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Buyers Guide & Information

Best Phono Preamps for Any Budget

Get your music playing at its best with these top-rated products at affordable prices.

by

Buyers Guide & Information

Best Phono Preamps for Any Budget

Get your music playing at its best with these top-rated products at affordable prices.

by PITeam

by PITeam

With the rise in record sales rapidly increasing over the last few years, more and more people seem to be getting into vinyl collecting. However, collecting records presents the problem of figuring out the best way to showcase your favorite album’s sound.

How does it reach the next level? A good phono preamp should do the trick. But what is a phono preamp? It is a device that changes the phono output of a record to a line output so that modern equipment like speakers can play it. Phono preamps are great for those who want to up the quality of their sound; read on to find the best one for you.

How Phono Preamps Work

A turntable or record, when used, emits a phono output signal that cannot be read well by the setup equipment. A phono preamp converts the phono signal to a line signal, amplifies it, and adds gain so that speakers and other modern tech can pick up on the sound of the record.


Types of Phono Preamplifiers

  • Standalone/External vs Built-in
    There are two reasons for someone to pick up an external phono preamp. Either their existing setup does not have a built-in one, or the preexisting one is subpar. The only real difference is the fact that external amps are just that, and built-in ones are already in the setup itself.
  • MM vs MC Phono Stage
    There are two cartridge types for phono amps: MM or MC. An MM cartridge is a moving magnet cartridge, and an MC cartridge is a moving coil cartridge. These both contain different components and tech parameters which will be listed in the product manual.

Benefits of Turntable Preamps

Turntable preamps are perfect for those looking to improve their listening experience and support their records during use. Not only does picking up a preamp give you a crisp and vibrant sound, but it also improves the accuracy of the music to the original recording. This means that you can get even more out of your music while getting full license to show off to your friends.


Understanding the Jargon: Phono Preamps

  • RIAA Equalization
    The Recording Industry Association of America established a standard in the fifties to standardize the quality to all records and to increase the recording time for artists.
  • Stylus
    The stylus is the needle on the end of the phone arm that connects to the record. The needle goes into and follows the grooves on the record and vibrates to play the music.
  • Cartridge
    A small device that relays the analog signal from the grooves to the audio system. There are multiple types with different components and tech requirements.
  • Input Gain
    Gain is a measure of the ability to increase the amp or power of an input signal. This input gain is usually achieved by using energy from a power supply and adding it to the signal.
  • Capacitance
    Capacitance is a measure of a system or turntable’s ability to store an electric charge for an extended time during use. The electrical charge is usually taken from a power supply.
  • Power Supply
    A power supply is a component that supplies power to your turntable or setup to get it functioning. The power supply can often be a wire connected to an outlet, for example.
  • Moving Magnet Cartridge
    A moving magnet generates output from a coil hidden inside the body of the cartridge. An MMC is cheaper than its MC counterpart and easy to switch if needed.
  • Moving Coil Cartridge
    A complicated device, the moving coil cartridge is more expensive and has a lower mass than a moving magnet cartridge. The MC has two coils and a stylus cantilever as well as magnets hidden inside that work together to give a lower output.

Choosing a Top-Quality Phono Preamp

Phono Cartridge Type

Before making a purchase, check your turntable’s manual or label for its technical specifications. Bear these specs in mind while searching and make sure to pick a phono preamp that matches. It is also worth noting that different turntables and players support different cartridges while others support both MM and MC cartridge types.

Technical Parameters

Every cartridge model is different and requires a specific set of technical parameters to function correctly. Pay careful attention to the specifications and make sure to match the needed levels of gain, capacitance, and resistance during use for the best listening experience. Compare various models’ parameters online and in-store to get the most bang for your buck.

Type of Vinyl Turntable

Depending on the turntable setup you have, you may well need to upgrade your existing preamp. USB or digital turntables usually already have an RIAA preamp built-in while others may not come with a preamp at all. Double-check the manual before purchasing a new one to make sure that you get the right model for your setup.

Type of Music & Sound Quality

Certain types of music or records may need different specifications or levels to be heard the way they were meant to be heard. Recordings made before the RIAA Equalization standard of the fifties will require more individual standards than ones created in the late fifties and onwards.

Passive Equalization

Passive circuitry corrects the cartridge signal frequency to match and mimic a specific decade or sound style. There is a filter in the preamp that mimics this sound, and sometimes it is possible to switch between modes. For those who love to hear how the music is supposed to sound, passive equalization is incredibly important.

Size

For some, being able to take their turntable on the go is vital and having a suitably sized phono preamp is just as important. While some turntables have them inside, some external models come in various sizes and weights. Double-check the dimensions and weight of your preamp before purchase to ensure that it works for your needs.

Inputs and Outputs

Ports for both input and output are integral to a setup's function, and the number of ports available on a preamp can increase your setup's versatility. Having multiple inputs and output ports can open a world of possibilities for your configuration and bring a whole new level of creativity.

Intended Usage/Purpose

Before picking up a preamp, it is worth thinking about what exactly you need a preamp or setup for. Are you just listening at home? Are you a DJ? Are you looking to tour or go professional? Answering these questions in advance can smooth and speed up the purchasing process.

Price & Warranty

In terms of price, phono preamps can be priced anywhere from $20 to $2,000; most people can pick up a decent one for $80-$400. Warranties for preamps can range anywhere from 90 days to life, with most ranging from 1-10 years. Before searching, set yourself an affordable budget and look for preamps that fit your needs in that price range.


10 Best Phono Preamps Reviewed

1. SPL Phonos ProFi MM/MC

Our Top Pick

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

Both

Input Gain Range

Normal, -10, +4dB

Cartridge Capacitance Range

Off, 150, 220, 330pF

Impedance Range

<5 – 47k ohms

Weight

7.05 lbs.

Warranty

N/A

Sometimes a beautiful piece of equipment comes along that really stuns you. It provides everything needed and flaunts its style at the same time; the SPL Phonos ProFi is that for us. Available in a beautiful red, grey, or black, this sleek piece of tech is perfect for bringing your record collection to the next level.

Whether you have a professional or straightforward setup, the SPL Phonos is versatile enough to give you crisp sound thanks to its many outputs, solid gain range, and great sound. It supports both MM and MC cartridges, and the interface is as simple and easy to use as it gets.

While there is no warranty, the build is solid, and the sound is crisp, indicating that this phono preamp is designed to last for the long haul. This phono preamp is on the heavier and more substantial side compared to most, and it comes with quite the price tag.

The SPL Phonos is undoubtedly worth it for those who want to splash some cash on a professional and easy to use addition to their setup. However, for those looking for a more casual installation or maybe will not use it so frequently, read on for more options.

Pros

  • Versatile
  • Available in three colors
  • Beautiful design
  • Switchable subsonic filter
  • Suitable for both cartridges

Cons

  • Not for super low output cartridges
  • No warranty

2. ART DJ Pre II

Best Phono Preamp Under $100

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

MM, MC or both

Input Gain Range

N/A

Cartridge Capacitance Range

100 – 200 pF

Impedance Range

N/A

Weight

1.25 lbs.

Warranty

Yes, 3-year warranty

A more affordable option than the SPL Phono, the ART DJ Pre II is the best phono preamp under $100. Perfect for turntables, this phono preamp is excellent for recording and playing back music. The input capacitance is switchable, and there is very little background noise or hum.

Compact and portable, this phono preamp may not be the prettiest out there, but it really brings the heat in terms of functionality. There is variable preamp gain, a switchable rumble filter, RCA outputs, and a signal indicator. The preamp is highly accurate to the source material and compact enough to bring anywhere.

It is so popular that it has become one of Amazon’s top choices for phono preamps. Multiple reviews note that the LED light at the front of this phono preamp is very bright; please take note of this when considering where to place it in your setup.

The case is made of black aluminum and can be used to interface with audio workstations, sound cards, home stereo systems, and main monitor systems for flexibility. A rugged and reliable little package, the ART DJ Pre II is great for those looking for professional quality on a limited budget.

Pros

  •  Recording and playback are great
  •  Low cut filter switch
  •  Gain trim and signal gain
  •  Low noise
  •  Amazon’s choice

Cons

  •  The blue light is very bright

3. Puffin Phono DSP

Best Phono Preamp Under $500

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

Both

Input Gain Range

-4, -72, 40, 65 dB

Cartridge Capacitance Range

N/A

Impedance Range

47k ohms

Weight

1 lb.

Warranty

Yes, two years limited warranty

The best phono preamp under $500, the Puffin Phono DSP, is a hot commodity on the phono preamp market. Easy to use, you can change your audio settings with ease thanks to the central dial and buttons. This little black box keeps it simple with only two traditional pairs of input and output connectors, a slim LED display screen, a central dial, a back button, and an off button.

All of these features fit into the palm of your hand. There are twenty gain settings and five sounds to dial into. You can control the volume, cue mute, and use four different modes, including stereo and mono. It is possible to apply transfer functions like tubes or tape if that suits your needs, but the Phono DSP performs perfectly alone.

This is perfect for audiophiles that are very particular about their sound settings and those looking to spend a bit more on quality. There has been some debate in the comments regarding which mode is better with a consensus being that MM is better, but it depends on your needs and setup. For just under $500 and a two-year limited warranty, this is a great choice.

Pros

  •  Value for money
  •  Easy to use
  •  Great sound quality
  •  Flexible

Cons

  •  MM is better according to some

4. Musical Fidelity: V90-LPS

Best Phono Preamp Under $200

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

Both

Input Gain Range

>80, >70, 15, 22 dB

Cartridge Capacitance Range

N/A

Impedance Range

47k and 100 ohms

Weight

10.6 ounces

Warranty

N/A

Simplicity in motion, Musical Fidelity’s V90-LPS is a fantastic choice for those on a mediocre budget. Available in two different matte colors, grey and black, this phono preamp is well built and RIAA accurate. There are minimal distortion and low noise, and it has a decent overload margin.

Many more expensive phono preamps make some lofty claims about what they can do and yet do not touch the quality that the V90-LPS possesses. This preamp gets the job done without any fuss and will last for years to come. The MM/MC inputs are switchable, and there is great channel separation. In terms of design, this phono preamp is ideal for minimalists who want a sleek and understated looking addition to their turntable setup. 

Some users have noted that there is a pop through the amp or speakers when the phono preamp is turned on and off, but that is a small flaw in an overall excellent product. It is best for those who are looking to listen to their records regularly and want to tweak their sound settings. If you are looking to invest a little and gain a whole new listening experience from your albums, Musical Fidelity's V90-LPS is a great choice for those on a middle budget.

Pros

  • Two colors
  • Incredibly accurate RIAA of at least 60kHz
  • Very low distortion
  • Great build
  • Excellent channel separation and overload margin

Cons

  •  Some have reported pops when turning preamp on and off

5. Nobsound Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7

Best Tube Phono Preamp

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

MM

Input Gain Range

48 dB

Cartridge Capacitance Range

N/A

Impedance Range

N/A

Weight

5.88 lbs.

Warranty

N/A

The best tube preamp under $200, Nobsound’s Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7 is an excellent setup. There are traditional input and output connectors that are clearly labeled, a power button, and a volume dial all ready to go. It is delivered quickly, is not overly expensive, and provides a lot of bang for your buck.

With an easy to understand design and both aluminum and acrylic shells to choose from, you can customize your sound as much as you want. Once delivered, the Little Bear comes with everything you need to get started, but that is just the beginning.

Some users have noted that the sound gets even better when they upgrade the tubes to higher-end ones; something to consider for those who have a little more to invest. Other users have noted that this model can hum, but there are plenty of ways to limit humming, as we describe below.

Unfortunately, this model only supports MM cartridges rather than both MM and MC, so please bear this in mind before purchasing. If you want a modern take on a traditional and unique looking phono preamp, the Little Bear is a great start for you.

Pros

  •  Great sound
  •  Tubes can be changed
  •  Cool design
  •  Everything you need included

Cons

  •  Multiple people have encountered humming issues
  •  Often sounds better after tubes are changed

6. Rolls

Best Budget Phono Preamp

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

N/A

Input Gain Range

N/A

Cartridge Capacitance Range

N/A

Impedance Range

N/A

Weight

0.8 ounces

Warranty

N/A

The best affordable phono preamp, Rolls’ phono preamp in red is both stylish and perfect for new users. There are two traditional output connectors, one regular input connector, and a power connector; it really is as basic and straightforward as that.

Made in the US and available in a sleek red, Rolls' phono preamp is superb for filling small rooms with quality sound. Delivery is quick, and the price is affordable. Do not let the low price fool you though, the thorough-hole construction and build is solid, and the parts used to make it are quality.

With all of this, it is no wonder why this little beauty keeps ending up on top phono preamp lists like ours. Some users have mentioned that there can be a hum, but there are plenty of ways to diminish that during use. While this is a great choice, we would recommend starting your setup upgrade with this and then upgrading further if you want to and can afford to in future.

This is the best budget phono preamp and is perfect for those who want a better sound but want to dip their toes into the water before investing a lot of cash. Give it a try and let us know your thoughts.

Pros

  • Made in the US
  • Great quality
  • Cool design
  • Good for small rooms
  • Solid output

Cons

  •  There is a hum for some users

7. Schiit Mani

Best Phono Preamp for Turntable

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

Both

Input Gain Range

20, 30, 42, 47, 49 dB

Cartridge Capacitance Range

N/A

Impedance Range

47, 47k, 75 ohms

Weight

1 lb.

Warranty

Yes, 5-year warranty

Often considered one of the best phono preamps for turntables, the Schiit Mani phono preamp is an excellent choice for any buyer. Sleek, compact, and well-built, this phono preamp has multiple switchable gain modes, an accurate and quiet RIAA system, and is available in a beautiful silver color.

Designed and made in the USA, the Schiit Mani can be used for both MM and MC cartridges and has a wide impedance range. There are two traditional, clearly labeled input and output connectors, and multiple gains and load controls on the underside.

The internal components are top quality, and all carefully built together to give you the ultimate experience. Should any accidents happen, the five-year limited warranty has you covered. Some users have noted a hum in the background, but that is easily minimized.

With all of these features combined with its reasonable price tag, it is easy to see why this particular Schiit Mani phono preamp has plenty of glowing reviews and gained an Amazon number one bestseller label. If you need a solid phono preamp that is flexible, simple to use, and available for a reasonable price, this Schiit phono preamp is an excellent choice for you.

Pros

  •  Good value
  •  Good sound
  •  Cool design
  •  Solid buildDesigned and made in the USA

Cons

  •  Some experienced hum while using

8. Pro-Ject - Phono Box RS

Best Phono Preamp Under $1000

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

Both

Input Gain Range

40-60 dB

Cartridge Capacitance Range

100 - 150 pF

Impedance Range

10 – 12k ohms

Weight

2.2 lbs.

Warranty

Yes, 2-year warranty

The best phono preamp under $1000, the Project Phono Box is made for those looking to really splash out and treat themselves. Simple, minimalist, and functional, this Project phono preamp has a dial to adjust the ohms, a switch to turn the preamp on or off, a switch for RIAA and DECCA, and another switch for the RCA and XLR.

The interface is easy to use, and settings can be changed at the flick of a switch. There is a decent gain and impedance range, and the two-year warranty is a savior in an accident. As expected from a Project phono preamp, this model is highly sought after and feels a little bit mythical.

Only professionals with a high-tech setup use this type of phono preamp; it certainly lives up to its good reputation. It is hardly a surprise that so many people swear by the Pro-ject Phono Box RS. The price tag on this is the largest on this list, but the investment is worth it for those with the passion and money. If you can find it on sale or for cheaper than even better; either way you still get a fantastic sound.

Pros

  •  2 color options
  •  Good quality build
  •  Great sound
  •  External power supply
  •  XLR inputs

Cons

  •  Short warranty

9. ART USB Phono Plus

Best USB Phono Preamp

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

Both

Input Gain Range

N/A

Cartridge Capacitance Range

N/A

Impedance Range

N/A

Weight

1.32 lbs.

Warranty

N/A

The best USB phono preamp on the market, the ART USB Phono Plus is perfect for the digital music lover. Not only is this phono preamp compact and easy to use, but it is also ideal for transferring audio to a laptop. This preamp works with specific Windows and Apple device drivers and functions as an alternative interface between digital sources and analog sources.

There is a signal LED, front-mounted gain control, input and output connectors, monitor input/output sources, headphone connector, monitor output level, and an on and off button. This phono preamp ships with Sound Saver express software to provide top-quality sound.

The design is a simple back textured case with white and purple text and rounded edges. This USB phono preamp gives the ART DJ Pre II a run for its money with the low price and quality sound. A USB hookup cable is provided with the order, and there is a filter that can be set to FLAT or LOW OUT.

The gain control is stable, and the amp can be used with DAK Audio instead of the Audacity Recording Software program that is included. No load drivers are needed for laptops to recognize the phono amp as a USB device.

Pros

  •  Easy to use
  •  High quality
  •  Works with certain Windows and Apple device drivers
  •  Cool black design
  •  Low noise circuit is built-in

Cons

  •  Not best for older turntable setups

10. Behringer Microphono PP400

Best Value for Money

Cartridge Support TypeCartridge Support Type

Both

Input Gain Range

35 dB

Cartridge Capacitance Range

N/A

Impedance Range

47, 50 ohms

Weight

0.40 lbs.

Warranty

Yes, 3 years limited warranty

The ultimate bang for your buck, the Behringer Microphono PP400 is the cheapest phono preamp on this list. With two traditional output connectors, one conventional input connector, a DC 12V adaptor, LED power light, and a three-year limited warranty, this is perfect for those wanting to dip their toes into phono preamps.

The sound is great with little to no hum depending on your setup, and it is as simple as can be. The design is plain, compact, and lightweight, and the build is quality thanks to the decent parts and materials. There are RCA and one quarter inch TRS output connectors to suit your needs, and this preamp works with both MM and MC cartridges.

It has never been easier to boost your vinyl’s sound thanks to the Behringer Microphono. If you lose the manual or application guide, there are PDFs of both files on the product's Amazon page for your convenience.

With this powerful boost, your vinyl collection will come back to life and become a focal point of parties or solo listening sessions. If you are on a tight budget but cannot resist the call of the vinyl, the Behringer Microphono PP400 is for you.

Pros

  • Great sound
  •  Easy to setup
  •  Great value for money
  •  Compact and lightweight
  •  Good build

Cons

  •  One color option

Ordinary Preamp vs Phono Preamp

While a phono preamp is specifically for turntables, a regular preamp is a little different. Normal preamps can be found in equipment such as microphones, analog sensors, and other similar technology. In other words, phono preamps are highly specific and boost sound for phono lines, whereas ordinary preamps are more versatile and used for other things.


How to Connect a Phono Stage Preamp

Having trouble connecting your phono stage preamp? Instructions for specific models and turntables can be found in the turntable and phono preamp manuals. If you have lost your manual, try looking on the seller or manufacturer’s website. For a full guide on how to fix the issue, follow these steps to get connected.


Best Location for a Phono Preamp

One of the most common issues for turntable listening sessions is known as ‘hum’; sometimes music played through a record player has an odd humming noise in the background. To fix this hum, inspect the parts of your turntable setup and also try repositioning your preamp.

There is debate one where it should go but connect it with a short and straight cable and keep it a healthy distance away from other electronics. Make sure the surface you rest it on is sturdy, solid, and separate from other cables.


Phono Stage Connections

One problem that people often face when setting up their phono stage or preamp is dealing with the connections. Usually, the input and outputs will be labeled or separated accordingly, but this is not always the case. Plus, there are phono cables with various types of connectors such as RCA/RCA, DIN/RCA or the L shaped DIN/RCA.

Some modern ones use headphone style connectors. Make sure that your input and output connectors match up to save you a headache.

When setting it all up, listen out for balanced or unbalanced connections. A balanced connection offers an impedance balancing between the individual wire within the cable that gives better audio. A balanced connection often sits at the +4dB mark and kills hums. An unbalanced connection often sits at the -10dB and is often the result of spaces within the wiring or light dimmers that create loops or hums in the sound.


Care & Maintenance Tips

Just like any other piece of equipment, a phono preamp requires regular maintenance. Cleaning and dusting the preamp with a damp cloth and some q-tips at least once a month is good. Be careful and make sure that the phono preamp is completely disconnected from any power source before cleaning.

Make sure to regularly inspect the wires and parts for damage and keep it on a sturdy solid surface while in use. Wrap it carefully when taking the phono preamp on the go.


Common Phono Stage Issues & Fixes

While all record players and turntables are different, there are some common threads and issues that can be adjusted or fixed.

Mains Hum

A mains hum is often caused by poor grounding and can be fixed by linking the turntable to an amp or UK mains plug with the grounding lead.

Distorted or Overloaded SoundH4 Heading

There can be several reasons why you are getting distorted sound.

  1. 1
    The turntable has a built-in preamp. This can be turned off with a switch at the rear panel or under the mat.
  2. 2
    The preamp’s output was connected to a mic input instead of a line-level input like an AUX. Having multiple preamps will create distortion.
  3. 3
    Your turntable has a ceramic cartridge instead of a magnetic one. This style of cartridge has a much higher output level and can overload a preamp. Confirm whether your setup has one before picking up a new phono preamp.
  4. 4
    The input signal is a lot higher than it should be. This can occur when people connect MP3 players or iPhones to phono preamps; only use phono preamps with turntables.
  5. 5
    Various cleaning or mechanical issues; a dirty stylus, a tracking setting error, feedback, rumble, a locked suspension, missing rubber feet, and more. Inspect and repair these areas if necessary.
  6. 6
    The receiver or home theatre settings are incorrect. When using these settings, turn off the DSP or surround sound features to solve it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much difference does a good phono preamp make on the sound quality of music?

A good preamp can make a world of difference to the quality of your listening experience. It can bring a crisp, enveloping element to the sound and allow you to hear things on your favorite album that you have not caught before.

What is the difference between a phono preamp and an amp?

An amp can be found in various pieces of equipment like microphones, but phono preamps are specifically for turntables or record players.

How do I connect a turntable to a receiver without phono input?

If you are having trouble, try following these instructions.

What does a preamp do for a home audio/theater?

A preamp gives a home audio or theater a rich, deep sound and provides a control hub for your home theater.

What is a built-in phono preamp? How do I know if a turntable already has built-in phono preamp?

A built-in phono preamp is simply a phono preamp that is built into the turntable. The turntable’s instructions or label should detail whether it already has one or not. If there is no manual, confirm with the seller or manufacturer.

How much does a phono stage cost?

A good affordable phono stage can cost anywhere between $20-$700.

What are the top phono preamp brands?

Some of the top phono stage brands include Rega, ART Pro Studio, Bellari, Schiit, Lehmann, Musical Surroundings, Parasound, and Music Hall.


Conclusion

Picking a phono preamp does not have to be a stressful experience. After reading this guide, you should have a better idea of what to look out for and which of the best phono preamps is perfect for you. While the ones we have listed are great, we highly recommend the Rolls phono preamp for beginners.

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