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The Audio Masterclass Music Production and Sound Engineering Course


What is the maximum gain a microphone preamplifier should be able to

Preferably 70 dB. If a higher gain setting than this is provided then it is not a problem,
but it will probably amplify noise in the signal to no beneficial effect.
What is the minimum gain a microphone preamplifier should be able to
Preferably the minimum gain should be 0 dB. Some microphone preamplifiers are not
capable of less than around 20 dB. Some achieve 0 dB with the use of a pad
Why are the sounds of less-than-perfect microphone preamplifiers still
Their sounds are very familiar to us through hearing old recordings that are still popular.
What is meant by a piece of wire with gain?
It represents the idealized concept of an amplifier. If such a thing were possible it would
boost the signal without variation in frequency response, and without adding noise and
According to the text, is a 2 dB variation in frequency response considered
It was considered so for a long time. For most non-professional listeners, a 2 dB
variation in frequency response would be insignificant.
According to the text, is a 2 dB variation in frequency response audible?
Is it possible to detect a 0.1 dB variation in frequency response, for most
This small variation is very difficult to detect, even for very experienced professionals.
What happens when the shape of a waveform is altered, other than by making
it bigger?
Distortion, leading to the generation of additional frequencies that were not present in
the original signal.
What is the typical distortion present on an analogue tape recording?
Typically 1% on high-level signals, reaching up to 3% on peaks.
How closely does a well-designed microphone preamplifier approach the
theoretical minimum noise level?
Within 1 dB or so.
According to the text, if it is possible to design a near-perfect microphone
preamplifier, why do manufacturers sometimes incorporate preamplifiers that
are less than perfect?
To save cost, or to differentiate between the various models in their range.
Describe a simple test, that is mentioned in the text, to tell whether a
microphone preamplifier is imperfect.

Increase the gain while listening to a low-level signal. If the noise increases at a faster
rate than the signal, then the preamplifier is excessively noisy. Sometimes the noise
generated by the preamplifier is harsh, which is a problem.
Briefly describe the difference between objectivism and subjectivism in audio.
Objectivists believe that every parameter that affects the listening experience can be
measured and quantified. Subjectivists believe that there are variables that cannot be
measured, or have not been successfully identified and measured yet.
List the three active circuit components commonly used in microphone
Vacuum tubes, transistors and integrated circuits.
Briefly describe how negative feedback is implemented.
A proportion of the output signal is subtracted from the input signal.
List the two benefits of negative feedback, according to the text.
Reduction in distortion, flattening of the frequency response.
What is meant by open-loop gain?
The gain of an amplifier before feedback is applied.
Why is it better to have higher open-loop gain?
The higher the open-loop gain, the better negative feedback works.
Why is it likely that a transistor preamplifier will have less distortion than a
vacuum tube preamplifier?
It is more practical to build a transistor amplifier with a high open-loop gain.
Why have integrated circuits traditionally had a bad reputation in professional
Early integrated circuits were noisy and produced distortion.
What is slew-induced distortion?
This occurs when an amplifier cannot keep up with the rate of change of voltage required
to accurately follow the signal. It occurs on high-level, high-frequency signals.
According to the text, are integrated circuits now available that are fully
suitable for professional audio, including use as microphone preamplifiers?
Briefly describe output impedance.
Output impedance may be thought of as the ability of an output to deliver current. Lower
is better.
Briefly describe input impedance.
Input impedance is an inputs demand for current. If the input impedance is high, then
only a small current is drawn from the output that is feeding the input.
Why is the ideal input of a microphone preamplifier higher than the output
impedance of a microphone, even though matching the impedances would give
lower noise?
The output impedance of a microphone may vary with frequency. Using an input with a
lower input impedance would result in an overall frequency response that is not flat.
What is the benefit of a balanced signal?
Balanced wiring rejects interference.

Why is it now possible to design a transistor microphone preamplifier that does
not require a transformer, when previously they did require a transformer for
low-noise performance?
Transistors that are suitable for amplifiers with a sufficiently low input impedance are
now easily available, where previously they were not.
What is phantom power?
48 volts DV, delivered to the microphone by the preamplifier along the standard
microphone cable.
Should phantom power be switched off when dynamic microphones are used?
With microphones of robust professional quality, it makes no difference whether
phantom power is on or off.
What is the function of the pad of a microphone preamplifier?
It reduces the incoming signal level, usually by 10 or 20 dB.
What is the function of the filter of a microphone preamplifier?
It reduces the level of low frequency signals entering the preamplifier. It is generally
used for problem low frequencies, such as footfall noise travelling up a microphone
stand, or low-frequency ventilation noise.
What is the function of the phase invert switch of a microphone preamplifier?
Most commonly it corrects for a microphone cable that has been wired with the signal-
carrying conductors reversed.
Describe the procedure for correctly setting the gain.
As stated in the main module text, Ask the performer to give a sample performance at
the level they expect to produce when they are actually being recorded, or during the
live show. Press the solo button on the channel to which their microphone is connected.
Observe the meter measuring the main console output, which will now read the channel
that is soloed directly. Increase the gain until the meter shows a good strong level, but
without any red lights. Red lights do not necessarily mean clipping in the console, but
they show that the signal is higher than the comfort zone within which you should be
operating. Bear in mind that performers are often louder when they are doing it for
real. If an external preamplifier is connected to the audio interface of a digital audio
workstation, then observe the individual channel meter and raise the gain, once again
until a good strong reading is obtained, without any red lights. In this case, red lights do
mean clipping and must be avoided entirely.
Briefly describe single-ended design.
This is where one transistor handles both the positive-going and negative-going halves
of the waveform.
Briefly describe complementary design.
This is where one transistor handles the positive-going half of the waveform; another
mirror image transistor handles the negative-going half of the waveform.
Briefly describe Class A.
In Class A there is a permanent standing current that is sufficient to supply any demands
of the signal.
Briefly describe Class AB.

In Class AB there is only a small permanent standing current, sufficient to cover the
switching between the two transistors in a complementary stage. When the signal goes
higher than that, current is supplied only as necessary.
According to the text, which combination is likely to be best subjectively:
Single-ended Class A
Complementary Class A
Single-ended Class AB
Complementary Class AB

Single-ended Class A.

Although trick questions are generally not employed in this course, one of the
above combinations is impossible. Which one?

Single-ended Class AB. Class AB always requires complementary active devices and can
never be single-ended.

End of model answers.