Five Features to Consider When Buying a Preamp on eBay

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Five Features to Consider When Buying a Preamp on eBay

Those who are obsessed with sound find ways to achieve audiophile-quality components that don't cost the earth. Preamps are one of the simplest ways for fussy listeners to tweak the tone of a sound system so that it falls within the confines of personal preference. Unlike other sonic components, eBay lists preamps under the Musical Instruments category for good reason. These seemingly humble devices give listeners a level of control approaching that of mixers. In the past, choosing components individually was the norm. Many of today's audiophiles are returning to that habit because it allows them to tailor a system that links turntables, CD players and television sets into multi-functional music and entertainment equipment. At the core of such a versatile system lies the preamp, which is responsible for adapting sound quality for film viewing, gaming, vinyl and digital music listening. While a channel strip gives its users the ultimate individuality, there are several other types of listeners who benefit from the altered specifications of preamps designed for their needs.

1: Understanding eBay Preamp Categories

Technically, the term 'preamp' refers to a number of highly disparate components. To make the hunt simpler, eBay lists the general categories in one place. Each type is optimised by a separate set of features.

Microphone Preamp

Primed for studio recording and public speaking events.

Professional recording studios choose each microphone preamp according to the tonal quality that fits the vocalist best. Coloured preamps are thus preferred.

One standard microphone preamp cannot be primed for a range of mics with different output impedances. To overcome the challenge, choose variable-impedance preamps.

Channel Strip

Allows audiophiles and recording professionals to hone tone, frequencies and compression for the ultimate level of control.

Look for a channel strip that allows fine tuning through a comprehensive expander, equaliser and compressor with a wide range of filters.

The addition of an extra component can introduce further compression and loss of sound information. Equalisers with band-pass filters can reign in distortion and remove resonance.

Direct/DI Box

Direct Injection hardware is used by musicians to convert the impedance of signals to suit different outlets. This function serves recording studio needs well. DIs also reduce noise generated by acoustic instruments.

Look for large headroom when using a DI to channel sound signals from a guitar into a microphone.

Impedance conversion can result in a thinner sound. Choosing a tube preamp combats this by adding positive distortion, warmth and muscle to audio.

Instrument Preamp

A broad clutch of components tailored towards specific musical instruments such as bass guitars and keyboards.

Look for multiple inputs with active channel selectors so that a balanced soundstage can be achieved when several instruments are played together.

Many instruments are notorious for their high levels of feedback and distortion. A high-pass filter combats feedback while increasing clarity.

Phono Preamp

These connect to the cartridges of turntables to add a new phase of amplification.

High signal to noise ratios reduce the distortion record players are prone to.

Traditional phono preamps filter bass, treble and midranges as one, which leads to inaccuracy. Using a freestanding, rather than an inbuilt, preamp will heighten precision. A cartridge upgrade will also make audio detailed and crisp.

2: How Channels Adapt to Audio Needs

Because the ear is able to define multiple audio streams simultaneously, the number of channels a preamp handles adds or detracts from the detail and body of the sound stage. In the years of analogue, dual channels were adequate. Standard preamps allow users to switch between one and two channels.. These can handle turntables and PA systems adequately without emptying bank accounts. Surround sound systems use five or more channels to direct individual sound streams in a way that indicates direction. Preamps that can power multiple channels of five or more may be more costly but their sonic rewards are significant. Stereo listeners need enough channels to manage bass and treble separately. Musicians are the most demanding on their preamps because they require several channels that can be manipulated at will to suit constantly changing active instruments. Professional recording studios are even bolder, acquiring an entire collection of preamps to colour each vocalist and instrument with the tone that suits them best.

3: Getting to Know Preamp Features

Solid State

This technology is power efficient, letting the component function without overheating, thus cutting out distortion. Those who prefer warmer tone choose tube preamps.

Rack Mountable

Preamps with separate, rack mounted processors offer superior power to musicians. New rack mounted preamps often come with the addition of digital output.

Vacuum Tube

Audio is amplified and processed through tubes which tend to colour and warm audio tones. These preamps create smoother sounds without clipping.


These preamps transform passive pickups into active ones. Distortion is limited at high volumes, producing a transparent sound.

Phase Reverse

Preamps with this capacity reverse the polarity of sine waves so that ambient sound is cancelled out and tone quality is altered.

4: Getting to Know Components and Their Sellers

The advent of digital cameras has made it possible for the most amateur photographers to produce clear, professional quality images of preamps to display on eBay. Further information about a selected product can be gathered directly from the seller. When choosing second hand or vintage items, it's often possible to come across treasured collector's pieces but the contact the seller option keeps the expectations of buyers well aligned with reality. Questions can be asked before, during and after a bid.

Ask specific questions about the condition of the preamp.

Photographs might display items at an angle that hides notable flaws resulting from wear and tear.

How often has the preamp been used?

Preamps that haven't been used for years may be prone to deterioration. A detailed idea of the functionality of the component is likely to be more accurately supplied when it has been used regularly.

Are there missing components?

When vintage and discontinued preamps are missing parts, it may be impossible to find replacements.

Where has the preamp been stored?

Storage in dry, cool conditions can extend the preamp's lifespan considerably. Humidity and subzero conditions can damage transistors and cones.

When last was the preamp serviced?

A simple service can restore a used item to near mint condition.

5: Finding Bidding Success Through Strategy

Those who use eBay's auctions to track down undervalued treasures can push up their odds of winning by thinking tactically and knowing the rules.

Use the proxy bidding system.

Setting a maximum bid limit increases the chances of obtaining the item at a lower price. Auctions rarely require bidders to pay their full proxy amount.

Minimising the number of bids

Bids increase in increments. The more individual bids there are, the higher the ultimate price will be. Entering the auction late at a higher price limits bids and thus keeps the ultimate cost down.

Factoring in shipping and handling.

The final payment covers all these expenses, and may increase the proxy and therefore the odds of winning the auction.

Choosing superior sellers

Sellers with several positive feedback comments are likely to offer a no-fuss experience. Those who specialise in the audio equipment niche are likely to be passionate about their components. This usually translates into better upkeep, higher quality items and expert advice.

Using secure and traceable payment methods.

eBay recommends PayPal as the most traceable and secure payment method. Other secure options are alternative eWallets and Escrow. Credit and debit card payments often make it possible to contest purchases.

Find Preamps on eBay

The Shop by Category tab on the eBay home page opens up the Sound & Vision page. From here, choose Home Audio & HiFi Separates.. Amplifiers and Preamps are listed beneath this option. Those who are more concerned about budget and convenience can choose listings limited to preamps that come with express delivery or free packaging and postage. Beneath this option, the More refinements... link opens a pop up box with selections that refine the search comprehensively. From here, RMS power, outputs, seller types and rack mountable options can be checked off. The specifications for individual products should be read thoroughly, since this is where buyers can find out about warranties, terms, postage and seller locations. One of two buying options is displayed on this page to inform buyers whether the item is available on auction or through the Buy it Now feature or not.


Even rudimentary preamps are capable of refining the gain and trim level of sound signals meticulously. These two features can define sonic signature to suit each individual listener. Components known for generating weak signals are reliant on active preamps to add volume and power to the sounds they generate but clarity, warmth and layering should not be ignored. Preamps can transform limited stereo systems into multi-functional instruments capable of handling analogue signals, digital data, instruments and surround sound. Transparent preamps are rare but for those who are willing to hunt for an authentic audio experience, components that allow sound to exist without influence are highly prized. Preamps offer the most user friendly way to alter the colour of the audio emitted by a sound system.

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