Choosing a preamp to go with your microphone is every bit as important as choosing the microphone itself. So what’s the best way to go about it?
But first and foremost, why is a preamp needed? It’s often said that to reach industry-standard professional sound voice-overs you need to invest 50% in a good mic and the other 50% in a good preamp. The microphone preamp usually comes preinstalled within a conventional digital mixer. As all preamps it provides the 48V DC phantom power needed to amplify the audio signal coming from a condenser mic. However the quality of these embedded preamps might not really good enough for a professional use in case you have a cheap condenser mic (under $ 300) with low output signal. Plus this incorporated circuit sometimes has the inconvenience of introducing some electronic noise in the audio signal before it’s actually converted into a digital format.
So we think that the best option is to buy an outboard preamp. For voice-overs you can start with the portable MicPort Pro, very handy and cost-effective ( $ 180). It can be plugged to a computer USB port. It provides phantom power, gain level and a useful inlay to plug your headphones and hear your recording without latency. I know people who use the MicPort Pro with tablets that have USB power.
However if you want to move up in quality, then you should consider a channel strip that includes a simple EQ processor, a De-esser and a Compressor, but these are features that can also be used with your software (Sound Forge, ProTools, etc). Let’s consider this possibility of a decent outboard preamp.
YOU CAN USE MICPORT PRO, AN AFFORDABLE OPTION IDEAL FOR A HOME STUDIO
IF YOUR STUDIO IS NOT A ONE-MAN-SHOW, BUT A PROFESSIONAL ONE, THINK ABOUT A MILLENNIA OR AN AVALON
Here are some tips for a preamp:
- Keep things simple and don’t overspend. Choose a preamp that is easy to use with a single or dual channel that gives you high gain and a clean and crisp signal. If you want warm tones, then get one with a valve.
- Having EQ and Compression in your preamp is great but you don’t really need one with lots of different processing features. There is a danger that you can produce recordings which are over-processed or become distorted. Unless you are a qualified studio engineer and understand all the processing features then it’s best to steer clear.
- Producing a recording that is clean, clear, with no distortion and now noise is what you want from your preamp. Leave any other processing adjustments to the engineers.
- Do some research online and then visit your local audio store and test your microphone with the various preamps that they have and see what sounds best. Listen out for the clarity and the warmth that it gives your voice. You want a microphone and preamp combination that presents your voice loudly and clearly without having to turn the gain up too high.
There are numerous options, styles and features to choose from when selecting a preamp and these cover a wide price range. As with microphones there are no hard and fast industry standards for preamps but there are some great choices out there from manufacturers like Avalon, Focusrite, Millennia and Schoeps. If you want to have a look at the best options available check out the blog page from Mixwerk a German company.
But all you wanted to know about preamps but you didn’t dare ask can actually be found at this superb buying guide from Musiciansfriend.
Getting the microphone and preamp combination correct is key to producing a quality sound so it pays to shop around and find a combination that works for you. Another option is just investing more on top-notch condenser mic that comes with an adapted preamp box.What preamp do you use?
Have you got any other tips that you would like to share? Please let us know.