Top 12 microphone preamps for any budget

What exactly a microphone preamp and why do you need it? Or do you need it at all? The amplifier is a device that allows us to increase the amount of electronic signal, that is present in an electronic device. Usually, when we are talking about the amplifiers, we talk about the speaker amplifiers. But in this case, we’re talking about amplifying the signal from mic level to line level.

The basic sound system usually consists of the microphone, amplifier, and speakers. The microphone captures the sound and turns it into the electronic signal, the amplifier then boosts the signal to the high of amplitude that it can compel the speaker to move. But there is a problem. If we directly put the microphone into the amplifier, it wouldn’t produce much sound at all, because the amplifier’s input is expecting a line-level signal.

In other words, it’s around 1 Watt. Microphones, being designed how they are naturally, produce an extremely weak signal. So in order to an amplifier to have a usable signal the microphone signal needs to be boosted up as well. And here is where the microphone preamp takes action. It takes the signal from the mic and boosts it up to the line level. The knee for mic preamp is universal.

Nearly every audio device operates at the line level.  Amplifiers, mixing consoles, recorders – all operate at the same level. The only case when you don’t need an amplifier is when you use the recording device that allows you to plug in the mic directly into a system. And there are certain types of mics that don’t need preamps (like USB mics). But it’s not what we are going to talk about today.

The price for microphone preamps varies depending on operational options and sound quality. Operational options cover a number of things: number of channels, whether it provides digital output, various controls it has, filters and so on. But the sound quality is the real kicker. The choice of your microphone preamp is almost the same as your choice of microphone. They can be highly suitable for one instrument and not so suitable for another. Many sound engineers like to experiment with different microphone and preamp combinations to achieve different results. The right chosen preamp can take the quality of your mic to the next level. However, a crappy mic and acoustics are not going to be saved by the super expensive preamp.

Avalon VT-737sp Class A Mono Tube Channel Strip

preampmic1Fully professional and multi-functional amplifier. Once again, before buying such a serious and expensive item make sure the other pieces of the set “microphone – amplifier – speakers” are also of the highest quality and they will be compatible.

This preamp has four dual triode vacuum tubes and high-voltage discrete Class A. Transformer balanced 850/2500 ohm, 0dB to +58dB Instrument. Maximum input level and connector types microphone26dB@25Hz, +30dB@1kHz balanced XLR and line +36dB balanced XLR. The max output level +30dB balanced 600 ohms, DC coupled, discrete class A.

This amplifier also features Opto-compressor, sweep equalizer, output level and VU metering in a 2U space. The VT737SP Anniversary is identical in terms of circuitry, the only difference being cosmetic. The original orange LED panel has been replaced with cool blue ones. It brings a really warm sound one of the best on the market. What is more, it is long-lasting in terms of decades so it is an investment worth its money.

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Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface

preampmic2Another great microphone preamp but at a much more affordable price. On the other hand, if you don’t plan anything extra and your audio gear is mid-ranged then logically you don’t need a superpowerful device. This one could be a perfect option basically for everyone who has a microphone and needs a preamp.

It is one of the best performing devices ever made by this brand. It has a switchable air mode which will give your performances and recordings more bright and open sound. If you want to plug in your guitar or bass then you got a high-headroom instrument input here.

Two hum-free balanced outputs provide clean audio playback. The gear also includes the high-performance converters that enable you to record and mix at up to 24-bit/ 192kHz quality. This particular preamp is easy in usage so all kinds of users – starting from beginners and ending up with professionals – will find it really convenient in the recording process.

What is more, it includes such additional tools as first Focusrite creative pack, Ableton Live Lite, Softube time and tone bundle, Focusrite’s Red plug-in Suite, 3-month splice subscription, and your choice of one free XLN Addictive keys virtual instrument. You can use this preamp even while working with a computer microphone. For mixing and performing vocals it is really great.

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dbx 286s Microphone Preamp & Channel Strip Processor

preampmic3This preamp is for more serious musicians who are ready to invest a little bit more into the good devices for recording, however, they are not ready for the studio-level prices yet and would like to find something matching the category price/quality. This option would fit quite good.

With this preamp, you get the studio quality of the sound and a classic dbx Compression that is able to put great sound within easy reach. Frequency tuneable de-esser reduces sibilance and high-frequency distortion. The details and definitions of the high and low frequencies are increased by a specific enhancer.

The frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz, the input is 1/4″ Trs (x2) and XLR (x1), the output is 1/4″ Trs (x1); operating voltage: 120VAC 60Hz, 100VAC 50/60Hz. The preamp also has 4 processors that can be used independently or in any combination. Other useful additional features are wide-ranging input gain control, switchable +48V phantom power, and an 80Hz high-pass filter removing low-frequency hum, rumble or wind. It provides the kind of sound that only dbx compressors are able to provide.

And the last, but not least is that you will find a fine-tune the Enhancer HF Detail control which can add sparkle and crispness to your tracks and make adjustments to the LF Detail control and also add fullness and depth to vocals and bass instruments while cleaning up the muddy low midrange frequencies.

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Blue Microphones Icicle XLR to USB Microphone Converter/Preamp

preampmic4In order to add diversity to this list and present to you all kinds of possible choices, it makes sense to pay attention to this device as well. It differs from the previous items in the sense that this is a single part and not a whole system. But that what actually allows it to be affordable and maintain quality at the same time.

It is a built-in microphone preamp with analog mic gain control. You can always adjust it to your microphone and then plug it in into the amplifier. The device has 48V phantom power. Even though it is a spare part, it is fully balanced, with low noise front end and it operates driverless. The USB cable is also included in the set.

The Icicle works with both dynamic and condenser microphones, providing high quality and hassle-free connectivity with Mac or PC. It gives a studio-quality sound for a small price. So in the case, you need a product with no extra features and simply doing its job then this item might be a good choice for you.

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Focusrite ISA One Classic Single-channel Mic Pre-Amplifier with Independent D.I.

preampmic5Moving on, here we have an excellent amplifier for professional studio gear. It comes in a versatile, transformable package which makes it extremely convenient in usage and paying off its price. It a kind of classic item in this lineage and those who are already familiar with the brand will totally be impressed with its quality. The original ISA modules, commissioned by Sir George Martin for use in AIR Studios, are time-honored and coveted by engineers the world over. And it is a legacy which lives on even today.

In this particular model, you will find a  famous Lundahl input transformer – the same circuit, based on the original ISA110. The input transformer imparts a special character to the sound that can’t be truly emulated in any other way. However, in this model, you will discover the twist that the original one didn’t have and it makes it much more versatile. Here the four carefully-selected impedances allow you to match microphone to input in different ways.

The cover on the device has rugged and portable chassis, and it is perfect both for engineers and performers. An independent gain control, an output for routing to an amp, an independent XLR output on the rear and routing to the optional A-D converter are also in the set. There are four switchable input impedances, including the original ISA110 setting. The system also has an input for the headphones.

The dedicated insert point allows you to place extra processing between the preamplifier or DI and the optional converter, such as an EQ or compressor. Another essential part of this device is the Lundahl LL1538 Input Transformer, which helps to create a crispy clear sound and unforgettable performance.

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TNP 2 Channel Microphone Mini Audio Stereo Mixer

preampmic6From professional gear, we move to the easier one. This is a cool preamp which independently and smoothly controls 2 microphone volumes separately for the better quality of the sound. You can adjust this device to get the exact quality that you want with a knob placed on this preamp.

A supplied adapter powers directly into your mixer for consistent audio. The preamp has a 2 3/4 microphone ports which allow you to plug in almost any kind of mic that you want. RCA ports compatible with a whole host of audio equipment will ensure you always have something to look into.

So if you need a simple yet powerful preamp for your performances you can buy this one without regretting spending much money on the expensive gear. The setup is quick and easy so for beginners or people far from the work with audio systems it will be a valuable discovery. Still, the quality is maintained at a very decent level. The preamp works only for dynamic microphones which means it is useful for live performances.

It is powerful enough to sustain even the mid-range audio systems, not speaking about the easier models. So for example, if you have a school concert and you need a good amplifier to balance the mics without losing the quality and control, this item is considerable for you.

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ART TubeMP Tube Microphone Preamp

preampmic7A little bit more advanced item and the one that is really easy to carry around. And unlike the previous ones, it is fair enough to add here that it is a specifically a preamp without any additional functions and goals of usage. It includes around 70dB of gain. The sound quality that you get at the result is pleasant to the ear – the sound is warm and smooth.

Variable input and output controls will help you to adjust the volume specifically for your mic. There is also a function of the phase reversal switch. All the indicators are placed on the item itself – there you will find a light which indicates if the power is on or off, settings and indicators of gain and phase reverse which can be controlled via push buttons, output, and input controls. The device uses a regular source of power. Once again, doesn’t take a lot of places, easy to take anywhere with you as a good handy mic amplifier.

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Yamaha Mg06X 6-Input Compact Stereo Mixer With Effects

preampmic8A legendary company manufacturing audio gear obviously makes remarkable microphone amplifiers. This is one that allows you to set up the microphone thoroughly and get the exact sound you want. It includes 6 channel standalone mixer with onboard SPX digital effects.

What is more essential, it features the studio-grade discrete class-A D preamps with an inverted Darlington circuit giving a fat, natural, smooth and full sound, with low bass and soaring heights. 3 band equalizer and high pass filters give you maximum control and eliminate unwanted noise, resulting in a cleaner mix. There is also a 1 knob compressors which make it easy to control the device and the sound, resulting in livelier guitars, punchier bass lines, a tighter snare, and cleaner vocal melodies.

What is more, this Stereo Mixer including a microphone preamp is easy to place anywhere thanks to its chassis complementing the fine metal materials which were used to cover up this item. There is also an LED level metering. Yamaha has always been building a brand that would carry a legacy of superior craftsmanship and innovation aiming for the best sound in the industry. The excellence of the design along with the high-end professional technologies has already been highly recognized all around the world and used by the best people in the industry.

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BEHRINGER Audio Interface, 1x XLR/TRS 1x 1/4″ 2X RCA USB

preampmic9This is one of the bestsellers in this category, and it’s pretty clear why. All the main functions of a preamp that you need at a great low price, so even broke musicians will be able to buy it. The system has 2×2 USB audio interface for recording microphones and instruments along with it makes it versatile for usage – either from PC or other devices.

Audiophile 48 kHz resolution brings a professional quality to the sound. The maximum sampling rate is 48 kHz. What also makes it so popular is that it is compatible with a huge number of various software such as Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, and many others.

It also has 2 inputs and 2 outputs with ultra-low latency to your computer, supporting Mac OS X and Windows XP or higher versions. State-of-the-art, +48 V-powered XENYX Mic Preamp comparable to stand-alone boutique preamps. It does give its users the professional quality, providing up to 192 kHz resolution which can be used in advanced and large-scale music projects.

Now you can manipulate the sound with accuracy and confidence without the damage tot he quality or lack of possibilities. The UMC404HD mix control allows zero-latency direct monitoring, which means musicians are fully in control of their process without any delay or lag in the returning signal, resulting in better performance and recording.

The UMC404HD also features 4 analog inserts for use with external effects such as compressors, gates, equalizer and so on. Moreover, to this device, you can connect the keyboards. You will also find here the expandability using ADAT and/or SPDIF connections and a second headphone out with a separate gain. Just in case you use mixing sound sources that don’t play with phantom power, then you will need additional adapters. It’s fantastic for small studio setups and for a mobile rig.

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Warm Audio WA-412, 4-Channel Discrete Microphone Preamplifier and Instrument DI

preampmic10Time to play big – here comes the serious gear that you can probably find in professional studios. So if you are looking forward to creating one – this device could be a great compliment, providing the best quality to the mic and revealing its abilities to the full.

This is a 4 channel microphone preamplifier coming together with an instrument DI so you can plug in your instruments as well. The style of such devices often referred to the Rock’n’Roll style because of their big punchy low end and smooth open top end. What is more, professional sound engineers will probably find the price more than reasonable since usually preamps of this kind of quality tend to cost more.

The device features fully discrete socketed 6-pin opamps and custom wound Altran USA input and output transformers, the WA-412 leaves nothing to be desired. If you have been looking for a gear with multiple channels of world-class tone you will probably appreciate this item. Actually, not having enough channels is a frequent problem for sound engineers and here is the solution. In addition, the item brings a really nice output for the drums.

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Tascam US-2×2 USB Audio/MIDI Interface with Microphone Preamps and iOS Compatibility

preampmic11Maybe this particular brand is not so famous comparing to Yamaha or Focusrite, but it is still an affordable and well-workin device for those, who would like to get a preamp with a little more possibilities than a regular budget one. In this item, you will find high-end audio quality and ergonomic design for a powerful 2-in and 2-out USB double audio interface.

Two of TASCAM’s Ultra-HDDA mic/line preamps provide up to 57dB of gain what makes the noise almost inaudible and distortion is not felt at all at the recording. The audio-design is carved by such features as NE5532 op-amps for the rich sound quality without coloring the source.

What is more, you will always be able to work with this preamp even through your PC – it doesn’t matter if you are using a Mac OSX and iOS devices, or various versions of Windows. Another useful function here is that MIDI in and out is also included for connecting synths, drum machines, and controllers. Here you have the two DAV applications from which you can choose – Cakewalk SONAR X3 LE and Abelton Live Lite 9.

The preamp comes with XLR and TRS inputs that accept balanced mic and line-level signals, with a high-impedance option for recording electric guitar and bass. The whole complexion and design of an item is compact and easy to replace – which means it doesn’t cause any problems considering the physical usage. The class-compliant drivers for plug-and-play operation bring you perfect sound while recording on your PC.

The components of this preamp could actually compete with the professional gear. Since the item cannot really be related to budget goods, you can expect much better quality than a basic affordable preamp can give. This device has an incredible EIN rating of -125 dBu, once again, meaning their noise level is practically below the range of hearing.

Other impressive specs include a signal-to-noise ratio of 101 dB, out-speccing anything in its price range. All the components were chosen after actual listening tests, not just by the test measurements. The professional XLR connector of this preamp supplies +48V phantom power which is suitable for condenser microphones.

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Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp

preampmic12When you check the price for the first time for this product you may not believe your eyes but it is that cheap. Does it mean that you should expect a low=standard quality? Well, this device doesn’t promise you the level of top-recording studios, but let’s be honest, there are a lot of people who don’t even need it – so why pay more, when you can find such an affordable item like this?

This is a turntable preamp that converts phono signals to line-level signals, so your mic can work correctly with the audio system. Moreover, it also can accommodate magnetic pickups with an input sensitivity of 3mV at 50K Ohms. The low-noise operational amplifiers will provide decent sound quality and help to make your performance as good as possible.  The output is 2V max at 10K Ohms.

It is recommended to place the preamp close to the source in order to reduce unwanted noise and interference. This preamp performs its function well – it balances the power of the audio devices so you can always connect any turntable to modern sound equipment without specialized phono input for amplifying the music. What is more, this preamp can work with receivers connected to speakers, computers, laptops, and others.

This mini preamp has stereo RCA inputs and stereo RCA outputs. First, you need to connect the turntable to the RCA inputs and ground. Then, connect the amplifier receiver to the RCA outputs. The item comes in the set together with a DC 12-Volt Power adapter. Its frequency response is 20 Hz ~ 20 KHz ±2dB.

Despite the low price, the product outperforms all its functions, it’s a conversational kind of an amplifier and there is a chance that maybe your gear requires this type of the preamp. However, think twice before acquiring this product since the item is non-returnable (which is explained by its original price).

FAQ for microphone preamps buyers

How do I connect the preamp with the mic and the audio interface? 

First, you connect a microphone with the mic preamp then with the mixer and the recording module. This may be accomplished either with a shielded 1/4-inch instrument/component cable or an XLR microphone cable. Some mixers, however, won’t bypass its internal preamp if an XLR cable is used. Check with the manual to be sure.

Will the preamp help to enhance the volume of the output? 

Yes, in most cases a good amplifier helps to increase the volume and clarity of the sound.

Is it enough simply to have a capsule preamp or an audio system is better? 

It depends on the result that you would like to get. But on the live performances, the singe preamp should be enough. For studios, especially for those where you work with the top-quality gear, you will need a suitable preamp in an audio system, better with several inputs.

Does the amplifier work on 220V? 

Also depens on the quality of the amplifier – the higher it is, the more is the probability. Otherwise, you would need a converter that you buy separately.

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