Home Recording Vacuum Tube Stuff - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Vacuum-tube microphones, preamps, compressors, and equalizers and other home recording equipment have been around for decades. In fact, before solid-state (transistor) technology was developed, everything electronic had vacuum tubes in it — both good-quality and bad-quality audio gear.

Vacuum-tube equipment definitely had a sound to it, and tube technology definitely had its limitations — the main one being the coloration that was added to the music. This coloration is now highly sought after in today’s world of digital recording, so the tube stuff has become increasingly popular.

To get the pleasing analog distortion that’s so popular today, you don’t need to buy gear with vacuum-tube circuitry. Some top-quality solid-state gear can get you the same sound as the vintage tube stuff.

In fact, some of the most sought-after vintage preamps, equalizers, and compressors — particularly those bearing the “Neve” name — are solid state, and they still have a beautifully colored (distorted) sound. So, when you go in search of the tube sound for your studio, remember that you can get the sound you’re after without having to buy actual vacuum-tube gear.

Not all “tube” gear produces a pleasing sound. Sometimes the distortion that a piece of gear adds to your music creates more noise and mud (lack of clarity in the sound) than it adds warmth. Be sure to listen to the equipment that you’re interested in before you buy it.

Make your purchase decision based on whether you like the way the equipment sounds for your particular music. Do your homework before adding any tube gear — or any new equipment that you spend your hard-earned money on. Read reviews and specifications, talk to people, and above all, listen to the equipment before you buy.

Many audio-recording retailers allow you a certain amount of time after you buy a piece of equipment to return it if you don’t like it. Of course, you have to pay for it before you leave the store, but you usually have a timeframe in which you can return it. Ask your music retailer to be sure of its return policy before you buy.