Best Bass Preamp Rack-mount
Incidentally, there aren't that many bass preamps in rackmount form, or at least they're not as widely available and popular as their pedal counterparts. Still this one rackmount bass preamp topped the ratings and is well worth a feature position in this list.
Tech 21 SansAmp RBI Bass Preamp DI Rackmount
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Rackmount Bass Preamp.
Tech 21's SansAmp was first introduced in 1989, and it is considered as the pioneer of amplifier sound emulation via analog components. The SansAmp RBI Bass Preamp stays true to the original formula, albeit with modern improvements.
The interface is simple and easy to use, with knobs for adjusting the preamp and EQ sections of the amp. It has dedicated knobs for adjusting the bass, mid and treble frequencies, as well as a knob for adjusting the drive or gain setting of the unit's tube preamp emulation, along with control for blending and overall level.
Being in rackmount form factor, it comes with extended input and output options, and it is easier to integrate into your existing racks, which is commonly preferred for their reliability especially when gigging in different venues regularly.
- Preamp: SansAmp Preamp
- Controls: Drive, Blend, XLR, LEVEL, Active Switch, Mix 50/50 Switch, XLR Output Level Switch
- EQ: Presence, Treble, Mid, Bass
- DI Function: Via XLR Balanced Out
- Frequency Response: 10Hz - 20kHz
- Input: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" Instrument/line, 1 x 1/4" Effects loop Return, 1x 1/4" Footswitch
- Output: 2 x 1/4", 2 x XLR, 1 x 1/4" Effects Loop Send, 1 x 1/4" Footswitch
- Power: Built-in Power Supply
- Dimensions: 1.5" x 19" x 5.25"
- Weight: 5 lbs
If I were to summarize how the market feels about the SansAmp RBI, it would be that "it sounds good". Its natural sounding tube emulation continues to exceed the expectations of many bassists, including pros. In addition, even pro touring bassists are blown away by how responsive the EQ section is, making it an ideal preamp for those who play songs in different styles. Reliability and build quality are also positively received, with some reporting having had no problems with their unit after years of regular use.
There is one user who complained about the lack of a ground lift switch, while there are a few others who are looking for more grit from the drive section.
Get the Tech 21 SansAmp RBI If you're looking for a reliable rackmount profile bass preamp.
Best Bass Preamp Multiswitch Pedals
Here we look in detail at bass preamps that come in the bigger multiswitch pedal form factor. They offer more control over the resulting sound, and can usually do more than their smaller counterparts.
Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver Programmable
The SansAmp Programmable Bass Driver DI (PBDI) adds a digital brain to their popular analog bass preamp, which allows for storing and recalling of settings in real time, much like digital effects processors. It supports up to 3 presets, each of which have dedicated footswitches.
This makes the SansAmp PBDI viable for bassists who need to tweak their preamp in the middle of, or between songs, without compromising the analog components that helped made their preamps popular. As expected, this preamp comes with practical features for professional bassists, including XLR DI out with pad control, a 1/4" out with boost switch, a phantom power option and a ground switch.
- Preamp: SansAmp Bass Preamp
- Controls: Drive, Blend, Level
- EQ: Treble, Bass, Presence
- DI Function: XLR Out
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Output: 1 x 1/4", 1 x XLR
- Power: Optional Power Supply, 9V Battery, Phantom Power
- Dimensions: 7.25" x 5" x 2"
- Weight: 2 lbs
Those who like conventional SansAmp preamps find the preset switching feature of the PBDI to be a substantial quality of life upgrade for their setup, some even claim that it removes the need for amp and cabinet switching. And as expected, many love the tone that this preamp provides, with positive remarks from users of different basses, from popular Fender basses, to owners of custom built boutique basses.
Lack of mic parameter control came up a few times, and others wish for an update to allow for storing more presets.
If you're looking for convenient preset switching without compromising analog preamp tones, then get the Tech 21 SansAmp Programmable Bass Drive DI.
The SCR-DI brings you preamp, overdrive and DI box functionalities in a single stompbox, with a preamp section that reproduces the low-end friendly flavor of popular Ampeg SVT bass amps.
What makes this preamp standout is the addition of Ultra Lo and Ultra Hi switches, a bass friendly feature for those who want to accentuate high note runs, or those who want more bottom end oomph.
As mentioned above, this pedal comes with Ampeg's Scrambler overdrive effect, which is tweaked to work with bass guitars, and this section comes with dedicated footswitch and controls. Wrapping up its features include wet and dry output ports, aux in, and DI out.
- Preamp: Legacy Amper preamp and Tone Stack Circuit
- Controls: Volume,Aux Level Ground Lift, Drive, Blend
- EQ: Treble, Mid, Bass, Ultra Lo Switch, Ultra Hi switch
- Other Features: Built-in Scrambler Overdrive
- DI Function: XLR/Line Out
- Input: 2 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8"
- Output: 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4" (Line), 1 x 1/4" (Thru), 1 x 1/8" (Headphones)
- Power: Optional Power Adapter or 9V Battery
- Dimensions: 2.2" x 7.6" x 4.3"
- Weight: 2.6 lbs
Owners of the Ampeg SCR-DI have many good things to say about its tone, with some describing it as a good portable alternative to an Ampeg SVT amplifier. Even Jordan Wagner of Premier Guitar was impressed writing: "Its construction feels bulletproof, its preamp and EQ have a supremely wide breadth, and its overdrive circuit can cover much more ground than many standalone alternatives." This preamp is widely praised by bassists who use passive pickups, but there are also reports of it working well with active pickup equipped basses.
Battery life seem to be an issue for some, so it is recommended to power up this pedal via a power adapter. There are a few who wish for extra features like the ability to choose Pre/Post EQ DI out, for those who want to use a dedicated EQ pedal.
The Ampeg SCR-Di is a no brainer for those who want Ampeg SVT tones that fit in their gig bag, it is also a great all-around preamp, DI, overdrive pedal to add to any bassists tool kit.
Tech 21 SansAmp Character VT Bass Deluxe
For bassists who switch between two different electric bass guitars, having a two channel preamp is no longer a luxury, but a requirement. And the SansAmp Character VT Bass Deluxe is meant to meet this need, and provide digital flexibility as a bonus.
As expected, each channel is equipped with SansAmp's tube amp voiced analog preamp circuit, and to get more out of the unit, they opted to equip it with a digital brain where you can save and load presets from.
This unit offers six presets, which is two times more than what the SansAmp PBDI has to offer, which means more tones to conveniently switch between.
It also has a 3-band EQ for tone shaping and sports Tech 21's "Character" knob, which lets you dial different amp voicings, from vintage clean to modern tones.
- Preamp: 2-Channel SansAmp Preamp with Overdrive
- Controls: Drive, Character, Level, Phantom & Ground Switch, XLR Out Pad, 1/4" Out Boost
- EQ: Low, Mid, High,
- DI Function: XLR Out
- Input: 2 x 1/4"
- Output: 1 x 1/4", 1 x XLR
- Power: Optional Power Supply, 9V Battery, Phantom Power
- Dimensions: 10.8" x 6.8" x 2.2"
- Weight: 2.2 lbs
One user aptly put it, the SansAmp VT Bass Deluxe takes the muzzle off your bass. Most of the many positive reviews point to its balance of versatility and sound quality as its best attributes. A lot of users also commended the unit's intuitive controls, which allow for a wide range of tones with little tweaking. Many were impressed with the way the character knob is implemented and how the six presets make good use of its versatility.
There were a few who nitpicked on some of the tones. While a few others were a bit concerned with the overall build of the unit, which they feel is not as robust as other SansAmp designs.
If you're into the SansAmp tone and want two channel operation and more versatility, then check out the Tech 21 SansAmp Character VT Bass Deluxe.
Radial Bassbone OD
It's hard to miss Radial Engineering when discussing DI boxes and preamps, and the Bassbone OD is their top rated entry into the bass preamp market. This is a 3-in-1 stompbox with combining preamp, DI and overdrive effects into one package, with expanded connectivity options.
It's most noteworthy feature is compatibility with piezo equipped acoustic and upright basses, and since it has two channels with dedicated EQ, gain and other controls, you can have both an electric and acoustic-electric bass plugged in at the same time and switch conveniently all wired on one pedal. Other features include headphones out, tuner out, and it also has FX loop.
If all these features are not enough to convince you, then maybe Radial Engineering's long list of artist endorsers can, including virtuosos like Victor Wooten, Bootsy Collins and many more.
- Preamp: 2-Channel Preamp with Overdrive
- Controls: Drive, Mix, Tone, Gain (Per Channel)
- EQ: High, Mid, Low (Per Channel)
- DI Function: XLR Out with Pre/Post Preamp Switch
- Input: 2 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (FX Loop Send)
- Output: 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4" (Line), 1 x 1/4" (Tuner)
- Power: Power Supply Included
- Dimensions: 2.75" x 10.75" x 5"
- Weight: 2.8 lbs
Versatility is the Radial Bassbone OD's main strength, and it provides this without compromising sound quality. This blend of features and tone is well received in reviews, earning it the title as a "Swiss Army Knife" pedal for gigging bassists. Even Chris Korff of Sound on Sound was impressed concluding his review by stating, "Depending on what you already use, this pedal could either lie at the heart of, or replace almost entirely, your bass front-end. Highly recommended!" This pedal also gets a lot of praise for its overall solid feel and build quality.
There are a few who wish that the coloration was more subtle, but they are far fewer than those who love the sonic flavor that this pedal brings.
The Radial Bassbone OD is easily the most versatile preamp in this list, highly recommended for bassists with acoustic/upright basses.
Best Compact Bass Preamp Pedals:
Here we look at the best compact bass preamp pedals, all of which provide straightforward operation while keeping space requirement and cost low.
MXR M81 Bass Preamp DI Pedal
The MXR M81 is a bass preamp with equalizer and DI functionality, packed inside a regular sized stompbox. It saves you both money and space, but more importantly, it does not skimp on quality - based on the many positive reviews that it has gathered.
For something this small, it gives you deep control over the EQ section, which includes knobs for adjusting the lows, mids, and high frequencies that are specifically tuned for electric bass guitars. It also has a sweep-able midrange circuit, controlled via a single knob. If tone shaping is not your thing, then there's a Pre/Post EQ switch that lets you bypass the EQ section.
The preamp section gives you the ability to control the input and output levels, giving you precise control over how much you want to drive the preamp section independent of the output volume.
Finally, it features MXR's "Constant Headroom Technology" which allows for improved clarity at higher output levels.
- Preamp: MXR Studio Quality Preamp
- Controls: Input, Output, Output, Ground Lift
- EQ: Bass, Mid, Treble, Mid Freq. 500, Pre/Post EQ
- DI Function: Switchable DI Out (Internal)
- Extra Features: Switchable Buffered/True Bypass, Buffered Bypass
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Output: 1 x 1/4", 1 x XLR (DI Out)
- Power: Optional Power Supply or 9V Battery
- Dimensions: 4.5" x 2.5" x 4.5"
- Weight: 0.438 lbs
To put it simply, the general consensus is that the MXR M81 as a great sounding pedal. Experienced bassists were impressed with the many tone shapes that the EQ section was able to conjure, while others were happy with how easy it was to get to the sweet-spot for set and forget operation. While most use it for subtle tone enhancements, there are a good number of users who use it as their main coloration pedal, which says a lot about its preamp section.
Those who were looking for a bit more tube-like growl and warmth found the MXR M81 to be a little too pristine for their taste. One user nit-picked on the super-bright LED which they said can be blinding in a dark stage, especially when the pedal is constantly on.
For subtle enhancement and coloration, and for rounding off some of the rough edges of your bass tone, the MXRM81 Bass Preamp is highly recommended.
Darkglass Vintage Microtubes
The Darkglass Vintage Microtubes is a bass preamp pedal with versatile overdrive, thanks to its "ERA" knob which lets you go from '70s era midrange heavy to modern metal punchy bass tones.
With only four knobs, this unit may seem like a streamlined pedal, but the controls in place allow for in-depth control over the preamp and overdrive effect. The Drive knob lets you adjust overdrive saturation, Level knob adjusts the volume of your overdriven signal, and the Blend knob lets tweak the balance between your clean and overdriven signal.
- Preamp: Darkglass Vintage Microtubes
- Controls: Blend, Era, Level, Drive
- DI Function: None
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Output: 1 x 1/4"
- Power: 9V DC power supply (sold separately)
- Dimensions: 2.95" x 4.37" x 1.77"
- Weight: 0.55 lbs
The Darkglass Vintage Microtubes preamp impresses many users with its versatility, an incredible feat for a pedal with no conventional EQ. Many users are happy with how they can get close to the bass tones of their favorite artists and tracks, and do so without getting lost in countless knobs and buttons. While this pedal is labeled as a preamp, most owners implement it as an effect pedal for tone shaping, some even have it on for most of their playing.
There are a few who note that the overdrive of this pedal can sound a bit muffled, especially for those who are just looking for a clean sounding preamp. Note that this one doesn't have a DI out, so you'll have to look elsewhere if that is your main requirement.
This compact yet versatile preamp/overdrive pedal will make a great addition to any one's tool kit.
Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI V2 Preamp Pedal
The most noteworthy feature of the Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver is its array of control knobs, which is plenty for its compact profile.
This means that you can tweak your sound in more ways compared to most preamp pedals. Most of the knobs are dedicated to giving you more precise EQ control, including presence, treble, mid and bass.
It also comes with a built-in drive control that lets you add bass friendly distortion as you see fit.
Finally, it comes with three output options for easier implementation into your live or recording rig.
- Preamp: SansAmp Bass Preamp
- Controls: Level, Blend, Treble, Presence, Drive, Mid, Mid Freq Switch, Bass, Bass Freq Switch, Phantom & Ground Lift Switch, -20dB Pad
- DI Function: XLR Balanced Out
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Output: 1 x 1/4", 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4" (thru)
- Power: 9V DC Power Supply or Phantom Power
- Dimensions: 2" x 4.75" 3.75x "
- Weight: 0.875 lbs
Good sound quality is the most prominent reason why owners rate this pedal highly. One user described the resulting sound as phenomenal, and it nicely summarizes market sentiment. The ability to shape tone also gets a lot of thumbs up, while others are pleased with the unit's versatility, with many vouching for its performance in both live and studio settings.
There are no noteworthy complaints, other than a few who feel that they could not get the sound they want from the pedal.
The Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI V2 is highly recommended for those looking to color or tweak the sound of their bass.
Darkglass Alpha Omega
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Bass Preamp Pedal.
The Darkglass Electronics Alpha Omega is a preamp overdrive DI box with growl and bite switches that let you saturate low and high frequencies respectively.
At its core is the same preamp tone as its name sake amp, only this one comes in a compact single switch form factor.
It has a blend knob for more control in adjusting the ratio between clean and overdriven tone.
Finally it allows for parallel output processing and has a DI out, quite the number of features for its size.
- Preamp: Darkglass Alpha and Omega
- Controls: Blend, Level, Dry, Mod, Mid, Bass, Treble, Growl, Bite
- DI Function: Yes
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Output: 2 x 1/4" (OuT, Parallel out), 1 x XLR (Direct Out)
- Power: 9V DC power supply (Sold Separately)
- Dimensions: 4.2" x 4.7" x 2"
- Weight: 1.1 lbs
Tone is the main reason why most users rate this pedal highly, so much so that the Darkglass Alpha Omega is comfortably sitting at the top spot in terms of ratings. Many of the reviewers appreciate the coloration that this pedal adds to their sound, and they are also impressed with the sonic qualities of its overdrive. The ability to blend the clean and overdriven signals is also well received.
While most users are impressed with its coloration, there are a few who feel that it's clean setting is not clean enough.
The Darkglass Alpha Omega is currently the highest rated bass preamp pedal, get it if you want nothing less than what the market deems as the best.
Things to Consider When Buying a Bass Preamp
Bass preamps are often used to improve sound, making them more like an effect that colors the sound. Most bassists prefer those that mimic the sound of old tube amps, but there are others who prefer clean and transparent. Most preamps let you adjust the level of sound coloration via the drive/gain knob, other preamps allow for more precise control via blend/mix knobs and other parameters. Note that aside from giving you direct to PA/Console tones, you can route your preamp to the poweramp section of your bass amplifier to give your amp a different voicing. While ratings provide a good representation of sound quality, your perception of sound quality will always be subjective, mainly dependent on the sound of the artists that you look up to. We've included demo videos so you can have a better idea of the sound of each preamp.
EQ and Sound Shaping
In addition to coloration, most preamps let you shape your sound via EQ knobs. Some provide basic Treble and Bass equalization, while others offer more precise control, complete with fully sweepable Mids. They work in conjunction with the preamp to give you more control over the resulting sound. While more knobs do mean more control, be careful not to end up obsessing over the controls instead of making good music.
Passive or Active Electronics
Most bass preamps are meant to work with traditional passive pickup equipped bass guitars. They can also work with active pickup equipped instruments, but the interaction of the active electronics within the instrument and the bass preamp may produce unexpected results. It is recommended to de-activate or bypass the active electronics of your bass guitar if you plan to use them with preamps, unless your preamp has a specific option for active pickups.
Input / Output Options
Most, if not all portable bass preamps come with DI box functionality, and this usually means having at least one balanced XLR or 1/4" line level out. This straightforward option is best for basic use, but there are others that allow for more signal routing options - including the ability to plug in two bass guitars and/or send your dry signal out to a regular amplifier. Some even have dedicated effects loop section, aux in, headphones out and more. We have presented the input and output ports for each unit above so you can choose one that has the connections you need.
Unlike mic and guitar preamps that come in a wide variety of shapes, most of the top rated preamps come in pedal format. This makes them easier to integrate into existing pedalboards, and allows for some level of hands-free control. There is one rackmountable bass preamp that made it into out recommended list, and it is ideal if you already have rackmount gear setup, or if you have a trusted roadie/tech that can make sound adjustments for you. Rackmount units tend to have more connectivity and control options, but based on market data, they are not as necessary as pedals for most bassists.
Power Supply / Battery
Bass preamp pedals are powered by either a power supply or a battery. Power supplies are more convenient, just double check if the pedal already comes with one, because some manufacturers require you to buy them separately. Some of the bass preamps listed above are powered by batteries, and they are recommended for recording, because of their quiet operation. Just note that preamps tend to eat up batteries relatively quickly.
Best Bass Preamp Selection Methodology
The first edition was published March 2017 written by Alexander Briones who also wrote the latest edition which was published on July 23, 2020.
We sifted the market for preamps that are specifically designed for bass guitars, and like always, we limited our search to those that you can readily buy from major retailers in the USA. We did not include compact amp heads and combos because while they do have preamplifier sections, they serve a different purpose, which is mainly to drive speaker cabinets.
For this update, we had 23 bass preamps on our short-list, for which we gathered the most recent reviews and ratings, up to July of 2020, and processed the data via the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 you see above. Over 3,700 rating sources were analyzed during this process. This gave us the scores that allowed us to rank and select the top performers and market favorites, divided into three categories: Rackmount, Multi-Switch and Regular Pedals. For further information about our methods see How Gearank Works.