Every time I record something, I am thankful that I have the right tools to simply get things rolling for the client. I don't make them stand around for hours, nor do I need the drummer to play the kick drum for an eternity before I have a sound I am ready to commit to the record. I have the right tools for the job. This was not always true, and I did my share of asking the drummer to hit the snare for 10 minutes solid while I ran back and forth, changing the angle, changing my mind, changing the snare, changing the tuning-and thinking to myself all the while, "How the F$%K do people just throw up any old mic and hit record?!?!" I would read this in a magazine and be amazed at how simple everything sounded when some superstar engineer or producer would talk about making a record. "And then we just put up some old mic that the engineer wanted to try and got a level. That became the song that sold seven trillion copies in the first day. We just used the preamp in the console... or whatever. Ya know?
Then I started to figure something out. That "old mic" that the "engineer wanted to try"? It was a U 47, M 49, U 67, or M 269. The "preamp in the console" turned out to be a 1066, A Range, API, Helios, Olympic, or Aengus discrete goodness just living in the console. When you are using the right tools, you can get some very striking results in a very short amount of time. When you are using tools that not only are well-made from a technical standpoint, but also have some soul all their own, and impart something desirable on the source-even if that desirable quality is speed or transparency-something is happening that is good, by any recordist's subjective measure.
Can a mic preamp actually flatter a mic? I think so. I don't think it should just "do its job and get out of the way." Its funny, because whenever someone tells me emphatically that "you can't even hear it" about a piece of gear, I am like, "then why the hell would I bother to use it?"
Can you "hear" a mic preamp? I think so.
ShinyBox is known primarily for their ribbon microphone offerings, and the first time I heard of some 500-series stuff from this cool company was in a deep corner at the NYC AES show a while back. That's where I hung out with Jon, the head of ShinyBox. Jon turned out to be a great guy, a musician, and a fun person to be around. I figured I would have some ShinyBoxes in my future after meeting him. I like to support that sort of thing.
All of a sudden, the Si mic preamp shows up on the scene, and I have to have one. I get one in the mail and take it out of the cardboard, non-shiny box. The preamp looks like it is made to be used underwater. All the tolerances are tight, and the whole thing is sealed in. Plus, it is really well laid-out. I usually don't care too much about meters on mic preamp, as my destination is all I care about level-wise (tape machine or DAW), but the metering is actually really nice on the Si. Ten-segment metering means it lets you know the mic is working-and more if you like to use your eyes. The meter has a couple of different modes, and the peak hold is great, along with a clear button for the peak. But whatever with all that stuff... this preamp sounds great!
The Si has with tons of great-sounding gain, and the stepped attenuator and the killer trim pot feel awesome. This thing is totally 100% a winner. This mic preamp is worth having in any studio. Really. I have some really great preamps, including 34 vintage Neves in my Neve desk, and this preamp totally has a home in my studio. It reminds me, in very broad terms, of an old API-esque thing happening with the mids, but with an
"oomph" to the low mids that I could really see kicking butt on certain guitar sounds. This mic preamp just seems to want to open up and scream, so for sure I liked it on a centered room mic on drums-my Telefunken U 47, which I know well in that position. The ShinyBox performed perfectly for this. Just the right balance for what I was looking for. Forward, not bright, great mid definition, tons of thwack. Like the feeling that you get using something with a ton of headroom-you just can't make it give up.
The switchable input loading is really cool as well. Even using this preamp with an old tube mic, I tried the Hi-Z button and got some interesting results in overall "fingerprint". I could see this being very useful outside the intent of matching mic impedance. This could be very useful for getting a more DAP-Kings (Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse) type of vibe out of your existing mics, with just a slight nod to the past with an impedance-mismatch translating as a "pinched" low end, or a really shallow low-pass filter-cool twist of tone at the push of a button. Try it! Flip it the other way and get classic, discrete, high-headroom goodness. Totally awesome.
The fact that this preamp is $500 blows my mind-completely worth every penny. It is made in the USA and the quality is something to make us prouder than Bush's public speaking prowess. Buy a few of these preamps!!!
($500 direct; www.shinybox.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.