Is A Microphone Or Pre-Amplifier More Important?

Audio production equipment allows us to carry out various processes. It is good to know which equipment is more important.

Knowing this can help us in making various decisions with regard to which equipment to get first.

Some of the two most important audio production equipment that I’ll discuss here; is the microphone and the pre-amp or pre-amplifier.

This article is a response to a question that has generally been asked alot on most audio and music production forums.

The question is ” is a preamp or microphone more important ?”.

This post will therefore discuss this so you get a general sense of what the question and answer actually mean.

With that said, is a pre-amp or microphone more important?

The most rational answer is that a microphone is more important. Because without it there would be no audio signals to amplify.

Even in a signal chain, a microphone would be of more importance because it is the tool with which audio signals are captured and/or recorded.

My advise is get a microphone and get an audio interface in place of a traditional preamp.

What is a pre-amp?

It’s important to understand what a pre-amplifier actually is and what it does.

So you get a better sense of the logic behind our discussion.

The word pre-amp can basically mean two things, It can be a the pre-amplifier circuit within any device, or it can be a dedicated external device containing such a circuit.

The purpose of a preamp is to basically amplify and convert low level signals to line level.

Which is basically the standard operating level of your recording gear.

Microphones don’t put out a lot of voltage so their signals are usually low.

Even way below the nominal operating level, so a lot of gain is required, usually around 30 to around 60 dB, sometimes even more.

Instruments on the other hand, e.g. Guitars and basses don’t really require quite as much gain. Most times, a 20 to 30 dB will do.

Furthermore, line sources like synths may also require some amplification to match studio level, because there are various standards.

So you need a preamp for just about any sound source. But this doesn’t have to be an external device.

Most audio interfaces already come with built-in preamps. And usually, they’re good enough to get you going. It’s worth noting, however, that somewhat more expensive audio interfaces come with much better preamps than entry level audio interfaces.

Audio Interfaces

Audio interfaces are integral pieces of equipment for any form of digital music recording.

Unless you’re blessed with access to a vintage analog mixing desk, then chances are you will need an interface to record and I advise you to get one.

Unlike the preamp we just discussed above, which performs the basic function of amplifying low signals (which can potentially color the tone of the signal), an audio interface is actually responsible for sending the signal into a DAW.

It does this by simply taking the output from either a microphone, instrument or preamp, and transmitting the signal into your digital audio workstation.

Where it can be seen and heard as an analog waveform.

Audio interfaces come in varioys shapes and sizes, below are some features that they all share. These are:

Inputs

Outputs

Gain adjusters

Headphone Output

Phantom Power

The number of inputs included on an audio interface usually affects its price…

you’ll typically find that the more sophisticated interfaces offer an abundance of inputs. While more basic models may only offer fewer (usually one or two).

The main advantage of having several inputs is that it allows you to record separate sound sources simultaneously.

 An interface with only one input is fine if you’re just recording vocals or guitar, but if you need to use two microphones for a good stereo session, it wouldn’t be capable to do thus.

Recording drums, for example, usually requires several microphones set up and recording at simultaneously.

A good audio interface would require enough inputs to facilitate this.

Modern audio interfaces connect to a computer or laptop via USB or Thunderbolt. Commonly, drivers are needed to be downloaded for the interface to successfully operate.

Audio Interfaces provide a distinct advantage which is capturing audio in its true and authentic form without altering or colouring it. Which is why you might want to go for an interface than a preamp.

Microphone First, Preamp Last

A microphone is more important than a pre-amp because it starts the process of capturing sound and you can basically use a it with an audio interface.

Preamplifiers are not that great because they can colour your sound as well as introduce noise in the signal chain and this is why you’ve seen me lean toward interfaces throughout this post.

If you’re in a situation where you don’t know whether to purchase a microphone or preamp first , I advise you to purchase a mic first.

These days you can even find USB microphones that don’t require you to introduce any amplification tool in the signal chain because they are built with internal power to sustain their use.

But if you do choose to for a pre-amplifier then make sure to get a good fairly priced one.

You don’t want something too cheap because it can negatively affect your audio signal chain.