Amplify your vocals and recordings with our pick of the best mic preamps in 2020
Our Top Picks
For home studios: Grace Design m101
“Rich, warm sound and a comfortable price tag make this a great pick for home producers”
For pro studios: Manley MVBX VoxBox
“Heavy duty price but also heavy duty results for heavy duty studio workloads”
Best for most people: Warm Audio WA12 MkII
“If you’re confused about which mic preamp to buy, choose this one – you won’t be disappointed”
Best vintage preamp: Golden Age Project PRE-73
“Dial back the years with the warm, rich sound of this vintage-style preamp”
When people ask me if they should buy a preamp, I usually tell them the same thing: no.
This might be surprising since this article is literally titled “Best mic preamp”, but for most people, a mic preamp should be far down the priority list. You might think you need one, but if you’re suffering from sound quality issues, you should try the following (in order):
- Get a better vocalist
- Switch to a better microphone
- Improve your mixing and mastering
- Switch to a better audio interface
- Add a good mic preamp
A better mic or mixing will have a decidedly bigger impact on your tracks than a new mic preamp.
But what if you’ve done all the above – changed mics, vocalists, and audio interfaces? Or what if you’re running a serious studio setup and want all the power, warmth, and richness you can get raw? What’s the best mic preamp in this case?
In this guide, I’ll try to answer all these questions. You’ll see my top picks for the best mic preamps and how to pick the right one for your needs.[toc]
The 7 Best Mic Preamps
Here are our six favorite preamps, divided by category:
Warm Audio isn’t as popular as some of the other manufacturers on this list, However, while it isn’t as common, it’s Warm Audio WA12 MkII model is the best preamp that we have tested and is the best pure preamp model on this list. Warm Audio has combined all the good features found in the best preamps and offered them to users at a fraction of the price.
At first glance, it is clear that this isn’t any ordinary preamp. It has a bright orange color and gives off a vintage vibe that reminds one of the legendary preamps of old. The overall design is pretty simple and makes it easy to set up. For example, the front panel has the HiZ input, which means that you can easily plug in your mic or guitar without having to contend with the bunch of cables behind your set up. Additionally, XLR and ¼” are connected and can be used at the same time.
The front panel has all the controls easy to use. One of the most useful functions is the tone button that drops the impedance. Thus, it is an excellent preamp for your ribbon mics. It also makes it a good option for a guitar preamp. Furthermore, the 20 dB pad is very useful when connected to drums and guitars. You can use it with loud and quiet instruments without many problems.
What I don’t like
This is a pretty special preamp that comes with almost no outright fllaws whatsoever. If we were to nit-pick, we’d say that the only thing we didn’t like is the absence of a high-pass filter.
Best for Home Studios: Grace Design m101
If you want the best home studio preamp, then you must closely consider the Grace Design m101.
While it does not come for cheap, its features and overall performance make it certainly worth the relatively high cost. Getting hold of the right mic for your needs is a challenge, and it gets even harder when you have to buy a mic preamp.
First of all, unlike the multichannel unit we reviewed earlier, the Grace Design m101 is a single-channel option. Nevertheless, you can use it for your mics and instruments. Either way, it still gives you impressive performance.
Grace Design m101 has a simple design that won’t have you confused. For example, the front panel has the normal knobs and controls like the standard ¼” input for mics and instruments. Also, the model has a gain switch with 12 positions which gives up to 65 dB of boost to your microphone or instrument. Aside from that switch, there is a fine-tube knob that is highly responsive and easy to use.
Apart from the straightforward design, another benefit of the Grace Design m101 is the ribbon mode that gives you a gain boost. There is also a mode that will switch off the phantom power. Therefore, if you use the unit with a ribbon, there isn’t a risk of harm.
In terms of design, the Grace Design m101 is up there with some of the most durable options on the market.
The front panel gives similar functionality to what you’d find in a DI box, with the exception being the integration into a preamp. The rear of the model has a standard XLR input for mics and a pair of balanced outputs that are marked. The rear also has an unbalanced output. All of these results in one of the most versatile models you can buy.
With the Grace Design m101, you will enjoy a professional sound performance, and it sounds like an actual amp.
What I don’t like
Well, it is mainly for mics. Although you can pair it with instruments, it will not work well with all of them. It gives an unusually flat response.
Best Tube Preamp: ART ProMPAII
Sometimes, your equipment needs a boost, and this is ever common, especially with microphones. These boosts come in the form of preamps, and they make your microphone even better than you might have imagined. There are several types of preamps on the market, and they come with different styles and designs.
This unit comes as a 2-channel mic preamp. Thus, it will help you get rich, warm sounds from the microphone and gives the natural warmth that the older tube preamps are known for. It is a new model and comes as an upgrade to the previous models from amps.
First, ART ProMPA II uses 12AX7 tubes. These tubes are fairly popular and are some of the most effective types of tubes in the industry. The 12AX7 tubes come with the ability to widen the normal frequency of the mic and to provide sufficient gain, especially when you are using ribbon microphones.
The design is one of the more appealing features of the model. It is made in a rack mount design and has an interface that is similar to what is found in old iterations. Among the design feature is the backlit analog VU output meters.
The sound performance of the ART ProMPA II left us quite impressed. While the ART ProMPA II is excellent for vocal recording, it is also one of the most versatile options and can be used in recording other types of instruments.
The ART ProMPA II has a 60dB gain knob and other controls. From our testing, all the controls are easy to use and understand. Therefore, you can use it to amp stereo tracks and other recordings without any problem.
What I don’t like
Well, there is almost nothing to complain about. However, during use, we observed that there is some coloration.
Best Studio Mic Preamp: Manley MVBX VoxBox
The Manley MVBX VoxBox looks and feels like something that would give you incredible sound. And it certainly does not disappoint. The Manley MVBX VoxBox comes as an excellent imitation of top-grade hardware and has many features and applications that make the relatively hefty price worth it.
This model combines a classic valve and transformer with the impressive build quality and analog circuitry to give the best preamp for professional studios.
It is a very versatile unit that you can hook up with different mics and systems. It has four main sections. These are the optical limiter, passive equalizer, valve preamp, and an optical compressor. Additionally, you get several input stage options like line switching, low cut filter, polarity invert, and more. As for the VU meter, it comes with the ability to show you up to five different positions.
With the latest update, this model has even more functionalities and plug-ins compatible with several systems.
Performance is great as you get pristine sounds. The Preamp function here is excellent and doesn’t cause any extreme colorations during use.
What I don’t like
The Manley MVBX VoxBox suffers from a fixed signal flow which affects the versatility.
Best Vintage Preamp: Golden Age Project PRE-73
If you are very familiar with amps and preamps, chances are high that you know about the Neve 1073. For most people, no other preamp comes close. Well, the Golden Age Project PRE-73 was designed by Golden Age to imitate the sound of 1073, albeit doing it at a fraction of the price. While it doesn’t perfectly imitate the sound of the legendary 1073, it does come close, which is a huge compliment.
The Golden Age Project PRE-73 comes as a relatively basic unit with limited controls and features. However, those features it has are excellent and make it the best classic preamp you can find at this price.
As we earlier said, the Golden Age Project PRE-73 comes as a basic unit. Therefore, there aren’t plenty of features. It has just one combo input at the back. The front panel has one instrument input as well. Additionally, there are a pair of knobs that control input gain and output volume. You also get a pair of LED indicators, one for phantom power and the other for the signal. There is a good gain control range as well. Golden Age Project PRE-73 also has an insert jack to allow you to couple an equalizer or another effect unit.
As simplicity is the watchword of this model, it comes as a single-channel amp.
The sound performance is great. The Golden Age Project PRE-73 aims to mimic the sound from the legendary 1073, and for the most part, it does an excellent job. The Golden Age Project PRE-73 has Class A electronics without any integrated circuits. Therefore, the sound is what you’d expect to come from a completely analog preamp. The overall sound is rich, clear, and warm.
What I don’t like
The sound was excellent on this model; however, we bemoan the lack of neutrality in the tone. Additionally, some users might find it too simple because of the limited number of controls that it offers.
Best Multichannel Preamp: PreSonus DigiMax D8
Looking for an affordable, high quality, and reliable preamp? Then look no further than the best multichannel preamp on the market right now – PreSonus DigiMax D8. PreSonus is arguably the most popular manufacturer of preamps and similar products on the market. The company is known for making good gear that comes at a cheap price.
While it is one of the cheapest options on this list, the features that it has made for a very useful unit. While many preamps on the market come with inputs scattered all around the unit, the PreSonus DigiMax D8 has the mic inputs at the rear. The result is a rig that looks clean and organized.
Additionally, this model sports an ADAT out, which is one of the best features you might not even know that you needed. This feature ensures that you can have every channel to the interface in just one cable! No wonder that this is the best multichannel preamp on the market.
The PreSonus DigiMax D8 is an eight-track beast that will help you to keep your home studio setup in check. While it doesn’t come with a plethora of revolutionary features, the PreSonus DigiMax D8 has every feature in place to serve your every whim. It is a dependable option that does all it should with near-perfection.
Most of the products that have come from this manufacturer are no-nonsense, straight to the point options that will get the job done without bells and whistles, and the PreSonus DigiMax D8 lives up to that billing. Apart from the multiple channels that it offers, another thing that sets it apart is the ultra-wide dynamic range.
Overall, we love this model because of its versatility and power. It is also quite affordable and will do exactly what it claims to help you do.
What I don’t like
Well, one of the problems that we had with this model is that the power controls lie at the back. Since this is usually mounted on a rack, the placement makes it cumbersome to reach.
Best Audio Interface Preamp: RME Audio Interface (BABYFACE PRO)
Well, if you aren’t satisfied with just a preamp and want something more, the RME Audio Interface is certainly the solution to your dilemma. This model is more interface than preamp but carries out both functions impeccably. The RME Audio Interface is undoubtedly one of the most expensive pieces of gear on this roundup, but from our testing and reviews from users, if you can afford it, it offers the best performance.
First of all, this is a beast of an interface. Where are the single-channel models on this list, the RME Audio Interface blows them out of the water as it can handle up to 188 channels of inputs and outputs. Just that is alone to make you lick your lips in anticipation.
It comes with a handy number of inputs on both the front and back panels. For example, there are four line inputs with switchable phantom power and eight line inputs at the rear. Output-wise, it sports a pair of stereo headphone connections, eight line outputs, 16 ADAT, two AES, and more. It is undoubtedly an impressive piece of work.
Now that you’ve seen the sheer number of connections, the question is ‘ How do they work out?”. Well, we are pleased to say it all comes together pretty well, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any faults with the sound produced.
What I don’t like
This is pretty hard because the RME Audio Interface is a near-perfect option. If there is a downside, it has to be that there are just too many connections and you might end up paying a hefty price for connections that you might never use.
Over to You
A mic preamp might not be essential, but it can have a big impact on your overall production quality.
Use this guide to zero-in on the best mic preamps you can buy right now.
Check our other recommendations
- Our favorite audio interfaces for all budgets and needs
- Depending on your DAW, refer to these guides for our top audio interfaces: Ableton, FL Studio, Logic Pro