The development of technology has seen a mercurial rise in the ‘Home Recording Studio.’ Virtually every piece of recording sophistication we relied on studios to provide. Is now available at our fingertips and much of it at a price most can afford.
As with all things musical, there are quality ranges matched by price ranges. And, the old saying you only get what you pay for is true in many cases.
With all this recording power on hand now we all think we are studio engineers.
Certain technologies often ignored and sometimes just accepted as being there, have come to the fore as we find out we cannot work without them. One such piece of equipment is the microphone preamp.
So, let’s look at some of these magical tone devices and see if we can find the best microphone preamp for home recording for you…
Top 10 Best Microphone Preamps For Home Recording 2021 Reviews
1 Grace Design M101 Single-channel Microphone Preamplifier
The M101 is an upgrade of a previous model with many of the components updated. The original preamp was very good, but this one surpasses it in every way. It is a one channel preamp with a gain range that is quite wide at 10-75dB.
It now incorporates an output line driver amplifier and HPF amp with higher performance levels.
There is a twelve position gain control that is gold plated. The advantage being that gold plated contacts provide reliability. As there is no oxide to cut through for an electrical contact to occur. Similarly, there is a gold contact relay that is sealed for hi-Z input switching.
There is enhanced RFI suppression eliminating disturbances created by external sources.
It has three connectors. XLR balanced, TRS balanced and 1⁄4 inch TS unbalanced. So you should be able to plug most mics into it without any effort.
A new feature is the Ribbon mic mode. This allows increased input impedance and bypass of phantom power when using one. Plus, an increased gain range for these power hungry microphones.
It is rugged and well built and will therefore not only be an asset in the studio but on the road. The old silver casing has been replaced with the new black outer. It is also rack-mountable if required.
This is a powerful and effective preamp. That will give you the kind of results only available previously in big-budget studios.
If you are thinking about getting a new preamp or upgrading to a new microphone. And, don’t know where to place the bulk of the budget, it is here with the M101. This preamp will take the cheapest microphone and make it sound far better than it is.
The unit itself is not the cheapest you will find, but for the money, it could well be the best. The results it produces are stunning, even with cheaper microphones.
Definitely, one for your let’s have a look list.
2 Cloud Microphones CL-1 Cloudlifter 1-channel Mic Activator
Have you ever had a favorite microphone that just didn’t give quite enough signal to get what you wanted out of it?
Maybe a passive ribbon mic that has a low output and requires a lot of preamp gain. If so, this little gem could be the answer. Effectively the Cloudlifter is a pre-preamp that will give any microphone with a low output up to 20db of boost.
Some dynamic passive microphones, especially vintage models, have a low output and require a lot of gain, to produce a usable signal. Turning up the gain on the preamp, even if this works, is not the ideal solution because it will add noise to the signal, especially if the preamp is one of the less expensive kind.
The Cloudlifter will give your mic that extra bit of gain to produce a decent workable signal, whilst not working the preamp too hard.
It is phantom powered but doesn’t pass any voltage through to the inputs for the microphones. This gives peace of mind to those owners of ribbon microphones. Therefore, it’s a clever idea that will alleviate the problems of low output from your microphones.
It’s well built and a tough little thing, small in size but quite heavy giving the impression it will take a bit of abuse and might even give some back.
It has further plus points. In a room or on a stage where there are great distances involved, place it between the cabling. And the boost attained will not reduce the sound levels even over great distances.
It’s neat and sweet to quote a user and is a practical answer to anyone suffering from a lack of gain. At the price, it is a worthwhile investment.
3 Avalon VT-737sp Class A Mono Tube Channel Strip Limited Edition
We are tempted to say welcome to the world of the serious Preamp. But, we are very disappointed with the Avalon because after studying its operations and procedures it doesn’t make the coffee. What a letdown!
Mind you it’ll do just about everything else, especially and more relevantly it will take your sounds to another level entirely.
When you see a piece of equipment that takes up two spaces on your studio rack, then you can usually assume it’s going to get serious, and it does. The VT-737 will take the worst sounds you have and bring them to life to a level you would not think possible.
It is a Class A preamp offering three input selections. A high power microphone input with 48-volt phantom power, a direct input for an instrument with its front panel jack socket and finally a balanced line input.
Added to this is an opto-compressor with a minimum signal path and an EQ with controllable mid frequencies. This unit operates a hardwired bypass.
Being a ‘tube’ preamp, it delivers a delicious warm sound that only tubes can give you and having EQ and compression onboard makes this a very special piece of kit.
Don’t think that this is just great for vocals or voice-overs. It delivers stunning results from acoustic and electric guitars and drums, especially the kick and even bass.
You can use more than one microphone at a time with this unit simply by running the mics into a mixer and then into the 737.
It is a stunning piece of kit. Not cheap, but then it was never going to be, but you get a box load of tricks for your money with this one. As a candidate for the best microphone preamp for recording at home, it is going to be right at the top of the list.
4 ART TubeOpto 8 Tube Microphone Preamp
ART or Applied Research and Technology to give them their full name, were formed by past members of MXR in 1984. And have now established themselves in producing quality recording equipment at a cost-effective price.
The Art TubeOpto 8 are not what you would call a premium or budget range, but the gear they produce is priced to make it very attractive.
They have taken the idea that what most people want is that iconic ‘tube’ sound in their recordings and have produced a preamp that will do exactly that.
The beauty of this preamp is that it offers eight, count ‘em, eight channels, each of which has a Class A vacuum tube mic preamp with 70Db of gain. There is also the choice of XLR inputs or 1⁄4” phone inputs for each channel, and it is ADAT equipped.
Each channel has input gain and output level controls as well as an input pad, phase flip and low-frequency roll off switches. It also comes with two additional hi-Z inputs for instruments mounted on the front of the unit.
As a microphone preamp, it is outstanding, and the inclusion of eight channels makes life so much easier. The fact that each channel carries such good options and features makes this a quality product.
Rack mountable for studio use it is well built and could be carried to live performances if required.
If there is one negative aspect, it is that each channel works independently and it does not have the capability of using them in a single output phase.
If you want a tube sounding preamp with more than just a channel or two, this is worth having a close look at.
5 DBX 286s Microphone Preamp & Channel Strip Processor
The DBX 286s is a processor that will turn a few heads. Built to be used in either studio or in live shows it will create great vocal sounds with its onboard processing tools.
What you will get with the DBX 286 is a very good microphone preamp which will give you +48V of phantom power a wide range of gain control and an 80Hz low-pass filter.
There is a quality compressor with the OverEasy function developed by DBX that will smooth out the vocals but will maintain their natural feel and sound.
Included onboard the 286s is an effective de-esser, that will remove any excesses from the vocals. This is a facility you can’t do without. Plus, it features an enhancer to give a little boost to the lower end resonances or add a bit of crispness at the top.
It will handle any unwanted noise interference with its expander/gate even in a stage environment. For inputs, there are two 1⁄4” TRS’s and an XLR. For output a 1⁄4” TRS.
Easy visual, as well as, control and monitoring, is made through a full array of status meters and LED panels.
With such processing facilities, this preamp/channel strip processor will bring your studio to life and add real quality to your vocals. As a piece of kit that sits in the middle of your work and operates certain processing functions. It is easy to use and produces great results.
Without question a studio quality processor that is more than just a preamp.
The price includes the power cord, manual, plus screws and washers for rack mounting.
It is priced competitively and isn’t going to break the bank.
6 PreSonus DigiMax D8 Eight-Channel Preamp
Most people consider a good preamp as being vital to producing a good overall sound, especially for vocals. This being the case, a good studio will require an excellent preamp with as much capability as possible.
Presonus with their Digimax D8 has combined the best of their analog and digital technology to produce this ADAT-equipped preamp.
While we all respect and are thankful for our DAW’s. And most would probably not go back to the old hardware days, miss them as some of us do. There is often a situation within today’s technology where you just haven’t got enough inputs.
Many of the studio interfaces on the market have a small number of inputs, which is a major problem in some situations, especially recording drums.
The D8 is a 24-bit/48kHz interface that has eight Class A XMAX microphone preamps and eight analog outputs for sending your signal externally. The outputs have ADAT lightpipe connectivity allowing you to add a further eight preamps to a mixer or system that has ADAT.
ADAT is a specific form of data transfer developed by Alesis that transfers eight channels of data. This, of course, gives you so much extra in the way of channels to work with — the D8 acts as a transfer unit for those additional ADAT channels.
All the microphone preamps have the same gain-trim control, a 20Db pad button, and 48V of phantom power.
Two additional instrument inputs are placed on the front for ease of use. The Phantom switches, however, are on the back which makes their use difficult if rack mounted. All eight XLR for mic inputs are also on the rear next to eight TRS jack outputs.
There are direct outputs on every channel and LED monitoring. The controls have been laid out well for ease of understanding and use but the inputs on the rear, as we have said, could cause problems.
A good piece of kit that satisfies an industry requirement.
7 Solid State Logic Alpha VHD (4-Ch Preamp)
You don’t need to say too much other than SSL, to know we are talking serious quality with this piece of kit. Their equipment is found in many of the biggest studios around so we can expect this preamp to be somewhat special.
The VHD gives you four SSL microphone preamps to any line level DAW audio interface. Simply plug it in, and suddenly you have the highest quality analog recording setup with multiple channels.
The preamps give you up to 75Db of gain so any microphone you have which needs quite a bit of boost, a ribbon microphone, for example, is certainly going to get it.
One thing we found exciting about this piece of kit is the Variable Harmonic Drive. It uses totally analog signal paths to generate a rich overdrive sound. Increasing the input gain, this circuit introduces second or third level harmonic distortion to the original sound.
Now, this innovation opens up a whole new world of sound possibilities. Suddenly you are creating sounds that others cannot.
The controls are simple to use and very visual and include illuminated 20Db pad switches and hi-Z controls for mikes and instruments. For each channel, you get individual input and output controls. There are also Variable Harmonic Drive controls for every one.
SSL has provided a preamp where you can take control of what you are doing. The rear panel has the inputs for XLR mic and line and XLR output.
Some may find this preamp expensive, and of course, it is not cheap, but consider what you are getting and from whom. It’s worth considering if you are looking for real professional quality.
This must be considered one of the best microphone preamps for home recording around.
8 Universal Audio SOLO/610 Classic Vacuum Tube Mic Pre & DI Box
The Solo/610 gives you the classic sound of the console of Bill Putnam Snr. in a single channel format.
Bill is, of course, a legend in the recording community. And besides being a great recording engineer of the 50s, 60s and 70’s recording the likes of Frank Sinatra. Also designed studios and recording equipment.
Universal Audio co-founded by his son now concentrate on delivering the same analog sounds from classic equipment of the past.
The Solo/610 from Universal Audio is incredibly tough and well built, it is obvious from the design and build that they were not just thinking studio when they thought of this.
Its design means it is usable in the studio, at home, on the road or anywhere you fancy and its rugged steel build says it won’t mind at all.
It gives you all the classic features. These include 48V phantom power, direct input for instruments, high pass filter, and polarity reverse. It also has for Mic and DI inputs and a flexible dual impedance selection.
Tube circuits are of course admired and still loved by many for their unique sound. And the Solo/610 gives you the opportunity to record through a legendary circuit.
It has two analog inputs, an XLR for a microphone and a 1⁄4” Hi-Z. Also an XLR and 1⁄4” for output. Even the dials and switches on the front scream vintage at you and visually take you back in time.
Fifty years ago when talking about the Beatles, Sir George Martin said it was his perseverance with taking stereo recordings and changing the perception from a novel idea to an industry, that encouraged us all to be creative.
So now, that technology, that sound is here, in a little box for you to apply in your recordings. There are a lot of people that would want to have that option.
Raise a glass to the ‘father of modern recording,’ the great Bill Putnam Snr.
9 Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre 8-channel Microphone Preamp
If your digital interface is in need of more channels, then the Scarlett OctoPre can provide them. Focusrite is an industry legend and has produced some of the most sought after preamps in history, namely the ISA series.
Over the last few decades, they have become well-known for producing quality recording equipment at a reasonable cost, and their products are always worth a look.
The OctoPre has eight, second generation mic/line preamps that offer a wealth of facilities. These including clean gain, high headroom, and low noise. It also carries two instrument inputs on its front panel which can be used for keyboards or guitars.
It is compatible with other equipment using ADAT and connection is easy if the system is fitted with ADAT optical inputs.
Focusrite is recognized as specializing in low-noise, low distortion preamps, and the OctoPre benefits from years of experience with these technologies.
To produce quality digital audio, you need exceptional conversion, and the Focusrite 24-bit/192kHz onboard is recognized as being a class leader. To allow visible control, it is fitted with LED’s and channel clip indicators.
The Focusrite Red 2 and 3 plug-in suite has been included, as well as, the Softube Time and Tone bundle. This includes four of Softubes finest plug-ins including Reverb and Delay also, which is a big added bonus.
The OctoPre is a sound investment providing lots of options but maybe most importantly, expanding your channels. Being compatible with ADAT is also a huge advantage for further expansion as your recording system grows.
For the price, this is a quality piece of equipment that will serve you well. It is suitable not only for studios but also for live recording. Well built with a metal frame to allow for traveling if necessary.
10 Behringer Ultragain Pro MIC2200 Audiophile Vacuum Tube Microphone/Line Preamplifier
It’s nice to see Behringer in the lists for best microphone preamp with their Behringer Ultragain Pro MIC2200. We like Behringer, and what they try to achieve. They bring good quality equipment to the music maker at a realistic price everyone can afford.
One of the criticisms we have found in modern-day recording using DAW’s etc. Is that they lack the warmth and feeling of the old school tube-equipment recorded sounds.
Designed to be used in the studio, you can pass your mics through a 12AX7 tube to give your tracks that warmth. The 12AX7, known in the UK as an ECC83, is the real deal in vacuum tube preamp amplification.
The 2200 has many other features including Parametric EQ’s with a dedicated center frequency, bandwidth, and level controls, and a 12dB high pass filter.
48V phantom power is on hand should you need it if you happen to be using condenser microphones, and it has a phase reverse switch. LED metering lets you see exactly what is going on and there is a wide bandwidth of 10Hz to 20kHz.
Two analog XLR and two analog 1⁄4” inputs and two analog XLR and two analog 1⁄4” outputs are located on the back of the unit.
You won’t go far wrong with this preamp…[/su_note]
This really is a great piece of kit, especially for the financial outlay. If you are setting up a studio at home or at a small location, then you won’t go far wrong with this preamp for the price.
It will handle just about everything, but is excellent with vocal mics where that warm tube sound really lifts your recording.
Time To Buy One Of The Best Microphone Preamps For Home Recording
Ok. let’s get straight to the point. This is a vital piece of kit if you care about producing the best recording you can. Some people view the preamp as just a way of making the microphone louder, given that their mics may have a very low and often unusable output.
Any device that has a mic input will have a preamp built-in to it, such as an audio interface. If you want to achieve better, more professional results, you may want to upgrade to an outboard, dedicated, preamp.
Outboard preamps come in all shapes and sizes but they also come with different sounds, and that is key to your decision.
Yes, the preamp will ‘make things louder,’ but it will also add its own ‘sound flavor’ to what is running through it. They have their own sound just like instruments and amplifiers do.
What Is The Sound You Want?
We have reviewed simple preamps, equipment that returns us to the tube amp days and some serious equipment, but it really is all about the sound you want to create.
The options are there, plenty of them, so decide on your budget, maybe plus a bit. And then see what’s best for you.
This list is bound to contain the best Microphone preamp for home recording for you. It’s just a case of working out which one best fits your needs.
What Would We Choose?
Well, we recognize the importance of the preamp. We have sat in studios where the engineer has changed the preamp to give us sound options and the change was incredible, just from switching preamps.
This is an important piece of kit. We, therefore, have decided to ‘push the boat out.’
It is not an easy choice. The Putnam preamp is there, so tempting. We love the Behringer and the ART for their value for money. And the Grace Designs and Avalon for their superb sound. But, in the end, we’ve gone for what we think is the best microphone preamp for home recording, which is the…
SSL, industry legends and more hits have been recorded and mixed on SSL mixing desks than any other – say no more.
Better go tell the wife I’ve sold the car…