How the Pros Use UA 4-710d Four-Channel Mic Preamp
Learn How Hitmakers Harness the Colorful Hardware on Drums and More
Frankly, there’s not a lot you can’t do with the remarkably versatile Universal Audio 4-710d Four-Channel Tone-Blending Mic Preamp, from bell-like vocals to super-squashed bass sounds to aggressive synths and creamy electric guitars. But perhaps owing to its four-channel architecture, its smart range of preamp timbres — from solid-state clarity to full tube drive — plus on-board 1176-style compression, the 4-710d holds a special place in the hearts of drummers and those tasked with getting detailed, character-rich drum sounds on major album releases.
We asked three noted producers/engineers/musicians how they exploit the 4-710d and as you’ll see, they present a picture of a flexible, easy-to-use, dynamic preamp/compressor that makes getting great drum sounds both simple and rewarding.
Meet the Panel
One of the world’s most recognizable drummers from his longtime gig on
The Late Show with David Letterman, Fig has also recorded with Bob Dylan, Madonna, Ace Frehley, and hundreds more. He is currently on tour with Joe Bonamassa.
The renegade producer is noted for his innovative production style on seminal albums from Snow Patrol, Bloc Party, The Cars, U2, R.E.M., The Killers, and more.
The Grammy award-winning engineer behind the now-legendary wall of sound that defines Green Day albums from American Idiot to 21st Century Breakdown.
In a general sense, what makes the Universal Audio 4-710d a go-to for recording drums?
Chris Dugan: Well, if you’re in the business of going aggressive with sounds on drums, the 4-710d preamps are entirely capable of going in that direction, in a creative and tasteful way. But that’s just the beginning: these four preamps are really more like at least eight, or more if you consider all the blending possibilities. There are so many combinations of tube and solid-state flavors you can create. It’s very versatile.
Jacknife Lee: Useability and color is what I’m always looking for. The 4-710d sounds great, there are no hidden menus, there are jacks right on the front, and so I want to play it, do you know what I mean?
Anton Fig: For me it means that when I do drum tracks remotely for people, in my own home studio, with the 4-710d I have the option of sending them either a punchy and clean, multi-miked sound that they can then color as they like, or I can try something a bit edgier that already has loads of character built into it. It gives me all those options.
What’s a particularly good way of sending drum mics to a single 4‑710d?
JL: If I’m using the 4-710d for drums, I might try to use as few mics as possible: AKG 414s for the rooms, Shure Beta 52-A for the kick; Sennheiser 421 for toms; and the snare top is a Shure SM57 or sometimes an SM7. I don’t generally use an under-snare. I use various ribbon mics for the overheads, including the Cascade Fat Head and VIN-Jet mics, but I’ll usually mix all those down to a stereo pair, so it becomes more like a composite of all the mics.
Although if there’s a very important element in the song, like a tom, I may mic that individually. I’ll typically lean toward the tube setting on the 4-710d: I’m not that concerned with the idea of “speed” with mic pres, this idea of how fast they pick up the transients. I mainly want something inspiring in the drum tone, and if I feel there’s a frequency or a quality that I’m missing, I’ll find a way to add it.
I use various types of mics around the drum room, all of which go through the 4-710d, especially overheads and rooms, while the kick may go through my UA Solo 610. And from there they’ll go to hardware 1176s, Distressors, or Fatsos.
"Distortion is the best thing we have: it adds all kinds of harmonics, squares off the sound, adds compression, and makes you feel good."
– Jacknife Lee
AF: Although I like having one kit in my home studio that’s miked the conventional way — with every drum miked individually along with overheads — it’s great to have one kit that’s miked a little differently, perhaps just kick, snare, floor tom, and overhead, something like the classic Glyn Johns setup, a great roomy, compressed sound. And the 4-710d is something you can entirely dedicate to a setup like that.
I use a Telefunken kick drum mic for the outside kick; a Shure SM57 for the snare; and a pair of Earthworks small diaphragm mics for the overheads, where I’ll generally roll off a little bit of bass. The 1176-style compression in the 4-710d is also great for throwing on a room mic, and getting the maximum compression out of it for a really squashed sound that you can blend into the overall drum mix.
CD: One sweet recipe that I’m using now is this: inside kick mic, outside kick mic, snare top, and a mono overhead, and I’m blending the 4-710d’s cleaner transistor sound with the crunchier tube sound. The inside kick mic is completely clean, on the very transparent solid-state-style side. On the outside kick mic, I’m hitting the tube side of the 4-710 pretty hard, and I did much the same with the snare top, but only a bit of gain of snare. The mono overhead is also exploiting the tube side, and has about as much gain and is as dirty as I could get it, which works really well with a ribbon mic.
As for the 1176-style compression, I used the fast setting for the overhead, which really brought out the character and all the detail in the toms in the ribbon mic. I used the fast setting also on the outside kick mic, which I’m not always a fan of, but it worked great on this very open, resonant kick we were using. I also played with backing off the levels and the gain on the snare and the overhead, and got some cool combinations that way, too. The 4-710d can get pretty dirty, which is a lot of fun; it’s one of the things I love about it.
How does the 4-710d integrate with, say, the plug-ins you’ll use once you’ve captured your basic drum sound, or how it fits into your audio chain in general?
CD: At the Green Day rehearsal space, we’re literally running everything through the 4-710d. So, the first thing I did with the 4-710d’s ADAT optical was connect it to my Apollo Twin, and that made for a great portable setup, which I quickly integrated into our rehearsal studio. I just moved some mics around and there it was: it was totally seamless.
I’ve also been totally selling the fact that the 4-710d has these inserts on every channel to my friends who are looking for a great way to buff out their project studios; there’s a million ways you could exploit these, including adding extra compression or EQ, or whatever you want. Already I can hook one of thee up to my Apollo Twin and record six mics.
In terms of effects, when it comes to drums, I always reach for the UAD Chandler Limited Zener Limiter, and I’ll add that on the drum bus. And to add even more warmth and vibe I’ll usually add a UAD Studer A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder to the drum bus as well, or the Oxide Tape Recorder plug-in, which I love — anything to add more mustard and relish to the sound! I typically add an SSL E Series Channel Strip to the individual drum channels as well, which gets me to where I need to go really fast in terms of punch and clarity.
"These four preamps are really more like at least eight, or more if you consider all the blending possibilities. There are so many combinations of tube and solid-state flavors you can create."
– Chris Dugan
AF: I suppose I’m fortunate that I’ve also got a Universal LA-610 Mk II hardware unit, which is a great unit to use along with the 4-710d, especially if I want to throw up a mono room mic to be really uber-compressed. But once the sound is in the box, I really like both the UAD EMT 140 Plate Reverberator and the EMT 250 Electronic Reverb for drum sounds, as well as the Neve 88RS Channel Strip, which is really incredible sounding.
JL: The 4-710d is constantly used in my studio. It’s hard-wired into my live room, but I also use it for keyboards and analog drum machines. Right now, I’ve got a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 plugged into it, in stereo, and an Arturia DrumBrute going into a Knas Ekdahl Moisturizer before it hits the 4-710d. This is in addition to the fact that the Universal Audio Solo 610 is kind of my signal entryway for nearly every instrument in the studio environment; stuff almost always passes through a UA device before it gets to my computer.
What are the qualities or timbres of the 4-710d’s Tone-Blending preamps that you gravitate to?
JL: I use the distortion on the 4-710d as a tone quite a lot, especially on drum machines and basses, and things like that. The distortion is lovely, and honestly, I just like distortion. I have clean mic pres that don’t do anything, but I don’t like transparency in a mic pre. People talk about it all the time, “Oh, that preamp is so transparent.” If it’s transparent, then what’s the point?
I care about bringing out the character of the instruments. Things don’t exist in isolation; they exist in series, from the player to the listener and all the bits in between. So, I want every element to leave something of itself in the recording, otherwise I don’t see the point in having it. Distortion is the best thing we have: it adds all kinds of harmonics, squares off the sound, adds compression, and makes you feel good.
CD: It’s hard to say. I mean, the solid-state side of it is super transparent, maybe more of an SSL sound than an API. The tube side of it definitely has its own character. I’ve always been looking for tube preamps that can get really dirty, something that can go completely overboard, and that’s one thing I like about the 4-710d. You can be perfectly clean on the solid-state side, or really dirty on the tube side of the equation, or you can blend them together. That’s really cool.
AF: Although I really just play around with the controls until it sounds good to me, I’d say I lean a bit toward the tube side of the blend, for a more “retro” sound. You have the option with the 4-710d of going for loads of character by cranking the gain on the tube side of the preamps and engaging that great compression. That said, the 4-710d is really good if you want a fairly pure sound, using the solid-state side of the blend, moderate compression, and going for great transparency. It can do it all, really.
— James Rotondi
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