It's very common to find audio interfaces with built-in preamps these days. If you read our 5 Secrets to a Better Vocal Recording article, you know that stock preamps on most interfaces are clean and getting better and better. Although this is true, you can't match the color and sheen that dedicated preamps can add to your tracks. The reason being mostly that they have more room for things like higher end capacitors and transformers to give more headroom and color. Interfaces tend to be more cost effective and save money where they can to get engineers to start recording right away.
In this short article, we will showcase a recent shootout between Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 preamps and the PreSonus RC|500 channel strip. The track in question is a verse from the album Far Away From Here sung by the artist, Nathan Edwards. A link to the album will follow the shootout.
The first take is the Scarlett 18i8:
The second is the RC|500 with no effects.
The third is the RC|500 with subtle compression and EQ.
The 18i8 preamps are nice and clean and work great. But having a dedicated preamp or channel strip can really help shape your sounds in ways that software plugins can't match. You'll notice increased clarity and presence with the dedicated preamp. When you're tracking a whole bunch of instruments, that clarity delivered across many tracks becomes even more apparent. Instruments stand out better, sound more balanced, and make for a better mix. That's not to take away from the 18i8 preamps. What they deliver in that box is amazing for what you're paying, but once you have a nice interface like a Focusrite Scarlett interface, you should definitely look at a dedicated preamp as a potential investment in your sound.
As promised, here is the link to Nathan Edwards' album, Far Away From Here.
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