While it is completely possible to get a decent sound out of a microphone without using a preamp to boost the signal, most people who are serious about their sound prefer to use one. In fact, I would say mic preamps are more prevalent now than ever, even if they’re less obvious as they use to be. Preamps, which were usually once only available as a external pieces of gear, have started to become built internally into other recording gear that people already buy. As a result, some people may never really feel that they need a preamp for their particular studio setup. Those that do need a proper mic preamp are always on the search for something effective.
This brings me to the second piece of gear that I’d like to talk about in the Tools of the Trade blog series, the Fethead Mic Preamp.
About two years ago, I purchased a Shure SM7b dynamic Microphone. One of the first things I found out was that, unlike the Shure SM58, my audio interface wasn’t powerful enough to generate a strong signal for the SM7b. The weak signal introduced more hiss and background noise into my recordings. As a result, I would need to purchase a microphone preamp. There are dozens of great preamps out there that I could have used, but the fact that I travel frequently meant that whatever I chose needed to be as small as possible. The last thing I want is to add another big electronic item to the list of gear I already travel with and worry about.
I read a lot of reviews and watched a lot youtube videos and ultimately decided on the Fethead Mic Preamp. Here are the key benefits:
The Fethead goes for about $100 on average, making it one of the cheapest mic preamps you will find in it’s price range.
The Fethead mic preamp is about the length of a cigarette and about as thick as a travel sized toothpaste. It’s really small. It comes in a small carboard tube that you can store it it during travel as well. Unlike most preamps, the Fethead is not a standalone machine that needs power, it is designed to plug directly into your XLR cable. You can plug it directly into the XLR output of your mic, then plug the XLR cable into the Fethead or you can add the fethead to the end of your XLR cable right before you plug it into your audio interface or mixing board. It only adds about 2-3 inches to your cable and you barely notice that it’s there. I’m not sure if it could be anymore convenient than this.
There are other preamps in the same price range, but most of them are not that great and will actually introduce more noise than their worth. The Fethead gives you an addition 20 db boost of clean sound. And when I say clean, I really mean clean. This 20db boost allows you to turn your gain down on your audio interface significantly, so it isn’t doing so much work and adding noise to your signal chain.
If you’re on a budget and are looking for a great pre-amp for less than $100, I can’t recommend the Fethead mic preamp enough. It’s small, durable, cheap, and sounds great. And at that price range, it’s a low risk purchase that has a lot of bang for the buck. Hope this is helpful.
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