If your passion for music goes beyond listening to your favorite bands, and you’re looking for musical instruments, you can check it out here and get inspired. However, if you are a musician or simply someone who loves listening to music on their pickup, you might need a preamp. In this post, we are going to focus on the importance of a preamp, how it works, and how it can help you take your sound to the next level.
What Is a Preamp?
The word preamp is actually an abbreviation from preamplifier. This device amplifies the signal it receives from a microphone, instrument or pickup. Whether you need a preamp or not depends on a series of factors.
You can determine if you need this device based on the quality of the sound you obtain by plugging in your instrument or microphone into the amplifier. If you are not satisfied with what you hear and you feel that you require more volume, balance, or if the sound is not smooth enough, you might want to consider a preamp.
Further on, we are going to explain in detail how a preamp works, what the advantages of getting one are and what to look for when purchasing one.
How Does a Preamp Work?
A preamp’s purpose is to control an instrument or mic’s output. To do this, the preamp increases the level of the signal it receives. The preamp boosts the voltage so that the low signals it receives are amplified, which means that the sound becomes louder.
In short, the preamp has to intervene in the input signal’s voltage. It will level the electrical voltage it receives from the source. Once the voltage is equalized, the preamp sends it further as an input signal. After the preamp releases the signal, this will have a standardized line level that is expressed in decibels and is called ‘gain’.
Here is an example to understand better how a preamp works: your microphone’s magnetic field may transmit through its moving coil a signal that is too weak. This weak signal can not be processed by the processing gear. In order to make it loud enough so that the processing gear can run it, you need to increase its voltage, and this is what the preamplifier does.
Furthermore, besides leveling the voltage, certain types of preamplifiers can also manage the balance and the tone. The preamp will also help the signal get rid of the parasitic notes.
If all these sound great and you are already starting to consider getting a preamp, here is what you should know. The preamplifier performs its duty well by amplifying the signal; it connects or provides a bridge between the amplifier and the mic. However, this will not automatically solve your sound-related problems.
In other words, if you are not satisfied with your sound quality, getting a better microphone might be the first step you should consider. Once you are done with that, you can definitely think about getting a preamp.
Basically, a preamp will allow you to maximize the good quality sound your gear already provides. Also, don’t forget that if you want to make the most out of your preamplifier, you should maintain the input gain low enough so that the signal will not clip. This way, the signal your preamp provides you will have clearness.
Why Do I Need a Preamp?
After you’ve read the above explanation on what a preamp is and how it works, it is easy to understand why you need one. A preamp is a device that will offer you a comprehensive solution for amplifying your signal before transmitting it further to the amplifier. The preamp amplifies the signal so that it reaches a sufficient level in order to be accepted by the amplifier.
Afterward, the amplifier’s job is to further amplify the signal so that it can be accepted by loudspeakers or by headphones. In essence, both the preamp and the amplifiers are essential in order to help produce sounds and make them loud enough according to the necessities of each setting.
Technically speaking, the level of signal you receive from your mic is usually lower than the nominal operating level. For this reason, you need more gain. The typical value is usually around 30 to 60 decibels. In some cases, even more than 60 decibels are required. In order to make sure you obtain the necessary value, you need to know how much gain a preamp can offer you.
To sum up, the main reason why you need a preamp is boosting the low signals. Secondly, a preamp can help you clean the signal before sending it to the amplifier so that it sounds better when it gets there. Moreover, preamps can also offer you the possibility to adjust your signal as most of these devices have a volume control function and an equalizer.
In the absence of a preamp, the quality of the sound you want to record can be greatly reduced as the preamp ensures a clearer sound. Most musicians and studio professionals who earn a living by making music agree that quality recording requires the use of a preamp.
What Types of Preamps Are There?
In the case of preamplifiers for microphones, these come readily installed in the mic. If the device is not already installed, it can be plugged in. The same applies to other instruments or pick-ups that are used with a preamp – the preamplifier is simply plugged in.
Some preamps have a different number of channels, while others have a single one. There are also preamps with dual channels. Those that are provided with multiple channels can pick up more than one signal simultaneously. In the case of bands playing different instruments, all the instruments can run through this multiple channel preamp instead of getting more preamplifiers.
There are four general preamp categories for microphones, namely tube preamps, solid-state preamps, hybrid microphone preamps, and channel strip preamps. And here are the basic differences between these 4 groups.
Tube preamps rely on vacuum tubes for signal amplification. The sounds they produce are warm and open.
Solid-state preamps rely on transistors for sound amplification and the sound they provide is usually a clean and transparent one. Moreover, there is reduced distortion with this type of preamp.
Hybrid preamps represent a combination between a tube preamp and a solid-state one. They usually have a solid-state design and provide the warm sound of a solid-state preamp.
A channel strip preamplifier is a combo between a signal processing circuitry and a preamp, forming a whole. They represent a comprehensive option for your recording needs, offering a solution for the entire signal chain and reducing the noise you would deal with if you got individual units.
There are different aspects you should look out for when buying a preamp and we are going to list them further on.
First and foremost, you need to have a specific goal in mind when buying a preamp. If you already understand what a preamp can do for you, it’s time to decide why you need it. If you want a preamp for your mic, you can look for one that fits in the four categories we described above.
However, you might want a preamp for an instrument. In this case, you will be looking for a product that is specifically designed for the type of instrument you’re playing. Even if you can adapt most preamps to different necessities, you will get a different sound quality. This is why your preamp should be designed for one particular purpose.
Getting a clean sound is one of the main features your preamp should have. This characteristic ensures that the sound you record in the microphone is accurately reproduced, which means it is transparent.
Finally, in order to make a good choice, you should always do some prior research. Read what other people say about the preamp you’re considering buying or talk to someone who is more knowledgeable in this field and who can advise you.
If you are serious about making music and turning this passion into a source of profit, you have to invest in the necessary gear. A preamp is one of the devices that will help you get started.