Thomann's Cool Online Guides: Mic Preamps

2. What is a Mic Preamp?

There are many different types of audio signal. In the analogue domain, signals are distinguished mainly in terms of their level, which in simple terms usually means electrical voltage. A microphone produces a comparatively weak signal which must be amplified before anything useful can be done with it. Speaking into a microphone typically generates a signal of around 1 to 2mV (thousandths of a Volt), whereas a signal of several Volts must be applied to a loudspeaker to produce a similar volume of sound.

Between these two extremes, the concept of ‘line level’ has come to define the standard level at which most audio devices communicate. Actually, there are two different line level standards in common use - in very general terms, consumer and semi-professional products use the -10dB standard (0.316V), while professional products tend to favour the +4dB standard (1.23V).

The simple reason for this is that all analogue signals are susceptible to electromagnetic interference, causing various types of noise. Weak signals are much more prone to this, as any noise will be much louder in relation to the signal. The high-fidelity sound we now take for granted would not be possible if microphone signals were not immediately stepped up to line level before being recorded, mixed or processed in any way.

A microphone preamplifier takes care of this task. Any audio device with a microphone input will contain a mic preamp - many mixers contain dozens – one for each channel.

Some mixers are of course prized for the quality of their mic preamps, but these tend to be at the very top end of the market. More affordable desks usually have to compromise somewhere in order to reach a reasonable price point - 24 or 32 high-end mic preamps simply cannot be made for this sort of money.

Placing a mic preamp in the same box as components carrying other electrical signals can also result in interference. This can affect mixers with integrated mic preamps, as well as computer recording devices such as sound cards and external audio interfaces.

Stand-alone mic preamps aim to remedy these problems and more. Many recording projects do not involve recording very many tracks simultaneously, even if a lot of tracks are added eventually. For example, lead vocals are often the most sonically exposed parts in a pop production, yet they are almost always recorded with a single microphone. External mic preamps help bring audiophile quality recording to those of us who can’t afford to pay big money for a desk, or don’t need to because we only record one channel at a time.

External mic pre-amps also offer far greater sonic potential. Many professional studios have racks of different preamps, and an experienced engineer will make choices based on the instruments or singers being recorded and the desired end result. For sonically creative work, many would consider the choice of preamp secondary in importance only to the choice of microphone, each having their own unique character.

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Mic Preamps overview

Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 Alesis Surge Mesh Kit Adam T5V Roland R-07 black Subpac M2X Yamaha Stagepas 600BT Arturia Minibrute 2 Heritage Audio HA-73 EQ Elite Focal Listen Professional Focal Shape Twin Sound Devices MixPre-3 Yamaha Stagepas 400BT
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Alesis Vortex Wireless 2

Alesis Vortex Wireless 2; USB/MIDI Keytar Controller with Accelerometer; Portable Performance Keyboard with Shoulder Strap, 37 touch sensitive keys with aftertouch; Eight touch sensitive RGB illuminated Performance Pads, Eight illuminated faders for volume or parameter control; Programmable tilt sensor with...

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Alesis Surge Mesh Kit

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Adam T5V

Active Nearfield Monitor Equipped with: 5" woofer and 1.9" U-ART ribbon tweeter, 2x Class-D amplifiers: 50W RMS woofer, 20W RMS tweeter, Frequency range: 45 - 25000 Hz, Crossover frequency: 3 kHz, Maximum input level: 106 dB (1m/pair), Rear bass...

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Roland R-07 black

Portable MP3 / WAV Recorder with Bluetooth Functionality Stereo recordings up to 24 Bit / 96 kHz in WAV format or up to 396 kbps in MP3 format on microSD / SDHC card, Built-in stereo microphone, Integrated hybrid limiter,...

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Subpac M2X

Subpac M2X, Mobile tactile bass system, SubPac adds real depth, connection and enjoyment to whatever you play through it - your music and media comes to life with the added dimension of physical bass. Frequency Response: 1hz-200hz, Wired Input: 3.5mm...

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€385
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Yamaha Stagepas 600BT

Mini-PA System with Bluetooth Function Consisting of 2x passive 2-way boxes and 10-channel power mixers, Power mixers and speaker cables can be stored in the boxes for transportation, Successor of the Stagepas 600i, Including 2 speaker cables, each 6...

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Arturia Minibrute 2

Arturia Minibrute 2; analog semi-modular Synthesizer; Combination of classic and modular Synthesizer; 25 note Keyboard with Aftertouch; Brute-Oscillator; Steiner-Parker-Filter; additional Loop-Envelope; linear FM; Hardsync; two free assignable LFOs; integrated Step Sequencer; Arpeggiator; 48 point Patchbay; Pitch- and Modulation Wheel; Connections:...

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Heritage Audio HA-73 EQ Elite

Heritage Audio HA-73 EQ Elite; 1-Channel Mic-Preamp wit EQ; based on the 1073; hand wound Carnhill Transformers; 3 stage fully discrete class A mic preamp; max. Gain: 80 dB Mic and 50 dB Line; -20 dB Pad; LO-Z switches the...

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€945
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Focal Listen Professional

Headphones Closed, Circumaural, Conversion technology for acoustic transparency and dynamics, Impedance: 32 ohms, Sensitivity (@ 1 kHz - / 1 Vrms): 122 dB SPL, THD (THD, @ 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL): 0.3%, Frequency range: 5 Hz to...

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Focal Shape Twin

Active Near Field Monitor Tweeter with low directivity for flexible listening position, Closed design with two passive membranes for easy installation near the wall, 2.5-Way concept for optimal control of the bass and lower mids, Optimal integration through extensive...

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€849
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Sound Devices MixPre-3

Sound Devices MixPre-3; portable audio recorder with USB audio interface; 5 tracks: stereo mix + 3 isolated tracks; Kashmir microphone preamp with 76db gain; equivalent Input Noise: 128dBu max (A-weighting, gain=76dB, 150 Ohm source impedance); limiter per channel; low cut...

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€745
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Yamaha Stagepas 400BT

Mini-PA System Bluetooth Function Consisting of 2x passive 2-way boxes and 8-channel power mixers, Power mixers and speaker cables can be stored in the boxes for transportation, Successor of the Stagepas 400i, Including 2 speaker cables, each 6 m...

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€555
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