When Lynn Fuston, publisher and coordinator of the 3D Audio comparison series, walked up to the Tape Op booth at the New York AES, I immediately started railing on him. "Oh, look, it's Lynn Fuston. Don't tell me you have a new comparison disc out." I was busted! Without blinking, he produced the newest 3D release, Preamps in Paradise. It's a data DVD containing 24-bit, 48 kHz WAV files of guitars, drums, bass, piano, and vocals recorded through 24 of the best preamps on the market. The idea is you can load up your DAW and mix and match the recordings to compare the different preamps.
I own the 3D Audio microphone and preamp shootout audio CDs. I've found them to be very interesting. While the liner notes admonish listeners to use the CDs for informational purposes only, I can tell you that it's possible to make some decisions from these products. First, if you really like a preamp or mic on the CD, there is a high probability that you will like the same unit in your studio. However, if you really don't like a given unit on the CD, there is only a small chance that you won't like it in real life. (I know, it doesn't make sense, bit it's true.) Case in point, I purchased two of the microphones I judged to be some of the worst on the CD, and I wouldn't trade them for the world. Both are really great, and I use them all the time. They must have had stage fright when 3D tested their cousins. Likewise, I own or have bought some of the units that I marked as the best and have not been disappointed. I guess this comes down to being bad news if you have "GAS" (Gear Acquisition Syndrome); 3D's offerings will make you want to buy more!
So, how useful is this DVD? In a word: plenty! Imagine how difficult it would be to set up fair testing conditions for this many preamps. Additionally, consider how hard it would be to get them all at the same time. Perhaps most useful is the chance to audition preamps that you've only read about in reviews and to use them in a hands-on mixing situation. Without naming names, I'll report that there are preamps that have a reputation as "colored rock and roll" units that actually sounded very open, clear, and high-fidelity. There were also preamps that made me drool despite me having dismissed them in the past as having silly-looking front panels or an unknown name. In short, gear can be like people. Sometimes you need to quit listening to gossip and formulate your own options! Short of taking a great deal of time and money to set up your own shootout, the 3D Audio test CDs and DVDs provide an economical and educational way to do this in the comfort of your own studio environment. If you're considering a major investment in a preamp or microphone, I highly recommend buying one of the 3D products. ($49.95 direct; www.3daudioinc.com)