Let’s dive into the world of audio gear to answer a question often asked by musicians, podcasters, and content creators: What’s the difference between a microphone preamp and an audio interface?
We’ll break down these components, explore their functions, and, ultimately, help you decide which gear you need in your audio setup.
How Does A Microphone Work
Before we compare microphone preamps and audio interfaces, we need to understand how microphones work. A microphone converts sound waves (acoustic energy) into electrical signals (audio signals). Depending on your microphone, this can happen in several different ways, but in simple terms, a diaphragm inside the microphone vibrates in response to sound, generating a tiny electrical signal.
This tiny electrical signal is too small to EQ, compress, or otherwise process for live sound or recording.
Before we do anything with this signal, we must pre-amplify it and boost it to a level that is usable by the rest of our signal chain.
What Does A Microphone Preamp Do?
The microphone preamp is the first tool that will interact with your audio signal. A preamp’s primary job is to amplify this weak signal to a level where it can be effectively processed by other audio equipment, like mixers or digital audio workstations (DAWs).
Why is this necessary? Without a preamp, your recordings would sound like they were made underwater. The added amplification ensures that the subtleties and nuances of your audio are preserved, resulting in a cleaner, more detailed sound.
The trick is boosting the audio signal without noise, hiss, or distortion.
Depending on the preamp that you’re using, some audio engineers prefer to drive them hard to get warmth, subtle analog distortion, or a certain frequency response.
Our Favorite Microphone Preamp:
Golden Age Project Pre-73 MKIV: https://currentprice.io/pre73_mkiv
What Does An Audio Interface Do?
An audio interface is essentially the bridge between your analog audio sources (microphones, instruments) and your digital recording setup (computer or DAW). It’s like the control center of your recording studio.
Audio interfaces are equipped with various components, including microphone preamps, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), digital-to-analog converters (DACs), and connectivity options (USB, etc.). These components work together to ensure your analog audio signals are captured, converted into digital data, and sent to your computer for further processing.
Our Favourite Audio Interfaces:
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface: https://currentprice.io/scarlett_2i2
- Universal Audio Volt 276: https://currentprice.io/volt276
- Solid State Logic SSL2+: https://currentprice.io/ssl2_plus
Microphone Preamp vs. Audio Interface
In general terms, a standalone microphone preamp will do a better job of boosting the signal of your microphone to an appropriate level.
That being said, you will still need an audio interface in order to get this signal into your computer.
Many audio engineers will start their home studio with a high quality audio interface. This is the best way to get started. If you want to improve the sound of the preamp inside your audio interface, you can connect a standalone audio interface between your microphone and audio interface to get a better quality tone in your recording.
Microphone Preamp vs Audio Interface Pricing
- Golden Age Project Pre-73iv Preamp: https://currentprice.io/pre73_mkiv
- Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface: https://currentprice.io/scarlett_2i2
- UA Volt 276 Audio Interface: https://currentprice.io/volt276
- SSL2+ Audio Interface: https://currentprice.io/ssl2_plus
- Neat King Bee II Microphone: https://currentprice.io/king_bee_ii
- Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro Headphones: https://currentprice.io/beyer_dt_990
- XLR Cable: https://currentprice.io/xlr_cable
- Mic Stand: https://currentprice.io/desk_stand
- Rode PSA1+ Boom Arm: http://currentprice.io/psa1_plus
- Quality Acoustic Treatment Panels: http://currentprice.io/soundpanels