Mic preamp guide

OK, so you got the ultimate $700 microphone! Now you plug it into your $30 mic preamp to record and we're set to go, right? Uhmm, no. Not so fast!

Your mic is producing $700 worth of sound, but the preamp is only letting $30 worth of it through! Why spend all that money on the mic, and then cancel it with trashy processing? 

What is a preamp? Basically it is an amplifier that takes the microphone level signal and amplifies it to line level, the standard used in recording systems. Also, it is often used to provide power to the microphones that require it. 

A good preamp is important in maintaining and enhancing the sound of your mics. When the preamp amplifies the sound, it can add or subtract subtle shades in the character of the sound. That's why it's important to use high quality preamps. You don't want them affecting the sound in a negative way!

Another thing to look for is the self-noise. I have two preamps in my studio, and I basically use the one all the time. The other one has so much self-noise that I hate it! This is important for each track, because when you mix all your tracks together, you get all the noise added together. The result may be much louder than you expect! 

So don't get a cheap mic preamp. I think it is more important to spend money on a microphone, but don't skimp on a preamp. The processing they add is very subtle, but that is they key. You don't want to hear the preamp. You can tell a difference from a $100 to a $1000 - it's a matter of you get what you pay for. 

A lot of the audio interfaces available will actually have a preamp or several built into it. They can often be just what you need. I like the ones that come on my MOTU 828. But I also have a Presonus DigiMax which provides 8 channels of high quality preamps. This is then a bargain. It's easy to keep adding more and more channels, and with the DigiMax, you can go a long way before you run out.

BTW, if you want to know the lingo, a preamp is also called a mic pre, or just a pre. Now, go impress your friends!

What should you look for when shopping for a mic pre for recording? If you're getting a high end one, look for things much the same as you would regular pres. 

Keep things like self-noise and trim level in mind too. You will most likely want phantom power too, so look for that. What cables do your microphones use? Make sure the mic preamp will accept them. 

Read some reviews on different preamps, and see what people are recommending. 

Yes! Now comes the fun part — doing the actual recording. 

Got your mic preamp? Go to Microphone Techniques

About the Author Lee Weaver

Lee started his career in recording with an auspicious goal - record tracks of his own voice singing in harmony. As a hobby project, it didn't have the funding to go to a studio and pay for someone to do it for him. Like many of you, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps to learn the art of recording.

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