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.
How to use a mic preamp
The mic preamp is one of the most important gear pieces that you will need to have in your studio since the improvements it can make to the sound quality are quite impressive. But what is a preamp for microphones, and how does a preamp work?
The job of a preamplifier is to take the signal from your microphone and boost it to a level that is high enough to be used by the rest of the equipment in your studio. This equipment includes the recording software that you are using and the studio computer. Without a preamp, it is very difficult to record anything at a professional level from your microphone.
We’ve seen many people asking “do I need a preamp when recording with a mic?” and the answer is always yes since this piece of equipment is essential whether you’re recording in a professional or home studio. After getting a mic preamp, the next step is learning how to use it.
Most digital and analog mixing desks have a microphone preamp at the XLR input connection of each of the input channels. Moreover, audio interfaces also have a built-in mic preamp for each XLR input. While preamps may come preinstalled in your mixing desk or audio interface, it is always best to buy one separately.
That’s because the two elements that affect the tonal quality of the recordings are the preamp and the microphone, so it makes sense to invest in a high-quality studio preamp instead of relying on the one that comes as a part of your gear.
Once you have your hands on a preamp, the first step is to organize all the components in your studio for a correct hookup. The standard order requires you to plug the microphone into the mic preamp, then plug the preamp into the mixer, and finally the mixer into the recording module.
To connect the recording preamp to the mixer, you will need to run a cable from the output jack of the mic preamp to the input jack on the mixer. You can achieve this either with an XLR cable or with a shielded ¼-inch component/instrument cable. Do keep in mind that certain mixers will continue to use their internal preamp if you use an XLR cable.
To make sure that the mixer will use your preamp, you will need to check with the manual. You will also need to make sure that the phantom power on the mixer is turned off.
The next step is to connect the microphone to the preamplifier while the preamp is connected to the mixer. Simply connect the mic to the preamp using an XLR cable. After you’ve done this, you will need to test for a signal and then set the levels on the mixer.
If the connection is done well, the level signal indicator on the mixer should barely or not bounce at all into the red. This means that the signal is optimal without distortions.
The final step you will need to take is to connect to a recording module since the mixer is not the final destination for the signal. The mixer is where, you’ve guessed it, the signal gets mixed. You can add gain, boost the high, mid, or low frequency, and so on.
However, from the mixer, the signal needs to go to a recording module. Most home studios use computer-based recording applications, such as GarageBand or ProTools. To connect an external mixer to one of these software applications, you will need to use an audio interface.
What does a preamp do for home audio?
If you’ve spent a significant amount of money building your home audio setup and you have quality speakers and a powerful amplifier, do you need another piece of equipment? The answer is yes since a preamp is a very important piece of equipment in any high-performance AV setups. So what is the purpose of a preamp for home audio?
In a home theater system, a preamp serves two very important functions. It is the component that’s in charge of swapping between multiple line-level sources, and it also takes the signal and boosts it before it gets sent to the amplifier. This means that a weak electrical signal will get boosted and become strong enough to be processed.
This helps the audio system produce a cleaner output, and it eliminates noise. Most high-quality AV receivers come integrated with a preamp built-in, and for the average user, a dedicated preamp is not required.
However, if you are a home theater enthusiast, a home audio setup that includes both an audio preamplifier and an amplifier can deliver fuller and richer sound with no or minimal distortion.
A preamp is also beneficial to your setup if you have different sources to connect to your home audio system. The more sources that you plan to connect, the more that a preamp will benefit you. In such a situation, the preamp will act as the control center for all the audio players, and it will provide improved performance and a true audiophile sound.
When choosing a preamp for your home audio system, you will need to focus on models that offer support for all the latest entertainment devices and audio sources. It should be compatible with all the popular 3D audio formats, such as DRS:X, Auro-3D, and Dolby Atmos.
You can also consider purchasing a preamp with wireless capabilities so that you can create a multi-room system. However, when purchasing a wireless preamp, you will need to make sure that it can work with the rest of the equipment in your home audio setup.
To conclude, the right preamp can make a huge difference for home audio, and it is a purchase that is worth every penny since it exceeds the capabilities of the preamp that comes included in the average AV receiver.
Can you use a preamp as an amplifier?
For the average person, it may seem difficult to understand the differences between these two pieces of equipment. However, in order to answer this question, we need to take a closer look at a preamplifier vs. amplifier comparison. While they do similar tasks, their roles couldn’t be more different.
A preamp boosts the weaker signal at the line level. The line level is the sound level at which all signals need to enter the amplifier to be heard on the speaker. A microphone is the simplest example of a weak signal that may need to be boosted by a preamp. Once boosted, the signals are sent to the amplifier. The amplifier then boosts the signal even further.
Thus, the answer to the question is no. That’s because an audio preamp doesn’t work with as much power as an amp, and this means that it can’t boost the signal enough on its own to be heard on the speakers. The transformers inside a preamp are considerably weaker than those found in an amp. This is also why you can’t use a preamp without an amplifier.
Where should you place the preamp?
With questions such as “what does a preamplifier do?” now answered, there’s one last thing that you might wonder, and that’s where you should place it. Do you leave it on the floor? Do you keep it close to the mixer? What do you do with it?
For people who have experience with this device, this may sound like a silly question to ask, but it is a question that people who are just starting may have on their minds. The best place for the preamp is early in the signal chain, and this means as close to the input device as possible.
This will allow it to receive weak signals and boost them more quickly and efficiently. Whether you’re connected to a microphone or an instrument, you will want the signal from the device to go directly into the preamplifier without any other interference or distortions along the way.
Thus, to be clearer, you need to plug the instrument or microphone into the preamp, and the preamp will then lead straight to the power amp. After this, the signal can pass through a large number of other devices such as mixing consoles, audio interfaces, and such.
It doesn’t matter how many other devices are in the circuit, what is important and makes the most sense is to have the preamp as close to the input as your setup allows.
You might be tempted to purchase a preamp/amp combination since these are generally available for cheaper, but they are not recommended for professional use. That’s because, as we mentioned earlier, the preamp requires considerably less energy since it is designed to pick up low signals.
A power amplifier, on the other hand, uses a significant amount of energy, especially when compared to the average preamp. This means that a preamp/amp combination can do more harm than good since the preamp will most likely pick up the noises coming from the power amp, which will end up distorting the sound.
For the average person, this might not be a big problem, but if you plan to record audio at a professional level, not having a standalone preamplifier can ruin the sound, and it will be hard to fix this in post-production.