What is a Preamp and Should You Buy One?
Are you getting bored of the low quality of your sound system? Do you need a boost to give your music system an electrifying, crispier and clearer sound? A preamp is definitely what you’re looking for.
If your sound system is not giving you the kind of sound that you are expecting, worry not. You don’t have to replace it. Instead, opt to get an amplifying system that will take care of your problem.
So what is a preamp exactly?
A preamp or preamplifier is a device that turns a small electrical signal for further amplification. It is typically enclosed in a rectangular box with different options for tuner, volume, left and right gain.
Types of Preamp
There are different types of preamps in the market. One is the preamp that adds color, which enrich the overall sound signal and is particularly helpful in dry and thin sounds.
Second is the transparent preamp, which produces unaltered tones when reproducing from instruments and voices.
Another one is the tube preamp. This usually uses thermionic tubes that create gain and produces colorful sound. This preamp type adds deep bass and open and airy highs.
Another form of preamps is the hybrid preamps or the preamps which use the combination of the best elements of tube and other components. This produces clear sound without distortion and a harmonious overall sound.
Digital preamp is another type. This type converts an analog signal into digital signal.
It enables the user to process the signal and bypass the built-in process of conversion. Some companies offer digital preamps with built-in conversion and ready to install sound card.
Instrument-specific preamp is also a type of preamp. This is usually designed for specific instruments such as microphones, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, etc. This type is used to optimize the sound of these instruments.
The preamp has various features depending on their types and manufacturers. Here are some of the basic features of a preamp:
1./ Preamps usually have inputs such as line inputs that could balance connections, making it more immune to electromagnetic interference. Some preamps are also composed of plugin inputs for guitar and bass.
2./ Another feature of a preamp is the gain control, which serves as the most important function of this device. Gain control balances the signal from low to full operating level.
3./ Phantom power (P48) is another feature of a preamp. It allows condenser mics to become powerful without the need for extra cable without affecting the microphone itself.
4./ Polarity or phase reverse is another feature of a preamp. It swaps the two signals for a more balanced connection. It is often useful, especially when recording an instrument with more than one microphone, to avoid a thin sound.
5./ Most preamps nowadays also feature a low cut switch. This functions as filterer of bass frequencies, letting higher bass frequencies to pass through. It will get rid of the rumbling and unwanted sounds.
Aside from the aforementioned, there are other features of a preamp, and these are the following:
- Solid state – this enables the component to function better and prevents overheating and distortions.
- Rack Mountable – preamps with separate rack-mounted processors are much better and offers added digital outputs.
- Vacuum tube – preamps with this feature usually produce smoother sound since audio is amplified and processed through the tubes, which results in colorful and warm audio tones.
- Modular – This enables amps to transform pickups into active ones and offers a less distorted sound, making it more transparent.
Preamps have different functions aside from amplifying signals and producing better quality sound output. Below are some of the uses of preamps:
- A preamp is typically used to amplify signals from different devices such as microphones, phonographs, instruments pickups, etc.
- It could boost a low signal, clean up signal, can adjust the signal and blend multiple signals into one.
- It could be integrated into mixing consoles, DJ mixers, and sound cards, or it could be a standalone device.
- It reduces the effects of interference and unwanted noise.
- It balances controls like the bass and treble, the loudness contour, and the hiss and rumbles.
- It ensures that the soundwaves from your instruments and from pickup do not interfere with each other.
- Allows shaping of sounds in different ways such as volume, bass, mid, treble, gain, phase and so on.
- Preamps have the ability to transform limited stereo systems to multi-functional instruments, which could handle analog signals, surround sound, instruments and digital data.
Things to do before buying a preamp
When buying a preamp especially through the Internet, there are some things to consider to avoid disappointments or frustrations. These are the things your might want to do prior to making preamp purchases.
Be specific on what you really need by going through different preamp types and their features. With research, you could narrow your choices to specific preamp that fits according to what you really need.
2./ Check Designs
Although preamplifiers usually have common shapes, the rectangular type and the tube type, their looks vary depending on the manufacturer and on their types.
If you want a lightweight one, you could opt for the tube type preamps. Follow the design guru in you.
3./ Know Features
Never miss looking out for the features of the amp that you want to purchase. Be sure that it has a complete feature that you need to avoid regrets later on.
For example, if you want a more colorful sound with deep bass, you might want to consider preamps that have thermionic tubes or the tube preamps.
Also, some preamps have ‘phase switch’ which could impact the quality of the sound. This could be a better consideration to have a clearer sound without much interference.
4./ Consider Price
Another consideration to make is the budget. Preamps are usually priced around $400 to $600 and even more. Always get the product that’s worth your money.
With the availability of different preamps in the market, indeed it’s quite a daunting task choosing what suits you best.
But knowing what you need and what exactly you want to achieve when it comes to your audio system, you could narrow down the selection to something that will match your preference and needs for a preamp.
Always consider though to make your own research about preamp, its specifications, brands, types and other features so that you will be able to get what’s really right for you and that your money is spent on a preamp that will not let you down.
Now that you know what is a preamp, why don’t you let your friends learn about it too? Share this article! Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments section.