Speaking from a musician’s standpoint, creativity is everything and nothing can define me as a musician. However speaking as an audio/recording engineer, the hardware and software you purchase for your home studio can be the determining factor of your music quality that can allow for better creativity and workflow.
Selecting the proper microphone preamp is super important in quality audio recording for a number of reasons. One reason being your vocals or instruments will become amplified as opposed to not having a mic preamp and getting more of a weak recording.
If you’re just starting out on your home studio recording journey it’s best to not overwhelm yourself with trying to get a mic preamp just yet. Fortunately, many audio interfaces come with a built-in preamp already. But for those looking to get more out of your mic and vocals, adding a preamp will get you on the right track.
The Mic Preamp’s Purpose
To say the least, an external mic preamplifier is a piece of audio processing equipment used in the second stage of processing recordings. So if you have a decent sounding microphone, a mic preamp can potentially make some drastic improvements to the tone and loudness of your recordings.
The scientific function of a microphone preamplifier is to enhance the gain, or volume level, of the original vocal or instrument originating from the mic level. In other words, it allows for your recordings to be automatically boosted in volume without boosting the volume level of the room surrounding you. So if you’re using a room without proper acoustic treatment, you’re bound to hear what that whole room sounds like.
Preamps are also used to give phantom power to condenser mics that require it. Preamps honestly serve a great purpose to any type of mic, but of course the better the preamp quality, the higher the price.
Understanding the signal flow of recording audio is very helpful and can prevent errors in your sound. A mic preamp helps to create more powerful vocals and instruments by bringing the signal up to line level.
Mic Preamp vs Audio Interface
It can be very confusing for a beginner to understand what’s necessary for better quality in their home studio. Some think that they need a preamp to go along with their audio interface since they see professional recording studios using them or they heard it on YouTube that they absolutely need it. Then there’s the others who are doing just fine without a preamp other than the one built in their audio interface.
To be honest, there’s no right or wrong answer. My answer is simply “if it improves my song and makes life easier then I need it.”
Beginners in my opinion shouldn’t stress over if they should buy one or not since they’re still learning the basics of recording audio and maybe mixing. The built in preamp your audio interface has will work perfectly, preferably with a good mic. I think a great time to worry about a mic preamp is when you’ve earned some experience with your equipment and DAW, and you know what sound you’re looking for.
A great selection of audio interfaces for beginners is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen.
Setting Up Your Mic Preamp In Your Home Studio
Once your mic is up and positioned properly, the mic cable gets connected directly to your preamp’s mic input. Do not plug it into the audio interface’s input, as it can be used for other things. Then connect your preamp’s line output into the interface line input.
This allows the audio signals to flow from mic level through to your preamp, then through the audio interface, and into your recording software. This will for sure upgrade your studio’s quality and capability.
Best Mic Preamps If You’re On A Budget
Below I’ve included a few picks for the best quality mic preamps if you don’t want to spend a grip of cash to begin with.
Presonus Bluetube v2
- 80Hz high pass filters
- 20db pads
- XMAX class-A preamps
- Backlit VU meter w/ LED clip indicators
- 48v phantom power switch
- Concentric hi-Z instrument inputs
- Parallel 12AX7-driven tube preamps
This Presonus Bluetube v2 is not only great for vocals but on instruments given it’s huge tonal range. It’s only $239.95 on Amazon.
Golden Age Project Pre-73
- 4-step LED output level meter
80db of gain
- Switchable phantom power & absolute phase
- Sound-shaping high pass filter & two position high frequency boost
- Simplified gain control w/ mic/line switch
The Golden Age Pre-73 will add some punch and character to your vocals and also a vintage sound within your recording or mixing sessions. This preamp’s price is $349.99 on Amazon.
- VU meter
- Premium low-noise up to 60db of gain
- 48v phantom power
- 20db pad
- Polarity invert
- Low & high detail EQ
- Variable frequency low cut filter
This beautifully designed device will add warmth and definition to a wide range of different microphones all for the great price of $269.
Radial PowerPre 500
- 3-position vox control
- Hammond broadcast transformer output
- 70db of gain
- 500 series compatible
The Radial PowerPre 500 is a mix between a colored and a transparent preamp for distinctive audio tracks. Only $299 on Amazon.
Black Lion Audio Auteur MK2
- 48v Phantom power switch
- Phase switch
- Dual channel
- Balanced line level TRS output
- Balanced mic level XLR input
- Extended frequency response
This outstanding preamp is also a cross between transparent and colored preamps. This is sold for $399 on Amazon.
ART Pro MPA 2
- Two-channel tube mic preamp
- Dual-mono/stereo/mid-sides options
- LED display levels
- Large VU meters
- Extremely low Total Harmonic Distortion
- Automatic instrument input selection
The ART Pro MPA 2 will give your mic level audio a significant amount of gain added as well as some tonal brightness costing a to total of $358 on Amazon.
Focusrite OctoPre Series
- Dual front panel instrument inputs
- Eight Scarlett mic preamp balanced line inputs
- High headroom inputs w/ pads on each channel
- 109db dynamic range
- 48v phantom power available
If you’re just starting out, you may not have a use for the 8 channels initially but they’re there if you need them. This amazing mic preamp goes for $399 on Amazon.
Enjoy Your Upgraded Sound
Once you’ve selected, installed, and connected your new external mic preamp you’re ready to lay down some very professional sounding vocals, chords, riffs, etc. If you share your music online, feel free to drop a comment with a link to your new song or audio using your brand new preamp. I’d love to listen.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them down below and I’d be more than happy to help!