While modern digital mixing can give us an infinite level of flexibility and control that analog recording cannot, there is somemoodmissing in the overall sound.
To fill the gap in this so-called "vibe," producers and mixers use preamp emulations of vintage recording hardware.
If you're new to the world of preamps, you might not know where to look to find the best sound.
Some preamps have a subtle tone that only benefits trained ears, while others are gritty and aggressive, perfect for adding another sonic layer to your mixes.
Today we're diving in and talking about preamp plugins and what makes them such important mixing tools.
How do preamp plugins work?
Most preamp plugin manufacturers design their plugins to emulate iconic hardware. While they can be used differently depending on the situation, mixing engineers often use them to add different onesflavorsto their recorded tracks.
In a recording chain, however, it is typically the first stagemic preamp. This is placed directly after the microphone to boost the otherwise weak signal from the microphone outputs so you can get a healthy signal into your DAW.
The type of preamp used can have a huge impact on the overall tone and mood.
If you have an entry-level audio interface, you most likely have a built-in preamp that sounds transparent and clean. While this transparency makes them versatile, they lack much of the character we've come to know and love from high-end hardware preamps over the years.
Of course, a high-end hardware preamp can run hundreds of devices if notthousands,of dollars. Fortunately, we have preamp plugins that emulate these devices at a fraction of the price, giving you all the color and richness you would expect from a quality mic preamp.
Much like big studios work with different preamps to get different sounds for different sources, you can expand your plugin arsenal with a range of preamp plugins for all your needs.
Can a preamp plugin improve my sound?
Preamp plugins offer a subtle and easy way to get the best tone out of your mixes.
As I said before, a good preamp can add richness and color. It can change the frequency balance of a signal and impart beautiful harmonic saturation qualities. You can think of it like an EQ, except it's capable of thatAddFrequencies and overtones instead of just emphasizing the ones that are there.
Over the years, as more and more preamps were developed, producers and engineers began using specific preamps for specific styles.
For example, API preamps tend to have a punchy, front-firing tone, while Neve preamps have a shimmering depth.
Let's dive in and take a look at some of today's best preamp emulations.
The best preamp plugins
1. Soundtoys cooler
The main thing we loveSoundtoys coolerI showeasythis analogue emulation is to be used. You can get the dark and warm spirit of the 60's in your mixes simply by running your signal through this unique plugin.
Radiator emulates the vintage drive, tone and vibe of the legendary 1567A tube preamp. The Altec 1567A's original hardware was a rack-mount unit with removable transformers, five tube inputs, an intuitive two-knob EQ, and an earth-shattering 97 dB of gain.
By today's standards, this is an ultra-dark sound.
The 1567A was famous for its use on several Motown records during this period, and due to its popularity and accessibility at the time, it found its way into school and church PA systems across the country.
Retain the unmistakable punch and warmth of the original device with the dual EQ controls to easily dial in different saturation tones and harmonic effects. It can not get easier.
Since Radiator does quite a bit of work on the CPU, it's great that Soundtoys has developed a smaller and less CPU-intensive version of the plugin - Little Radiator. This simple one-stage tube preamp plugin is based on the Altec 1566A and delivers the same sound with no EQ controls.
The Mix knob is one of my favorite things about this plugin. I often dial in a gritty, heavy tone with this preamp before dialing it back so I can hear the original signal. It's a great way to get the best of both worlds.
2. Arturia for TridA
When it comes to vintage analog gear emulations, Arturia is one of the most respected developers in the game. The company absolutely nailed this emulation of the prized Trident EQ and preamp.
For many years, Trident was basically synonymous with pop music. The Trident facility was in London's SoHo area, where many famous acts have recorded, from The Beatles to David Bowie and Peter Gabriel to Tina Turner. The centerpiece of the studio was the Trident A console, which became known for its rich and full tone, as well as its musical EQ. Although only 13 of these consoles were ever made, the legacy lives on.
ThatArturia PreTrid Agives you all the power and beautiful sound characteristics of the old console with modern controls.
For starters, you get a fantastically musical four-band EQ with Treble, Treble, Mid, Bass and Bass controls that can be linked to work in stereo or unlinked to work separately, giving you freedom to shape your stereo mixes however you like. Around the edges you'll find high and low pass filters for faster sound shaping.
As you'd expect from Arturia, you also get a comprehensive set of presets to get you started. However, since this plugin is very subtle and doesn't have many controls to start with, we recommend taking some time to slowly move the knobs and faders to get a real idea of what this plugin is capable of.
If vintage sparkle is what you're looking for, I'm confident you'll be satisfied with Arturia Pre TridA.
3. Wellen Abbey Road EMI TG12345
Abbey Road is the famed studio where legendary bands like The Beatles and Pink Floyd have undoubtedly made some of the most influential albums of all time. The TG12345 was the very first solid state console EMI ever produced. In a way it was the epitome of the sound of popular music in the 1960s and 70s.
Waves was able to meticulously emulate it using its unique component modeling technology to bring the sweet, acclaimed sound of yesteryear to producers and engineers everywhere.
On theWaves Abbey Road EMI TG12345find a beautiful front-end mic preamp with the same hum, hiss and harmonic distortion that users got from the original unit. You'll also find treble and bass EQ bands emulated based on the microphone cartridge and the famous compressor/limiter section that delivers warm and punchy dynamics processing.
Beyond the features of the original console, Waves has added some new features to meet the needs of modern music producers, including a handy high-pass filter and mix control for the dynamic sections, allowing you to do heavy compression and mixing in parallel.
I often like to place this plugin on top of the mix bus, especially in organic mixes, as it has a unique way of gluing things together and giving them that old school sound. That being said, it works particularly well as a complementary tool for modern music, breathing unique life into digital genres like EDM.
4. NEOLD V76U73
ThatNEOLD V76U73Plugin is perhaps one of the most unique preamps on this list as it captures the vibe of a unique 50's German setup that used the Telefunken V76 and U73. These were, and still are, some of the richest and most legendary preamp and compressor gear in history.
Originally developed with absurd means by the German government, the V76 preamp is now referred to by many as the "German Fairchild" with its justifiably comparable sound. The unique variable mu design made it very popular with European mastering engineers until it was discontinued in 1980.
The plugin may not be cheap, but it delivers rich, deep bass and smooth, shimmering highs, perfect for adding that extra bit of professional polish to your mixes so they stand out from the crowd. Even if you just run your mix through this VST without touching a single button, you can reach a whole new dimension of sound.
It's clear that NEOLD has meticulously emulated this piece of hardware, perfectly mimicking the two iconic analogue circuits. You get the no-nonsense design of the original module with some new and modern tweaks only found in plug-in form, such as: B. the Mix control.
I love the special filter section that lets you quickly shape the highs and lows of your signals. I often use it on electric guitars when recording my amp only with an SM57 as I find it adds loads of bass for a more powerful guitar tone.
5. Audiority Pre X7
For a budget-friendly analog emulated preamp plugin, we recommend taking a look at thisAudiority Pre X7. This plugin is based on a legendary vintage device originally designedspecialfor bass guitar. However, the plugin version is much more versatile than its hardware predecessor.
The 12AX7 tube models deliver real-time calculations to give you the subtle, non-linear sound of high quality saturation without phase issues.
At the start of the preamp chain is a high pass filter to remove any unnecessary low frequencies in your signal, followed by a handy tone control to shape your signal before it's passed through the tube output.
The real star of the show is the brickwall clipping limiter, which helps you lock in the dynamics of your sounds while maintaining a fair amount of distortion at fairly extreme settings.
Well, while we've said before that it's a versatile plugin, meaning you can use it on pretty much any instrument or signal to provide saturation and compression, its sonic character makes it a true bass guitar champion. I often find myself tracking bass through this plugin and setting it as my DI sound once it's in my DAW.
For indie, folk, jazz, or soul tracks, you can dial in the input fairly subtly to give you a warm, rounded form of saturation. On the other hand, if you're playing bass for a rock or metal track, you can hit the boost and turn up the input for a more forward-thinking and aggressive tone.
For a budget-friendly plugin, Audiority Pre VX7 offers relative versatility.
6. Klirrton Grindstein
When you make rock or heavy metal music, having a plugin that can deliver high levels of distortion without feeling out of control is crucial.
While the Audiority plugin above provides subtle and fat saturation, theKlirrton GrindsteinPlugin by Audiority delivers a crunchy, aggressive and over-the-top distortion-style preamp sound perfect for heavy rock and metal.
The plugin suite was created in collaboration with Klirrton Manufaktur and Kristian Kohle from Kohlkeller Studio. It has been carefully modeled after the stompbox pedal of the same name. This beautifully antagonistic preamp plugin gives you a heavy metal preamp tone, a meaty preamp EQ section, and the innovative snout noise gate, perfect for when you get into the fuzz realm of distortion.
Whether you're into 90's style grunge or modern death metal, the chainsaw-ripping tones you get from this plugin offer a tight sound with just a pinch of grind.
One of the things I really love about this preamp plugin is the low end. There are many distortion plug-ins out there that will give you a crunchy tone but often sacrifice low-end thickness. With Klirrton Grindstein you get fat, modern low-end with unrivaled tightness.
I also recommend playing around with this plugin's phase switch to get those unique out-of-phase grind metal sounds.
Overall, the tone of this preamp plugin is very faithful to the original, from the interface to the features to the sound. If you are looking for "heavy" then this might be your best bet.
7. Lindell Audio 6X-500
ThatLindell Audio 6X-500is another budget-friendly preamp plugin for those looking to add a bit of analog punch and fatness to their mixes. The plugin was based on a transformer-coupled mono preamp with a passive two-band EQ that works exclusively with boosting.
It uses a fully discrete design based on Lindell's hybrid amplifier. What is unique about this design is that it packs plenty of punch, although the tonal character is creamy and smooth. You can run almost any instrument through this preamp and get a good sound including vocals, electric guitar, bass, acoustic guitar, drums, etc.
On the plugin's front end you'll find a handy low-pass and high-pass filter for quick frequency control, great for shaping the tone to clean signals before they go harsh.
These are just some of the few extra features that the hardware wouldn't allow.
In addition, the original hardware unit featured a Pultec-style equalizer that was faithfully emulated to give users musical processing.
Although I often turn off the "Analog" or "Noise" buttons on analog emulation plugins, there is something about the analog button on this plugin that I really like. I feel like it thickens the tone along with the PSU hum and transformer saturation.
All that and the Lindell Audio 6X-500 preamp EQ is CPU friendly and easier than ever to use. You can use it for all your audio tracks in your session to get a real analog console style sound.
8. IK Multimedia T-Racks EQ 73
The original EQ 73 hardware module was one of the most iconic and coveted pieces of British music gear. It brought warmth and character to even the most boring and mundane signals.
IK Multimedia released their own version of this classic preamp and called it theT-Racks EQ 73.
Anyone with a little knowledge of the history of analog hardware knows that it is one of the most widely used analog devices in music history, having once been an important part of the UK's large format music console. The hardware was first introduced in 1970 as a rackmount device and quickly became a studio staple.
With a rich and thick Class A sound and a three-band EQ to shape the tonal qualities of each signal passing through, it was equally versatile.
The great thing about this IK multimedia emulation is that it is faithful to the original thanks to IK's innovative modeling technologies. With its analog-style preamp EQ, it has the ability to shape sounds like nothing else and can even add distortion and grit when pushed.
Of course, as you would expect from most preamp emulations, with this preamp in VST form you get a little more digital flexibility than in real life. For example, M/S mode lets you manipulate the left and right sides of your mixes individually, giving you more control over the stereo spectrum than ever before.
9. UAD Neve 1073
Nothing says heartwarming like an authentic Neve preamp tone, and who better to capture it than the development team belowUAD?
There is no doubt that the Neve preamp is one of the most revered preamps in history. The Neve preamplifier was first introduced in 1970 as a Class A performer. Thanks to its shine, clarity and bite, it became extremely popular as a vocal preamp.
It's easy to spend hundreds or thousands these days to get your hands on one of these hardware preamps, which is why I'm so grateful that UAD released a spooky version of the original hardware in VST form. In fact, the UAD Neve 1073 Preamp is the world's only licensed Neve preamp plug-in emulation.
With ten unique clipping points and an easy-to-use EQ section, you're in complete control of your mixes. Best of all, if you're using UAD hardware like an Apollo interface, you can record directly through this VST as if you were recording through a hardware channel strip.
You won't find a more authentic Neve preamp tone anywhere else.
10. Analog obsession PREDD
Want to get the sweet tone of preamp saturation without spending a penny?
If so, check them outPREDDPlugin by Analog Obsession. This free vintage mic preamp VST plugin works for both Windows and Mac. It has a similar vibe to the EMI TG12345 considering it was featured on the EMI REDD.51 console at Abbey Road Studios in the late 1950s and early 60s.
Featuring a tube amp module, the REDD.51 console was an integral part of the studio and a device that brought such a unique quality to all the music coming out of the studio.
Even if you had the money you would have a hard time finding any of the preamps out in the wild. The good thing is that Analog Obsession has created an outstanding emulation that nails the tone of the original at no cost.
On the simple GUI, which looks very similar to the REDD.47 interface, you'll find a mic preamp/DI switch with a Voltage Gain knob. Moving on, you'll see a pad (-20dB), a 10dB high-shelf boost, a rumble high-pass filter that can sweep from 20 to 180Hz, and a pole phase invert switch.
It's probably one of the simplest plugins on this list, which is great when you have a signal that feels dull and needs a bit of saturation to make it stand out in the mix. It's also very CPU-friendly, meaning you can use it on multiple tracks without bogging down your system.
11. Splitterglas-Audio – SGA1566
Another excellent free preamp VST comes from the team at Shattered Glass Audio. While the GUI of theSGA1566It might not look like anything special, but this high-quality plug-in delivers authentic all-tube mic preamp sounds with a high-performance circuit simulator.
Essentially, every little nuance that comes from your default preamp circuitry has been carefully analyzed and built into this plugin to bring you everything from overdrive to subtle coloring and beyond.
For a free preamp VST, the SGA1566 is pretty versatile. Leave the input at 12 and turn the gain down to add a little warmth to your tracks. However, if you want to drive the song home, you can turn up the gain and input for natural, dirty compression with a bit of tube overdrive.
The SGA1566 VST plug-in uses 4x oversampling and uses mono and stereo processing modes. You can even use the two-band Baxandall EQ, which you can switch before or after the preamp.
If you're looking to bring the warm and shimmering magic of the analog era into your digital recording setup, the first thing you should do is invest in some preamp VST plugins.
Even if you produce futuristic house musicfaraway from the standard "analog" tonality, these plugins can add punch, warmth and authenticity to your tracks to give them a professional sound.
Plus, you save thousands of dollars without having to buy expensive hardware!
Preamp plugins let you add the richness and color of classic analog preamps after you've already recorded your tracks. Just like most pro studios have different preamps for the engineer to choose from for specific sounds, you can do the same with your folder of preamp plugins.Do preamp plugins work? ›
Preamp plugins can be extremely useful tools when mixing. They can give your lifeless digital sound an analog vibe that is more similar to the music you listen to.Do I need a preamp plugin? ›
You can use it without an amp and plug it into your interface, but you'd always need something to plug it in to get any sound out of it. Preamps need to be plugged into the guitar and then into a sound system or amplifier, as it will only amplify the signal but not play it back.Does a preamp improve sound quality? ›
An external preamp may improve your sound quality significantly, if you work with low output dynamic microphones, including ribbons. With high output condenser mics, an external preamp makes less of a difference.What preamp did Kurt Cobain use? ›
Kurt's amplifier of choice for live performance was a combination of the Mesa Boogie Studio . 22 acting as a preamp and a Crest 4801 as his power amp. The first iteration of this setup was the Mesa Boogie paired with Crown Power Base 2 800w Power Amp, but Kurt felt the Crest worked better with the Mesa preamp.Does a preamp really make a difference? ›
A Clean Front End
A high quality microphone preamp, however, will do much more than just make your mic level louder. It will deliver a cleaner, more accurate signal, with higher gain, lower noise, less distortion, and more headroom.
High-end preamps typically have more headroom than budget designs, which often translates into less distortion and a more 'open', 'effortless' sound character. A high-end preamp might have a maximum output capability of +32 or even +36 dBu, whereas a budget one might manage only +16dBu.Should I leave my preamp on all the time? ›
But a purely electronic piece like a power amp or preamp are better left powered on at all times – with but few exceptions. So, keep the lights on with your equipment – it helps everything live longer and sound better.How much gain should a preamp have? ›
So, it is increasingly unnecessary to provide more than about 40dB of gain when close-miking most sound sources — which is what the majority of home recordists will be doing. Consequently, this figure is becoming increasingly common in many budget preamp designs.How do I know if I need a preamp? ›
How do I know if I need a preamp? Well, if you own an XLR microphone and want to record with it or use it to amplify your voice for live streaming, you'll need a preamp. The good news is they're already baked into basic digital recording equipment, like audio interfaces. They're also built into guitar amps.
A setting of 60-80 Hz is a good setting for the male voice and 100-120 Hz is good for the female voice. A fully featured mic preamp has pad and polarity switches as well as variable input impedance.Do I need a preamp for my synth? ›
Short answer: 'need' is a strong word, but your synth tracks would certainly benefit greatly from a preamp. Simply put, adding a preamp to your synth lines will make them come through a little stronger and have more impact on the mix. Any preamp, whether solid state or tube, is designed to make your signal louder.Which is the best preamp? ›
- SPL Goldmike 9844.
- Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity.
- Chandler Limited REDD. ...
- Great River ME-1 NV.
- Universal Audio Solo 610.
- ART Pro MPA II.
As a rule, using EQ in front of your compressor produces a warmer, rounder tone, while using EQ after your compressor produces a cleaner, clearer sound.Is preamp better than phono? ›
In most cases, the phono preamplifiers included in receivers or turntables are low quality. An external preamp will almost always result in much better output.What amp did Jimmy Page use? ›
When performing live Page primarily used Marshall JMP Super Lead amplifiers. In the studio his time working as a session musician freed him up creatively to try a wide range of equipment, including Vox, Fender, Orange, Supro and HiWatt amps alongside his trusty Marshall rig.What amp did SRV use? ›
The amplifiers he used on stage included: Two "Blackface" Fender Super Reverbs. Marshall Club & Country combo amp with 2×12" JBL speakers. Two 1964 "Blackface" Fender Vibroverb amplifiers (numbers five and six off production line), each with one 15" speaker.What was Kurt Cobain's tuning? ›
Drop D Tuning in Alternative Rock
Nirvana, the band that gave the world the ferocious drumming of Dave Grohl (who later birthed Foo Fighters), the murky bass stylings of Krist Novoselic, and the late, great vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Kurt Cobain, used Drop D tuning on nearly all of their songs.
It's not usualy a good idea because preamp outputs are line level and preamp inputs are mic level. You would be feeding a (relativly) very high level signal into something that wantls a very low signal. You can do it, but you're probably reducing the benefit of one by having to turn it down so far.What preamp does Billie Eilish use? ›
Billie's mic I run through a 5211 Neve preamp... and then straight into the board.
A preamp doesn't have the power to drive a speaker; a power amp is needed for that. A power amp expects a signal at line level; a preamp is needed for that. You could technically go from a preamp, straight to active speakers without an external dedicated power amp.How to choose a preamp? ›
Choose your phono preamp according to the sound quality required. Depending on the type of music you play and naturally the sound quality you are looking for, you will have to consider different phono stages. Sound quality will differ depending on the components used by the manufacturers, and the technological bias.What makes a 1073 so good? ›
The 1073 Becomes a Classic
The 1073 was an instant hit, and it remains the most desirable Class A discrete transistor mic preamp to this day. What made the original 1073 stand out was the tone. Thick and warm with a mid-forward presence and a smooth top end, it created a tone that sat beautifully in the mix.
Preamp tubes usually cause problems through noise or microphonics. If noise, you will hear hiss, crackling, popping or similar issues. If you hear squeal, hum or feedback, it is typically a microphonic tube. Noise from microphonic tubes will typically increase with a volume increase.Why do tube preamps sound better? ›
As a tube creates distortion it produces harmonics which are known as 'even harmonics'. Essentially these are tones which are the same note but are produced higher in octaves. This is why typically a tube amplifier is said to sound better, because the harmonics it produces are much more pleasing to the user's ear.How long does a preamp last? ›
Preamp Tubes are generally at their best 2 - 3 years. Power Tubes are generally at their best 1 - 1.5 years. Rectifier Tubes are generally at their best 3 - 5+ years.What happens if gain is too high? ›
What Happens If Gain Is Too High? If the gain is too high at the input stage, your audio will reach the point of distortion or clipping. This can be a good or bad thing depending on what you are going for, as you might want to get some distortion with an amplifier, though you might want a clean tone for digital audio.What happens if amp gain is too high? ›
If the gain is set too high with higher voltage sources (2.5 Volts or higher), the amplifier will be able to reach full power at a lower volume control setting from the source unit. This will allow the amplifier to be driven into clipping.Does high gain sound better? ›
Gain is how loud an input signal is before it enters the amplifier or computer. The higher the gain, the louder the signal. For example, if a microphone has low sensitivity, you will need to turn up the gain so that the amplifier can make the sound louder. In addition to that, gain controls the tone and not the volume.Do preamps change the sound? ›
The sound contribution of preamps is not so much in its frequency response but in the texture it imparts on the sound. However, a preamp shapes the sound to a much lesser degree than one would think. Usually, its sound character only becomes obvious at high gain settings or when you drive it into distortion.
The main reason preamps are expensive is because they are specialty items, manufactured & distributed in small quantities. You get the most from your money with an AVR which is mass produced and sold into a highly competitive market.What is a good preamp voltage? ›
If you are planning to add an amplifier to your mobile electronics system, make sure your source unit can produce at least 4 volts of output on the preamps. This extra voltage will allow your installer to reduce both the sensitivity controls on your amplifier and the background noise level of the system.Does preamp reduce noise? ›
Summary. An ultra low noise preamp may lower the noise floor considerably, when you work with dynamic microphones. However, it won't make dynamic microphones completely noiseless as most of the noise you hear comes from the microphone itself.What do you plug into a preamp? ›
To connect your phono preamp, you will need a set of audio cables. Take the left and right audio cables coming out of your turntable and plug them into the input jacks on your phono preamp.Are plugins pre or post fader? ›
a plugin works pre-fader.Where do you plug in a preamplifier? ›
Plug the output of your preamp into the HT Bypass/Direct In input of your receiver. Turn the volume all the way down on your preamp before switching over to the HT Bypass/Direct In channel. Adjust your preamp's volume to your liking.Do I need a preamp in my studio? ›
A preamp is one of those essential items for your studio. If you use a condenser microphone, which requires 48v phantom power to work, you'll need a preamp to provide it! But, of course, any microphone benefits from a good preamp, including ribbon and dynamic mics.