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Home Studio Q&A:
'Will A Pre-Amp 'Tube' Warm
The Sound Of My Voice?'
 
!By Dan Lenard
Voice Talent & Home Studio Master
 
I get a few questions every now and then regarding mic pre-amps.
 
Personally, I think that if you have a good mic and a digital interface with a built-in pre-amp, that’s all you need - unless you have a mic with a very low output, like the RODE line of mics.
 
However, the RODES are still good mics. But I digress.
 
WARMS THE SOUND?
 
Today I got a question about a mic pre-amp with a “Tube” drive. I was asked if that would add any “warmth” to their sound?
 
Warmth? Throw a blanket over yourself.
 
Seriously, if you feel you need a primary mic pre-amp, and you want to add warmth to your voice recording, your question should be, "Would I need a 'tube' pre-amp?"
 
Answer: You don't.
 
WHAT TUBE DOES
 
A tube will emphasize and amplify the lower frequencies of your voice.
 
Some excellent (and expensive) studio condenser mics still have a tube built-in. That’s to give a very sensitive mic more output.
 
They come from a day when that was one of the ways you amplified things in the analog world - before 1985 or so.
 
But today we have software that can help you emulate the sound of any good microphone with a less expensive one, and add that “warmth” if a client requests it, in post production, using a parametric equalizer. (Use the “warm” pre-set.)
 
NOT TRUE YOU
 
Remember, once you record a sound on disk, it’s there forever.
 
By using a tube driven pre-amp, you’re not creating a true representation of your voice as others hear it. You’ll be hard pressed to EQ your sound back to “natural.”
 
So I guess what I’m saying is the that the idea of "Warm Sound" as an improvement over your real voice is nonsense.
 
You're not broadcasting on FM radio in 1972. (Which is what a tube is supposed to emulate).
 
BEST: CLEAN SOUND
 
Again, what producers and engineers are looking for is "Clean" sound.
 
The "tube," a Chinese built 12AX, is designed to add warmth to guitars and maybe for some music vocals as a “period” sound effect.
 
But adding “warmth” via an old radio tube to your voice only makes you sound muddy. You want to sound like you!
 
THANX MAX
 
Now I remember my Uncle Max being a real audiophile back in the 60’s.
 
He had a totally tube-driven Fisher amp. I remember seeing the glow of those tubes and being drawn to it.
 
Today, in my studio, I have an old 1938 FADA floor console radio that still works! Totally tube driven. Sounds nice and m-e-l-l-o-w.
 
But for voice over? Save your money.
 
STEAK OR SIZZLE?
 
Manufacturers putting tubes in their pre-amps are selling a concept and a gimmick.
 
They even go so far as to put an LED under the tube to make it look like it’s glowing brighter and “oranger” than it really is.
 
That alone should tell you something. Selling the sizzle instead of the steak.
 
ABOUT DAN ...
 
Dan Lenard is a veteran radio personality, educator and voice talent - accredited by Society of Accredited Voice Over Artists (SaVoa), and serves on the SaVoa Advisory Board. As the Home Studio Master, he is a sought-after consultant - often solving problems by phone and email correspondence, and teaching in VoiceOverXtra webinars.
 
 
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Comments (8)
Ken Budka
3/10/2011 at 8:07 AM
Hey Dan,

You mentioned the Rode mics having a lower output. I had been thinking about picking up a Rode NT1-A and wonder if I'm going to need a pre-amp to help the signal. Currently I'm using Pro Tools with an Mbox2. Let me know your thoughts when you have a moment. Thank you.

Ken

Dan Friedman
3/9/2011 at 10:40 PM
The main points here are that as a VO talent your goal should always be to sound accurate and noise free. Tubes generally add distortion ... typically pleasing distortion in music applications. For VO, unless you are looking for very high-end tube preamps, solid state will most often be your best choice.

- Dan
www.soundadvicevo.com
J. R.
3/9/2011 at 2:48 PM
I'm sorry. I disagree with Mr. Lenard.

First off, I would suggest he read the book by Michael Paul Stavrou, Mixing With Your Mind, especially the parts about mic hardness values and monitor speaker placement. Yes, the book is aimed mainly at recording musical/vocal groups, but there is a lot of wisdom there for VO.

I often use an inexpensive preamp, the Tube MP by Art. Although I have no empirical data to back me up, I often find what is recorded is more pleasing, at least to me, and to my customers. Sometimes I even record to an old reel-to-reel tape deck before digitizing.

If you want to get really fussy, in my opinion, different types and lengths of mic cables often impart many nuances and aural artifacts, if you will. I have several mic cables labeled for the effects with certain mics.

The sound you make and finally present as a final product is for the most part determined by what the purchaser requires.

Don't be afraid to experiment and give your client some options. Hey! Get a little bold and try adding some reverb, some EQ, or use a preamp.




Jay Webb
3/9/2011 at 11:20 AM
Marvelous article Dan. I've been telling folks the same things for awhile regarding mics, processing and all that CAN go with recording. Just do your best to sound like yourself, and only produce sounds that you can generally duplicate with any setup ... in case you have to re-record without your original gear. Or you have to match something on down the road.

Yes, I CAN process audio to sound crisper, or warmer, or more interesting, or whatever, but if you're sending it to an audio engineer, that person can take care of all that themselves. I say "let them!" In the case of sending to phone systems or non-audio people, just keep it duplicatable.

Thank you for your insights, Dan. I knew the basic answer to the tube mic question, just not the why and the other detail.
Carl
3/9/2011 at 10:23 AM
Dan,

Thank you. It's great to hear about problems that I didn't know existed. Boy have I got a LOT to learn.
Best Wishes,

Carl Strasburg, CO
Liz Nichols
3/9/2011 at 9:46 AM
As always Dan you cut through the "clutter"...thanks again!
Eric Espinosa
3/8/2011 at 11:20 PM
Thanks for confirming what makes sense to me.
Dustin Ebaugh
3/8/2011 at 11:11 PM
Dan: You did it again. You manage to make me mad, but then, when I think about it, I realize (of course) that you are right and I'm only mad about the excess money I've spent on gear. :) Great article sir!!
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