If you’re just starting out with your own home studio or looking to upgrade your recording setup, finding the right mic preamp can make a world of difference in the quality of your recordings. Even if you have the best microphone in the world, without a good preamp, your recordings may lack the warmth, depth, and overall sound that you’re looking for.
Luckily, there are plenty of excellent mic preamps available on the market that won’t break the bank. Whether you’re a musician looking to record your own music, a podcaster, or a voiceover artist, choosing the right preamp is essential to achieving professional-sounding recordings.
Most professional recording studios have a wide variety of preamps to choose from, but most producers and engineers start out using the built in preamps on their interface. If you’re looking to upgrade your recording set up, adding an external preamp is a great place to start. It will improve the tone of all of your recorded audio, making a noticeable difference in the quality of your recordings!
In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of choosing the best mic preamp for your needs, no matter what your budget may be. We’ll cover the key features and specifications you should consider when making your selection, and highlight some of the best mic preamps available at various price points. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to take your recordings to the next level, we’ve got you covered. So, let’s get started and find the perfect mic preamp for your studio. In this article, we’ll be covering single channel, mono mic preamps. If you’re looking for more inputs, we also have a breakdown of the best 8 channel preamps here!
- 1 What to Look for in a Mic Preamp
- 2 The Best Mic Preamps: $1,000+
- 3 The Best Mic Preamps under $1,000
- 4 Best Mic Preamp Under $500
What to Look for in a Mic Preamp
When shopping for a preamp, there are a few key considerations to take into account. There are a few key features that I suggest you look for in a preamp. Firstly, does it have an integrated DI (1/4 in. input)? I prefer that my preamps come with a DI on the front of the unit so I can quickly plug in an instrument cable. All of the preamps on this list have a dedicated instrument input on the front of the unit.
You’ll also want to think about the tone you’re looking to achieve. There are tube and transformer based preamps, which offer different sounds. Tube preamps have more harmonic distortion (not distortion like a guitar pedal, think of it as a richer tone), whereas solid state transformer preamps are generally more transparent. That’s not to say that a transformer based preamp won’t impart its own character into your signal, but the tones will be different.
Lastly, you’ll want to consider the other features included with the preamp. Some preamps offer EQ, compression, various settings to enhance or effect the tone, etc. There are some preamps that are borderline channel strips due to the amount of options included, and there are some that simply have a volume knob. This list will have a nice mix of both, so feel free to tailor your selection to your liking. If you want something that just works, consider a simpler control layout. If you like to tinker and really dial in your tones in tracking, there are options that allow that as well!
So, now that we know what we’re looking for, let’s take a look at some great preamps at various price points!
The Best Mic Preamps: $1,000+
These are the top of the line, pro level preamps that you’ll find in big budget studios around the world.
Universal Audio LA-610
The best preamp choice for those with an unlimited budget is the Universal Audio LA-610! This is my all around favorite preamp for general purpose recording. It has an onboard DI, a built in pad and basic EQ, and the included T4 optical compressor is honestly underrated. It’s an obvious choice when recording vocals, DI’d instruments like guitars or bass, or even your kick or snare mic. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s a high quality piece of studio gear that will serve you well for decades.
This feature-rich preamp is a staple at studios all around the world, and for good reason.
By the way, if you want just the preamp without the compressor/EQ, you can grab the SOLO/610 for a pretty nice savings.
The UA 610 is a modern classic, but the Neve 1073 is an all time classic. Rupert Neve revolutionized the audio world with his amazing consoles, and you can grab a single channel of that history with the 1073SPX. In contrast to the LA-610, the Neve is a transformer based, solid state preamp, so it’s basically the Yin to the 610’s Yang. Its broader frequency options on the EQ encourage you to make bolder EQ-ing decisions, which may be a factor in why the EQ is so sought after, but it also has a great, musical mid-range tone that can be heard on classic records throughout the last several decades.
The Best Mic Preamps under $1,000
These are solid picks that offer great studio sound on a more bank account friendly budget. You can’t go wrong with any of these preamps.
Universal Audio 710TFD Twin-Finity
Universal Audio makes the list a second time with their Twin-Finity preamp. While it lacks the compressor and EQ of the 610, it offers something that the 610 does not: a combination of tube and solid state tone. The Twin-Finity gets its name from that duo of amplification styles. You even get a tone knob in the middle to blend the two, leading to some interesting tonal opportunities! Like everything UA makes, the build quality is fantastic, and the sounds you can achieve with this unit are top tier.
Focusrite ISA One
The most flexible option is the Focusrite ISA One. It has an independent DI with an amp output, a mic input, and headphone out, and the option to add a digital audio card, turning it into andigital preamp with AD conversion. This level of customization is unheard of in a preamp of this price. Focusrite is known for their high quality, low noise preamps, and this is no exception. The ISA One is my pick for the best mic preamp under $1,000. If you’re only going to own one preamp, this just might be the one for you!
Warm Audio TB12-B Tone Beast
This API Clone is our second pick for the best preamp under $1,000. While it doesn’t offer the routing flexibility of the ISA One, it makes up for it in tone shaping options. Much like the LA-610, the TB-12 offers input and output gain, allowing you to really crank the preamp without clipping on your interface. It also offers selectable amplifiers, capacitors, and output transformers, giving you the most flexibility on the list when it comes to tonal character. This is a great sounding preamp that honestly punches above its weight at under $700.
Best Mic Preamp Under $500
While these aren’t the most expensive preamps of all time, I’ve used both many times in different recording sessions, and unless you have a top of the line interface, they’re still a decent upgrade from the stock preamps built in to your interface. They’re also a nice gateway into the world of outboard gear, so you can get a feel for whether or not you want to start building a collection of external gear or stay in the box!
Art Pro Channel II
This affordable unit packs a punch with a tube preamp, optical compressor, and a parametric EQ. Even when I owned a giant console and tons of high end preamps at my commercial studio, I opted to hold on to my pair of Pro Channel II’s as an option for recording room mics. These make a great option for someone looking to learn more about EQ and compression, and as you grow your gear collection, they are still a useful tool that you can keep in your studio. Even though Art is known for making affordable gear, I think they’re a bit overlooked by producers and engineers who have developed expensive taste.
PreSonus Channel Strip
This was actually the first piece of outboard gear I ever used! While I prefer the Art Pro Channel II for its sound quality, this PreSonus channel strip’s smaller form factor makes it a more portable option for someone who likes recording on the go. This is a solid budget piece of gear for someone looking to put together a compact, minimal home studio without leaning on the built in preamps in their interface. If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest way to get a tube into your signal flow, this is the preamp for you!
We hope you enjoyed our breakdown of our favorite microphone preamps for any budget! If you found this article useful, check out the rest of our product reviews here!