Updated on Feb 07, 2021
Finding the best microphone preamps can be the most rewarding addition to your audio setup if you know what to get. Unfortunately, finding the right mic preamp is easier said than done, with the various options on the market boasting different features. Our team here at Musician Nerd aims to eliminate that problem for you by hand selecting only the best choices on the market.
Everyone has different needs and budgets, so you’ll find the list below has a wide range of options that suit any need, from working in a studio to making YouTube videos or performing live on stage. By the end of this article, you should know exactly which microphone preamp is right for you, without any point of doubt.
We’ll start by running you through a quick list of the choices we selected. Then we’ll go into greater detail about each one and define what needs they serve best. Without further a due, let’s get into it!
The Focusrite Scarlett is one of the most popular microphone preamps on the market right now. This is thanks to how simple it is to use, the reasonable price point, and of course, how well it works.
This preamp supports more than just microphones. The base features anyone will need is the inputs, gain volume, and monitoring volume. The gain volume controls your input volume, while the monitoring is used for listening in real-time with headphones as you record/stream.
The Focusrite Scarlett also features Phantom Power (48V) for condenser microphones that require it. There’s also an “air mode” that gives your recordings a brighter sound if you’re looking for a crisp recording. Lastly, the high-performance converter allows you to record at maximum sample rating of 24-bit/192kHz. This is the highest standard that the best microphones record at.
The Focusrite Scarlett comes in multiple variations, supporting up to two microphones or other audio devices of your choosing. The base model (solo) has an XLR input for microphones and an ¼” input for other instruments such as the Guitar. The higher models support up to two devices and have versatile inputs that support both XLR and ¼” input.
The Cloudlifter CL-1 is not really a preamp so much as a device that you use WITH a preamp to get extra “clean gain”. What is clean gain you ask? It’s a volume boost without any added hissing/white noise, unlike what you get by turning up your preamp’s gain volume.
The Cloudlifter CL-1 is a little more niche for microphones that have a low output. The most famous example of this is the Shure SM7B, and many say this device was built just for it. I use the Shure SM7B myself for both music & video recordings and use a combination of both the Cloudlifter CL-1 & the Focusrite Scarlett.
The Cloudlifter does require Phantom Power (48V), so it can’t be used in-place of a preamp. That being said, many can benefit from the extra clean gain if you find you’re getting a lot of white noise in your audio.
The DBX 286s is more of a studio-grade microphone preamp, with four screw holes for mounting into an equipment rack. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s an empty shelf that allows you to place numerous devices like this one into it, keeping your studio well-organized.
The first thing you’ll notice about this choice is the range of features. If you want the most out of your microphone, then make use of the tunable frequencies & enhancers that come with this microphone preamp. There is a de-esser for reducing sibilance & high frequency distortion, and an enhancer for increasing detail & definition.
The DBX 286s features a high-pass filter that reduces low frequency grumbling. This can be useful if you have a lot of outside noise, a nearby refrigerator, etc. The last feature to touch on is the compressor for smoothing out uneven acoustic tracks.
This microphone preamp is definitely studio-grade at a relatively affordable price. If you know what you’re doing (or willing to learn), there’s a lot of power you can get from it.
The PreSonus AudioBox is another favorite in the affordable microphone preamp market. You’ll quickly find it’s comparable to the Focusrite Scarlett, though a little more affordable and offers 2 versatile (XLR or ¼ inch) inputs right off the bat.
The PreSonus AudioBox is bus-powered USB 2.0 audio & MIDI interface, meaning it’s really simple to connect to your computer & use. Whether you’re making videos or recording your next song, you’ll find this microphone preamp is the perfect utility.
In terms of recording quality, this microphone preamp tops out at 24-bit/96kHz resolution, which is the most you should need anyways. Some microphones offer 24-bit/192kHz, but you shouldn’t need such a high sampling rate.
The V3 model of this preamp were created by some of the industry’s top sound engineers and allows you to select between numerous presets for guitar, keyboard, drums, and vocals. The power of the tube gives you a full, authentic sound that cannot be beat.
Developed for the microphone, the ART Tube v3 is able to add warmth & fatness to your sound while maintain a low self-noise level.
I’ve personally used this preamp on several occasions and worked with others who’ve used it more. It’s really great for in-studio recording as it can give you a quick boost to clean gain and offer Phantom Power (48V).
I’ve also seen this microphone preamp used for live performances, as it can give a good boost to your instrument microphones when needed. It’s a perfect medium device for any microphone.
The IK Multimedia iRig is a highly affordable microphone preamp designed to be used with mobile devices & tablets. I was super weary when I bought this preamp, as I had read it was great, but my experience with cheaper devices like this has been pretty bad.
It is able to power condenser microphones (Phantom Power (48V)), great for those in film who use boom microphones for audio. Another supporting reason for that is that its battery operated! No need to plug in, so filming outdoors is super easy.
It’s also great for anyone on a budget, but there are some concerns to keep in mind. For starters, for a microphone preamp, the output is really low. I usually expect the opposite, but then again, it’s about ¼ of the cost of other affordable preamps.
One thing I like about this preamp that not all offer is the option for XLR & ¼ inch cables for both input & output. It’s important to note that you cannot use USB output with this preamp, so you’ll need an xlr to usb cable if you plan to connect to your computer.
The Presonus TubePre v2 microphone preamp offers the basic gain & drive control knobs we would expect. There’s also an optional high-pass filter for reducing low-end grumbling noises, as well as Phantom Power (48V). The warm full-bodied sound we get is not to be overlooked, and a single good reason for why you should buy it.
I really enjoy using this microphone preamp for the quality of audio. If you want a tube amp, I highly recommend giving it a look.
By now you should have an idea of which microphone preamp is right for you. Our list features some of the hottest choices on the market, personally tested by the team at Musician Nerd. These options are great for anyone, whether you’re making YouTube videos with a USB microphone, or recording new songs at your home studio.
If you go ahead with one of these choices, let us know how it’s working out for you in the comments below. We value your feedback as it gives us even more of an idea of what does or doesn’t work for our viewers. If you have a recommendation that this list is missing, let us know & we’ll try it out! Thanks, and good luck.
Posted on Feb 06, 2021
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