What's a Mic Preamp -- And Why Do I Need One?As any audio engineer will tell you, a microphone converts acoustic energy (such as the sound of your voice) into electrical energy (voltage running down a cable). Even a very sensitive microphone produces a relatively weak signal, so a mic preamp is necessary to bump it up to a useable level. A microphone preamplifier takes that low-voltage output from a microphone, and amplifies it to a much stronger line-level signal -- often up to 80 dB louder. Now, your stronger, louder signal is ready to be recorded.
How Does a Mic Preamp Affect My Recorded Sound?Mic preamps make microphone signals louder -- but they also do so much more. In a word, the electronics in preamps "color" the sound of any signal that's run through them. A tube-based preamp will add characteristic harmonic distortion. Meanwhile, a transformer-based solid-state preamp will offer its own subtle character and definition, while a transformerless solid-state preamp is likely to result in a more transparent sound. Every pre is different. Your vocal mic may sound hollow and thin through one pre, but rich and warm through a better pre. In fact, microphone preamps are so crucial to the sound of recordings, pro studios often have racks full of preamps for different purposes -- just as they have microphone collections.
Ready to upgrade your signal path? Find the right pre for your price range in this buying guide!