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Until the introduction of transistor amplifiers in the 1940s, tube circuits were the gold standard in audio amplification. Tubes are still commonly found today in high-end stereo receivers, instrument amplifiers, and microphone preamps largely because of both their prevalence in recorded musical history as well as the pleasing warmth and depth that they impart to otherwise plain audio signals. If you work with audio in any capacity, from live to studio and in between, a tube preamp is a quick ticket to getting bold, natural sounds that are pleasing to the ear.
Here’s a list of our favorite tube preamps for live and studio use:
This single-channel preamp from Universal Audio is a modern, cost-effective version of the legendary 610 preamp from the late 1950s, designed to bring a timeless tone that’s since been used on everything from Frank Sinatra to Arcade Fire into your own studio. Plug a bass or synth directly into the front panel or use it to add depth to any vocal or drum microphone signal you please. It’s mighty portable, too, thanks to its rubber handle and rugged metal casing.
This robust channel strip from PreSonus imparts vacuum tube warmth on instrument, microphone, and synth sources, making it a versatile tool for adding life into performances that might otherwise sound sterile or overly digital. In addition to packing 66 dB of gain, this unit includes a three-band parametric equalizer, a highpass filter, and a variable VCA compressor with automatic attack and release options. If you’re looking for an all-in-one unit that can put your project on the fast track to studio-quality recordings, this is a cost-effective option that doesn’t skimp on the pro features.
The ART TubeMPSTV3 is a quick fix for single-channel applications where you want to quickly apply some warmth to a synth, keyboard or other digital signal. Its small, portable frame allows for easy storage and keeps it out of the way even when it’s in use. It even comes with a host of switchable presets that are fine-tuned for each different vocal or instrument you might pass through.