Today we look at the 12 best Phono Preamps You Can Get in 2022.
Our list covers phono preamps of different shapes, sizes, build quality, and capabilities offered by some of the leading brands in the industry. With these options, boosting your turntable’s weaker phono level up to an acceptable line level will be a cinch.
If you were to connect your turntable (without a built-in preamp) directly to a speaker system, the sound would be barely audible as the audio signal is very weak. The job of a preamp is to add gain to the signal, which in turn, increases its volume. A preamp is what will go between your turntable and your amplifier. Some turntables have built-in preamps, while others don’t. The advantage of using an external preamp is that you can easily replace a faulty unit or upgrade to a newer, more advanced preamp.
The preamp also applies what is known as the RIAA curve. RIAA stands for Recording Industry Association of America. Simply put, the RIAA curve equalizes the playback of a phonograph according to a set of guidelines known as RIAA Equalization. When an album with more bass is put on a record, the bass creates wider grooves on the record’s surface, reducing the run time. So, to have more music per side on a record, the lower frequencies are reduced when a master is being cut. The preamp inverses the frequencies by boosting bass and decreasing the high frequencies according to the RIAA guidelines to overcome this reduction.
Now that we know why people with turntables or phonographs need phono preamps in their lives let’s look at the functionality and features of some of the top preamp options in the market today. Stick till the end for a bonus.
Top 12 Phono Preamps You Can Get In 2022
1. SPL Pro-Fi Phonos black
The people at SPL seem to have done their homework regarding the products they deliver.
Being around since 1983, what is impressive about the company is its out-of-the-box approach. As a result, SPL has earned its name in multiple facets, including broadcasting, movie-making equipment and Hi-Fi audio gear. Manufacturing preamps also seems like their strong suit.
SPL’s strong research and development team knows what their audience likes and has a knack for delivering quality products that give results efficiently and bring loads of customizable features and parameters through their user-friendly interfaces. With the Pro-Fi Phonos, SPL successfully delves into phono preamp territory to give audiophiles an innovative solution for their turntables.
- Rear Panel
The rear panel of the SPL Pro-Fi Phonos has a mains section with a 3 flat pin port for the detachable power cable and a “Mains Switch”. The “Mains Voltage” section has an option where you can switch the voltage from 230 V to 150 V. Next, you can find a pair of left “L” and right “R” RCA inputs for the record player and a pair of similar “L” and “R” outputs for connecting to an audio output source. Finally, there is an “Audio Ground”, which reduces noise.
For those unfamiliar with these terms, “MM” stands for moving magnet, while “MC” is an abbreviation for moving coil. Both pertain to the type or cartridge your turntable might possess. In the case of MM, the cartridge has a magnet attached to the cantilever, surrounded by two coils. As the stylus moves in the groove, the magnet induces a current in these coils to produce sound. However, in an MC cartridge, the coil is glued to the cantilever, which induces a current in the magnetic field generated by the surrounding magnets. Both setups have their pros and cons as well as tonal qualities. The SPL Phonos has a dedicated switch that can toggle between MC and MM cartridges.
- Capacitance (MM)/Impedance (MC)
Depending on your turntable’s cartridge, the SPL Phonos has dedicated controls for the necessary adjustments. The “Capacitance” of the MM cartridge can be set by a knob ranging from “OFF” to “330” pF. If you’re unsure about the settings of your record player, you should start with the “OFF” setting and crank the knob up gradually. The “Impedance” knob labelled “100Ω” – “10KΩ” can be used to adjust the resistance of on MC cartridge. Once again, starting with the lowest setting and gradually moving up is the way to go in this case.
- Sub Sonic Filter
The SPL Phonos also has an on/off toggle switch for a built-in “Sub Sonic Filter”. This feature can eliminate any noise or rumble in the lower frequencies. The filtering starts at about 15 Hz. The advantage of having a sub-sonic filter is that it eliminates low-end noise to the point where it cannot be felt on the audio output system.
- Output Level
This is where you can set the gain level of the signal coming from the record player to enhance it to line level. Generally, when the device is set to MM, the signal is enhanced by 46 dB, while in the MC setting, it goes up to 67 dB. SPL’s Pro-Fi Phonos has a toggle gain switch that can decrease this gain setting by 10 dB or increase it by 4 dB.
- Voltair – 120V
The Phonos preamp has what SPL calls “Voltair” technology which is when its internal circuitry runs to process the audio signal at +/-60 V DC. You can only find half of this power on other more conventional phono preamps in the market. Through this technology, SPL gives the listener more headroom to work with, which is the space between 0 dB and the loudest peak in the audio signal. The preamp also attempts to give more detailed audio results through this feature.
The SPL Pro-Fi Phonos gives you more control of the audio signal from your record player and keeps in mind the subtle intricacies, like letting you toggle between MM and MC modes. The Voltair – 120V mode is a good feature to have and experiment with. You also get the option to set the level of gain can be adjusted by the gain toggle switch.
Though the Voltair feature provides substantial power to the unit, it may not be a requirement for everybody. Depending on your setup and room size, the feature may or may not be fully utilized. In certain conditions, you may also witness unwanted audio artefacts when the signal is unreasonably enhanced.
The Phonos Pream is a good option if you are looking for a preamp with a decent number of controls on the front panel to adjust various features according to user preference. The Voltair function is powerful but risky if you have sensitive speakers that can’t handle the extra juice. Make sure you have ample space on your work desk because the Pro–Fi is a bulky unit.
2. Behringer PP400
Behringer is one of the biggest names in musical gear and audio equipment.
The company has always strived to provide some noteworthy features at a very affordable price. The PP400 phono amp is the embodiment of simplicity as it brings life to those old vinyl records hidden in your attic, which you never thought you’d be able to hear in full strength.
Thanks to the circuitry of the PP400, the preamp will provide enough gain to boost the signal from your turn table to a friendly audible level so you can experience a decent level of fidelity without it taking too much space or being too heavy on your electricity bill.
The Behringer PP400 preamp weighs 0.4 lbs and measures 2.5” x 4” by 1.25”. The PP400 has a 12 V connector that can be used to power the unit with the help of the power supply unit which is included. Connecting the power supply automatically turns the unit on. The “on” LED indicates when the device is getting power.
There are two left and right inputs on the unit. With the help of an RCA cable, the left output of your turn table will connect to the left input of the preamp, while the right turn table output will connect to the right input of the PP400.
- Output: Option 1
The PP400 also has a couple of left and right outputs. Using RCA cables, the left output of the preamp will be connected to the left input of a sound system, amplifier, or recorder. Similarly, the right output of the preamp connects to the right input port of the external device.
- Output: Option 2
There is also another output option on the PP400. You can use a quarter-inch audio cable to connect the preamp to mixers or sound systems. One thing to note here is that if the output device is stereo, then both ends of the cable need to have a quarter-inch jack. If the output device is mono, the cable should have a TRS jack on the preamp end and a couple of TS connectors for each mono input.
Behringer’s PP400 tries its best to get close to the RIAA equalizing standards. It boosts up the lower frequencies to give you a good-sounding bass response. Special attention is also given to the mid-range. In some cases, however, the vocals seem pushed back in the mix rather than being clear and upfront.
The PP400 from Behringer does what it claims to do and comes with a very reasonable price tag. The setup is extremely easy as there are no complicated controls, and the input and output ports are clearly labelled and self-explanatory. In addition, the rugged metal body gives the PP400 a solid feel.
Although it does give the lower end a reasonable boost, it lacks some details in the upper range frequencies. It would also be nice to hear a wider and more pronounced sound stage. Some units lack proper grounding and may produce a slight humming noise. There are no controls to adjust the amount of gain or filter out any frequencies.
Go for the PP400 if you plan to listen to your old records occasionally and need a decent level of line output without breaking the bank. The bass sounds close to natural but do keep in mind that the sound stage is narrow. The vocals and higher frequencies also lack a bit of texture and detail. If that seems to be up your alley, give the PP400 a shot.
3. ART DJ Pre II
As a brand that offers something for everybody, ART needs no introduction.
The company called Applied Research and Technology (ART) combines sound engineers, musicians and studio recording enthusiasts to come up with some fascinating products. Specializing in compressors, preamps, equalizers, and a ton of other innovative products, ART can successfully fulfill both your stage and studio needs.
Previously called the Phono MicroPRE, the ART DJ Pre II follows the same vision and brings the record players of today enough juice so that your old records sound the way they were meant to be heard in the first place. In addition, anyone can operate the Pre II as the device has one-touch buttons and a master gain knob to fine-tune exactly how you want your output to be.
- Rear Panel
The rear panel of the ART DJ Pre II has a 9 V port for the power adapter. You can also connect the Pre II with a home theater and use the system’s power to turn the unit on or off. The phono preamp has a pair of left and right inputs that can connect to your turntable’s outputs via RCA cables. Another pair of RCA outputs can be used to connect to an external audio device or mixer.
- Input Cap/Filter Buttons
The front panel is simple to comprehend. An “Input Cap” can be used to set the capacitance of the unit. When the button is pressed, it lights up and switches to 100 pf, whereas, by default, the unit has an input capacitance of 200 pf. As is evident, the “Low Cut” button can be used the cut unwanted low-end frequencies. This feature helps to reduce noise and rumbling.
- Gain Trim Knob
This is where most of the magic happens. As the phono preamp’s main feature is adding gain to the turntable to boost the signal, a dedicated “Gain” knob on the ART DJ Pre II allows you to increase the gain as per preference. The knob ranges from -10 dB to +10 dB and is flanked by a “CLIP” LED. The LED may turn green or red according to the added gain and the overall strength of the signal. If the light blinks red occasionally, it is not a cause for concern; however, if it remains red, the signal is clipping, so the gain knob needs to be turned down. Do note that there is no magical setting for the gain knob, and you will have to vary it according to preference and the nature of the record being played.
The ART DJ Pre II is very easy to use. The capacitance button comes in handy, and the low-cut option works well in that it reduces unwanted noise while keeping the lower frequencies as close to how they were intended to be heard as possible. The build quality is solid, and the device is very economically priced.
The device works well with turntables that have sufficient grounding. The ground wire from the turn table can be connected to the ground terminal behind the ART DJ Pre II. If your record player lacks a ground wire, be prepared to hear some buzzing and hum. The blue light on the unit is too bright and gets quite annoying. You’ll probably end up covering it with black electrical tape.
If you’re looking for a device that is not too complicated and at the same time gives you enough control over capacitance and a frequency cut to reduce unwanted hum, the ART DJ Pre II is a decent choice. The Gain knob will give you a wider range to work with, and if your turntable has a ground wire, pairing it with the ground terminal will give you a noiseless signal.
4. Fosi Audio Box X2
The Fosi Audio Box X2 is a rather unique-looking phono preamp.
If you’ve tried a few light-featured phono preamps and want to give that tube sound a try without spending a lot, this could be a worthy purchase. The Box X2 can be found on Amazon under a few different names, including Fosi Audio and Aiyima, although the features under the hood are exactly the same.
The Box X2 is very easy to use and has a couple of vacuum tubes on board, making your turntable signal sound different compared to the solid-state preamp. Expect the lower ends to be warmer with better clarity in the mid-range and enhanced vocals. Also, note that the X2 is specifically designed for MM cartridges.
The rear panel of the Fosi Audio Box X2 has a 12 V port for the power adapter. The other input and output ports of the Box X2 are quite standard and commonly found on most phono preamps. The paired RCA inputs and outputs are all there, and you get a decent-sized ground screw to connect the ground wire from your turntable to bring the noise down. The device also comes with a power adapter and a 3.5 mm to twin RCA connector cable, which can be plugged into the input on the front panel.
- Front Panel
The front panel of the Fosi Audio Box X2 is nothing too fancy. Unfortunately, all you find on the interface is a multipurpose master knob that can be used to power the unit on and adjust the gain on the signal and an aforementioned 3.5mm input. The master knob has three gain settings, including 39 dB, 42 dB and 45 dB.
The Box X2 is the first tube preamp on the list so far. Included in the box are two separately packed vacuum tubes that need to be installed on the top of the unit by aligning the pins on the base under each tube. The tubes are mainly used to buffer the signal and give the processed sound some pleasant characteristics like a wide sound stage.
Getting a tube phono preamp at this price is quite a bargain. The vacuum tubes are detachable and can be easily replaced, so feel free to experiment to get your sound just right. In addition, the interface is simple, and the step gain knob has three different gain settings to choose from.
The Fosi Audio Box X2 is not purely a tube preamp as it still functions as it has solid state circuitry inside. Instead, the tubes are mainly involved in buffering the sound signal. Also, the stock tubes lack detail and clarity in the higher-end frequencies, so you may find yourself switching them with some military-grade tubes.
If you’ve had enough solid-state circuitry and are looking to experiment with some tube preamp wizardry without spending too much, the Fosi Audio Box X2 can be an ideal choice. If you crave a warm sound and an open sound stage, you must give the Box X2 a try.
5. Millenium PHP 2
If you want to hear some of your old records at a decent line level, get the Millenium PHP 2.
This particular device has a rugged build quality and all the necessary input/output options you want from a phono preamp. In addition, the back of the PHP has a ground terminal that you can connect to the ground wire of your record player to reduce any signal noise.
There’s a reason why you don’t find too many setup videos regarding the Millenium PHP because the preamp is extremely easy to use and is pretty much “plug and play” right out of the box. The device does what it claims and performs well enough to get many positive reviews from users worldwide.
The Millenium PHP 2 phono preamp has an all-metal body weighing around 0.6 lbs, measuring 3.75” x 2.87” x 1.6”. The device can be powered through a 12 V connector with the help of the included power supply. Once the device is connected to the power supply, an LED lights up, and the PHP unit automatically turns on.
The front panel of the Millenium PHP 2 has a couple of RCA input ports. These connectors are labelled “L” and “R” so that they can be connected to the “L” and “R” output of your turntable. The ports are colored red and white so they can be connected easily to the corresponding output ports.
- Output: Option 1
The Millenium PHP also has a pair of RCA output ports that can connect the unit to an external sound system or mixer. The left output will be connected to the left input of the external device, while the right output will connect to the right input. The ports are color coded for ease of use.
- Output: Option 2
Next to the paired RCA outputs, the Millenium PHP also has a quarter-inch output port meaning that an audio cable with a quarter-inch jack can also be used to connect to an output device. If the mixer or sound system has a stereo input, you only need a cable with quarter-inch jacks on both ends. In the case of separate mono inputs, one end of the cable will have to be a TRS jack, while the other end should have a couple of TS connectors to go into the external output device.
The Millenium PHP is an embodiment of simplicity. What you see is what you get, as there are no hidden features, complicated button controls or knobs. The device acts purely as an interface between the turntable and any external output device. The build quality is good, and the ground terminal eliminates unwanted noise.
While being simple in use is the Millenium PHP’s strength, it is also its weakness. For all intents and purposes, the PHP has just one setting when all the inputs/outputs are plugged in. So if you like to dig deep into the features of a phono preamp and play around with the settings, you might want to look elsewhere.
Go for the Millenium PHP if you’re not very tech savvy or don’t want to go through the hassle of making use of different controls and features all the time to dial in your sound. Also, if the aim is to get your record player’s signal up to a decent line level without spending a lot, the PHP can be a good choice. The phono preamp is especially popular among pop and rock music listeners.
6. Pro-Ject Phono Box MM
The Pro-Ject Phono Box MM is a good budget option for turntable owners.
Manufactured by the lesser-known Vertical Cubed Dba Sumiko company from the Czech Republic, the Phono Box offers a single gain setting to boost your turntable signal enough for listening and recording purposes alike. The metallic casing protects the device from outside interference and gives the preamp a rugged feel.
Looking at the arrangement of the ground terminal, power port and input/output options, everything on the unit is upfront and easy to access. Unlike some preamps that take a lot of room on or around your turntable, the Phono Box has a sleek design, making it nice and compact.
The Pro-Ject Box MM weighs 0.6 lbs and has dimensions of 4.2” x 1.2” by 2.9”. The front interface has a power port that can be used to power the unit with the help of the power supply unit, which is included. Once connected, the unit will turn on automatically as there is no separate on/off switch on the Phono Box MM.
All the input/output ports are found on the front panel of the Pro-Ject Phono Box. The preamp has a pair of RCA input ports that are color-coded and accommodate the RCA cables from the turntable’s left and right output ports. The Phono Box applies a gain of 40 dB on the signal coming from your record player.
For connecting to an external output device like a sound system or a mixer, the pair of RCA output ports on the interface of the Pro-Ject Box MM can be used. The color-coded left and right output ports are to be connected to the corresponding colored input ports of the external device. The preamp also has a ground terminal that can be unscrewed to connect the turntable’s ground cable for significant noise reduction.
The device hardly has any weight and doesn’t take up a lot of space. The low noise circuitry will bring out the sound of your record nicely, eliminating any hums or buzzes. In addition, the 40 dB gain does a good job of bringing your phono signal to line level for an external audio system.
The circuitry on the preamp is a bit buggy, and some units may give out the noise. In addition, the lack of controls on the unit means that if your signal clips, you don’t have much room to control it from the preamp and must try tinkering around with your record player for any hope.
If you have a low-level setup with some generic speakers and a low-end turntable for occasional listening, purchasing the Pro-Ject Phono Box won’t be a bad idea. However, if you’re an audiophile in the true sense of the word and want a preamp to get the most out of your expensive setup, do spend a little more and invest in something more “high-end”.
7. Puffin Phono DSP
Parks Audio is a small company that makes only one type of product…the phono preamp.
The previous unit released by the company was called the “Budgie”, a tube-based phone preamp with very limited capabilities. Nonetheless, the unit was well received among the masses and encouraged the company to move forward in its preamp production journey.
Then a few years ago, Parks Audio delighted its target audience with the new and improved Puffin phono preamp. At first glance, the device looks something like a guitar effects pedal. But, once you look at what lies beneath its tough exterior, you may be pleasantly surprised.
- Main Panel & Display
Starting with the ports, the preamp has a couple of paired RCA stereo inputs and outputs. In the center, there is a ground terminal for the ground cable of your turn table, and lastly, there’s a power port. The Puffin has a rather large control knob right in the center of the unit’s layout and is flanked on both sides by power and selection buttons. The knob can be rotated to scroll through the different parameters and increase or decrease the value once a parameter is selected by pressing the selection button. We have covered a lot of preamps on this list, but the Puffin is the only one with a screen on it. Above the controls, you find a dainty two-line display with a reddish hue showing different parameters and settings.
- Volume, Gain & Mode
A display opens doors to a plethora of options only the Puffin Phono DSP can provide. The first few parameters include Volume and Gain. The unit allows you to change the output volume by choosing a value from the available range: “Muted” to “100%”. The mute option is useful when cleaning your turntable or changing disks. Next, the gain can be manipulated depending on the MM or MC cartridge. The gain can be decreased to -4 dB or increased to 72 dB. Most preamps offer 40 dB of gain. The mode option appears lower in the list and lets you choose between stereo, mono, and left and right channels.
- Warmth, Air, Treble, Bass Boost & Filters
All these settings have an adjustment range of -6 to + 6. The warmth feature can add warmth or brighten the sound, while the air setting can tame those piercing higher frequencies. The treble feature has a corner frequency of 3 kHz, while that of the bass is set at 300 Hz. The bass boost can be toggled on and off and has a corner frequency of 100 Hz. The preamp also offers high and low-frequency filters. This process uses the 4th order Butterworth filter, where the high filter can reduce noise on old LPs, and the low filter gets rid of rumble.
- Grade, Magic, Fx
The grade feature is unique. It gives your records a grade ranging from F to A+ depending on different aspects like scratches, noise or other wear and tear on the LPs’ surface. This can help you decide when to back up a record. The magic feature looks for transient sounds like clicks and pops while the record is being played, decides if it is part of the music or noise and applies a filter accordingly. The fx section lets you choose from three settings: Tube, Tape and PinkNoise.
- DeRumble, Room EQ, Load, Balance & Phase
The DeRumble feature only works in stereo mode and is designed to reduce unwanted rumble in the lower frequencies. In addition, it works best with the low pass filter activated at 25 Hz. The Room EQ compensates for any resonance caused by your environment interfering with the record being played. The load feature lets the user set the preamp’s input impedance, while balance lets you set the balance of the left and right channels. Finally, the phase feature lets you choose between normal, invert, mixed and null settings.
- Out, EQ, Menu, Set & Cart Log
The out feature lets you choose between the default RCA output and digital output. The EQ menu lets you pick 12 different EQ presets, so get the best sound out of your record player. The user can also customize the settings as per preference. The menu option allows the user to choose between a full menu or an easy menu that will only show the most regularly used features. Thanks to the set mode, the current settings of the Puffin preamp can be saved at any time. There are 4 slots for 4 different system snapshots. The Cart Log logs the cartridge’s running time and wear on the stylus. The log settings range from 0 to 10,000 hours.
The display on the Puffin Phono DSP opens doors to some unimaginable combinations and parameter manipulations. The controls on the interface are easy to use and make scrolling through and selecting different features a breeze. In addition, the set feature allows you to take snapshots of the system setting for quick recall when needed.
With all the available features organized in such a comprehensive menu, it is hard to point towards a con with this one. Perhaps you may want to look in another direction if you’re someone who wants a simple plug-and-play device without having to learn all the functions and what they do. It’s all a matter of preference.
If you’re a micromanager and want complete control of every minute aspect of how the signal enters your preamp and how the unit will process it and send it forward, the Puffin preamp is the device of your dreams. No preamp even comes close to the customizable options this unit offers.
8. Cambridge Audio Alva Duo
The Cambridge Audio has a couple of phono amp variants.
The Cambridge Audio Alva Solo has a much smaller size and, apart from a single power/stand-by button, lacks controls on the front panel. In addition, the Alva Solo lacks some input/output options on the back and is more suited for record players with MM cartridges.
The Alva Solo’s older brother, the Alva Duo, has a lot more to offer. It has more features and gives you better control of how the phono preamp affects the sound of your turntable. Being more versatile of the two, you also get more input/output options on the Duo unit.
The Alva Duo is a bit bulky, weighing around 2.1 lbs and having dimensions of 1.9” x 8.5” x 6.2”. The front has a power button which can be used to power the unit and put it on stand-by mode, in which case it switches to low power. Next to the power is a button that alternates between MM and MC modes. Both modes have their respective LEDs, which light up when the mode is activated. The Alva Duo also has a headphone jack and a dedicated volume knob to control the headphone volume.
- Input/Output Options
The back panel of the Alva Duo has a 3 flat pin port for the detachable power cable. The unit also has a pair of RCA outputs used to connect to the input ports of external audio devices and mixers. Another unique feature of the Alva Duo is that it possesses separate left/right inputs for MM and MC type cartridges so that the circuitry inside the unit can properly gauge what needs to be done to the signal to provide the best results to the listener.
- MM/MC Inputs
Depending on which cartridge your record player uses, you can opt between the paired MC or MM inputs. The MM inputs have an impedance of 47 K Ohms and a capacitance of 100 pF, while the MC inputs have a resistance level of 100 Ohms and a capacitance of 100 pf.
- Balance/Ground Controls
The Alva Duo is one of the few preamps on the list that has a separate balance knob to fine-tune and make adjustments to the left and right outputs. Both channels have a balanced output in the neutral position (12 o’clock). A more conventional ground terminal on the back shields the arm and the internal circuitry from noise.
The Alva Duo has a distinct MC and MM mode with dedicated RCA left and right input ports on the back. This allows the user to avail the different levels of resistance and capacitance the unit offers through its ports. Furthermore, a headphone jack with its master volume is a nice additional feature in the preamp.
The Alva Duo’s sound is not punchy enough, and the unit could do even better if it had a bit more gain. In some cases, you’ll need to turn the volume of your external speakers to get a decent audio level. Also, as preamps go, the unit is on the larger side and will take some space.
You can choose to purchase the Alva Duo from Cambridge Audio if you have access to both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, as the preamp gives you separate inputs for both cases. Also, go for the Alva Duo if you want a unit with a built-in headphone output and a separate volume knob.
9. LD Systems PPA 2
The LD Systems PPA 2 can be counted as one of the simplest-looking preamps around.
It has a lot in common with some of the humbler-looking phono preamps on the list, which also lack button controls needed to change different aspects of the behavior of a preamp. This means that the LD Systems PPA 2 works on a single setting to add gain to the signal from a record player.
Having said that, you can get an idea of the capabilities of the LD System PPA 2 just by glancing at the front panel, which is all there is to it. All the necessary inputs and outputs are there. In addition, the ground terminal is present, and there is an option to connect a pair of headphones directly to the unit.
The LD System PPA 2 measures 4” x 1.4” x 2.6” and weighs around 0.6 lbs. The preamp does not have a power button. The PPA 2 comes with a power adapter that powers the unit automatically when connected to the power socket on the front panel. An LED on the top of the unit lights up to indicate the unit is on.
The PPA 2 has a very simple-looking front panel which lacks controls that can be seen on some of the more versatile preamps on the list. Your turntable can be connected to the preamp by using RCA cables. Simply connect the turntable outputs to the aptly coloured phono inputs of the LD System PPA.
Just like the paired RCA inputs, the LD System PPA 2 has a left and right output port that can connect to the inputs of a mixer or a sound system. The preamp also offers a headphone output so you can listen to the processed signal of your turntable directly from the preamp if external speakers are unavailable. However, the unit lacks any volume knob for the headphones. In addition, to avoid noise your turntable’s ground wire can be connected to the ground terminal on the unit.
There are no complications, and the LD System PPA 2 unit is ready to go right out of the box without any elaborate setting up requirements. The ground terminal eliminates the noise effectively, and the overall performance of the PPA is impressive compared to its low price tag.
The lack of controls on the interface means that you only get one type of gain setting. So if you wish to make any adjustments to the settings, you’re out of luck. Also, the preamp is a bit quieter than some of the other preamps in its league.
The LD System PPA 2 keeps things extremely simple. No need to wonder if the cartridge at your disposal is an MM or MC type. No need to guess how much gain to set. If you’re one of those turntable users, who cannot be bothered to fine-tune every little detail on a preamp, go for the PPA 2. Just hook up everything, sit back and enjoy your old record collection.
10. Pyle PP444
Pyle Audio is a Chinese company that came into existence in the 1960s.
The company offers impressive audio solutions for every environment with its diversified range of products. They like to classify their products into three wide categories. The Pyle Car range manufactures car stereos and audio accessories to offer an immersive sound experience while on the road.
The Pyle Pro line specializes in PA Systems, DJ equipment and even musical instruments like guitars. In addition, Pyle has a separate line of home-related products, including home theatres, TVs, TV accessories, Blu-Ray players, portable speakers, amps, turntables, and phono preamps. That’s where the PP444 Mini Phono Preamp Comes in.
Character & Sound:
The Pyle PP444 measures around 3.54” x 2.13” x 1.02” and weighs 0.5 pounds. Designed very similar to some of the more minimalist designed units, the preamp has no power button and will remain on as long as the included power supply is connected to it. Once on, the LED on the top of the unit will light up. The top of the unit also has the company branding, the unit’s model number and the labeling of the input and output ports available on the back panel.
The Pyle444 can be connected to a turn table by using RCA cables that connect to the stereo output ports of the player with the stereo inputs on the preamp. The left and right ports are color coded to match the colors on the RCA jacks. The device also has a ground terminal next to the inputs to connect the record player’s ground cable.
The Pyle444 has two options when it comes to outputs. The preamp has a pair of stereo RCA outputs that will leave the unit carrying the enhanced signal towards any external device with RCA inputs. Furthermore, the preamp also has a quarter-inch output. Other than that, there are no additional ports or controls on the Pyle444 Mini Phono Preamp.
Pyle’s version of the Mini Phono Preamp has a very simple design that is fairly obvious to decipher. The device hardly takes any space and is portable owing to its negligible size and weight. The build quality is good, and the preamp will give your turntable signal a sufficient enhancement.
The PP444 Mini Phono Preamp doesn’t give you much room to work with as there are no adjustable controls or features. The preamp doesn’t offer separate modes for the MM and MC cartridge variants, and lacks a power button, so it’s always on when plugged into a power socket.
Much like some of the other budget options on the list, the PP444’s unique selling point is its simplicity. Plugging in the device means that it’s ready to go. No adjustments, no menus, no buttons. So, if this is your cup of tea, go for the PP444 with your eyes closed.
11. Radial Engineering J 33
Radial Engineering is a Canadian company based in Vancouver.
Being a small company with a little over 100 employees, Radial Engineering has been hard at work since 1976 to bring some ground-breaking audio products and equipment to the fore. The manufacturer specializes in preamps, direct boxes, audio interfaces and much more.
The J33 phono preamp is a good example of the company’s technical prowess. The preamp is housed in a 14-gauge steel chassis with a book-end design. The housing is so rugged that one of their ads shows such a unit being run over by a car and coming out of the ordeal unscathed and fully functional.
The J33 from Radial Engineering measures around 3.25” x 5” x 1.75” and weighs 1.5 lbs. The unit has a power supply and can be remotely powered through the 48V phantom power on an external unit. The preamp lacks a power button and turns on automatically when fed with power. This is indicated through a couple of “left” and “Right” LEDs on the front of the unit.
- Rumble Filter
A filter button on the console can be used to apply a bass roll-off. Just like high-pass filters are designed to let a certain range of frequencies pass through while attenuating others, pressing the rumble filter will eliminate any rumbling or noise in the lower range.
- RCA Connectors
The J33 comes with a pair of left and right RCA outputs. These ports offer a -10 dB stereo output to a mixer or any other device having RCA stereo inputs like a hi-fi receiver. In addition, the preamp also comes with a pair of RCA stereo inputs which allow connection with a record player to boost its signal.
- TRS Connectors
The J33 also has a quarter-inch output port to connect the preamp with mixers or recorders in case you want to preserve your old LPs. In addition, you get a 3.5mm output jack with a -10 dB stereo output. This can establish a connection between any other device with a 3.5 mm jack, like a sound card on a computer.
- XLR Connectors
Unlike any of the preamps we’ve seen so far, the rear panel of the J33 has two balanced mic level stereo outputs in the form of XLR ports. These can be used to connect to the mic inputs on a mixer. In addition, the XLR ports have a low impedance of 600Ω.
The J33 is very strongly built. You could drop it or accidentally step over it without causing it any harm whatsoever. Also, the low-cut feature, activated through a dedicated button, gives impressive results. Furthermore, the addition of stereo XLR mic-level outputs is a good touch.
As impressive as the J33 may be, it lacks controls for gain adjustments. You won’t find separate settings for your MC and MM cartridges on the preamp. Being a bit power-hungry, the J33 is hard on the phantom power of external units and has been known to cause some power issues and damage the host’s circuitry.
If you’re looking for a device built to last that offers decent sound output with high-end clarity and warm mid-ranges, go for the Radial Engineering J33. If the goal is to get something in the ideal range regarding quality, features and cost, the J33 is well equipped and will not disappoint.
12. Douk Audio T4 Plus
From an appearance point of view, the Douk Audio T4 truly stands out.
Douk Audio is a Chinese manufacturer specializing in amplifiers, preamps, DACs, audio switches, level meters and other audio accessories. Their interpretation of a phono preamp is quite interesting. First and foremost, from a design perspective, the device gives the feel of a much more expensive unit.
Secondly, the T4 preamp gives you a reasonable command over different parameters and thanks to the controls on board, you can fine-tune the processing of your phono signal as per preference. Also, the build quality is quite good, and the unit has a nice weight to it.
- Back Panel
The back panel has all the inputs/output ports the preamp offers, starting with a ground terminal and a pair of RCA inputs. Below that is an aux-in jack through which you can connect a computer, phone or any other device that is 3.5 mm jack enabled. The preamp’s circuitry is designed so that plugging anything into the aux input will take precedence, and the RCA inputs will be disabled. As soon as the aux-in is disconnected, the phono inputs will start to work again. Below the aux port is a couple of RCA outputs followed by a power port for the power adapted that comes in the package. The package also includes an aux to RCA cable.
- Front Panel
The most attention-grabbing part of the font panel is the VU meter. Under the VU meter is a big, red multipurpose knob that can power the unit on and control the volume of the phono outputs and the headphone jack, which is found below the volume knob.
- VU Meter
The T4 preamp has a built-in volume unit (VU) meter, which is aesthetically pleasing. The meter has a warm, yellowish glow and shows a needle which dances around according to the signal level of your old records. If for some reason, the needle doesn’t seem responsive enough, you can make the necessary adjustments from the aptly labelled access point on the side of the unit.
The preamp has a couple of vacuum tubes hiding behind the VU. The tubes are military-grade GE-made and are quite small in size. When the unit is switched on, the tubes light up to match the color of the VU meter. The combination of the glow from the tubes and the VU meter makes the unit look impressive.
- MM/MC Mode & Impedance Settings
Regardless of which cartridge your turn table uses, the Douk Audio T4 has you covered. The preamp gives you access to MM and MC modes so the signal can be interpreted properly to get the best results. The device also allows you to choose different impedance levels that start from 10 Ω and go up to 1K Ω.
The premium-looking VU meter and vacuum tubes give the preamp a high-end feel. The tubes can be easily upgraded to give more tonal options. There are multiple settings for impedance, and the preamp also works as a headphone amplifier which is an added advantage. The build quality is solid.
Some aspects of the T4 are quite baffling. For instance, there is no way to switch between aux-in and phono-in. So if you have both plugged in, you’ll need to yank the aux cable out to access the phono inputs. Also, being a phono preamp, the phono inputs should have had precedence over the aux in port.
If you’re looking for an awe-inspiring preamp that looks good in your workspace, you can’t go wrong with the Douk Audio T4. Also, if a reasonably good tube sound in a ruggedly packaged, low-priced unit is what you seek, it wouldn’t hurt to try this preamp.
The Canadian-based brand by the name of Fluance delivers many high-end audio products.
Although their main focus is on manufacturing turntables, speakers and home audio systems, they have recently ventured into the world of phono preamps. If you happen to stumble upon their website, you can feast your eyes on some of the most beautifully designed speakers and equipment around.
The Fluance PA10 is another example of their design ingenuity. This little wooden box also has some innovative circuitry hidden under its attractive exterior compared to some of the more conventional preamps on the market. All the necessary input/output options are there, with a few extra bells and whistles.
The Fluance PA10 is a nice-looking unit designed in a wooden cabinet that has a metallic lining under the wooden surface to avoid any outside interference. Unfortunately, there are no controls on the front, and all you find here is a power LED and the “Fluance” logo. The preamp weighs around 0.7 lbs and measures 4” x 2.25” x 3.6”. The package also includes a power supply to power the unit.
- Inputs & Outputs
The input and output options can be found on the back of the unit. Like any other preamp, you’ll find the standard RCA left and right input/outputs behind the unit. There is also a ground terminal to establish a ground connection with your record player. Lastly, there’s a power port for the included power supply.
- 20 Hz Filtering
Also on the back is a 20 Hz filter button. Although the human ear cannot hear anything below the 20-decibel level, the unwanted rumble that appears in the 20 Hz zone can cause a disturbance in the overall sound structure and delivery. So having this option takes care of the issue.
- 4 Chip Circuitry
Most preamps rely on a single chip to receive the output signal from the turntable, process it and then push it out to an external device. However, Fluance has a different approach. Inside the Fluance, PA 10 are 4 different chips to manage the left and right channels and the input and output stages. To elaborate further, in Stage 1 the chips for the left and right channels receive the signal and prepare it for amplification, and in Stage 2 the second pair of chips apply the RIAA curve and process the amplification to bring the signal up to line level.
The Fluance PA 10 applies 38 dB of gain to the phono signal, a decent amount of amplification. Distributing the load on a 4-chip circuitry rather than a single chip reduces crosstalk between the channels. The high-quality wooden cabinet style build looks very appealing.
The 20 Hz filtering, though a plus point, somewhat narrows the sound stage when applied. So, it should be used sparingly and only when any rumbling or low-end noise is experienced. The lack of controls would disappoint those who like the extra tinkering. There aren’t any separate modes for MM or MC cartridges.
If you have a turntable that uses an MM cartridge, feel free to test out the 38 dB gain this preamp offers. If you’re a true audiophile who can pick up the subtle difference in your sound, you’ll be impressed with the noiseless circuitry and the 20 Hz filtering option.
Surely this post would’ve given you a good idea of the options available to you regarding phono preamps. With a decent understanding of what each preamp offers in terms of features, input/output ports, layout, design and controls, you’re all set to make an informed decision. Just do some homework and consider factors like your budget and the cartridge (MM/MC) installed on your player. Also, ensure that you have clarity regarding the level of customization and fine-tuning you crave, as some devices on the list offer a single setting while others are more versatile and give you more control over your record player’s sound.
Sultan Zafar is a guitar player from Islamabad, Pakistan. He has been playing music with various mainstream musicians for over 20 years. He is a song writer and music producer. These days he spends his time exploring different music genres and collaborating with fellow musicians on various projects.