We previously discussed why one would want to use a Class A and discrete microphone preamplifier, and how using one can increase the quality of your audio/recording projects. Here is a list of some of the options out there to achieve really good sound on a budget. This list is in alphabetical order. This page is supported by affiliate/partner links where noted.
A Class A mic pre can add depth and clarity, and bring out detail that otherwise wouldn’t be present. My favorite example of this is that the SM57 is a workhorse mic found everywhere, and people generally think of it as a live mic. However they sound terrific as overhead mics for drums as long as a nice preamp is being used. They won’t sound bad if you use the IC (Integrated Circuit) pres on a low-end interface, but the difference between the IC and Class A preamp will not be subtle. If I only have IC pres to work with, I will go with a condenser instead to get the detail I’d likely be missing.
The ASP880 and ASP800 are 8-channel Class A mic pres that both share Audient’s ASP8024-HE Console pre’s.
The ASP800 has additional colorization options including a transformer that can be switched on.
The ASP880 has expanded pad options (for all channels instead of only 2 on the ASP800, and -15db instead of the -10db on the ASP800) and also an improved power supply giving discrete power to each microphone input/pre. Additionally while the ASP800 only has polarity switches on channels 1 and 2, the ASP880 has them on all channels. The ASP also has variable impedance, AES/SPDIF and can be used as a standalone A/D converter. The Burr Brown chip is upgraded from the PCM4204 of the ASP800 to the PCM4220 on the ASP880. However the price is significantly upgraded as well! Audient’s spec sheet can be found here.
More info coming soon
I’m breaking the rules here a little bit, because while technically not “discrete” the Grace M101 (and older Model 101) preamplifiers sound amazing, and can be had used for very reasonable prices. I personally have great success with a Model 101 I bought from eBay
The ISA series is a long favorite of mine. While Focusrite may be known to many for making the affordable Scarlett interface line, they also have a true pro line and the ISA series is my favorite out of this group.
This is one of my favorite mic preamp lines. Rupert Neve founded Focusrite after selling his legendary company to help create a more budget-friendly line of products. He had been restricted from being a competitor to his former country in the contract of the sale. The ISA line comes from the original 110. I personally think these sound mostly clean with just a little bit of transformer mojo. You can get a world-class sound with these.
-Single Channel Focusrite ISA One (Amazon) This is the single channel