Best Preamps for the Home Studio (Under $1000)
[This article contains affiliate links, As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.]
Let’s say that you have a really solid home recording setup going. You have everything that it takes to get some good sounding track into your DAW. A solid interface, monitors, and a couple of decent mics are already in your arsenal. What’s next? Well, there are a lot of routes you can take, but for many at this stage, it’s time to start looking at upgrading their front-end. In the recording world, the ‘front-end’ simply means what the signal goes through before reaching the DAW. Often, this means hardware gear like preamps, compressors and sometimes EQ. Out of these three things, most would agree the best place to start upgrading is with the preamp. Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “I already have preamps in my interface.” And you would be 100% correct. In reality, everyone that is recording with mics already has a preamp in one shape or another. So, now the question becomes, why would you buy something that you already have?
A lot of the reasoning for purchasing an external mic pre simply comes down to audio quality. While interfaces from companies like Focusrite and Presonus are great devices, they are much more focused on converting the analog mic signal into a digital one. Not to say these internal preamps are bad in any way, their quality is just not on par with most dedicated options.
With all that in mind, let’s start to discuss which preamp might be the right upgrade for your home studio. All the options on this list apply to very different people on very different budgets. Additionally, there are a lot of little things to consider like tube or solid-state and one or multiple pres. Just keep in mind that it is very important to consider your specific application, decide which one of these fits YOUR needs!
ART Pro MPA II - $359.99
To start this list off we have a very affordable product from ART. The Pro MPA II is a 2 channel, fully tube-driven preamp. It’s hard to believe that at this price point something like this can exist, let alone be of any real quality. However, the folks at ART have managed to make this a super solid option considering the price point. While, no you are not getting the highest-end sound from this thing, it does its job and it does it well. Additionally, the feature set on this guy is quite impressive. Both channels have phantom power, 150-3k impedance, a high-pass filter, and +20 dB of gain on tap. These things all add up to making this a rather versatile mic pre. You would be hard-pressed to find a mic that the MPA II can’t handle. Overall, if you want to take the first step in upgrading your recording setup this one is not a bad place to start.
Grace Design m101 - $765.00
The Grace Design m101 is beloved by pros and amateurs alike; nearly everyone has something great to say about it. This solid-state design is clean and accurate as just about anything out there, making any required EQ very easy to work with. The high-end components in the m101 ensure that your money is being translated into sound. This pre comes equipped with a 12-position gold plated gain switch and top-notch driver and HPV amplifiers. Furthermore, ribbon mics are going to work fantastic with this thanks to some of the other built-in features. It is worth noting that, with this pre especially, high-quality mics are going to work best. Regardless, it is hard to argue with the m101.
If you’re that unlucky soul who is trying to mic up a full drum set on a budget, this one’s for you. The OctoPre series from Focusrite is aimed at those who need to do record a lot of things on a budget. With 8 pres in this thing, you should have pretty much any need covered. The amps are solid-state and of good quality think about the price to quantity ratio. Don’t go thinking that these individuals are on par with the other options on this list, this would be impossible at this cost (under $100 per preamp). Nonetheless, this is your best bet if you are micing more than 4 things at once.
Warm Audio WA273 - $999.00
Sitting at right under a grand, the Warm Audio WA273 is among the absolute best 2 channel preamps on the affordable side of things. As a company, Warm Audio is known for their super affordable copies of vintage units. If you know anything about outboard gear, you surely can tell what the WA273 is recreating. You guessed it; the 1073 sound is one of the most iconic ever. While no, this is not a Neve, it is an awesome attempt at capturing that sound. Having the two pres will be preferable to most, but if you just want one, they do offer that spec at about half the cost as well.
Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity - $899.00
We finally come to the only Universal Audio entry on this list. And that is mainly due to the fact that there this is as affordable as a product you will see from the brand. This is with good reason though, stuff from UA has and continues some of the most reliable and quality stuff out there. Their 710 pre holds true to this reputation. . The coolest feature of this preamp is that it is actually both tube and solid-state. The middle knob on the front of the unit lets you blend between a class A FET and class A tube preamp. This versatility in conjunction with the audio quality makes this a killer option for any studio. As a rule of thumb, if it’s got the UA stamp, it’s great.