Best Phono Preamp under 500 – A phono preamp increases the output of your turntable to make it compatible with modern amps. At the same time, it adds standardized equalization.
So why do you need it? Your turntable doesn’t have one either, in which case you won’t be able to play records without one. Or maybe you just want to improve its sound beyond what is possible with the built-in preamp.
As with many product categories, models cover all kinds of price ranges. But if you’re looking to pinch pennies or break the bank, we’ve got a phono preamp for you: we’ve used our extensive catalog of reviews to pick out the best one right now, so you can be sure you’re buying. quality.
5 Best Phono Preamp Under 500- 2020
#5. Cambridge Audio Duo Moving Coil (BM) AND Moving Magnet (AM) Phono PREAMPLIFIER
We really can’t think of a preamp that offers this much. It’s not just that the Cambridge Audio Alva Duo sounds great, with excellent dynamic range. These are also the smart features that you won’t find on other phono preamps.
These include a headphone amplifier, which is almost unknown on the phono stages (certainly, no other model here can provide it). The Alva Duo supports both MM and MC cartridges, making integration a breeze.
And we like the little touches, like the fact that the connection labels on the back are written the right way around and backward, so you can read them while leaning on the back (that’s smart). Impressive, the Alva Duo incorporates all these features while being stylish and modern.
While the Cambridge Audio Alva Duo offers excellent dynamics and excellent stereo delivery, we found the sound quality to lack a bit of oomph. It didn’t give us the visceral connection that other similarly priced preamps offer.
As an example, the $ 399 Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 MM / MC seemed a lot more punchy, and even the $ 129 Schiit Mani had a bit more power and oomph. However, in terms of combining good sound with great features and a competitive price, we think the Alva Duo is a winner.
#4. Chord Mojo DAC Headphone Amplifier Black
For a preamp that balances superb sound quality, a clean, eye-catching design, and useful features, we highly recommend the Chord Electronics Huei.
The overall sound quality of this phono stage is the real killer characteristic: wide, bally, clear, and arguably better than any other preamp on this list (short of monsters like the 2500 Audio PS Stellar below).
Plus, the design helps make it our top choice.
High-end preamps tend to get messy, but the Huei couldn’t be simpler. It’s as close to plug-and-play as you can get, and great features – like a handy rumble switch for taming artifacts – make it a pleasure to use. Listen, and it’s clear this is the phono preamp to buy if you’re investing in your system.
What are the faults of Chord Electronics Huei? We would have liked to see a bit more in terms of capacity switching options. Cheaper options like the Dynavector P75 Mk4 ($ 895) offer a much wider range, for example, and it’s confusing not to see that in a true high-end model like the Huei.
This means that this preamp may not be ideal for those who use MC cartridges with their turntables, and if you have an MC cartridge, make sure it fits into the Huei range before purchasing. Despite this somewhat odd omission, the Huei is a remarkable phono preamp and will no doubt enhance the sound of your system and make it a real pleasure to run.
#3. ART DJ PRE II
Budget preamps are relatively easy to find, but it’s hard to find one with the ART DJ PRE II pedigree. Since its debut eight years ago, it has been sold in sets and remains one of the most reliable, efficient, and simple preamps on the market. The sound is excellent and the specs compare favorably to more expensive units.
There’s an anti-rumble filter, just like our top pick, the Chord Electronics Huei, and you also get switchable capacitance and variable gain, which all work well. It takes a bit of time to dial in the DJ PRE II – especially with the gain knob potentially sending signals into the clipping zone – but once set, the DJ PRE II is worth every penny.
What are the disadvantages of ART FJPREII? The sound is respectable but can suffer from difficult material. If you listen to genres like orchestral music or anything with busy instrumentation, you will notice issues in the stereo image.
And while this amp has stood the test of time, the appearance could use an update. Either way, the DJPREII is a proven winner at this price. We’ll always point you more in the direction of a proven preamp, and this model certainly fits the bill.
#2. Pro-Ject RIAA Tube Box S2 Silver Preamps
Most preamps are solid-state – as in, they rely on discrete electrical circuits to get the job done – but the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 MM / MC is not. It uses vacuum tubes to amplify the signal, and unlike the clean and sometimes sterile sound of electronics, the tubes give a much warmer and coarser feel.
It’s very rare to get a tube preamp for less than $ 500, and we were delighted when Pro-Ject released this model. It doesn’t have the features or design to compete with other similarly priced preamps, like the sleek Cambridge Audio Alva Duo.
But it offers a different and welcome audio experience. If you like your vinyl sound to be warm and full and aren’t interested in precise precision, this is a great preamp.
One thing you won’t be able to do with the S2 MM / MC Tube Box is to replace the tubes (not without difficulty, at least). The design, with cages around the tubes, makes it difficult to do, which means the S2 MM / MC Tube Box is not the best option if you want to tune the sound. And if you want to stick with Pro-Ject but don’t want to mess around with the tubes, the company has a great solid-state alternative, the Phono Box S2 Ultra below, for a hundred dollars less.
#1. Douk Audio T3 Pro – A superb phono preamp with vacuum tubes
Douk is a well-known brand among vinyl enthusiasts, and has earned a good enough reputation to be copied – even repackaged – by competitors of certain sub-brands! Douk’s phono preamp sits on the edge of the entry-level and mid-range, with prices ranging between $ 50 and $ 100. It is often in the sights of the pros, who tend to avoid it, but it is very popular with amateurs. Why these differences? You will quickly understand it.
The first thing we notice is the presence of two backlit mini vacuum tubes, with a chrome and bronze finish of the most beautiful effect. Vacuum tubes are a legacy of very old technology, similar to those of transistors.
At one time, this technique of amplifying sound – which involved what were commonly called “lamps” – was still the best way to pick up a weak signal and increase it tenfold. Like the radios of the beginning of the last century.
Since then, of course, other materials have made it possible to circumvent the few disadvantages of this technology, in particular its fragility. But, interestingly, the wave of nostalgia vinyl is surfing right now has also brought lamps up to date. In general, you have to aim for very high-end devices to benefit from it, and Douk is here one of the very few serious models to offer it.
Here, the tube system is of course complementary to a more modern technology common to all phono preamps: it is not a museum piece. And with very satisfactory compliance with the RIAA standard – with less than 1% distortion and a signal-to-noise ratio of 60dB – we can be sure of that. The results are however slightly below what you would expect from a preamp in this price bracket.
Buyer’s Guide: Everything you need to know about the best phono preamp under 500 before buying one
With the great return of vinyl in recent years, a whole new generation is embarking on the adventure of the record player. But we are now well used to the logic of Plug and Play, without the fuss. The idea of designing an entire sound system, with real physical cables, and facing an obscure lexicon in the event of a problem, can put off more than one.
However, it is indeed a small annoyance that goes hand in hand with the excellence of the analog sound, which necessarily requires good equipment. As you will see, choosing a good phono preamp is not necessarily a particularly difficult step.
Determine the phono preamplifier you need
The phono preamps we talked about in this review are aimed at those who want to connect a record player, a turntable, or in some cases a guitar, to a classic sound system. On the other hand, there is a wide variety of products, all suitable for different uses. For example, if it is a question of connecting a microphone, you will need a suitable preamp, and that falls into another category.
The first thing to determine is if you need a phono preamp. Some turntables or turntables have a built-in one that you can use. This is the case with a large number of mixing tables, for example. How do you know? Just check to see if you have an output called “Phono”.
The different types of phono preamps
There are two types of phono preamps. Why? Because there are two types of cartridges that allow your record player to play vinyl records. You have probably already come across references to MM – Moving Magnet – and MC -Moving Coil. Most record players have been equipped with an MM cartridge since the 1970s.
All MM phono preamps can support an MC cartridge, although explicit product compatibility is advised. Otherwise, you run the risk of not getting the same power. The reverse is not true: for an MM cartridge, you cannot use an MC phono preamplifier, which is quite rare.
Determine the necessary gain
Gain, to put it simply, determines the ability of the phono preamp to boost the signal. To determine the gain, you will have to take two parameters into account.
First of all, the sound level of the basic device. If it’s already relatively high, you won’t need such a high gain to achieve a comfortable listening level. Let’s take an example. You have a record player with an MC cartridge with an output displayed at 3mV – milliVolt. With a classic MM phono preamp, in theory, you can process the sound of your record player. But the gain of these devices is generally around 40dB, which will be insufficient. For an MC to MM setup, count around 20dB additional. So you know you need an MM 60dB phono preamp. The mV to gain in dB conversion tables can be found quite easily.
Note that for a higher gain, you should generally go for a more expensive phono preamp. The more gain it offers, the more it must be of good quality so as not to be distorted.
Recently, wireless connectivity has started to make a place for itself in phono preamps. Until then reserved for the most expensive models, we are starting to find them in consumer preamps.
Keep in mind that a phono preamp is an electrical device. The quality of the components, the efficiency of the circuit, and the insulation can be optimized, but beyond a certain point there is no secret: you have to pay the price. Otherwise, you sacrifice the quality of the sound or the durability of the components.
FAQ: we answer your questions about phono preamps
What is a phono preamp?
A phono preamp is a small electrical box that equalizes and prepares a weak signal for significant amplification. It converts an electrical signal along a mathematical line, called RIAA. This standard, if properly applied, allows the sound to be processed without distortion and with minimal noise by a conventional amplifier.
In itself, the system is relatively simple. There will be at least two RCA inputs, connected to the transmitting device – be it a turntable, guitar, microphone or record player – and two RCA outputs connected to the amplifier.
How does a phono preamp work?
A phono preamplifier is a signal amplifier. It is made up of two parts. An electric amplifier, which increases the output in Volt, comparable to what one would find in the field of electronics; and an equalizer.
The equalizer acts first. It processes the incoming signal so that it is brought along a given line – in the case of turntables, an RIAA standard. The amplifier, then, electrically increases this signal by a voltage gain. For example, a 5mV record player could not output sound at 0.5V without severe distortions, due to imperfect extrapolation of the sound signal. The preamp will take care of this task separately, with enough voltage to power an amp.
Most phono preamps tend to have the same operating characteristics. In themselves, one could think of them interchangeably, but be careful. The output level and the input impedance may remain the same from model to model, but a preamp is usually specific to one type of sound device. You will quickly realize, on trial, that a phono preamp for guitar is not suitable for a microphone.
What is the ideal connection for a phono preamplifier?
There are 4 essential connection types to a phono preamp. XLR, TRS, TS, and RCA. All of them can be “Line” inputs.
XLR and TRS inputs are categorized as Balanced. It is not a value judgment, but a technical term. You will rarely find an XLR port on its own, except on mic preamps. Otherwise, it will usually be an extension of an RCA installation. On the other hand, you will find the TRS standard, in the TRS 1/4 format, on preamps suitable for electric guitar and bass.
RCA ports are the most common and are suitable for record players or turntables, but also certain microphones. The TS standard can also be used, but it is a much rarer standard on the market.
What makes a good phono preamp?
The first criterion of a phono preamplifier concerns the quality and consistency of its equalizer. In other words, its precision and detail on all frequencies, from bass to treble.
These days, there are few bad phono preamps in this category: most EQs provide at least a decent result.
The second point, on the other hand, concerns noise reduction, which is achieved by two determining factors at the time of purchase.
First, you need good hardware isolation of the preamp to reduce interference: a metal enclosure is still the cheapest and most efficient way to ensure this. The presence of ground wire on the RCA cable is also an advantage, provided that the phono preamplifier is equipped with a screw! It can be seen as a grounded outlet, which eliminates the electrical surplus.
Then, you need good electrical compatibility between the different components of your setup. If you saturate the signal, that is, “ask” too many volts from a preamp that sends too little, you will get unpleasant sound and interference.
How to install a phono preamplifier?
The two Input ports are used to connect the RCA cables connected to your sending device: a record player or an electric guitar. The two Output ports must connect your amp, speaker, computer… And voila! In itself, it is extremely simple.
There are a few subtleties to be aware of, however, when placing your phono preamp. A few precautions can reduce interference and easily optimize your setup.
Never place your preamp on a device equipped with an amplifier, such as a speaker. They often contain a large transformer that will make an electric hum or hum. If your preamplifier is poorly or poorly isolated, it will integrate this sound into the sound signal in the form of interference. The same rule applies to electric wires, computer accumulators, etc.
Also avoid over-optimizing your cable management, for example by attaching a sound jack and a power supply. Ideally, these two cables should never be in contact. It is also necessary to avoid making them run in parallel or to cross them.
Another precaution: do not connect your phono preamplifier to a device that is already amplified. Preamps are sensitive devices whose electrical components are designed to handle the low voltage. If you plug it into a Hi-Fi system, for example, you risk damaging them permanently.
How much does a phono preamp cost?
What will determine the price of your PA preamplifier will depend on two factors: the signal-to-noise ratio, which determines the volume and the presence of interference, and the gain.
To obtain more than 75dB of ratio, it is necessary to move towards models above 100$, while a significant gain will be available from $75. These two criteria should allow you to refine your search and find the model that suits you for a fairly low price.
If you are looking for exceptional sound quality, as in all areas, there is no limit. For example, the Audio Research Reference Phono 3 sells for almost $16,000. It leaves you dreaming!
If you don’t need a very high gain, a basic model of around $30-40 should be more than sufficient.
Where to buy a phono preamplifier?
Music stores can be an option, but they have their limitations. Uses are generally very specific, or too qualitative for what you are looking for. Specialized stores, for rock, for example, may also offer models that are much too expensive and efficient, classified in a semi-pro category.
Conversely, we recommend that you completely avoid Hi-Tech stores, which are often specialized in Plug and Play – speakers, headphones, etc. – and little ability to make a satisfactory selection for niche products such as a preamp.
The ideal? Identify what you need and search for the best model online. You have a good chance of doing better business.
With this, unmistakably preamps assume a significant job to restore our old gold recollections and re-live that youth time once more. Even though it takes a decent measure of interest as far as an ideal opportunity for research and builds up a comprehension of different items in the market to get the ideal accomplice for the simple cartridge gadget.
Be that as it may, when you settle on the right choice and purchase that ideal bit of transmission then you simply overlook all the concerns, sit back, chillax and make the most of your memorable most loved tracks. Cheerful primping!