Preamp Vs Mixer – Which One To Choose?

If you are new to the music world, a lot of different devices and terminologies will confuse you.

Even understanding the purpose of a single thing is not enough. You need to go in-depth to understand the difference between two things if they seem to serve the same task.

Not only beginners, even an amateur, would get anxious when some new device, related to sound and audio come to their knowledge.

While wondering all about different music devices, your brain must have struck to preamp and mixer.

Before purchasing any of these, you need to understand what these things are and how they work.

This article is all about preamp vs mixer, their understanding, and how these things work. You will definitely find out which of these you need by the end of this article.

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What Is A Preamp?

Video: “What Is A Preamp, And Do I Need One?”

A preamplifier is basically an electronic amplifier which is responsible for transforming a weak signal into a line-level or strong signal which can be further processed by sending to a loudspeaker or any such device.

Preamps are ideally placed close to a sensor. This way, it reduces the effects of noise and interference.

You will see two different types of preamps. One that is already present in a device or we can say, a built-in preamp. The other is a dedicated external preamp.

Preamplifier takes your mic level signal and brings it up to the line-level signal so that they could match.

It is to be noted that all the preamps offer different sound; therefore, choosing a good preamp is equally essential as picking a good microphone.

A preamp may be specifically built for drums. Some are good for vocals, and some for everything.

We need to control the input selection and volume of our signal sources. So, a preamp is essentially a way to select the inputs that you might want to listen to and control their volume.

Types of Preamps

Preamps fall in three categories which include, vacuum tubes, integrated circuits, and transistors.

Let us have a look at each of them.


Vacuum Tubes

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This type of amp is made of valves and vacuum tubes. These are great for softening a signal before sending them to a digital audio workstation.

These were the most popular preamps, but soon they fell out of favor due to their weight and size.

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8 Best Tube Mic Preamps


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The integrated circuit is a type of circuit having all the components on a single board.

They make the circuitry component stronger and concise.



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These preamps have a discrete design known for accurate reproduction and somewhat punchy sound.

Transistors replace the tubes as they have less heat, size, and cost.

How Does It Work?

The signals of the microphone are usually below the standard level. In this situation, quite a lot of gain is required, which could be around 30 to 60 dB.

The standard signal level for many devices and instruments is around +4 dBu. A shorthand “-10 and +4” is commonly used.

To meet this signal difference, an external device preamp is used. It can be used for any sound source.

Usually, people do not feel the need to use an external dedicated preamp. Audio interfaces come with a built-in preamp, which is enough to get started. Better quality audio interfaces somewhat hold better preamps.

With the help of a high-quality preamp, you can get better sound quality. Preamps of high-quality are held in a sophisticated circuitry, giving away a better sound quality.

What Is A Mixer?

Video: “How Audio Mixers Work – What is a Mixer & What Does it Do?”

An audio mixer and mixing console are the names of the same thing commonly called as a mixer.

It is an electronic device used to mix, balance, and combine the audio signals and sounds from different sources.

After adjusting the sound through a mixer, the output is then transmitted and amplified with the help of a sound system.

In more simple words, a mixer has to take the audio as an input, has to add effects and tweak, combine it with a stereo or mono output. This is then amplified using a sound system.

Types of Mixer

Mixers are of three different types.


Software Mixer

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This type of mixer proceeds via a digital recording software using a computer.


Analog Mixer

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It works with analog signals. This type of mixer receives and processes analog signals.


Digital Mixer

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A digital mixer can work with both digital and analog signals.

How Does It Work?

The nervousness of a beginner becomes evident when he sees a mixer with so many knobs and channel strips. Only a few of these channels are essential to learning; the rest are just duplicated.

How a mixer works depend upon the number of input and output channels it has. Mixers are of various types with different numbers of input and output channels.

For instance, 16×8 means there are 16 inputs and 8 output options for recording a multi-track.

We need to look into the parts of a mixer to understand how it works. An analog mixer has three essential components.

You can connect the instrument and headphones to an analog mixer in its input channel.

Channel Faders

You can use this to control the volume of the respective instrument.

Equalization Knob

You can part the tone and timbre of every instrument into bass, midrange or treble using an equalization knob.

Using a more detailed mixer, you can get more detailed equalization options.


You can have a separate aux for setting the volume using monitors and headphones.

An aux has to tell the total number of effects and reverb, which each of the channels has blended.

Pan Pots

These control the whereabouts in the stereo field the audio will be heard. By turning it to the right, you are sending the signals entirely to the right output.

Similarly, turning it to the left will send the signals to the left output.

Bus Channels

Bus is a path in which you can process more than one audio signal to a specific destination. You can feed the bus information to each instrument.

You can create different exciting sound effects for your mix by experimenting and using multiple bus options.

Preamp vs Mixer The Differences

Now that you have enough understanding of what a preamp and a mixer is. I will move forward to contrast these devices. I will discuss the differences to make it more straightforward for you.

A preamp is a device which takes the coming signal and boosts it. It takes a signal, conditions it, and releases it towards the power amp for further processing.

A mixer, on the other hand, has to take multiple inputs and combine them for fewer outputs. Not all, but there are some mixers which have the output for each channel.

You can say that a mixer is a kind of (not really) preamp. Instead of selecting a single input, a mixer operates with multiple inputs at a time to combine them and then send them to the power amp.

You can understand this with the example of a live audio performance. There are multiple instruments working simultaneously like guitars, piano, drums, organs etc.

The mixer has to pick all these signals as an input, combine and condition them and then feed them to the power amp.

Mixers with built-in preamps are also available. But a preferable option is using a separate preamp.

Preamp vs Mixer: Which One Should I Use?

There are many mixers available which contain a built-in preamp. But without any doubt, an external preamp improves the quality of sound.

You need to understand what difference a built-in preamp and an external preamp would make to the quality of sound.

It depends upon how much on-board control of sound you have. You can level the signals using both these devices and can have an individual level control.

Using a mixer will let you cut specific frequencies and boost them. To enhance the sound further, many mixers offer effects like chorus, which helps improve the quality of sound.

Now come to preamp vs mixer. What actually you should choose?

If you want to mix and process the signals without the help of knobs and faders, the preamp is what you need to get the best sound.

If you want to mix the signals coming from different audio sources, a mixer is a far better option. In case you need to use microphones only, just go for the preamp.

Other things you need to consider are the number of inputs you require.

In addition to a total number of inputs, you should also consider the number of microphones you will need to use.

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Preamp and mixer are quite tricky things to understand. You should remember that almost all mixers come with a preamp.

The preamp is responsible for bringing the weak signal to a line-level signal, and a mixer has to collect various input signals, mix them up and send them to the power amp.

The preamp vs mixer thing is usually very complicated for the beginners, especially when they are new to this term.

I tried to make the concept as easy for you as possible and I hope this article helped you find out the solution to your problem.

Juan Stansbury
Juan Stansbury

I'm Juan Stansbury, author and owner of Homerecordio – your ultimate destination for everything about homerecording. With hands-on experience, courses, workshops, and industry research, I offer tips on selecting the best equipment, and mixing and mastering your recordings to achieve professional-quality results at home. Join me on this journey to explore the world of homerecording and music production.

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