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Many computer audio interfaces include one or more microphone preamplifiers. If the audio interface is designed to be used for professional audio, then its internal preamplifier will be capable of fully professional work.
Some recording engineers however will prefer to use a separate microphone preamplifier and bypass the preamp in the audio interface, either to be sure to capture the very best possible audio quality, or to achieve a different sound texture.
A properly-specified microphone preamplifier will have the following features and functions...
In general, transistor preamplifiers are used when the highest degree of sonic perfection is required. A transistor preamplifier of competent modern design will be capable of very low noise, very low distortion and a wide, flat frequency response.
A vacuum-tube preamplifier may be used when a 'warm' sound is required. This is created by mild distortion that occurs in the vacuum tube, which is either the central amplifying device, or is connected as an additional circuit component. This kind of preamplifier will often feature an additional output level control. This is so that the gain can be increased to achieve more warmth, then the signal brought down again in level for output.
Microphone preamplifier manufacturers include A Designs, AEA, Alesis, Aphex, API, ART, ATI, Audient, Avalon, Avid, BBE, Behringer, Blue Microphones, Benchmark, Burl Audio, Chandler, Crane Song, Chameleon Labs, Cloud Microphones, Daking, Dave Hill Designs, dbx, Focusrite, Grace Design, Great River, Maag Audio, Manley, Martinsound, Millennia, PreSonus, Radial, Shadow Hills, Solid State Logic (SSL), Studio Projects, Summit Audio, True Systems, Universal Audio, Vintech and others.