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$300 preamp vs. $3000 preamp Where do the differences lie?

#1 User is offline   Lzi Icon

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 01:52 PM

This is a direct quote from Fletcher, a very famous engineer...

"$#it you might find at the local Banjo Mart (haha good one Fletcher... GC eat your heart out) for <$1k ain't gonna sound like an NPNG or a Great River or a Chandler or a TAB-funkenwerks or a GML or a [myriad of other brilliant options]... the difference is in the quality of component selection, the cleverness of the circuit design, the stability of the power supply and what the designer is trying to achieve in terms of audio texture."

---Fletcher

You won't get a better answer to this question than this one. You can trust the validity of the statement. For those of you who do not know, Fletcher is a brilliant engineer. He's recorded many of the records which you probably listen to on a regular basis. Fletcher is THAT engineer, he's a BEAST. You may disagree with him in your ignorance but truth is, Fletcher isn't blowing smoke here, he's telling it like it is. He understands the difference. This man has more knowledge than everyone who frequents this forum combined easily. Listen or don't. You may insist upon arguing with his knowledge if you'd really like to fool yourself, this won't save your $300 channel strip from sounding like crap though. It might sound great to you. This should teach you something very useful...Your ears are sorely uneducated as of yet...Listen to Fletcher...Please, don't listen to me, but listen to Fletcher. He's like the shadow, he knows!

Sorry, but there is nobody on this forum who can speak with more knowledge, and experience on recording than Fletcher can-NOBODY...Think you can? Dream on egoman dream on!
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Posted 26 February 2011 - 05:11 PM

I am not surprised that he says that's the case. It's probably true. However, if you can't tell the difference, you shouldn't spend the money on it yet... If you can't tell, then you can mess it up anyway. LOL.

I'm sure you can tell the differene by now, Lzi. :) Here's a fun example of a preamp shootout between a $30/ch preamp vs a Great River. So many people didn't get it right. It's fun to listen and pick out which you think is which and why. Then you can look up the answer on page 3, I believe.

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 09:33 PM

No link bud, but, I've seen this test before. I wouldn't want to listen on this system anyway LOL. Computer speakers wouldn't allow me to discern the differences objectively. I've used the Great River pre quite a few times so, I know it's sound, and color. The difference is probably in the depth of the soundfield, and the low end is probably richer on the Great River. The GR is a "sortaNeve1073" LOL box. The output transformer in the GR is undoubtably of much higher quality than the $30 design. Turn the gain to 10 and I'll bet I can tell you right away which one is which lol.. The $30 pre is probably much noisier at high gain settings, this is usually a dead give away for an inexpensive design. Toss up the link, and I'll try to get to it tomorrow. Although these so-called shoot-outs are rather biased towards those who can't hear the differences.

A great preamp won't make your playing or singing sound any better, in fact if there are rough spots in your playing technique it will BROADCAST them to you in living color detail, and this is one of the reasons why you choose a $2000 pre over a $200 pre. Cheap pre's won't do this for you. Being able to hear better allows you to make better recordings. The noise floor of cheap mic pre's is always much higher than those of a good design, with VERY few exceptions, and those exceptions begin at $500...BOTTOM LINE. There is a LOT of fine details lost within the noise of cheap micpre's.

I'll only bring my recording rig online if I have to. When I want to listen to something critically I burn whatever it is to disk and then upload into my rig. I'm in our office when I'm on here.
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Posted 28 February 2011 - 12:06 AM

Whoops, sorry for forgetting the link. http://www.gearslutz...reat-river.html

The difference actually is rather obvious... it's just funny how many random people on the forum posted praise of the cheap one and criticized the GR. For someone experienced I'm sure it's simple to pick out. Even I got it right pretty confidently. But several people were totally saying the ART had more detail. I laughed.

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 11:25 AM

View Postm24p, on 28 February 2011 - 12:06 AM, said:

Whoops, sorry for forgetting the link. http://www.gearslutz...reat-river.html

The difference actually is rather obvious... it's just funny how many random people on the forum posted praise of the cheap one and criticized the GR. For someone experienced I'm sure it's simple to pick out. Even I got it right pretty confidently. But several people were totally saying the ART had more detail. I laughed.


LOL ART and detail are two trains that'll never ever cross tracks! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA This would be a GREAT illustration of people who don't know squat pretending to know something! All they know is the marketing line that some 19 year old wet-behind-the-ears kid at Guitar Center laid on them. Like the $100 ART "TUBE" pre! Man, that thing is a GREAT distortion box but, tube preamp is quite a strech if you know anything about circuitry at all. Calling it tube PRE is a serious line of crap. The tube isn't even in the signal path, it's an add on, the plate of the tube is absolutely starved for voltage...And if someone doesn't understand what the %$#@ I'm talking about, they hhave absolutely no business spending any money on mic amps LOL.

The funny thing about "shootouts" like these is they seem to be designed to justify buying crappy equipment, and that is just sad.

Here's the preamp acid test everyone...Want a good mic amp? Crank the gain knob all the way up...now listen...is the hiss louder than three alley cats in heat? Guess what? You've purchased a piece of junk.

After poeople buy junk, they go on a campaign trying to justify themselves to everyone...Hence shootouts like this one. I already know what I am going to hear. The GR pre is an outstanding piece of gear. Somebody needs to do a shootout between a GR wannabe a neve preamp and the Golden Age73 preamp. The Golden Age73 is another Neve knock off BUT it's only selling for around $300! They sound close but, the truth of the matter is the transformers they use in the Golden Age73 aren't up to par with those used in the GR NV pre.. Guys are modding these things like crazy though. Even big name guys are buying a few channels of these. It's no neve, really it isn't but, for $300 it's the best colored preamp on the market. Actually, if you know what you're doing with a 1073 pre you can get clean sound as well as dirty but, neve's aren't exactly known for their clean sound. If you like aggressive sounds get one of these though. Even if the x-formers aren't great for $300 the Golden Age73 has to be the very best low cost preamp on the market. Is it the holy-grail? Far from it, but they sound a whole lot better than anything ART, Studio Projects or M-Audio puts out, by a long strech to. Anyone want a really nice Neve clone? Vintech 1272-$1300 2 channels-exact signal path, circuit, transformers (St Ives) even the caps and wires are from the original manufactuers, and it really sounds like a Neve. The cool part about a Vintech 1272 is, you purcase 2 countryman DI boxes, and strap it across your 2 buss! Now your mixes will sound like they've been mixed on a Neve board! This would also work with the Golden Age73 if you have 2 channels of them. LA-LA-LA preamps are for more than just boosting mic levels. You just have to get creative! That's a quick little "BIG-BOY"-Production trick for you...You can do this with any preamp. You can strap a RNC across your 2 buss this same way. You could strap a preamp AND a RNC across your 2-buss, and dial in some gain from each of them. Oh and use the Really Nice switch on the RNC if you strap it on your 2-buss, it'll be something akin to having discovered magic :)
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Posted 28 February 2011 - 11:46 AM

I wouldn't call the ART in the shootout junk. It's just limited in the applications it could be usable for. The starved-plate tube provided a usable distortion on the bass. That might be all it can do, though, and a great pre could probably do it better if you knew how to work it.

Thing is, some people can't afford good gear. You have to compromise somewhere. You get crap gear to get you started, and as you learn on it, you'll struggle because of it, but hey, crap gear is better than no gear. In many cases it's probably better to save your cash until you can get really good gear, but sometimes a cheap piece of gear, while crap, is still an big enough improvement to be worth it.

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Posted 01 March 2011 - 11:32 AM

View Postm24p, on 28 February 2011 - 11:46 AM, said:

I wouldn't call the ART in the shootout junk. It's just limited in the applications it could be usable for. The starved-plate tube provided a usable distortion on the bass. That might be all it can do, though, and a great pre could probably do it better if you knew how to work it.

Thing is, some people can't afford good gear. You have to compromise somewhere. You get crap gear to get you started, and as you learn on it, you'll struggle because of it, but hey, crap gear is better than no gear. In many cases it's probably better to save your cash until you can get really good gear, but sometimes a cheap piece of gear, while crap, is still an big enough improvement to be worth it.


Who CAN afford good gear? If your art is important to you, then you do what you have to do to get what you have to get. I see a bunch of people who have great instruments, and $99 chinese condensor mics. How importantbis recording to you. Your music isn't worth a good mic but, it's worth having a great guitar? This makes no sense IF you claim to be "into recording."


You see, here we differ in opinion. Even if someone is just going to do this as their hobby, the place you begin is with your room. You do not have to spend 1,000's of dollars, you can get creative. Get the room you'll be using sounding good. This SHOULD BE priority #1.

Gear doesn't make records, people do. There are however a few pieces of gear which cannot be overlooked. Now, you won't be able to buy a vintage Neumann U47 but, if you'll buy one decent Condensor, and one decent preamp, and a decent set of monitors it's not going to matter much if you record to Cubase SE or Protools or whatever. These purchases aren't fluff purchases like software or computer hardware which are here today gone next week. In other words, good mics, preamps, monitors, and other such analog gear isn't ever going to need an upgrade or replacement. These are investment purchases. You cannot record anything analog without at least one microphone. The question is Why buy junk when you know fully well you'll be replacing it later? Why not save and buy what you really need before you begin? Chasing each new piece of gear that you need is not a good way to concentrate on making better music. This practice leads the songwriter away from their #1 oal which should be writing great songs.

I am not saying inexpensive gear isn't usable, I'm saying get your facts straight though. Buying a new computer and a software package isn't the smart way to begin recording. Start with the room, make it sound as good as you can. Here is the place where the most difference in the quality of your recordings can be made. It's ass-backwards to start with the computer. People should redirect their passion away from the digital box because, all it truly can be is a camera, and editing machine. It never has a "sound" of it's own. The "sound" has to come out of you. Protools and Cubase do not have signature sounds. All DAW software is basically the same stuff. IMO it is the least interesting piece of gear in the equation of recording. I realize computer geeks will get their feathers ruffled by my saying this but they say the truth hurts for a reason.

The #1 thing is the music. #2 is the room you record it in. #3 is the monitor system you listen on (this include D/A conversion #4 are the signal chains of the sources you record (this include D/A conversion #5 Ears to know the difference.

We could both buy the very same computer and software set-up. If I have better monitors, a better microphone, and a better preamp it's going to be hard to compete with the quality of my recordings. The mic is the first thing which touches the sound of your music, if that is not important, I don't know what is. A mic is only half of a marriage. How you amplify it's signal is vital. Would you buy a $4000 Les Paul and a $99 Epiphone valve jr. to amplify it? Nope, not if you're smart. Same applies to mics. Buy a $99 mic, get a $99 mic pre for it. Buy a great mic, it's pretty useless without a great preamp. it's like owning a $2,000 computer set-up, $4,000 worth of software. You wouldn't use a crap soundcard unless you don't realize what you're doing. You don't buy the pieces of a model airplane one at a time. You'll spend more time chasing parts than building models. The same thing happens with home recording. The crux of the biscuit is, are you really making better music because of your set-up, or is your set-up making it harder to make good music?

ART gear really isn't what you want to be starting out on. Better to have 3 exceptional pieces of recording equipment than every software option in the whole world. Software gear is exactly that SOFT. Why make any improvements if it's "just a hobby?" If it's just a hobby then who cares, not many people will be listening to your music anyway. Is an "improvement" really an improvement? An ART pre isn't an improvement over anything so, why buy one? Truth is the interface mic preamps work just fine. Until you're ready to spring for a really good mic pre you shouldn't waaste countless dollars on $2-300 mic amps that aren't really any better than what's i your interface. Just because a mic amp is "outboard" doesn't mean it is any good.

Just for the record, using a set of software drums doesn't all of the sudden make anyone an expert on recording drums...In fact you haven't recorded a damn thing! Using virtual instrumentation is not recording, that's akin to paint-by-numbers. Can you mic a kick drum? A guitar amp? Going DI doesn't count, anyone can do this. Can you capture the sound in the air? This is recording. Modeled mics, rooms, processing is not recording experience. Anyone can do that. Can you get a good capture on an acoustic guitar? Anyone can plug their guitar into an amp modeler and then into an interface. This doesn't constitute reording. You haven't dealt with the acoustical properties of the space you're working in, you've plugged in a patch cable. There is no air in the equation. This isn't recording, it's paint-by-numbers. Granted, we must all begin somplace but, why begin wrong?
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Posted 01 March 2011 - 12:22 PM

I think we mostly agree, Lzi.

Focusing on what seems to be one of our minor disagreements: I didn't say buy crap gear that you'll never use once you can get real gear. Buy crap gear that works well for specific applications and you still might use it down the road when you get some better gear. And in the meantime you can use your crap gear for stuff that it's only okay at.

What we call "crap gear" is gear with very limited applications that it is good at, and perhaps some quality control/reliability issues. I wouldn't suggest to someone struggling with very basic noise and other serious soundquality issues to not even bother buying equipment until they can drop thousands. The ART Pre in the shoutout was bad on voice especially, but even with a nicer pre, you might want to use the art for bass guitar. Especially if you're wanting to track the bass with a band, and you're already using all your nicer pres for vocals and guitar.

Yes, focus on the room. Yes, focus on the performance. Yes, focus on mixing skill. All are potentially free ways to improve your sound. Yes, more expensive gear is in general more reliable, versatile, and higher quality. Yes, it is often a waste of money to buy minor upgrades. Dropping $500 or so on mixing software without even being willing to spend $500 on an RNC and a Golden Age Pre 73 is probably getting your priorities wrong.

See, we agree! ;)

I use Reaper for mixing on a computer I owned before I got into mixing. So, total money spent for my DAW: $40.

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Posted 01 March 2011 - 01:36 PM

View Postm24p, on 01 March 2011 - 12:22 PM, said:

I think we mostly agree, Lzi.

Focusing on what seems to be one of our minor disagreements: I didn't say buy crap gear that you'll never use once you can get real gear. Buy crap gear that works well for specific applications and you still might use it down the road when you get some better gear. And in the meantime you can use your crap gear for stuff that it's only okay at.

What we call "crap gear" is gear with very limited applications that it is good at, and perhaps some quality control/reliability issues. I wouldn't suggest to someone struggling with very basic noise and other serious soundquality issues to not even bother buying equipment until they can drop thousands. The ART Pre in the shoutout was bad on voice especially, but even with a nicer pre, you might want to use the art for bass guitar. Especially if you're wanting to track the bass with a band, and you're already using all your nicer pres for vocals and guitar.

Yes, focus on the room. Yes, focus on the performance. Yes, focus on mixing skill. All are potentially free ways to improve your sound. Yes, more expensive gear is in general more reliable, versatile, and higher quality. Yes, it is often a waste of money to buy minor upgrades. Dropping $500 or so on mixing software without even being willing to spend $500 on an RNC and a Golden Age Pre 73 is probably getting your priorities wrong.

See, we agree! ;)

I use Reaper for mixing on a computer I owned before I got into mixing. So, total money spent for my DAW: $40.


Man, An ART tube pre isn't the best way to get an edge on a bass guitar's tone! A good DI box is the pace to start recording bass guitar, preferably one with an edge to it's tone. A good distortion box in-line may be worth a shot. Miking a bass amp at home may turn into a nightmare but it is worth a shot. You'll have to slide the mic'd track and the DI track so that there are no timing issues. Tubes are great for bass guitar because it's a slow instrument, in other words it takes some time/distance for the Bass notes to bloom to proper pitch so, an exceptionally fast mic amp such as the NPNG we just ordered wouldn't be ideal for capturing bass.

I get the inexpensive gear thing man. We have an absolute TON of hand-made outique quality stomp box effects. We have a Klon Overdrive, a King Of Tone Overdsrive, this overdrive, that overdrive. These boutique stomps cost serious loot. You'll never emulate one of these pedals tonal properties using a model, and that's a certanty. One of my personal favorite overdrives? A tweeked DOD 250 which cost all of $30 bucks. Yeah, it's a little noisy compared to the boutique stomps but, it sounds unique, and have you ever heard a half-stack at full-throttle, on 11? What's a little more noise? I mean, I'm not trying to capture Andre Segovia's ghost playing a J.S. Bach Prelude, if I were we'd be using appropriate gear, and that's my point entirely-Appropriate gear for the sources you record. If you're trying to record intricate, finger-picked solo acoustic guitar and a great vocalist you won't want to skimp on the mics and preamp. If you're recording Joe hot shot LA rock guitarist you use gear that's appropriate for recording a screaming loud amplifier. Noise in the first source would be the death of the take. Noise in the second track is the life of the take. Apples and Oranges. The fact is, most people here would be doing solo acoustic guitar/vocal work. An ART TUBE mic pre is 180 degrees oout of alignment with what you need to record this type of material, backwards even. Tubes are slow, acoustic guitar has very fast transients happening. A tube pre will smear these to death. Think Grace m101 preamp on a budget. Yeah $500 isn't cheap but, the Grace m101 is far from crap.It'll handle AC GTR and most LD vocal chores beautifully.

The Golden Age73 is a great little mic amp for $300 but, for intricate AC GTR I'd pass on it, never give it a glance. For rock guitar though It'd be one of my first choices. Hard strummed rock type acoustic GTR work would sound great through the GA73. Match the gear to the swource. Having a harware compressor, and a good mic preamp completely outweighs software in terms of importance. But don't tell SGT digital geek that, he'll cry. Actually all music which we can hear with our ears in an analog experience. Wanna make a huge differnce in the sound quality? Do so using analog equipment. Digital merely chases analog. If not, why all of the models of analog gear? The music is in the air, not in a digital device. In fact digital models blow chunks when you put them next to their analog counterparts. Can't hear the difference? Wow man, maybe it's time to find something else to do with your time. So a RNC, a GA73 pre and a Grace m101 would come to roughly $1000. This will be the best 1k you've ever spent on recording equipment, yes, including all of your hardware and software. You'll still be using these preamps long after the computer/software is absolutely useless.

Only he who sees the bush burning takes off his shoes :)

No bud, it wouldn't probably be getting your priorities wrong, it'd be hitting wrong right in the center of the bullseye! Buying good front-end gear is a solid investment, it holds re-sale value, even gains value. While the software is basically out-dated even before you install it. Good front-end gear such as mics and preamps always holds value, usually gaining value as it ages. The comp and software you purchased 2 years ago already needs replacement or an upgrade. Which is the biggest expense in the end? What makes the bigger difference in your sound? No-brainer my friend.
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Posted 01 March 2011 - 02:14 PM

View PostLzi, on 01 March 2011 - 12:36 PM, said:

No bud, it wouldn't probably be getting your priorities wrong, it'd be hitting wrong right in the center of the bullseye!

I just said "probably" because some people might not be interesting in recording their own stuff. In which case, you don't need recording equipment. Think Daft Punk wannabes or other remix and sample-heavy genres. If you're wanting to record and mix your own stuff it's a no-brainer to spend the cash on decent hardware first.

And I'm certainly not recommending the $30 pre as a great way to get the tone you're looking for. I was saying a $30 pre is often better than no pre and just increasing the volume in software. If it would take you around a year to save up $500 to spend on hardware, and your interface doesn't have a build in pre, you might want to get the $30 ART, then save up for the Grace, instead of spending a year with no pre and having really bad noise problems like the guitar example I gave. I was also saying that even once you get the money for a decent pre (say the grace pre), the art isn't something you would necessarily through away. You keep it as a cheap distortion unit option at that point.

Already have a decent bass amp and a mic with a good low frequency response? Great! Use them to get your bass tone! I don't have a decent bass amp. Right now I don't have any decent hardware options for coloring my bass signal. And I won't anytime soon because when I get the budget, I'm getting an RNC probably.

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 03:20 PM

[quote name='m24p' date='01 March 2011 - 02:14 PM' timestamp='1299006861' post='540299']

View PostLzi, on 01 March 2011 - 12:36 PM, said:

No bud, it wouldn't probably be getting your priorities wrong, it'd be hitting wrong right in the center of the bullseye!

---I just said "probably" because some people might not be interesting in recording their own stuff. In which case, you don't need recording equipment. Think Daft Punk wannabes or other remix and sample-heavy genres. If you're wanting to record and mix your own stuff it's a no-brainer to spend the cash on decent hardware first.

And I'm certainly not recommending the $30 pre as a great way to get the tone you're looking for. I was saying a $30 pre is often better than no pre and just increasing the volume in software. If it would take you around a year to save up $500 to spend on hardware, and your interface doesn't have a build in pre, you might want to get the $30 ART, then save up for the Grace, instead of spending a year with no pre and having really bad noise problems like the guitar example I gave. I was also saying that even once you get the money for a decent pre (say the grace pre), the art isn't something you would necessarily through away. You keep it as a cheap distortion unit option at that point. You know, just yesterday I was thinking about grabbing 3 more just because, they are so good at what they do, and are so cheap. Yeah the case is made out of plastic but, who cares. Already have a decent bass amp and a mic with a good low frequency response? Great! Use them to get your bass tone! I don't have a decent bass amp. Right now I don't have any decent hardware options for coloring my bass signal. And I won't anytime soon because when I get the budget, I'm getting an RNC probably.---IDK what happened to the quote bars around what you said but whatever :) you said this
------------------------------------------------------------

Well, the RNC should help with your bass sound. Bass loves compression. It is 1/4" in 1/4" out...Put the bugger in-line before it hits your amp and have fun with the knobs until you like how it sounds. Don't be afraid to hit the Really Nice button either, torture the thing until it sounds good. You may come out smiling ear to ear, that's the thing...You'll never know if you don't try.

Again, the room is the place to begin. If you want to record bass guitar you're going to need a space large enough to allow the low frequencies enough room to develop into the notes they represent. In a small space this may make your perfectly intonated bass have pitch issues, and all sorts of craziness happening when you listen back to the sounds you've captured. I was thinking about this yesterday. What about a long tunnel of carpeting to cover the amp. If this works like it works with a kick it helps to direct the sound waves towards your mic at the end of the tunnel. Worth a day of experimentation to me.

You can try close miking the amp but, I wouldn't bother getting any closer than 12 inches. If the theories and principles of sound mean anything, then in my mind, a mic closer than 3 feet is pretty worthless for capturing low end stuff unless your intent is to capture something you like about the tone of these undeveloped frequencies. Hey, you never know.

Amp>3 foot Carpet tunnel, or a tunnel of some sort>Large Diaphram Condesor/Large Diaphram Dynamic/Ribbon>this thing...http://www.mercenary.com/litlabsvog.html?>Hardware compressor This may work in a small space...maybe. A long hallway maybe. The tunnel may be a good idea here to, covered on the inside, and possibly the outside as well with some absorbtion to help protect the audio signal we are attempting to direct down this tunnel space we've created towards the microphone at the end without being negatively effected by the sound of the space containing the the tunnel itself. To my ears on a kick this tunnel technique CAN add more than just a solid sound, sometimes you can also capture the "swoosh" sound of the air being moved. I think it's spectacular when this happens.

There is much more to recording low end sources than just recording the part.
Check it out...

http://www.mercenary...litlabsvog.html

And this...

http://www.mercenary...tlabibpanp.html

Another fact of life when you record a bass amp with a mic 3 or more feet away from the microphone, and try combining tis signal with a DI take it won't sound correct until you correct the delay created by recording with a microphone. You correct this by grabbing the waveform of the miked trake and sliding it around until it lines up with the DI track.

Yeah! I'm with you on the bass sound thing, hell yeah if a cheap tube pre gives your instrument something before it hits your amp, go for it! Fortune favors the bold :)
Haha...When it comes to things audio, I have always been the type where, if you tell me "You're not supposed to do that!" OH, I HAVE to find out WHY I'm not supposed to do that. This outlook has paid off for me more than once, sometimes this will lead you to a sound that's just insane, a tone like you've never heard before. This is what makes this so much fun for me.
"Digital? is that the thing where they take a good old sine wave and chop it into bits?"
---Rupert Neve

ANGELz REIGN Productions

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