The warm tones of the analog audio processed by a phono preamp may seem like a status symbol for the hipster hipster, but there is a good reason why vinyl records are so popular among the Bohemian class: Their great sound quality. They are really entertaining and interesting teams, which don't really have to cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, you can start by rebuilding or updating an analog sound system little by little.
If you are just starting your vinyl record collection and have a turntable, the next piece of the puzzle for great sound could be a phono preamp. But first, here are some background on technology, for those who wonder why they might need one. (If you already know what a phono preamp is, do not hesitate to jump the following paragraphs!)
Note: We will use a lot of terminology about vinyl records in this article. If you are still new to this technology, scroll to the end to get a glossary of terms commonly used in the world of vinyl records.)
What is a phono preamp?
While large amplifiers and receivers with built-in analog inputs are returning with the recent resurgence of the vinyl record, many modern devices have removed that input to reduce costs. A phono preamp is an external device that enters that void, increasing the output of a turntable so that modern electronics can play it at the appropriate volume level while adding equalization standardized by the Association of the Recording Industry of America (RIAA, for its acronym in English), to improve the quality of music.
There are really two main reasons to obtain an independent phono preamp: either your turntable or amplifier lacks one, or you have decided to upgrade your equipment with a better sound than the one that the built-in one offers.
You can easily spend a good amount of money on a high-end solution, but fortunately there are many models that offer excellent sound at a completely reasonable price. That's where our list comes in. Here are our favorite affordable phono preamps, which range in price from budget solutions to long-term investments.
Less than $ 50 dollars
Rolls VP29 ($ 49 dollars)
Those looking for a phono preamp plug-and-play They will simply love the Rolls VP29, which has no buttons or knobs and is designed to perform a task and a single task: amplify the sound of your favorite vinyl record to the standard playback level with equalization RIAA. The VP29 is a red fire box made in the USA. It also has a 3.5 mm jack, which makes it perfect for connecting to speakers or sound bars with power so you can skip the amplifier completely.
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Less than $ 100 dollars
ART DJPRE II Phono Preamplifier ($ 66 dollars)
ART Pro Audio has made a name for itself as a provider of solid studio equipment for some time. The company's affordable and intuitive VLA II compressor is a workhorse in many home studios. ART Pro brings its considerable sound talents to DJPRE II, a small rounded box that offers many features that some more expensive models lack. Together with the standard RIAA equalization, the DJPRE II allows you to choose between a flat frequency and low cut response, in addition to offering gain control to allow optimal performance with your specific configuration, or to properly power an input device to You can convert your vinyl record to digital format.
It is also compatible with turntable cartridges that require special levels of input capacitance, which means that even high-end buyers can consider the DJPRE II, while its low price features a full-featured solution for any budget. The TCC TC-750 LC is another strong option at this price for those who want an adjustable gain output.
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Music Hall Mini ($ 80 dollars)
If you are thinking of a longer-term upgrade, you can consult the acclaimed manufacturer of Music Hall preamps. The small American-made Mini of the company uses a mobile ima preamp to increase the volume of the signal equalized by RIAA, which provides a clean sound boost for your amplifier to take. Like the Rolls VP29, the Music Hall features a 3.5 mm output in addition to the RCA connection, which makes it one of the best phono preamps at its price for those with a good pair of powered studio monitors.
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U-Turn Pluto ($ 99 dollars)
We have been using the U-Turn Pluto as an external phono preamp for some time in the Digital Trends test room and we have been impressed by its simple and elegant design, as well as the excellent sound it provides. A clean and ready-to-use preamp from one of our favorite manufacturers of affordable turntables, the U-Turn Pluto adheres to the equalization standard RIAA Traditional and has high quality internal components to amplify your signal channel through a simple RCA connection.
If you have an entry level turntable and a quality amplifier, or are looking to update the built-in phono preamp, this is an excellent option.
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Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box ($ 99 dollars)
Although the sound that comes through Pro-Ject Phono Box is practically indistinguishable from U-Turn Pluto, Phono Box has an additional trick up its sleeve for more high-end vinyl enthusiasts. On the back there is a button that allows you to choose between optimization to move the magnet and the mobile coil cartridge turntables. If you already own a high quality turntable (such as Debut Carbon from Pro-Ject) and are considering long-term upgrading of the most expensive mobile coil cartridges, this is a great option.
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More than $ 100 dollars
Graham Slee Communicator ($ 250 dollars)
Okay, so if you want to go big (but not make use of your family trust), the Graham Slee Communicator is the phono preamp for you. Designed exclusively to move magnet cartridges (sorry, mobile coil fans), this hand-made phono preamp with aluminum casing from the UK has no patience for a striking exterior design, but instead focuses every part of your money on components High-end interns.
Tailor-made, the communicator offers audio with beautiful details through golden RCA inputs and outputs on the back. It is an excellent choice for those who already have a turntable, an amplifier and high-end speakers, and want a phono workhorse with a beautiful sound to enjoy in the coming years. For the price, this is the preamp of hearing aids of choice.
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Glossary of terms
Here is a summary of some of the most used technical terms in the field of vinyl:
The Association of the Recording Industry of America established this standard of equalization (EQ) in 1954 for the reproduction of vinyl records for two reasons: to standardize the sound quality on all vinyl records and to allow longer recording times ensuring that the actual slots of each disc will be adjusted to a smaller size This standard configuration remains the same as the one that most phono preamps adhere to, ensuring that the audio signal of each record is as consistent as possible, regardless of the system you use.
The pencil or the "needle" of a turntable is the thin piece at the end of an arm that physically connects with the grooves of a disk. It is always connected to the cartridge, which converts its physical inputs into electrical outputs. Usually, the needles are tilted by a small diamond or other industrial grade gemstone. It is imperative that the pencil be kept clean and free of static electricity to maintain quality reproduction, so experts recommend that you use a recording brush for each turn, every time.
A phonographic cartridge is a small electromechanical device that transmits analog signals from the vinyl disc slots to your entire audio system. Phono cartridges contain transducers that convert physical variations in the groove walls into an electrical audio signal, using copper coils and magnets.
Mobile Imn Cartridge
The moving magnet cartridges create an electric signal from the analog inputs of the optical pen by (guessing) a set of moving magnets inside two copper coils. Mobile magnet cartridges are known for their softer sound compared to mobile coil cartridges, and are available in numerous shapes, sizes and quality levels. Mobile magnet cartridges are generally more affordable and easier to replace than mobile coil cartridges, which makes them an ideal choice for beginners, and are often the standard emission cartridge in all turntables, except high-end ones .
Mobile coil cartridge
The mobile coil cartridges are different from moving magnet cartridges, since when the pencil moves, it moves the coils around a magnet to produce an electric signal, instead of moving the magnet itself. Many consider this to offer a better overall hue and less distortion, but at the cost of the special configuration and the need for a special phono preamplifier (mobile coil cartridges often produce a different amount of signal than mobile magnets). They are also often much more expensive than mobile magnet cartridges.