A preamp is one of the most underrated pieces of equipment of a studio. A preamp performs the task of taking an audio input and giving it proper sonic shape and sonic definition before the signal reaches the amplifier. This ensures that the audio signal is in its optimum shape and form and can be sent forward to the amplifier for more audio processing or to a speaker for direct output.
While it may seem like a redundant step at first, the difference in quality between a signal that has been ‘treated’ by a preamp and signal that has not is evident. The signal that has been through a preamp has more character and dimension, which makes listening to this audio more enjoyable.
Input Versus Output?
An important thing to consider when buying a preamp is the input vs. output gain. It is better to choose a preamp that has a better output gain because preamps with a high input gain tend to distort the signal. As the ultimate goal of using a preamp is to boost sound quality, the usage of the latter is contradictory to that goal and should be avoided.
Tube Or Solid State? What’s The Difference?
One point that always seems to divide people is whether they should use a tube or solid state preamps. People who use tube preamps says they are among the most reliable devices on the planet and give the audio signal a better feel by smoothening sharp sounds. On the other hand, people who use solid state preamps say that the tubes have to be replaced periodically and also claim that these preamps have low distortion and offer better control over bands such as bass and treble.
Then there are hybrid preamps that provide the best of both worlds i.e. they have both tube and solid state components. This makes the task of choosing a preamp even more challenging, and I advise you closely to consider the pros and cons of every type of preamp before making your choice.
Single Or Multi-Channel Preamps?
Furthermore, the debate between which is better when it comes to the number of channels supported by a preamp still wages on. Some people prefer single-channel preamps because they need just one microphone for their recording purposes. On the other hand, others prefer dual-channel preamps because they have two mic preamps in one enclosure. Multichannel preamps are the go-to choice for professional studios because they need to mix more sounds together.
Basic Preamp Versus Channel Strip?
It is also important to understand whether you need a basic preamp or a channel strip. For those of you who are unaware, a channel strip is any preamp that has additional signal processing circuitry integrated into its core. A channel strip allows you to amplify the output of an audio signal to your desired level. The preamp you choose must also have the signal processing tools you need. Generally speaking, all channel strips come with essential signal processing tools like an audio enhancer and a compressor. However, there are only a few that offer options like background noise cancellation and suppression and signal modulation. To make things easier for you, I have compiled a list of the best microphone preamps.
Best Microphone Preamp Reviews
Best Mic Preamp Under $500
PreSonus DigiMax D8 Eight-Channel Preamp with 48 kHz ADAT Output
- Eight top tier microphone preamps
- The product provides a balanced analog output
- Standard word clock input
- Impressive 20 dB PAD
- Supports 24 bit (or 48k) resolution
- Extremely wide dynamic range
- Phantom power tends to switch back when buttons are pressed by accident
Best Microphone Preamps Under $700
Focusrite OctoPre MkII Dynamic Microphone Pre Amp
- Multi award-winning preamp
- Single dial compressors provide better control to users
- The ‘More’ switch doubles the output ratio
- Perfect compression delivered with depth and effect
- Eight channels supported over 24 bits and 96 kHz
- Amazing clocking solutions
- Incredibly silent
- Ridiculously flexible
- Not suitable for heavy drummers
Best High-End Microphone Preamps
API 3124+ Discrete 4-Channel Microphone/Line Preamplifier
- API 2520 operational amplifiers boost sound gain
- Highly filtered final output
- Audio output is limited to +28 dBu
- Front panel has 48V power switches
- Ports for microphones
- State of the art polarity switches
True Systems Precision 8
What can be said about True Systems that hasn’t been said already?
Top-notch audio editing? Check.
High-quality products? Check.
If you have seen any list of best mic preamps products on the internet, it is almost a certainty that you have come across this one.
- Cost effective
- Separate Field Effect Transistors (FETs) with each input port (2 in total)
- Transparency in control
- Ideal for recording live sounds
- State of the art noise cancellation
- Too lightweight (which means it may break if it falls from a significant height)
Best Single Microphone Preamps
Universal Audio SOLO/610 Classic Vacuum Tube Mic Pre & DI Box
- Total control over the audio
- Absolute tonal variety possible
- Handcrafted to perfection (made in the USA)
- Users can vary aspects like gain, impedance, and level of the audio signal
- Lightweight yet surprisingly robust
- Expensive for a single channel preamp
Grace Design M101 Single Channel Microphone Preamplifier
- Total control over the final audio output
- Lightweight yet able to withstand wear and tear
- 12 months financing available
- Brilliant background noise cancellation
- Extremely cost effective. It is very hard to find a product with this specifications at this price
- Limited control over gain
Avalon VT-737SP Pure Class A Mono Vacuum Tube Channel Strip Silver
- Ideal for recording voiceovers
- Uses dual triode vacuum tubes
- Max output at 30 dB
- High-quality audio output
- DC coupled audio output possible
- Wide range for gain (from 0 dB to 58 dB)
- Hard to operate (you might have to flick through the instruction manual for this one)