The best mic preamps do a job that many of us may not have realized we had to do! Even if it’s just a podcast or a short voiceover you need, getting great sound doesn’t stop with the microphone you choose. Unless you’re going for a USB mic that probably has its own power supply, you’ll probably need a preamp. Microphone preamps (preamplifiers) work by amplifying the signal from the microphone (or instrument) before it reaches a recording device such as a laptop or other computer.
Over the past few years, many of us have started creating online content, like videos for YouTube, streaming on Twitch, or even taking our home setup up a notch by upgrading our equipment and our layout. However, while many turn to the best cameras and lenses to capture pro-quality video, audio is often an afterthought, but can actually make a huge difference in the perceived quality of content.
The benefit of using a preamp is that it expands the selection of microphones we can use that require their own power supply, so there is a wider range of high quality microphones available that can push the audio quality up to professional quality levels.
Modern preamps work not only by amplifying the signal but also by filtering it. High-pass (or low-cut) filters can attenuate low-frequency interference and are particularly useful in eliminating the proximity effect we get when speaking into a close-range microphone. Phantom power is useful for powering condenser microphones which are often more sensitive and clear than dynamic microphones. Then additional filters such as equalizers or sound pads are used to fine-tune and/or reduce the signal appropriately when the sound is too loud or soft.
Budget and size will probably play the biggest role in preamp choice, but also keep an eye on how many channels it can handle, as this will determine the maximum number of audio channels you can record at once. . Some preamps also feature tubes (or valves) that provide timeless quality by warming up the signal, adding flattering distortion and drive to the audio.
We’ve focused our attention on one- and two-channel preamps that are great for voiceovers for video, podcasts, or live streaming for one to two people talking (or even the backing track of an instrument odd).
The best mic preamps in 2022
This neat little unit is a single channel preamp designed for one input at a time, appealing to vloggers, or those who need voice overs or want to record a single instrument for backing tracks. Two input options are available, either a balanced male XLR socket or a quarter-inch TS socket which also functions as a DI box for instruments such as guitar or bass.
A Class-A XMAX preamp input stage combined with a 12AX7 dual-servo vacuum tube output delivers a warm timbre and allows for high gain without introducing significant noise. Front controls feature an 80Hz high-pass filter (ideal for removing proximity effect on pickups), instrument input select button, polarity reversal switch, LED clipping and a backlit VU meter. Drive and Gain knobs control input balancing.
This attractive interface features two preamps on hybrid connection ports that support both XLR and quarter-inch TRS jacks in an effort to reduce the physical size of the unit. Focusrite are well known for their high quality preamps and the introduction of the Air button on this third generation model boosts the high end frequencies for more detail.
Powered entirely by USB-C, it plugs directly into existing systems and provides instant visual feedback on input gain with halo metering LEDs surrounding the input controls. A direct monitoring button allows the user to hear the input signal without latency, which is very useful for voiceovers where delayed playback through headphones can throw off the subject.
A throwback to how audio components were put together before integrated circuits became the norm, this preamp focuses on creating vintage-style sound thanks in part to its similarity to the classic 1073 module known for its warmth punchy and sweet. Large, satisfying gain and output knobs are complemented by retro metal mic/line switches, high-pass filters, and Air modes that add high-end clarity.
A useful four-stage LED array displays input gain, and an insert connector on the rear lets you connect other audio processing modules for extra power, such as EQs or compressors, for control. even more important.
This single channel preamp doubles as a DI box with a “HI-Z” instrument line input. Stunningly handsome, this all-metal model comes with large control knobs, a retro VU meter, and metal switches to control tone, gain, and filters.
A control knob in the center mixes sound processed by transistors or tubes when users want a cleaner, more pure sound or something warmer and fuzzier. A -15dB pad, drive control and low-cut filter help filter signals before they reach the recording device for a more polished sound.
Looking like it was born in a science lab, this preamp tries, perhaps unsurprisingly, to capture a clean, neutral signal tone without becoming too impersonal. Although a bit more expensive than other budget two-channel preamps, the RNP8380 features two preamps (one per channel) and has both balanced XLR mic inputs and unbalanced 1/4-inch TS jack inputs for line input and instruments.
There is a TRS insert connector on the rear which can be used to introduce additional audio hardware such as compressors, reverb or EQs for greater influence on the sound before it reaches the end. recording device.
Larger, this rack-mount style preamp is reminiscent of upper channel interfaces for recording instruments, but is actually just two channels. Within this, however, there is an ultra-wide bandwidth of 10Hz to 200kHz, far beyond the limits of human hearing, designed to capture clear, open sound before processing begins.
A built-in parametric EQ and multi-LED output level display allow for greater control of tone and gain. A separate clip LED tells users if the signal has also been distorted. A low-cut filter can be switched on and off to eliminate bass resonance. Definitely a budget option, this model is designed for those who want more punch from their mics without spending too much.
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