Preamplifier, yes, indeed I had thought of that, still I wasn't sure that the preamp was the element clipping.
I use a Yamaha four-track machine (MT 50) as a preamp to track to Reaper using a Hercules USB soundcard. The MT50 has three gain trim levels: line, instrument and mic. I use the mic level of course, with the fader of the track at 4, its maximum being 10. I tend to like the quality of the sound with the fader above 2, as the signal seems richer, more "alive". What I mean is no matter how much I normalize in Reaper (or any software for that matter), the sound never has the body and life I am looking for if it is not tracked with the proper gain setting on the front-end in the first place.
I am aware that the equipment mentioned above is dated and not professional.
Still, there must be something I am doing wrong, and it could well be I would be doing it just as wrong using a UA preamp going into an MOTU soundcard.
If I may ask another question: what, as a rule of thumb would be the top level you admit
on a vocal when tracking it, ie regardless of treatment of the level in a DAW?
In any case, thank you for your answer, it means I am either using improper gains settings or I fell upon a faulty 58.