Whether you are setting up a home-based studio or a professional studio, a mic preamp is essential in recording high-quality audios. A preamp allows you to add dimension, warmth and incredible quality to your music or recorded sounds.
Most people find it overwhelming to purchase mic preamps because of the many different types and variations that exist in the current market.
So, to help you find the best mic preamp that fits in with your objectives and budget, here is a complete review of the best mic preamps under the price tag of $200, $500, and $1,000 that you can find in the market right now.
Before getting to the products, let us take a quick look at basics of a mic preamp to help you understand what to look for when buying a preamp.
Table of contents
- Understanding a Mic Preamp
- Things To Consider When Buying a Microphone Preamp
- Best Mic Preamps under $200
- Best Mic Preamps under $500
- Best Mic Preamps under $1000
Understanding a Mic Preamp
A Mic Preamp, full name microphone preamplifier, is a device used in sound engineering and recording to capture and process high-quality sound signals. These could be vocal sounds or sounds from instruments like guitars and drums.
A microphone as you know it, on its own, without any additional devices has a low output voltage or signal, usually around 30-60 dB. This signal strength is way below the standard operating levels for recording purposes.
What a Mic Preamp essentially does is to take the signal that comes from a microphone and boost it for processing by other devices like an audio mixer or speakers. Most preamps can boost sound signals by up to 70 dB.
Generally, a mic preamp can exist in two types, one type is a preamplifier circuit that is integrated into a sound recording device and the other is a dedicated external device containing the same circuits.
In this guide we will review the dedicated external mic preamp, in the simplest of terms, this is the device that you plug your mic into before relaying to the audio mixing device.
So What Exactly Do You Gain from Using Mic Preamps?
- Better sound quality
- More gain
- Lower noise
- Special sound character, for example, you can make the sound smooth, dirty, vintage etc.
Things To Consider When Buying a Microphone Preamp
Most people focus on the price when buying a mic preamp, this is ok, especially if the product fulfills its basic purpose of boosting a low-level signal up to line level.
But there are other things that you should consider to get the best mic preamp that suits your objectives at cost-effective prices.
It is also important to keep in mind that an external preamp has to be linked to the rest of the studio equipment and as such, you should consider the different ways that the rest of your equipment will connect to the preamp.
With that said, here are some important things to consider when buying a microphone preamp:
Inputs and Outputs
It goes without saying that you need to connect a microphone to a preamp and be able to connect the preamp itself to the rest of your gear. In this regard, any mic preamp will have at the very minimum, one input, and output connecting channel.
The input to connect to your sound source and the output to connect to the audio interface or mixer. This enough for most basic users but some people need more functionality from the preamp. If this is the case you can look for a preamp that has a hi-Z direct signal input, this allows you to connect other musical instruments like a guitar and other electrical instruments.
If you intend to connect the preamp to multiple output devices, then you will need to purchase a mic preamp with multiple output channels.
Unique, Duo or Multiple Channel Preamp
One very important thing you have to ask yourself before buying a preamp is how many microphones will you be using to record at a given time. Will you be using just one microphone at a time or you will be using multiple microphones simultaneously?
There are preamps with a unique microphone channel, dual channels, and multiple channels. The pricing differs for each type with the multiple channel system priced higher than the rest. Depending on your needs currently and in the future, you may find the multiple channels to be cost-effective even though it is priced slightly higher than the rest.
Always keep in mind that even though you may not be recording with multiple mics simultaneously at the moment but that can easily change in the future as your project grows and develops.
The Tube Saturation Preamp or the Solid State Preamp
You have to consider your intended sound sonic signatures when buying a preamp. Sonic signatures define the “character” of your sound.
To make it simple, a tube saturation microphone preamp will give your recording a lush-like euphonic sound while a solid state microphone preamp will add crispness and clarity to the recorded sound. Only you can decide which character you want for your recordings.
TIP: There are hybrid preamps that contain both tube saturation and solid state circuit at a slightly high price.
The form factor will depend on how your recording studio is configured but there are basically three form packages: the standard 19’’ rack mount, the 500 series module and the desktop unit. Some preamps are available in multiple form factors.
Additional Features to Consider
Other features to consider basically depend on your needs. Depending on your objectives you can consider features like low-cut filter, switchable transformer, stereo recording and balancing etc.
Best Mic Preamps under $200
DBX 286s Microphone Pre-amp Processor
This mic preamp has all the features needed to record top-quality audios in any studio be it professional or home-based. It comes packed with 4 channel strip processors that can be used in sync or independently to produce low-noise sound with high gain.
It has a switchable +48V phantom power and an 80Hz high-pass filter that works with the channel strip processors to get rid of very low-frequency noise and remain with pure recordings. The preamp also uses a high-tech dbx OverEasy compressor to smoothen out and make acoustic sounds even for a clean and classic sound.
Also worth mentioning is the presence of a frequency tunable De-Esser that can be used to reduce sibilance and high-frequency distortion for a much higher quality sound.
Other notable features include a LED display with a meter guide to help achieve the right sound, floating XLR and 1/4″ TRS Line mic inputs and an expander gate to expand the preamps channels.
All these features make the DBX 286s a good and solid mic preamp for studio use. The expandable gate functionality makes it possible to add more channels to the preamp and essentially use it for band recording.
- Very few preamps come with a compressor and de-esser at this price
- Does a great job of crushing background noise
- It is perfect for broadcasting
- It is very large and can only be rack-mounted
ART Tube MP Tube Microphone Preamplifier with 48 V Phantom Power
The Tube MP as the name suggests is a tube saturation mic preamp that works with both digital and analog recording units. Although it is primarily a tube saturation preamp, a hybrid version with solid state features does exist at a slightly higher price.
The hybrid Tube MP preamp allows you to add various characters to your sound while maintaining the low-noise quality. Another great feature of the Tube MP is that it can be used to function as an impedance matching box and amplify any instrument that is plugged into it.
Other features include a 70 dB signal gain, a phase reversal switch to vary the input and output signals, a phantom power and Xlr and 1/4″ inputs and outputs.
The price of this preamp makes it a must-have device for home-based studios and startups. It offers superior performance and sound quality when compared to other preamps of the same price range.
- It is a very solid piece of kit, robust and durable
- Easy to connect to a computer for home based recording or broadcasts
- The price is very competitive
- None to speak of considering the price you are getting it for
BEHRINGER ULTRAGAIN DIGITAL ADA8200
This is a simple 8 input channel MIDAS mic preamp with an out ADAT Audio Interface. Each input channel has an XLR for electronically balanced mics and a quarter-inch TRS socket for line inputs.
The preamp has an ultra-high quality 8-channel A/D and D/A interface that can be used to any digital recordings, a phantom power on all microphone inputs, 24-bit converters for ultimate signal integrity and it Processes 48 and 44.1 kHz sample rates.
For anyone who wants to add more channels to an already existing system, this is a great and inexpensive way of going about it. The Behringer Ultragain digital ada8200 preamp is a solid device that has a good performance/price ratio. Highly recommended for studio expansion.
- Setting up the device with a sound card is very easy
- It is a cost-effective way of adding more channels on an existing interface
- All of the input channels are in the front with very little space in between them which makes it difficult to manipulate when there are many XLRs connected to the device.
Best Mic Preamps under $500
FMR Audio RNP8380
The FMR Really Nice preamp (RNP) is a 2 channel mic pre-amp that comes with a standard mounting rack. The RNP does a great job of increasing mic signal output with very low noise levels through the use of large mic headroom.
It uses an integrated circuit but amazing the tone of the signal remains neutral and as such there are no limitations to what could be done to the sound during the production stage. The RNP also has a remarkable distortion free spectrum, meaning what is put into the mic is what is heard on the output.
In addition to the high-quality audio output., the RNP has an unbalanced send-receive connection jack that makes it possible to use balancing features on external configurations through a tip-ring-sleeve cable.
- It is serious and powerful workhorse with great sound output
- Great value for the price
- It does not look very nice on the outside but compensates with the audio output
ART Pro MPAII Two Channel Mic Preamp
This is a perfect device for anyone who is getting started in pro-sound recording. It is a 2 channel (can input two sound sources at the same time) professional tube saturation device, meaning it gives recordings a smooth euphonic sound.
It has two high Z input channels on the front that can be used for instruments and xlr and ¼ output channels. The input gain and impedance can be control independently on both channels allowing you to be able to toggle between stereo and mono operations.
The selectable 48v phantom power is one of the highlights of the device as it allows you to operate at either a low or high plate voltage to customize the preamp to your preferred tone and performance. In terms of form, the ART Pro MPAII is housed in standard 2 space rack-mountable steel chassis.
The rest of the features of this high-end device include a Large back-lit analog display, variable input impedance for Flexible Microphone Voicing, this has a huge effect on the input sound, a selectable plate voltage to give tonal variety, a Low noise at lower gain settings, selectable Stereo mono or Dual operation and automatic Instrument Input Selection.
There is no better mic preamp than the ART Pro MPA II at the same price range. It is a professional device with many useful functionalities that delivers great sound qualities for both personal studios and professional studios.
It has great tonality variation and the variable input impedance is priceless for use with dynamic mics like the passive ribbon mics.In a conclusion, the Pro MPA2 is great, cost-effective mic preamp that is suitable for home use and professional startups.
- High-quality of sound for vocals and all instruments. You can use this with any interface to record anything from vocals to bass.
- Guitars, in particular, heavy guitar recordings sound really smooth
- Easy to use even by beginners
- You will never find a better mic preamp for the same price range
- The device is rather heavy
- The quality of the tubes is sub-par as compared to the rest of the unit but they are upgradable
Golden Age Project Pre-73 MKIII Mic Preamp
This is a one-channel preamp that gives sound recordings a vintage sound character. It has two separate transformers, one for the input signal and the other for the output signal which makes it easy to balance.
The circuit in the PRE-73 MKIII is based on resistors, capacitors, and transistors only and as such it offers a classic sound that transforms many recordings making them fit into basically any musical genre. The PRE-73 MKIII does a great job of delivering a warm and sweet vintage sound.
It is slightly low priced given the performance and as such, it is a great device for any beginner studio.
- Excellent price when you compare to the device performance
- Separate controls to adjust the gain and output signal
- Can be used with ribbon and dynamic mics
- When mounted on the standard rack, the rear XLR socket is difficult to reach
- Sometimes the device can experience balancing issues and the sound does not come out as refined as intended.
Focusrite OctoPre MkII 8-Channel Microphone Preamplifier
The OctoPre MkII is a professional 8 channel preamp from Focusrite. As the name suggests, it can support up to 8 input and out channels simultaneously. The primary two inputs are available on the front end of the device while the remaining 6 can be found at the rear next to the 8 outputs.
It has a built-in ADAT slot that can be used for expansion purposes. The device is suitable to use with a digital or analog audio workstation, the ADAT connection is very convenient for use in a multi-channel recording setup as it allows for the tracking of musical instruments such as the drums, guitar, and keyboards.
In terms of numbers, the preamp can reach an excellent quality dynamic range of 110dB. In order to support extreme sound sources, the OctoPre MkII does not use clips but 10dB pads on each channel. Other features include a 48V Phantom power available on each of the 8 channels and -10dB Pads on every channel.
The OctoPre MkII preamp is a highly desirable unit, it has incredible features and no cons to talk about. The pricing is perfect for a device that can be used in live sound engineering. It is very useful for recording bands.
- The 8 channels make to possible to handle a simultaneous multiple sound source recording
- The ADAT output is super convenient
- The single dial compression with an indicator light function is probably the most convenient function on the preamp
- None worth talking about
Best Mic Preamps under $1000
Audient ASP800 8 Channel Microphone Preamplifier
Audient delivered an excellent Burr-Brown converter technology device with The ASP800 mic preamp. The device has 8 channels, 2 DIs and 2 other channels with revolutionary control placed at the rear end of the preamp.
The best functionality of the device is that it is a plug and play preamp that supports vocals and musical instruments. The out sound quality is incredible and is better than what most professional audio interfaces would give. It has flexible and intuitive features that are designed to offer a complete transformation of any unit that it is integrated into.
Another incredible feature is the variable harmonic color control offered by the HMX IRON in the retro channels. This feature adds warmth and sparkle to the output. Also available on the preamp are Pristine 118-dB Burr-Brown A-D Converters and the ability to Expand through ADAT connection.
The Audient ASP800’s functions and feature justify the price. This is the perfect mic preamp needed to take studio recordings and live performances to a higher level. Its features are best suited for professional use; one can use it at home if they like but that would be underusing the device.
- The quality of the device can be felt and seen immediately when unpacking
- The HMX and IRON functionality adds wonderful character to the recordings
- Great value for money as it lasts long without giving any issues
- Expandable via ADAT
- The device could have used a much better conversion chip
- The HMX and IRON functionality is not included on all channels
True Systems P Solo Microphone Preamp
The TRUE Systems P-SOLO is a single-channel mic preamp with a very high dynamic range coupled with high impedance for a superb quality sound output.
It has a transformerless design and an excellent power supply in form of an inbuilt linear AC. The preamp comes packed with a high-pass filter that gives it the ability to produce low noise signals. It has a dual analog output system and a metering system for easy monitoring.
The sound output of this preamp is highly-detailed but natural. One feature that stands out from unpacking is the big volume control knob that selects up to 10dB input level attenuation.
It is completely compatible with any recording unit and as such, it can be used in any setup be it home-based studios or professional ones.
- The warm and friendly sound output is very enjoyable
- Performs very well with acoustic instruments
- Lacks an expansion feature for multiple input usage
Warm Audio TB12 Tonebeast Microphone Preamp
This a great preamp that is largely underrated by many. It is a single channel preamp that provides a warm tone to the signal input.
The tone character is very versatile, ranging from vintage to modern. It has phantom power and a bypass transformer for high-quality low noise gain.
It works best with acoustic instruments; it’s price tag makes it most suitable for professionals as one can get a much cheaper preamp for personal use although it works just as great in a home studio setup.
- It does an amazing job on instruments especially acoustic sounds
- Does the same job as most high-end gear at a reasonable price
- The preamp could use more tweaking functions to enhance and provide better sound differences