
Ashby “Anyone Anywhere”
Reports “The Hostess”
the Beatings “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse”
Mike and the Ravens “I’ve Taken All I Can”
Ponies in the Surf “New Century Program”

All Combinations INTERVIEW

the Stairs “Einstein and His Enemies”

All Combinations LIVE

the Sterns “Day Number Two”
Jon Nolan “Cupboard”
Ray Mason “Hasten to Ruin”
Micah Blue Smaldone “More Than I Can Bear”
Miniwatt “I Can’t Stand Waiting For It”
Casey Dienel “Embroidery”