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.

9 thoughts on “Hooray for vacuum tubes! (PreSonus Bluetube DP impressions)

  1. This is very intersting, because the usual “Pipeline sound” is very clean and dry. People have asked me several times in the past to make this or that a little distorted, and I had to turn to them and say “sorry, that’s like the one thing I can’t do in this control room.”

    I’m going to have to try this guy out on some B for Brontosaurus mixdowns (tonight) and also on Mazarin (Sept. 9).

  2. From the air studio, I have to disagree with Brian’s assessment of the sound. He did get the vocals to have that distorted sound but the whole balance of the recording was off… it was all about the vocals and the drums were lost in the process… I couldn’t find snare hits even after Brian made adjustments. I don’t know if it’s a deception on the part of the
    speakers in there or Brian being so high on the gnarl in the vocals, but everything was pretty out of whack…

  3. Kyle-yes, I think this will solve that problem. How did your experimenting with it go?

    Jeff-the drums were weak both because I’m still getting used to the Samson monitors again and because the guitars were so insanely loud (probably more of the former because I didn’t notice it until the next day). Nothing to do with the vocals, really.

  4. I did try the Presonus tube pre out on the B for Brontosaurus mixdowns – here, I was going for a more subtle effect in one of their more “rocking” songs, called Soda Pop Rock.

    The vocalist was female, and there were some screamies in the song, so I wanted to combine a little distortion from the Presonus with some compression to make the loud parts more pleasing to the ear. The Presonus did its job well, but I did notice that the overdrive produced a lot of high-end crackle – maybe a little too much. I have to confess that I didn’t really know how to get rid of this without sacrificing the quality of thevocals as a whole. Maybe I could have tried an aggressive high-end cut on the preamp return mixed with some dry signal fed trough a hi-pass filter.

    Anyway, at several points in the song, the instruments dropped out and the singer kind of spoke her lyrics. At these points, the high-end stuff from the tube overdrive was really annoying, and in fact sounded like digital artifacts. I cured this by turning the overdrive down manually at these points.

    My impressions: The overdrive is nice for loud vocals, but if the singer says something soft, be prepared to ditch the effect entirely. To address the unit’s qualities as a preamp in particular, I’ll have to hear it again.

  5. Not a review on the Bluetube DP, but some funny comments about Presonus in general. Disclaimer: not my opinions, but those of a friend:

    I think that by and large they’ve been major
    beneficiaries of their tie to Guitar Center. Which
    means that their stuff is probably cheaply
    produced (a lot of it is hand assembled in
    BR by a bunch of asian women who probably
    make $5/hour) and has the optimum markup
    for GC to make a killing on. —
    general consensus is that the engineering
    quality just isn’t there. I own the Blue Tube
    and actually hooked it up last week for the
    first time in two years the other day, hated it
    and ran the signal through a shitty Laney
    Hardcore Max 1*8 guitar amp and liked that
    better. John McAndrew (former FW band
    guitarist and Presonus employee) told me that
    the single channel TubePre or whatever it is has
    caused 4 fires in different places. My BlueTube
    came broken out of the box and has made two
    seperate trips across town to be fixed before I
    just quit using it. Yeah.. for a $100 preamp it
    doesn’t come close to stacking up to the preamps
    on the Ghost. Also.. the mirrored controls are
    a moronic design. Of course I might be a little
    snooty b/c I recently bought at Drawmer 1960
    second hand:
    http://www.drawmer.com/1960.html

  6. Bryan,

    The Spirit console has peak meters. The BT DP has VU meters. Therefore, they will read differently for anything but a signal with steady amplitude. Each one has its advantages. Read up on them, and you’ll understand.

    Mike,

    What you say about Presonus, Asian women, and Guitarded Center is about as trustworthy of a statement as saying a friend of mine told me that Mikey died from eating Pop Rocks and Coke. And I won’t bother to try to understand all the implications you make with your claim that Asian women in Baton Rouge who are payed less than minimum wage are somehow tied into a music-industry conspiracy.

  7. Bryan,

    Try being subtle with the tube drive. Turn it up so you can just barely make out its effect, then turn it back down a hair. You may find that this initially-indiscernible distortion can give an instrument or vocal track just enough push to make it stand out in the mix w/o having to raise the track’s level.

  8. Andy,
    I think the comment suggested that when you’re not receiving a living-wage for your work, you’re less invested in it’s quality. I know this would be true for me. Race has nothing to do w/ it, but was probably mentioned more in the light of describing their employment methods. Regardless, the part I thought was funny was tube amps self-immolating. I should have edited the rest out. Apologies to all.

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