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The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording


Your Ultimate Guide to the Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

Running a home recording studio setup is no excuse for you to skimp on recording studio essentials such as a microphone preamp. While microphone preamps are generally expensive, these devices are worth investing in if you want high-quality sound for your recordings — and trust us, it will make all the difference in your home recordings’ sound quality.

To help make your search easier, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on the best preamps for home recording!

Which is the Top Microphone Preamp?

Editor's Choice

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording
Best Overall
The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording
Best Budget Mic Preamp
The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording
Most Versatile Mic Preamp
Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre 8-Channel

The Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre 8-Channel is an industry favorite thanks to its versatility, sound quality amplification, and additional features.

Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1

The Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 is a preamp and mic activator that can give a large gain boost to any microphone type.

PreSonus DigiMax D8

The PreSonus DigiMax D8 offers plenty of inputs and functions for the price and space of one preamp.

Quality: Design: Features:
Quality: Design: Features:
Quality: Design: Features:

Let’s Go Over Each Top Mic Preamp

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

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Benefitting from years of experience thus, establishing themselves as an industry legend, Focusrite has created one of the best microphone preamps revered by many — the Scarlett OctoPre 8-Channel.

From the name itself, the Scarlett OctoPre has eight preamps. This 8-channel preamp also makes use of second-generation mic lines to help achieve clean gain, high headroom, and low noise. This allows your home recordings to come out natural-sounding as your microphone’s unique character and sound are captured.

Another feature that makes the Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre 8-Channel preamp one of the best ones out there and different from most preamps is its numerous headroom and pads for “extreme inputs”. This feature allows two other instruments, such as keyboards or guitars, to be plugged into its front panel.

Thanks to the Scarlett OctoPre’s A/D conversion of 24-bit/192 kHz, you are assured of your instrument’s sound quality being excellent without any excess coloration.

Speaking of conversion, the Scarlett OctoPre can also help you monitor your digital audio quality through visible control using its LED and channel clip indicators.

Other features that make the Scarlett OctoPre 8-Channel preamp more impressive are its digital interface, compatibility with other equipment using ADAT through a single cable, and an easy connection system with ADAT optical inputs. It’s also phantom powered across all its inputs. Just make sure to use 48V so as not to damage the microphone preamp.

Additional features of the Scarlett OctoPre microphone preamp that make it all the more useful and our top pick are the plug-in suite inclusions. To further enhance the sound quality of your home recordings, the Scarlett OctoPre has the Softube Time and Tone bundle with the former including four Softubes plug-ins, including Reverb and Delay.

Pros and Cons of the Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre 8-Channel

✔ 8 preamp channels
✔ Natural-sounding audio quality
✔ Has digital audio interfaces
✔ Great microphone and instruments preamp
✔ Has 2 ADAT outputs
✔ Includes plug-in suites
✔ Suitable for studio and live recording
✔ Durable metal frame perfect for traveling
✖️ Expansion plus audio interface model is pricey

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

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If ribbon mics are your preferred recording devices, then you would know that they tend to have low output and require a lot of preamp gain. However, the best ribbon mics are great at producing a natural and classic sound that can record vocals, instruments, and the room ambiance itself so it makes all the setup worth it.

Although, there’s another way to prevent any possible harmonic distortion caused by ribbon mics, and that’s with a microphone preamp that has an excellent audio signal and line-level signal. Enter Cloud Microphones’ Cloudlifter CL-1.

While the Cloudlifter CL-1 was specifically designed for dynamic microphones, this preamp is compatible with all microphone types and can exceptionally amplify ribbon mics.

With the ability to give any mic signal a boost of more than 25dB without adding any extra noise or harmonic distortion to the signal path, the Cloudlifter does an impressive job at increasing the output from microphones. This feature allows you to have a better mic for your home recording needs!

Since the Cloudlifter CL-1 is phantom-powered, users may be worried about damaging their delicate ribbon mics’ moving coil. However, this is one issue you need not be concerned about as the Cloudlifter CL-1’s phantom power does not pass any voltage through its inputs.

Key features of Cloudlifter CL-1 are its ease of “plug-and-play” setup and its affordable price compared to most microphone preamps. To power the Cloudlifter CL-1, you need only to plug in an XLR cable, turn on the phantom power, and turn on the audio interface, and you’re ready to start using this preamp and mic activator for your home recording needs!

Pros and Cons of the Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1

✔ Produces a powerful and clean signal path
✔ Provides a large gain boost to all microphone types
✔ Phantom-powered but voltage does not run through microphones
✔ Easy set-up
✖️ Bulky design

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

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When building or upgrading your home recording studio, then you know that every inch of space is valuable. For that, you will need versatile equipment so it can do all and be all while only taking up one small corner of your studio. Here is where the PreSonus DigiMax D8 can be of help.

Unlike most microphone preamps, the PreSonus Digimax D8 combines analog and digital technology while functioning as an ADAT-equipped preamp. This preamp also has plenty of inputs as it sports 24-bit/48kHz audio interfaces with eight Class A XMAX microphone preamps plus additional eight analog outputs to send external signals.

Sporting eight XLR mic inputs and another eight TRX jack outputs, it goes without saying that you have plenty of line input to choose from and use for both microphones and instruments with the PreSonus DigiMax D8.

This versatile preamp also has a gain-trim control, a 20Db pad button, 2 DI box inputs, an ultra-wide dynamic range, and is phantom-powered making use of 48V.

Pros and Cons of the PreSonus DigiMax D8

✔ Versatile and feature-filled
✔ Has a gain knob
✔ Plenty of inputs
✖️ Placement of inputs and outputs can make it difficult to mount it on a rack

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With several nominations and awards on its belt, the Warm Audio WA73 is one of the high-end preamps on our list. Also dubbed as a classic and “Holy Grail” of microphone preamps today, the Warm Audio WA73 is a single-channel preamp and dual-channel preamp that has defined the tone of many pop and rock records for decades.

Classified as a staple in many recording studios, especially in British audio history, the Warm Audio WA73 brings vintage to both sound and design making it the perfect preamp for condenser mics, ribbon mics, and dynamic mics.

With an 80dB gain and a Carnhill Transformer balanced signal path, the WA73 is perfect for expressive sound sources such as vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, percussions, orchestras, keyboards, and more.

There are two models to choose from: the single channel preamplifier and channel preamplifier — both can come with or without EQ. No matter the model you opt for, all WA73 preamps are hand-wired and hand-assembled making them all the more premium.

They also make use of tantalum and polystyrene capacitors in the signal path plus an output transistor to help achieve a smooth sound even when your gain settings are set on high.

Pros and Cons of the Warm Audio WA73

✔ Offers both single-channel and dual-channel models
✔ Low distortion sound quality
✔ Can be used for vocals and instruments
✖️ Expensive

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

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If you’re looking for a DI-equipped tube preamp that not only looks vintage but can also produce a classic sound, then the Universal Audio SOLO/610 Classic Vacuum Tube Pre & DI Box is for you!

Just because the Universal Audio SOLO/610 looks vintage does not mean it has outdated features and functions. This tube preamp can deliver all the classic and analog sounds that are likened to The Beatles and Frank Sinatra, but it has the features that any modern professional or home recording studio will need.

This 48v phantom-powered tube preamp has a direct input for instruments, a high pass filter, and a polarity reverse.

While it only makes use of a single channel, it does have inputs dedicated to microphones and DI. It also has a flexible dual impedance selection, which can come in handy. As for its analog inputs, the Universal Audio SOLO/610 has two; one for an XLR mic and another for a ¼” Hi-Z.

Pros and Cons of the Universal Audio SOLO/610

✔ XLR mic and Hi-Z input compatible
✔ Has a tube path to help give a classic warm sound to digital recordings
✔ Durable and sturdy design
✔ No need to mount it in a rack
✖️ Bulky design can take up space
✖️ Only uses one channel, which can be limiting in usage

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

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The Universal Audio 710TFD Twin-Finity combines the best of both worlds by being a solid-state and tube circuit microphone preamp rolled into one hybrid single-channel mic preamp.

The 710TFD Twin-Finity is one of the award-winning mic preamps in the list that can strike a balance between churning out a classic retro warm sound thanks to its vacuum tubes and a crisp sound because of its solid-state circuit. All in all, it makes for tonal versatility and blending that most audio interfaces from other mic preamps cannot quite perfect.

Although the Universal Audio 710TFD Twin-Finity only makes use of a single channel, it makes up for it with other key features. One of which is its front panel which will allow you to easily track instruments such as guitar, bass, or keyboards. Another is its input stage for ¼” Hi-Z instruments.

Pros and Cons of the Universal Audio 710TFD Twin-Finity

✔ Hybrid design with both a solid-state and tube circuit
✔ Versatile front panel
✔ Produces a retro warm sound while maintaining its bite
✔ Tonal versatility and blend
✖️ Expensive
✖️ Single channel can be limiting

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

Quality:  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Design:  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
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One of the most widely used mic preamps is the Focusrite ISA One and with good reason. It’s dubbed as one of the best entry point preamps if you’re looking into something that’s more professional grade while still user-friendly.

The ISA One is modeled after Focusrite’s popular channel strip, Studio Console, which allows for plenty of connectivity functions and options. Thanks to said channel strip, the ISA One is one of the few preamps that have a headphone output and A-D card for standalone recording.

Although the ISA One is a single-channel preamp, it was able to make up for it by being compatible with desktop microphones and DI boxes. It also has a cue mix circuit, an insert point, and an amp out. Such features are incredibly useful for home recording and more if you plan on expanding your studio.

Pros and Cons of the Focusrite ISA One

✔ Channel strip presents plenty of connectivity options
✔ Can be used for standalone recording
✔ Can be expanded to a digital conversion module
✔ Impressive signal-to-noise ration with its mic input
✖️ Lacks channels for more usage

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

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Although the Grade Design m101 is a single-channel preamp, there is plenty of features and functions going on for this high-end preamp.

Starting with its impressive gain range that is widely set at 10-75dB, the m101 can take on low frequencies and noise floors while still performing at impressive signal levels. To further prevent signal disruption, the Grace Design m101 has an enhanced RFI suppression.

The Grade Design may not have many channels, but it does have three connectors. You can plug in an XLR balanced, TRS balanced, and a ¼” TS unbalanced. It also has a Hi-Z input-compatible front panel.

One of its unique features is the Ribbon Mode, which will allow you to increase input impedance, increase gain range, and bypass phantom power when you’re using a ribbon mic.

Pros and Cons of the Grace Design m101

✔ Unique ribbon mode
✔ Impressive signal levels
✔ Three connectors
✖️ Expensive
✖️ Not many channels

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

Quality:  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Design:  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
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If you’re looking for a three-in-one mic preamp, then the Avalon VT-737sp will not disappoint. This Class A Mono Tube Channel Strip preamp has three input selections: a high-power mic, a DI for an instrument at its front panel, and a balanced line input. This makes this preamp one of the best channel strips out there.

Operating at a hardwired bypass, the Avalon VT-737sp has an opto-compressor with a signal path and an EQ line level that can be controlled at mid-frequencies.

Combining these features with the Avalon VT-737sp’s tube circuit, you may expect a warm and classic sound for your home recordings.

Pros and Cons of the Avalon VT-737sp Class A Mono Tube Channel Strip

✔ High-end signal path
✔ Has an EQ and opto-compressor
✔ Great for vocals, voice-overs, and instruments
✔ Mixer compatible
✖️ Pricey

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

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Quality microphone preamps and affordable prices don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but the ART TubeOpto 8 has managed to prove us all wrong. This 8-channel mic pres make use of a Class A vacuum tube mic to help recordings achieve a warm and vintage sound.

However, the most impressive feature of this preamp is its eight independent channels. Each channel has an XLR input, ¼” input, and is ADAT equipped.

Not to mention you can even control that input gain, output level, input pad, signal path, phase flip, and low-frequency roll of switches of each of these channels. This is exceptionally useful if you find that having one or two channels is limiting.

Pros and Cons of the ART TubeOpto 8

✔ Eight independent channels
✔ Affordable price considering its features and functions
✖️ No single output phase

What is a Preamp and What Does It Do?

Although they sound intimidating, microphone preamps technically have one main job: taking the output of a microphone and amplifying it to line-level output. In other words, microphone preamps will help boost the mic signal to a level that can be used and amplified by the rest of your studio equipment to help your vocal recording or overall recording quality produce a better sound.

For this reason, you often don’t find a microphone directly connected to a speaker since the signal will be too weak. The preamp’s job is to boost the signal to a line level that is loud enough for audio production.

How Do I Know If I Need a Preamp?

Microphone preamps are arguably one of the most overlooked and misunderstood recording equipment when it comes to completing a studio. Perhaps it’s the price of technicalities of preamps but allow us to further shed light on this matter.

If you find that your microphone has a low output and signal, then you might need a preamp to help boost its gain and line level. By doing so, you can make your mic level louder without adding much noise, distortion, and tonal coloration. As a result, you can get an audio recording that’s cleaner with a more accurate signal and headroom.

You will also need a preamp if you want your recording to sound more transparent or natural. This equipment will help in making an audio sound quieter as it can lessen the hiss and background noise caused by any signal disruptions from the microphone or instrument.

A preamp will also help in adding more warmth, color, and texture to your recordings. Preamps with transformers and discrete amplifiers in their circuits are great at churning out such results. Consider also looking at tube preamps if you want a vintage sound.

Versatility is also one function that a preamp can offer. Due to its channel strips, inputs, and outputs, a preamp can give a wide range of configurations for vocals, voice-overs, and instruments all in one device.

Lastly, if you are looking for consistency in your recordings, then you will need a preamp. By knowing the features, functions, and characteristics of the preamp, you can set how you would like the quality of your recordings to sound each time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Aside from the preamps stated in this guide such as the Universal Audio 71- Twin-Finity and the Grade Design m101, some of the best mic preamps for vocals are the Neve 1073 DPX and the Great River ME-1NV.

The Neve 1073 DPX is a preamp with dual channels that has a high impedance, a switchable channel located in the front panel, and a built-in EQ and high pass filter. It’s also useful for vocal recordings because of its direct headphones monitoring feature.

On the other hand, the Great River ME-1NV can handle low frequencies, has adjustable gain stages, and multiple in and out connections. All of which is useful for when you want to record vocals.

Of course, to get the most out of your vocal recordings, a preamp must be paired with the best microphone for vocals so be sure to also check out our guide on that!

Are tube preamps better than solid-state preamps?

The answer to this question will rely on preference and requirement in terms of tonal differences. A tube preamp will give you a warm and smooth sound while a solid-state preamp will give you a crisp sound with a bite. When it comes to maintenance, tubes will need more care and eventually replacement while solid states can last longer.

How much phantom power do I need for a mic preamp?

Most microphone preamps are 48-V phantom powered.

What is a channel strip preamp?

A channel strip is a combination of various signal processing tools including a preamp. In one strip, you will find a compressor, a de-esser, an enhancer/exciter, and for some models an EQ compressor.

Final Note

With different preamps available in the market, it can get quite intimidating to choose which is the best one for your home recording studio and audio requirements. Generally, what you will need to keep in mind are the features, desired sound character, channels, and input you will be requiring for your preamp so you can get the most out of it!

Although the price tag of preamps can be a bit off-putting, investing in this equipment can make your microphone and home recording audio quality better and reduce harmonic distortion.

The Best Microphone Preamps for Home Recording

Editor’s Choice

Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre 8-Channel

Backed by industry legend, Focusrite, the Scarlett OctoPre 8-Channel preamp is a can-do all of all microphone preamps.

Carrying not just one channel, but eight channels with second generational mic/line preamps, the Scarlett OctoPre can give a clean gain, high headroom, and low noise natural sound that amplifies the unique character of your microphone and instruments.

This ADAT-compatible microphone preamp can also be powered by 48V phantom power across all inputs, which is useful when you want to further expand your recording system.

With an exceptional A/D conversion and digital interface, the Scarlett OctoPre can handle 24-bit/192kHz while allowing visible control. It even comes with the Focusrite Red 2 and 3 plug-in suite, Softube Time, and Tone Bundle.

Ash Burnett

Hailing from Chicago, IL - Ash made his break into journalism at the age of 23 writing music reviews for a local website. Now in his late 30's and after being pulled closer towards the technical side of the music and live gig industry, he founded Shout4Music to write thorough microphone reviews.

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