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Audio & Recording

Best Mic Preamp

The pre amplifier has been around as long as sound has been recorded. For the past 80 years, thousands of different models have been made and manufacturers have enjoyed successful business from this product.

Preamps work by amplifying the signal so it can properly handle further processing. The amplification is done as close to the sensor as possible to decrease any outside noise or interference and how the signal is amplified determines the kind of sound you’ll get. Traditionally, tube preamps add their own color to the signal and solid-state preamps boost the signal while attempting to keep as much transparency as possible. These two lists comprise of the best of both worlds and any preamp discussed here will satisfy any recording situation you may have ahead of you.

ART Tube MP Studio Mic Preamp

ART’s Tube MP preamp has a small and unassuming size, but it was made to enhance the quality of audio signal that runs through it. This unit employs hand-selected 12AX7 vacuum tubes to provide a smooth, warm, and fat character. The MP also works well as a tube DI. Providing more than 70dB of gain, this preamp does a great job at boosting signal, which can be further tweaked using its variable input and output gain controls. Whether you’re running this unit into a console, a signal processor, a recorder, or an amplifier, you’ll find that it truly improves whatever situation you find yourself in.

Golden Age Project Pre 73 MK II Mic Preamp

Golden Age Project’s Pre 73 MK II mic preamp is a single channel unit that offers 80dB of gain and was designed directly after the classic Neve 1073 preamp/EQ module. A mic/line switch on the gain control allows all gain levels available for line input. A high pass filter and two-position high-frequency boost offer more tools to help you craft the exact sound you want out of your signal. The LED output level meter is easy to read and understand. The MK II also comes with an external power supply.

Presonus TubePre v2 Tube Preamplifier DI Box

PreSonus’ TubePre V2 is a single-channel mic preamp that also doubles as a DI. Powered by a 12AX7 dual-servo vacuum tube in its output stage, it allows users to add some tube warmth to the signal that comes in through its XMAX Class A preamp input stage. If your mic requires phantom power, the V2 has you covered via a switchable 48V phantom power setting. A separate hi-Z instrument input lets you plug your guitar or bas directly into the unit. An 80Hz high pass filter gives you greater control over the frequency of your sound, allowing you to roll off any unwanted low frequencies. The V2’s backlit VU meter features a LED clip indicator so you can always be aware of how hot your signal is coming in.

PreSonus DigiMax D8 8 Channel Microphone Preamp with Digital Output

Sometimes we hit a ceiling in what our current gear is capable of producing. If that gear for you happens to be an audio interface and said interface is equipped with lightpipe, the DigiMAX D8 mic preamp is a viable way to breathe new life (and more options) into your setup. This unit features eight XMAX Class A mic preamps, with each one featuring its own trim control. Each channel also has its own direct output as well as a 20dB pad, so you can protect against signal overload. The unit’s LED metering is very fast, giving you a clear and accurate visual cue to trace the signal routing in and out of the D8.

Daking Mic Pre 500 Single-Channel Microphone Preamp

Daking’s MicPre 500 provides boutique-level design and sound in a compact and affordable package. Using quality Class A transformer circuitry, the sounds this little unit produces are simply amazing. The preamp’s modular identity allows you to add in other modules to the signal chain and play with the order of your components. The 500’s adjustable high pass filter gives you a firm grip on the frequencies of your signal, while a tricolor, 8-segment LED meter gives you a handy visual cue to track the mix. The Daking MicPre 500 also comes equipped with a -20dB pad to protect against signal overload, as well as a +49 phantom power to help boost those microphones that need the extra help.

Rupert Neve Designs Shelford 5052 Mic Pre/Inductor EQ

Rupert Neve Designs Shelford 5052 Mic Pre/Inductor EQ

Those who may not know much about the work of the Neve brand may be puzzled by the hushed tone those in the know reserve for the company. If you need a more recent reference, look no further than Dave Grohl’s recent documentary "Sound City", which itself was based around a prized Neve console responsible for the sound of many classic albums over the last several decades. Though its price is high enough to scare off the casual consumer, professionals will tell you that you can’t get much better than the Rupert Neve Designs Shelford 5052 Mic Pre/Inductor EQ. This preamp provides the penultimate 1073 feature set, including a mic pre, high pass filter, and 3-band inductor EQ. Updated features such as the variable Silk and Texture control and simultaneous pre/post “tape” operation give you even more options to color your sound as you seek perfection.

Avalon VT-737sp 10th Anniversary Edition (Tube Mic Preamp/Compressor)

When working with the Avalon VT-737sp mic preamp, you have quite a few options as to what type of audio signal you want to route through this fantastic sounding machine. A microphone input transformer offers 48-volt phantom selection and it sounds incredible professional, while an instrument DI and balanced line input have you covered for any other type of signal you want to record. The unit’s opto-compressor offers full dynamic control from anything between soft compression to hard-knee limiting. A sweepable EQ gives you the ability to sweeten and tweak your sound as you see fit. Meanwhile, a hardwired bypass ensures the most direct and untouched signal path.

Universal Audio LA-610 Mk II Classic Tube Recording Channel

Universal Audio’s LA-610 Mk II mic preamp replicates many of the best qualities of the company’s best-selling professional audio channel strip. This unit has been used on classic albums by the likes of Coldplay, the Beach Boys, and Van Halen, to name a few. The unit’s 610 tube preamp, DI, and EQ are all identical to the company’s classic LA-610. Control your signal with gain and level controls, EQ, and authentic Teletronix LA-2A-style T4 opto-compressor. Building on the legacy of its past, the LA-610 Mk II adds a distinct black-on-black design style for its build, as well as larger metering and improved output signal.

Manley CORE Reference Channel Strip

Considering it packs so many intricate components within a single unit, the Manley Core is very easy to use, with a clear and intuitive design and interface. Powered by a Class A tube mic preamp hand-wound with Manley transformers, this unit will make your vocals or acoustic instruments sound incredible. The direct input employs the same circuit as the company’s popular SLAM! unit, which lends a similar impeccability to direct instrument recording, too. A Baxandall EQ offers low/high shelving, and sweepable mid frequencies for intricate sound shaping. A fast attack FET brick wall limiter protects your converters from clipping while recording. The meter display can be adjusted to showcase input, output, and compressor gain reduction levels.

API 3124+ Discrete 4-Channel Microphone Line Preamplifier

API’s 3124+ may be a relatively compact rackmount mic preamp, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feature the same preamp circuitry that is featured in all API consoles. Four XLR mic inputs sit in conjunction with four front-panel 1/4” hi-Z instrument inputs. Whether you’re plugging in a mic or an instrument, the 3124+ provides up to 65dB of gain to an output clip level of +30dBm. Front panel line and power switches make it easy to maneuver through all that this unit is capable of producing. Additionally, the 3124+ has the same output transformer found in all of API’s equalizers, so you really can count on this thing to offer a sweet and malleable sound.

Sean Kramer
I'm a guitarist/music producer with 18 years of experience playing on-stage, in the studio, and everywhere in between. I have toured and recorded on projects both independent and major, in styles such as rock, pop, funk, hip hop, electronic, and more. My axe of choice is probably always going to be the Fender Stratocaster, but I've been known to pick up other guitars when the music calls for it. I'm a big fan of using a multitude of effects (both hardware and software-driven) to manipulate the sound and atmosphere of an instrument. In addition to playing on records, I have also contributed to the score/soundtrack for shows and spots on MTV and ESPN, as well as for a variety of independent films, web series, and television shows.
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