NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – APRIL 2008: With thirteen Grammy Awards, eleven International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, seven Country Music Association Awards, and the unfaltering respect of Bluegrass musicians and devotees everywhere, it is no stretch to suggest that Ricky Skaggs is an icon and legend in his own time. Long-time Skaggs Family Records recording engineer and studio manager Lee Groitzsch can take much of the credit for properly capturing and conveying the virtuosic performances of Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, as well as of the other amazing bands that call the Skaggs Family Record label their home.
Since all of the music Groitzsch records is acoustic and the vast majority is strings, the engineer has collected an impressive array of new and vintage ribbon microphones that spend most of their time up and in use. Despite this, Groitzsch felt plagued by noise generated from the unreasonably high gain needed by the ribbons on conventional high-end mic pres. Recently, the studio’s acquisition of a TRUE Precision P-SOLO Ribbon mic pre put the kibosh on the noise, an end to his frustration, and helped capture some of our better stringed instrument sounds.
Back before condensers, when ribbons were the only high-end type of mic, preamps were ohm-matched to particular ribbons,” said Groitzsch. “Modern preamps generally have lower impedance suitable for condensers, but they can cause the ribbon’s signal noise to be hard to deal with in quiet sections of music. That’s what was difficult to work around.”
Because the TRUE Systems P-SOLO Ribbon has very high input impedance, it optimizes the signal-to-noise ratio of ribbons – and dynamics for that matter. In addition, it offers no phantom power, which is unnecessary and potentially damaging to ribbons. Groitzsch demo’d a P-SOLO Ribbon and was instantly relieved to hear the warm personalities of his RCA 44, RCA 77, Royer R121, and Coles Ribbon without all the noise that had previously attended them. “We cut a few instruments and a check,” he laughed.
The TRUE Systems P-SOLO Ribbon has been used throughout the two projects that Groitzsch has worked on since its acquisition: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder’s “Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass” (Skaggs Family Records) and a yet unreleased acoustic re-cuts of some of Skagg’s hits for Cracker Barrel Records. “I’ve been here eight years now and we’re getting better and better sounds as we get new tools,” he said. “Moreover, it’s not just me, the comments haven’t been solicited. We didn’t tell the banjo player Jim Mills that we were doing anything different, but when he heard his playback, he was blown away. It was the best banjo sound he had heard on himself in a while!”
In addition to flattering mic preamplification, the P-SOLO Ribbon, like all TRUE Systems preamps, includes a high-end direct input (DI). Groitzsch now uses it regularly to record electric bass. “It sounds great as a DI,” he enthused. “The sonic quality is impressive.”
Although the P-SOLO Ribbon hasn’t completely replaced the studio’s armada of high-end, multi-thousand dollar mic pres, Groitzsch emphasized that when he goes with something else, the differences are minute and nuanced. “So basically,” he says, “the P-SOLO Ribbon, which comes in at well under $700.00, is performing at a level that’s comparable to mic pres that cost five times as much. That makes it an excellent candidate for studios or musicians that use ribbons and can’t afford to have a lot of preamps. The value-for-money of the P-SOLO Ribbon is unrivaled!”
TRUE Systems, Tucson, Arizona designs, engineers and manufactures high-value, high-end professional audio products at reasonable prices for the domestic and international marketplace. Tim Spencer is the principal designer and engineering force behind the company. Tim has been with TRUE Systems since it’s inception in 1997. The U.S. built line includes the SOLO series, the P2 Analog and Precision 8 multi-channel mic preamps.