Tape Out vs Pre Out: What’s The Difference? (Explained!)

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Tape Out and Pre Out are two audio ports you’ll find on some audio devices. Pre Out is a more common audio output port but Tape Out isn’t that common. Although, both are audio output ports, they serve different purposes. So, what exactly is the difference between Tape Out and Pre Out?

A Tape Out is a line-level output that sends a weak signal that is unaffected by signal alterations such as EQ. This signal is ideal for recording. On the other hand, a Pre Out is an output port that sends relatively stronger audio signals that are affected by signal alterations. Pre Out audio signals may be sent before the preamp section or from the preamp section of devices.

What Is Tape Out?

A Tape Out is one of the most common outputs you can find on audio devices. This type of output is designed to send line-level audio signals from the devices they are found on.

This makes them ideal for sending audio signals to preamps, tape decks, and other recording devices.

Audio devices that come with a Tape Out port include mixing consoles, receivers, and some amplifiers.

No matter the audio device they are found on, all Tape Out ports transmit line-level audio signals that are unaffected by signal-altering functions and effects such as volume, gain, EQ, balance, and reverb. What this means is, every Tape Out port sends out clean and unprocessed audio signals to their transfer devices.

It is important to note that, Tape Out is very similar to a Rec Out or Recording Out port found on other devices. The only significant difference is that Tape Out is usually found on analog devices, whilst a Rec Out is common on digital devices.

Just like a Rec Out port, the audio signal transmitted by a Tape Out is unaffected by signal-altering controls. This allows the signal to be used cleanly or recorded without any alterations. If you want to learn more about Rec Out ports, you can do so by reading this article.

Since the characteristic of a great recording is that, it should be completely unaltered in order to be properly mixed and mastered, a Tape Out is especially useful for recordings.

Due to the fact that audio signals transmitted by a Tape Out are primarily meant to be recorded, the audio output of a Tape Out has a fixed volume level. These Tape Outs found on receivers and mixing consoles do not have dedicated volume knobs. This ensures that you are left with a recording that has a consistent volume level.

We have an article where I went into a greater detail on Tape Outs. And I highly recommend you read it if you want to learn more. Check out our article on Tape Outs here.

What Is a Pre Out?

A Pre Out is another common output port in audio devices. Unlike a Tape Out port, which is functionally the same in every audio device, the function of a Pre Out port can vary from one device to another.

This is because, depending on the audio device in question, a Pre Out may send its audio signals from the preamp section directly or before the amplifier section of an audio device.

What you should note is, some audio devices that come with Pre Out ports may have built-in amplifiers inside them. Examples of such audio devices are stereo amplifiers and instrument amplifiers.

The Pre Out in such audio devices always sends out audio signals before the signals reach the amplification stage of the device’s circuit.

On the other hand, any audio device that has no built-in amplifier will have its Pre Out port sending out audio signals directly from the preamplifier within the device. Examples of such audio devices are; receivers and preamps.

Therefore, you should bear in mind that, any audio device that has an internal amplifier will have a Pre Out that sends out audio signals before they reach the amplification stage of the device circuit.

Pre Out ports that have been designed to send audio signals from the preamp section are meant for transmitting signals to amplifiers, speakers, or other powered output devices. You should note that this signal is affected by signal alterations such as volume and EQ and is treated as a strong output from the device.

A Pre Out that sends a pre-amplifier signal sends a signal that is not amplified. This signal is not affected by post-gain stage effects and signal alternations like gain, EQ, and reverb. However, this signal can be altered by volume control changes.

Due to the unique characteristics of Pre Out audio signals, it is often to send a signal to other devices for external amplification. Apart from this, it can be used as a recording output as well.

That notwithstanding, the ideal output port for recording is a Rec Out port. If you have no idea what a Rec Out port is, you should read this article.

Tape Out Vs. Pre Out: What’s The Difference?

Now that we have looked at Pre Out and Tape Out ports individually, let’s take a look at some differences between the two. Understanding the differences between these two audio outputs will enable every user to get the most from the device they are working with.

The most practical difference between a Pre Out and a Tape Out is that the function of a Tape Out is the same in every audio device. However, the function of Pre Out is dependent on the characteristics of the device it comes with.

As I have mentioned throughout this article, the Tape Out in every audio device functions by sending line-level audio signals to preamps, tape decks, and other recording devices.

On the other hand, in devices with built-in ports, their Pre Out is used to transmit audio signals before they pass through the amplifier section of the device whiles the Pre Out in audio equipment with no internal amplifiers has been built to transmit audio signals from the preamp section.

Another difference between Pre Out and Tape Out is that a Tape Out provides a line-level output that is not affected by any signal alterations or coloration. This audio signal is good for recording and can be sent to preamps as well.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for a Pre Out port. Audio signals from every Pre Out are always affected by signal alterations.

Finally, audio signals from Pre Out outputs are typically stronger signals than audio signals from Tape Outs, which are relatively weak and always need to be amplified. Due to the fact audio signals from Tape Outs are weak, they need to be amplified to be usable.

This type of output is not good for sending a signal to speakers, as the audio signal is not strong enough to drive the speakers enough to produce good-quality audio.


Pre Out and Tape Out are two great outputs. Knowing how to use these outputs will help you get the best from your device. A Tape Out is an output that is meant for sending line-level audio to a tape deck or a recording device.

This signal is very balanced and is the analog equivalent of a Recording Out on digital hardware.

Pre Out outputs can be complex, and understanding them requires a deeper understanding of the equipment overall. However, they are always good outputs for sending to an amplifier, and they can usually be used as a general output for audio playback, provided the playback device is amplified.