Among the many aspects of audio recording that can affect your sound, the microphone preamplifier can be considered a crucial element in your arsenal. A preamp is the piece of technology that helps recreate the real sound of any instrument or recording that requires electronic conversion.
This conversion can create a wide range of possibilities ranging from a warmer, pleasant sound to a harsh and distorted sound. The microphone preamp you use during your recording process is an integral element in your signal chain. We will be discussing what makes a great preamp as well as the best options on the market.
Top Pick: ART PRO MPAII
The Best Preamp On The Market
There is no clear way of determining the best preamp on the market. I have made my choices based on price, quality, and effectiveness.
The ART Pro MPAII is one of the best mic preamps on the market today and at a price that will leave many astounded. Usually ranging between $200-$300, the ART Pro is affordable for any musician or audio engineer.
The MPAII is a tube designed preamp with one tube on each channel and an impedance level that minimizes any noise created by the machine itself.
The preamp offers phantom power for use with condenser microphones and can be used as an outboard preamp with every type of audio interface ranging from a beginner two in/out to a full-fledged mixing console.
The versatility of this product shot this preamp to the top of the list. The circuitry offered within this hardware is second to none, especially at the price point. My favorite feature is the integration of two different tube bias settings. This bias setting can be viewed as the distinction between a “normal” and “high” setting in regard to the level of power used by the tubes.
The normal setting is used when you want to utilize the tube preamp in the normal fashion of introducing color to the audio signal whereas, the high setting is used in an attempt to replicate a solid-state preamp where noise, color, distortion, and saturation are minimized.
I have used the Pro MPAII on the high setting for vocals, and it is absolutely brilliant.
The Art Pro MPAII is a great value product for any musician or audio engineer who wants more for their recordings. This product is the best on the market because it can be viewed as a hybrid preamp without the high expense that comes with that type of product.
The two channels, settings, and the great audio reproduction places deems this preamp as the best mic preamp on the market today.
As the name suggests, this preamp is a four channel solid state preamp. The Alpha VHD is a great preamp because it comes with an assortment of capabilities, including but not limited to, its 4-channel input, far-reaching control over its harmonic distortion feature, phantom power, hi-Z switches, and a -20dB pad for any hard-to-handle signals.
Although it is expensive ($900-$1199), the amount of processing capability and versatility presented by this preamp is astounding.
Transparent or add color
Presonus is a huge manufacturer of various audio applications, hardware, and software. Their audio interfaces are an incredible value, and this one is no different.
Although it is not solely a preamp, this digital audio interface contains 8-channels complete with 8 class-A mic preamps. Because it is digital audio preamp, you can assume that this machine will produce a great signal, with a high dynamic range, and still provide an extended amount of capabilities.
The Presonus D8 is perfect for any musician who wants to extend their capabilities (perhaps move up from a 2 channel to 8 channel interface) while integrating high-quality mic preamps into their arsenal. The D8 can be found for $350-$450.
8 amazing preamps
24-bit -> 48k resolution
20dB pad, phantom power
Digital, so your control is relatively limited
Behringer is another big name within the audio industry. However, they are known for their high-quality and budget level hardware.
The Behringer Ultragain PRO Mic2200 is a great hybrid preamp that features two onboard parametric EQs, a 12-dB high-pass filter, one tube for a “tunable” experience, and a bandwidth encompassing 2Hz-200kHz, allowing you to capture any audio you need within and outside of the human hearing spectra.
The Behringer Ultragain is incredibly affordable, ranging from $50-$125.
Entry-level: you may find yourself needing more soon after purchasing
From the same manufacturers who produce the best mic preamp, the ART TubeOpto 8 preamp can be considered a less powerful mic preamp with more channels available. This preamp is great for the same reasons that the aforementioned Presonus preamp is great.
This preamp offers expandability to the audio engineer or musician who requires more from their arsenal of audio. The TubeOpto 8 is a tube preamp that offers 8 class-A preamps on each of the 8 channels, a digital audio I/O capability (it can be used as an audio interface), and an input pad, phase switch, and low-frequency roll off on every channel.
The ART TubeOpto 8 can be found for $370-$400.
Minimal accessibility in terms of modifying preamp capabilities
Last on our list is the Avalon M5 transparent preamp. The Avalon M5 will help your vocals or acoustic instrument go from bland to professional just by including this hardware in your signal chain. The Avalon M5 is perfect for any audio engineer who is looking for a preamp that values transparency over all else.
The circuit is designed to minimize noise at high levels of gain. Instead of focusing on EQ and compression, the Avalon team brought a preamp that truly focuses on bringing out every detail of a recording, no matter how small. Unfortunately, the Avalon M5 is usually priced between $1500-$2000.
Handles high gain situations with ease
Ultimate transparent preamp
Expensive for most intermediate situations