TV and Audio

Best Phono Preamps: Discover New Musical Nuances with Vinyl Records

best phono preamps


It’s a well-known fact that vinyl records and turntables are making a comeback. Some audiophiles say this happens because the sound quality is better (vinyl retains a certain warmth that can’t be found with any other recording environments). Others like vinyl because the experience reminds them of simpler times.

Still, regardless of reasons, this comeback put the basis for a whole new market of audio devices. There are the modern turntables, cartridges, and connections that send the signal from the turntable to digital devices. But you may also need the best phono preamp because the signal sent by the needle of a turntable is very low.

So, the job of a phono preamp is to amplify the signal received from the cartridge and bring it up to the standard line level. This means that, when you connect speakers or headphones to a turntable, the signal first goes to the phono preamp and then is sent to your devices.

But the market is so full of all sorts of products, and the prices are so varied that it is a bit difficult to choose the best. To help you out, we put together a buying guide and then reviewed some of the best preamps for any budget.

Top Picks

How to Choose The Best Phono Preamp

Cartridge Compatibility

There are two main types of turntable cartridges: Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC). While it’s recommended to know which one’s best for your records and turntables, we’re not going to get into detail here.

Still, you should know the type you have installed on the turntable before buying the phono preamp. As you can see from our reviews, some products are not compatible with both types, so you need to know this information.

Technical Terms

If you’re new to this audio niche, it’s best to do your homework because terms can get technical. Still, it’s worth to invest the time, since the right set of features can save you from buying the wrong device.

For instance, if you buy an MM phono preamp, you need to know that it should support 40dB+ gain, capacitive load of 100 pF, and a resistive load of 47,000 ohms. On the other hand, if you get an MC preamp, it should support 58+ dB and an adjustable resistive load (50 – 1000 ohms).

Finally, a Hi-Fi phono preamp (and therefore, expensive) doesn’t just add gain; it also accurately corrects the RIAA curve.

With or Without USB?

You’ll notice that not all the devices we reviewed are equipped with a USB connection. That’s because this comes as an optional feature and is only needed when you want to digitize your vinyl record.

The presence of a USB connection doesn’t affect in any way the quality of the sound being played in your speakers or headphones.

Sound Quality

As you can imagine, a $100 phono preamp won’t be able to produce the same audio quality as a $500 one.

The difference stands in the quality of their components and the way the circuitry was designed. Low-cost devices don’t produce bad quality; they’re just not equipped to deliver the Hi-Fi experience. So, if you are an audiophile who wants to listen to the entire spectrum of sounds in a song, you may need to consider a larger budget.

Quick note: There are some devices that feature tubes, and these are believed to give a fuller, warmer sound quality. However, the experience is not necessarily the same for everyone, and the prices can go quite high, so make sure you truly want this type of product before purchasing it.

Best Phono Preamps

Schiit Mani Phono Preamp

A Versatile & Reliable Device

schiit mani phono preamp
While it may not be the most affordable, the phono preamp from Schiit can be used with both moving-magnet (MM) and moving-coil (MC) cartridges. This is possible because the device has four switchable gain modes, (30, 42, 47, and 59dB).

As a result, it is versatile and lets users decide on the type of cartridge they want to use with their turntable.

Furthermore, the phono preamp is equipped with a passive RIAA Network, meaning that there are no poles in the feedback loop. It’s also designed with precision 2% film capacitors, 0.5% thin-film resistors, and super low-noise gain stages. If the terms are alien to you, it’s enough to know that it delivers an exceptionally accurate performance with as little noise as possible.

Pros:
  • Works with both MM and MC cartridges
  • Solid audio performance
  • Low noise interference
  • Passive RIA network
Cons:
  • Some models have a weird hum on the background
  • It’s not compatible with all the turntables

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Cambridge Audio Alva Solo Moving Magnet Phono Preamplifier

The Best Phono Preamp Under $200

cambridge audio alva solo moving magnet phono preamplifier
Cambridge is well-known in the market of audio devices, so their name is pretty much a guarantee of quality.

So, if you want to make sure your vinyl records are treated correctly, a high-end turntable coupled with this phono preamplifier is the right options. The preamplifier delivers a fantastic stereo phono stage and can be used with MM cartridges. Also, due to a state of the art switch power supply, the device reacts fast and keeps any interferences to a minimum.

Furthermore, due to the surface-mounted components on the circuit board, the background noise is kept low.

The Audio Alva Solo phono preamp is perfect for anyone who wants to enrich their musical experience and discover different new worlds. The higher gain, excellent channel separation, and incredible detail are some of the features that will help every record shine!

Pros:
  • Can be used with MM cartridges
  • Aluminum case for style and durability
  • High-end power supply
  • Low background noise
  • Amazing audio quality
  • Good value for the money
Cons:
  • Some units may develop a hum

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Pro-Ject Audio – Phono Box DC – MM/MC Phono preamp

The Best Phono Preamp Under $100

pro-ject audio phono box dc mm mc phono preamp
If you’re looking for a phono stage that will help amplify the signal from a turntable using both MM and MC cartridges, this is quite an affordable option.

Of course, the resulted sound quality is impressive, clear, and the background noise is kept to a minimum, so it’s not disturbing. Furthermore, the preamplifier has a flat RIAA equalization curve and is capable of a maximum output of 9.5V RMS /1kHz.

The good news is that with the right headphone amp you can easily make the experience of listening to your favorite vinyl records private. Just hook up your favorite cans and let the music take you away!

Pros:
  • Compact and easy to mount
  • Works with both MM and MC cartridges
  • Flat RIAA Network
  • Good value for the money
Cons:
  • It is an entry-level preamp
  • There is a perceivable buzz if the receiver’s volume is high

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iFi Audio Zen Phono Preamp

Enjoy the Best of your Turntable

ifi audio zen phono preamp
Turntables are amazing when it comes to sound clarity and richness, but if you want to listen to it using a modern device (for more volume and power), you will need a device like the iFi Audio Zen phono preamp.

This device is perfect for casual users, who want to enjoy a clear and full-bodied sound, without worrying too much about perfect balance and customization (supports ultrawide 36dB to 72dB gain). It works with MM and MC cartridge inputs and supports RCA and balanced 4.4mm Pentacon outputs.

Lastly, the subsonic analog filter is perfect for delivering the best possible representation of the audio content with amazing imaging and clarity.

Pros:
  • The sound is clear and full-bodied
  • Works with MM & MC cartridges
  • Great value for the money
  • Excellent subsonic filter
Cons:
  • Not for Pro use

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Rolls Phono Preamp (VP29)

The Best Budget Phono Preamp

rolls phono preamp vp29
Rolls presents an incredibly simple phono preamp that can be easily hidden away behind the turntable.

While it’s not exactly visually appealing, it does a fantastic job of delivering a wonderful audio experience. Also, it comes with a ground lug, which is why it’s effective with older turntable devices because it keeps their characteristic hum away.

Overall, if you’re looking for a device that’s easy to use, low-cost, and does a great job, the VP29 from Rolls is a great option!

Pros:
  • Great price
  • Made in the USA
  • Works well with older turntables
  • Sound quality is rich and clear
Cons:
  • It’s an entry-level preamp
  • No on/off button

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Rega – Fono Mini A2D MM Phono Preamp

The Best Phono Preamp to Use with a PC

rega fono mini a2d mm phono preamp
If you’re looking for a phono preamp that, besides the regular functions also converts analog signals to USB, look no further! The Fono Mini A2D comes with a built-in USB output that allows you to connect it to a computer or any other device that supports USB connection.

The preamp works with MM cartridges and delivers amazing sound performance. But you also have the possibility to adjust the way the preamp processes the signal by using the two controls (level and balance) placed on the front panel.

Now, the Fono Mini A2D can be used to deliver those sweet tunes to your speaker system and/or PC, but it can also be used with a digital audio editing program to record the sound in digital format at optimum quality. Just remember, you may want to use a DAC to play the digital format at its best quality.

Pros:
  • Great phono preamp features
  • USB output
  • You can customize the audio experience
  • Works with MM cartridges
  • Impressive audio performance
Cons:
  • The ground connector is on the front
  • Doesn’t come with a USB cable

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Pro-Ject Phono Box MM DC Phonograph Preamplifier

High-Quality Internals & Fantastic Audio Performance

pro-ject phono box mm dc phonograph preamplifier
The Pro-Ject Phono Box is a compact unit, that’s easy to conceal behind a turntable or a speaker. Still, even though it is small, it packs quite a series of features such as low-noise and distortion integrated circuits, dual-mono circuitry for optimized channel separation, and gold-plated RCA inputs and outputs.

Everything is wrapped in a metal case that protects the inner circuitry from vibrations and electromagnetic interference. So, while it may not be much from a design point of view, this tiny phono preamp is amazing in terms of performance.

Finally, it is compatible with most Moving Magnet cartridges and, due to the aforementioned RCA outputs, the unit can be connected directly to any line-level input. Also, the outboard DC power supply makes sure there is no electromagnetic interference.

Pros:
  • Compact size & outboard DC power supply
  • High-quality circuitry
  • Gold-plated RCA inputs & outputs
  • Rich & scenic audio performance
  • Great value for the money
Cons:
  • No on/off switch
  • Design is not anything special

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ART DJPREII Phono Preamplifier

A Portable & Compact Unit with Hi-Fi Possibilities

art djpreii phono preamplifier
While you can’t truly expect Hi-Fi quality from a preamp that costs less than $100, you will receive better sound performance than with most devices in the same price range!

The ART DJPREII Phono Preamplifier is compact, features an aluminum black anodized case, built-in low noise phono preamp circuitry, and a switchable low cut filter (to remove turntable rumble). All these elements put together, create a highly accurate and pristine audio experience.

You can even customize the quality by switching the analog input capacitance or trimming the gain.

Furthermore, because the line output jacks are low impedance, the device can be used with any sound card, which means this tiny device is incredibly versatile.

Pros:
  • High-quality circuitry
  • Impressive audio quality
  • Customization possibilities
  • Great value for the money
Cons:
  • No on/off switch
  • The power indicator is too bright

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Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444

The Best Budget-friendly Phono Preamp

pyle phono turntable preamp pp444
Designed for the regular turntable user, this electronic preamplifier is reliable and non-pretentious. It does its job exemplary and delivers a serious sound performance by bringing the phono-level output to a more suitable line-level output. This is due to the state-of-the-art internal circuitry, that can support magnetic pickups with an input sensitivity of 3mV at 50K Ohms. Also, the device is fitted with low-noise audio operational amplifiers, so it can deliver outstanding performance.

It’s important to understand that this is only a device for audio signal amplification (there is no processing involved). You should also make sure to position it closer to the source, to avoid any interference or noise.

Equipped with stereo RCA inputs and stereo RCA outputs, this Pyle phono preamp is easy to install and use. And it does exactly what it says it does (nothing less and nothing more).

Pros:
  • Compact design & easy to install
  • Very reliable
  • Great price for the features
Cons:
  • It’s fitted with a conventional transformer
  • It doesn’t do any sound processing

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Wrap Up

After having read our reviews and buying guide, depending on your budget and preferences, you have the necessary information to make the right choice. Just keep in mind that a phono preamp’s main purpose is to help you enjoy the beauty of vinyl records, but if you’re not an audiophile, you may not need and expensive Hi-Fi system.

About author

In her work, Mirela studies, tests and reviews the latest releases in audio, video, gaming, gadgets, and more. Mirela has been writing about tech for over 5 years now, during which she collaborated with people all over the world on various projects.
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