There are many reasons one may choose to listen to vinyl records over any digital format. As any true audiophile will tell you, one of the first and foremost reasons to purchase a record player is because the analog format of a vinyl record is lossless. The recording has never been compressed for digital storage and will therefore sound better than any digital format many times over. It is a true representation of the music as the writers, performers, and producers intended it to sound. That being said, record players still leave something to be desired in their transmission of recordings to the amplifiers and speakers that reproduce the sound. This is because as we have made the transition to digital media we have let the built-in phono preamp go the way of the dodo. Regrettably, the difference between line inputs and phono inputs is very dramatic; hence the need for a quality, in-line, phono preamp to enhance the signal strength and quality for the receiver. Aspiring audiophiles will find this review quite helpful as we strive to bring you the best phono preamp for your needs.
Best Phono Preamp: Things to Consider
- Current Equipment. What does your home stereo systems consist of? Many entry level record players have a built-in preamp, but many higher end turntables do not. Many entry level players incorporate a fairly low quality preamp. It may be worth considering a preamp anyways. You may also find that your older receiver has a phono input. It is worth a quick examination of your equipment to see what you may or may not need.
- Cartridge Style. A preamp applies the appropriate amplification to the signal coming from your cartridge or record player. The type of cartridge will directly affect the type of preamp you will need. A moving magnet (MM) cartridge generates a much stronger signal than a moving coil (MC) cartridge requiring significantly less amplification creating a lower cost unit. An MM cartridge is also much more common and user friendly/serviceable. You will find, however, that many of the best phono preamp models have the capacity to handle both types of cartridges.
- Adjustments/Connections. Most phono preamps will offer a gain, or level, adjustment along with a manual switch for MM/MC phono cartridge selection. Some of the more high-end best phono preamp models will also include capacitive adjustments for fine tuning your sound and many have dampening and clarifying circuitry to reduce distortion and ambient noise. Outputs of phono preamps are most often RCA style but it is not difficult to find one with digital converters and USB outputs as well. This is all a matter of preference and the way in which you intend to use the device.
- Price. There are always some people that believe that you cannot put a price on sound quality. Other users will simply be on the hunt for a reasonably priced device to boost the sound levels of their old record player. In other words, there are many options available for many different levels of users.
Top 10 Best Phono Preamp Comparison Guide
Top 5 Best Phono Preamp Reviews
One of the most popular and best phono preamp models on the market is the AudioAMP Turntable/Phono Preamp. Also one of the most affordable available today, AudioAMP presents the user with a simple plug-and-play setup. Just connect the device in-line with RCA cables (not included) and you are ready to enjoy the uncompromised sound of your vinyl records. Suitable for use with many different turntables, this compact preamp provides appropriate voltage gain to convert phono-level output to line-level output with minimal distortion. If you are looking for an inexpensive, simple, and effective signal booster for your record player, this is a great option.
If you have you heart set on a top of the line tube style phono preamp and money is not an object then this next suggestion is one to consider. Pro-Ject Audio’s Tube Box DS is all that and more. The Tube Box DS offers compatibility with both MM and MC style phono cartridges and also features a gain adjustment of 40/50/60 dB as well as a capacitive adjustment of 100/200 pF. This preamp is geared towards the more technically savvy end user. Other high-end touches include switchable subsonic filter, dual mono tube triode architecture, and premium ECC-803 gold pin tubes. Exceptionally low distortion and virtually no ambient noise during playback, this little number is the true audiophile’s dream.
The Cambridge Audio CP1 Phono Preamp is certainly a quality preamplifier that is specifically designed for your MM input stages. Additionally, Cambridge includes a balance control for fine tuning cartridge imbalances to reproduce the finest quality playback possible. In response to the demand for best possible sound Cambridge has also incorporated discrete transistors at the input stages rather than the common integrated circuits, effectively eliminating white noise during playback. A middle of the road price tag means that this is one affordable way to ensure excellent sound from your favorite turntable with breaking the bank.
Another option possibility form Cambridge Audio gives the user the opportunity to use a turntable fitted with an MC cartridge. The Azur 651P is fully compatible with both MM and MC style record players. It also features multi-parallel capacitors for exceptional accuracy by Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) standards, and a subsonic filter eliminates low frequency ‘rumble’ due to imperfections in the vinyl disc itself. Designed to replicate the high fidelity sound native to analog vinyl records this beautiful augmentative device is sure to please even the most discriminating listener. It even includes a re-configured power supply allowing the consumption to be zeroed when not in use.
The last device for review is another offering from Pro-Ject Audio. The Phono Box USB is a solid state device, as opposed to the tube style device mentioned before, and features a digital USB output as well as the standard line-out that you would expect. A built-in Burr Brown PCM 2904 analog converter generates a superior and powerful signal to send to any digital component you choose. The Phono Box USB is compatible with both MM and MC cartridge styles for the choosy listener and includes gold plated phono inputs and line outputs for minimal loss of sound quality. This is a high end and compact multi-function best phono preamp surprisingly comes with a modest price tag. Certainly accessible to most listeners, this is a quality choice.