Q. Which budget tube preamp should I buy?

Published in SOS April 2012
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I'm looking to get a tube preamp but am on quite a small budget. I've already looked at the ART Tube MP and PreSonus TubePRE. Can anyone offer any opinions on these, or suggest any other potential buys? My budget is around £100$150, although I may be going halves with a friend, so would welcome suggestions up to around £150$250.

If you only have a small budget, a tube preamp may not be the best way to go. If you can stretch to more than few hundred pounds, the TL Audio Ivory, for example, could be a good buy. Otherwise, the preamps you may already have on a decent audio interface are hard to beat.If you only have a small budget, a tube preamp may not be the best way to go. If you can stretch to more than few hundred pounds, the TL Audio Ivory, for example, could be a good buy. Otherwise, the preamps you may already have on a decent audio interface are hard to beat.

Via SOS web site

SOS Review Editor Matt Houghton replies: This question crops up quite a lot. The first thing to ascertain is why you want a tube preamp, because, in my experience, most people who ask this question haven't really thought about it, and generally haven't arrived at any answer. So what qualities are you seeking from a tube preamp? Warmth? Flair? Clarity?

Personally, I've used a number of budget and high-end tube preamps, and there are very few 'affordable' ones that I'd countenance, simply because there are far, far better solid-state preamps at the same price. I'd count anything below £500$700 in that category. Between £500$700 and £1000$1500 there are a few that may be worth a look if they do what you want: the SPL Goldmike or the TL Audio Ivory/Ebony, for example.

But if you're looking for 'warmth', you're arguably more likely to get that from a preamp or other device with audio transformers. If it's 'flair', you might find that picking the right mic (which may very well be a tube mic) is a better option.

At your sort of budget, the bang-for-buck you get from the preamps on a decent audio interface is hard to beat, in my opinion. Going up to about £250$400 starts to bring the likes of the GA Pre73 into view. But then £250$400 might very well buy you a nicer mic that does what you want!  .


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