If you’re new to the world of vinyl, you may have heard the terms “phono” and “aux” thrown around when it comes to connecting your turntable to your audio system.
But what exactly do these terms mean, and are they interchangeable?
In this article, we’ll dive into the differences between phono and aux inputs, and why it’s important to use the right one for your setup.
Whether you’re a seasoned vinyl enthusiast or just starting out, understanding the nuances of these inputs can make all the difference in your listening experience.
So let’s get started!
Are Phono And Aux The Same
The short answer is no, phono and aux inputs are not the same.
Phono inputs are specifically designed to receive weak signals from a turntable’s cartridge. They come with built-in amplification and EQ to boost and color these signals, which are much lower in volume than other audio sources like CDs or tapes.
On the other hand, aux inputs are line-level signal ports that are meant for receiving high-level audio signals. They do not have built-in amplification or EQ, and are typically used for connecting devices like smartphones, laptops, or MP3 players.
If you try to use a phono input as an aux input, you may experience issues with sound quality. Phono inputs have an internal EQ that is tailored to the specific frequency response of a turntable’s cartridge. Plugging in a device that doesn’t produce this type of signal can result in distorted or trebly sound.
Conversely, if you try to use an aux input as a phono input, you may not get any sound at all. Turntables require a special preamp in order to work properly, and most aux inputs do not have this built-in.
What Is A Phono Input?
A phono input is a type of audio input that can be found on preamplifiers, amplifiers, or stereo receivers. It is specifically designed to accept signals from analog turntables, which produce weak signals that require amplification and EQ to recreate the original sound. When playing vinyl records, the frequency response is reversed to reduce audible background noise. This process is known as RIAA equalization, which is built into the phono input.
The signals produced by a turntable’s cartridge are much weaker than those produced by other audio sources like CDs or tapes. A CD player may have an output of a couple of volts, while a cartridge’s output is more like four or five millivolts. This means that these signals need a significant amount of extra amplification to be heard properly. If your amplifier has a phono plug, this happens automatically. However, if it doesn’t, then you need a phono preamp between the turntable and the amplifier to bring the signal up to sufficient strength to be heard properly.
Good phono preamps start around $150 and go up from there. They can even be equipped with valves and feature adjustable impedance to fine-tune the response of a moving coil cartridge to the type of recording you’re listening to. It’s important to make sure that the phono preamp is compatible with your cartridge, as some cartridges are moving magnet (MM) while others are moving coil (MC) and operate differently.
What Is An Aux Input?
An aux input, short for auxiliary input, is a line-level signal port that is commonly found on audio equipment like receivers, amplifiers, and speakers. It is designed to receive high-level audio signals from devices like smartphones, laptops, or MP3 players, which typically output a stronger signal than a turntable’s cartridge.
Unlike phono inputs, aux inputs do not have built-in amplification or EQ. This means that the signal received through an aux input is not boosted or colored in any way. Instead, it is passed through the device’s circuitry and sent to the speakers or headphones as-is.
Because aux inputs are meant for line-level signals, plugging a turntable directly into an aux input will result in very low volume and poor sound quality. In order to use a turntable with an aux input, you will need to use a separate phono preamp to boost the signal to line level before plugging it into the aux input.
The Difference Between Phono And Aux Inputs
While both phono and aux inputs use RCA connectors, there are significant differences between the two. The most important difference is in the level and frequency response of the signals they are designed to handle.
Phono inputs are specifically designed to handle the low-level signal output from a turntable’s phono cartridge. This signal requires additional amplification and equalization compared to line-level signals from other audio sources like CDs or tapes. Phono inputs on amplifiers and receivers have built-in amplification and EQ to boost and balance the signal from a turntable’s cartridge so that it’s suitable for playback.
Aux inputs, on the other hand, are intended to handle higher-level signals that come from other audio sources like smartphones, laptops, or MP3 players. They do not have built-in amplification or EQ, and are not designed to handle the low-level signal output from a turntable’s phono cartridge.
Attempting to use a phono input as an aux input can result in distorted or trebly sound because of the internal EQ that is tailored to the specific frequency response of a turntable’s cartridge. Conversely, attempting to use an aux input as a phono input will likely result in no sound at all because turntables require a special preamp in order to work properly, and most aux inputs do not have this built-in.
Why Using The Right Input Matters
Using the right input is crucial for getting the best audio quality out of your equipment. When it comes to turntables, using the correct input can make a huge difference in the sound quality you hear.
Using an aux input instead of a phono input can result in a loss of audio quality. The lack of amplification and EQ in an aux input means that the signal from a turntable’s cartridge will not be properly boosted or colored, resulting in a weak or distorted sound.
On the other hand, using a phono input for a non-turntable device can also lead to poor sound quality. The internal EQ of a phono input is specifically designed for the frequency response of a turntable’s cartridge, and plugging in a device that doesn’t produce this type of signal can result in trebly or distorted sound.
Using the right input is especially important when it comes to vinyl records. These recordings are made with specific frequency responses that are tailored to the capabilities of a turntable’s cartridge and phono input. Using an incorrect input can alter the intended sound and result in a subpar listening experience.
How To Identify Which Input To Use For Your Turntable
If you’re unsure which input to use for your turntable, there are a few things you can do to identify the correct one.
First, check the instruction manual for your turntable to see if it has a built-in phono preamp. If it does, you will often see a switch either under the rubber mat on the platter or on the back of the turntable that says Phono and Line. This means you can use either the phono input or the line input on your receiver or amplifier.
If your turntable does not have a built-in preamp, you will need to use a phono preamp to boost the signal before connecting it to an auxiliary input on your receiver or amplifier. Make sure that the phono preamp is compatible with your turntable’s cartridge. Moving magnet (MM) cartridges are more common, but some more expensive ones are moving coil (MC) and operate differently.
It’s important to note that using an aux input instead of a phono input can result in poor sound quality, as the signal from a turntable is much weaker than other audio sources. Conversely, using a phono input for a device that doesn’t produce this type of signal can also result in distorted sound. So, be sure to identify the correct input for your turntable to get the best possible sound quality.
Tips For Optimizing Your Listening Experience With The Correct Input
Now that we know the difference between phono and aux inputs, let’s explore some tips for optimizing your listening experience with the correct input.
1. Use a phono input for your turntable: If you have a turntable, it’s best to use a phono input to ensure the correct amplification and EQ are applied to the signal. This will result in a more accurate and balanced sound.
2. Use an aux input for other devices: For devices like smartphones or laptops, an aux input is the best choice. These devices produce high-level signals that do not require the specialized amplification and EQ of a phono input.
3. Use a standalone phono preamp: If your turntable does not have a built-in phono preamp, you can use a standalone one to connect to an aux input. This will ensure proper amplification and EQ for your turntable’s signal.
4. Consider investing in a record cleaning machine: To further optimize your listening experience, consider investing in a record cleaning machine. This will help remove any deep-seated dirt or grime from your records, resulting in a cleaner sound.
By following these tips, you can ensure that you are using the correct input for your audio sources and optimizing your listening experience.