Resolving preamp problems

The last time we checked in on my album-recording project, I had run into a recording roadblock—specifically, we ran out of mic preamps for recording. That problem is a thing of the past now, so I'm back to recording songs for the album.

Much of the credit for coming up with a solution goes to you, the readers, who came up with many great suggestions for fixing the problem. That's exactly the type of feedback I was looking for when I started this project—musicians and engineers helping out to make better music.

One other thing to clear up from the last article: I'm afraid I gave the impression that I dislike the Digidesign 003 Factory. I don't; in fact, I think it’s a great piece of gear for the home studio. I was definitely frustrated with my preamp dilemma, but some readers seemed concerned that I hated this particular piece of equipment. Rest assured that’s not the case.

So on to the good news: I don’t think I’ll find myself without enough preamps again. After spending the past couple of weeks doing research and ordering gear, I know have somewhat of a dual system to record music if I need it.

After reading the feedback in the article forums, I noticed quite a few recommendations for the Mackie 1640 mixer. It has 16 mic preamps and all of the other features you would expect from analog mixer. You can also use two of the channels for a direct guitar input via the HI-Z input.

Two Mackie 1640 mixers set up and ready to record.

The HI-Z input is perfect for what I’m looking for because it’s designed specifically for guitars, allowing me to plug directly into the mixer. This means that I no longer have to plug the guitar into a powered box before going to the mixer. When I’m amping the guitar signal in software using Guitar Rig or other similar application, having a direct clean signal is important for the overall tone.

The mixer also has an internal Talkback function—another handy thing that you don’t necessarily think about until you have a group of people standing around with headphones on recording some music. Using this feature, I can push a button and talk to everyone in the band at once without taking off the headphones, making silly hand gestures or otherwise disrupting the session.

I got two of the 1640s, giving me a total of 32 inputs. The 1640 also has a FireWire option, so I can daisy chain the two mixers together and then plug into the Mac and use Logic or GarageBand to record all 32 channels. However, I didn’t do that. With all of the mics connected to the mixer, I’m using the recording outs on the 1640 to go into Apogee’s AD-16x using a DB25-to-XLR cable. The AD-16x is connected to the Mac via the PCI Express Apogee Symphony card, which gives me a great digital signal into Logic. To decode the digital output signal to analog, I’m using an optical lightpipe connection from the AD-16 into the Apogee Mini-Dac.

But that’s not all. I said I hadn’t given up on the 003 Factory, and I haven’t. I got another M-Audio Octane, allowing me to use another four preamp input channels that I output to the Line In of the 003. You can read more about my 003 setup in an earlier article, but with the new Octane in the mix, I now have 16 inputs into Pro Tools.

So that gives me two full systems, ready to record. We loaded the drum kit in over the weekend and got everything in place for the mics, so this week will be the big test.

I’ll have some info on the mics I’m using next time.

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