If you’re shopping for microphone preamps for your home studio…
But you aren’t quite sure yet what you’re looking for, or how to tell the difference between one and the next…you’ve come to the right place.
Because in this ultimate guide, we’ll look at the 9 best microphone preamps currently on the market to see just how they compare.
So here’s what we’re about to cover:
Table of Contents:
- A Single Channel Microphone Preamp from a Classic Console
- An Exceptional High-End Preamp with “Ribbon Mode”
- A High-End Tube Amp with EQ and Compression
- A Basic 8-Channel Mic Preamp for Recording Bands
- An Mid-Range 8-Channel Preamp from a High-End Name
- A Multi-Channel Mic Preamp With Dedicated Compressors
- A 4-Channel Mic Preamp From Classic API Consoles
- An Ultra-High End 4-Channel Preamp from a Pro Console
A Single Channel Microphone Preamp from a Classic Console
The #1 reason people go shopping for microphone preamps is to buy a single channel that will make their vocals shine.
Because even a great microphone won’t sound nearly as good as it could, when paired with a great preamp.
Now…since every audio interface these days comes with several decent preamps built-in, it doesn’t make much sense to buy a single channel external preamp unless it’s amazing.
Which is exactly what you’ll get from the Universal Audio SOLO/610, featuring the same preamps used in the classic Putnam 610 console.
Like most high-end preamps, it features a simple, no-frills design. So simple in fact, that there are only 2 connections on the back:
- 1 XLR input
- 1 XLR output
If a single channel for vocals is all you want, this is the preamp to get. Here’s the link:
Also check out these similar UA mic pre’s that include compression as well:
- Universal Audio LA-610 Mk II – (Amazon/B&H) which combines the 610 mic pre with a T4 optical compressor
- Universal Audio 6176 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann) which combines the 610B with the classic 1176LN Limiter
An Exceptional High-End Preamp with “Ribbon Mode”
Back in 1990, Michael Grace started the Grace Design company, making only a small number of high-end boutique mic preamps.
And it didn’t take long before they were known as one of the top names in the industry.
While most of their stuff is far outside the price range of home studios, the Grace Design m101 is one of the few preamps they make that’s significantly cheaper than the rest (but still pricey).
An improvement upon the massively popular Model 101 pre, the M101 is built entirely with top-notch components, unmatched by competitors.
Other than its pristine sound, the one notable feature of this preamp is its unique “ribbon mode”, specifically tailored to protect fragile ribbon mics, and allow them to perform at their best.
All in all, it’s a great option.
A High-End Tube Amp with EQ and Compression
Compared to the simple, no-frills design of the last two preamps, the Avalon VT-737sp is the exact opposite.
It features a wealth of controls on the front panel, which can seem intimidating at first glance.
Much more than just a mic pre, it’s also a tube amp, with a sweepable EQ, opto-compressor, and a ton of other features as well. Many would consider it the single most popular channel strip of today.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- 3 inputs – mic, instrument, line
- 4 input mode switches – hi gain, +48V, phase, filter
- 4 compressor controls – threshold, compression, attack, release
- vintage VU meter
- a wealth of EQ controls – 4 bands, hi/low shelves, Q control
For the ultimate control on a single channel, this is the preamp you want.
A Basic 8-Channel Mic Preamp for Recording Bands
When you first start recording bands, you’re going to need more mic inputs than most audio interfaces can handle.
So the standard solution, is a cheap, no-frills, 8 channel micropone preamp like the Behringer ADA8200.
The cheapest preamp on this list, it has all the key features you need, and none you don’t. Overall, it’s the perfect first introduction into the next level of home studio recording.
As the successor to one of their best selling products of all-time, the Behringer ADA8000, it’s received a countless number of positive online reviews.
Check it out:
An Mid-Range 8-Channel Preamp from a High-End Name
As one of the biggest names in the industry, Focusrite has been making ultra high end audio gear longer than many of us have been alive.
But one of their most popular items today is the surprisingly affordable Focusrite Octopre MkII.
Compared to entry-level models, it adds a few nice features which you may be glad to have.
First, it has digital conversion up to 96 kHz (cheaper models only go up to 48 kHz).
At 96 kHz, ADAT outputs carry only 4 channels of audio, compared to the usual 8 channels at 48 kHz. Which is why the Octopre includes 2 ADAT outs, rather than just one.
Another nice features is the fact that it keeps the phantom power switches are on the front, where they’re easily accessible. Many other models keep them on the back for some unknown reason.
Overall, it’s a significant upgrade from the first model we covered on this list.
Here’s the link:
A Multi-Channel Mic Preamp With Dedicated Compressors
With all the same standard features you’d expect from any 8-Channel microphone preamp…
The TASCAM Series 8P Dyna adds one unique feature that preamps rarely contain.
And that is…a dedicated compressor on each channel.
Which is kind of surprising when you think about it, since microphone preamps often get sent straight to the compressor anyway. So I guess they figured, why not put them both together?
Another great rare features is the DB25 analog outputs, which are usually only seen in truly professional gear.
If you’re unfamiliar with them, DB25 cables basically combine 8 balanced XLR cables into one single cable. Which makes complicated setups infinitely easier to keep neat and organized.
For the price, this preamp includes an amazing number of excellent features. Check it out:
A 4-Channel Mic Preamp From Classic API Consoles
Once you start getting towards the really high-end of multi channel preamps, you start seeing 4-channels become the norm, rather than 8.
And while it’s not entirely clear why, I can only assume that each channel requires more physical space to function as it does.
The API 3124V is a classic example of this sort of preamp.
Using the same legendary preamp circuits found only in classic API consoles, the API3124V delivers a level of quality unmatched by any preamp we’ve covered so far.
It has 4 channels, with 4 DI inputs, all the standard buttons, but nothing unusual. Except of course, for how it sounds.
One look at the front panel and you see how incredibly simple it is.
If you can afford it, you’re unlikely to ever find a microphone preamp better than this one.
An Ultra-High End 4-Channel Preamp from a Pro Console
On this list of microphone preamps, you may have noticed that many of them are stolen from professional mixing consoles, sometimes costing several thousands of dollars…or more.
And to wrap up this list, we have another 4-channel preamp, that’s possibly the best of them all.
Since their founding back in 1969, Solid State Logic (SSL) has been among the top recognized names in high-end pro audio.
More recently, with the rise in popularity of home studios, they’ve expanded their line to include many smaller products still offering their same standard of quality.
One of their best recent creations is the Solid State Logic Alpha VHD, which features the same preamp circuits used in their flagship Duality console.
At first glance, the front panel layout looks like a more modern version of the API3124+. But there is one feature in particular that truly stands out.
Known as Variable Harmonic Drive (VHD), this control adds 2nd and 3rd order harmonic distortion, and allows you to blend it however you wish.
If you don’t already know:
- 2nd order harmonics – have a smoother “tube-like” distortion
- 3rd order harmonics – have a harsher “transistor-like” tone.
As far as I’m aware, no other microphone preamp on the market offers this same feature.
Here’s the link: