TOPIC: need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass

need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 1 month 18 hours ago #21682

Howdy fellow Scuffham users,

I'm currently playing electric guitar & bass direct in to an entry-level interface connected via USB 2.0 to my MacBook Pro (i9 architecture). I use Ableton Live 10 and a typical song for me has a lot of virtual instruments plus the live recordings of guitar & bass. I mix/master my own songs. Keep in mind this is all just a hobby, but one I've become obsessed with.

My journey has lead me in search of the next step towards either getting a much better interface or even moving directly to a separate pre-amp/DAC type set-up. I don't mind spending money on gear, but I'd like to make wise decisions and design a system I really like and understand. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of the "high end" gear is aimed at pros in recording studios who need a lot of I/O. So far, I'm only recording one instrument at a time and only DI.

I started researching higher end interfaces like Apollo X or the soon-to-be-release Apogee Symphony. The appeal of these is that all I need is contained within 1 box (a DI input, DAC, headphone out, and connection to the computer). . However, part of what you're paying for on these things is multiple mic pre-amps and on-board DSP. I'm not opposed to a good mic pre built into the interface. I don't need the DSP. Seems like a nice idea but the workflow running separate console software alongside my DAW seems like a pain. Plus, I love s-gear so in many cases I'd only get limited utility out of off-loading my guitar/bass related plugins onto the interface. I'd still want to track through s-gear.

So, the insane gear-head music lover in me thought, "why not run into a DI box into a dedicated, pro-level pre-amp, then a separate DAC with a headphone output?" Of course, this is expensive. I don't mind spending the money, but I'd want to know what I was getting before I committed that kind of money. Just as an example, i was looking at the Louder than Liftoff Silver Bullet, which I could plug into from a DI box (I think), run that into a DAC with a headphone output), which would then run into my MacBook/DAW. I could also use the Silver Bullet as an analog processor on my master bus to add some EQ and analog saturation instead of using plugins for the same purpose. Would that work?

What I can't figure out is which direction to take. I've played guitar a long time but the whole recording/mixing thing is new to me. I'm curious whether anyone else has gone down this road and how you made the decisions you did. If you went from an entry-level interface to something closer to pro-level, how did you make that choice? If you went to separate pre-amp + DAC, how do you know which direction to go?

Thanks in advance!
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 1 month 6 hours ago #21684

The advantage of separate components is you can select converters, DI’s, and mic pres to taste. I am skeptical of any audible advantage in top tier converters considering how cheap even the best quality ADC chips are to produce, but very expensive gear also gives studios more “credibility”. Something from RME or the equivalent might be more than enough if you go that route. Be aware that some newer Thunderbolt buss converters have ultra-low round trip latency, which is a definite advantage when recording while monitoring with plugins. ADC S/N and error rate can be a concern. ADC S/N is so much higher than 2” tape now I wouldn’t use it as a deciding factor: 115dB vs 120dB -- really, who cares? Jitter rate can be relevant, although people have preferred high jitter rates in blind tests. Maybe there’s a crowd~pleasant smoothing effect at a given jitter rate where it isn’t obvious? That could be a big factor in why people prefer one ADC over another. Ask 10 studio engineers which of 10 top tier ADC’s they prefer, and you might get 10 different answers. Jitter rates are all extremely low now anyway. You can always add some subtle smoothing effect with a plugin, but you can’t stabilize a jittery ADC.

Elambo mentioned power supply in another thread about A/I units. I’d say power supply design and capability is very important in analog preamps. I can’t speak to the design, but Voltage and amperage matter. I’d be more inclined to look for mic pres that use a higher V/A supply for better overall linearity and signal clarity. I’d be wary of some tube designs, though. Many just add a low V tube stage in the path for coloring. It may sound warm, but detracts from clarity. There are OpAmp chips with very high S/N specs that can be configured for no audible crossover distortion making them audibly “transparent”, but you may prefer the sound of class A FET preamps. I wouldn’t specifically know what to recommend, but spending money there can make a difference. I once found a mic pre kit someone put together with ~$200 in parts (mostly the transformers) that he claimed equaled the performance of those many times the price. I don’t doubt that. Not sure if he had a case for it though.

You could then get a passive transformer loaded DI box for guitars, rather than add more electronics in the path. Transformer quality is of utmost importance there. Certain names may demand a high price without any audible improvement. You could probably make one pretty cheap with a Hamond transformer that would be extremely clear and clean with massive headroom. You might want to find one that starts to compress on very strong peaks with high output pickups so you don’t accidentally overload your ADC? Maybe not. I think you can plug something like that directly into an ADC line input and just boost the signal as needed in your DAW with a simple level plugin. I might be missing something, but adding another preamp in the path can’t possibly improve S/N ratio or clarity. It should be fine as long as the signal impedance is within range. I guess you could plug it into a mic pre if not. You’d have to research that.

Considering all these things, one of the Presonus “Quantum” A/I’s might make your life much simpler. They have as low as ~1ms round trip latency on a Thunderbolt buss, outstanding ADC specs, and somewhat high V/A Class A mic/instrument pres. The utility of the other bells & whistles is dubious, but you might find them handy. I’d at least compare other options within the price range to one of those. Keep in mind the input-Z of the guitar input matters a lot. Some A/I’s may have relatively low input-Z. FI, some RME A/I instrument ins are ~500k Ohms. 1M Ohm is generally the standard for Hi-Z passive guitar pickups. Higher is fine, but will increase the guitar circuit resonant peak level a bit. Turning the guitar tone knob down a tad can compensate.

I should add that it can be beneficial to record at a 88.1k or 96k sample rate because the signal filtering isn't as severe as at lower rates, and that there may be some information above the hearing range that could possibly affect our perception via intermodulation distortions or whatever. 24bit resolution is more than adequate, and the studio standard is to leave ~18dBfs headroom when recording for a few reasons. That still yields at least 21bit resolution. Higher sample rates aren't generally recommended because not only does it take more CPU, but the ADC error rate may become audibly detrimental, and instruments and voices really don't produce harmonics that high. I switched from 48k to 96K after reading an illuminating article Elambo had recommended, and I think it does sound more "natural".
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Last edit: 4 weeks 1 day ago by GCKelloch.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 6 days ago #21689

GCKelloch wrote:

I once found a mic pre kit someone put together with ~$200 in parts (mostly the transformers) that he claimed equaled the performance of those many times the price. I don’t doubt that.

I don't doubt it either (and I'm curious to know which kit you're thinking of). There was a company called Seventh Circle Audio (now defunct) which produced amazing kits which sounded nearly identical to a few very famous preamps. They sold for a fraction of the cost because you had to assemble them yourself, and because SCA's profits were small. You were paying for the hardware. Virtually no R&D to recover, and little overhead. Great bang-for-the-buck. Their "N" topology sounded virtually identical to a Neve 1272.

There are quite a few companies like this (and sure the one you're thinking of is included) which are great options. Next on my bench is a Klon clone (tho I do already have a KTR) and it's the same deal: you're just paying for parts and the wallet thanks you.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 6 days ago #21692

So long ago I couldn't say, but the Mic Pre kit was just something an individual designed and gave a parts list for. There are many kit options now. I'm not sure it makes sense to get mic Pre for coloring the sound. I'd just go for clean, clear and quiet and do any coloring in-the-box.

Good idea on the Klon kit. Prices on the originals are ridiculous. The NOS parts thing has also become fetishized to the point of ridiculousness. Things like biasing and filtering changes using more affordable parts may yield virtually the same results, and many players prefer the sound of Si anyway. Be interesting to experiment with a Shottky diode on a trim pot to see how the response compares to a Ge diode in the Klon circuit:
rezzonics.blogspot.com/2014/01/germanium...ttky-diodes-for.html
I'd prefer having the adjustable response curve.

I noticed the UAD Thunderbolt A/I's are 129dB S/N on the DAC output. Is that A-weighted or...? Presonus gives very specific specs. Is it really worth paying ~3x the price of a Quantum 2 if the difference is just a matter of personal preference? Why go down the bottomless gear pit when one could spend the time making music?
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 5 days ago #21693

Indeed, owning an authentic Klon (and many other "holy grail" products) is more about the cache behind the name, and the pride of ownership, than the sound itself. Several people/companies have discovered the parts list by un-gooping the guts and recreated it, piece-by-piece, and A/B tests I've heard show that they're hard to distinguish from the originals.

There are some classic products that are tough, if not impossible, to recreate (the Neumann KM54 mic comes to mind) and their prices are worth the numbers they demand. A Klon, in my opinion, is not one of those things.

With regard to the topic, we had the Golden Age of digital convertors a few years ago, so the good news is that most of what's available at reasonable prices is going to sound good. The differences between interfaces may even have more to do with the associated equipment (cabling, the guitar, the proper *or* poor use of pedals) than the interface itself. Controlled tests are somewhat rare with these things.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 5 days ago #21694

elambo wrote:

Indeed, owning an authentic Klon (and many other "holy grail" products) is more about the cache behind the name, and the pride of ownership, than the sound itself. Several people/companies have discovered the parts list by un-gooping the guts and recreated it, piece-by-piece, and A/B tests I've heard show that they're hard to distinguish from the originals.

There are some classic products that are tough, if not impossible, to recreate (the Neumann KM54 mic comes to mind) and their prices are worth the numbers they demand. A Klon, in my opinion, is not one of those things.

With regard to the topic, we had the Golden Age of digital convertors a few years ago, so the good news is that most of what's available at reasonable prices is going to sound good. The differences between interfaces may even have more to do with the associated equipment (cabling, the guitar, the proper *or* poor use of pedals) than the interface itself. Controlled tests are somewhat rare with these things.

I read an article by the Klon Centaur designer in which he said it's more about how all the chosen parts work together than the character of any individual part. That's why I think an adjustable I-V curve via the Shottky diode/trim pot could be helpful, rather than have to swap in and out parts. Seems like an easy enough mod.

It should be noted that even those legendary Neumann tube preamp mics aren't as accurate as the MEMS mics found in modern cell phones, which have no audible proximity effect. It's the sweet coloring effects that we love about those great old mics. I'm not suggesting recording vocals with a MEMS mic (which are only omni-directional), but something low noise and accurate can be colored with plugins later. Sterling makes some affordable options. Keep in mind that dynamic mics generally have slower transient response than condensers or ribbons. That can be useful to smooth transients and square waves of tube amp driven guitar speakers. Perhaps a plugin could do that as well. I'd want to know the proximity boost attribute of any mic I record with. Some mics have built in proximity canceling.

Yes, the capacitance of the guitar cable b4 the first preamp stage is an essential aspect of the sound. A low capacitance cable offers more versatility regarding high end extension. There's a thread here in which a generous contributor tested typical Strat and Tele pickups with some cheap cables I had recommended measuring ~160pF & ~260pF. The high end character is clearly different with each cable. I liked the higher C cable with the Strat and lower C with the Tele bridge pickup, but to each their own. More expensive guitar cables are by no means "better" sounding. It's mainly about the capacitance, but shielding, handling noise and construction quality are factors worth considering as well. Velocity Factor may make a difference in phase-angle within the audible range, but it's a difficult spec to find with most cable distributors. Steel core cables have a higher VF than Copper.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 5 days ago #21695

Has anyone tried Craig Anderton's Transient Tamer? craiganderton.org/transient-tamer-diy-project/

It's supposed to deliver a better guitar input signal, specifically for digital processing by amp sims.

Gonna solder one up as soon as I can get to my bench again.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 4 days ago #21696

johnm wrote:

Has anyone tried Craig Anderton's Transient Tamer? craiganderton.org/transient-tamer-diy-project/

It's supposed to deliver a better guitar input signal, specifically for digital processing by amp sims.

Gonna solder one up as soon as I can get to my bench again.

Admittedly I've not tried it, but I don't think it's necessary, and it might even be detrimental. The noise floor of modern convertors is quite low, in fact I rarely let a signal reach beyond 80% and wouldn't be upset if it were only at 25%. If gain needs to be hotter for the sake of an amp sim, I can increase the gain very easily after it has been recorded. As always, it's FAR more damaging to go over the digital threshold than to be quiet. More to the point of the mod, there's far more noise coming directly from the guitar's pickups than from the noisefloor of the interface, and I wouldn't want anything altering the guitar signal unnecessarily.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 4 days ago #21697

GCKelloch wrote:

That's why I think an adjustable I-V curve via the Shottky diode/trim pot could be helpful, rather than have to swap in and out parts.

An adjustable Klon would be an interesting thing.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 4 days ago #21698

Awesome find, Johnm. I do hear some distortion in a few of the transients in the example clip, but it's not horrible like digital clipping, and is a lot cheaper than a dedicated pedal set to do a similar thing.

The DAW standard is to record with ~18dB of headroom. That should leave enough room for the strongest peaks while still providing at least 126dB potential dynamic range with a 24bit ADC. That should be over 90dB S/N with a decent Hi-Z preamp. I don't get any clipping with my cheapo Focusrite A/I input set at 9:00, and preamp noise isn't an issue. Still, it's good to have the option. I'd set your pickup heights with it off so you can hear the full transients without any distortion.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 4 days ago #21699

I edited this entry after looking at the Centaur circuit design here:
www.electrosmash.com/klon-centaur-analysis#op_amp_gain_stage

The Centaur appears to use a Ge diode for each side of the waveform, so you'd need either a dual-ganged trim pot or two single trim pots. I do believe you could get varying degrees of Asymmetrical distortion with two trim pots. It looks like the output drops as it clips the op-amp harder when the resistance on the diode is decreased, so you should get slightly higher output on the cleaner waveform side, which would be desirable for increased transient clarity along with 2nd harmonic strength at the clipping softness you dial in. That sounds like an awesome option. You might also want to replace (R16?) with a ~50K pot to mix the slightly lowered level gain signal in with the clean signal. Having a cleaner 1/2 waveform would somewhat alleviate the need for the clean signal mix, but the pot would offer fine-tuning at various asymmetrical soft-clipping settings. Anyway, this is all a bit OT, so I'll leave off there. Love to hear the results if you end up trying it.
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Last edit: 3 weeks 3 days ago by GCKelloch.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 3 days ago #21708

I know that the sound of those diodes varied from pedal to pedal, and through the years, which is why it's been tough to capture "the" Klon sound. What is "the sound" if there's variance. I've heard Klons that sound quite different from each other, and that's why it's best to audition them to see what our ears prefer. Different strokes...

Cutting to the chase, I'd love to see a version of this pedal with 3 different diodes, selectable via switch. Variable pots always make me nervous because they can alter the effect of the component, but 3 hard-wired diodes could be enough to achieve enough diversity to cover the basic variations between Klons. The darker vs. the brighter and whatever lies between.
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need help/opinions on gear for improving recording DI electric guitar & bass 3 weeks 3 days ago #21712

I started a new thread as not to stray anymore OT:
www.scuffhamamps.com/forum/tweakers-cafe...r-variable-i-v-curve
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