I often wondered about the need for a preamp when I first started recording vocals at home. If you are in the same position and am wondering about the same question, the short answer is no. Like almost everything else in music recording, you can do the basic minimal if you are just starting. However, once you are in it for a while and wants to get more from your recording, this is when the notion of adding a preamp will come into the picture.
Why I always sound bad when I record?
The problem I faced is that my voice was not being recorded properly. Sometimes, it would sound weak, especially when hitting the low notes. That is when I discovered more about how microphone really works and how preamp can help.
In simple terms, our voices are turned into electronic signals by the microphones. However, when trying to write these signals onto a recording medium, we need power. Usually, our natural voice don’t carry such power so a preamp is needed to boost the signal and get our voices properly recorded.
How a preamp make my sound 5 times better!
Ok, that is a hyperbola but the truth is a good preamp does make a difference to my voice. If you are not clear on what a preamp does, it can boast the signal of your microphone recording such that it reach the ‘standard’ level. Microphone output are famous for being low signal so you need about 30-60 dB of gain.
After using the preamp in my recording, I experienced the following 5 benefits that you might otherwise missed out:
- Sound good on all ranges. My lower ranges are usually not as powerful as my mid or high range. With a preamp, it is now easier to record low ranges that sound good and/or clear.
- More gains on dynamic microphones: For some reason, I am using a hand me down dynamic microphone. It requires on gains to record properly as dynamic mic usually has low output.
- Exert less effort. By needed less power to record properly, my vocals don’t need to be exerted so much, making it much more relaxing to do my recording. Over a long period, this really helps.
- Add more character to my voice. With a preamp, it is now easier to add more character such as having thicker, brighter or cleaner sound. In other words, my voice don’t sound as raw. By knowing how my voice will sound like, I can train my singing to match the character that I think sounds good for me.
- Removes noise: A external preamp usually is pretty low noise, thus giving you cleaner recording of your vocals. This helps if your room is not fully sound proof as mine and has a lot external noises coming in.
Cons of adding a preamp
There are no magic when it comes to preamp. It is not a magical that will somehow make your vocal recording sounds better. In fact, there are cons you need to know:
- Degrading of sound quality: everything sound travels through another object (in this case, it is the preamp), sound degrades. The point is how much it degrades. For some better preamps, the degrading is minimal such that you can’t really hear. For the poorer performing ones, you can hear more clips and other ‘noise’. When that happens, you know the preamp is degrading your vocal recording.
- Budget: Getting a good preamp that minimizes the degrading will set you back a couple of hundred of dollars. There is no point in getting a cheap one as the degrading will deteriorate, rather than improve your vocal recording.
Do I need an external preamp if I have an audio interface
The answer is again, depends on how particular you are with your vocal recording. A built in preamp carries all the benefits mentioned earlier but to a lower degree. For example, a built in preamp can offer gain of up to 60 dB gain but some mic require more than that to achieve normal operating level.
Below are more differences between an external and built in preamp
||Built in Preamp
|Gains||Offers up to 80 dB||Offers up to 60 dB|
|Adding Special Character||Yes||No|
|Cost||>$200||$0 if you have AI|
At the end of the day, the main benefit of using an existing built in preamp is the zero cost. If you want better sound quality, better options and features, there is no beating an external amp that is good quality.
A preamp for vocal recording is not a must if you are starting out. However, as you seek better sound quality, then this accessory becomes an important consideration. I would suggest that if you want to buy an external preamp, go for a good one that cost a bit more.