The signal level is a key sound parameter that influences the recording process and defines the quality of its result. It’s easy to get an ideal level with the help of the microphone preamps, which allow working with microphones of various types – instrumental, vocal, dynamic, etc. Each mentioned device can be regarded as the best mic preamp because it can amplify the signal to the linear level and let you achieve a high-quality sound.
Many devices (mixers, sound cards, recorders, etc.) have integrated preamps, however, like all additional modules, they do not always provide the necessary signal quality. External preamps are safer and more efficient. It should be noted that each amplifier and preamp has the property to improve the sound characteristically, so if you decide to buy a preamp for a dynamic microphone, you should pay attention to its basic properties.
It is necessary to determine the number of connected microphones and select a preamplifier according to these features. Also, the possible owner has to think about the frequency of use. Only professional devices can cope with heavy loads, while even the best budget preamp won’t be able to withstand prolonged use and increased workload level.
The Best Microphone Preamps Review
The mic preamps of such type can become useful helpers for those, who are not satisfied with a fixed number of channels. If he/she doesn’t know the exact preamps number, manufacturers have created special single-channel devices, which can be connected in a cascade of 8 pieces in special open rack systems. So if you run out of channels, you can add more.
ART VoiceChannel – Professional Microphone Preamp with Digital Output and USB
This mic preamp under 500 dollars is very compact, even though it contains additional tools, such as a compressor that neatly smooths out the roughness of acoustic tracks and provides clear sound. The next constituent instrument is a de-esser, which removes vocal hissing and high-frequency distortion from instruments (such as cymbals). The expander has a separate section of knobs on the front panel for adjusting; it helps cut off the noise of guitar amplifiers. The device can be called a universal item because it allows selecting the anode voltage of the lamp and offers variable input impedance that optimizes the input for the maximum wide range of microphone sources.
- It operates without any noise.
- The impedance helps monitor the tonal control, and a single mic can propose a lot of various voices.
- The USB output works perfectly and doesn’t require any additional settings.
- There is no manual with explanations about the setting process, so the installation itself may take a lot of time.
- The device gets hot very quickly, so it’s better to use something like a cooler.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen) – Portable Device with Pro Features
The device is a well-known pre amp for microphone with phantom power +48V. It has 2 inputs, and each of them has its own multi-color LED indicator, inscribed in the GAIN input volume control. It shows both the normal signal level and clipping. The preamp is intended for recording from a microphone with an XLR connector or instruments (for example, guitars), respectively, as well as for recording from line sources. The unit is compatible with all popular DAWs like Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, and others. The device has ultra-low latency and supports ASIO and Core Audio drivers. The Focusrite Scarlett Solo can be called like one of the best microphone preamps for guitar players and solo-songwriters.
- The build itself is rather good and has sustainable bottom grip.
- Amazing DAC allows listening to music through this device and get real pleasure.
- I can’t record properly a keyboard due to the 2 line-in level inputs absence.
- Drivers for Windows 10 are awfully unstable, they crush from time to time.
dbx 286s – Get the Studio Quality with Frequency Tunable De-Esser
This unit is hard to call the best preamp for vocals, but the construction is able to smooth out uneven acoustic tracks, provide an excellent pre-amplification for all microphones, and instrument sources. The inbuilt dbx OverEasy compressor greatly smoothes out the unevenness of the acoustic songs and produces a pure sound. The de-esser removes vocal fizz and high-frequency distortion from the instruments. The enhancer adds completeness, profundity to bass instruments and vocals, and clears the clogged middle frequency range.
- The balanced microphone input accepts different connections, making it easy to plug in both professional studio and simple home microphones.
- There is a built-in expander/gate for adjusting the level of sound in headphones and for clipping the noise of guitar amps.
- The unit can propose the simultaneous independent operation of 4 processors.
- Sometimes extremely loud noise appears , which disappears only after reboot.
- The LEDs work non-permanently, and some lights incorrectly display what is happening with the device at the moment.
ART TubeMPSTV3 – Reliable Tube Mic Preamp with Great Cooler
The unit is well constructed; it has metal corps with rounded edges. Whereas the small dimensions and visual fragility, the device looks really brittle, but that small unit is strong and can propose XLR, 1/4 inch input, and output jacks. Analog meter has a very pleasant to the eye incandescent backlight. I definitely like the device’s well labeling because there is no need to lift this preamp for home studio to distinguish rear ports. It’s possible to make a recording process at a variety of high-quality bit rates and sample rates. The unit’s temperature stays the same even after a long working day.
- Limiter and tone selection works perfectly.
- The phantom power switch is very helpful, especially when the condenser mic requires it.
- Input and output volume controls have high sensitivity and react quickly to changes.
- While being hooked up, there is a static/white noise in the background.
- The power button is absent, so it’s inconvenient to switch off the preamp all the time.
Golden Age Project Pre73 JR – Switchable Phantom Power Device
This unit can be probably called as the best microphone pre amp due to its quietness and ability to add just much coloration to the audio signal, but at the same time the device gets hot very quick and has a specific non-modern appearance. It supports the bass, guitar, or any sound mode, so is a universal machine. The built quality isn’t perfect because the knobs and switches are made of low-quality plastic and quite possible they won’t deal with the heavy workload.
- It has a straightforward construction and a pleasant design. There are special prescriptions under the inputs/outputs, so the usage and connection are easy.
- The unit is a very good recording preamp because the sound\voice appears to be extremely clear.
- The XLR and TRS input jacks are very useful for flexible connections.
- The signal light doesn’t show real working status.
- There are some scratches on the device’s corps.
IK Multimedia iRig – Budget Mic Preamp with Long-Lasting Battery Life
With the unit’s help, I can connect better mics when making live streams with Mevo. It’s very easy to set up the device. All I have to do is to get the unit from the box, place the 9V battery, and connect XLR to mic into the iRig. After that, it’s possible to plug into the standard 3.5mm jack on the unit and start the professional audio recording process. IK Multimedia iRig has everything to cooperate with various microphone kinds.
- IK Multimedia iRig is space-saving and is a splendid variant for indoor recordings.
- Long-lasting battery life (30 hours) is enough for making all the basic tasks.
- It works with an iLine Camera Adaptor cable without problems.
- It’s easy to break this device.
- The manufacturer tells about 10 hours with phantom power on, but in real life, it’s only nearly 5 hours.
BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UM2 – Lightweight and Powerful 2×2 USB Audio Interface
The unit’s body is made of metal, which has a beneficial effect on reliability in mobile conditions. It’s possible to plug in the interface to Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, and all other professional software. It is supported by both Mac OS X and Windows (XP and higher). The LED indication of the signal and overload are noteworthy. If you listen to the music through Behringer, it’s noticeable that the high frequencies sound unnatural, but when I tried to record via U-Phoria UM2, these small flaws immediately faded into the background because this product writes surprisingly well. It’s a good choice for home and music experiments.
- It’s easy to reach all the jacks, knobs, and buttons.
- It’s able to work with different DAWs.
- The installation doesn’t require additional drivers or software.
- There are noises during the work process.
- The maximum DAC is 48 kHz (although sometimes I need 96 kHz, but the device can’t give it to me).
Grace Design m101 – Simple Small Preamp for Clean Sound
This device might be regarded as the best mic preamp under 1000 dollars for a single channel of audio, but it doesn’t have enough ventilation holes for cooling. Nevertheless, the Grace Design delivers extremely clean sound. It’s better to use this preamp together with a high-quality microphone; otherwise, the incorrectly sniffed mic can spoil the final product and make a wrong impression about Grace Design m101. I connected it to an Apogee duet with a Neumann tlm 102 microphone and got very pleasant to the ears sound, which is loud, and without any clipping.
- Its weight is only 4.45 pounds, so it’s easy to transfer this device.
- It has a stylish design with big knobs, which greatly perform their basic functions.
- The unit is an exceptional studio preamp because it shimmers the high-frequency sounds like drum and vocal.
- Outputs on the back work with interruptions.
- You have to go all out in order to make the sound more saturated.
ART ProMPAII – Low Noise and Total Harmonic Distortion Microphone Preamp
This 2-channel tube mic preamp is able to perform its strict tasks in dual mono or stereo mode. Every microphone input has a switchable +48V phantom power supply and an input impedance regulator, which allows connecting any high-quality dynamic, condenser, or ribbon microphone in a broad spectrum of resistance. The ART ProMPAII product can work at high and low anode voltages on 2 manually selected 12AX7 lamps for a natural sound. There are particular analog dial gauges with backlighting, for indicating the output level, as well as LED voltage indicators for the lamp.
- The 2U steel corps makes it possible to mount the preamplifier in a standard 19” rack-mount rack.
- The device presents a beautifully detailed sound quality.
- It’s amazing that the low cut runs up to a variable 200Hz. Such a feature is useful when mixing various sources.
- Tube, which comes with the unit, is unreliable (due to low-quality material), so it’s better to purchase additional and better one.
- XLR inputs are on the rare panel and such peculiarity is not really comfortable. It would be nice to place them on the front side.
Solid State Logic Alpha VHD – Unit with Variable Harmonic Drive Circuit
The device holds 4 independent circuits Harmonic Drive (VHD). It presents individual input, output, and VHD controls for each section. The input signal level has a great influence on the VHD circuit performance, as does the button pad, which offers 20 dB of gain reduction for sonorous signals, permitting the preamplifiers to cooperate with both linear and microphone signals. VHD control has a significant influence on higher gain settings.
- The unit can be perceived as one of the best professional preamps for mics, which presents a clean sound and is intuitively controlled.
- Special switch pad displays the channel overload.
- It is a classic mic-listening compressor with fixed curves, ideal for drums.
- The device is rather heavy (15.43 pounds). It’s uncomfortable to carry the microphone preamp in hands.
- Its silver color front panel easily shows the dirt and scratches.
API 3124V – Preamp for Home Studio with Transformer Tap Selection
Four microphone inputs get the +48V phantom power from the built-in energy supply. Such power can be switched off for each channel on the front panel. Device’s front panel also contains an attenuator switch of 20 dB, which equally influences the mic and line-level signals. The Hi-Z input allows stimulating input signals up to +22V and therefore it’s an ideal solution for connecting keyboards and other devices with a high output level.
- The device is able to work for an extended period and stay cold.
- The API 3124V is made in a compact package of 1-rack format and contains discrete circuitry, which provides unsurpassed stability.
- Among conventional microphone inputs, the unit has instrumental inputs of the DI type.
- It’s rather heavy (11.95 pounds).
- Some inscriptions on the case are partially erased.
Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre 8-Channel – Unit with 5-Segment LED Indicators
This 8 channel preamp has different microphone/line combo inputs, 8 balanced line out connectors, 2 ADAT digital optical outputs, and Word Clock in and out plugs that make it possible to use the unit on live concerts. The preamp can work separately or in combination with an audio interface with ADAT inputs. A visual indication of the levels is on the front panel; these are 5-segment LED indicators for each channel independently. Preamplifier receives power from an inbuilt adapter.
- There is a special pad on every channel for extra headroom. Such a peculiarity is perfect for loud musical instruments (for example, drums).
- The device uses a JetPLL jitter reduction technology that helps avoid unnecessary vibration.
- Metal corps protects internal components and allows creating the conditions for ventilation.
- The set contains a special manual for downloading Focusrite plugins, but such addition is useless because all the information is presented incomprehensibly.
- It’s difficult to carry it a bag constantly because its weight is 8.18 pounds.
Roland OctaCapture – Device with 4 Direct Mixes and Auto-Sens Function
The device includes a USB2.0, 10-channel input/output, and all-metal body, which protects from the mechanical damage. 8 microphone inputs and internal DSP with processing and the possibility of submixes receiving also affect the popularity of the product. I definitely like that each channel adjustment is simple and all the parameters are on the LCD display (on the front panel). It’s possible to double OctaCapture inputs with one more installed interface easily. The device can work together with VS Streaming technologies, such as V-Studio 700 or V-Studio 100. First and foremost, the interface is suitable for track recording of small band’s phonograms, where there is a need to record drums, guitar, and vocals separately.
- The monitor mixer helps me create early 4 separate mixes and send them to headphone amps.
- There is no need to set each mic in advanced because the Auto-Sens feature is doing this job with no trouble.
- The drivers for OctaCapture sometimes hang on, and the reboot is the only solution.
- This preamp picks up noise from different types of digital transfer. I can hear the programs closing and launching.
Focusrite OctoPre MkII – Studio Preamp with Adjustable Controls
This unit has ADAT integrated 24-bit optical inputs and outputs that make OctoPre MkII an excellent solution for professional studios. A mic preamp boosts the signal level up to 400 times. Its dynamic gives a high-level margin, wide borders, and rich sound. The circuitry hosts in a durable and convenient metal case. On the rear panel, there are 8 combined inputs that allow connecting almost any microphone, instrumental, or linear sound source.
- Device significantly transforms erratic, peaky signals that come from drums.
- The 8-channel preamp is ready to work after simple plugging in.
- 2 of 8 combined inputs works unstable.
- There is no pad for heavy drummers.
BEHRINGER ULTRAGAIN DIGITAL ADA8200 – Universal Device with Phantom Power
This professional 8-channel digital audio interface for recording and mixing signal in studios has 8 MIDAS mic preamps with phantom power. It’s quite admirable that the ADAT inputs and outputs can operate independently of each other as long as you use an equivalent word clock signal. BEHRINGER allows the device owner to get a definitive signal conversion without the distortion or signal degradation. All mic inputs support +48V phantom power.
- The device doesn’t require special settings and can work right out of the box.
- The unit sounds very clean and quiet but with great intensification.
- It doesn’t produce hum and is very lightweight.
- During a long working session, every light on the front panel starts flashing, and I have to switch the device off.
- The inputs are placed on the front side, but the rare placing would be much useful and habitual.
Roland Audio Interface UA-1610 – Useful Unit with Auto-Sens Feature
The device has a small corps with 12 premium mic preamps. The STUDIO-CAPTURE interface is affordable and convenient to work in any environment. Sixteen audio inputs and an extremely flexible monitoring system allow making different recordings without using separate equipment. You can increase the number of channels to 32 (24 of which will be with mic preamps) and record huge projects by simple using one unit.
- The unit is compact, affordable, and convenient to work even under a severe workload.
- Auto-Sens feature automatically sets the optimal signal level and allow the drum and whole bands recording.
- I can create independent monitor mixes without delay and control them with the help of the software.
- The manufacturer doesn’t want to release new drivers for the Roland Audio Interface UA-1610, so that the device can be used only with an old desktop computer.
- I can hear some strange noise during the working process.
What is the Microphone Preamp Task and Meaning?
Microphone preamp is a sound system component, which picks up the audio signal and amplifies it to the optimum level. This addition is very useful because the limited number of microphones is capable of generating a strong signal, so there is a discrepancy between this signal and operating parameters of the end device. The preamplifier improves the audio content. The signal converting to a baseline is ideal for reproduction or further processing.
The preamp is the link between the microphone and the mixer. It has a direct impact on the final sound quality. By the way, without this device, the equipment of condenser type won’t work. Such microphones can capture the finest vocal shades, but only with the help of preamp, which supplies the phantom power. These devices are able to reduce the interfering noises and get rid of the voice distortion.
Which Characteristics Influence the Microphone Preamp Buying?
Before making a final choice, it’s important to pay attention to the following:
First of all, you should evaluate the financial capacities and product characteristics that you can get for this price. After analysis of purchasing possibilities, you can choose rather a good budget mic preamp or professional microphone preamp, which can meet expectations and fit its price range.
Number of inputs
Everything is simple: many channels will allow you to record multiple microphones simultaneously. Check out that if you are recording or performing bass, play guitar, or other musical instruments, you may need a particular microphone preamp with hi-Z direct input, which has a much higher price than the standard one.
Low-pass filter presence
Such device helps eliminate the low-frequency interference. The microphone preamps contain particular filters, which can cut off frequencies below the level of 20-200Hz. Due to this, the sound can become much cleaner and sonorous.
The tube, solid state, and hybrid devices are the most popular types. They greatly affect the audio; moreover, the tubes can create harmonious sound, while the solid-state units are great solutions for digital-sounding lovers. Hybrid components have main peculiarities from both mentioned types and produce crisp sound.
Number of channels
This factor depends on the activity type because if you are performing live with different bands, you need a bunch of channels. Calm recording in the professional studio with condenser microphones and a few musical instruments at a time requires 4-channel or even 2-channel. The point is that in some cases it’s possible to record instruments separately, not at the same time. Many manufacturers present 1, 2, 4, and 8-channel microphone preamps, so it’s easy to choose according to the needs.
Some manufacturers add to their products VU meters (displays the signal level in audio equipment), phase selector switches (allows painless record from many microphones), equalizers (changes different sound effects), and other special techniques that can improve the mic preamp using.
Preamp vs Power Amp: What is the Difference?
These two concepts are quite often used in the same sphere and are integral parts of a complete system, but at the same time, they differ from each other. Preamp processes sound. It controls the tone’s balance, defines the loudness contour, makes the bass more expressive, clears noise, and records the improved voice\music. It usually contains many controls, switches, and knobs. Most units don’t use a lot of electrical power and they are AC mains powered.
Power amp receives line level inputs from the preamp output and increases its power wise to drive 8 Ohms and the speaker loads big acoustic volumes as set by the volume control. Only with the current and power gain, it’s possible to perform this process. Unusually it doesn’t have controls because they considerably dissipate the energy.
When and Why do You Need Microphone Preamps?
Such a device will be useful when:
- You record silent sources and or use a microphone with a small output. The preamp will reduce the noise and make the sound clearer/louder.
- You need to color the sound, make it more interesting, and diverse. The unit can create the specific character of the 60s tube preamplifiers, the smooth vintage sound of the classic 70’s transistor devices, or modern sound with different trend elements.
- The base preamps start to create some noise and artificial sound elements, which are significantly noticeable at high volume levels. The microphone preamp can solve this problem and confidently cope throughout the entire loudness range.
What is the Role of Channel Strip on a Mic Preamp?
A channel strip is an essential part of the mic preamps for vocals and sound recording because it contains additional integrated peculiarities and circuitry. This element can have a form of a single block or contain different units within a mixing desk/console. Sometimes these elements have inbuilt compressor and EQ, due to which the channel strip has enough power for signal processing and condensing it into a single product.
Usually, the strip and preamp manufacturers use solid state or hybrid technology. In order to release the studio workers from connecting and configuring various devices, strips are placed into a special box and allow manipulating the output very robustly from a single product.