Jumbo Sunshade - Blogpost

 
Groove Tubes SuPRE versus Avalon M5
 
Truck driver (Walmart); early 40's.  Throws parties and the cake is always in the shape of a jukebox or a 57 Chevy or something like that.  He's got some really cool vinyl pinned up all over the front room and reluctantly admits to not owning a record player.  His wife is a college grad in her late 30's; she works at the newspaper.  Sometimes she wears her hair in a beehive.  They have a studio in their basement...

I walk in and they're already hooked up and patching the vocal path.  They solicit my opinion: "We ended up going with the Avalon (737); what do you think?"
I laugh and say "you actually had to choose?  Geez, what was it up against?!"
Well what they *didn't* go with was impressive: Focusrite, Groove Tubes, and Vintech.  Must be nice.

During some downtime [some would call it 'screwing around', but that's another story] i grabbed both the GT SuPRE, which i have never used; and the Avalon M5, which i have used plenty of times.
(What i really wish he'd had was the GT ViPre, but what are ya gonna do?)
All i was doing was comparing the two preamps within my own rig so it was a completely straight-forward thing.
Guitar (strat) to Behringer V-Amp, out to SuPRE/M5 via 1/4", off to a Carvin DCM1000 poweramp via XLR, and then into a 2x12 closed back Vox cabinet (EV 150-watt 8-ohm speakers).

 

Comparing the Avalon M5 to the Groove Tubes SuPRE?
For real?...  Seriously??
Hey; this is my blogpost and i can write whatever i want!  :)


 

The Avalon M5
Avalon's M5 is a single-channel solid-state preamp.  It has tons of headroom/gain.  People use it for vocals of course but alot of studios get this with the intention of using it as a DI for electric and acoustic

guitar & bass.

I always say "it sounds great", but it would actually be alot more accurate if i said "it doesn't ruin a good-sounding source".
The M5 doesn't impart any type of (it's own) personality, which is great if that's what you're looking for in a preamp/DI.  When you've got something that already sounds really good, you just want to get it to disk without it being altered to the point of distraction as the signal makes its way through to the interface.  That's the beauty of a preamp like the Avalon M5.

The other big advantage with a solid-state preamp like the M5 is consistency.  If you've used an M5 and then you have to try and match that session later on, you can borrow (or rent) a completely different M5 and it will sound exactly the same.

My own experience with the M5 is with acoustic and electric guitar.

The only acoustic guitar pickup i've ever put through the Avalon M5 is my trusty LR Baggs (passive) M1.  I would always prefer an actual microphone to any pickup, but i have never been disappointed by a subsequent mix when going the M1>M5 route.  This combination is sonically full & balanced, and it's also complimentary to a mic'd track where doubling is not wanted.  The M5's ridiculously *noiseless* headroom is EXACTLY what you want when recording acoustic guitar, especially if it's solo acoustic.

Amp modelers are different.  I've run Line6 POD and Behringer V-Amp through the M5 and it's fine.  The M5 doesn't "fix" anything of course; just gets whatever you have to disk without adding anything extra.  I have to say that in this situation that extra headroom isn't really all that necessary (no matter what the Sweetwater salesman tries to tell you!).

Variable Low-Cut/High-Pass
The availability of a variable low-cut filter is kind of a big deal in my opinion, especially where acoustic guitar is concerned. 
Variable low-cut is sortof like variable mid-range: once you have it (on any piece of gear) you never get used to NOT having it.

The M5 does have variable low-cut and the SuPRE does not.  If i were actually choosing to buy the GT versus the Avalon (which i am not), i'd probably be bummed about not getting this option on the SuPRE.

But the way things work in the studio though this would be a moot point for any session work being done.  Producers will (usually! hehe) let you adjust your own amp's EQ but that's about as far as they'll go.  They certainly wouldn't want the paid players to be making un-reversible decisions on what their own shelving parameters should be prior to committing a performance to disk!


 

The Groove Tubes SuPRE - what were they thinking?
Groove Tubes' ViPRE is an 8-tube, single-channel monster of a preamp that everybody just loves.  Apparently there were

thousands of requests for Groove Tubes to build a stereo version of this preamp.  In 2005 (at AES) Aspen Pittman says of the release of the SuPRE: "The SuPRE borrows some key features and design components from both the ViPRE and the Brick for an extremely flexible, great-sounding and yet very affordable solution for stereo mic and instrument preamplification."

Huh?  The single-channel ViPRE sells for $2800 right now; the single-channel Brick (preamp/DI) sells for $400.  But the dual-channel SuPRE sells for $1600...?
Here's what i think happened:
GT needed a stereo preamp, but the popular single-channel preamp that they were sitting on was already fairly expensive.  They probably knew that they wouldn't be selling too many $4000-$4500 units and so they had to somehow go lower in price, because even staying in the same ballpark would leave studio owners to question buying a single two-channel preamp when they could get two single-channel preamps for about the same amount of money.  I can't see how SuPRE sales wouldn't cut into ViPRE sales at some budget levels, but i still think that Groove Tubes made the right decision. [Owners with higher budgets will still get the ViPRE; i mean who wouldn't, right?]

And so how did the GT sound?
It was no surprise that the SuPRE smoothed out alot of the digital harshness that comes with amp modelers; that's what vacuum tubes can do.  But we all know that tubes (and tube preamps) can also add their own color, which can be anywhere from really good to really bad. For this particular situation (and to my ear), the GT preamp had my digital rig sounding way better than i'm used to - i loved it.

In addition to helping with the digital harshness; the SuPRE also did an effective job of smoothing things out harmonically.  This too is a subjective affair and some will like it when others will not.
Guitar tones contain some very complex harmonics, and these are what suffer the most when using an amp modeler versus a real amplifier.  A tube preamp can be subtle or obvious in "smoothing" these harmonics out, but people will always argue about whether it sounds "warm" (good) or "muffled" (bad).

I thought that the SuPRE sounded great on heavily saturated patches when soloing up high and playing fast... blurred things up quite nicely.
But, on a clean patch with the bridge pickup was where i really appreciated the SuPRE.  Because...

Guitar players all know that there's this super punchy clean single-coil neck-position tone that you can get.  I'm not talking about the jangle-y bite (which is also cool); i'm talking about that percussive attack.  It's usually "too much" for the artist / songwriter / producer.
And what you'd normally do is just roll off your volume, which also cuts some treble (like rolling off your Tone knob).  Those high-end harmonics are GONE at that point; and the only way you can get *something* like it back is in the modeler's EQ or at the board (which both suck compared to the pickup itself).
Well with the GT SuPRE you can dial that beautiful percussiveness out if that's what the producer wants but withOUT losing as much of the rest of your overall tone.  This might help to avoid a situation where somebody is trying to add "presence" to your guitar later on with some EQ plugin! [Only digital/solid-state rigs would have this problem; tube guitar amplifiers in this situation are usually just fine!]

 

Ok so, Groove Tubes SuPRE versus Avalon M5
It's true that you can't compare a hammer to a wrench.  Both of these preamps have plenty of clean headroom but they are definitely different.  I'd be an idiot if i said that one was "better than" the other, but i will say that for use with my own digital/solid-state electric guitar rig...

I preferred the Groove Tubes SuPRE over the Avalon M5 by a fairly huge amount.

 

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