Best Mic Preamps for Home Studios | The Ultimate Guide
Focusrite ISA One Microphone Preamp
The Focusrite ISA One is a truly all-in-one microphone preamp based on Focusrite’s popular Forte console. It is loaded with valuable features making it one-of-a-kind in its class of single channel mic pres and is has a totally portable design for getting great sounds wherever you are. It boasts an independent D.I which can be used as a second channel for blending signal from DI sources such as guitars or basses.
Its Lundahl L1538 transformer-based mic preamp includes four impedances to match microphone to input and offers tons of headroom with absolute clarity. The Focusrite ISA One can drive any low-output mic and deliver a completely professional sound just like any of Focusrite’s high-end professional studio gear but at a consumer market price fit for the home or project studio musician.
PreSonus Studio Channel Tube Preamp
Recording on a console is great for those who can afford it but for home studio musicians working in smaller spaces on a budget, this is just not an option. However, the features of a given channel of a console most certainly are and they can had at an affordable price. The PreSonus Studio Channel Strip is a single channel rack mount that features a Class A vacuum tube microphone preamp with tube gain and tube drive, a Variable VCA compressor, 3-band parametric EQ and a precision analog VU meter. These features allow you to breath life into your signal from the point of tracking and will allow you to shape your sound right off the bat, before going into your DAW.
ART Pro MPA II Tube Preamp
The ART Pro MPA II is a highly sought-after tube preamp that is widely considered the best value-for-money mic preamps on the market. With two Variable Input Impedance channels featuring 12AX7 tubes and 70db of gain, this tube preamp offers professional functionality and sound that outperforms much of it’s competition. Though considered to be a budget mic preamp it still sits confidently next to more expensive high-end products, offering vibe and character to anything going through it. With it’s wide range of features, professional sound and great price, it is not uncommon for project studios to pick up several of the ART Pro MPA II to serve justice to a good performance.
dbx 286s Channel Strip Mic Preamp Processor
For more control of your signal going into your DAW, a versatile channel strip like the dbx 286s is a perfect choice that features a studio quality microphone preamp, classic dbx compression, a tuneable de-esser, an enhancer for definition of high and low frequencies, and an expander/gate. These controls will allow you to shape your signal, tailoring it to your liking before hitting your DAW and leaving much less work to do in the mix. It comes with all the essential features of a standard preamp and allows you to insert your signal at any point within the signal path, allowing you to use the preamp independently or in combination with any of the other processors and in whichever order you desire.
Warm Audio WA12 Mic Preamp
If you’re looking for vintage vibe, tone, and coloration with minimal fuss at a budget price then the Warm Audio WA12 should surely make your shortlist. Its high-quality components and all the essential features of a classic mic preamp make this unit a top contemporary solution for achieving the depth and warmth of much more expensive vintage gear. It is a self explanatory one channel mic preamp ready to receive any signal to its dual XLR/TRS input socket and deliver a tight bottom end and soft high frequencies. If you want a sound that is identifiably vintage, check out Warm Audio WA12.
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PreSonus Bluetube DP V2
The Presonus BlueTube DP V2 is a highly versatile stand-alone mic preamp fit for the studio or on the road and offers two channels that are selectively solid state or tube. This input stage is based on the companies Class-A XMAX preamp circuit, and the user has the ability to dial in the desired amount of valve warmth from the 12AX7 vacuum tubes, or to use the solid state circuitry only. This gives the option of a completely transparent experience, or one that is coloured with tone and saturation.
The face of the preamp displays all the usual features: a switchable 48V phantom power switch, a 80Hz high-pass filter, a -20dB pad, and a polarity switch. It has Illuminated VU meters and LED lights for checking input levels.
PreSonus’s popular Class A XMAX solid-state preamps are widely lauded for their clarity and transparency, delivering incredibly high headroom, and very low distortion and low noise with a flat frequency response. Switch the Tube Drive on and turn it up to discover a much more solid, thick response without such an increase in overall output. This flatters vocals and guitars, and gives a noticeably saturated quality that is widely usable, not offending any of the higher frequencies as some may expect.
- Dual path mic/instrument tube preamp
- High-headroom Class A XMAX mic preamplifier with 80dB gain range
- 12AX7 Vacuum tube gain stage
- Tube Drive tube-saturation control
- 48V Phantom power
- 80Hz High-pass filter
- -20dB Pad to reduce hot input levels
- Polarity-reverse switch
- Illuminated analog VU input-level meter
- 2 Balanced combo mic/unbalanced instrument inputs
- 2 Balanced XLR main (L/R) line outputs
- 2 Unbalanced ¼” main (L/R) line outputs
- Compact 1/2U chassis
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Golden Age Project Pre-73 MKII
The Golden Age Project PRE-73 Mk2 or Mk3 are an outstanding stand-alone preamp with circuitry based on the famous Neve 1073, considered among the best-sounding preamps of all time. With a similar vintage sound to the 1073, the PRE-73 Mk2 offers lower noise and wider dynamic range, offering the sought-after style and vibe but with modern benefits.
Using a fully discrete signal path with three separate transformers for the balanced mic input, the line input, and the output, the circuitry is modelled very closely to the 1073 and offers it’s warmth, depth and punch, all at an extremely low cost.
The Mic input has a maximum gain of 80dB and the gain range on the Line input is -20 to + 10dB. This makes the PRE-73 an excellent choice for tracking literally anything, no matter the microphone or signal source. Use it on any vocal, drum, guitar, or synth and capture give your signal a rich musical vibe.
The front panel features key functions such as a polarity switch, a 48V phantom power switch, a LOW-Z switch which drops the Mic input from 1200 to 300 Ohms, a DI to engage the front TRS input, then the Line/Mic input know and the Output knob. These are all you need to dial in the perfect amount of level, colouration, saturation, and depth that your tracks need to fit in the mix.
If you are looking for the character of vintage gear with all their natural subtle harmonic distortions but aren’t ready to dish out the thousands of dollars, you will surely be happy with the Golden Age Project PRE-73 Mk2.
- Vintage Style electronics. No integrated circuits in the signal path.
- Maximum gain on the mic input is 80 dB, enough to handle passive ribbon mics with quiet sound sources.
- Gain range on the Line input: -20 to + 10 dB.
- Switchable impedance on the mic input, 1200 or 300 Ohms, will change the tone of most mics.
- Switchable phantom power and absolute phase.
- A high-impedance instrument input for any sound module, electric guitar or bass.
- A simple but effective 4-step LED output level meter.
Warm Audio TB12 Tonebeast
Warm Audio appropriately name their TB12 The Tone Beast as it is offers loads of gain with a big, bold sound that will colourize your signal beautifully. It likes to be pushed into full harmonic distortion but can also be kept transparent, offering itself to a wide range of uses. It is easily one of the highest quality microphone preamps in it’s price range that offers a true analog sound typically only found in much more expensive pieces of hardware.
Signal sounds very alive through the TB12. Home and project studio engineers will enjoy its unique tone-shaping features on both input signals to give a warming sound to your tracks. A discrete Op Amp switch allows you to choose between 2 completely different discrete analog operational amplifiers, each with their own unique tonality.
Equipped with all the necessary inputs for any microphone or instrument of your choice, the TB12 has TRS outputs as well to plug in any EQ, Compressor, or other outboard unit to add to the signal chain. It is a totally versatile preamp with all the features one could desire with easily dial tone shaping to individualize your recordings.
- Utilizes premium grade CineMag USA Transformers.
- 71db of gain.
- Transformer selection provides both Steel and 50% Nickel CineMag output transformers for varying character.
- Discrete Opamp selection allows for choosing between a 1731(vintage) and 918(cleaner) style opamp. These are socketed/swappable with your choice of 2520 6 pin footprint opamps.
- Impedance switch labeled TONE to switch between 150 and 600 ohms input impedance.
- 2 Meg Ohm True HI-Z input on front panel sends instrument signal through entire circuit including both Cinemag Transformers and the discrete operational amplifier. Great for guitars, bass, keyboards and other instruments that have a 1/4″ output jack.
- Capacitor selection between Tantalum and Electrolytic for different characters.
- 80hz hipass filter.
- Polarity Reverse.
- +48V phantom power.
- Output attenuation allowing for saturation flexibility of both the opamps and transformers.
- ¼” insert for the use of inline compressors, eq’s etc.
- Balanced XLR mic (front and back), balanced TRS line, and ¼” instrument inputs.
- Balanced XLR and TRS outputs.
- -20db Pad.
- LED VU Meter.
- 19″ rackmountable.
- External line-lump 24V AC power transformer for low noise.