A phono preamp, also known as a phono stage, adds standardized equalization and improves music signals produced by a record player, making those signals audible. If you use a record player without a phono preamp, you just won’t be able to get the proper vinyl playback – the music will be incredibly quiet and bass-less.
I rounded up the best preamps for turntables currently available out there, catering for all budgets. So, whether you’re watching the pennies or splashing the cash, the phono stages reviewed here will make the most of your hi-fi’s potential! Interested? Then let’s get started!
Do I need a phono preamplifier?
As we discussed earlier, you can’t do without a phono preamp if you want to listen to your vinyl player. However, some systems come with pre-integrated preamps. So, do you really need a standalone device, or is the built-in phono stage enough?
Theoretically, a separate gear is not required if you have an integrated one, and often new vinyl listeners are delighted with what they hear. But suppose you have a more critical ear for the quality. In that case, you definitely need to add a standalone phono stage – it’ll significantly improve the sound reproduction and unveil all the potential of your Hi-Fi system!
Best phono preamp reviews
Phono preamps under $500
Parks Audio Puffin – best overall
Parks Audio is a family-owned brand known for making high-quality audio equipment, and their Puffin phono preamp is an excellent example.
First off, this model works with MM and MC cartridges so that you can change your TT’s cartridge without changing the preamp! Next, it provides precise, consistent sound reproduction, ensuring every note is brought to life even if you leave settings at zero. But what I love the most about the Puffin is that it provides you with much flexibility – the amount of valuable features is almost unlimited!
The range of gain settings from -4dB (CDs) to 72dB (MCs) allows you to tailor your listening experience to exactly what you need it to be. So, no matter what kind of music you’re into, the Puffin has got you covered! Next, the innovative Magic lessens feature allows you to silence those pesky ticks and pops without disturbing the sound one iota. Then, depending on your mood, play with warm tone controls to make your music sound warmer or cooler. You can also fix bass, treble, soundstage, air, and 4th order HPF & LPFs.
Keen listeners will appreciate Puffin’s Azimuth setup that helps fine-tune the left and right channels independently, giving you even more control over how your music sounds.
Puffin’s Sweep and RPM test is a great way to test your audio sound quality. With this feature, you can sweep through the entire frequency range of your music and see how it sounds at different levels.
Parks Audio Puffin is the overall best phono preamp on today’s market. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned vinyl collector, this product has a lot to offer – it’s powerful & versatile, boasts a myriad of intelligent features, and comes at a fair price. You won’t need to upgrade it for many years to come!
- Maximum output level, V (RMS): 2.
- Output Impedance, Ohm: 100.
- Input Impedance, Ohm: 47000 (50pF) – 200 (1nF).
- Dimensions, inch/mm: 5.75 x 3.5 x 2 / 146 x 88.9 x 50.8.
- Fully configurable and versatile.
- Helps deliver crystal clear sound.
- Compact size – integrates easily into any setup.
- Designed to be used with the U.S.plugs – no adaptors are needed.
- Screws are prone to rust.
Rega Fono MM MK III
Rega has been in business since 1973; it produces world-recognized audio gear, including turntables, amplifiers, phono stages, cartridges, etc. Thousands of audiophiles trust this name!
Rega Fono MM MK III is a successor of the award-winner preamp for record player MM MK II with its excellent sound reproduction. However, as there is always room for improvement, MM MK III has surpassed its big brother – now, it boasts even greater dynamic range and clarity, making it a fantastic performer.
MM MK III features moving magnet phono circuitry technology, making it stand out against rivals in the same price region. This technology delivers a highly life-like reproduction of music. The 5 lines of the moving magnet circuitry may be regulated in several ways, including treble and bass extension, which means you can hear identical sounds in either low or high octaves. Honestly, I didn’t expect such a great sound quality from this modest package! The instruments’ separation is perfect – they sound rich and precise, while bass and treble are tight, without being overemphasized or missing in any way.
Although I love the MM MK III and how it sounds, I must admit that some of its competitors offer more to users. For instance, the top product, Parks Audio Puffin, provides plenty of settings, allowing listeners to control their playback, while MM MK III has only one button for power and a set of phono inputs with earthing peg and the AC socket.
Rega Fono MM MK III is your perfect pick if you are eager about a beautiful, confident, and composed sound but don’t want to waste your time on adjustments. Take your vinyl listening experience up a notch with its little powerhouse!
- Maximum output level, V (RMS): 11.
- Output Impedance, Ohm: 100.
- Dimensions, inch/mm: 8.58 x 3.07 x 12.4 / 218 x 78 x 315.
- Sleek, minimalistic design.
- Plug-n-play model.
- Sounds great out of the box.
- High, quality detailed performance.
- The power button feels cheap.
- Supports only RIAA equalization – not good for those who collect records from 1954 or earlier.
Phono preamps under $200
iFi Zen Phono – best under $200
Being a product of a reputable brand, this phono preamp delivers super generous features and robust performance. You hardly find such sonic perks in other entry-level models!
To provide a superior sound from such an inexpensive package, the audio wizards at iFi have created a balanced, symmetrical dual-mono circuit architecture, imitating what is typically seen on higher-end equipment. Besides, it makes use of some clever hardware for precise RIAA equalization. As a result, the preamp has a low level of noise and distortion.
In addition to the standard audio RCA ins and outs, there is also a 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output that may be used to hook up active speakers or amplifiers with balanced inputs. Such an addition is quite unusual for a product of this price range.
And last but not least, this is one of the few sub-$200 preamps that can accommodate both MC and MM cartridges. Moreover, gain settings are provided to help you get the most out of any MC cartridge you choose.
I love that Zen Phono doesn’t color the sound at all – your cartridge, record player, & other equipment have much more to do with that, but the preamp does provide a competent conduit for your audio to the output stage. It will polish each note to perfection!
None of the entry-level preamps can offer such an impressive spec sheet, good construction, and transparent sound as iFi Zen Phono, making it the best phono preamp under 200. Worth every penny and even more!
- Maximum output level, V (RMS): 13.5 / 20.
- Output Impedance, Ohm: 100 / 200.
- Input Impedance, MM: 47000 (Load: 110pF), MC High: 47000, MC Low: 1000, MC V Low: 110.
- Dimensions, inch/mm: 6.3 x 4.4 x 1.4 / 160 x 113 x 35.
- Smart design.
- Fits various cartridges.
- Clean performance.
- Excellent price/quality ratio.
- The included RCA cables are short and poor-quality.
- Short plug.
Rega Fono Mini A2D
After more than half a decade since its introduction, Rega Fono Mini A2D continues to be one of the finest preamps that can be purchased for less than $200.
According to Rega, this moving-magnet preamp is a less expensive variation of the award-winner Fono MM. Housed in a half-width case, it has not only standard but also generous extra features.
Starting off, this phono stage boasts a USB output that connects directly to your computer so that you can convert your vinyl collection into high-quality digital files. Next, the A2D is compatible with any digital audio editor, making ripping your vinyl easy and fun.
The preamp is super user-friendly – it has a minimalistic design, so you’ll be up and running in no time at all; plus, the compact size makes it easy to integrate into any system.
But while the A2D’s look is basic, its audio talent is not. This preamp sounds musical, detailed, and natural, with a wide soundstage and excellent imaging. The tonal balance is slightly warm but not artificial, and there’s plenty of resolution on offer too.
Whether looking for an affordable way to transform your system for the better or simply want to digitize your LPs, Rega Fono Mini A2D will definitely help you get the most out of your vinyl collection!
- Maximum output level, V (RMS): 5.
- Output Impedance, Ohm: 100.
- Input Impedance, Ohm: 47000 (Load: 110pF).
- Dimensions, inch/mm: 4 x 1.18 x 4.92 / 102 × 30 × 125.
- USB output for easy vinyl-to-digital conversion.
- Allows to rip vinyl.
- Excellent sound quality for the price.
- Compact size.
- Midrange could be more articulate.
- Includes a power cable, but all connectors must be purchased separately.
Phono preamp under $100
ART DJPRE II
When I only decided to write this article, I was skeptical about introducing any phono preamp under $100 here. However, my friend demonstrated to me his recent purchase – Art DJPRE II. Well, I must admit I was totally blown away by its overall quality and performance! Don’t get me wrong – I don’t state this is a high-end model, but it is definitely worth your attention if you are looking for your first yet decent-quality phono stage.
First off, Art DJPRE II stood the test of time – it appeared over 8 years ago and is still appreciated by many users. This model features high accuracy and low noise level, making the music sound just like the artist meant it to be heard without interference. Next, it offers variable gain to ensure optimal sound quality with any cartridge. Also, it allows you to select from a range of cartridge loadings to get the most satisfactory performance from your vinyl collection.
Art DJPRE II features a heavy-duty extruded chassis for added durability, as well as switchable low-cut rumble filters to reduce noise and vibration. Finally, the preamp has RCA outputs for easy connection to any audio system.
We often leapfrog over budget audio gear, but this is not the case with Art DJPRE II. You’ll hardly find another preamp with such a substantial pedigree and low price tag! So, if you need an affordable yet reliable phono stage, do consider this model!
- Maximum output level, V (RMS): 1.4.
- Output Impedance, Ohm: 100.
- Input Impedance, Ohm: 47000 (Load: 110pF or 200 pF).
- Dimensions, inch/mm: 1.85 x 4.6 x 4.5 / 47 x 117 x 114.
- Stylish design.
- Durable construction.
- Adds clarity and stereo separation to your audio.
- Convenient gain control.
- Designed in the U.S.
- Some issues in the stereo image when listening to classical or instrumental music.
- Too bright LED lights.
Premium phono preamp
Vincent PHO 701
If you are looking for a way to jump into the higher-end audio pool, the Vincent PHO 701 may be your perfect option. This great phono preamp under $1000 offers a wide range of features and will provide you with years of enjoyment.
The PHO 701 has a unique construction – it’s made up of two parts: the power supply box and the tube amplifier box. As a result, it allows you to experiment with the sound; plus, you can open up a whole new world of possible tube upgrades.
Another fantastic feature of this preamp is its ability to customize the amp for various phono cartridges. You can adjust the input capacitance and impedance via the DIP switches on the back of the unit.
The PHO 701 has a super convenient added bonus – a USB port. So, if you ever want to digitize or archive your LP collection, this preamp gives you a good opportunity to do just that.
But the #1 thing I love about this preamp is its sound quality. It delivers a warm sound, superb mid-range, and a little kick in the lower-end bass.
Music becomes more alive, and I can hear details I haven’t heard before! Furthermore, the sound is not overpowering or tiring – the PHO 701 does an excellent job of delivering more audio to the listener by broadening the range of sound in the room.
There is always a trade-off in audio; several things are usually done well, while others are compromised. Well, not this time because the Vincent PHO 701 does everything well! It provides a fulfilling listening experience, gives you a space for upgrading, and comes at a totally reasonable price, given its overall quality. You’ll never regret this purchase!
- Output Impedance, Ohm: 250.
- Input Impedance, Ohm: MM: 47000, MC: 99 – 1000 .
- Dimensions, inch/mm: 5.11 x 3.74 x 8.85 / 130 x 95 x 225.
- Nice build quality.
- Sound quality is excellent right out of the box and will only grow better with use.
- Upgradable tube.
- A great deal of control over needle cartridge output.
- May be too massive for some users.
Pro-Ject Tube Box S2
The Pro-Ject is a world-recognized manufacturer of high-quality audio components, including phono preamps. The Tube Box S2 is one of their most popular products, and for a good reason. It’s pretty hard to find a tube preamp for about $500, and in all honesty, I was overjoyed when Pro-Ject produced this model.
The real magic of the Tube Box S2 lies in its circuitry, which uses replaceable vacuum tubes for sound-shaping. It gives you many options to choose from and customizes the sound signature to your liking. As a result, the sound quality of this preamp is simply stunning. The vacuum tubes give music a warm, natural quality and make your records shine no matter how old they are. Vocals are clear and intimate, while instruments have a beautiful richness and depth.
The Tube Box S2 supports both MC and MM cartridges, and after using several different cartridges with this preamp, I can honestly say I doubt there’s a cartridge that it can’t handle.
I love that this preamp is equipped with many gain settings – you can fix the sound to the point of enjoyment. As for me, I leave the settings at 0 when I listen to newer, high-end records (MoFi, AP/QRP, etc.), but I always make adjustments when playing older LPs, especially over-compressed rock albums.
As you may notice, our winner Parks Audio Puffin and the current model sit in the same price region, have many settings, and sound excellent. So, which of them is better to choose? The Puffin uses an op-amp instead of tubes like the Tube Box S2, making their sound signature different. Plus, the former is easier to use since you won’t have to take care of tubes.
Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 is the best tube phono preamp for those who want to start a more serious audio game. It offers versatility, adjustability, and classic tube sound. And, of course, its price/quality ratio is hard to beat!
- Maximum output level, V (RMS): 18.
- Input Impedance, Ohm: 10, 100, 1000, 2000.
- Dimensions, inch/mm: 4 x 2.87 x 5.15 / 103 x 73 x 131.
- Durable metal housing.
- Makes bad and mediocre recordings sound alive and inviting.
- The tubes are enclosed in a metal cage to protect them from bumps and vibrations.
- Comes in appealing black and silver color.
- It’s not easy to swap out the tubes if you want to adjust the sound.
Phono preamp buying guide
Pay attention to the type of cartridge
You must select a phono preamp in accordance with the phono cartridge used on your vinyl player. For example, if you have a moving magnet cartridge (MM), an MM phono preamp will be the right pick for your system. Conversely, if your setup includes a moving coil cartridge (MC), you should look for a phono preamp compliant with low output cartridges. By the way, MC cartridge + MC phono preamp is a fantastic combo for those who appreciate the highest quality sound. Note that a high-end phono preamp will be MC only!
Some manufacturers offer flexible solutions for most users – MM/MC phono preamps. This versatile type facilitates cartridge changes. If you want to upgrade your MM cartridge to an MC, you won’t need to change your phono preamp. An advantage not to forget!
Choose a preamp type: solid state (regular) or tube
The audio market offers two main types of preamps based on their construction – solid state (regular) and tube. The difference lies in amplifying the sound from your player’s cartridge.
Solid state preamps are made out of semiconductor material and are usually cheaper than tube models. They provide a clean and clear sound reproduction, but some audiophiles say they lack the “warmth” that tube preamps offer.
Tube preamps use vacuum tubes in their amplification circuit. They are more expensive and are known to provide a more prosperous and fuller sound.
So, which type of phono stage is right for you? It really depends on your personal preference! A solid-state preamp is a good choice if you want less expensive gear that delivers a crispy clear sound. On the other hand, if you are willing to spend more money on a device with a warmer tone, then a tube model is the way to go.
How much should I spend on a preamp?
Phono preamp price tags start from $10 and go beyond $10.000. Therefore, you should determine your budget and goals before starting your search.
If you are a newbie with no previous experience in vinyl playback, I recommend starting with a less expensive model (but not cheaper than $50!). You can always upgrade later once you understand your needs better.
On the other hand, if you have a high-end system and expect the finest possible sound quality, a budget over $800 will allow you to get what you want.
Is a phono stage the same as a preamp?
Which is better, MM or MC cartridge?
How do I know if my record player has a preamp?
Is it better to have a separate phono preamp?
Is phono or line better
Is a tube phono preamp worth it?
- Tube phono preamps can add warmth and character to your sound.
- They can add depth and dimensionality to your music.
- Tube phono preamps can make your system sound more powerful.
- They can improve the clarity and detail of your music.
- They can help you recapture the magic of vinyl.