My Favorite Preamp Plugins

AS the last installment of this month's focus, PREAMPS, I wanted to discuss in short the options available to all those that might not have a plethora of microphone preamps at their disposal. Many people, myself include, don’t have access to a multi-million dollar studio in this day and age, and the ‘bedroom producer’ (as much as I hate that term), is becoming more and more relevant in today's world; just look at Billie Eilish and her brother - her whole first album was done in his bedroom and they won 8 Grammy's between them!


So, with that in mind, let's dive in, and talk about the software options available!


Saturation Options

You may have heard the term ‘american’ or ‘british’ sounding before, and there’s a simple explanation; when the world of technology was still growing, there were many brilliant men and women designing their ideas to solve a common issue - quality in recording, and bringing the sound in their heads to life in their own way. This resulted in many varying companies all over the globe creating unique characteristics, which now provides us with an abundance of options to choose from; everything from the originals that exist, to their variations, clones, and specific to today's topic, software emulations.


Neve

Almost everyone involved in audio will have heard the name Neve and for good reason. Rupert Neve was a British electrical engineer, responsible for many of the preamps we know and love today, and essentially coined the term ‘british sounding’ through his own hands. The 1064, 1073, 1084, portico, and many more are great examples of the sort of sound you’ll achieve - punchy, transient friendly, gritty yet warm, and super ‘analogue’ sounding, this particular make of preamp is the pinnacle for me. If you need any more convincing to try any emulations out to hear how this sounds, I’d recommend you listen to Nirvana's Nevermind album and pay attention to the drums - that’s the sound of Neve for me.

There are a few emulations out there that get rather close to the actual thing now, but the best ones I’ve found are the following: Brainworx/Lindell Audio’s 80 Series Console emulation (and Bus channel emulation), Universal Audio’s 1073 emulation, Kush Audio’s Omega N module however, it is the sound of the preamp without the EQ module, and lastly, Arturia’s Pre 73.

In the video below, I discuss these all and A/B between the options I’d typically reach for on a drum session:

API

API is what I’d describe as being the ‘American’ sound. I always refer back to amps when I think about the last two examples, mainly in terms of say Marshall and Fender as the big players that helped shape the industry.


API has a real knack of being able to smooth out the sound without reducing the punch of a particular sound source, but it's definitely less aggressive than the Neve preamps thanks to a Op-Amp design rather than relying so heavily on input and output transformers. I’ve always really liked API EQ’s on guitars, and the preamps even more so, but on drums - I don’t know, there’s something to the depth and character in API consoles that’s extremely hard to recreate, let alone find in other manufacturers.

There’s only a handful of emaulations compared to its british counterpart above, the main ones that I’ve found to be extremely useful are SKNote (relatively unknown, but a great plugin and hardware manufacturer) with their CH5 plugin, Universal Audio’s 212L API Preamp emulation, and most recently, and by far and away my favorite, Brainworx/Lindell Audio’s 50 Channel, which is the follow up to their 80 Series mentioned above, and with all the same level of depth and attention to detail as it’s counterpart too.


Telefunken and Tube Preamps

There’s just something special about valve preamps. I’ve never been able to put my finger on it specifically, but the added warmth, depth in the bottom end, and glisten on the upper frequency range has a real knack of bringing me back to my early days when starting out. Due to the technology being around since the first ‘proper’ preamps, it’s so much more accessible to purchase a dedicated preamp that’s valve based, and I’d recommend this is where you should start. There’s not much a valve can’t do to be totally honest with you - everything from imply adding more character overall to your tracks, to driving the tube and reaching new plains of harmonic saturation and transient shaping/shaving to carve your sound in the mix, valve can pretty much do exactly what you want in their own special way.

Telefuken managed to perfect this in the early 50/60’s with the V76 mono preamp. This extremely wonderful piece of engineering has lived much above it’s initial expectations I’m sure, and has been the basis upon which many, many hardware preamps have been made. I’m not totally sure of the make up, but German engineering was at it’s pinnacle in my honest opinion with this design - and it’s a difficult build as far as I’m aware due to the components no longer really existing, hence it’s close to $10,000 to buy a pair of them now!


Luckily for us, there’s a few marvelous software makers out there that have come extremely close to the real thing, above all my favorite two are NeOld’s V76U73 emulation (honestly, it’s amazing so please try it!), and equally as impressive, the V76 Pre from Arturia which also includes an EQ module that the NeOld version does not.


Honorable Mentions

There are a few honorable mentions to those not included specifically, but SSL console variations are another example of fine British electrical engineering, loved by many and seen as an immediate variation in drum sound compared to say Neve. Anther is DBX, who many know for their compressors, EQ’s and more, but the 676 channel strip has been a mainstay in my studio and I’ve loved it from the moment it arrived - I will say though, I’m not sure if there’s an emulation for it through, although, I’d love to know if there is!


Whatever you decide you like best, I hope you’ve enjoyed our focus this month, and I can’t wait to talk to you all about our upcoming topic for next month. Until then, stay creative!


German