Exploring the Tonal Options of the 4-710d Mic Preamp on Drums
In 2008, Universal Audio released the 710 Twin-Finity™ Mic Preamplifier and DI; the first mic preamp to feature a continuous blend of tube and solid-state topologies. The 710 went on to win multiple industry awards and grace the racks of marquee engineers. Today, UA also offers the 4-710d Tone-Blending Mic Preamp, which includes four of the same 710 tone-blending tube and solid-state mic preamps, 1176-style compression, plus high quality A/D conversion. With its digital I/O and multiple channels of tone-blending capability, the 4-710d has a unique flexibility that makes it useful for a wide variety of studio applications.
In this article we will demonstrate the tonal depth and variety that the UA 4-710d can bring specifically to your acoustic drum tracks. Preamps impart subtle tonal characteristics in your recordings; the 4-710d is unique in that it is able to provide a variety of different tones via its continuous blend of tube and solid-state topologies. Even more tonal options exist with the addition of the built-in 1176-style compressors on every channel.
The 4-710d also makes it easy to record drum tracks into your DAW using either ADAT or AES/EBU with your existing interface, as we did for this article. Although the 4-710d has many bells and whistles, we decided to focus on the preamps and compression features here, showing how they can add character to the tone of recorded drums.
For the purpose of this article, we’ve included sound examples of the 4-710d at its extremes (set to either all-tube or all-solid state, with and without compression) as well as a sonic example representing the mic preamps typically found on audio interfaces in the $500 - $1000 price range.
The Full Mix
The track heard here is “Let Love Shine” from Lisa Taylor’s upcoming release, which features a simple yet dynamic groove. You can hear the full mix, with slightly accentuated drums, here:
In recording the drums for this track, we employed a simple four-mic setup on a small drum kit, perfect for showcasing the 4-710d. Cymbals included Paiste 15” and 16” traditional crashes, 14” Zildjian New Beat hats and an 18” Zildjian “Old K” crash ride. A pair of Neumann KM 84s in the XY position hovered at approximately 3.5 ft above the snare. An 18” custom bass drum was set up with an Audix D6 bass drum mic one foot from the front head. A Rogers Dynasonic snare had a workhorse Shure SM57 aimed at the shell approximately two inches out. 10” and 14” toms were also present, picked up by the overheads. We chose to tension the kit in a manner that would serve the neo-soul flavor of the song; the bass drum being double-headed and dampened just enough to ape an 808 tone.
Sound Examples of 4-710d Preamp Tone
To showcase the discrete tone features of the 4-710d, the preamp blend control was set fully solid-state, or fully tube. All drum sources were gain matched as best as possible for the most objective comparison; no other post-processing was added.
Note: Mic preamps can impart subtle tonal changes. Please listen to the following audio examples on high-quality headphones or studio monitors, or download and listen in your DAW. (Sorry, your laptop speakers aren't gonna cut it.)
Example 1. Stock I/O Preamps
This is our starting point. We recorded the drums through mic preamps that you would usually find on a typical audio interface in the $1,000 price range. With this type of I/O, the preamps are usually designed to be as transparent as possible, without the benefits of warmth and tone. As a result, other processing would have to be added to the mix in post to approximate these effects. We had to be more careful of digital clipping due to the “perfect” transients on this interface.
Example 2. 4-710d All Tube, No Compression
Versus the Stock I/O preamps, notice that the 4-710d in “Tube, No Compression” mode has a warmer, rounder sound, with softer transients. First listen to the kick drum sound; you’ll hear a boosted low end, a bit of harmonic distortion, and a slightly longer sustain to the kick versus the Stock I/O preamps. Now listen to the snare sound; it sounds like an instrument that’s actually being played versus the rather uninspiring “thud” of the Stock I/O snare sound. Specifically it’s got more depth to it, and you can hear the sympathetic resonances of the snares buzzing as the kick drum hits.
Sound Examples with 1176-Style Compression
The 4-710d’s 1176-style compressor has two time constants, Slow and Fast. As you would expect, the Slow setting sets a slower attack and release time, and the Fast setting sets a faster attack and release time.
Dialing in the preamp with compression engaged is a “dual twist” business. The user brings up compression with input gain while bringing up the final output with the level control. Anyone familiar with the operation of the original 1176LN will feel right at home dialing in the preamp with the compressor on.
For the examples below, we dialed in about -3 dB gain reduction for the overheads with a Slow time constant. We gave a hearty -10 dB gain reduction with a Fast time constant for the snare.
Example 3. 4-710d All Solid-State With Compression
We’ve now set the 4-710d into Solid-State mode, and added compression. As you’ll hear, it has all of the advantages we’ve noted versus the Stock I/O preamps, but it’s a bit tigher sounding than the Tube example above. When A/Bing verses the Stock I/O, notice how the room is “coming to life,” and notice the sizzle in the hi-hats — you can really hear the push-pull dynamics of the hats being played.
Example 4. 4-710d All Tube With Compression
Back in Tube mode, with compression, you’ll notice that the bigger low-end and rounder transients are back. This overall sound was our favorite, especially once we added the drums back into the full mix — it just seemed to sit right, and to fit with the R&B vibe of the song.
Of course, whether you add compression, or select tube or solid state modes, is entirely up to you. It’s an artistic choice that you can make during the recording process.
It’s worth noting that we are of course only showcasing the 4-710D on drum sounds here. The coloring, openness and life it yields versus stock preamps has a cumulative effect as you apply it to bass, guitars, vocals and the other elements of your song.
Taken as a whole, the 4-710D 4-Channel Mic Preamp — with its flexible Tube / Solid State control, and high-quality onboard compression — can really bring your recordings to life.
— Will Shanks and David Roda
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