Buyer's Guide

How To Choose The Best Bass Preamp For Your Needs

What is the best bass preamp and do you really need one? We will tackle these questions and more in this in-depth bass preamp buyer’s guide.

If you're looking for a preamp, this article will surely help you out. Despite having different appearances, all of them have more or less the same characteristics. They can be manufactured as a pedal, be onboard (tied to your bass' circuitry), and even rack-mounted, to name a few.

How do you know which one to settle on? Well, this article will give you five choices that are ideal for particular situations and show why you will benefit from having one, to begin with.

Where To Look: An Overview

First off, what does a bass preamp do exactly? Simply put, these tools can boost your signal, increase gain, and clean up your sound. The most optimal device depends entirely on what your personal needs are.

Here are the areas that will be covered in this guide:

  • Best for Live Performance
  • Best for Studio Recording
  • Best Value/Budget Preamp
  • Most Versatility
  • Most Convenient

Depending on what your current status is as a musician, you will benefit from one over another. For example, if you're a studio player who doesn't play live very often, there is something out there for you. If you do a bit of everything, you will want something that is more diverse. With that in mind, let's get to discussing the five best bass preamp choices you can make.

What Is The Best Preamp For Bass?

Each category will have its own product where we go in-depth as to why the preamp is the greatest match for different scenarios.

The Best For Live Performance

When looking for any kind of equipment for playing shows, you're looking for a few different things. Firstly, since you'll be carrying your bass and amp around, it's a good idea to get something that is lightweight, doesn't take up much space, and is also durable at the same time. This can apply to all types of gear, especially amps.

The ideal preamp that fits this category would have to be the MXR M81 by Jim Dunlop. Dunlop is known for creating high-quality products, and these are no exception.

best bass preamp dunlop mxr

The MXR M81 is a pedal, which automatically makes it an excellent choice for being on the road. It is easy to carry along because of its portable size, and it weighs a little over 1 pound. Despite its compact size, it is also a well-built device, so you can expect reliability with this one.

It's also very convenient, and it has more than enough features to give you that boost during a performance.

Some of the features that the MXR M81 has are:

  • 3-band equalizer (bass, mid, treble)
  • Input and Output Control Knobs
  • Mid-range frequency controls
  • Direct Out

This is a high-performance preamp pedal that can really give a passive bass that extra boost. However, it still works with active basses as well. You can also control the volume of your bass on-stage without having to make modifications to the PA or the venue's in-house sound.

The Best For Studio Recording

Compared to picking a preamp for a live setting, you can easily get away with purchasing a more advanced one with more features on it. Generally, when you play live you have an idea of what your preferred sound is, but in the studio, experimentation with tones and frequencies is common along with mixing and mastering.

When choosing one for recording, a DI box is usually the preferred method. DI stands for Direct Input, and it can isolate your bass and give you a direct signal for recording while also preventing noise bleeding and clipping.

Having a direct signal is typically the way to go when it comes to modern audio engineering, so picking one that offers this will be optimal for recording. Out of all of the choices out there, we feel that the Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI V2 is the best preamp for recording bass guitar.

sansamp preamp for bass

Since 1994, the SansAmp bass preamp has been a great asset to many studios because of its impressive features. When recording, you will want a lot of options at your disposal so you can create the best possible sound.

With this one, you can get a variety of different sounds, whether they are soft, bright, or distorted and anything in between. One of the coolest features on this device is that the developers at Tech 21 have been mindful of the popularity of 5 and 6 string basses and therefore, this one allows you to get into those really low frequencies.

Users have found the  SansAmp Bass Driver DI V2 great for live performances as well, but the studio is where this gadget is able to shine the most, which is why it's the best preamp for bass in this category.

Additionally, if you'd prefer a bass preamp rack mount for studio recording, the Tech 21 RBI SansAmp RBI – 1U is a viable option for you. According to the manufacturer, this rack-mounted device is a beefed-up version of the Bass Driver DI pedal.

The Best Value 

If you want to get the best bass preamp for the money, the Behringer V-tone Bass Driver DI BDI21 has got you covered.

bass preamp behringer

While it doesn't have nearly as many attributes as the previous two items, this preamp is also about 4 to 5 times cheaper than them. This is ideal for those who want the most straightforward setup while still getting the benefits from your basic 3-band knobs, as well as the drive and presence ones. Nothing complicated!

This budget device can also be useful and effective in both the live and studio environments. It is a pedal which makes it ideal for carrying around, and it's also a DI box which is the most precise and efficient choice for recording.  

You can't go wrong with this one if you're on a budget or can't decide what to get. If you're a casual player, this preamp more than likely has everything you will ever need for a fraction of the price.


The Most Versatile

Versatility can refer to a number of different things. In this case, we are going to be looking at how well it stacks up in various settings as well as how it handles different genres of music.

For this, we'd have to say the best bass preamp is the DarkGlass Vintage Microtubes Deluxe pedal. Keep in mind, there is an upgraded version called the Vintage Ultra V2 that has a few more features than its sibling. You can check that one out here.

darkglass preamp

Overall, for shaping and nailing different sounds, the Deluxe version is sufficient enough. It gives you the tools to dial in what you want.

This preamp has the main knobs that you'd expect on such a device, namely the bass, mid, treble, drive, and level ones. However, there are two controls on here that allow the DarkGlass Vintage Microtubes Deluxe to be so diverse. These are the Blend and Era controls.

With the Blend knob, you can mix clean and distortion sounds. The Era knob works closely with the drive control to give you the option of having those warm tones from the past as well as the powerful sounds found in the heavier music of the 1980s and onward.

Depending on how you dial-in your settings, it can be the best bass preamp for metal, jazz, reggae, funk – anything really! The era knob is probably the most standout feature on this gadget because it allows you to achieve so much.

Here's a video showcasing the Deluxe's capabilities:

This pedal is well-made, and even looks durable with its solid metal look! What also makes this one so versatile is that it can be used live and in the studio. Being a pedal with DI capabilities allows you to do this.

If you're looking for a preamp that is built to last and help you achieve your sonic vision, the DarkGlass Vintage Microtubes Deluxe is your best bet.

The Most Convenient

The device that is most convenient is the one that you won't need to carry around anywhere. If you don't want to carry an extra piece of gear with you, you can opt for an onboard bass preamp.

While it might seem inconvenient at first getting an onboard preamp since you have to deal with wiring and batteries, this is basically the only step to it. Keep in mind, if you do not possess a proper A/C adapter, pedals will also require batteries, onboard ones are still the most convenient option in the long run once you've got the soldering out of the way.

We recommend the Aguilar OBP-3TK Onboard Preamp because it's affordable and you have the standard features installed right into your instrument.

best onboard preamp

That means you will be able to use it on the road, while you're recording, or when you're just having fun jamming at home.

In any situation, you can turn a passive bass into an active one without the need for extra equipment or dealing with instrument cables. Just be mindful of the battery life, and you should be golden.

Summary & Conclusion

Some people ask, “Do I need a bass preamp?” and wonder if it's worth getting one. Let's just put it this way - you will benefit more from having one than not. Who doesn't want the best sound possible with total control?

While preamps can be in different forms, you may have noticed that most of these devices have been pedals. There is a good reason for this.

This isn't saying that the other options aren't good by any means, it's just that pedals are very convenient (onboard still wins here), versatile, and fit in just about every setting imaginable.

To recap this article, the best bass guitar preamp list goes as follows:

  • Jim Dunlop MXR M81 (For Live Performance)
  • Tech21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI V2 or Tech 21 RBI SansAmp RBI - 1U Rackmount (For Studio Recording)
  • Behringer V-tone Bass Driver DI BDI21 (For Value/Budget)
  • DarkGlass Vintage Microtubes Deluxe (For Versatility)
  • Aguilar OBP-3TK Onboard Preamp (For Most Convenience)

Pedals are easy to carry around, making them great for the live setting. There is a good chance that you already have a pedalboard, so these should fit nicely with your other ones. These also won't take up much space on a desk, making them useful for home recording too, provided that it has direct input (DI).

No matter what type you decide to purchase, we certainly hope that this guide has given you some insight into what we think the top preamps are for various categories. While they have similarities, certain ones are better than others for different settings and depending on your goals, the right one is out there for you.