Preamp plugins let you bring the sound of legendary recording gear into your workflow.

But if you’re used to other plugin types like compression or EQ, you might not know where to start with preamp VSTs.

They may have a more subtle effect, but there’s nothing complicated using them for mixing once you break it down.

In this article I’ll explain what preamp plugins are, how they’re most commonly used, and the 7 best options for emerging producers.

Let’s get started.

What are preamp plugins?

A preamp plugin is a VST effect that models the character of a hardware microphone preamp. They’re used in mixing to add subtle flavor to recorded tracks that need a little something extra.

A mic preamp is the first stage in your recording chain after your microphone. It amplifies the weak signal created by the microphone’s element and plays a significant role in the overall sound.

Many entry-level audio interfaces feature built-in preamps made to sound clean and transparent for all sources. That makes them versatile, but sometimes a bit bland.

Preamp plugins let you add the richness and color of classic analog preamps after you’ve already recorded your tracks.

Just like most pro studios have different preamps for the engineer to choose from for specific sounds, you can do the same with your folder of preamp plugins.

A preamp plugin is a VST effect that models the character of a hardware microphone preamp

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Why should you use a preamp plugin?

Think of preamp plugins like subtle tone-shaping tools that help you get the most out of your sounds in a mix.

As I mentioned above, the preamp used to amplify the microphone signal gives the sound its basic feel. This includes their frequency balance and harmonic saturation characteristics.

Over time, some preamp designs began to be associated with a tone that worked especially well in a mix.

Whether it’s the depth and sheen of a Neve-style preamp or the punch and forwardness of an API, there are many different styles to explore.

I’ll break down a few top picks you can try in your workflow.

waves abbey road emi tg12345

Waves Abbey Road collection features faithful recreations of the gear that made the legendary London studio a household name.

The EMI TG12345 models the original EMI console channel, including the sound of its preamp.

With a distinctive retro flavor unlike anything else, Waves’ take on the EMI TG12345 can add warmth and vibe to your signal using only its modeled input gain stage.

On top of that, you get its EQ and dynamics to shape your tracks just like they did in the 60’s at Abbey Road.

arturia pre tridA

Arturia jumped into the vintage mixing plugin game with its suite of three modeled preamps.

While the Neve-style Pre 1973, and the classic tube Pre V76 are both excellent, the Pre TridA offers the uniquely powerful EQ of the Trident A-Range console strip.

Known for its use by Tony Visconti on David Bowie’s “Berlin trilogy” albums, the Trident A-range is notoriously rare and expensive.

Luckily, the Pre TridA can give you a taste of the original in a DAW plugin.

slate vmr

Slate Digital is known for their modular channel strip that includes the essential sounds of analog gear in a mix-and-match format.

You’ll find a pair of excellent preamp emulations to warm up your front end, including the 1073-style FG-73 and the Telefunken style FG-76.

Both are well-suited to run at the front of a VMR patch to give your chain a preamp character throughout.

Many entry-level audio interfaces feature built-in preamps made to sound clean and transparent for all sources. That makes them versatile, but sometimes a bit bland.

analog obsession predd preamp plugin

Many of the preamp plugins on this list are premium products from respected manufacturers. You might think free plugins can’t compete, but that’s not the case at all.

In fact, donation-based developer Analog Obsession has created a number of excellent preamp plugins that are available to download for free.

Their PREDD plugin takes aim at another Abbey Road classic, the EMI REDD.51 tube console.

Known for its use on the earliest Beatles hits, the REDD.51 is a piece of music production history. Without plugin emulations, very few producers could ever experience its sound on their own recordings.

Hot tip: Analog Obsession plugins can be downloaded for free, but the collection is so strong that it’s worth supporting them with donations if you use them in your workflow.

neve 1073 uad preamp plugin

The analog mixing consoles made by Neve Electronics in the 1970s contain some of the most sought-after mic preamps of all time.

One of the most often cloned and copied is the 1073 preamp and EQ module found in the legendary 80-series console.

While there are many plugin versions available, UAD offers one of the most accurate. With the introduction of UAD Spark, it’s possible to own it without buying the expensive UAD hardware.

If you’ve slept on UAD before, now might be the right time to check out the Neve 1073.

Sometimes you need a little grit and grime to wake up a sound and make it sit in the mix.

Sometimes you need a little grit and grime to wake up a sound and make it sit in the mix.

In the analog era, one of the best ways to get it was by driving an old-school tube mic preamp.

Sound Toys Radiator is a preamp plugin based on the Altec 1567a—a tube mixer not known for its hi-fi sound.

Instead, it provided a distinct warm coloration that became associated with the Motown sound of the 1960s.

If you’re looking for serious tube color, Radiator should be high on your list.

Hot tip: To get harmonic saturation from a pre-amp plugin you’ll need to turn up the input gain and turn down the output level to compensate.

ik multimedia t-racks EQ-73 preamp plugin

As I mentioned above, there are many great software takes on the Neve 1073 preamp.

While the UAD version is often considered the best available, you may find yourself looking for an alternative that doesn’t break the bank.

At just $99 USD, IK Multimedia T-Racks EQ73 is a more affordable option with solid, authentic Neve sound.

It also includes a handy option to use the more flexible EQ layout of the 1081 channel strip that offers

Pre-amplification

Preamp plugins help you bring the magic of the analog era to your DAW.

No matter what genre you produce, the warmth, punch and authority of classic preamps is a big part of a polished professional sound.

Try any of the plugins on this list to get a taste without spending thousands on rare vintage gear.

Audio LANDR