Does the MixPre need a Fethead or Cloudlifter?

The MixPre series from Sound Devices* is my favorite, sub $1000, audio recorder and interface. As you’ll read below, it has many advantages over other recorders in this class (Zoom H6, Tascam DR60DmkII, etc.) Of course that is built into the price but the return is worth it IMO.

At its core, it’s a professional level device that performs its main function really well…clean audio recordings. What makes this possible is the great preamp the MixPre has inside. It’s strong (+76db) and clean (doesn’t add noticeable noise to the recording).

To test this out, I plugged in my Shure SM7B (XLR direct to input 1), a notoriously low-sensitivity microphone, to see if the MixPre could provide enough gain to reach recording level (-20 to -12 peaks) without adding noise to the recording.

On other recorders like the H6, you would generally need to add a mic. activator like a Fethead or Cloudlifter in order to get enough clean gain to power the SM7B. The recording above is that test.

Below is the story of how I came to create this test as well as how to create a mix-minus using the Zoom H6. That story is the reason I created this test because while the H6 can perform a mix-minus function, it’s much easier to do using the MixPre.

A YouTuber you might be familiar with (if not, check him out), Matt D’Avella, sent me a tweet asking me if I could help with his Zoom H6 setup. I’m aware of Matt cause I’m also a YouTuber but also because his channel is very well done and all his work is high-quality. He’s also nearing a million subs, hence the reason I said you might “know” him;) 

But of course, I answer all tweets and so I tackled his question and tried to provide a solution to his recording needs (see the thread). Essentially he needed a mix-minus using the H6 so that he could connect with and record remote interviews.

However, one issue in this setup is that the H6 does not work as a USB interface while also allowing you to record. You have to choose one or the other functions. That’s unfortanate but the H6 does have a great feature that lets you pull this off with a series of cables. 

In the menu, you can select which channels get sent through the line output. This allows you to create a mix-minus by using this output as an input to your computer’s mic. input (confused yet?) while excluding the channel of audio that contains your caller’s voice (the person coming into the H6 from the same computer’s headphone output). 

It’s not the most elegant solution but it works. A better way to do this is to get gear that was created for this function. So I gave Matt both options. The gear that is better suited for this process and the setup he was looking for, is the MixPre series from Sound Devices*. Not cheap but with the price you get many upgrades over the H6. 

To begin with, you get the ability to create a mix-minus without any special cabling, it’s built into the device which leaves you only needing to use a single USB cable for the setup. Very clean. 

Along with the mix-minus ability, you solve the other issue Matt had… the ability to record on the device while also using it as an audio interface. The MixPre connects via USB, allowing you to use it as an audio interface for any app on your computer while also letting you record any and all audio going into the inputs as well as anything coming back from the computer via USB. Stellar. 

There’s so much more it can do but in the case of podcasters who want to connect with a remote guest and/or cohosts, the MixPre makes this very simple with the highest of quality.

Oh yeah, quality, that’s another huge advantage. Sound Devices powers a large set of the gear used in Hollywood (the pedigree is solid) and with the MixPre series they brought gear, that previously costs thousands of dollars, into the consumer market which I consider anything under 1K. 

The build is amazing, the size is incredibly small (you have to hold it to believe it) and every single piece of the device feels pro, cause it is. And most importantly, the guts are also pro grade. 

The preamps in the MixPre are professional grade which gives you one more amazing advantage over lesser devices such as the H6… no need for a mic. activator when powering gain hungry microphones like the Share SM7B.

So finally we get to the test you’ll hear in this post. I was confident that the MixPre would not benefit from a mic. activator like the Fethead (my personal favorite) or Cloudlifter but of course I needed proof. 

This test was created to demonstrate that the MixPre’s preamp is strong enough and clean enough to operate the toughest of microphones without any additional help (extra preamp gain). With the MixPre you get +76db of gain and it’s clean. This is the proof.

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About Ray Ortega

Full-time podcast producer and host of The Podcasters' Studio and Podcasters' Roundtable, I enjoy sharing my ten years of experience making podcasts to help others improve or start their own show.

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