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Microphone Preamp

Comparison and Test
Studio microphone preamp

Discover all the microphone preamp tests for recording studios or live performances. The use of a microphone preamp guarantees high-quality sound recordings in a home studio or professional studio. Hence the importance of choosing it wisely. We guide you in choosing your preamp. The most prestigious brands are AMS-Neve, API Audio, Audient, Avalon, DBX and Golden Age.

Please note: a good microphone preamp enhances the sound of your microphone. You also need to pay attention to the input impedance and gain. It all depends on the microphone.

What is the best microphone preamp to choose? ✅

If you haven't been satisfied with the sound quality of your old audio and video recordings, that means you (maybe) haven't thought about investing in purchasing a dedicated mic preamp. Regardless of the types of microphones you are going to use in a home studio, the use of a microphone preamp is essential to guarantee clear audio output of much better quality.

You therefore understand the benefit of using a high-performance microphone preamp in a recording studio. The real question that arises now is to know what are the criteria to take into account to choose it well.

You will also have to be careful when choosing the type of microphone preamp to choose depending on the type of recording to be made and especially the sound quality you want to obtain. Hence the purpose of this guide.

What is a microphone preamp used for? 🤔

A microphone preamp is mainly used to amplify the sound signal delivered by a microphone (whatever the type) when performing a vocal or instrumental recording in a studio. This results in an audio signal of optimal quality , the rendering of which can be processed more easily via an audio interface or a dedicated mixing console.

A microphone preamp fulfills an essential function since it allows both to increase the audio gains and to give breadth and depth to the sound you wish to record. The choice of a microphone preamp must also obey three fundamental rules. It takes into account in particular:

  • The power reserve (called “headroom”).
  • Phantom power (depending on the type of microphone chosen). If you need to use a condenser microphone, you will need to activate it. In the case of a dynamic microphone, it is strongly recommended to deactivate it so as not to damage the dynamic microphone, because this type of studio microphone has the particularity of being designed to operate without the need to use any Phantom power supply. .
  • The attenuator (depending on the flow of electrical sound signal perceived at the microphone input of the preamp).

Using a high-performance, good quality microphone preamp will allow you to guarantee almost impeccable recording quality. The sound reproduction will be significantly better if you combine its use with that of a mixing desk and a sound card equipped with an internal preamplifier.

Microphone preamp and ordinary amp: what's the difference? 👏

The microphone preamp and the classic audio amplifier fulfill (in common) an essential role which consists of amplifying the sound , but the similarity ends there! The first, that is to say the microphone preamp, is used to amplify the sound signal at the input (therefore at the input) to perfect the audio processing.

As for the second (i.e. the sound power amplifier), amplifies the sound at the output (therefore at the output). The sound which has already been processed and which must be output through speakers must also be amplified.

A mic preamp cannot perform this function. This comes down to the classic audio amplifier, that is, the sound power amplifier.

And the same goes for a phono preamp, it amplifies and enhances the sound emanating from a vinyl record player at the input passing through a dedicated mixing console. The sound emanating from the turntable with phono cartridge comes out clean , crisp and perfectly symmetrical to be amplified using an output receiver to the speakers and to a headphone or headphone output for monitoring.

You can also choose to bring out the sound to be able to amplify it further in output with an amp. This operational amp strongly accentuates the gain at its input to boost the sound 120 to 150 Watt speakers .

An ordinary Class A amplifier is used to broadcast the line level signal to all types of speakers (Hifi, Home cinema, Subwoofer, wired or even wireless speakers, etc.). Technically, by “line level” we mean the audio signal captured and which will be amplified to increase it from a few millivolts to around 1 Volt.

If you plan to connect your mixing console or DJ mixer strip as an output to a home cinema amplifier, the use of an adapter and specific cables may sometimes be necessary. And the same when you want to bring out the sound through a Subwoofer equipped with RCA connectors.

If you use several multimedia devices, you should also plan to acquire a receiver , a UHF decoder , a signal splitter and several converters to really have complete studio equipment.

The classic mic preamp and amplifier aren't the only devices capable of working with line-level signals . Sound equalizers and compressors can also receive these types of signals. To do this, we will only connect them to a microphone preamp (input) and an audio amplifier (in output) to broadcast the sound via the speakers.

Why should you invest in purchasing a dedicated mic preamp? 🎤

Generally speaking, mixing desks, audio interfaces and sound cards for professional use are already equipped with an internal microphone preamp. If you have one and already use it, you will not necessarily need to acquire a dedicated microphone preamp. However, its purchase is recommended for one of the following reasons:

  • Your high-end professional microphone (dynamic or static) should only be connected to audio recording equipment equipped with line inputs.
  • Your mixer, sound card, or audio interface has a built-in mic preamp, but it doesn't have enough power to generate enough gain. Moreover, ribbon microphones , like dynamic moving coil microphones, provide a very low signal-to-noise ratio, and therefore require more gains to optimize the perception of the sound signal at the input.
  • You want to increase the number of inputs to your audio interface or system.
  • You plan to give more breadth, depth, dimensions, details and clarity to the sounds you are going to record. If this is the case, the ideal would be to favor the use of a tube or tube microphone preamp.

Whatever your audio recording enhancement needs, using a dedicated mic preamp will result in finer , cleaner , more transparent . The perceived gain levels are also very high, whereas in the case of a mixing desk, or a sound card with an integrated microphone preamp, these gains rarely exceed the threshold of 60 decibels.

However, it should be noted that coil and magnet microphones, that is to say moving coil microphones as well as ribbon microphones, can require up to 70 dB of gains , or even more depending on the case. The use of an external microphone preamp in conjunction with that of a sound card or mixing desk therefore greatly contributes to improving the sound quality of a vocal or instrumental recording.

This is all the more necessary when you have to use a dynamic microphone. We can also obtain significantly better sound quality without background noise by combining the use of an external microphone preamp with that of a or condenser microphone Likewise if you plan to use it with a wide bandwidth microphone like the Warm Audio WA-8000, or offering a frequency response between 20 Hz and 20 Khz.

The microphone preamp integrated into a sound card, a mixing console or an audio interface often gives a sound reproduction whose quality is above average: more clarity , transparency and depth ..., but to bring a particular dimension to the sound to be recorded, the use of an external microphone preamp is more than essential.

Note also that audio interfaces and sound cards equipped with internal preamps only provide access to basic and relatively limited settings. If you want to access more sound equalization options to add beautiful color to the voice or sound of an instrument, you will need to personalize your audio capture .

However, advanced features such as phase inversion, bass cut, and attenuation pads are often missing on a standard sound card and audio interface. And this, despite the fact that they are equipped with a high-performance integrated microphone preamp.

External microphone preamplifiers from API and Neve are (for example) renowned for their almost impeccable clarity, power and depth of sound. Although there are a variety of high-end mixers with fairly sophisticated internal preamps, using a powerful external mic preamp is still beneficial.

Moreover, an external preamplifier specific tones and which will be complementary to those that the internal preamps are likely to offer.

The different types of microphone preamps 🎙

The microphone preamps available on the market can be classified into three main types: tube or tube preamps, transistor preamps and preamplifiers called Channel Strips or multichannel preamps .

The latter also give access to a wider adjustment range. Each of these preamps generates specific tones. Everything will depend on the recording rendering you want to obtain.

By the way, you can also check out our complete test guide for the Presonus M7 . Discover in this guide the complete overview of this condenser microphone, as well as our opinion on the quality of this microphone and some test demos on its use.

The tube microphone preamp

This mic preamp amplifies the sound while adding depth and beautiful color. The tube microphone preamp or tube amplifier differs from a transistor preamp in that it tends to transform the sound by adding a nice distortion effect . The sound reproduction amplified by a transistor preamp remains (for its part) clearer and at the same time neutral.

The tube mic preamp incorporates one or two vacuum tubes to amplify the audio gain emanating from the mic. Its choice is ideal if you want to add more warmth, color, roundness and dynamism to the tonality of your recordings. These vacuum tubes work to generate distortion that second-order harmonics

Aside from this fact, the tubes integrated into this microphone preamp work like compressors. This has the effect of balancing the sound by reducing sound pressures (Spl) as well as note attacks (more offensive) by compressing them slightly.

This results in a softer sound that is clearly pleasant to hear. The tube mic preamp has one or two tubes ( 12AX7 tubes ) which are normally replaceable when worn out. The choice of this type of microphone preamp remains ideal if you want to give a retro , vintage and at the same time soft effect to the sound reproduction of your recordings.

It is ideal for audio capture of bass and mid-tone sounds. Note, however, that this type of preamp is not entirely recommended for audio recording of high-pitched sounds such as those of a violin, snare drums, an acoustic guitar, or an electroacoustic guitar.

The transistor microphone preamp

As its name suggests, the transistor microphone preamp, also called the miro “Solid State” preamp, uses transistors (instead of tubes) to amplify the sound signal. Due to its specific design, the transistor microphone preamp provides sharper, high-fidelity audio gain.

This microphone preamp eliminates distortion to provide greater clarity , sharpness and transparency to the sound perceived during recording. The sound delivered by this type of microphone preamp comes from its amplification circuits or from the transformers which compose it (if its design is partly based there).

As mentioned, the solid-state preamp delivers a more transparent sound. Unlike a tube preamp, a transistor microphone preamp is capable of handling a significant flow of sound signal in the treble range . And this in particular, without manifesting (almost) any distortion or deformation of the sound signal at the input (that is to say at the input).

This is what makes it particularly effective for sound recording of classical music. The transistor microphone preamp also adapts more specifically to the listening requirements of an audiophile.

Other guide : Blue Bluebird SL microphone test and review . Discover in this guide the overview of the technical functions, the sound quality, the technical characteristics, as well as our opinion and some demos of use of this condenser microphone.

The “Channel Strip” mic preamp

The Channel Strip is a specific “multichannel” microphone preamp and therefore has a fairly comprehensive adjustment panel to perfect the amplification of the audio signal perceived at its input. There is generally a sound equalizer , a compressor , an attenuator pad , a noise limiter

De-esser function acts much like a pop filter, except that instead of reducing “p” plosives, it serves to reduce “s” hiss (this time) per channel. adjustment. On its own, this type of preamp can therefore make it possible to refine and optimize the adjustment of the sound signal at the input .

A Channel Strip mic preamp provides access to all the audio adjustments necessary to rectify, improve, configure and optimize the sound signal rate perceptible at the mic input. Its purchase can be an ingenious investment if you want to obtain impeccable sound quality in recordings .

The Channel Strip also provides much more versatility than the previous two mic preamps. If you are predisposed to paying a certain price to acquire a powerful and efficient Channel Strip audio preamp, opt for the AMS Neve 1073 DPX preamp !

Which microphone preamp to choose for audio recording? 🎛

The choice of the type of microphone preamp must above all depend on the use you wish to make of it. Below are the main recommendations for choosing the type of microphone preamp to choose depending on your audio recording needs:

  • If the sound source from which the audio signal is being picked up is quite weak (it could be a particular voice or type of instrument), it is appropriate to use a tube preamp to add more sound. breadth, power and depth.
  • If you want to obtain a pure sound reproduction that is (almost) faithful to the source, it is recommended to use a solid-state microphone preamp. This will allow you to achieve a clean, neutral and richly nuanced sound. The same goes for the sound recording of high-pitched voices and instruments that generate fairly powerful acoustic pressures in Spl (including percussion and drums).
  • If you really plan to purify and process the sound beforehand to optimize its quality as best as possible, well before the signal reaches the input of an audio interface or mixing console, it is advisable to use a preamp multichannel or Channel Strip.

Each microphone preamp has its own specificities 🎯

Although a mixing console or audio interface already integrates a preamplifier to process the audio signal, it is always advisable to refine the quality by using a dedicated external preamp. This will allow you, in addition to amplifying the sound, to improve its rendering ; or even enrich it.

Whether it's a vocal take or an instrumental take, a mic preamp helps give tone to the sound you want to achieve. Tube preamps impart more or less distortion without deteriorating the sound signal. On the contrary, the perceived sound reproduction will obtain more roundness , dimensions and depth .

Transistor preamps reduce distortion as much as possible to provide impeccable sound clarity and no low noise while suppressing peaks. And this, in order to make the sound more pleasant to listen to.

Channel Strip preamps, for their part, meet a more versatile use, because in addition to adding gains , removing noise and enriching the sound , they allow you to optimize the sound adjustment of the audio jack. And this, well before the signal is transmitted to the input of a sophisticated mixing desk or console.

In addition, you can also discover our test guide and review on the Lauten Audio Atlantis FC-387 microphone . It is a condenser microphone with an NTE type semiconductor. Discover in this guide the complete details of this studio microphone, as well as its sound quality.

Does a microphone preamp optimize digital audio transfer ❓

Indeed, it is possible depending on the type of microphone preamp chosen and provided that it is equipped with one or more digital inputs to connect a USB cable. Thanks to this cabling, we can therefore optimize digital audio transfer.

The advantage of a microphone preamp equipped with USB connectivity and compatible with a DSP ( Digital signal processor ) lies in the fact that it does not show any loss of audio signal. And this, even if you want to export the audio in DSD ( Direct Stream digital ) format.

The sound perceived in input (that is to say at the entrance) in analog mode comes out as it is in output and is even seen refined and colorful in its digital version. This will make the sound much more easily usable on a computer with a dedicated USB audio interface.

How to perfect the instrumental take using a microphone preamp? 🤔

It may be a good idea to plug an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, or an electro-acoustic guitar into a mic preamp. It can be a tube microphone preamp, a transistor preamp or a multichannel preamp. Of course, you can use a guitar amp as output.

Just be careful not to connect these high impedance instruments! First make sure that the preamp has a dedicated input that can easily be recognized by the indication ( Hi-Z ) or “ Instr ”. XLR input as well as a jack input.

You should also be careful with instruments with a line output such as synthesizers or electric pianos. These instruments deliver an audio signal whose power often exceeds that which the microphone preamp itself is capable of delivering.

If it is therefore necessary to connect a synthesizer without risk, you must absolutely pay attention to the output volume adjustment. We will have to reduce it as much as possible!

What other functions can an external mic preamp serve? ✅

A microphone preamp (regardless of type) normally has three main functions:

  • The 48 V Phantom power supply: it only allows you to power condenser microphones using a dedicated XLR signal cable. Be careful, however, because this function must be deactivated when you want to use a dynamic moving coil microphone. This will avoid damaging it.
  • Phase inversion: the phase inverter is greatly useful when you plan to use several microphones at the same time (cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional, etc.).
  • Low cut filter: This function reduces the saturation of the sound signal that may be generated by sounds whose pitch is too low.

Aside from these functions, a microphone preamp can also provide access to a wider range of functions . This is particularly the case with the Channel Strip or multichannel microphone preamp which provides access to the following four other main functions:

  • EQ: this sound equalization function allows you to modify the sound tone during recording and in particular when emitting the audio signal at its input. It allows you to amplify and reduce certain frequencies (bass, medium, treble) and reduce the noise level.
  • Compressor: This compression function allows you to attenuate the dynamic range of the sound signal emitted at the microphone input. The weakest signals are thus accentuated and amplified.
  • Gate/expander: this function is used to remove noise and grains.
  • De-esser: This function is used to reduce “S” hissing sounds as much as possible. You can also configure this function to guarantee optimal sound clarity when recording vocals with a condenser microphone equipped with an anti-pop filter.

Our selection of Microphone Preamp ❤️

For the perfect pickup, we have made a selection from the best microphone preamps on the market. It is still important to note that before buying a preamp, consider trying it. Let's not forget that each preamp produces a unique sound.