The term microphone preamplifier can either refer to the electronic circuitry within a microphone, or to a separate device or circuit that the microphone is connected to. In either instance, the purpose of the microphone preamplifier is the same.
A microphone preamplifier is a sound engineering device that prepares a microphone signal to be processed by other equipment. Microphone signals are often too weak to be transmitted to units such as mixing consoles and recording devices with adequate quality. Preamplifiers increase a microphone signal to line level (i.e. the level of signal strength required by such devices) by providing stable gain while preventing induced noise that would otherwise distort the signal. For additional discussion of signal level, see Gain Stage.
A microphone preamplifier is colloquially called a microphone preamp, mic preamp, preamp (not to be confused with a control amplifier in high-fidelity reproduction equipment), mic pre and pre.