Interface and Pre amp
To get the sound of your microphone into your computer, you’re going to need to amplify and convert this analog signal into a digital one that the can be stored and edited. What’s needed in this process is a A/D converter and…..you guessed it! There are lots of different types all claiming to be far superior than the next using terminology like ‘signal to noise ratio’ , ‘Jitter’ and ‘transparency’. As with the microphone selection, you face a similar choice that contain diminishing returns the more you pay. One feature that gets overlooked and is perhaps one the most important is the stability of the interfaces drivers. The driver is the software that communicates with your computer via the interface and a happy relationship here means a trouble free experience recording. I once had very expensive interface that sounded great with lots of features that would continually have trouble being recognised by the computer. If i couldn’t use it then those features became irrelevant!
Solid State Digital Tube
The pre amp is the part of the equation that often gets talked up a lot and people love to spend a lot of money at this stage of the chain and it some ways this investment can be well placed. It is worth noting however that there a lot of copies of famous designs that would put a lot less of dent in your wallet than the brand originator. There are differences of course but are the better or just different? You can decide for yourself here.
Things to look out for when choosing a pre amp is the amount of gain that its capable of delivering (how loud it goes). The signal to noise ratio, (how much hiss it has when you turn it up) and whether it has any other bells and whistles like an equalizer etc..
Some pre amps offer greater functionality than others like a DI input which allows you to directly connect your instrument to it.
The character of the pre amp is determined by and large by its circuitry. Some are digital, some solid state and some are tubes, some are also variations of all 3.
The famous Neve 1073 is an example of a Solid State design that uses discrete components, this means that it doesn’t use microprocessors and instead uses many different parts that are hand wired. This of course takes time and money to manufacture that in part plays a big part in its high price.
Most home studio owners will most likely want to purchase an all in one preamp/interface. This makes a lot of sense as they can be very good quality and very easy to use, often with just one USB/thunderbolt cable and you’re done!
The RME Babyface is a great interface that can also be used on the go due its diminutive size. It comes with 2 built in pre amps and you have the ability to expand the maximum simultaneous inputs to 10 using the ADAT function.
A DI takes an instrument’s high impedance (HiZ) output and turns it into a microphone low level signal so you can plug it into the preamps microphone input.
Digital Pre amp
A digital pre amp amplifies the signal via microprocessors with no significant help from any other components, the also act as an analog to digital convertor.
Solid State Pre amp
A solid state preamp uses discreet components and is traditionally based around the transistor for its means of amplification.
Tube Pre amp
A tube pre amp uses a vacuum tube to produce signal gain, the tube is famous for adding a pleasant sound when working hard. This is caused by adding harmonics to the signal that work in complementary fashion to ‘thicken’ the sound.
A discrete device (or discrete component) is an electronic component with just one circuit element, either passive (resistor, capacitor, inductor, diode) or active (transistor or vacuum tube), other than an integrated circuit (microchip).