Best Acoustic Preamp Pedal Guide

The Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar Preamp Pedals

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Acoustic preamp pedals are often employed for tone shaping and coloration to make amplified acoustic guitars sound better or more natural.

Here we present you with the highest rated acoustic preamps based on the most recent review and rating data up to March of 2020 (more about this in the methodology section).

If you want to send your signal directly to a mixing desk then you'll absolutely need a preamp to act as a DI box and transform your signal to the desk's required levels. Note that guide is about external preamps, not the onboard preamps that are mounted inside guitars and other instruments. If you have an onboard preamp in your guitar you can plug it straight into an instrument amplifier but many find the improvements of these dedicated preamp units are just too good to do without.

This 2020 update produced a few changes including first time recommendations for Audio Sprockets' ToneDexter and Grace Design's ALiX.

Best Acoustic Preamp Pedals

Fire-Eye Red-Eye

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$195
Fire-Eye Red-Eye Acoustic Instrument Preamp DI

Fire-Eye is a boutique brand that may not be as popular, but they are gaining traction in the market, with more and more musicians swearing by the overall quality of the Red-Eye.

This preamp and it's bigger sibling, the Fire-Eye Red-Eye Twin, have received exceptionally high ratings, in fact it is difficult to find any expert or customer review rating it at the equivalent of less than 4 out of 5 stars.

Although less feature packed than many other options, where it shines is in its simplicity of use and its clarity of tone.

Features

  • Input Impedance: 1 million ohms, maximum 1 volt peak-to-peak level.
  • Low-impedance, balanced, XLR output, 600 ohms, will drive long cables to a mix-board.
  • Boost button with volume control for amplifying solos.
  • Treble control to boost or reduce treble.
  • Long 9-volt battery life (~200 hours).
  • Automatically uses XLR Phantom Power, when available, instead of the battery.
  • Plugging an instrument in or connecting XLR phantom power turns the Red-Eye on.
  • Automatic power check.
  • ¼ inch output and input for accessory loop.
  • Internal filtering to reject radio-frequency interference from neon lights and cell phones.
  • Dimensions: 1.25" x 2.25" x 4.25"
  • Weight: 0.625 lbs

Pros

Sonic transparency continues to be well cited in customer reviews. Ease of use also gets mentioned, with the phrase 'plug and play' coming up frequently from owners. 'Professional' or words to that effect are in many user reports. The boost button came in for a lot of praise by finger pickers and those who like to switch between playing rhythm and solos on their acoustic guitar. Usually with a product that's becoming as popular as this is, there will be at least a small minority who express some degree of buyer's remorse, however no sentiment like that was evident when I was researching the Red-Eye.

Cons

There were few, if any, consistently reported negatives. One user lamented the fact that you have to unscrew 4 screws on the back to change the battery, however they quickly added that this wasn't a deal breaker. A couple of others suggested that it would have been nice to have included gain control to make it easier to use with hot active acoustic pickup systems, but even these people didn't rate it less than 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Overall

If you're looking for a no-nonsense preamp and DI with very good clarity and transparency, then put the Red-Eye at the top of your shopping list.

LR Baggs Para DI

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$199
LR Baggs Para DI Acoustic Guitar Preamp

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar Preamp along with the Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre.

A versatile acoustic preamp that can be used on the floor or on a desk, thanks to its compact form factor.

This unit has a 5 band EQ with tunable notch and midrange bands provide extensive tone shaping. It is usually employed for subtle adjustments to fix venue related sound issues, or even to change the sound altogether.

Other practical features include feedback control via phase inversion and the option to power the unit via a 9V battery or via phantom power.

Features:

  • Works for both passive and active pickups (adjustable gain)
  • 5 band EQ with tunable notch and midrange bands
  • Phase inversion for feedback control
  • XLR and 1/4" outputs
  • Works with 9V battery or 48V phantom power

Pros

LR Baggs is well known for the quality of their gear, and the Para DI is a great showcase of what their brand is all about. Many report that it improved their sound significantly, this include satisfied guitarists, musicians who play violins and other pickup-equipped acoustic instruments. Many are impressed with how the preamp brings out detail that otherwise would be lost. In addition to sounding better, many also claim that it makes them play better. It continues to rate highly for its great overall sound and functionality.

Cons

Some users mentioned that they encountered feedback issues during the first few uses, until they learned to better utilize the notch filters. Others pointed out that the learning curve for maximizing its potential is a bit steeper than expected. There are also a few who wished the price was a bit lower.

Overall

If you're a multi-instrumentalist that play various acoustic instruments, then the portable and versatile LR Baggs Para DI box is highly recommended.

Tech 21 SansAmp Para Driver V2

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$209
Tech 21 SansAmp Para Driver V2

While Tech 21 is popular for their bass preamps, they are also sought after in the acoustic market, thanks to the Para Driver - a preamp dedicated to acoustic instruments.

The Para Driver is packed with EQ controls, all of which are tweaked to give users the ability to boost or cut frequencies that are prominent in acoustic guitars.

This preamp is used primarily for adding tube like warmth to the usually thin sound of piezo-pickups, and it does so without the bulk of actually carrying a conventional acoustic amplifier.

Features:

  • Active tone controls with 12dB of cut or boost
  • Sweepable semi-parametric EQ
  • 1/4-inch 4.7 megOhm instrument level input
  • 1/4-inch and XLR outputs with selectable levels
  • Input Impedance 4.7 M Ohm
  • Parallel, uneffected output to run a dry signal to a separate channel
  • Weight: 0.875 lbs

Pros

This preamp is often praised for its warm character that doesn't overwhelm your original tone. With its tube-like tone and built-in "drive", there are reports of it working well even when used with electric and bass guitars. Build quality and reliability are also often mentioned in reviews, along with its low-noise operation. The convenience of having an easy access battery compartment is also another plus.

Cons

Those who want a truly transparent preamp will want to look elsewhere, as the SansAmp will color your tone. The price is a bit out of reach for some, but still accessible.

Overall

The Tech 21 SansAmp Para Driver is a good acoustic preamp that can also work with other instruments, ideal for multi-instrumentalists.

LR Baggs Session DI

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$249

LR Baggs bags earns another spot on our recommended list with the Session DI, a compact acoustic preamp solution that allows for complex tone shaping with minimal knob tweaking.

It features intuitive control knobs that let you adjust selective resonance filtering, multiband compression and saturation, all of which are tweaked to work well with acoustic guitars and other pickup equipped instruments.

Other controls include volume and gain knobs, as well as a phase button and a mute footswitch.

Finally, there's a colorful VU meter on the face of the unit that lets you monitor and optimize your instrument input level.

Features:

  • Preamp with built-in Multiband Compression
  • With Variable Garret Null notch filter and phase switch
  • Powered by 9V battery, phantom power, or power supply
  • 1/4" Input, 1/4" and XLR output
  • Compact form factor
  • Weight: 1.5lbs

Pros

There's just something about LR Baggs' preamp design that makes them sound really good, and this continues to be the majority opinion even after we analyzed the most recent reviews and ratings in 2020. It is commonly used to improve the sound of what otherwise would be a thin sounding acoustic instrument. Even those with already good sounding instruments use it subtly for added warmth. Its compression and saturation also receive a lot of commendations for its studio level quality, especially when considering its compact profile.

Cons

As expected from a premium brand the price for this small pedal can be a bit daunting for some and others have said they would have preferred a few more features to make it worth their money. The clarity and warmth of the pedal makes it ideal for fingertyle playing, but with some tweaks it can work just as well with other styles.

Overall

If you're looking for a quality preamp that's easy to use, compact and versatile, then get the LR Baggs Session DI.

Fire-Eye Red-Eye Twin

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$295
Fire-Eye Red-Eye Twin Instrument Preamp

As the name implies, the Red-Eye Twin packs two all-analog Red-Eye preamps into one compact unit including two inputs for two instruments - each having dedicated gain and treble knobs.

It is meant for musicians who switch between multiple instruments at gigs, simplifying instrument switching while providing transparent high-fidelity preamplification and DI-box functions.

There's also a switch that lets use both preamps simultaneously with separate instruments.

There's not much to work with in terms of tone shaping, but it does have a clean boost footswitch for emphasizing certain musical lines.

Features

  • A/B Stomp instrument switching.
  • Mode Switch (A/B or A+B)
  • Dedicated Gain and Treble controls for each instrument.
  • Input Impedance: 1 million ohms, maximum 1 volt peak-to-peak level.
  • Low-impedance, balanced, XLR output, 600 ohms, will drive long cables to a mix-board.
  • Boost button with volume control for amplifying solos.
  • Runs on 9-volt battery (~200 hours), Runs on XLR Phantom Power when available
  • Plugging an instrument in or connecting XLR phantom power turns the Red-Eye on.
  • Automatic power check light/
  • ¼ inch output and input for accessory loop.
  • Internal filtering for interference rejection.
  • Dimensions: 1.25" x 3.5" x 4.5".
  • Weight: 1.125 lbs.

Pros

One user summarizes market sentiment nicely by saying that the Fire-Eye Red-Eye Twin is a "very well thought out unit". It gets a lot of commendations for its transparency and simplicity, and many owners are happy with how it has helped them organize their rig when using two acoustic instruments. Many of the positive reviews were from acoustic guitar players who also use it with other acoustic instruments like Mandolin.

Cons

There were a few who wish for more tone shaping controls, but that would defeat Fire-Eye's deliberate intention of keeping it simple.

Overall

The Fire-Eye Red-Eye Twin is highly recommended for multi-instrumentalists who switch between acoustic instruments in performances.

Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre Acoustic Preamp DI Box

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar Preamp along with the LR Baggs Para DI.

Radial continues to do well in the preamp market thanks to the quality of products like the Tonebone PZ-Pre, a feature packed multi-function preamp for acoustic instruments.

With its long list of well known artist endorsers that include James Taylor, Jerry Douglas, Keb' Mo' and more, there's just no way to leave this out of an acoustic preamp recommendation list.

It combines tone shaping for acoustic with Radial's acclaimed preamp quality, resulting in a versatile and clean sounding preamp that is loved by many.

Features:

  • Two Channel Preamp and Active DI Box
  • Independent piezo boosters for each channel
  • With Notch and High Pass Filter
  • Pre and Post EQ balanced DI out for FOH and in-ear monitoring
  • Tuner out and Guitar amp out
  • Input Impedance (Piezo) 10 M Ohm | Normal 6.8 M Ohm
  • 3-Band EQ with semi-parametric mid
  • Weight: 2.7 lbs

Pros

Our March 2020 update still has the Tonebone PZ-Pre ranking highly with excellent reviews, thanks to its versatile input/output features and great sound. It is perfect for singer-songwriters or musicians who switch between two or more instruments in live performance. Many owners have commended its tone shaping ability, with some noting that by following suggestions from the manual they were able to get great sounds. Since this pedal is from Radial, don't expect much coloration, so it won't necessarily make you sound "better", but will simply make sonic details clearer.

Cons

Since it focuses more on transparency instead of modifying your sound, it can't really save an instrument or rig that doesn't already sound good in the first place. And this is most probably the reason for some of the few negative ratings that the unit has received, which is unfair considering that this pedal works wonders for majority of its users. Another issue that came up is the unit's price and bulk, but since it gives you 2 channels, tone shaping and complex DI Box features, that's easily forgivable.

Overall

If you're looking for a powerful transparent DI Box solution for your acoustic guitar or other acoustic instruments, then the Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre is definitely worth checking out.

Audio Sprockets ToneDexter

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$399
Audio Sprockets ToneDexter Acoustic Preamp Pedal

The ToneDexter is a digital preamp for acoustic guitars with with microphone modelling in an interesting feature called WaveMap which captures and applies the character of a mic to your tone.

By blending its WaveMap signal with that of your piezo pickups it produces a resulting sound is more natural and a-kin to a studio miked acoustic.

But unlike the Fishman Aura, ToneDexter works well with all types of soundboard and under-saddle transducers - not just piezos.

You can use the WaveMap feature to capture the response of various mics to your acoustic simply by recording a couple of minutes of play and you can store up to 22 of these WaveMaps for use whenever you want to.

While it is primarily meant for acoustic guitar, it can also work with other acoustic electric instruments, including the mandolin, ukulele, violin, banjo, upright bass and more.

Other features include EQ, notch filter, reamping, tuner and boost.

Features:

  • High Headroom Digital Preamp
  • WaveMap Technology
  • Built-in EQ, Notch Filter, and Boost
  • Built-in Tuner
  • Dual Output
  • Can be used for Reamping
  • Weight: 2.85 lbs

Pros

Users appreciate the ability to add a virtual mic to their regular pickup tone. The convenience of easily switching between various WaveMaps has been quite well received. The pedal's tone shaping elements allow it to work with various acoustic guitar types and instruments, from Martin dreadnoughts, to cellos and violas. Build quality is also quite satisfactory according to most users.

Cons

There are a few who feel that the price is a bit too steep, but the majority of reviewers gave it a perfect score so it's worth it.

Overall

The ToneDexter's is ideal for acoustic musicians and multi-instrumentalists who want a versatile preamp capable of a wide variety of tones thanks to its WaveMap mic emulations.

Grace Design ALiX

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$695
Grace Design ALiX

The Grace Design ALiX is a premium instrument preamp with expanded EQ controls and studio-quality quiet signal path.

It's focal feature is its versatile and natural sounding EQ section, which lets you adjust highs, lows, and mids via parametric knobs, precisely where they are needed to be adjusted an it does all of this while maintaining an intuitive layout of knobs.

Other features include 3-input impedance for matching the output of your pickup, DI output with source and output level controls, and it has a built-in variable boost function with dedicated footswitch.

Features:

  • Single Channel Studio-Grade Preamp
  • Expanded EQ with High Pass Filter and Parametric Midrange Control
  • Built-in Variable Boost with Footswitch
  • 3 input impedance settings
  • DI Output with Source and Output level controls
  • Tuner Output
  • Weight: 2.2 lbs

Pros

Open and naturally clean sounding, that's how most owners feel about the tone they get with their ALiX. It is a favorite among those who own expensive acoustic guitars, but it is also well received by musicians who play other acoustic instruments. Doug Young of Acoustic Guitar Magazine is impressed, saying, "Still, for anyone looking for a single-channel preamp of the highest quality for live performance or as a studio DI, ALiX would be hard to top". Build quality is consistently praised in reviews, owners feel that the quality of the unit is more than satisfactory given it's premium price tag.

Cons

There are no consistently reported negatives by owners - the main downside of ALiX is its premium price tag, which is not for the faint of heart.

Overall

If you have the money to spend and want nothing less than a premium preamp for your acoustic guitar, then check out the Grace Design ALiX

Budget Option

Here's a very respectable option for anyone who doesn't want to spend the usual $200 or more to get a good preamp.

Boss AD-2

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Boss AD-2

There's no denying Boss' dominance in the compact pedal market, and the Boss AD-2 is an acoustic preamp that showcases their best traits - reliability, quality and affordability.

It's housed in the company's familiar and sturdy stompbox form factor, featuring three knobs that are easy to operate.

But don't make the mistake of assuming that this is a simple pedal, because the Acoustic Resonance knob adjusts multiple parameters via a digital processor that results in a more natural acoustic tone.

The ambience feature is also a nice plus, adding reverb to improve the sound of your guitar.

Add to that the pedal's Notch filtering and you have a nice acoustic preamp package that's very reasonably priced.

Features:

  • Boss Stompbox Form Factor
  • Acoustic Resonance Control
  • Ambience (Reverb) Control
  • Notch Filter
  • Input Impedance :10 M Ohms
  • Input: 1 x 1/4"
  • Output: 1 x 1/4" TS and 1 x 1/4" TRS
  • Weight: 1 lb.

Pros

Market response is quite positive with many pointing to quality and value for money as its stand out features. It also helps that it's compact and in a shape that's familiar to many guitarists. It's simplicity and sonic flexibilty has impressed many musicians.

Cons

The most common complaint is its lack of an XLR output, but it does have a balanced 1/4" TRS line out that can be plugged into PA systems.

Overall

While the Boss AD-2 is highly recommended for those with budget constraints, with its reliability, it can also be a good spare preamp for those with more expensive units.

Things to Consider when Buying an Acoustic Guitar Preamp

  • Your Pickup Types

    • Active Piezo/Transducer Pickups

      Acoustic-Electric guitars that have inbuilt battery powered preamps are mostly of this type. You can get by without a preamp pedal (unless you want to plug straight into the mixer) but many players use them to shape the tone and get rid of the dreaded 'Quack' sound the piezo's tend to produce.

    • Passive Piezo Pickups

      These are the kind that attach to an acoustic instrument to pick up the vibrations without built-in electronics. These can be used with acoustic guitars, banjos, cellos, violin/fiddles, mandolins, contrabass, bouzoukis, lutes and many more. They need higher impedance inputs to produce a decent sound. At least 1M Ohm is required and 10M Ohms is recommended which is more than most amps or standard guitar pedals are designed for. Passive pickups usually need to be plugged into a preamp to provide the correct impedance levels to most acoustic amps, mixing desks and PA systems.

    • Magnetic Pickups

      These behave much like the pickups found on electric guitars and you can plug them straight into ordinary pedals or an amp. As a result they can sound a bit more like an electric guitar and many players choose to use a preamp to emphasize the acoustic sound of their guitar.

  • What You'll be Playing Through - Amp or Mixer?

    • Mixing Desk / XLR Connection

      This is where acoustic preamps are essential and where their tone shaping shines. Firstly you'll need a preamp to at least act as a DI to connect to the XLR mic inputs of typical desks. Acoustic Preamps are much better suited to shaping the tone of acoustic instruments than the options on a mixing desk. They also allow you to bring out the sound of your instrument best using your familiar preamp settings rather than relying on last minute tweaking on the mixing console.

    • Acoustic Instrument Amp

      You don't strictly need a preamp if you already have an onboard preamp or a magnetic pickup, but you can still use one to shape and improve your tone as many professionals do. A preamp is a must if you have a passive Piezo pickup.

  • Tone Shaping

    Ideally, preamps are meant to just amplify the natural tone of your instrument, but real world scenarios require you to tweak the sound to get the better results. EQ and other tone shaping options are good features to look out for, since they allow for sonic flexibility, be it for adding subtle warmth, or for dramatically improving the sound of your instrument.

  • Feedback Suppression

    There's nothing more annoying than having to deal with unwanted feedback in the middle of performing. If this is a concern you'll want an acoustic preamp that can help you deal with feedback, look for those that can automatically/manually block feedback. These use notch filters to suppress the specific frequencies that the feedback is occurring on.

  • Active Di Box vs Acoustic Preamp Pedal

    Strictly speaking Active DI's (not passive) are preamps and they fulfill the same basic functions however they don't usually come with acoustic guitar friendly options like tone shaping and feedback suppression.

Best Acoustic Preamp Selection Methodology

This guide was first published on May 13, 2016 written by Alexander Briones who also wrote the latest major updated version which we published on March 16, 2020.

We started by looking at all the acoustic preamps that are readily available in the United States which have been designed for use on stage - this includes ones that clip onto your belt in addition to the regular pedal format. We then placed those with the most promising reviews and ratings on our short-list for further examination. This resulted a list of 27 preamps and you can see their ratings in our Music Gear Database.

We collected over 3,800 relevant opinions from forum discussions, reviews, ratings and recommendations which we processed with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 you see above. We chose those with the highest ratings to recommend above and analysed their reviews to report on what users like or dislike about each one.

For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

Comments

Today we removed the

Today we removed the following acoustic preamp from the recommended list above due to it having been discontinued but you can still read our analysis of it: Boss AD-8.

Are these preamps necessary

Are these preamps necessary if I’ve got a processor like the Boss VE-8?

The Boss VE-8 has built-in

The Boss VE-8 has built-in preamps for both acoustic guitar and condenser mics so you don't need an additional acoustic preamp.

Do you know of an alternative

Do you know of an alternative to the K&K Trinity preamp? The K&K stereo (2 channel) preamp only takes a 9 volt battery (no AC or 48V option) and requires a DI box between the preamp and a PA (board/interface). So I'm looking for something that it accepts a TRS (stereo) signal and then allows for shaping of each channel independently. Plus if the alternative has an XLR (DI) out.

I did some of the work on

I did some of the work on this guide and I don't recall seeing anything that resembled your requirements from any of the major manufacturers.

tonebone, input one is a

tonebone, input one is stereo
dtar
aer dual mix
felix grace design
quantum k&k
orange acoustic preamp
headway
there is a lot out there of what your looking for

Fire-eye Develoment Redeye.

Fire-eye Develoment Redeye. Pros all over Nashville are using this. Solid company, rock star preamp. Super simple but clean with TONS of headroom. And, XLR phantom power and 9v to boot. Built like a tank. They have a 2 channel version also.

Thank you very much for

Thank you very much for reminding us about Fire-Eye.

Originally they didn't meet our availability criteria because they're not sold through any of the specialty major music gear stores, however we've since relaxed our rules to include brands that only sell direct or via Amazon so I've added the Fire-Eye Red-Eye at the top of the list.

Headway EDB2 is long enough

Headway EDB2 has been long enough on the market to give it a mention.

Do you know anything about

Do you know anything about the boss AD5 ? Could it be used with a BBE acoustimax or does it have to be separate?

This week, I called Fishman

This week, I called Fishman and asked specifically about the Fishman Aura vs. Fishman Platinum. I liked the tuner better on the Aura, but wondered about my onboard electronics on my Taylor 814. They said the all-analog Platinum Pro EQ would be just as effective and possibly better for me. I explained that I missed the old Fishman Prefix Blender system in my old 2000 Taylor 714. I got the impression that the Aura doesn't always mesh well with the Taylor pickups. Thoughts? I wish I could have compared them side by side...

The LR Baggs Session DI

The LR Baggs Session DI initially had a spot on this list with its Gearank score of 86, but it was replaced by the better ranked LR Baggs Para DI.

From the data we gathered, the Session DI's compact size and deep tone shaping controls were well loved by users. Although there were some that complained about the complexity and the price tag.

Still, it's an easy recommendation if you prefer the stompbox form factor, and want a good handle of your amplified sound.

I've read a lot of great

I've read a lot of great things about the the Fire Eye Red-Eye, unfortunately it did not meet our criteria for availability, where it should be available from major music gear retailers.

Why did you not include the

Why did you not include the LR Baggs para DI? It would have been a good review with the LR Baggs para DI in the test.

We have updated the list to

We have updated the list to include the LR Baggs Para DI, indeed it deserves a spot on this list.

The LR Baggs Para DI

The LR Baggs Para DI currently has a Gearank score of 92 (I just updated it today) which means it will very likely be included when we do our next update of this Gear Guide which is scheduled for later this month.

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