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The 9 Best Mic Preamps For Recording Vocals (Any Budget)

At a certain level, having good preamps to record high-quality vocals becomes essential. But what are the best mic preamps for recording vocals today? From the most expensive to the most affordable, from the most complete to the most simplistic, I’m going to give you, in this article, a list of the 9 best mic preamps for vocal recording.

Best Mic Preamps For Recording Vocals

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Criteria

Despite the price difference of all these mic preamps, all of them will be able to provide you with an excellent general quality for your vocal recordings. In fact, when you choose a microphone preamp, you should not only take into account the audio rendering. Other criteria, just as important, must also be taken into account so that your final choice perfectly matches your needs.

Here are all the criteria that will be taken into account in this article:

Tone / Character

Character

As you can probably imagine, the tone and character that the microphone preamp can bring to the recorded audio source is clearly the number one criterion.

Indeed, mic preamps that do not bring any additional color and energy to the sound are much less interesting as they would be almost useless in the recording chain.

The best preamps and those that have made the history of music are those that are able to sculpt the sound on their own and whose tone is in tune with what we hear nowadays.

Build Quality

Build Quality

What’s the point of buying a preamp with great audio quality if you’re going to keep it for 1 year? No purpose at all! Unfortunately, the build quality of the hardware gear is a criterion that is too often put aside by today’s sound engineers, producers and musicians.

However, a good build quality allows you to keep your gear for many years, even decades (if your love for music lasts that long!). Putting the construction quality of a preamp in the foreground is therefore potentially making money.

Indeed, it will always be better to spend a little more money for a good build quality than to change every two years a preamp with low quality components and materials.

Value for money

Value For Money

Some mic preamps are very expensive compared to the quality they deliver to their users. On the other hand, some brands underestimate the price and quality of their products. This is more rare, but you have to keep a close eye on this kind of bargains.

Before making any purchase, you should always be aware that the price does not always reflect the quality of the product. And this is even more true in the audio world.

Some big brands know that they have a monopoly and therefore take advantage of it to inflate the prices. But other smaller brands have to prove themselves and make their prices more accessible.

Evaluating this criterion is always important before going further.

Signal to noise ratio

Signal To Noise Ratio

The best preamps on the market are often those with a very good signal to noise ratio. This avoids the build-up of hiss in larger recordings, but also allows for more accurate sound recording.

As a reminder, in audio, the signal-to-noise ratio is the ratio between the background noise generated by the preamp and the strength of the audio signal at base level. The greater the difference, the better the signal to noise ratio.

A poor signal-to-noise ratio will rarely be a problem at the time of recording, but it can become a problem at the time of mixing and especially at mastering. Indeed, with the compression through which the audio signal will pass, the dynamic range will be lower and therefore the background noise more noticeable than at the recording stage.

Meters quality

Meter

Using a mic preamp also means paying special attention to the gain with which you will attack your analog-to-digital converters. This is why quality meters are essential for better recordings.

In the context of voice recording, a good VU meter is always very useful to get an idea of the level in the medium term. But we will see later that other meter types can also do the job!

General quality

In addition to all these interesting criteria, one should also be able to take a more distant view and try to evaluate the general quality of the mic preamp. This can go in all directions: intuitiveness, robustness of knobs and buttons, design of the front panel, quality of the connection, presence of extra parameters or not,…

The “general quality” takes into account all the small aspects of the mic preamp that can be neglected but are still important in the final choice.


We now have everything we need to perform a complete and accurate review of each preamp. Let’s get started!

Note: This article does not present any mic preamp in 500 series format. For the simple reason that having a preamp or any other hardware unit in 500 series format in your studio requires a rack that can accommodate and operate all these units properly. This represents a non-negligible additional cost that would distort the ranking of this list.

Pro Mix Engineer

The 9 best mic preamps for vocals are:

  1. Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity
  2. Chandler Limited REDD.47
  3. AMS Neve 1073N
  4. Focusrite ISA One
  5. Universal Audio Solo 610
  6. Heritage Audio TT-73
  7. Golden Age Project Pre-73 MkIII
  8. DBX 286 S
  9. TritonAudio FetHead

1. Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity

Overview

The Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity is a one channel mic preamp that has one mic input, one line input and one high impedance input (guitars, basses,…).

It also has compressor (1176-style) whose gain reduction depends on the input level. The output level can be managed independently thanks to the level knob.

On the front panel of this Universal Audio preamp are some switches that will allow you to make more precise recordings. In fact, the +48V, Pad (-15 dB), mic/line, meter, low cut filter and phase inverters switches are at the user’s disposal according to the needs.

The 710 Twin-Finity is also equipped with a unique knob that allows you to blend the color of a tube and solid state preamp. This blend can be adjusted with the knob in the middle of the front panel.

Review

This blending is without a doubt what makes this mic preamp unique. Whether it’s through the warmth and robustness of tube amps or the cleanliness and crispness of solid state amps, you’ll always get a rich and uncommon vocal sound.

Overall, this preamp is built with solid materials, the knobs are sturdy, the switches are clear and well spaced, and the VU-meter gives you an accurate idea of the input gain.

This preamp can be easily placed with “luxury” preamps such as those from Neve, Chandler or API. The difference with its high-end competitors is the super affordable price of this 710 Twin-Finity, which makes it win this #1 place in this list.

PROS

✅ Unique tone and character

✅ Great value for money

✅ Integrated 1176-style compressor in the preamplifier

✅ Built with strong and sturdy materials

✅ Integrated VU-meter

❌ CONS ❌

Slight background noise when the gain is pushed a little further

2. Chandler Limited REDD.47

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Chandler Limited REDD.47

Overview

The REDD.47 is a tube mic preamp based on a circuit found in the legendary EMI REDD.51 console. This console was used in the Abbey Road studios in the 60’s and literally shaped the sound of the greatest hits of the time (The Beatles, Pink Floyd and many other great bands of the time).

This imposing preamplifier has one mic input and one line output on the back panel, and a switchable DI input on the front. A little switch on the front panel allows the user to go from mic to DI inout easily.

The REDD.47 has a notched gain knob ranging from a 16 to 52 dB boost, a high pass filter, a knob dedicated to the output gain and a more precise input gain knob ranging from -5 to +5 dB. It also has a pad switch (20dB), a phantom power switch and a reverse polarity switch.

Review

If you’re looking for something that can add character and harmonic richness to your vocal recordings, the REDD.47 is the perfect option for you!

This high quality preamp uses an EF86 vacuum tube, a very rare component in preamps on the market today. This is exactly why the tonal character of this REDD.47 is so special.

On top of that, the quality of the materials and the robustness of the knobs (typical of the original EMI console) are simply excellent and confirm that you are using very high quality material.

PROS

✅ Unique tonal character thanks to the EF86 tube

✅ Adds a slight vintage color to your vocal recordings

✅ Intuitive, simplistic and sober front panel

✅ Very good build quality faithful to the EMI quality of the time

❌ CONS ❌

No meter on the preamp

3. AMS Neve 1073N

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
AMS Neve 1073N

Overview

The Neve 1073N is a mic preamp that has a Jack line input, a Jack DI input, an XLR mic input and an XLR line output.

For the sake of history, the Neve 1073 model has become legendary over the decades since its introduction in the 1970s. This model is considered one of the best preamps on the market for a long time, if not the best.

The 1073N is actually part of a whole series of other products using the same circuitry: the 1073 DPX, OPX, SPX, DPA, LB, DPD,… They differ by their format, their number of inputs and outputs and the processing, notably through the EQ.

On the front of the preamp is a gain knob (+80dB), a low-shelf filter, a one-band EQ, a high-shelf filter and a low-cut filter with adjustable frequency. With the two switches on the right side of the preamp, you can activate or deactivate the EQ and reverse the polarity of the processed signal.

On the rear panel of the 1073N you will find some interesting parameters. You will find a phantom power switch, a -20dB pad and a switch for the input impedance (low/high).

Review

This Neve 1073 model is not legendary for nothing. The sound quality that comes out of it is impressive and will always enhance the vocals you record through this preamp.

Indeed, thanks to its Class A amplifiers, the richness of the signal and the harmonics that come out of it will give you everything you need for a great vocal mix downstream. Through this 1073N, you’ll also find Neve’s signature vintage touch, which sets it apart from its competitors.

The only intriguing element is the switches (48V, pad,…) located on the rear panel, which can become quite annoying if you intend to record different sources frequently.

PROS

✅ Vintage and rich tone very suitable for vocals

✅ High quality frequency processing

✅ Sober and intuitive front panel

✅ Good signal-to-noise ratio

❌ CONS ❌

No meter

Important switches on the rear panel

4. Focusrite ISA One

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Focusrite ISA One

Overview

The Focusrite ISA One is a very well equipped one channel mic preamp that has, on the rear panel, one mic input, 5 line inputs, two send/return inputs and outputs and two line outputs. And on the front, a DI input, a headphone input and a thru output to send the DI signal to an amp.

The ISA One has everything you need to shape the sound you want: +30dB switch, +48V switch, phase inverter, high pass filter and insert activation. You can also select the input type of input 1 and change its impedance to find the color and tone you need.

As for the knobs, you’ll find a gain knob notched in 10dB steps, a trim knob to fine-tune the input gain, a dedicated DI input gain knob and a headphone volume knob. There is also a VU meter in the center of the interface.

You also have the possibility to add an external digital card to use the ISA One as an ADAT expander.

ℹ️ Using ADAT preamps in your studio can really boost your productivity, more than you think! I’ll tell you more right here: Which ADAT Preamp To Use With Your Apollo Interface?

Review

This Focusrite preamp is probably the most complete among all its competitors. It is also one of the most accurate for voice recording. The switches allowing you to adjust your takes and the VU meter to have a precise idea of the average level.

This ISA One, whose success increases every year, is impressive both in terms of the quality of the sound it delivers and in terms of its modulability. And even if it is not its main purpose, this preamp can be an ideal tool for recording guitar-vocals.

The variable impedance of the mic input is also a big advantage of this mic preamp, as it will allow you to modify the color and character of the vocals you record according to your precise needs.

PROS

✅ Super complete mic preamp

✅ VU meter in the center of the front panel

✅ Insert outputs and inputs

✅ Variable impedance

❌ CONS ❌

Does not give much character to the vocals

Need a professional sound engineer specializing in pop and hip-hop mixing ? Great! Take a look at our services and let’s blow up your career together!
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5. Universal Audio Solo 610

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Universal Audio Solo 610

Overview

The Universal Audio Solo 610 is a tube mic preamp with one mic input and line output on the back and one DI input and thru output on the front panel. This model is based on the circuitry of Universal Audio’s legendary 610 console, which made some of the biggest hits of the 1960s in the US.

Although this preamp looks very similar to Focusrite’s ISA One in its portability and numerous switches, its audio characteristics are quite different.

The Solo 610 has tube processing, which means that the output will always be more aggressive but also warmer and richer than other preamps such as solid state ones. Characteristics often desired in vocal recording.

Review

Where the Solo 610 scores big is in the control of tube distortion. By adjusting the gain and level knob on the front panel correctly, you can indeed enjoy the rich vintage tone of the tubes without saturating your downstream converters. It’s just great luxury!

Thanks to the numerous switches available to the user, you can also adjust the input impedance, activate or deactivate the phantom power and the low-cut filter and reverse the polarity of the incoming signal.

In addition, the interface is very airy and the gain and level knobs allow you to capture all your future vocals with great precision.

With this mic preamp in your hands, you’ll be able to achieve crisp, harmonically rich audio that will impress both you and your clients.

PROS

✅ Rich and vintage tone

✅ Possibility to adjust the amount of tube color

✅ Airy and well-designed interface

✅ Lots of adjustable parameters

✅ Great build quality

❌ CONS ❌

“Cheap” gain meter

6. Heritage Audio TT-73

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Heritage Audio TT-73

Overview

The Heritage Audio TT-73 is a Class 1-channel preamp that has one mic input, one line input, one DI input (on the front panel), one line output and one thru output connected to the DI input.

This mic preamp, being on the market for a short time, is in fact a clone of the Neve 1073 model. Besides the components, it is also the format that changes. Heritage Audio has indeed opted for a desktop format for a better transportability and accessibility.

Review

The main advantage of the TT-73 (as it is the case on other mic preamps of this list), is the possibility to saturate the input with the gain knob and then to adjust the output level with the level knob. This allows either to emphasize the clarity and the purity of the vocals. Or to capture more warmth, aggressiveness and punch by pushing the gain knob.

Its numerous switchable parameters also allow you to sculpt the sound of your vocals in detail: impedance variability, -20dB pad, phase inverter, phantom power,… It’s all there!

Although the components of this TT-73 make a sound that is close to the 1073 (for half the price), the Heritage Audio mic preamp has, in my opinion, one major problem: its build quality. Everything seems to be very cheap and of poor quality, especially the knobs and the switch buttons. This does not necessarily give confidence in the life span of the device!

This gives a good quality product which offers to its users a rich and powerful sound, but whose value for money leaves something to be desired in my view.

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PROS

✅ Audio quality close from the original unit (Neve 1073)

✅ Practical and handful format (dekstop)

✅ High input gain range (80 dB)

✅ Good signal-to-noise ratio (depending on the balance between the gain and the level knob)

❌ CONS ❌

Fairly poor build quality (for the price)

No gain meter

7. Golden Age Project Pre-73 MkIII

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Golden Age Project Pre-73 MkIII

Overview

The Golden Age Project Pre-73 MkIII (okay that’s a pretty long name) is a mic preamp designed more for use in semi-pro environments. It has one mic input, one line output in XLR, one line output in Jack, and an insert input/output. It also has a DI input on the front panel.

As the name suggests, this mic preamp is designed to mimic the color and tone of the legendary 1073. At a more affordable price of course (10 times cheaper!). Does this mean that it is 10 times less qualitative than the Neve 1073 for vocal recording? Well… not really!

Review

Like many of the other preamps on this list, the Pre-73 MkIII has a separate input gain and level knob to control the presence or absence of saturation in the recording.

Although the quality of the components is not as good as the Neve 1073, the contribution of this saturation in small measures is always interesting on vocals. This is a big advantage for such an affordable hardware unit!

What is also very cool and particularly adapted to vocal recording is the little air switch. It allows you to add a little boost in the high end of the spectrum and to open up the source a little. You can choose between +3dB (Air 1) or +6dB (Air 2) at 30 kHz.

What is impressive about this preamp is its build quality. The switches are solid, the knobs are robust, the buttons look good (even if in plastic), the chassis is well designed,… All this gives a very professional image of this Pre-73 MkIII.

PROS

✅ Very good build quality

✅ Nice vintage sound rendering

✅ Adjustable amount of saturation

✅ Good value for money

❌ CONS ❌

Doesn’t add harmonic richness

8. DBX 286 S

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
DBX 286 S

Overview

The DBX 286 S is a mic preamp with one XLR mic input, one Jack line input, one Jack insert input/output and one Jack line output.

In addition to the 60 dB range, this DBX preamp has several processing stages, designed for vocal recording. You will find a compressor, a de-esser, an enhancer, an axpander / gate and an output gain knob.

It also has two switches on its front panel that allow you to activate or not the 48V phantom power and a high-pass located at 80 Hz.

Review

If you have a home studio and do a lot of vocal recording there, this 286 S is for you. It will allow you to boost the signal of your microphone in a very clean way and with a fairly good signal to noise ratio.

This DBX preamp is probably not the kind of tool that will give character and punch to your vocals. But the gain processing is quite good and will reproduce the sound of your mic very well.

Moreover, if you use the built-in processing (de-esser, compressors, etc,…) you could have a better sound than with many badly used mic preamps.

For the quality it delivers, the DBX 286 S is well worth its price and should be the number one option if you want a first preamp in your studio.

PROS

✅ Super complete processing (compression, de-essing, expanding,…)

✅ Amazing quality for the price

✅ Good build quality for an affordable mic preamp

❌ CONS ❌

Does not add character or energy to the source

Poor transient response

9. TritonAudio FetHead

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
TritonAudio FetHead

Overview

The TritonAudio FetHead is a small head which has an XLR mic input and an XLR line output too. Between the two, a small mic preamp with a range of 27dB.

Review

This little head can’t really be considered a mic preamp. It is often used as a “pre-preamp” in the pro world. But its efficiency clearly deserves a place in this list.

No, it’s clearly not worth the best mic preamps on this list. But keep in mind that you can carry this little gain booster… in your pocket! I find this crazy!

Moreover, the boost operated by the FetHead is very clean and does not degrade the initial quality of the signal coming out of the mic. On mics with a low output gain such as the Shure Sm7b, this little head can save your life!

It is important to note that, if you want to use the FetHead on a condenser mic, you will have to choose the Phantom version to take advantage of the +48V signal it provides.

PROS

✅ Super convenient and efficient

✅ Good gain boost quality

✅ Robust and strong

❌ CONS ❌

Low boost range

Need a professional sound engineer specializing in pop and hip-hop mixing ? Great! Take a look at our services and let’s blow up your career together!
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Conclusion

Despite the similarity of the mic preamps available on the audio market, they differ in many ways. The quality of the components of each preamp, the quality of construction, the tone brought to the recorded source, their boost range, the amount of adjustable parameters are the main elements that differentiate these mic preamps.

All of them will be able to reproduce the signal coming out of your mic with precision, but few of them are able to add energy, character and punch. This is the difference between high quality mic preamps and low quality mic preamps.

If you are active in vocal recording, I recommend you to invest in a mic preamp, the change of tone could impress you… really hard! But don’t spend thousands of dollars if you don’t need it. The hardware gear you buy should always be directly related to your level in the music industry.

If you have any questions about this topic or about anything in the field of vocal recording and mixing, please contact me, I’m always very happy to help!


My favorite tools for mixing pop and hip-hop music:

Plugins

In the field of auto-tune, I’m convinced that nothing’s better and more efficient than Antares Auto-Tune Pro. As for the EQ’s, FabFilter Pro-Q3 and Slate Digital Infinity EQ are, in my opinion, the best tools. For compression, I have 2 favorites plugins: Waves RComp and UAD EL8 Distressor.

As for reverb, I’m a big fan of the Soundtoys Little Plate, but generally, I go for the Valhalla VintageVerb for its versatility. I also love the Arturia Rev PLATE-140 and the UAD Pure Plate for its organic side.

Headphones

The closed headphones I love and will always love using for mixing pop and hip-hop music are the Beyerdynamic DT-770. As for the best open-back headphones, I use the Sennheiser HD600 headphones, and I’m really happy of them!

Monitors

Having a pair of Yamaha HS7 in its studio or home studio is always cool for more excitement while listening to your mixes. The Adam Audio T7V monitors are also super accurate. In my studio, I also have a pair of Genelec 8030 for their reliability.

Hardware gear

For anyone who wants to start using hardware in their mixes, I always recommend these 2 units from Klark Teknik: the EQP-KT and the 76-KT. Don’t forget to use good converters, such as the Apollo interfaces. This is essential for a good rendering.

Related Articles:

Which ADAT Preamp To Use With Your Apollo Interface?
IDeez

IDeez (real name Gauthier Claude) is the owner and head engineer of IDeez Studio. He has been working as a mixing engineer in pop and hip-hop music for several years and collaborates with many artists and independent labels around the world. His goal is to provide quality online mixing services and to teach, through his blog posts, the principles and techniques of mixing in pop and hip-hop music.

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IDeez

About IDeez

IDeez is the head sound engineer of IDeez Studio. He studied BA and MA in sound engineering at IAD (Belgium) and has been a specialist in vocal mixing for several years, especially in pop and hip-hop music. His goal is to help artists, rappers and singers in their mixing process through online mixing services, tutorials, blog articles and e-books. Contact him for any information!

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