Which are the best mic preamps for home recording?
You might be just starting out with your studio at home, or perhaps you’re looking to upgrade your front end for better results. Either way, we’ve singled out some of the best mic preamps for home recording.
It goes without saying that most of us are working in the box from a home studio setup, but this doesn’t mean you have to compromise on recording quality.
Like most analogue hardware, good preamps can be costly, and the preamps on the average audio interface don’t offer much in terms of discrete gain, headroom, or tone shaping.
What to look out for:
Each of us has different requirements when it comes to recording. While some simply want more inputs, others have more specialized needs. Whether you are recording vocals, guitars, synths, or even drum machines, you’re going to want decent gain structure on the way in.
You’ll find that many preamps have a different approach to their design and features. From channel strips that provide EQ and compression, to tube and transformer-based preamps that offer saturation and tone colour through the way you use the various gain stages available.
Some microphones require more gain than others, and with the right preamp, increasing the gain doesn’t necessarily mean bringing up the noise floor. Desktop units and 500-series modules are often the best choices for home studios, bearing in mind that you will need a chassis should you opt for a 500-series preamp.
RME QuadMic II
If you are simply looking to expand your front end with additional preamps, the QuadMic II does just that. RME is well known for producing excellent converters and interfaces and the QuadMic is no different.
It’s a simple unit with four XLR combo inputs and each channel separately provides phantom power, a low-cut filter, and a polarity switch.
If you’ve used RME before, you’ll know these preamps offer plenty of discrete gain, making the QuadMic a great choice for your home studio, podcast setup, or rehearsal space.
Elysia skulpter 500
The Skulpter 500 is a complete channel strip for the 500-series format. With Elysia’s modern approach, you get hardware that is well suited to in-the-box music production, rather than another 1073 clone.
Apart from the compressor and adjustable low-cut filter, the Skulpter’s most unique feature is its shape control. This allows you to choose between two preset filter/saturation contours.
While shape one is best for instruments, shape two brings more detail to vocals and you have control over the signal amount that passes through this circuit. The Skulpter is also available as a desktop unit.
Focusrite ISA One
The widely used ISA One offers the perfect entry point into the realm of slightly more professional grade preamps. Modeled on the channel strips from the famous Focusrite Studio Console, the ISA One offers plenty of features and connectivity options.
Apart from the useful headphones out, there is also a cue mix circuit. This means you can create a monitor mix and the insert point allows more hardware to be added into the chain.
In addition, the instrument input has an amp out, which makes this a great choice for guitarists and you can even expand the ISA One with an optional digital conversion module.
Chandler Limited TG2-500
If you want to add vintage character to your guitars and vocals, the TG2-500 is a great way to do it. This is Chandler’s 500-series recreation of the EMI TG12428 pre amp from the legendary consoles used at Abbey Road Studios during the ’60s and ’70s.
The impedance switch gives you the ability to drive all types of mics including ribbons and low output dynamics, and you have two discrete gain controls.
This gives you a good degree of control of your signal on the way in, allowing you to easily shape and flavour the sound to better fit into the mix. The TG2-500 may be pricey, but it’s a great entry point into high-end vintage-style preamps.
SPL Gainstation 1 Premium
The Gainstation 1 Premium is an extremely versatile recording front-end for your studio setup. Although it’s only a single channel unit, it gives you flexible features to colour all types of signals on the way in.
You can individually add two types of gain, and there are two different compressor/limiter circuits to choose from.
The impedance selector switch has three options, making it possible to use a wide variety of microphones. Furthermore, the Gainstation 1 Premium is equipped with Lundahl transformers.
More about preamps:
- All about preamps
- Everything vintage
- Thomann’s guide to mic preamps
- Lundahl transformers
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- RME QuadMic II: RME
- Elysia Skulpter2 qube: Elysia
- Focusrite ISA One with an optional AD conversion module installed.: Focusrite ISA One
- Chandler Limited TG2-500: Chandler Limited
- SPL Gainstation 1 Premium: SPL