Budget quality mic preamp – question and answerbabble


Hello, I’m in the market for a second mic pre-amp, for use with my Rode NT1-A. At the moment, I use an FMR Really Nice Mic-Pre, and it’s a set-up which I love. The reason I need something else is actually contradictory to why I bought the FMR and Rode combination in the first place; the singer I’m working with currently complains the set up is too clean/clinical, although I disagree, I think it sounds great like this, the customer is always right.

So, rather than buy a different mic, I thought the best solution would be to buy a mic-pre unit with some sort of variable/controllable ‘warming’ quality, as unfortunately I’m no big shot (yet), so a rack full of expensive valve processors is out of the question, and I don’t like to use plug-ins.

Although I use alot of FX pedals, I think they’re a little too ‘lo-fi’ to be suitable. So, with a budget of around £500, I want a good quality mic-pre with some sort of ‘character’ or colouration about it, but not any of these sub-£200 ‘fake’ valve boxes from Behringer or the like. Quality and reliability are paramount. So, what have you got? I’ll happily consider second hand too, by the way.

Best regards,



Ah…customers. The bane of my life.

You don’t say whether you’re using any limiting between mic pre and tape/disc. If not, then this is something that will immediately give a smoother, more professional sound (limit a vocal when recording to smooth out peaks and then compress on the mix to further smooth peaks and bring up troughs. This makes the vocal ‘sit’ in the track, giving a healthy level and allowing it to stand proud of the backing track without having to push the fader and therefore crowd out the backing).

There are two aproaches I’d suggest within (ish) your budget;

1. A voice channel unit comprising decent mic pre, eq and compressor/limiter. Although you wouldn’t normally use any eq when tracking vocals (the reason being that the voice needs to sound the same on all the tracks you record with any particular vocalist; if you use the same mic, mic preamp and limiter for all your recording, the sound will be the same even if vocals are recorded days, weeks or months apart. If you add eq, it will be impossible to replicate the settings on future sessions.

You can, of course, eq vocals on the mix. On the other hand, a lot of engineers do eq and compress other signals such as acoustic guitars in order to get the sound they ultimately want on disc and to make life easier on the mix. I’m a little old school and prefer to avoid eq when tracking generally, leaving it to the mix stage).

Of these, the best value is the SPL Track One, which is pprofessional quality and very underrated.. This would come in bang on £500 including the deadly VAT and shipping. We also have a new TLA (tube) 5051 voice channel which we’re clearing at £300 inc VAT (usual lsit £470 inc). These are

OK-ish, and excellent value at the price we have on it, although I personally much prefer the SPL.

If you already have a reasonable compressor/limiter you can use for tracking, then the best value mic preamps are;

True System P-Solo We’re doing a special on these at £350 + VAT (£411.25 including).
They are high quality but possibly still a little ‘clean’ for your customer’s ears.

Universal Solo 610. This is a scaled down version of the 610 tube mic pre which I would recommend without reservations as being exceptionally high quality. It comes in lunchbox rather than rack mount format and includes an excellent DI for bass or guitar. They have a full, rich sound which may well warm up the Rode (a pretty cold but good value mic) and put a smile on client”s faces.
List is £550 + VAT but I can supply for £550 including VAT and shipping.

Have a think and by all means get back to me for further thoughts/info.

You should find details of the units I’ve mentioned on the website. You’ll also find some thoughts on mic pres on my blog, accessed from the front page of our website.