Listening to music on vinyl is a different experience to listening via digital modes. There is something special about sifting through covers, looking at the artwork, and placing a record on a turntable. It’s tactile and more authentic than streaming music digitally.
Some vinyl audiophiles would even argue that it brings them closer to the music. My favorite phono preamp is the Pro-ject because of its rich, dynamic sound. Check it out at Amazon.
The only problem with listening to music on vinyl can be the audio output from the turntable.
Most turntables today have a built-in preamp, but there are limits to the sound quality. That’s where the phono preamp (aka phono stage) comes in.
A phono preamp is an external device that transforms a turntable’s output to be compatible with modern amps. It’s basically an upgrade for the audio output and is a clever way to bring your vinyl collection into the 21st century.
As with most things in life, there are many different phono preamps to choose from, ranging from budget bargains to expensive investments.
You may even be asking yourself, what is a phono preamp and why do I need one? Let’s start there.
What is a phono preamp?
A phono preamp is a piece of audio equipment containing an electronic circuit to correct the amplification coming out of a turntable before connecting it to an external music system or power amplifier.
For most turntables, the audio signal coming from the needle is significantly lower than modern amplifiers use, but a phono preamp amplifies it so that it becomes compatible with other systems.
Why do you need one? Most modern audio systems don’t have an integrated phono input following the decline in popularity of vinyl records and the rise of digital music.
However, as vinyl continues to make a comeback, a phono preamp is an easy fix to make the most of your record collection without compromising on sound quality.
Now you know what a phono preamp is and why you need one, here are some of the best options available online that won’t break the bank – when I looked my budget was under $200.
From humble beginnings in the UK in the 1970s, Rega has grown from a small side project to an established company producing more than 2,000 turntables every month and selling to more than 40 export markets worldwide.
The Rega Fono Mini A2D is based on the Rega Mira MM phono stage’s integrated amplifier. The Fono Mini A2D is a high-quality phono preamp to be used with a moving magnet cartridge and can amplify the signal to match all line level inputs of an audio amplifier.
It has also been designed with the modern music listener in mind and has a USB output to allow vinyl music to be transferred to a computer. With a simple design and an aluminum case, this is a user-friendly piece of kit that is compact in size and suitable for home music systems.
NAD PP 2e
The NAD PP 2e Phono Preamp allows vinyl fans to connect their turntable to most amplifiers and receivers. It provides high quality in a simple, compact design at a reasonable price and has a moving magnet input selector for different phono cartridge options.
As an added bonus, the PP 2e has an Auto Power Down feature to save energy consumption by automatically turning off the device when it’s not in use, which is great news in this age of environmental awareness.
NAD was established in the 1970s by a group of audio-industry importers in Europe, but its music-loving roots have since gone global with the development team now based in Canada.
The company has not lost sight of its original vision though to provide high-quality audio products that offer excellent value for money, and the PP 2e phono preamp is an example of quality manufacturing at an affordable price.
The Rolls Bellari VP549 phono preamp is described as “bold” with the ability to take a rig to the next level. It has selective cartridge loading and the device had been built with thru-hole components, which is better suited to analog audio.
Rolls is a USA-based company specializing in audio electronics manufacturing since 1989 and all of its products are hand-built in Salt Lake City, Utah.
It has a company ethos that lives and breathes music, and the team spent hours listening to music before tweaking the design to ensure the Bellari VP549 would suitably enhance the vinyl music experience.
With its distinctive red color and retro look, the Rolls Bellari VP549 is sure to brighten up any music system and will complement a turntable set up to provide an authentic look and sound.
The Fosi Audio phono preamp has a unique appearance in comparison with the other items on the list with the matched tubes and metal fixtures, resulting in a stylish, professional look.
This tube phono preamp converts phono signals to line-level signals with low-noise integrated circuits and high-quality components. It has also been designed to remove low-frequency noise to provide a clear audio quality, and the tubes can be replaced to create a different sound.
Fosi Audio has included a Gain Setting in its phono preamp with four levels of output (OFF/39/42/45 dB), as well as a preamplifier input and an MM input. As an added bonus, the phono preamp comes with an 18-month warranty and a 24-hour after-sale online service.
Fosi Audio prides itself on adhering to ISO9001 standards and aims to provide users with quality audio parts at reasonable prices.
Pro-Ject is an audio systems manufacturer based in Austria that was established during the CD era in the 1990s as a way to offer analog products at reasonable prices.
Not only are Pro-Ject products sleek and stylish. They are also award-winning, with a strong reputation for reliable manufacturing.
The Phono Box turntable preamp is no exception to the quality expected from Pro-Ject and the device accepts both MM and MC cartridges.
The output of the Phono Box can be easily connected to a line input of an amplifier, and the Phono box has a compact design with dimensions of just 10 x 10 x 10 cm and weighing less than one kilo.
Connecting the Pro-Ject Box to a turntable results in a richer, more dynamic sound, with a defined bass.
It’s a simple piece of equipment that can transform the sound quality of music being played on a turntable and bring your record collection back to life.
Nobsound (Douk Audio) was founded in China in 2013 and is an innovative company focused on researching and developing Hi-Fi products, with the tagline Make Hi-Fi Affordable.
The Nobsound T3 MM phono preamp is designed for moving magnet (MM) home turntable record players and converts phono signals to line-level signals. It’s compact in size and has an aluminum case to prevent vibrations and electromagnetic interference.
It has been manufactured with pure copper GND and gold-plated RCA terminals, low-noise integrated circuits and high-quality components to remove low-frequency noise. The result is clear sound quality and enhanced listening experience for home audio systems.
In keeping with the Nobsound philosophy, the T3 MM is also affordable, which means you will have more money left over to expand your record collection.
This guide to the preamp under $200 is by no means exhaustive, with many different brands and styles available online.
However, with high-quality audio equipment often coming with a high price tag, the seven phono preamps listed above represent value for money without not scrimping on quality and craftsmanship.
After all, collecting vinyl records is an investment in your time and money, and listening to them should be an authentic music experience. Purchasing a phono preamp can significantly enhance the audio quality, allowing you to listen to the music as it was intended to be heard.