Flat out, I am not a gear junkie. I think recording gear is way cool, but I just don’t care to waste my money on most of it. I use a couple of decent mics, an audio interface, a keyboard controller, an affordable pair of studio monitors, some budget pres, and my DAW of choice, Pro Tools. That’s about it. To be honest it’s not much different than the $500 setup I recommend to musicians all the time. But today I want to mention a piece of gear that has saved me many times in the studio and I keep in my bag of tricks just in case…
The (not so) secret weapon
You ready for it? It’s simply a Tube MP external pre/DI from ART. Specifically I have the Studio V3 model that comes with some EQ presets built in. This little metal box is interesting. On the surface it’s a simple stand alone microphone preamp. It has a budget tube inside that you can drive to mix in with the solid state signal giving you a “warm” and “colored” sound. Now I’m not generally one to recommend (or buy myself) external preamps when the ones built in my audio interface do the job wonderfully, but here are 3 things this little box does that I find make it a valuable weapon in my arsenal.
It adds some punch to bass guitar
Since I picked this guy up a few years ago I have recorded practically every bass guitar part through it. When you drive the Input knob you really get a slight distortion (from the tube) to the signal that I think gives the bass guitar some life in the mix. It’s a common technique to run the bass track through an amp modeling plugin during mixing, but it’s nice to add some punch on the way in, so to speak.
It let’s me split my guitar signal
These days I like to both mic a guitar amp and capture the dry guitar signal when recording, allowing me to re-amp the dry signal later. The Tube MP helps me do this flawlessly. I plug the guitar cable directly into the Tube MP, then I use it’s dual outputs to run one out to the guitar amp in the tracking room (which is miked up) and the other signal straight to Pro Tools. What I get is the miked and dry signal recorded easily at the same time without any fuss.
It gives me that extra gain I need
One feature I’ve come to use on occasion is the gain boost switch. One push of a button and you get an extra 20db of tube gain. Why is this great? Well sometimes what you’re recording is just too quiet, and perhaps the pres in your audio interface just don’t give you enough gain to get a decent signal level into Pro Tools. So pull out your Tube MP plug it into a line input on your box and BAM, you’ve got more gain in no time.
You know the best thing about it?
Truly the best thing about my secret weapon is the price. You can get this puppy for as low as $48. That’s the real secret. People are spending $500 to $1000 every day for a “mid range” mic pre…but you…oh no. You my friend can drop less than $50 and have yourself a great sounding mic pre, bass DI, signal splitter, with gain boost and tube circuitry! Now that’s a revolution in recording!