When you are mixing music or you’re in a music booth, either as a sound engineer or musician, having a good microphone preamp is pretty important to make sure that everything sounds fantastic for the final mix.
If you don’t have a good microphone preamp whatever microphone you have will be redundant because you won’t have something to give you the proper sound output.
There are a lot of mix preamps on the market at the moment so it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to choose the right one for you.
Thankfully we are here to help take a lot of the guesswork out of choosing the right mic preamp for you. Read on for our selection of microphone preamps, along with a handy buyer’s guide to help you to make your decision.
Top 5 Pre Amps
OUR TOP PICK
For a clean sound and good value for money, the Grace Design M101 is a fantastic choice. This mic preamp is high quality and very affordable, as well as a staple of home recording studios everywhere.
The amp gives good output and high end signal processing ability which is pretty decent considering the average price. It’s not good a particularly unique sound but it does give a very authentic sound that you are sure to enjoy as you listen back to your tracks.
The preamp provides a lot of transparency and clarity to the sound.
The professional mic pre amp also has an easy to use layout featuring a ¼ inch input on the front panel. There are a few great features such as the ribbon mode that you could use with a ribbon mic if you wish.
It’s also incredibly durable so this preamp has to take quite a beating before you need to replace it. For such high quality at an astoundingly good value for money, you will have a hard time finding much better than this.
- Good value for money
- Clear sound
- Only a single channel
The ART Pro MPAII Two Channel preamp is a very durable device this has a lot of high end features that are perfect for any recording environment. Reliable and versatile, this is a great purchase that is definitely worth considering.
To start with, before you even set it up it’s easy to tell that this device has a robust and solid construction. It can take a lot of damage, which is pretty useful if you are going to be transporting it with you when you are out on the road.
The preamp also has a bunch of impressive features, including 48v phantom power capability that you can select, and it works along with condenser mics. It features variable input impedance too, and it’s possible to use it for both mono or stereo requirements.
Regardless of your skill level, this is a fantastic option for sound engineers and musicians alike. It consists of a great quality build and provides the performance that you need.
You also won’t need to take out a second mortgage to buy it either as it’s quite affordable.
- While it is affordable there are definitely cheaper options available
If you’re in the audio equipment industry you’ve likely already heard of DBX. This brand is well known for creating high quality audio equipment, and this is another fantastic example of their skill and expertise.
The DBX 286 is one of their most well known preamps and it’s pretty popular. It consists of 4 separate studio quality vocal processors.
It’s possible to use these on their own or along with any other combination that you need. It also has gain control, 48v phantom power and a high pass filter.
The device is a high power offering that will give your recordings a lot of quality. It’s one of the best models for vocalists so if you are looking for a mic pre amp to record vocals then you should certainly consider this.
- Ideal for vocalists
- Very powerful
- Lots of functionality
- Users have reported that the preamp is somewhat light for use with dynamic mics
The CL-1 Mic Activator from Cloud Microphones is truly an innovative product that will give you a balanced and professional sound worthy of any recording studio.
The preamp solves a problem that is present in many preamps by adding little amount of gain and power to the output of the sound while also ensuring that any unwanted noise is cut.
The device actually runs on Phantom Power, and you can even use it with pretty much all types of microphones. If you are using dynamic mics that are pretty large this is definitely the perfect option for you.
The recording quality is very clean which is perhaps the best thing about it, with no ugly background noise polluting your recording. It’s so versatile that honestly, it’s hard not to consider it. This product is also a bestseller and it’s really not hard to see why!
It’s also very affordable for those audio enthusiasts on a budget that still want high quality equipment. Perfect if you are looking for a good quality, single channel preamp.
- Can be used with a number of systems
- Allows you to add a lot of power and gain to output
- Clean sound, minimal noise
- Is only a single channel
The Behringer Ultragain Pro MIC2200 is actually pretty well known for its professional sound, and it’s ideal if you really need a warm sound for your recordings.
The pre amp is a 2 line unit that has very low noise levels. You would be hard pressed to find anything that’s much quieter than this. It features a 12AX7 vacuum tube which is the thing that adds all the clarity and warmth to the recording.
It’s highly functional with 2 completely adjustable eq’s that cover the level, center frequency and bandwidth.
This is a must have mic pre amp if you want that professional feel while still having a lot of warmth in your audio. It even has a 12 segment LED that helps to make the cuts incredibly precise.
- Warm sound quality
- Professional and very high quality
- The gain controls can require getting used to on the interface
Best Microphone Pre Amp Buying Guide
What is a mic pre amp?
In case you didn’t already know, a microphone preamp is an electronic device that is used for sound engineering. You can use them for various things such as in recording or home studios, in concerts and shows to mix live output, radio and news broadcasts, in TV or by musicians that want to make a bigger, more clear sound.
The preamp essentially prepares signals from a microphone in such a way that it as able to be processed when you use sound engineering gear. The preamp boosts the signal and clarifies the sound. It also projects a number of individual layers of output to make sure that it is possible to hear them in the overall mix. It aids in minimizing the amount of hum, hiss and noise.
With a mic preamp you are able to manipulate sound as necessary. Of course, some products have more manipulation available than others.
Choosing the Right Pre amp
There are a number of considerations that you should make when you are trying to purchase a mic preamp. Different things like durability, quality and price are all considerations, but there are also some others that you may not have already considered.
One of the most important things to consider is how many channels the preamp has. Some of the most popular microphone preamps only come with a single channel that you can use for one microphone at a time. Others can come with 2 channels, 4, 8 and some come with even more than that.
In a nutshell, you will need one preamp for every mic you intend to use at one time. If you are performing live with a huge band and you have to pick up a number of dynamic mics you are going to need a lot of channels. You may not need that many though if you are recording in a studio with minimal instruments and microphones, as this is something you will be able to do separately.
Types of Pre amp
There are a few different types of preamp on the market and they all differ in some way. Some of the most popular and indeed, some of the best quality audio originates from a solid state, tube or a hybrid type design.
All of these preamps carry their own unique sound. A tube will give you a warm and harmonious sound, solid states on the other hand sound more digital, with a very clear and crisp sound. Hybrids have both of these qualities, though they can cost a little bit more money.
Of course price is going to be a big factor. They can get pretty expensive. There are so many options on the market and so if you are on a budget you either need to save for a bit longer or you need to assess what features are deal breakers for you. Some preamps can be quite inexpensive whereas others can be upwards of a thousand dollars.
Transparency and Coloration
A lot of audio interfaces today tend to have preamps built in and a lot of them are more on the transparency side. This is all well and good but you may desire more than this. A lot of Solid State Mic Preamps are designed to give you even more quality, and provide more control over the sound that you get.
If you are looking for something with a warmer sound with coloration, it’s worth opting for a Tube Preamp as this tends to replicate that old style of audio recording. It’s worth considering what kind of sound you want to achieve before you buy your preamp and then purchase something that will give you the best sound for your music.
Should you get a transformer?
This is a widely debated topic when it comes to mic preamps. To put it into technical terms, a transformer is used in audio circuits for a range of different purposes. Some of these purposes include decreasing or increasing signal voltage or the impedance of a circuit.
To put it more simply though, a transformer gives a little bit more character to a sound. A lot of audiophiles refer to this as a ‘warm vintage’ kind of sound. These make a more transparent and uncolored sound. Of course, whether you get a transformer depends on what sound you want.
With that being said, some mic preamps actually let you switch the transformer in or out, which means you can make the decision about whether you would like to record using a colored sound or with a sound that’s a little more transparent and clear.
Source of Sound
The whole purpose of a mic preamp is to give more quality to a vocal recording but some of them work very well at adding a better sound to instruments too. Usually transparent preamps have a little more versatility, and vintage voiced versions have more limitations but they work well when you are trying to mimic old school recording styles.
When you have extra amplification, it’s very important that the mic pre amp you get is made and built with good quality. Badly made and cheap models aren’t going to give a very full sound and are likely to sound quite poor as a whole, with a great deal of noise.
It’s worth considering how the device is constructed and what it includes because the chances are if you cut on price and you get hundreds of features for an obscenely low cost, the quality will have been cut somewhere.
The majority use normal XLR jacks so that they can be connected to professional microphones. If this is not the case, they tend to have a line level ¼ “ input that allows you to connect instruments such as bass and guitar.
This kind of input is usually referred to as a direct input. These kind of jacks will allow you to be able to record straight into your DAW so they are particularly helpful for modern track production.
You may also find a DSub connector on multi channel mic preamps, and this allows you to be able to join together a number of channels to the device by using a snake or breakout cable such as a D-Sub to XLR or D-Sub to ¼” snake.
The majority of professional audio interfaces will use a normal XLR jack for every mic pre channel, but if yours doesn’t you may instead find ¼” TRS jacks. Some of them even have both. On multi channel mic preamps you may also have a D Sub connector so you can connect a number of channels to your device by using a snake or a breakout cable.
There are a couple of extra features that are worth considering too. Some things you should look for include phantom power, an input pad and some practical features such as EQ or high pass/low pass filters. You could also consider a noise gate and a power switch too.
Channel strips are essentially a microphone preamp that is then combined with other signal processing circuitry in the same area. Some very common additions are things such as EQ and compression/limiting. Some other features such as a de esser or an aural excited are also sometimes added.
Channel strips are made to give you all that you could possibly need to be able to record, all in one place. It means you don’t need to buy any more patching cables too so you save a little money. It can be quite affordable, especially if you plan on recording from a home studio.
So what mic preamp you choose can largely depend on the sound you want to achieve, so there are some guidelines worth considering.
To start with, if you have quite a thin sounding instrument or vocalist, then having a tube mic pre amp means that you are able to bulk the sound up a little. You can also get a lot of warmth with a tube pre amp when you use it with an acoustic guitar for example, though many sound technicians tend to prefer the natural sound instead, which can be better achieved with a solid state preamp.
With drums, you can get a thicker sound by using a tube mic pre amp as this will compress the sound. With solid state the attack sounds will be more prominent.
Finally if you are doing a classical music recording, a solid state pre amp may be better for a purer sound.