This article will give you the answer to the question that what is the difference between Preamp and Amp?
Have you ever questioned yourself that what is a Preamp and how it is different from an amplifier? Many of us misunderstand by taking these two separate gears as the same gear.
But wait, Preamp and amplifier are not the same gears. They are different in look, used for different applications and give different results.
Now, there are 2 questions would arise on your mind. If Preamp and Amp are different gears then what are the functions they are used for? And a bounded question is, in your recording, do we need one, or both of them?
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These questions are obvious, as we all know that audio gears, especially analog audio gears are costly and we don’t want to end up by buying a wrong gear for our studio.
It could cost your pocket a much if you make a mistake buying a gear that you don’t actually need.
So, you need to know about these gears before hitting the buy button on shopping carts.
Let us dig some deep into it and get the knowledge that What is the difference between Preamp and Amp?
The Difference Between Preamp and Amp (Preamplifier Vs. Power Amplifier)
First of all, I would like to clarify you that amp, amplifier, power amp, and power amplifier all are same gears. But Preamp is far different to it.
Definition of Preamp
A preamp is used to boost the weaker signal to line level signal. Mic and other acoustic instruments generate very weak input signals while digital instruments, such as keyboards, digital drums and even some electric guitar (with inbuilt battery powered Preamp) generate boosted signal in default.
To level up the weaker signal of mics and other acoustic instruments and to match with other digital instruments, Preamps are used.
Definition of Amp or Power Amplifier
On the other hand, amp or power amplifiers are used to boost the line level signal and sent to speakers so that we can listen to it in boosted volume.
In other words, Amps are used to boost line level signal to any level that we afford to listen.
I think you got the basic difference of between Preamp and Amp. Let us get some deeper knowledge of Preamp.
Types of Preamps
There are 3 types of preamps.
- Individual Preamps
- Audio Interfaces and Mixer Preamps.
- Guitar Preamps
These preamps are individual gears with separate power supply and user interface. Generally, they are used to get warm vintage analog feel in sound. However, they cost more so we do not use them a lot.
But if you want some vintage analog feel in your vocal or another instruments sound then I would suggest you use one.
Individual Preamps are analog devices made with transistors and other analog components, so they generate that kind of analog feel in the sound.
Audio interface Preamps
The second and most used preamp type is those come built-in with audio interfaces. These are part of the audio interface and made with a combination of analog and digital components in their circuit.
So they produce very clean sound without any added analog taste.
However, because they come as a built-in part of audio interfaces, we use them a lot. But, due to the lack of that analog feel, “the music world is crazy about” they are not the 1st choice for many pro recordists.
Guitar Preamps are built in part of some electric guitars. They are battery powered preamps and used to boost the weaker signal to line level. There are two benefits of using an instrument with built-in preamps.
- You don’t need a separate preamp or audio interface preamp. If you are a shortage of preamps then just plug-in the instrument into normal input and you will get a good sound.
- As those preamps are made of analog components, hence they generate some analog feel and you get a warmer vintage sound.
Do We Really Need Preamp?
In today’s world, where preamps are attached inside the audio interfaces, generally, we don’t need separate preamps for our mics and instruments. But if you want a great analog sound, I prefer to use a good quality separate preamp.
Even your guitar and other instruments have their own built-in preamp, it’s a good practice to attach a separate one in the signal chain.
And if you want to use condenser mics for vocals then its must that you use a high-quality preamp to get warm vocal.
Where To Use Preamp In Signal Chain
Obviously at the very first.
Whether it’s your guitar’s built-in preamp, a separate preamp or audio interface’s built-in preamp, you must use it at the very first in your signal chain. A preamp is used as a signal level booster so using them at 1st in signal chain make your levels equal to line level signal.
How To Connect Preamp With Other Devices
There are a lot of misconceptions regarding the proper use of preamps. The common question is how to connect preamp with other devices? In this section, I will try to answer this common question.
How to connect Preamp with Audio Interface?
As from the last section, you know that preamps are always used at the very 1st in the signal chain. But can we use both an individual preamp and audio interface’s built-in preamp together?
The answer is, No.
If you use both of them, the result would be a harsh and distorted sound which I think you don’t like. Never use both, a separate preamp and your audio interface’s preamp together.
Instead, just plug in your individual preamp’s output to any available line level input in your audio interface.
If you can’t differentiate between line level inputs and preamps in your audio interface, just see that if the input has any volume control? If it has a volume control then it is a preamp, and if not then it is a line level input.
Or refer to the audio interface’s manual.
How to Connect Preamp with Mixer?
Generally, most mixers have different input channels for line-level inputs and preamp inputs. You can use line level inputs if you have separate preamps or just plug your mic or instruments with the mixer’s preamp.
Can We Directly Connect Preamp with Power Amplifier?
Definitely, In fact, In PA systems, we use mixer preamps to match the line level signal and send them the signal to the power amp. If you have a separate preamp, you can connect it to directly with the amplifier.
Why Preamps are not built inside the power amp?
Do you ever felt that when you place a mobile near your monitor speakers and when a call comes, your monitors produce some disturbing sound? This is due to mobile’s radiation which interferes with the magnetic field of the speaker.
This same theory applied in preamp and power amps. Power amps consume a lot of energy, produce a lot of heat. They also produce “signal disturbing radiations”.
If preamps attached inside the power amp, you don’t get a clear signal. So they are separately built or attached to quieter devices like mixer and audio interfaces.
Preamp Plugins Vs Hardware Preamp
After the audio recording industry transformed into the digital world, there were many changes done. Now we are able to record mix and master projects with just a laptop and an audio interface. There are a lot of software and plugins available to achieve a great sounding project.
Along with this transformation, a debate is going on that can we achieve that hardware quality with emulated plugins? Preamps are one of them. There are a lot of preamp plugins available in the market that claims about the similar quality of their hardware counterparts.
I didn’t like emulated plugins a most, but when I bought a UAD satellite firewire plugin accelerator and mixed some of my projects with it, my perspective was totally changed about emulated plugins.
I got amazing quality with those emulated plugins. When I recorded vocal with UAD 610 tube preamp in the input, it felt that I was recording with a vintage analog device.
Waves Preamp Plugins
Waves have a large collection of large plugins but it’s not even close to the UAD satellite powered plugins. Howerevr you can check out waves bundle if you would like something in it.
UAD Preamp plugins
There are many UAD preamp plugins like Neve Preamp, Century Tube Channel Strip, SSL 4000 E Channel Strip Collection, Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Collection, Manley VOXBOX Channel Strip, UA 610 Tube Preamp & EQ Collection.
I have tasted and like UA 610 preamp and suggest it to you.
As I told above there was a misconception in my mind that emulation plugins are not as good as original hardware plugins, but after using UAD satellite, I realized that I was wrong. technology is moving, even more, faster than that we think it is.
Some hardware Preamps
- SE Electronics DM1
- Heritage Audio ’73 Jr Microphone Preamp
- Presonus TubePre v2 1-Channel Tube Preamplifier/DI Box
So here was A to Z details of Preamp, and the difference between preamp and Amp. I think this article would help you to understand the work of preamp in recording as well as to in choosing the best preamp or an emulation of a preamp.
Let me know which preamp are you using – You audio interface’s built-in preamp, a separate preamp, a mixer preamp, or an emulation preamp plugin. And also let me know your experience with your preamps.
You may like my other articles
- 50 Free VST Plugins For Vocals
- 9 Best Power Amplifiers for Live Sound 
- What is Audio Clipping And How to Avoid it in Recording
Gautam Roy is a recording engineer and a blogger from India. He loves music, writing and travelling. He is also an active investor and a successful entrepreneur.