The microphone preamplifier is a critical part of any signal chain that includes a microphone.
This is because microphones output relatively low mic level signals and require microphone preamplifiers to boost the signal to line level for processing and recording in analog (and digital) audio.
It goes without saying that microphone amplifiers are very important and, therefore, there are many options to choose from on the market. This article aims to provide you with the best brands to watch for when looking for the right microphone preamp.
The Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifiers Brands Are:
- Solid State Logic
- True Systems
- Universal Audio
- Great River Electronics
- Avalon Design
- AMS Neve
- Grace Design
- FMR Audio
- Black Lion Audio
Automated Processes Incorporated, better known as API, is an American manufacturer/brand of high-end professional-grade audio equipment for recording studios.
Since its birth in 1968, API has been successfully fulfilling its mission to create the highest possible quality professional audio gear and then back it up with excellent customer service. More than 50 years later, the company continues to innovate and maintain its legendary status with the modern production of its legacy products.
To this day, API builds its microphone preamps with the highest quality components to ensure the superior performance the company is known for.
Related article: Do Microphone Preamplifiers Improve Sound/Audio Quality?
The legendary 512 preamp is proof of this dedication to preserving API's tradition of manufacturing the best analog recording equipment the world has to offer. This modular preamp, now offered as the 512c, has been largely unchanged and has maintained its warm analog character throughout the decades.
The 512v is a revamped version of the aforementioned preamp that includes a variable output feature.
If you're looking for top-of-the-line name-brand microphone preamplifiers (and other legendary analog audio hardware), then look no further than API!
Standout mic preamp: API 512 C
Solid State Logic
Solid State Logic is another highly sought-after brand in professional recording studios around the world.
This revered company is perhaps best known as the manufacturer of some of the world's favourite (and most expensive) mixing consoles. SSL also produces some of the best microphone preamplifiers that money can buy, though they too demand a rather high price point.
With modern technology, SSL has produced preamps that can offer both transparent/clear audio or add sonic character ranging from “warm” to “raging”. This “best of both worlds” approach to audio design makes SSL microphone preamps an excellent choice for high-end results in the studio.
Standout mic preamp: Solid State Logic Alpha VHD
True Systems has made a name for itself as a manufacturer of one of the world's most transparent microphone preamps.
With a True preamp, you're getting the character of the microphone without the added character and noise present in many other analog preamps and without the digital harshness of many A/D converting preamps.
I'm certainly biased toward True Systems since my former school and employer both use True Systems Precision 8 preamps, but this preamp is certainly my personal favourite.
True Systems microphone preamplifiers are some of the best on the market and a high-quality tools for professional audio production and amateur productions alike. The company's preamps offer exceptional sonic performance and superior value, making them go-to units for pros and hobbyists alike.
Standout mic preamp: True Systems Precision 8
Today, Universal Audio is probably best known for its incredible audio interfaces and digital audio plugins. However, the company is also a top-of-the-line manufacturer of microphone preamps and other hardware processor units. In fact, many of the plugins we know and love from UA are based on their legendary hardware!
Bill Putnam, who founded Universal Audio, has been a major player in the advancement of audio technology. For example, he was invaluable in the development of the modern recording console, the multi-band audio equalizer and the vocal booth. He was also the first engineer to use artificial reverb in a commercial recording and, with his friend Les Paul, was also involved with the early development of stereo recording.
Perhaps the most famous UA microphone tube preamplifier is the 610, which is modelled after the preamps in the company's groundbreaking modular 610 console.
Universal Audio is a renowned audio brand and is one of the best manufacturers of microphone preamplifiers in the world today.
Standout mic preamp: Universal Audio SOLO/610
Great River Electronics
Great River may not be as popular as the previously mentioned brands, but their handcrafted, high-quality microphone preamplifiers are among the best in the world.
Extensive research and development are key in the design of all Great River preamps, and thorough testing and fine-tuning is completed on each product to ensure the preamps exceed the needs of audio professionals.
The company utilizes its deep experience and a wide variety of proven circuit styles to deliver microphone preamplifiers that perform among the best. Their mic pres are designed and manufactured with great reliability and sonic performance in mind.
Standout mic preamp: Great River MP-500NV
Avalon Design has made a name for itself as a manufacturer of pure Class A recording systems. Their microphone preamps and other hardware are found in state-of-the-art professional studios around the world.
Each Avalon mic pre utilizes 100% discrete, high-bias pure Class A audio amplifiers. The units are designed with high-end components and a minimalistic approach (even with all the additional functionality). These design features give Avalon preamps a great deal of headroom and incredible transparency, allowing the microphone's true character to shine.
The popular Avalon VT-737sp is a tube preamplifier that features an opto-compressor, sweep equalizer, output level and VU metering in a 2U space.
Avalon has a passion for achieving sonic excellence in all of its products, and this shows up in all of its superb microphone preamplifiers.
Standout mic preamp: Avalon VT-737sp
Neve Electronics was founded in 1961 by none other than the man credited with the invention of the recording console: Rupert Neve. In 1992, after being acquired by the Siemens Group (1985), the company was combined with Advanced Music Systems to form AMS Neve.
Although Rupert Neve had split from the company to start a new company (Rupert Neve Designs), AMS Neve still benefits from the incredible breakthrough designs of Rupert from the earlier days of audio equipment development.
Since its inception, the Neve brand has been specializing in the finest professional audio consoles and systems, utilizing Class A designs and high-quality components to produce top-of-the-line equipment, including, obviously, microphone preamplifiers.
Neve's 1073 and 1084 microphone preamplifiers are world-famous and have been the inspiration for countless other preamplifier designs (none of which are as pristine as the originals). The particular mic preamps are highly sought after by many professional engineers.
Users of Neve preamps can expect top-notch performance and durability that will outlast nearly all other mic pres on the market. The company offers continuing upgrades with the latest technological advances while maintaining the strength and character that Neve preamplifiers have been known for since the very beginning.
Standout mic preamp: AMS Neve 1073
Grace Design began as a custom microphone preamplifier manufacturer in the early 1990s and has since established itself as one of the best mic preamp brands in the world.
This relatively small family-owned business found great success with its model 801 microphone preamp, which has become a highly sought-after unit in the market. The 801mk2 is now available.
Grace Design prides itself on providing audio professionals and enthusiasts around the globe with some of the finest tools imaginable. The love of music and the art of recording is truly apparent in the superb microphone preamps designed and built by Grace Design.
So whether you're a professional or an amateur, Grace Design should have a mic pre for you. With excellent reliability and customer service, the company is a great choice for your next preamp.
Standout mic preamp: Grace Design m101
dbx has been around since the 1970s and quickly made a name for itself as an innovative audio equipment manufacturer with the invention of the dbx Blackmer gain cell (a superior voltage-controlled amplifier for professional audio applications).
This expertise and innovation in amplifier manufacturing are found in all of dbx's microphone preamplifiers. Their wildly successful 286 model has made the slightest mention of the number 286 known to audio pros as a term that means “high-quality preamp”.
dbx focuses on professional-grade audio hardware and accessories for the pro studio. Their mic pres are among the best in the world.
Standout mic preamp: dbx 580
In today's market, Focusrite is one of the most popular audio interface brands. That being said, the company had forged its name as a top manufacturer of uncompromising mic preamplifiers, beginning with the creation of their highly sought-after ISA 110 model.
The microphone preamps are actually part of the Focusrite Pro brand, which is technically separate from the ‘regular' Focusrite brand within the group.
The ISA (Input Signal Amplifier) line has expanded since the early days. These microphone preamps are found in high-end recording studios around the world and are cherished for their distinctive sound.
If you're looking for a high-end preamplifier for your microphones, look no further than the ISA line by Focusrite Pro!
Standout mic preamp: Focusrite ISA One
Applied Research And Technology is one of the successful brands from the Canadian company Yorkville Sound.
ART is a brand focused on redefining the price to performance ratio of high-quality equipment. This has led to innovations in the field and products that would be considered of great value.
Their microphone preamplifiers, then, are affordable to the owners of start-up studios and the amateurs that want better sound from their mic pres.
ART boasts a full line of vacuum tube mic preamps that deliver warmth, tone and character at a fraction of what we'd expect of such units. If you're looking to get into tube preamplifiers for your microphone, ART should be a brand you definitely consider!
Standout mic preamp: ART TPS II
Black Lion Audio
Black Lion Audio is an excellent company with a keen focus on audio hardware design and manufacturing, after-market audio hardware modifications, and top-notch customer service.
The Chicago-based company produces an impressive line of microphone preamplifiers that deliver largely unmatched results in the power and clarity of the mic signal.
On top of the great products and services, BLA does its work at an exceptional price.
So whether you want a brand new mic preamp that's bound to work as needed or you're looking to modify/upgrade one of your current preamplifiers, Black Lion Audio could very well be your answer!
Standout mic preamp: Black Lion Audio Auteur MK2
Audio Engineering Associates began as a ribbon microphone service and repair shop focused on the re-ribboning and restructuring of vintage RCA ribbon mics.
By 1998, the company began producing their own ribbon mics largely reminiscent of the original RCA models.
Sometime after that, AEA found a niche in the market for microphone preamplifiers designed specifically for the relatively low-output ribbon microphones.
AEA's ribbon microphone preamplifiers have become staples for anyone wanting to get the very most out of their ribbon microphones. These preamps provide an improved load impedance to their connected ribbon microphone and lots of ultra-clean gain to boost the ribbon mic to usable levels without added noise and distortion.
Standout mic preamp: AEA TRP 2
Choosing the best mic preamp(s) for your applications can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Microphone Preamplifier Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help choosing the best mic preamps for your applications.