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The Press Desk 19th December 2016 08:13 PM

Ten Preamps to expand your Audio Interface from $150 to $800
 
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Today’s audio interfaces have amazing sound quality, with great mic preamps in many cases, but they’re usually tend to be 'clean' sounding (some would even say 'a bit boring') and there’s also a few high-end interfaces with no preamps whatsoever. We’ve gone through many threads and have also consulted with our membership on how to address this issue - we've come up with a list of ten preamps (in alphabetical order by model name) to add some flavours (besides 'vanilla') to your recording setup.


 Auteur MkII

Black Lion Audio Auteur MkII

Black Lion Audio is well-known for their audio interface modifications that seek to improve their sound by replacing critical components in the signal path, but they’re also building some interesting outboard equipment of their own and one of their most talked-about pieces is the Auteur MKII. This two-channel preamp is based on a classic American recording console design, delivering up to 65 dB of gain via its Edcor output transformer. The Auteur is a very straightforward to use unit - all you have to do is plug in the mic, set the input gain and start recording, but it also features buttons for the output attenuation pad (10 dB), phase switch, and +48V phantom power - all packed into a half rack unit, which means you can have four channels of fine pre-amplification on a single 19” slot. Definitely a great choice that delivers a big bang for a relatively small buck. Also available as a 500-series module.



 Cloudlifter CL-1

Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1

The Cloudlifter CL1 is not exactly a traditional preamp - it’s a “in-line” preamp that sits between the microphone and the actual mic preamp to simply deliver +25dB of pure, noiseless gain. Our members frequently recommend the CL1 as a handy device that can give your current mics a little boost and thus it earns a spot on our list. Here’s how the CL1 might come into play: you have an interface with a great monitoring section and good line-level inputs, but the pres are kind of faint when you need more gain for a ribbon mic, a hungry dynamic mic (I’m looking at you, SM7!) - or if you just feel like the preamp is struggling under higher input gains. That’s when Cloudlifter enters the game - it boosts the signal before it reaches your preamp so the preamp can work within its optimal range. It’s also relatively affordable, so it's a worthy addition to any studio dealing with dynamic or ribbon microphones as mentioned. Also available as a two-channel (CL2) version.



 ISA One Analogue

Focusrite ISA One Analogue

The ISA One is widely appreciated on Gearslutz and a rare consensus when it comes to somewhat affordable mic preamps. This single-channel unit is basically a channel strip (minus the dynamics and EQ) taken from the Focusrite Studio Console, the acclaimed AIR Studios console from the 1980s designed by none other than Mr. Rupert Neve himself. The ISA One is a feature-rich unit with more than a few tricks up its sleeve: XLR/TRS connectors for input/output, a quality front-panel DI with an 'Amp' output, +48V phantom power, switchable impedance to correctly match any source input (or mismatch for creative effect), an insert point for external effects, a stereo cue mix input for monitoring, a headphone output, a VU meter with variable calibration + 6-LED input/output peak meters and also an optional analog-to-digital converter card. Everything is mounted in a sturdy metal chassis that’s built to last a lifetime - and is also nicely portable. If you want an extra channel still and have a bit more to spare Focusrite also offers the ISA Two, a two-channel unit with slightly fewer features but assembled in a rack-friendly (1U/19”) format.



 Mic Pre One

Daking Audio Mic Pre One

According to Daking, the Mic Pre One was designed especially with the home recording crowd in mind, but on offer is a single-channel preamp that’s so well built that many professionals have adopted it as their “go-to” pre. The One delivers up to 70 dB of gain with top notch electronics, it’s equipped with variable input gain, a variable high-pass filter up to 200 Hz, high-resolution input metering on 20 LEDs, buttons for a gain pad (-20 dB), phase flip, +48V and input selection (via rear XLR or front TRS). It’s also a very sturdy unit, with a steel housing that’s strong and portable enough for the road. The Mic Pre One will very likely outclass the pre on your current interface and there’s a good chance that it will 'survive' your future upgrades to serve you for a lifetime. Also available as a 19” rack format with 4-band EQ.



 PC01

Seventh Circle Audio PC01

Seventh Circle Audio (SCA) has garnered quite a reputation among our users, with high quality and affordable preamps. Pictured above is the PC01, which is a single-channel chassis that can house four different preamp designs which are all based on reputable industry-proven designs. All four share the same set of controls, with input gain, output trim, frontal DI input, rear XLR input/output, switches for +48V, input pad, polarity flip and input impedance. If you’re up for some basic soldering and assembly, SCA also offer a number of different preamp kits which come "unbuilt", and as such can be a very cost-effective alternative, so make sure to check them out if you’re willing to put in a little work yourself. A bigger rack with up to eight slots is also offered, which might be great for those with higher input channel requirements.



 Pre-73 MKIII

Golden Age Project Pre-73 MKIII

The Golden Age Project (GAP) Pre-73 MKIII is a single-channel preamp based on a vintage British recording console. This unit offers a line/mic switch with input gain control (up to 80 dB of gain), two impedance options (300 and 1200 ohms), a Hi-Z TS input for instruments on the front panel, an insert point for external processors, a polarity flip button and a ubiquitous +48V phantom power button. GAP offers two variations of the Pre-73, so if your budget is tight you might consider the PRE-73 JR, which is a bare-bones preamp at a lower price, or if the funds allows there’s the PRE-73 DLX, which adds a high-pass filter with variable frequency selection and an output attenuator that makes driving the input signal for extra color a bit easier. All great choices to add some classic tones to your setup without breaking the bank.



 Pro MPA II

ART Pro Audio Pro MPA II

Art’s Pro MPA II is the second iteration of this popular dual-channel 19” two rack space mic preamp, with an improved circuit, a reworked faceplate and previously unavailable features such as variable input impedance (150 to 2400 ohms), two options for plate voltage, a frontal Hi-Z instrument input and interestingly, a mid-side matrix control. The MPA II is equipped with two big VU input meters, eight LEDs to indicate tube warmth, a variable high-pass filter from 7.5 to 300 Hz, dedicated gain/output controls, XLR inputs and XLR/TRS outputs on the rear side. The MPA II is a tube preamp, which means you can swap out the tubes to your liking too, and with the variable impedance and plate voltage it opens up a surprising amount of flexibility for the price-point. Definitely worth-considering alternative in the low budget department.



 TB12 Tone Beast

Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast

The Tone Beast is all about getting good colour and rich-sounding tones. It packs two Cinemag transformers and two op-amps that can be swapped out for even more sonic variation. Even if you stick to the default configuration you’re set for lots of flexibility via the set of parameters provided by the “Tone Control” section of the front panel, which allows for a number of useful tweaks in the signal path to control the distortion. The TB12 also features convenient XLR/TRS inputs on both the front and rear side, a balanced TRS/XLR output, an insert for external processors, and buttons for +48V, polarity flip, HP filter (80 Hz), -20 dB pad, and Hi-Z for the instrument input and mic/line input selection. This box is definitely a solid pick if you’re after a preamp with a lot of tricks up its sleeve.



 WA12

Warm Audio WA12

Warm Audio has delivered an almost ridiculous value proposal with the WA12, a single channel unit that's also based on mic preamps from a revered American console. The WA12 features a combo XLR/TRS input and XLR output on the rear panel, front panel Hi-Z instrument input, +48V phantom power, output gain pad, polarity flip and a “tone” button that switches the input impedance from 150 to 600 ohms. This distinctively orange unit has a small footprint (half 19” rack) but it packs a lot of gain (up to 71dB) and comes equipped with acclaimed USA Cinemag input/output transformers for a pleasantly coloured tone. A great choice for an exciting preamp that won’t shred your savings account.



 710 Twin-Finity

Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity

This single-channel preamp has an interesting combination of tube and solid-state signal paths, and the coolest part is that it can do anything 'in between' those two paths with the knob at its centre. The 710 “Twin-Finity” delivers up to 70 dB of gain and comes with input gain/output level controls, a front instrument input, a rear XLR line/mic input & XLR line output, a VU meter that can be set to measure the output or the input’s drive, switches for the 15 dB pad, high-pass filter (75 Hz), mic/line input selection and phase inversion. It’s housed on an elegant steel chassis that allows for two units to be assembled side by side on two 19” rack slots. The Twin-Finity is made by none other than Universal Audio, so it’s assured to be built with premium components for great quality through and through. If money is not a problem and you really want the authentic Bill Putnam tube preamp sound then also consider the UA SOLO 610, which is widely regarded as one of the best tube preamps out there.



We know that the choice of a preamp is a very personal one and that it goes hand in hand with the choice of microphone, so please share your setup with us. What interfaces are you expanding and improving with external preamps?

For more on preamps and recording equipment discussion please visit: https://www.gearslutz.com/board/so-m...o-little-time/

Nickyt3693 19th January 2017 08:56 PM

Presonus FireStudio
 
Hello,

I currently have a presonus fire studio. I would like to get a better sound out of my recordings and would like to get pointed in the right direction.

Would it make sense to trash this interface and get a better quality interface for a little more $$$$, for example I have been considering the Apollo. BUT, if I can get just as good of a sound by simply adding a nice preamp to the firestudio i would do that as well.

PLZ help!!! Want to make sure i make the best/cost effective decision here

Diogo C 20th January 2017 01:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nickyt3693 (Post 12389443)
Hello,

I currently have a presonus fire studio. I would like to get a better sound out of my recordings and would like to get pointed in the right direction.

Would it make sense to trash this interface and get a better quality interface for a little more $$$$, for example I have been considering the Apollo. BUT, if I can get just as good of a sound by simply adding a nice preamp to the firestudio i would do that as well.

PLZ help!!! Want to make sure i make the best/cost effective decision here

Which Firestudio model you have mate?

The Apollo would certainly bring other nice things, such as the Unison preamps and mixing with UAD plug-ins.

Cheers

Nickyt3693 21st January 2017 05:35 AM

I have the Firestudio Project (8 mic outputs). Should I trash that and go for the Apollo? Or...would just adding a nicer preamp to my Firestudio help the quality.

Diogo C 21st January 2017 04:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nickyt3693 (Post 12393418)
I have the Firestudio Project (8 mic outputs). Should I trash that and go for the Apollo? Or...would just adding a nicer preamp to my Firestudio help the quality.

That depends on a few things. First is - can you bypass the Firestudio preamps? If you can't then there the option would be to have the pre going through the send/return - if you can tap signal from there of course! That was the case with my old Steinberg MR816. Final option would be to use the SPDIF but that would required another converter, not an ideal solution in terms of cost I believe.

I think the Apollo would likely offer better conversion and preamps, so that would probably mean a quality bump, not to mention having more recent interfacing from Thunderbolt. Firewire's days seems to be running short so that's something to be taken into account as well, so a TB Apollo seems to be a more "future-proof" option at this point.

Enlightened Hand 28th January 2017 09:30 PM

I find it's most helpful to think in terms of the entire input chain when you're going for the best recordings that you can get. So for me the questions start with:

What room?
What instruments?
What instrument configurations? (depending on the instruments, eq, etc)
How are the instruments being performed? (does it serve the sonic goals)
What mics?
What pickup patterns on the mics?
What placement of the mics?

After I'm clear on that stuff I think about the preamps and interface stuff. Many people make the choice of not fully understanding the list above and then they reach for another tool to get them out of the wilderness. That strategy leads to long lasting disappointment.

There are several audio interfaces today that sound just fine and I agree that the Apollo is a good choice. But there should be no reason, aside from your unit being broken, that you can't get a great sounding recording out of a Firestudio.

Trashjive 25th February 2017 06:13 PM

Get yourself some nice Mic-Pre's. This will make more sense, and keeps you flexible❣

Diogo C 3rd March 2017 07:30 PM

Totally agree with Enlightened Hand. Great post! kfhkh

samsteeno 14th March 2017 12:07 PM

get a WA412 and have 4 awesome API preamps for $1200
grab 4 nice mics and an interface and you can track anything easily with good technique
DI inputs on each preamp too, ready for anything

if I was only doing vocals, I would have a nice little 500 series vocal chain and 2 contrasting nice vocal mics.. and you could be competing with the best in the business

example 500 series rack:
Avedis MA5 (used)
DIYRE EQP5 or CAPI BT50
DIY JLM LA500

+ new WA87 for example... that whole setup is only ~$2000 with some DIY

ohmstorm 4th April 2017 07:48 AM

8 unit of vintage SSL with transformers ,

(so expensive in 80' age because "deluxe" model)

very cool preamps and compact as well .

also part of the 24ch summ unit setup i built.

zarven kara 18th April 2017 06:18 AM

Mic Pre's
 
There really isn't a one size fits all for mic pre's it really depends what you will be recording the most. Ive done a small video on different types of mic pre's check it out it might help you choose wisely....

https://www.reeltoreelstudios.com/si...Should-You-Buy

ChanceCold 10th May 2017 08:43 PM

I recently overhauled my home studio and purchased the Apollo MKII Twin, a TLM 103, and an SPL Track One Channel Strip. I was so very underwhelmed by the SPL Track One, so much so that I am nearly decided on sending it back and replacing it with the UA SOLO 610 or 710 Twin-Finity. I am seeking pointers on this decision, even created my own thread but have gotten no response (probably because I have not really learned what to do here on Gearslutz, lol). Anyway, my feeling is that the TLM 103 will really shine on a Tube Pre more than Solid State (and that is based off of all my work with a U87 through an LA-610, which are both out of range for me). Is it not the pre and should I have gone with the C-414 over the 103? I do almost exclusively vocals (80% hip hop, 20% male/female vox). I also already have a baby bottle, a reactor, and the Avantone CV-12 Tube Mic. Any thoughts will be appreciated. boingboingboing

Diogo C 11th May 2017 03:12 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ChanceCold (Post 12617508)
I recently overhauled my home studio and purchased the Apollo MKII Twin, a TLM 103, and an SPL Track One Channel Strip. I was so very underwhelmed by the SPL Track One, so much so that I am nearly decided on sending it back and replacing it with the UA SOLO 610 or 710 Twin-Finity. I am seeking pointers on this decision, even created my own thread but have gotten no response (probably because I have not really learned what to do here on Gearslutz, lol). Anyway, my feeling is that the TLM 103 will really shine on a Tube Pre more than Solid State (and that is based off of all my work with a U87 through an LA-610, which are both out of range for me). Is it not the pre and should I have gone with the C-414 over the 103? I do almost exclusively vocals (80% hip hop, 20% male/female vox). I also already have a baby bottle, a reactor, and the Avantone CV-12 Tube Mic. Any thoughts will be appreciated. boingboingboing

I've checked your thread and it's on the right place - wait a few days to see if anyone replies, maybe give it a little bump after that.

The search function is your friend, maybe there are past threads that may not be exactly about your issue but can still help you out, like these two:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/rap-...tlm-103-a.html

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/newb...binations.html

kfhkh

ChanceCold 11th May 2017 09:14 PM

Thanks a LOT for that response. I've already seen those threads. I'm on a time crunch, I only have 30 days to return the SPL Track One I purchased to trade for 610 or 710. Thanks for the response tho!!!

Quote:

Originally Posted by diogo_c (Post 12618105)
I've checked your thread and it's on the right place - wait a few days to see if anyone replies, maybe give it a little bump after that.

The search function is your friend, maybe there are past threads that may not be exactly about your issue but can still help you out, like these two:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/rap-...tlm-103-a.html

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/newb...binations.html

kfhkh


Patrick_ 16th May 2017 12:22 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ChanceCold (Post 12617508)
I recently overhauled my home studio and purchased the Apollo MKII Twin, a TLM 103, and an SPL Track One Channel Strip. I was so very underwhelmed by the SPL Track One, so much so that I am nearly decided on sending it back and replacing it with the UA SOLO 610 or 710 Twin-Finity. I am seeking pointers on this decision, even created my own thread but have gotten no response (probably because I have not really learned what to do here on Gearslutz, lol). Anyway, my feeling is that the TLM 103 will really shine on a Tube Pre more than Solid State (and that is based off of all my work with a U87 through an LA-610, which are both out of range for me). Is it not the pre and should I have gone with the C-414 over the 103? I do almost exclusively vocals (80% hip hop, 20% male/female vox). I also already have a baby bottle, a reactor, and the Avantone CV-12 Tube Mic. Any thoughts will be appreciated. boingboingboing

I've picked up a gap 73 mk3, UA 710, and TONE BEAST recently and let me tell you. The GAP and UA Has earned its place in my setup. I LOVE THEM!

I am into the 1990's hip hop and use a twin also. I love that phat vintage boom bap sound and with those 2 I got it.

Drumer3914 25th January 2018 06:18 PM

I have a tascam us1800 really no complaints for a good all around IO but would like to maybe enhance my headroom a bit . I need at least 8 mix pres for tracking drums , iam considering the claret octopre any thoughts would be awesome

Dysanfel 28th January 2018 05:19 AM

There is nothing on the market today that can compare to my JoeMeek SixQ I got for under $200 used. I highly recommend this low budget channel strip.

mrmike186 7th October 2018 03:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nickyt3693 (Post 12389443)
Hello,

I currently have a presonus fire studio. I would like to get a better sound out of my recordings and would like to get pointed in the right direction.

Would it make sense to trash this interface and get a better quality interface for a little more $$$$, for example I have been considering the Apollo. BUT, if I can get just as good of a sound by simply adding a nice preamp to the firestudio i would do that as well.

PLZ help!!! Want to make sure i make the best/cost effective decision here

Enlightened Hand offers some excellent advice. Without knowing all the specifics I do think getting the mic/preamp combo right will usually provide the most dramatic difference in sound.

EvilRoy 7th October 2018 03:28 PM

I went with a used Sytek MP4xa, 4x decent IC based transparent pres and never a bad review. I felt it was the best bang-for-the-buck but now discontinued, the Focusrite ISA 2 channel was a strong contender. The STAM Audio Neve pres are next. All under $800.

Voivodinevampyr 7th December 2018 12:35 PM

Evilroy :
´got set aback how good Focusrite prés in even obsolete 002 are for amplified synths.
Focusrite gives upfront mids which is different from the thin, 5k’ey tone of even decent interfaces. The Red séries près must be awesome for front-end preamp post -if you need additional channels.
I’d stay away from Stam, WARMAUDIO etc.: good 1st impression, then severely impacted by multi -track mixing.

Jet Harris 9th September 2019 02:51 PM

I have been offered an ISA 2 in great condition, I know the owner well for 370 euro (rough conversion from SA rands). Do you all think its worth it? I have a couple other pres and usually am more concerned with space, source and mic, however I just thought this was a good deal.

Diogo C 9th September 2019 10:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jet Harris (Post 14195335)
I have been offered an ISA 2 in great condition, I know the owner well for 370 euro (rough conversion from SA rands). Do you all think its worth it? I have a couple other pres and usually am more concerned with space, source and mic, however I just thought this was a good deal.

That's a great price, like really GREAT price for that unit. I'd say it's worth it. Definitely a preamp that will stay with you for ages.

McNewlove 2nd October 2019 02:31 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Diogo C (Post 12394126)
That depends on a few things. First is - can you bypass the Firestudio preamps? If you can't then there the option would be to have the pre going through the send/return - if you can tap signal from there of course! That was the case with my old Steinberg MR816. Final option would be to use the SPDIF but that would required another converter, not an ideal solution in terms of cost I believe.

I think the Apollo would likely offer better conversion and preamps, so that would probably mean a quality bump, not to mention having more recent interfacing from Thunderbolt. Firewire's days seems to be running short so that's something to be taken into account as well, so a TB Apollo seems to be a more "future-proof" option at this point.

Hi, I have the SPL Crimson 3, do you think the preamps can be bypassed? There seems to be conflicting information on this online. I want to be sure before I go for the uad twin finity

bgulian 2nd October 2019 03:22 AM

The Cloudlifter is overpriced and about as much a preamp as a condenser microphone. That said, it gives my ribbons the oomph they need.

PavlinaA 18th November 2019 12:59 PM

Daking Audio Mic Pre One