Connecting an external microphone preamp to your audio interface is the easiest way to improve the quality of your recording before the signal makes it to your computer. 

If you’re new to audio, you might not know or understand the difference between various microphone preamps. In this guide, we’ll explore why you might want to use an external microphone preamp with your audio interface, delve into the differences between line level and mic level signals, and provide step-by-step instructions on connecting a microphone preamp to your audio interface. 

Let’s get started.

Be sure to read this guide to the very end. There are two common mistakes that you can make which might damage your equipment!

What is a Microphone Preamp?

Neve 1073SPX Microphone Preamp

Before we delve deeper into connecting a microphone preamp to an audio interface, let’s take a moment to explore what a microphone preamp is and how it differs from an audio interface.

A microphone preamplifier, commonly known as a microphone preamp or preamp, is an electronic device designed to amplify the weak electrical signal produced by microphones. Microphones typically generate low-level signals in the millivolt range, which need to be improved for recording or processing without significant amplification. This is where the preamp comes into play.

The primary function of a microphone preamp is to boost the microphone’s signal to a usable level, making it compatible with various recording devices, such as audio interfaces, mixers, and digital audio workstations (DAWs). Preamps are an essential component in the audio chain, ensuring that the delicate nuances of a microphone’s output are faithfully captured and preserved.

Microphone Preamps That We Love: 

Microphone Preamp Vs Audio Interface

Microphone Preamp vs Audio Interface

So… What’s the difference between a microphone preamp and an audio interface?

Simply put, all audio interfaces include a microphone preamp, but standalone microphone preamps don’t include the components that an audio interface has. 

An audio interface is made up of several components, including a microphone preamp, a headphone amplifier, and an analogue-to-digital converter. 

Let’s look at some reasons you might want to use an external microphone preamp instead of the preamp built into your audio interface. 

Why Use an External Microphone Preamp?

Warm Audio WA273-EQ Microphone Preamp

There are three main reasons why you should consider using an external microphone preamp. 

1. More Gain for Your Microphone:

Microphone preamps, often called preamplifiers or preamps, serve as a crucial link in the audio recording chain. They amplify the tiny analog signal generated by microphones, to a level that is suitable for recording. External preamps offer higher gain levels than most built-in preamps in audio interfaces, allowing you to capture audio signals with greater clarity and detail.

2. Add Color to Your Sound:

One of the appealing aspects of using external preamps is their ability to impart a distinct sonic character to your recordings. Different preamp models can add warmth, coloration, or even a touch of vintage character to your audio. This creative element can elevate your recordings and make them stand out from the crowd.

3. Fine-Tune Your Sound:

External preamps often come with a range of adjustable parameters, such as input gain, various filters, and EQ settings. This level of control enables you to tailor your sound precisely to your liking, ensuring that you capture audio that suits your artistic vision.

4. Connect To Other Outboard Gear

Having an external microphone preamp opens the door for you to start using other outboard gear like a compressor, eq, etc. Without a microphone preamp, you cannot use these devices. 

Line Level vs. Mic Level: What’s the Difference?

Mic Level vs Instrument Level vs Line Level

Before connecting your microphone preamp to your audio interface, it’s crucial to understand the distinction between line-level and mic-level signals.

  • Mic Level: This is the low-level signal produced by microphones. It’s typically in the millivolt range and requires significant amplification to reach line level. Mic level signals are delicate and prone to interference, making proper preamplification essential.
  • Line Level: Line level signals are stronger and more robust, typically in the range of 0.3 to 2 volts. Devices like mixers, audio interfaces, and preamps will output line-level signals. 

Connecting a microphone directly to a line-level input will result in a very quiet and often noisy signal.

Connecting a line-level signal to a microphone-level input can cause your audio signal to peak and sound distorted. It can also damage the mic level input on your device. 

How to Connect a Microphone Preamp to Your Audio Interface

Connect Microphone Preamp To Audio Interface

Now that we understand the fundamentals let’s walk through the steps you need to connect your microphone preamp to your audio interface for optimal results.

1. Gather Your Equipment:

  • Microphone Preamp: Choose a preamp that suits your recording needs and complements your microphone.
  • Audio Interface: Ensure your audio interface has available inputs and outputs for connecting the preamp.
  • XLR Cables: You’ll need XLR cables to connect your microphone to the preamp and the preamp to the audio interface.

CAUTION: Before you connect your equipment, make sure that 48v Phantom Power is turned off on your audio interface. 

2. Connect Your Equipment

  • Place your microphone in the desired location and connect it to the microphone input on your preamp using an XLR cable.
  • Connect the output of your preamp to one of the line inputs on your audio interface using a ¼” TRS cable, or a XLR to ¼” TRS Cable. Ensure the audio interface is powered on and connected to your computer.

CAUTION: It is very important that you connect to the ¼” TRS line level input on your audio interface. If you connect a line level signal to your XLR input on the audio interface the strong signal may damage your preamp. Also, the XLR input can send 48v phantom power back to your external preamp and damage some components. 

3. Set the Gain:

  • Power on your preamp and audio interface.
  • Set the input gain on your audio interface to zero, turned all the way down
  • Set the input gain on your external microphone preamp to the desired level. Generally you’re wanting to see -18dB to -12dB in your recording software on your computer. 

4. Experiment & Monitor:

  • Use headphones or studio monitors connected to your audio interface to monitor your audio while recording.
  • Some microphone preamps sound better when they are driven very hard, some don’t. Experiment to see what you prefer. 

5. Record and Fine-Tune:

  • Start your recording software and begin recording. Pay attention to your levels, and make any necessary adjustments during the recording process.

Tips and Tricks for a Flawless Setup

Black Lion Audio B12A Quad Microphone Preamp

To take your microphone preamp setup to the next level, here are some pro tips and tricks:

  • Experiment with Different Preamps: Don’t be afraid to try different preamp models to find the one that complements your microphone and artistic vision best.
  • Practice Good Gain Staging: Ensure that the gain levels are optimized at each stage of your signal chain (microphone, preamp, and audio interface) to minimize noise and distortion.

Connecting a microphone preamp to your audio interface can be a game-changer in your pursuit of high-quality audio recordings. By understanding the basics, carefully setting up your gear, and following these tips and tricks, you’ll be well on your way to capturing studio-quality sound that’s worthy of any professional production. So, go ahead and unleash your creativity with confidence!

Happy recording!

Connect Microphone Preamp To Audio Interface Equipment

Golden Age Project Pre73 MKIV Microphone Preamp

Connect Microphone Preamp To Audio Interface Topics

  • 0:00 – Introduction
  • 0:30 – Equipment In The Video
  • 1:20 – Pricing & Specs
  • 1:40 – Balanced vs Unbalanced Signal
  • 2:37 – Mic Level vs Line Level Signal
  • 4:02 – Two Ways To Damage Equipment
  • 5:04 – Connect Microphone Preamp To Audio Interface
  • 5:40 – Option 1: Balanced 1/4″ TRS Cable
  • 7:44 – Option 2: XLR to 1/4″ TRS Cable
  • 8:40 – Final Thoughts

Connect Microphone Preamp To Audio Interface FAQs

Can you run a mic preamp into an audio interface?

Yes! You can connect a microphone preamp into an audio interface. This is a great way to improve your recording if you are using a budget audio interface.

Do I need a mic preamp with an audio interface?

All audio interfaces have a built in microphone preamp, but some are better than others. If you want to improve your recording, you can connect an external microphone preamp to your audio interface.

Can you plug mic directly into audio interface?

You can connect a microphone directly to your audio interface. All audio interfaces have a built-in microphone preamp that will boost the signal of your microphone. If you find that you don’t have enough power from your preamp, you can try using an external microphone preamp.

What does a mic preamp plug into?

You can connect a microphone preamp into any audio interface or audio mixer that has a line level input.

What’s the difference between a preamp and an audio interface?

A microphone preamp will boost the signal of your microphone. An audio interface has a built in preamp and can also connect to your computer, provide a headphone output, and perform other useful tasks for you.