Some of the best microphone preamps ever made are available in 2020. No good microphone is complete until you’ve got an awesome preamp to go with it. This article details reviews of some of the world’s best preamps you can buy to add warmth and brightness to your studio.
Here are the best mic preamps 2020:
- Avalon VT-737SP
- Neve 1073DPX
- Solid State Logic Alpha VHD-Pre
- Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity
- Universal Audio SOLO/610
- ART Pro MPA-II
- Rupert Neve Designs 511
- Focusrite ISA One
- Behringer Ultragain ADA8200
- DBX 286S
1. Avalon VT-737SP
The ultimate best microphone preamp
The VT-737SP by Avalon is easily the ultimate best tube mic preamp. The VT-737SP can brighten up even the dullest of microphones and add warmth to any sound that passes through it. If you want energy in your recordings, the VT-737SP will get you that with ease.
Getting into the specifics, the VT has a Class A preamp design with 3 input selections. They are: a high performance mic input with phantom power, an instrument direct input jack, and third, a balanced line input with Class A circuitry.
Class A circuits are known for providing a lot of power and adding brightness, warmth, and saturation or distortion to a signal. Two dual cascading vacuum tubes power the circuitry and are what give the VT-737SP its warmth and power.
Also featured on the preamp is a high gain switch, a high pass filter, and phase reverse relay. The high gain switch increases the power output on the unit and is best for recording with extremely low volume microphones, like ribbon mics. The high pass filter allows you to clear out some rumble and muddiness without sacrificing the warmth and richness that the VT gives.
The VT includes an opto compressor with twin vacuum tubes for gain matching, and there is an optical attenuator for passive level controlling. Attack, release, threshold, and ratio controls are available for the opto compressor just like you would find on a normal compressor unit, and you can get a variety of dynamic controls out of it, from soft knee compression to very hard limiting and everything in between.
The preamp also features an EQ with a sidechain to shape audio before it hits your DAW. It can be especially handy when you need some extra spectral control or even some de-essing. The EQ can be flipped between pre or post to accommodate your needs (as an effect or for tone shaping).
There are high and low frequency controls and dual midrange controls that have a sweeping capability and variable Q. The EQ provides a really smooth tone that blends nicely with the warmth of the compressor and tube circuitry.
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The VT-737SP by Avalon is what I’d consider to be the ultimate warm preamp. It could easily be considered the best mic preamp. With the warm, vintage sound it gives, it adds a lot of character and feeling. It would be best for vocals as well as a variety of instruments like guitars or horns. It definitely gives off an old analog vibe, so if you’re not familiar with analog gear it would be best to take a look at that, especially if you’re a beginner.
This preamp would be best for advanced and professional producers and would fit best into a studio setup, either a home studio or a pro studio with a mixing console or other rack style processors.
2. Neve 1073DPX
A modern day classic
The Neve 1073 Classic is one of the most popular mic preamps in the world. The Neve 1073DPX is the new, modern day version of that best-selling preamp. Built with the same specifications of the original 1073, the 1073DPX is a very high-quality preamp that gives you the same sound as the original.
The 1073DPX has two microphone preamp channels. Each channel has a 3 band EQ and a high pass filter that adds warmth and depth to recordings. It’s very easy to bring out subtle details with this preamp all while keeping the spatial image and positioning, which is what the original Neve 1073 preamp was all about.
As it is a modern day model, the 1073DPX also adds a direct injection input, phantom power capabilities, level meters, and even headphone monitoring capabilities. You can also conveniently plug your cables into the front input connectors.
Adding to the modernity of the unit, a digital I/O module can be fitted into the preamp to provide FireWire and AES connectivity. Overall, the 1073DPX sounds extremely transparent but also has the classic Neve sound that you may be familiar with.
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If you want the well-loved, classic Neve sound in a more modern package, get the Neve 1073DPX. It sounds great, has a lot of flexibility, and is well worth the cost. Being one of the top-rated modern preamps, I recommend this one for anyone. Despite it also being the most expensive preamp on the list, it would be a great unit for even the smallest studios.
3. Solid State Logic Alpha VHD-Pre
The best solid-state mic preamp
The Solid State Logic Alpha VHD-Pre is another very flexible mic preamp that has good sound, plenty of versatility, and a variety of colorations. With the SSL Alpha VHD-Pre, you can get a bunch of different tones for your tracks, from a clear and transparent tone to something loaded with saturation or warmth.
The Alpha VHD-Pre features 4 of the best Solid State Logic preamps with a Variable Harmonic Drive (VHD) circuit, which was first utilized in SSL’s Duality console and is the key to the versatility with this preamp.
The preamps of the Alpha VHD-Pre allow for up to 75 dB of gain, so you will be able to record even the quietest of audio sources and various microphones. The VHD circuits in the preamps use analog signal paths to generate harmonic drive and distortion to add in the well-loved Solid State Logic analog sound to your audio.
Increasing the input gain causes the VHD drive circuit to add a mix of distortion to the audio, and you can get everything from tube warmth to wild levels of clipping.
Along with the cool internal components of the preamp are the other features, including 20 dB pads, Hi Z switches, and there are individual inputs and outputs for each of the 4 channels, as well as VHD controls for each channel.
The front panel of the preamp has instrument and line inputs with impedance detection, and on the back are XLR inputs. Also featured is phantom power to adequately power condenser microphones.
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If you love the SSL sound, the Alpha VHD-Pre is the best 4-channel mic preamp on this list. With its top-end circuitry and modern hardware, the Alpha VHD-Pre by Solid State Logic is easily a workhorse that will color your audio with warmth, richness, and bite. It sounds great with vocals, guitars, and many other instruments.
4. Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity
The best mic preamp under $1000
The 710 Twin-Finity microphone preamp from Universal Audio is a real bargain. You get the best of both worlds, with tube and solid state tones, and you can even blend them together.
The Twin-Finity has a microphone input, balanced line, and instrument input for use with vocals, bass, guitar, and more. The 710 has a Class A FET mic preamp (solid-state) and a Class A tube preamp as well.
A tone blending knob enables you to blend the bite from the solid state with the rich saturation from the classic tube circuit as much as you want to get the tone you’re looking for. The 710 Twin-Finity also features dual gain controls to gain stage your audio while throwing in more vintage coloration.
The Twin-Finity is the first to allow circuit blending and gives you a wide variety of tones and colorations. Also featured on the 710 Twin-Finity are a gain control and a level control, as well as a high pass filter and a -15 dB pad. You may be surprised to hear that all of this fits in a fairly portable half rack unit.
|Image credit: Universal Audio Check Price on Sweetwater||
The 710 Twin-Finity from Universal Audio is a great preamp if you want a lot of versatility when it comes to tones. Guitarists will love this preamp especially for the drive and grit with creamy saturation. Vocalists will also find that their voice sounds better with the 710. I recommend the 710 Twin-Finity to anyone who wants a fair sized preamp good for traveling and studio use.
5. Universal Audio SOLO/610
The best mic preamp for a home studio
The Universal Audio SOLO/610 is an all tube preamp that incorporates all of Universal Audio’s best preamp features into one unit. The SOLO series focuses on audiophile-quality components that make Universal Audio stand out. The preamp is very rugged and portable so you can take it anywhere. The SOLO/610 adds warmth to vocals and fattens up drums, delivering the classic Putnam 610 console sound.
As for the design and specs, the SOLO/610 is a single-channel preamp with continuous gain and level controls that provide you with an easy way to do gain staging. You can get a lot of different flavors and colorations from the SOLO/610, from warm clean tones to vintage tones with a little bit of saturation.
Among the features of the SOLO/610 are a phantom power switch, a direct instrument input, a high pass filter, polarity reverse, and impedance selection for both microphone and direct instrument inputs. There is also a ground lift and a line or mic level output switch.
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If you love the classic Putnam 610 sound, the fastest way to get it is through the Universal Audio SOLO/610 preamp for microphones. It would fit well in a home studio and would also be great on the road while traveling. I recommend it for anyone who wants a classic sound and also a lot of flexibility and portability.
6. ART Pro MPA-II
An affordable, versatile tube mic preamp
The ART Pro MPA-II is definitely one of the preamps on this list with the best value. The MPA II is a 2-channel tube microphone preamp and comes loaded with professional features in order to give you a huge sonic advantage over those who don’t have this piece of gear in their home studio.
The MPA-II is extremely versatile, allowing for variable input impedance to match the microphone you’re using, so that you can get a bunch of different tube tones. The MPA II supports dual mono and stereo recording, and there is also a mid side micing switch that gives you even more flexibility when recording, which is especially useful when recording vocals, guitar, and even things like pianos.
You can use a variety of microphones with the MPA-II, from dynamic ribbon mics to condenser mics due to the phantom power switch. An onboard gain control is also available for bringing up the levels of ribbon microphones, so that you can actually record with them.
For even more sculpting, you can use the variable input impedance to either match the preamp to your microphones or mismatch tones and get more creative sounds out of your gear. The ART Pro MPA-II operates at high or normal plate voltage, leaving room for even more sonic and tonal flavors to be added.
There is also a low cut filter for each of the two channels to help get rid of rumble and muddiness. This multi channel mic preamp has two large VU meters to display input and output levels, and plenty of multi colored LEDs to easily and accurately display where your volume levels are at to avoid peaking from the tube gain.
Overall, the ART Pro MPA-II is a discrete Class A preamp that sounds great, is pretty affordable, and doesn’t give off much distortion at low levels.
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The ART Pro MPA-II is a great choice for intermediate producers who want to get into the world of analog recording. The MPA-II provides a lot of flexibility and versatility when it comes to coloration, and is easy enough for beginners or intermediate users to operate. It would fit well in any studio setup and is definitely one of the best, most versatile mic preamps that you can get for under $500.
7. Rupert Neve Designs 511
The 5017 sound in a lunchbox
The title may sound weird to you, but it’s true. The Rupert Neve Designs 511 preamp is basically the sound of the 5017 preamp in a lunchbox sized unit. The 511 is the newest model preamp from the 500 Series from Rupert Neve Designs.
The 511 combines the crystal clear sound of the old 5017 preamp, the high pass filter from the 5012, and the Silk/Texture circuit from the Portico II. All these components combined make the 511 an absolute workhorse that sounds amazing.
The Neve sound is unmistakable and you can definitely hear the tone of the 5017 with this preamp due to the circuitry. Designed by Rupert Neve himself, you get to enjoy the Silk tone shaping to add a warmer, more vintage sound to your recordings. Since it is a variable control due to it being a dial system, you can get a variety of sounds, from warm rich sounds to something more modern and clear.
If you want even more freedom to sculpt your tone, with the 511 you get a sweepable high pass filter that first appeared on the Neve 5012 preamp. The high pass filter is great for removing rumble and reducing muddiness in your signal, and allows for surgically precise adjustments.
The 511 preamp also has a gain control, trim, phantom power, polarity reverse, and a texture knob. Take note that this preamp doesn’t have any inputs and instead connects to a mixing console, however, with a 10 series module from Neve it can be connected to a computer or audio interface.
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The 511 by Rupert Neve Designs is an amazing sounding, ultra portable unit. I would recommend it for bigger, more professional studios and more advanced producers and engineers who know very well what they are doing, as the 511 must be used with a console or channel rack unit.
The 511 can be used with a computer through the rack unit and if you don’t have the $1000+ to shell out for that, it can seem like it’s not worthwhile to spend that much money just to have the Neve tone.
8. Focusrite ISA One
A portable Forte console
The Focusrite ISA One is essentially a Focusrite Forte console channel in a portable unit. If you’re not familiar with Forte, the Forte was the best-quality console made by Rupert Neve for Focusrite. Only a few of these highest-rated consoles are still in existence today. However, the Focusrite ISA One is a fast and easy way to get the Forte sound.
The ISA One is built based on spatial relations that the original ISA 110 was built on, including the same transformer and network. The ISA One has inputs for microphones, lines, and instruments and an impedance selector, allows you to fine tune things to meet your needs. The instrument and mic inputs run parallel which means that you can even blend the direct signals.
The ISA One is extremely portable, designed with a metal chassis to protect the inner workings of the preamp while allowing you to take it with you on the road. It doesn’t require any unracking or anything like that, making it an extremely convenient preamp.
Selectable impedance works with the different inputs to match the microphone you’re using. You can choose between 4 different levels of impedance. Another great feature of the ISA One is the VU meter and LEDs to monitor input and output gains.
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The ISA One by Focusrite brings the classic sound of the Forte to your recordings whether you’re in the studio or on the road. The ISA One would be great in a mid-sized studio or even a bedroom studio. It would also fit well with a mixing console in a large studio, but would likely be best placed as a desktop unit because of the shape and size. If you like the classic Forte sound, definitely check out the ISA One.
9. Behringer Ultragain ADA8200
The best 8-channel mic preamp
Behringer is a well-known company that has excelled in everything from microphones to mixing consoles to preamps, and everything else in between. The Behringer ADA8200 preamp is a testament to Behringer’s high-quality gear and great sound.
If you’re not familiar with the Behringer ADA8000, it is one of Behringer’s best-selling preamps. The ADA8200 is a step up from the ADA8000, combining the best of the ADA8000 with some big updates under the hood.
Among the upgraded features include the 8 MIDAS mic preamps that feed into Cirrus Logic converters. They sound very clean and modern and no distortion can be heard when using them. The mic preamps are all on the front panel of the unit, which makes them easily accessible if you have to stay behind a computer screen while recording. You have the ability to use the ADAT output to direct the mic preamps into your main audio interface if you want to expand your setup by 8 channels.
The ADA8200 not only serves as a good sounding preamp, it also is an analog to digital converter. The Cirrus Logic converters keep the tone intact while converting your audio due to them being reference class converters. The dual functionality of the ADA8200 makes it a great choice for both professional studios and home studios.
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For being one of the best 8-channel mic preamps and being as cheap as it is, the Ultragain ADA8200 by Behringer sounds absolutely amazing for the money. If you want something with a clear tone, vintage coloration, and plenty of convenience and accessibility, the ADA8200 is an ideal rack style choice for a preamp.
It will fit well into any studio, whether it’s a professional one or a home or bedroom studio, and it sounds amazing with vocals, guitar, and especially drums.
10. DBX 286S
The best budget mic preamp
If you are looking for a preamp that gives you a lot of bang for your buck, the DBX 286S is something to consider. The DBX 286S is actually a whole channel strip rack unit, but channel strip modules have a preamp in them, so this is essentially the same thing. The DBX 286S is a powerful unit that sounds great in the studio as well as during live performances.
The 286S has an XLR input, a direct line in input, and a line output. It has a very transparent mic preamp that allows for the use of condenser mics with phantom power, a high pass filter, and gain control to power your microphones.
The 286S also has a compressor section that features the classic DBX OverEasy function, which essentially is a soft knee that smooths out vocals and instruments without killing the expressiveness of the dynamics.
There is also a de-esser section, which is especially useful for removing plosives and sibilance during live performance or for an easy take in the studio that doesn’t require a bunch of editing. It’s also great for reducing the harsh frequencies in cymbals.
In the enhancer section, you can add resonance in the low end and sparkle to the high end to help fill in and enhance the signal to get a fuller mix. In the expander and gate section, you can get rid of stray noise and reduce stage volume that leaks in from live performances.
Another cool feature is that you can patch in another effects processor or another rack unit with the external loop out insert built into the DBX 286S. It is the best mic preamp for under $200 that you will be able to find, and the host of other features make it super flexible.
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If you want a super powerful, super budget friendly, portable mic preamp, check out the DBX 286S. It has a whole host of extra features due to it being a channel strip rack module, making it extra flexible for studio or live performance use. It sounds awesome and would be ideal for everyone, from beginners to advanced or professional producers due to the layout being simple and easy to use.
Use these microphone preamp reviews to get you started on your journey into analog gear. Based on this article, you now have enough knowledge to make a purchase of one of these amazing preamps, or you can take what you’ve learned here and check out many other preamps from the multitude available and find one that suits your recording and producing needs.
Although mic preamps may be uncharted territory for producers who mainly use plugins and virtual gear, analog preamps are definitely something worth looking into, as no plugin sounds exactly like the real deal.
Jordan is a music producer, content creator, writer, and session musician. He has been producing music and engineering live performances for over 7 years. He is an experienced guitarist and enjoys listening to and playing many different genres of music.