My most memorable experience so for with a mic preamp was when I had to build one (yes I did build my own preamp) during my time at university as part of the Audio Systems module.
The tutor for this module had a passion for building preamps (a passion I admired) to the point where he would buy original components of classic preamps and rebuilds them. Because of him the university had classic preamps such as the Neve 1073, which I was privileged to use.
I would spend my Saturdays and late evenings in one of the university recording studios testing different microphones with different preamps on different vocals, then I realized the benefit of having multiple mic preamps.
Benefits! What benefits?
The mic preamp takes the microphone signal and amplifies it to line level, yes, a job that is also done by your audio interface built-in mic preamp. But the mic pre does much more than amplifying signal levels.
Every mic preamp also has its own signature tonal quality and when use can add different colouration and characteristic to your sound. In a professional studio there is most likely a mic preamp rack for the engineer to choose from. The preamp used depends on the sound that the engineer is going for, to match the instrument being recorded and the microphone use to do the recordings. In the pro studio environment, the use of mic preamp is a big deal, but not so much in the home studio environment.
Is it because we can get away with using the mixing desk or audio interface built-in preamps? Is it because a very good mic preamp is often costly? Or it is because we really don’t need one in the home studio?
In my opinion, the mic preamp is like spices to your cooking, it adds flavor to your sound. Imagine your sound is a pack of skittles with only one colour; add the preamp and you add all the other colours.
The mic preamp can enhance creativity and like my days at uni, can allow room for more experimentations and that is what we do as learners – always experimenting and stretching our creativity.
Though I haven’t gotten my hands on a Neve 1073 lately, at the moment I’m using the PreSonus Studio Channel It’s a vacuum tude preamp channel strip, which gives me to opportunity to add compression or EQ when tracking, although I never use the EQ. But I can mix my sonic texture up for different recordings.
Which preamp do you have?
Let me know if your studio is equipped with a mic preamp and if it doesn’t, why?