A high-end preamp or boost pedal will really do your pedalboard/rig wonders. This is true whether the pedal’s used in a set-it-and-forget-it fashion to improve signal strength and tone or it’s used to bring the guitar (or bass) up a step dB for important parts.
Choosing the best boost and/or preamp for your set up can be tedious. In this article, we’ll discuss the top 9 best boost/preamp pedals in the world. More specifically, we’ll go through the top 5 for guitar signals and the top 4 for bass guitar signals.
The top 5 best boost/preamp pedals for guitar are:
- TC Electronic Spark Booster
- Xotic RC Booster V2
- MXR MC401 CAE Boost/Line Driver
- Jackson Audio Prism
- MXR M233 Micro Amp Plus
The top5 best boost/preamp pedals for bass guitar are:
- MXR M81 Bass Preamp
- Darkglass Electronics Alpha Omega Ultra
- Rodenberg Amplification LDP Deluxe
- Tech21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that any “best of” article will be subjective. I’ve done my best to create this list objectively but I’d completely expect the next person’s list to have different options (though hopefully it wouldn’t be too different).
Let’s discuss each pedal on this list and the reasons why they are the best.
What Are Boost & Preamp Pedals & How Do They Work?
Preamplification is a necessity for many audio signal types including microphone signals and, of course, guitar and bass signals.
Guitar and bass amplifiers will have a preamp section to boost the guitar or bass signal up to a usable line level. These amps will also have a power amplifier in order to properly drive the cabinet/speaker(s).
A preamp or boost pedal will act as another preamp stage in the overall signal path and can help drive other pedals or simply give the main amplifier a stronger signal, to begin with.
Preamplification is a gain stage where the guitar signal is amplified to a level for processing and improved noise tolerance. The preamp, in a guitar amplifier or pedal, can typically be overdriven to add saturation/compression/distortion to the signal.
Both boosts and preamps add gain to the signal.
The main difference between boost and preamp pedals, I suppose, is their purpose.
Preamp pedals are designed to bring a guitar or bass level up to a certain point. They work well when left in the on position.
Boost pedals, on the other hand, are built with the purpose of boosting the guitar signal up a few dB (or more) for musical passages when more guitar or bass level is required.
Electronically, however, the two pedals are very much the same.
Preamps and boost pedals can be placed anywhere in the signal chain. However, they are often put just before overdrive, distortion and/or fuzz pedals to help drive these distortion-type pedals with more input.
Related article: How To Order Guitar/Bass Pedals (Ultimate Signal Flow Guide)
With that being said, let’s talk about boost and preamp pedals!
For a more in-depth article on boost pedals, check out my article Guitar Pedals: Boost Vs. Overdrive Vs. Distortion Vs. Fuzz.
TC Electronic Spark Booster
The first guitar boost pedal on the list is the TC Electronic Spark Booster (link to check the price on Amazon).
The TC Electronic Spark Booster is a true bypass boost pedal that offers up to 26 dB of pristine gain to the signal, adjustable via the Level knob.
Of course, if we want to add some grit to the signal, the Spark Booster has a dedicated gain knob that will add colour and saturation to the tone.
Speaking of tone, this pedal has a built-in 2-band EQ with 3 modes and 2 control knobs. Toggle between Fat (heavier low-end), Clean (flat EQ) and Mid (boosted mid-frequencies) modes. Adjust each mode with Bass and Treble knob controls.
So I guess the TC Electronic Spark Booster is as much an EQ as it is a boost. That’s the case with the majority of boost/preamp pedals. The quality build and sonic output of the Spark Booster along with its awesome performance as a boost pedal puts it on this list!
TC Electronic is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use.
Xotic RC Booster V2
Next up is the Xotic RC Booster V2 (link to check the price on Amazon).
The RC Booster V2, as the name suggests, is the successor of the original Xotic RC Booster pedal. Both pedals are great boost/EQ units. Let’s talk about the newer one.
The V2 is a true bypass boost pedal that offers a super-transparent 20 dB of clean boost and a ±5db 2-band active EQ with Treble and Bass controls.
The best characteristic of this pedal is that it has very little character at all when kept clean. Of course, we can alter the EQ to shape our tone.
Further colour can be added by increase the gain for some extra crunch. Note that, unlike the original, the V2 has two gain stages (Gain 1 and Gain 2). These two stages offer a huge range of potential harmonic character that we can easily add to the signal.
So whether we want a clean boost or something more like overdrive, the Xotic RC Booster V2 is a superb choice.
MXR MC401 CAE Boost/Line Driver
Third on the list is the simple and compact MXR MC401 CAE Boost/Line Driver (link to check the price on Amazon).
The Boost/Line Driver is a straightforward true bypass pedal that provides up to +20 dB of ultra-clean boost.
This pedal has one input, one output, one bypass footswitch and one knob. How much simpler could we get?
Plug your guitar in and rejuvenate the sparkle, punch, and brilliance of your sound with the user-friendly and highly-effective boost pedal!
MXR is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use.
Jackson Audio Prism
Fourth on the list is effective and adjustable Jackson Audio Prism (link to check the price on Amazon).
The Jackson Audio Prism is a rather involved pedal. It is a buffer, boost, preamp, EQ and overdrive all designed into one compact and rugged case. It looks great and sounds even better.
This pedal was created to be the “ultimate tone shaping tool for a player’s pedalboard”. Jackson Audio did a fantastic job reaching this goal.
As a boost, the Prism offers 3 modes, representing the most distinct boost styles available. Each mode is completely independent of the other in the pedal’s circuit. Select the mode from the right toggle switch:
- Trans: a transparent clean boost with no tonal colouring.
- Amp: a boost that emulates a vacuum tube amp.
- Color: the quintessential silicon treble booster.
Select the pre gain of any mode from the 3 options available with the Pre Gain toggle switch:
- High: voiced for heavy breakup/lead tones.
- Med: voiced for mild breakup/rhythm tones.
- Low: voiced for maximum clean headroom.
Crank up the tone knob to add some colour to the tone. Set the mode to Amp and the Pre Gain to High for even more colouration/overdrive.
Again, the Prism excels as a preamp/boost pedal but also acts as a buffer and EQ. The buffer maintains signal clarity and strength while the 2-band EQ allows for additional tone shifting via the Tone and Body controls.
All in all, the Jackson Audio Prism is a highly functional pedal. As a boost/preamp, it’s an excellent unit. The additional controls are simply added bonuses to an already fantastic pedal.
MXR M233 Micro Amp Plus
The last guitar preamp pedal we’ll discuss is the MXR M233 Micro Amp + (link to check the price on Amazon).
MXR’s Micro Amp + builds upon the legacy of the company’s original Micro Amp units by modernizing the build and adding a 2-way EQ to the pedal.
This true bypass pedal has low-noise op-amps, allowing up to +26 dB of super-clean gain.
The EQ circuit lets us shape the tone if we do want any colouration to the sound with Bass and Treble controls. Set the knobs to 12 o’clock for the cleanest gain stage.
The pedal is simple, rugged and affordable. As a boost, there’s really nothing more we could ask for!
MXR M81 Bass Preamp
The third MXR pedal and first bass preamp we’ll discuss is the MXR M81 Bass Preamp (link to check the price on Amazon).
So, we can see by looking at the controls that the MXR Bass Preamp is a bit more involved. Like many bass preamplifier pedals, the MXR M81 Bass Preamp also acts as Direct Inject (DI) box, allowing for more routing options.
We can see from 4 out of 6 knobs that the MXR Bass Preamp has a 3-band semi-parametric EQ with adjustable centre frequency. We can shape the tone quite a bit with these controls.
For more information on semi-parametric EQ, check out my article What Is Semi-Parametric Equalization/EQ In Audio?
The other two knobs are labelled Input and Output. The Output knob controls the overall volume at the output while the Input control Pre-EQ gain. These are the main controls we’d want to adjust to add gain to the signal.
MXR utilizes its Constant Headroom Technology for a clean, crystal clear tone. We can use this pedal as a clean boost, or to shape the signal with EQ. We can even choose to drop the output of the signal if we wanted to.
Notice the two push buttons (other than the footswitch). These buttons are:
- Ground Lift: lifts the ground at the Direct Out XLR jack.
- Pre/Post: determines whether or not the Direct Out signal is affected by control settings.
So we have ourselves a great unit with some flexibility. The MXR M81 Bass Preamp is an awesome pedal and is fully deserving of a spot on this list.
Darkglass Electronics Alpha Omega Ultra
The Darkglass Electronics Alpha Omega Ultra (link to check the price on Amazon) is a bit more in-depth with it’s EQ and is boost circuits.
When it comes to versatility in a bass preamp pedal, the Darkglass Electronics Alpha Omega Ultra is top-of-the-line.
This preamp pedal has the following key features:
- 2 distinct distortion circuits (Alpha and Omega).
- Extremely high dynamic range.
- 6-band active graphic EQ.
- Dedicated headphone output.
- Balanced direct output.
It even has a switchable digital impulse-response cabinet emulation to simulate the tone of a cabinet through the direct output. Connect the pedal to a computer via the USB connector to load different cabinet simulations and to control various settings.
Whether we want a nice boost or a crunch distortion, this pedal has us covered. Adjust the graphic EQ to further refine the tone.
To learn more about graphic EQ, check out my article The Complete Guide To Graphic Equalization/EQ.
This pedal has it all! It works great as part of a pedalboard or as a standalone unit live or in the studio.
To really understand how awesome this pedal is, you’ll have to try it out for yourself. That being said, we can have a look at the controls to further our understanding of the Darkglass Electronics Alpha Omega Ultra:
- Blend knob: mixes the clean and processed signals.
- Level knob: sets the volume of the overdriven signal.
- Drive knob: sets the amount of gain in the overdriven signal.
- Bite switch: boosts high-mids (2.8kHz) for additional presence and definition.
- Growl switch: shelving bass boost for a fatter tone and increased low-end saturation.
- Mod knob: selects or mixes between the two distinct distortion circuits:
- Alpha is punchy, tight with a lot of definition.
- Omega is brutal and raw.
- Cab Sim switch: toggles the cabinet simulation on/off on the Direct Output.
- Master slider: adjusts the overall volume of the unit.
Rodenberg Amplification LDP Deluxe
The Rodenberg Amplification LDP Deluxe (link to check the price at Rodenberg) is a bit of a lesser-known pedal but its performance is superb and deserving of a spot on this list.
The Rodenberg Amplification LDP Deluxe is another rather intimidating bass preamp pedal. These bass boosts/preamps are quite a bit more involved than their guitar counterparts.
What we get with the LPD Deluxe is actual 1 superb clean boost and 2 distinct overdrives. It’s effectively 3 pedals in a single unit. We can use this pedal to get a beautiful clean boost; a slightly distorted bass tone or an absolutely demolished sound.
Each of the 3 circuits has Level and Tone controls. The overdrive circuits have an additional Drive knob. These circuits also each have their own dedication on/bypass footswitch.
The clean boost has a switchable deep boost to add low-end to the signal. It also has up to +20 dB of clean boost at the output. To access the boost, flip the _20dB switch and adjust the Level knob.
So if you’re in the market for a boost/preamp for your bass and are interested in distortion, consider the Rodenberg LDP Deluxe. Similarly, if you’re into bass distortion, this could certainly be the pedal for you!
Tech21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI
Last but not least is the Tech21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI (link to check the price on Amazon).
Tech21 makes awesome DI boxed. The SansAmp Bass Driver DI/preamp is no exception.
Take my word that this pedal sounds great. It’s capable of vintage tube tones, bright modern slap sounds, gnarly distortions, and practically everything in between.
There’s a lot to unpack with this one. To really get a feel and ear for this pedal, you’ll have to try it out for yourself. That being said, let’s go over the details, starting with the I/O.
The Tech21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI has a normal 1/4-inch input and output. It also has a 3-pin XLR direct output (and can even be powered via phantom power). Additionally, it has a 1/4-inch parallel output to pass the signal through unaffected.
The pedal offers a 3-way EQ with ±12 dB of gain per band and adjustable mid and bass frequencies. An addition presence control will help to bring out the harmonic content in the high-end without overly affecting the EQ.
The Drive knob adjusts the input sensitivity which we can use to dial in some amount of overdrive or to keep the signal clean.
The Blend knob blends the direct signal with the affected signal. In most cases, keep this set to 100%.
Finally, the Level knob adjusts the output level of both the 1/4” and XLR outputs. A –20 dB pad can be applied to the Direct Output and a +10 boost can be applied to the Output.
There’s a lot that can be done with this DI. It makes the list as a preamp/boost but surely solidifies its spot with superb functionality.