For budding audiophiles or those in the midst of assembling their audio system, one audio component that often raises a lot of questions is the preamp. After all, if you already have quality speakers and a powerful amplifier, why do you need this other piece of equipment?
Vintage King audio outfitters and consultants share the basics of a preamp like the Neve 88M, how it works, and why you need one.
Understanding a preamp
Short for ‘preamplifier,’ a preamp is an electronic amplifier that converts a weak electrical signal into a strong output signal. It should be strong enough for further processing or to be sent to a more powerful amplifier or loudspeaker with as little noise as possible.
In general, a preamp is an important part of the signal path for certain instruments like electric guitars and microphones. Thus, you can find dedicated preamps for instruments and microphones, like the Neve 1073SPX Microphone Preamp/EQ.
How does a preamp work?
The initial signal generated by microphones or the pickups in instruments is low output. This is much too quiet to be heard or recorded in any significant way. In that case, a preamp boosts the
mic-level signal to a recordable level without increasing noise or compromising the quality of the recording.
This way, the rest of your equipment in your audio system, like analog-to-digital converters or additional outboard gear, can use the line-level signal for optimal volume and a better signal-to-
In short and to put it simply, a preamp amplifies the quiet, raw sound signals to friendly and nice record-ready volumes.
Types of preamps
In general, there are two types of preamps available. Some preamps are designed to reproduce the sound as cleanly as possible, while others are designed to add a particular sound color to the signal.
The difference has something to do with the circuit designs. Solid-state preamps are designed to provide more transparency, allowing them to accept higher gain levels without creating distortions in the signal. They often use transistor circuits to convert the electrical signal into usable audio waves.
In contrast, preamps made of thermotic tubes or valves are designed to create gain and add significant coloration to the signal with open, relaxed highs and deep bass.
Benefits of using a dedicated preamp
If you’re not yet convinced why you need to use a dedicated preamp, here are some of its benefits you should know about.
1. It improves the sound quality
Using a preamp in your recording studio allows you to produce better sounds, which become more evident at a higher gain setting. Although simple built-in preamp circuits sound fine to an extent, they become more ‘veiled’ once you use more gain.
Using a high-quality dedicated preamp offers more high-tech and complex circuitry that retains transparency even when you turn up the gain level.
2. It reduces noise
Most built-in preamps you’ll find are low-noise. However, if you’re recording from a very quiet source or using a low-output microphone like ribbon mics, a dedicated preamp can help reproduce the sound with less noise. This creates a well-blended audio file without extra interference that can ruin the overall sound.
3. It adds sound character and special sound colour
This is among the popular reasons why audio enthusiasts invest in a preamp. As mentioned before, some preamps can provide a clean audio recording while also adding a special flavor to your recording.
For instance, an external preamp can create a slightly ‘dirty’ tube sound or help smoothen out the ‘vintage’ sound of an old-school transistor audio device.
Since dedicated preamps are available in such a wide range of configurations, you can find something for almost any application or situation. If you want to record the occasional live drums, you can put together a range of rack mount-multi-channel preamps in configurations from 8–32 channels. For aspiring recording artists using a guitar, a simple two-way channel should be enough to meet your needs. For both live sound and studio recording, a preamp is an essential
piece of front-end equipment for their mobile or touring recording rig.
And there you have it! By now, you should have a better understanding of why a dedicated preamp is a must-have piece of equipment in any high-performance AV setup. Whilst budding audiophiles may not need an external preamp just yet, if you want to take the next level toward better sound quality or get more sound variety, then get your audio system a high-quality preamp right away.