What is a mic preamp and what does a preamp do?
A microphone preamp is a device that amplifies the microphone signal by adding gain. Most microphones have low levels, and by adding gain it allows the microphone to be heard at the standard sound level, aka line level. Most microphone preamps also provide power to condenser microphones via +48v phantom power.
There are many different mic preamps on the market, and each one can provide a different sound for your recording. This makes finding the right microphone preamp a daunting task to some, but it shouldn’t have to be. For starters, there is no right or wrong answer to choosing the right mic pre. It all comes down to your personal taste, and what kind of sound you are trying to get, and how you want your recordings to come together.
Here is our guide for how to choose the best mic preamp for your needs, and how each Warm Audio mic pre complements each other. While all of our mic pres are workhorses and versatile, we’ve also recommended what to record through them when using them all. This allows you to get the best recordings possible, which ultimately makes mixing easier.
The WA73 series are transformer-based preamps with intricate discrete signal paths. These preamps use large signal transformers and are described as making your recordings sound bigger. “73 style” Carnhill transformer-based preamps are regarded as some of the most desirable preamp choices due to their fluid and forgiving nature. They saturate sweetly when pushed. Use this mic preamp when you want your recordings to really stand out from other clean/basic sounding recordings. “73 style” mic preamps are very versatile and work well with all types of microphones.
Recommended on recording: lead vocals, kick drum, snare drum, bass guitar
Learn more about the WA73, WA73-EQ, WA273, and WA273-EQ.
The WA-412 is a four-channel version of the classic 312 preamp. It has a clean yet very big, punchy low end and a smooth open top end. It is also transformer-based, but with a simplified circuit provides a more streamlined and focused sound. It features discrete op-amp circuitry that is known for high headroom and low distortion. Ultimately, it’s a very versatile preamp, and it is especially great for high numbers of tracks because of its ability to bring everything together without muddiness in the low to mid-range.
Recommended on recording: guitars, piano, drums
Learn more about the WA-412 and WA12 MKII.
TB12 – “Tone Beast”
The TB12 aka “Tone Beast” is also based on the classic 312 preamp circuit, but it adds more flexibility by allowing you to make your recording less clean if desired and gives you the ability to add audible color and distortion. With its Tone Control circuitry, the TB-12 is notorious for having the ability to be pushed very hard and with all its different options it is truly versatile and will provide you as bold or clean of a sound as you want.
Recommended on recording: room mics, background vocals, electric guitar, bass
Learn more about the TB-12 Black.
To learn more about the best microphone preamps by Warm Audio, watch a more in-depth explanation and hear them come together on this episode of In The Mix w/ Joe Carrell: