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Thomann's Cool Online Guides: Mic Preamps

5. Sound-Shaping Features

A
PreampAn amplifier device or circuit that provides initial amplification of a weak electronic signal, usually to 'line' level, in order for it to be processed or passed between other devices, as opposed to a power amp which amplifies a signal in order to drive loudspeakers. Examples include microphone preamps (as dedicated hardware and in mixing desks/recording interfaces) and guitar preamps. Most guitar amps combine the preamp and power amp in the same unit.
preamp
may include tone-shaping controls (EQ), dynamics (compression/limiting) or both:

EQ

The range of available tone shaping is broadly comparable to the range offered with mixers, from simple
BassThe lowest part of the audio frequency range; in popular music, a (generally) rhythmic, low frequency melodic line emphasising the root notes of the chord progression.
bass
and treble controls to 3 or 4-band fully parametric EQ. Many
PreampAn amplifier device or circuit that provides initial amplification of a weak electronic signal, usually to 'line' level, in order for it to be processed or passed between other devices, as opposed to a power amp which amplifies a signal in order to drive loudspeakers. Examples include microphone preamps (as dedicated hardware and in mixing desks/recording interfaces) and guitar preamps. Most guitar amps combine the preamp and power amp in the same unit.
preamps
, particularly
ValveA device consisting of a glass tube from which air is removed, containing one or more electrical contacts operating at high temperature, which as the predecessor of the transistor, was essential to the development of electronics (particularly amplification) and is still favoured in guitar amplification and high-end hi-fi for its warm sound.
valve
units, feature EQ designed specifically for vocals.

A simple ‘low frequency cut’ switch, or high-pass
FilterA circuit used to remove or accentuate frequencies in a sound source. Common types are found on mixing consoles equalisation, synthesizers and dedicated processors such as graphic equalisers.
filter
(HPF), is often also encountered. This rolls off frequencies below a given point (usually 80 - 120Hz), helping to eliminate various sources of
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
such as
RumbleAn undesirable, continuous low frequency noise, usually thought of as being below 50Hz, and commonly originating from air conditioning, traffic noise and other ambient sounds. This can often be a hazard when recording quieter sources such as dialogue on location, and has to be resolved using high pass filters or at the mixing stage with plug-in software designed to eliminate broadband noise.
rumble
transmitted from the floor through the
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
stand, some vocal ‘pops’, and mains-induced
HumUnwanted sound of a specific frequency constantly present in an audio signal, often caused by interference from AC mains power and therefore occurring at 50Hz or mathematically related frequencies.
hum
.

See our separate Online Guide to
EqualizerAn equaliser controls the relative levels of various frequencies in the audio spectrum, affecting the harmonic content or timbre of a sound; usually split into high, mid and low frequency bands that can be individually cut or boosted.
Equalizers
for more detailed information.

Dynamics

Compression1) Process reducing the dynamic range of audio. 2) Process of reducing the size of a data file by removing superfluous data or representing it in more efficient, coded form.
Compression
and limiting are regarded by many engineers as essential tools in this part of the signal path, particularly for recording vocals and drums. Though
Compression1) Process reducing the dynamic range of audio. 2) Process of reducing the size of a data file by removing superfluous data or representing it in more efficient, coded form.
compression
may be applied during mixing, any
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
distortion
or
ClippingAudio distortion caused by overloading, visible as flattened waveform peaks at the maximum possible voltage.
clipping
resulting from an excessively loud signal can be difficult or impossible to remove, and while analogue recording features a degree of
ToleranceIn mechanical engineering and electronics, 'tolerance' refers to the amount by which a measurement may (or does) deviate from a specified norm. The size of a physical component (or a particular electronic measurement) may be said to deviate by a certain percentage and still be within 'spec'; in a critical context a lower tolerance may be necessary.
tolerance
to hot signals (the associated phenomenon of ‘tape compression’ is often considered sonically pleasing),
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
digital
recording has no such
ToleranceIn mechanical engineering and electronics, 'tolerance' refers to the amount by which a measurement may (or does) deviate from a specified norm. The size of a physical component (or a particular electronic measurement) may be said to deviate by a certain percentage and still be within 'spec'; in a critical context a lower tolerance may be necessary.
tolerance
.
DigitalAll digital equipment, formats and systems represent audio in numerical code or form. Digital information is a precise way of expressing any of information that can be quantified in some way.
Digital
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
distortion
is a pretty unpleasant
DistortionIn most cases distortion is an undesirable alteration to a signal which occurs when a piece of equipment is driven with a input level that is too high for its operating level. Sometimes, as in the case of guitar distortion, this can be an intentional and desirable effect.
noise
which must be avoided.

‘Compression’ is the main tool in this battle. A
CompressorA device which reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal.
compressor
‘squashes’
AudioGenerally used to mean "sound"; technically it describes periodic fluctuations of air pressure or electrical energy at frequencies and amplitudes within the human range of hearing; sound, or electrical energy that represents sound; acoustic, mechanical, or electrical frequencies corresponding to normally audible sound waves.
audio
by applying
TrimThe initial gain control on a mixer or other audio device such as a mic preamp, often labelled 'gain'. Trim/gain adjustment is crucial to maintaining a clean gain structure and good signal-to-noise ratio.
gain
reduction when the signal reaches a certain level. Usually this level (the ‘threshold’) and the amount of
Compression1) Process reducing the dynamic range of audio. 2) Process of reducing the size of a data file by removing superfluous data or representing it in more efficient, coded form.
compression
(the ‘ratio’) may be adjusted independently, though some circuits feature one simple
Compression1) Process reducing the dynamic range of audio. 2) Process of reducing the size of a data file by removing superfluous data or representing it in more efficient, coded form.
compression
control.

Subtle
Compression1) Process reducing the dynamic range of audio. 2) Process of reducing the size of a data file by removing superfluous data or representing it in more efficient, coded form.
compression
, combined with appropriate
TrimThe initial gain control on a mixer or other audio device such as a mic preamp, often labelled 'gain'. Trim/gain adjustment is crucial to maintaining a clean gain structure and good signal-to-noise ratio.
gain
settings, is often enough to prevent
ClippingAudio distortion caused by overloading, visible as flattened waveform peaks at the maximum possible voltage.
clipping
. A more extreme solution, known as ‘limiting’, completely prevents the signal from exceeding a given level. This can be achieved with most ordinary
CompressorA device which reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal.
compressors
by turning the ratio fully up, but many
MicrophoneA device which converts airborne sound into an electrical signal.
mic
PreampAn amplifier device or circuit that provides initial amplification of a weak electronic signal, usually to 'line' level, in order for it to be processed or passed between other devices, as opposed to a power amp which amplifies a signal in order to drive loudspeakers. Examples include microphone preamps (as dedicated hardware and in mixing desks/recording interfaces) and guitar preamps. Most guitar amps combine the preamp and power amp in the same unit.
preamps
include a dedicated limiter in addition to the
CompressorA device which reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal.
compressor
. In this way, the
CompressorA device which reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal.
compressor
may be used for unobtrusive level shaping, while the limiter acts as a final ‘safety circuit’.

This site includes more detailed information on
Compression1) Process reducing the dynamic range of audio. 2) Process of reducing the size of a data file by removing superfluous data or representing it in more efficient, coded form.
compression
and limiting in our Online Guide to
MasteringThe process of preparing an audio recording for release, often involving expert application of EQ and dynamics processing and, for vinyl releases, cutting the master disc from which all pressings will be made.
Mastering
.

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