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.
Table of Contents
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 Preamps Reviews
PreSonus DigiMax D8 Eight-Channel Preamp with 48 kHz ADAT Output
PreSonus is one of the most easily recognizable brands when it comes to microphones and microphone preamps. One PreSonus product that stands out from others is the DigiMax D8 Eight-Channel Preamp with 48 kHz ADAT Output. It has many features such as an impressive 24 bit (or 48K) resolution. What I love about this product is that it has a whopping eight mic preamps, which are supplemented by an impressively balanced analog output. What’s even more incredible about the DigiMax D8 Eight-Channel Preamp is that it has a ridiculously wide dynamic range with a word clock input. The 20 dB PAD only adds to the charm of the product and makes it one of the best multichannel microphone preamps.
- 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
Focusrite is a juggernaut in the world of audio products. It has produced many products that have been acclaimed as some of the best in the audio industry. One Focusrite product that has caught my attention for all the right reasons is the OctoPre MkII Dynamic Microphone Pre Amp. This preamp is a multichannel one that has single dial compressors. More importantly, it supports eight channels over 24 bits and 96 kHz. It has innovative clocking solutions and provides options for word clocks as well. You can imagine how big of a deal the Focusrite OctoPre MkII is the fact that it has picked up EIGHT awards. People love this product, and it is very easy to see why.
- 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
You can always count on API to deliver high-performance and cost-effective products. By choosing API, you are guaranteed quality performance. The API 3124+ Discrete 4-Channel Microphone/Line Preamplifier is unique because of its front panel has 20 dB switches, microphone, and instrument switches, which allow the user better control over the final output. The API 3124+ makes the use of API 2520 operational amplifiers, state of the art polarity switches, and four XLR microphone inputs to deliver a memorable experience. Your days of spending hours on sound editing are a thing of the past should you buy the API 3124+ Discrete 4-Channel Microphone/Line Preamplifier because it allows you to edit audio with relative ease.
- 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. Durability? 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. True System is a pioneer in this field, and the Precision 8 highlights this perfectly. There is no doubt in my minds that it is one of the best products I have reviewed thus far. The True Systems Precision 8 Preamp has all the features you expect from a preamp of this price range. With the Precision 8, you have more in control of the feel and sound of the audio that you record than ever before. There are many reasons why people use this product, which include (but are not limited to) its high functionality, exceptional robustness, and absolute audio control.
- 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
Honestly, I could have made a list of the best microphone preamps available by just using Universal Audio products, but for the purpose of this list, I have chosen the best of the best, the SOLO/610 Classic Vacuum Tube Mic Pre & DI Box. This preamp delivers all that we have come to expect from a Universal Audio product. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it offers a lot regarding functionality as well. This microphone preamp allows you to control all factors that can affect an audio signal such as gain, level, and even the impedance of the signal.
- 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
Grace Design may not be the leading brand in the world of audio equipment, but it still has one of the most loyal clientele in the world. Those who have used Grace Design products ever switched another product ever again. The Grace Design preamp that I have chosen for this list is the M101 Single Channel Microphone Preamplifier. The M101 underlines how far the industry has come in the recent years. This product has all the features that you could expect from a single channel microphone preamp such as superior audio control, impressive sound suppression, and the ability to boost the exact band you want. There is so much to offer with Grace Design’s M101 that I had to double-check its ridiculously low price.
- 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
Everyone has praised Avalon time and time again for pushing the envelope in the industry. Avalon’s VT-737SP Pure Class A Mono Vacuum Tube Channel Strip Silver is a very high-quality product and is one of the most sought preamps in the market. I mean this when I say that it has by far the best channel strips on the market. If you’re looking for a tube microphone preamp that doesn’t compromise on quality, then the VT-737SP Pure Class A is the only option for you.
- 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)