In this guide, we’ll cover five of the best preamps for DSLR. I’ll say it twice and I’ll say it thrice: don’t count on your camera to capture quality audio. 

Just like you probably wouldn’t eat a ”certified Angus prime steak” from a consumer electronics brand better known for products like the ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, universal battery charger, and motorized tie-rack… you shouldn’t expect the world’s greatest sound from your camera’s mic.

Even with a top of the line shotgun mic or lavalier mic, plugging straight into your camera will still result in an unpleasant hiss. That’s because most cameras’ internal preamps aren’t great quality. To be fair, cameras are meant to do visuals, not audio. 

That’s where external preamps and audio recorders come in. These devices take the relatively weak signal of an external microphone and boost the levels without introducing unwanted noise. 

For more about the differences between recorders and external preamps, check out the explanation below.

The following preamps cover a range of budgets from under $50 up to $1000, but even the cheapest of the bunch will make a world of difference in the sound quality of your next project.

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4 of the Best Preamps for DSLR

Saramonic SmartRig II XLR Microphone & 6.3mm Guitar Adapter with Phantom Power Preamp for iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Android Smartphones

Saramonic SmartRig II

Saramonic is a United States manufacturer of microphones and audio adapters founded in 2014.

If you appreciate companies who specialize in product niches, you’ll appreciate Saramonic’s focus on designing affordable audio tools specifically for DSLR, mirrorless, and video cameras.

The Saramonic SmartRig II is technically designed for use with mobile devices like phones or tablets, but with a handy little TRRS to TRS adapter the SmartRig is great for the coupon clipping video shooter, and one of the best preamps for DSLR cameras in the budget category.

If you’re handy with electronics and enjoy a good hack, Caleb Pike of DSLR Video Shooter has come up with an ingenious mod that makes the SmartRig even more handy. The SmartRig II is small and relatively cheap, but worth the money for the betterment of humankind’s ears.

Features & Specs

  • Input: One XLR
  • Output: One 3.5 mm
  • Power supply: One 9 V battery
  • Headphone monitoring
  • Phantom power
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Beachtek DXA-Micro Pro

Beachtek takes Saramonic’s specialization a step further. For two decades, this small company’s singular focus has been designing audio adapters for cameras.

The size of the company belies the major impact they’ve made on the market. The DXA-Micro Pro is regularly cited as enthusiast videographers’ preamp of choice, and thus one of the best preamps for DSLR.

Beachtek DXA-MICRO PRO Audio Adapter

Hailed as the most popular DSLR audio adaptor, the Beachtek DXA-Micro Pro is a heavy hitter. In some online tests I have seen the Beachtek’s preamps perform just as well as the MixPre-3 (which costs about four times as much). The plethora of 3.5mm inputs is super helpful for setups with multiple lavalier mics. And if you only need one XLR input, the Beachtek is a no brainer.

Features & Specs

  • Inputs: Two mono 3.5 mm, one stereo 3.5 mm, one XLR 
  • Outputs: 3.5 mm
  • Power supply: One 9 V battery
  • Phantom power
  • Two cold mounting shoes
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Sound Devices MixPre-3 II Portable 32-Bit Float Multichannel Audio Recorder/Mixer, and USB Audio Interface

Sound Devices MixPre-3/MixPre-6

US-based Sound Devices is a company of self-described “audio nerds” that have been geeking out on product design since 1998. Sound Devices’ sound devices… have been used on sets of big productions from La La Land to Game of Thrones.

Typically used by industry professionals, Sound Devices has expanded their market with the introduction of more prosumer-friendly products like the MixPre-3. This move makes the MixPre-3 one of the best preamps for DSLR out there.

If you’re looking to step up your audio capabilities in a big way, the MixPre is comparatively expensive to the first two preamps, but leaps ahead in every other way.

The MixPre-3 and MixPre-6 differ in their number of inputs but are, for all other intents and purposes, the same. The preamps are exceptionally quiet and allow for a ton of extra gain before introducing any noise.

The menu is laid out well with a responsive touch screen that is bright and colorful to boot. If you’re an audiophile for headphones you’ll appreciate the super-powered headphone amp.

A minor complaint is the placement of the adjustable volume knob on the side that can be hard to reach in a sound bag. Sound Devices spared no expense on the build quality which includes die-cast aluminum, rubber panels, and retractable tripod mounts. 

Best of all, the MixPre-3 combines the functionality of an audio recorder and external preamp into one. By accepting SD cards up to 512 GB (you read that right) users have the option of sending the signal straight to the camera or syncing the audio in post later. More on that later.

Features & Specs

  • Inputs: 3 XLR, 3.5 mm aux
  • Outputs: 3.5 mm stereo
  • Power supply: 4 x AA batteries, MX-PSU AC power supply, or USB-C
  • Sample rate: up to 192 kHz
  • Bit-depth: up to 32-bit
  • USB audio interface
  • Timecode generator
  • Mixing, gain, pan, low-cut, phase inversion, and more
  • Phantom power
  • 300 mW headphone amp
  • SD card recording up to 512 GB
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Zoom F4/F8

Not to be confused with the now ubiquitously popular video-conferencing software company of the same name, Zoom Corporation is a popular Japanese audio company that specializes in recording equipment, audio interfaces, and drum machines.

Founded in 1983, the company has earned a strong reputation for powerful production solutions.

Zoom F4 Professional Field Recorder/Mixer, Audio for Video, 24-bit/192 kHz Recording, 8 Channel Recorder, 4 XLR/TRS Inputs, Timecode, Ambisonics Mode, Battery Powered, Dual SD Card Slots

Just as Sound Devices started pro and has expanded towards consumer markets, Zoom started with enthusiasts and expanded towards the pro realm. Especially with the F4/F8, Zoom has brought superior audio quality to devices that are much more likely to be found on set of a traditional film/TV production than the Zoom H5 or H6. Just like the MixPre-3 and 6, the F4 and F8 are directly competitive field recorders that differ by number of inputs. 

The F-series has the ability to use hirose external power supplies, a feature standard to gear designed for productions with long shooting times. The adjustable dials aren’t quite as manageable as the MixPre-3 but you do get one more XLR input.

Zoom has developed a handy iOS app for controlling the F-series remotely, but in my opinion it’s still not as nice as those tactile analog dials. The recorders are also very capable audio interfaces and use Zoom’s trademark mic capsule system. A big advantage of the F-series over the MixPre-3 is their recording redundancy with two SD card slots. 

Choosing between the MixPre and F-series really comes down to your own production needs and workflow. They really are both excellent pieces of gear with great sound but slight advantages in different areas.

Features & Specs

  • Inputs: 4 XLR, 3.5 mm, and mic capsule input
  • Outputs: 2 XLR, 3.5 mm
  • Power supply: 8 x AA batteries, external DC battery pack with Hirose connection
  • Sample rate: Up to 192 kHz
  • Bit-depth: Up to 24-bit
  • USB audio interface
  • Phantom power
  • Timecode generator
  • 100 mW headphone amp
  • SD card recording up to 512 GB
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Should I get a preamp or audio recorder?

Or should I get both? Using the word “preamp” to describe this particular set of devices can be a little confusing because every piece of gear that can record audio (camera included) are technically preamps, or at least they have them. We call the Saramonic and Beachtek units “preamps” because that’s basically all they are. They are just little black boxes of inputs and outputs that do the job of boosting audio signals better than your camera is able to do.

Using an audio recorder

Handy recorders are also preamps but are able to record the audio onto readable/writable media like SD cards. The Zoom H5 and H6 are good examples of handy recorders and if you’re interested you can check them out here

Using a recorder independently of the camera is known as recording dual-system sound. The trick about using the dual-system method is that you have to sync the audio and video files together in post. Usually, this is pretty easy with automatic syncing features in editors like Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro, but with film/TV production shoots where crews are capturing hundreds of shots, merging the clips in realtime can be a more convenient and reliable workflow. The automatic syncing features are nice and super convenient but they aren’t always 100%. 

The advantages of preamps & field recorders

That’s the primary advantage of a “preamp”. You know you’re getting everything you need in one place, in the right place, and on one SD card. Their box shapes are also conveniently designed to fit between a tripod and camera whereas handy recorders tend to sit on their own or are rigged up at odd angles.  

Then you bring in the Zoom F4/F8 and the MixPre-3/MixPre-6. These devices basically combine all of the advantages of the preamp and handy recorder into what’s generally called a “field recorder”. Field recorders are much more customizable devices suited to fit the specific needs of a given production. Since they technically are preamps, the fit the bill for the best preamps for DSLR camereas. They can be used as independent recorders, input/output preamps, audio interfaces, and can even generate their own timecodes with specially designed cables for absolute syncing precision. 

Best Preamps for DSLR: The Bottom Line

Whether you spring for a preamp, handy recorder, or field recorder, you can be sure you’re getting better audio than you would be with your camera. In other words, you can rest assured that you’re buying your prime rib from a butcher and your shiatsu massager from… Skymall.


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