By Matt Gose
Achieving the perfect acoustic tone in a live setting can be one of the most frustrating endeavors you’re likely to undertake. While micing presents the most natural-sounding tone, it also limits your performance and is prone to issues like feedback. Plugging directly in is usually the most practical option. To do so requires, at minimum, a direct box to route your signal into whatever mixing equipment you’re using. An acoustic preamp, on the other hand, will not only bring your guitar signal up to the proper levels, but it will also allow you to further shape and color your tone, bringing out its full dynamic range.
Today we’ll look at five of the most popular acoustic preamp models based on their price, features, and overall user ratings.
1. Boss AD-2 — $100
First on our list is an entry from the reliable though occasionally underrated Boss. The AD-2 is certainly the best combination of both quality and affordability.
This compact pedal features just three simple knobs on its interface. The Acoustic Resonance knob controls a digital processor, adjusting various parameters to achieve a more authentic acoustic tone. The Ambience feature adds reverb, giving a lush, vibrant layer to your guitar’s signal, while the Notch feature allows for instant feedback control.
One of the greatest drawbacks for the Boss AD-2 is that the pedal lacks an XLR output. In its place, however, it does include a balanced ¼” TRS line out to bring your signal up to the appropriate level for any PA system.
2. Fire-Eye Red-Eye — $225
While this boutique pedal may not be as popular as other preamps, it has gained traction for its simple but effective design. Its low-impedance, balanced XLR output will preserve your signal even through long output cables. While the pedal’s 9-volt battery power provides long life, the pedal also defaults to phantom power when utilizing the XLR out.
The internal filtering mechanism reduces external noise from radio frequencies, lights, cell phones, and so forth. Its clean, simple interface includes only a single boost button, with treble and gain controls on the sides. While the Red-Eye lacks complicated EQ features, its main function is not so much to alter, but to transparently preserve and accentuate your guitar’s natural tone. The pedal is particularly popular among players who utilize delicate finger-picking or frequently alternate between rhythm and lead playing.
3. LR Baggs Para DI — $199
LR Baggs is possibly the most well-loved purveyors of acoustic preamps. Among their wide selection of tone-shaping tools, the Para DI stands out as one of the most popular and affordable.
The pedal’s five-band EQ includes tunable notch and midrange knobs, providing versatile tone molding and highlighting the intricate characteristics of your tone that can get lost in live settings. The adjustable gain feature allows this pedal to function with both active and passive pickups.
The pedal also includes both balanced ¼” outputs as well as XLR outputs with 48V phantom power.
One drawback often cited by users is the extensive learning curve required to understand how best to maximize the pedal’s numerous features. Overall, though, the LR Braggs Para DI is a favorite among users and remains one of the most well-loved preamp pedals on the market today.
4. Audio Sprockets ToneDexter — $399
Audio Sprockets’s ToneDexter utilizes intricately designed mic modeling to blend replicated microphone tones with the output signal from your guitar’s pickups. Its WaveMap modeling system captures and applies unique character and shape to your sound, allowing you to store up to twenty-two options to recall at will.
The pedal also features built-in EQ, notch filter, boost, and — perhaps most practical — a built-in tuner, making this a perfect all-in-one acoustic guitar option. The pedal’s dual output allows for even more versatility. Beyond live performance applications, the pedal can also be used in-studio for reamping.
5. Grace Design ALiX — $695
The final entry on our list is considered among the highest quality professional acoustic preamps on the market. The Grace Design ALiX features expanded EQ controls with high pass and parametric midrange control and a studio-quality noise-reduced signal path, allowing you to adjust multiple frequency bands for versatile tone shaping. Three-input impedance and level controls for both DI and Source outputs allow for exact signal level matching.
Its high price point is earned, as the ALiX pedal is a professional audio shaping tool providing naturally clean, articulate acoustic tone in both live and studio settings.
Prioritize Your Tone
Whether you choose an acoustic preamp from this list, or another option, adding a preamp pedal to your arsenal should be considered as essential as an amplifier for your electric. Your acoustic tone is too precious to be tossed carelessly aside. Considering that nearly all live settings will require — at minimum — a DI box, investing in even a simple preamp pedal is a wise decision as you delve deeper into performing and recording.