What Does A Preamp Do?

Preamps are one of the most important pieces of equipment in any recording studio and if you use a microphone regularly, you will be familiar with it already.

However, they are also super useful for record players and other audio systems and although musicians know they can be beneficial, some still wonder what exactly do they do?

What Does A Preamp Do

Preamps, on a basic level, increase signal gain. They improve your sound by taking and picking up a weak signal and then boosting it to a line-level signal.

In this article, we are going to be breaking down the preamp and its uses and telling you just how it can step up your music game. Let’s jump in. 

Microphone Preamps

Microphone preamps can record signals at the mic level, and when you’re in a recording studio with a microphone, you will need a line-level signal.

This will have a strong voltage and will be louder. Compressors and similar recording equipment like equalizers all require the same type of signal. 

Usually, microphones need more gain of around 30-60dB. However, guitars need only 20-30dB. 

There are a few different types of microphone preamps which include built-in systems which can be found pretty cheap, to preamp modules. The modules, although more expensive, are more powerful and more effective.

Turntable Preamps

Lots of turntables on the market contain internal preamps and these are called a phono stage. If your turntable does not have one, you can invest in an external preamp.

A lot of new vinyl users complain that their turntable is too quiet and this is a result of a weak signal. A preamp will boost this system so it receives a signal.

External Preamps Benefits

Whether you are recording or playing music, preamps will provide multiple benefits. You will be able to benefit from:

Improved Sound

A preamp will not automatically improve your recording sound as you need to have a high-quality microphone too. However, it certainly helps and will filter out electronic static, whilst removing harmonic distortion.

This means you will have additional processing and cleaner output.

When you connect more sources to the preamp, it will be more valuable and will lead to better overall performance.

Consistency

Preamps are great for turntables as they allow you to maintain a consistent sound. This means it can boost the signal, whilst also applying the RIAA equalization curve. This means it will not alter the sound quality.

If you do not have a preamp, the shape of the RIAA curve will fluctuate and the sound quality will be distorted.

More Sound Character

Preamps will change the quality of the sound when recording and whilst built-in preamps will give you a much cleaner and transparent sound, external preamps will allow you to mix it up and produce vintage or dirty sounds. 

What Does A Preamp Do (1)

What Are The Types of Preamps?

Color Preamps

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These preamps will allow you to enrich the sound by adding color and will disguise thin and dry signals. They will leave them unrecognizable and you will be left with an intimate sound of a lively and strong sound.

Transparent Preamps

If you want to reproduce the sound of the instruments or your microphone without changing, a transparent preamp will help you out.

It differs from a color preamp as it has a transparent signal. This is so it will give you an original tone and voice and is why they are popular with classical orchestras. 

Digital Preamps

Digital preamps can convert analog signals to digital signals and they can add sonic signature in processing before sending the signal to a DAW.

A lot of people think of these as a digital interface, yet they act the same as standard preamps. Often, audio interfaces have inferior converters and this is where the digital preamp comes to work and makes the sound a whole lot better.

Tube Preamps

These types of preamps use thermionic tubes to help improve and color the sound and add warmth to any piece of music. As the signal increases, the tube can mildly distort the sound.

This creates depth to the piece. They can also smoothen out distortions and reduce any unwanted high-frequency content.

Solid-State Preamps

Transistor preamps allow you to create gain without additional heat and as the gain increases, they maintain low distortion to maximum levels. They allow you to accept higher gain levels without any distortion. 

Additional Features of Preamps

Gain and Saturation Control

A preamp will have many different knobs and many of these will be able to help you focus on gain and saturation control. This means you can create effects by attenuating the signal.

Multiple Channels

A lot of preamps will come with multiple different channels. These will allow users to process and record inputs together. This means if you want to record different sounds or different instruments at the same time, you should invest in a preamp.

USB/Firewire Connections

A lot of preamps will be DAW-friendly and will have a USB or firewire attachment port. If you are going to be doing a lot of recording, you should ensure your preamp is equipped with this. 

Multiple Preamps VS One System

Although it might be nice to have multiple preamps, whether this is because your needs have evolved, or you want improved gear, multiple preamps can be expensive and if you do not have the dollar at the moment, it might not be an option.

However, as long as the system you have is versatile enough, it should have enough channels and tone signatures to get you by and give you the flexibility you need. 

Final Thoughts

We hope you have learned all you need to know about preamps in this article and understand how they can change up your sound.

They can be a brilliant addition to any recording studio and will improve your sound, help keep it constant, turn up the volume, and most of all, give your sound the character it is looking for!

References

Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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