Thanks to the “second life” of the vinyl, all the connected appliances and accessories have recently been rediscovered. Among these, the phono preamplifier, indispensable for the emission of the sound itself. In some turntables, they are integrated, while in others they are not present, they must be chosen separately and set up together with the rest of the audio system.
Audiophiles will always prefer a non-pre-amplified turntable, as they can buy an external one that best meets their needs. Very often, you will find top quality and reasonably priced amplifiers that will far outweigh those integrated into turntables.
Here are the best phono preamps that are listed below.
How to Choose Phono Preamps?
For those who are not yet amplified experts, it can be daunting to find the right device. Preamplifiers are not well known by people who are not familiar with audio systems.
However, they are essential in the audio phonic system, and they play a fundamental role. In this section, we will answer the key questions, which will help you get an idea of how they work.
What Are Phono Preamps and How Do They Work?
A phono preamplifier is also known as a phono stage, RIAA preamplifier, or turntable preamplifier. It is indispensable for most turntables. The audio signal coming from the turntable head is shallow (up to 1000 times less than that of a CD player).
Therefore, it is necessary to have an amplification to reach the standard line level (also known as AUX) that modern amplifiers require. You connect the player to its amplifier, which converts the phono to the line level.
Where Can You Use a Phono Preamplifier?
There are at least four audio configurations where a preamp is required to play music. What will change, according to your preferences, will be the sound reproduction system, to which the preamplifier sends the signal?
Well, having a more straightforward or more “professional” configuration will also depend on your budget. We explain it better to you in the following list.
- Ordinary Turntable + Amplifier Configuration: You must connect the Turntable with its head to a preamplifier (integrated or external), which will connect at the other end to an amplifier or receiver and the latter to speakers or earphones. This is the most used configuration.
- Simplified Turntable + Amplified Speaker Configuration: The Turntable with head connects to a preamplifier (integrated or external), and this is connected directly to the amplified speakers. You just have to make sure the speakers can feed themselves.
- Turntable + Computer Configuration: The Turntable with the head is always connected to the preamplifier (integrated or external), and this relates to your computer (portable or fixed). If your Turntable is pre-amplified and has a USB input, you can connect it directly to the network.
- Old C Onfiguration of The Stereo System: It was the one used when the turntables began to be produced. The Turntable with the head was directly connected to a stereo system that worked as a receiver and already integrated a phono input. Then, it connected to speakers or earphones.
Who Is It Recommended to Buy a Phono Preamplifier For?
Phono preamps are recommended for anyone who wants to have a high fidelity audio system. Especially if you have a turntable that needs a connection to listen to your favorite music, similarly, there may be other uses, such as if you want to revive old speakers that still work.
Whether you are passionate or a beginner in the world of sound, it will not always be necessary to have a preamplifier. Some receivers are equipped with all the preliminary functions to amplify the sound.
It will also be recommended to all those who wish to take their audio configuration to another level. Investing in a good preamp is essential to obtain the best sound quality in the audio chain. Never diminish the role that this small device plays in high fidelity sound systems.
Why Are Phono Preamps so Important in Audio Configurations?
As the name implies, the preamplifier is fundamental in the audio chain. Many people refer to this device as a phono prerequisite. For this reason, preamps are considered to be the first link in the audio chain, as they represent the first step between the Turntable and the means of amplification and reproduction.
They are also indispensable if you want to make recordings. In the same way, quality is essential, so it is essential to choose the most suitable one according to the necessary functions.
Preamplifiers must be equipped with a standard quality that will not spoil or minimize sound quality. Remember that other factors depend on this device, such as signal distortion and frequency response.
What Should You Not Do with A Phono Preamplifier?
As we mentioned before, the preamps have been designed to receive very weak signals at the intensity level. For this, you must avoid making a mistake or the imprudence of connecting one of these devices to high-intensity components such as CD players.
Another widespread mistake is to think that we can improve the functioning of a turntable already equipped with its integrated preamplifier. If you connect it to an external preamplifier, you will most likely end up ruining it altogether or hear a very distorted sound.
What Are the Advantages of External Phono Preamps Over Integrated Ones?
This question is often heard, especially by those who take their first steps in the world of sound. Today, many manufacturers decide to integrate a preamplifier into their equipment, be it a turntable or a phono receiver.
For reasons of practicality and for not having too many devices in a small space, this solution would seem the most suitable. However, having an external preamplifier has its advantages.
- You can change them whenever you wish
- The vast margin of choice
- Greater equalization control
- Greater freedom to create your favorite audio configuration
- They must be bought separately.
Considering that the function of the phono preamps is always the same, there are not many purchase criteria challenging to understand, if we know roughly how they work.
This time we won’t go into too technical details that can confuse us. We will tell you the essential factors you need to know before buying one of these devices.
- Dimensions and weight
- Signal to noise ratio
- Frequency response
- Speaker output
- Additional services
The material plays a vital role since it affects the durability of the equipment or the resistance to possible accidents such as falls or impacts. Always make sure your preamp has a steel or metal case and that it is robust enough. Plus, you can always add a touch of design.
Dimensions and Weight
Like all devices on the market, preamps are now available in all sizes and designs, allowing the buyer to choose according to his preferences. However, almost all of them are quite compact, and despite their role in the audio chain, they don’t require much space to perform their functions.
Remember that size affects weight. There are very high preamps and stunning and modern designs. Bear in mind that having a large appliance will always limit its transportation. If you only need it at home, it won’t be a problem, but if you intend to move it from one place to another, you should take a smaller model.
As we know, in the world of sound, power is measured in watts (W). In this respect, you must be very careful, as many manufacturers exaggerate in the specifications of their products and do it to sell more.
Higher power corresponds to better results, as long as the speakers or amplifiers are capable of receiving it. The only way to know the real power is to test the device, but this is not possible.
So, we suggest that you research a specific product. Today there are many forums and thematic articles, where experts and users share their experiences and advice.
Signal to Noise Ratio
The signal-to-noise ratio (S / N) relates the level of the useful signal power to that of the noise. Most commonly, it is measured with decibels (dB). If the signal-to-noise ratio is high, it generally means that you have better sound quality, since there is more useful information (signal) than unwanted information (noise).
As long as the input signal is loud and goes beyond the noise level, the audio can maintain a higher quality. This is the type of message to noise ratio that people prefer because it offers a clean and clear sound for listening. Hence, you should avoid buying audio devices with a meager S / N ratio.
Most of the manufacturers in the specifications of their products report values ranging from 20 Hz (minimum) to 20 kHz (maximum), which is the audibility range generally endured by humans.
The frequency response, together with the signal/noise ratio and the total harmonic distortion, will largely influence the stability of the sound.
Even if the head isn’t part of the preamp but rather the Turntable, it determines what kind of preamp we need to use. Most turntables use MM heads. Therefore, the offer of the MM phono preamps is more significant. MC cartridges are preferred by audio purists but require more investment.
Not all preamps are compatible with both head types, and if they are, they are more expensive. Usually, they are equipped with a switch to switch from one head to another.
Many preamplifiers are equipped with an output or output for directly connecting speakers or earphones. You can find it on the back where it is written production with jack output.
However, many other preamplifiers, especially higher-end ones, do not integrate this output and focus only on preamplification. Dedicating only the preamp means not predict connections with other systems.
This limits a lot because if there are no outputs, you will necessarily have to connect the preamplifier to an amplifier or receiver and then to the speakers. Instead, if the production is integrated, it will be possible to connect the device to the speakers.
In this respect, we refer to performances that positively do not affect the quality of your phono preamplifier or the sound quality, but which can be very useful.
We speak, for example, of those devices equipped with a switch that is used to switch off the preamplifier, which instead of usually switches off by disconnecting it from the power socket.
Other features are the LED indicators, which indicate if the preamplifier is turned on. Even some models include a button through which you can turn off the RIAA curve, although honestly, it is not very useful in phono preamplifiers. However, some models do.