So you’ve finally grabbed the perfect microphone to begin recording or performing, but still need a specific device to power it up? The best microphone preamps in the market today come with many capabilities aside from merely providing some phantom power to allow your microphone work, and depending on which route you go, can do wonders for your current setup in terms of expansion, upgrading, and standing out from the rest. Today we took the time to review the top 10 best microphone preamps out there worth looking at, however come with a few extra factors when it comes to determining which is best for you.
Picking the best microphone preamp
Before getting into our list of the best microphone preamps, there are some requirements to look into first. Although our two favorite resources (Sweetwater’s mic preamp guide as well Musician’s Friend’s preamp buying guide) explain this in a bit more detail, we’ve done our own research from multiple educational sources to give you some insight into the preamp selection process before you pick the best model for you.
- Price-point – This will begin our preamp requirement since money is always first. Since there are so many options out there in the preamp world, the amount of money will steer you in a particular direction (or perhaps encourage you to save up a bit more before buying yours). There are some (and only a few) within the $100 rage, while others can be 2, 3 and even 4 times this amount (most of the professional solutions hit a grand or more).
- How many channels? Aside from price, here’s the most important factor of your decision. The most popular microphone preamps come with either 1-channel (for one microphone at a time), 2, 4, 8 and more. To put it simply, however many mics you plan on using (keep in mind at the same time) with your preamp will need their own channel. Are you performing live with a big band? You’ll need a bunch. Recording in a studio with a few instruments at a time? Perhaps 4-channel or even 2-channel may suffice, since recording the different instruments\members can be done separately and not simultaneously.
- Type of preamp – The most popular and best microphone preamp models come in either a tube, solid state or hybrid type. This will largely affect the overall sound of your output. Tubes are known to be harmonious, while solid-state are more “digital-sounding”, crisp and clear. Hybrids on the other hand entail both of these (for quite a bit more money). We tried to include a variety below.
- Ins and outs – Aside inputs and outputs in a mic preamp in terms of count, there are also different types of I\O’s out there (some with hi-Z direct input for a bit more money as opposed to standard). If you’re unsure of the types of I\O and don’t see yourself being concerned with this, just keep in mind how many ins and outs you’ll need (now as well as the future). Are you recording or performing bass, guitar and additional instruments that require something aside from your desired microphone XLR input channels? Keep the count high.
- Extra features? Aside from preamp types, ins and outs as well as channel count, there are some additional features they provide that may or may not be of use to what you foresee yourself needing. Here are some popular features people tend to lean towards: VU meters, large impedance ranges, ADAT output, hi-Z switches, rack-mount compatibility, low and high-pass filters, and more.
The top 10 best microphone preamps
ART Pro MPA II
If you are looking for one the best microphone preamps in the market today, then the MPA II is a very solid model that’s reviewed highly by many. We went with a simple dual-channel tube model to begin our list since it will fit the build for a majority of preamp searchers; however, keep in mind we found it difficult to choose an exact best since (as stated previously) since it really depends on a few needs of yours. To highlight, and although highly affordable (at least compared to other 2-channel tube preamps), there are lots of powerful professional characteristics which will make this mic preamp a positive addition to any studio for projects or mobile recording\performing. It is a 2-channel tube model powered by a 48-volt phantom engine, has big VU meters and impedance with selectable input as well as stereo and dual mono support. There’s a convenient mid-side mic switch that will enable versatile and flexible usage and with the variable impedance (ranging from 150 to 2400 Ohms) you’ll also be getting a flexible mic sound. Aside from this, there is also a low-cut filter for each channel that will help sort out possible problems with background noise and rumbling. For build, you’re getting a solid chassis here that won’t break on you easily, and this mic preamp also comes with an appealing color LED front-display and lit up switches of functions for easy and practical visibility over the controls. The ART Pro MPA II is an amazing solution for those looking for a 2-channel tube microphone preamp that comes at a pretty affordable price-point that we highly recommend if it fits your checklist.
Cloud Cloudlifter CL-1
Up next, we wanted to keep the beginning of our list relatively simple, and here we have one of our favorite single-channel microphone preamps available in the market today. When it comes to desirable qualities of the best microphone preamp, you probably want to hear about impedance and gain, and this one helps us out in that regard well. It provides passive mic signals with a powerful inline boost of up to -25 db gain. You are also getting perfect self-sustainable phantom power, which is great for ribbons and dynamics mics to provide some pretty professional-sounding and clean sound without background noise. The Cloudlifter CL-1 is easy to use and will perfectly support all passive mic models, improving the function of mic signals by pushing solid sound through your long XLR cables. This makes it an ideal choice for live performance and broadcasting but pretty versatile for studio usage as well. A few more highlights of this is the fact that it comes with JFET circuits that ensure crisp gain while at the same saving all the natural sound qualities of the resource. Designers have gone one step further and gave this mic preamp a rugged and stylish design that will be considered a long-term investment if you take proper care of it. The Cloud Cloudlifter CL-1 is perfect for those looking for a simple solution, single-channel mic preamp that also helps you out with a few essential features you’ll be needing to accommodate your microphone setup.
Focusrite OctoPre MkII
Up next, we begin to delve into the larger channel counts and digitally enhanced microphone preamps in the market today. If you are looking for the best microphone preamp in terms of multiple channels affordability, then the Focusrite OctoPre MkII is definitely one to take into consideration. It comes with 8 pre-amplification channels and inbuilt ADAT output with 24-bit and 96 kHz power for excellent sound quality in different settings (usage in a studio, a live performance, broadcasting, seminars, etc.). This will enable you to get the best out of ADAT inputs, which makes it perfect for a variety of preamp inputs on the interface. You’ll be provided with will provide 20 Hz – 20 kHz (+/- 0.1 dB) frequency response for clean sound and minimal presence of background noise (EIN larger than 125 dB). The mic gain is in the range of plus 10 dB to plus 55 dB and will provide four channels per individual port (at 88.2 and 96 kHz, which means that you are getting more than enough phantom power for all the preamp needs you have). The build is also fantastic, with easy-to-use rotary knobs on the front that won’t breaking anytime soon. The Focusrite OctoPre MkII is awesome not only because Focusrite is a brand we can trust, but the quality of this is unmatched, especially if you’re in need of 8-channels.
Grace Design m101
Up next, we have one of the best microphone preamps out there right now that’s great for those in need of only one mic channel but are very concerned with power and sound quality. It comes with a trans-impedance topology of circuits that is at the same time well-balanced without the use of transformers. This thing will deliver some very clear sounds with minimum background noise thanks to its amazing headroom and bandwidth (unmatched by many other single-channel preamps out there). The gain ranges from 10 dB to 75dB and the m101 notably comes with a unique universal switch off, which will take a large range of voltages from 100 to 240V. The front panel is designed with a black anodized and laser black surface, which gives us sleek usage in different visual situations (super sturdy for longevity as well). Additionally, all switches come with indicators in LED lights as well as a HPF switch and 48V phantom power. The Grace Design m101 comes with a ribbon microphone mode that will bypass decoupling input capacitors and raise input impedance in case you’re using that type of mic. As you can see, the Grace Design m101 is definitely one of the best microphone preamp options for near professional usage in the studio or live performances. We’d say grab this over the previous single-channel preamp pick due to the obvious increase in overall quality — just make sure it fits your budget and you’ll be using the features that justify it’s price.
PreSonus BlueTube DP V2
If you haven’t heard of PreSonus yet, they’re quite popular in the audio interface game, and this mic preamp continues their excellence when it comes to overall quality and build of their music gear. This is a 2-channel, dual-path mic/instrument preamp. It’s super compact (rivals audio interfaces and even looks like one), pretty affordable, has a nice range of tones to give you a wide area to work with. With the two independent channels, there are XMAX Class-A solid-state preamps for each, allowing you to choose whether or not you want your sound to go through the tube preamp. We love this little feature since it gives you some more room for creativity and tweaking of sounds if you like to experiment. In terms of I\O, there are two combo mic/instrument inputs and unbalanced 1/4″ and balanced XLR line outs. You of course have phantom power but also a -20 dB pad for hotter input signals, some polarity reverse as well as a black VU meter. The PreSonus BlueTube DP V2 is awesome for the price, especially if you only needed 2 channels to work with your microphones.
Solid State Logic Alpha VHD
Before we begin with this one, check out the price first, but also understand that it is justified for numerous reasons. What makes the best microphone preamp for a variety of uses if money didn’t exist? How about getting a preamp with 4 channels, more variable controls than we can count of the harmonic drive (four independent variable harmonic drive systems), hi-Z switches, phantom 48V power and 20 dB pad? These are features of the Solid State Logic Alpha VHD, which will deliver transparent and clean audio and a variety of audio characteristics for studio use, live performance or broadcasting. As we delve into the professional realm of mic preamps, the four channels of this one enable up to 75 dB of gain and variable circuitry will deliver versatility on the signal chain, providing harmonious distortion of the source sound. The VHD Controls are located on the front panel and the wiring is on the back to remove all the mess and enable comfortable, easy usage. All of the controls are LED illuminated and there are individual inputs and outputs for each of the 4 channels, which allow a sharper control across the channels as opposed to what many other preamps can give you. The Solid State Logic Alpha VHD is a beast.
Here’s one of the most affordable 4-channel mic preamps that includes a surprising amount of additional features needed for a variety of uses. There is input gain control, 48V phantom power that can be switched, as well as an 80Hz high-pass filter that will definitely cut off any humming sound on lower frequencies. The unique ‘OverEasy compressor’ in this preamp will allow you to smoothly overcome all low quality acoustics on tracks or during live performance — something that not every preamp can handle. The DBX 286s comes with a nifty little ‘De-Esser’ that can be tuned based on frequency to give you a little more freedom when customizing those vocal tracks. The ‘Enhancer HF’ equips you with being able to further fine tune the sound to adjust the quality per your interest. You can make it smooth or extra crispy with highs or bassy lows – a lot of custom tweaking here. The DBX 286s is an excellent microphone preamp that will deliver us very solid quality of studio amplification, which will enable you to reach studio quality of sound. We recommend it if you wanted 4-channels while still saving some money and plan on being around vocals frequently.
PreSonus DigiMax D8
Here we have another appearance by the lovely PreSonus, and here we have another 8-channel mic preamp here, and it rivals the previous Focusrite model listed since it’s often found for a bit cheaper around the net. Thanks to its technically advanced features, this is definitely one of the best microphone preamp options for different types of uses: in the studio, during live performance or for broadcasting. Aside from the whopping eight channels, it comes with a 24-bit ADAT output, 24-bit / 48K resolution (A/D converters), class-A preamp (with balanced analog output), and is 1U rack-mount compatible. These elements will ensure great front end or expansion for other digital audio devices. It also comes with a mic preamp boost that will add up to 400 times the microphone’s level to get smooth, quality highs and deep lows for some very clear and accurate sound quality. It provides the essentials in a preamp, with 48V phantom power, quick LED meters as well as 20dB padding. There is also a lot of I/O for variable control for every preamp channel in case you were concerned with that as well. The PreSonus DigiMax D8 is an excellent choice for high-quality digital audio, and is quite affordable considering it gives us numerous additional features, ins and outs as well as eight channels.
Art Tube Opto 8
Buy in US | UK
As we near the end of our shopping guide, we have a little gem here in the preamp world. The Art Tube Opto 8 is an eight channel model with a 24-bit ADAT I/O, quite a few 1/4″ ins and outs and nice 70dB of gain. This is a flexible preamp that will enable you to really pump up the sound quality during studio recording and live performance. Every one of the 8 channels comes with an excellent vacuum tube mic preamp and XLR inputs for a ton of the flexibility that is sometimes asked for those sound engineers. The Opto 8 easily integrates with your studio gear — you can quickly connect all eight channels to any ADAT-equipped audio interface thanks to it’s built-in light pipe. There are also word clock connectors that will help harmonize all of your digital gear. On top of all that, the Opto 8 comes with two hi-Z instrument inputs that are located on the front panel. All the other wiring is on the back so that you don’t have to mess with numerous wires during usage. The ART Tube Opto 8 is definitely one of the best microphone preamp options for all of the technically advanced features it brings aside from the needed amplification. It’s also pretty affordable and competes with the others in its class when it comes to price point.
Behringer Ultragain PRO MIC2200
To top off our list, here’s one of the best budget-friendly microphone preamps out there right now, and it’s no surprise we see that Behringer brand name here. We love their music gear for home studios and those looking to grab affordable music equipment that still provides a pretty powerful punch. This discreet and noise minimizing preamp comes with a built-in 12AX7 tube that will ensure very musical, harmonious and decent-quality sound. In terms of the internal build, it comes with conjugate transistor paired circuits and a very wide bandwidth (range from 10 to 200 Hz for very diverse, open sound quality). There are also parametric full EQs that come with determined central frequency, level and bandwidth controls. You have a line driver that can be independently controlled to cover from -10 dBV up to +4 dBU level, which provides just the essentials for those needing a little boost in their mics. You can easily and confidently tune and switch the 12 dB filter, and the phase reverse that can be switched will help solve any problems in that regard if they arise. As you can see, it also comes with LED metering with 12 segments that will level the output, which is always a plus. The Behringer Ultragain PRO MIC2200 is a simple solution for those needing a little boost to their tracks for recording or performing.