Differences Between a Preamplifier & an Amplifier

A preamplifier does not merely boost the volume of your audio signal before it reaches a main amplifier, as the term misleadingly implies.

Preamplifier

A preamplifier and a power amp are often combined in one unit.A preamplifier and a power amp are often combined in one unit.
If you a play a musical instrument as part of a live set up, produce music at home using audio hardware or are an AV enthusiast who likes to get the best sonic experience from your equipment, your preamp plays a vital role in preparing your audio signal for amplification and a very different one to your main amplifier.

A standalone preamplifier should be the final component in the chain before an audio signal is routed to a main, or power, amplifier. If you're playing guitar or another musical instrument, it should be connected to the output of any other effects units you're using to treat your signal before amplification. If you're using a preamp at home with AV equipment, the audio signal should be routed from the source unit, a CD player or a turntable for example, to the preamp and then on to the main amplifier. A preamplifier calibrates the audio signal from a low-level source input such as a microphone, pick-up or turntable and prepares it to processed by a traditional amplifier. It also adds controls such as tone and equalization or acts as a switching device between various source inputs.

Amplifier

An amplifier, or power amplifier, takes the signal produced by the preamplifier and translates it to a signal that can be relayed through a set of speakers or headphones. A main amplifier increases the power and sound of the signal provided by the preamplifier before the final result is heard.

Combo Unit

Many amplifiers, whether used by musicians or in the home, contain a preamplifier and a power amplifier within the same unit, which is why a distinction is often not made between the two.

About the Author

Michael Roennevig has been a journalist since 2003. He has written on politics, the arts, travel and society for publications such as "The Big Issue" and "Which?" Roennevig holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the Surrey Institute and a postgraduate diploma from the National Council for the Training of Journalists at City College, Brighton.