Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to get the best sound from your turntable?
If so, you may be wondering whether or not you need a phono preamp.
The short answer is yes, but it’s not always that simple.
There are a lot of factors to consider, such as whether your turntable already has a built-in preamp or if your amplifier has a phono input.
In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about phono preamps and help you determine whether or not you need one for your turntable.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of vinyl playback!
Do I Need A Phono Preamp For My Turntable
If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, you may be wondering whether or not you need a phono preamp for your turntable. The answer is yes, but it’s not always that simple.
A phono preamp serves the primary function of amplifying the signal from your turntable to a level that can be played properly through your sound system. Without a preamp, your vinyl records will sound quiet and distorted.
But whether or not you need a phono preamp depends on a few factors.
Firstly, check if your turntable already has a built-in preamp. Many modern turntables come with a built-in preamp, so you may not need to buy a separate one.
Secondly, check if your amplifier has a phono input. If it does, then it likely has a built-in preamp and you won’t need to buy one separately.
However, if your turntable doesn’t have a built-in preamp and your amplifier doesn’t have a phono input, then you will need to purchase a phono preamp for your turntable.
It’s also worth noting that even if your turntable has a built-in preamp or your amplifier has a phono input, an external phono preamp can still improve the sound quality of your vinyl playback. Many audiophiles argue that an external preamp offers better sound quality on average than an internal phono stage.
What Is A Phono Preamp?
A phono preamp, also known as a phono stage, is an essential component of any vinyl setup. Its primary function is to amplify the signal from your turntable to a level that can be played properly through your sound system.
When a vinyl record is played, the needle on the turntable’s cartridge picks up the vibrations in the grooves of the record. These vibrations are very weak and need to be amplified before they can be played through your speakers or headphones. Additionally, records are manufactured with sonic imbalances that need to be corrected through equalization. A phono preamp provides this standard equalization and amplification, boosting the weak signal from your turntable’s cartridge to a level that allows you to connect it to your stereo via standard AUX sockets.
There are two types of phono preamps available: moving coil and moving magnet. The type you need depends on the cartridge type and your budget. While some turntables come with a built-in preamp, others require an external one. It’s important to check the specs of your turntable and amplifier before purchasing a phono preamp to ensure compatibility.
Why Do You Need A Phono Preamp?
The reason you need a phono preamp is because the signal produced by a turntable is much weaker than other audio sources, like CD players or digital music players. The signal produced from a turntable cartridge needs to be amplified to a level that can be played through your sound system. Additionally, vinyl records require a specific equalization curve to be applied during playback to correct for sonic imbalances that occur during the record cutting process. Without a phono preamp, your vinyl records will sound quiet, thin, and distorted.
While some turntables come with built-in preamps, these may not offer the same level of sound quality as an external preamp. Additionally, if your amplifier doesn’t have a phono input, you will need an external preamp to connect your turntable to your sound system. Overall, a phono preamp is essential for proper vinyl playback and can also improve the sound quality of your vinyl records.
Turntables With Built-in Preamps
If you’re in the market for a new turntable, you may be pleased to know that many modern turntables come with a built-in preamp. This means that you won’t need to buy a separate preamp to boost the signal from your turntable to a level that your speakers or amplifier can play.
Some good record players with built-in preamps can start as low as $150, while brands like Pro-Ject have developed high-quality turntables with built-in phono preamps that won’t cost you more than $500. By skipping the need for an external phono preamp, you can avoid shelling out extra money for your setup. It also means that money in your pocket can go towards record shopping or splurging on some nice speaker cables.
However, it’s important to note that not all self-contained turntables come with a built-in preamp. Before purchasing a turntable, make sure to check the specs and see if it has a built-in preamp or not. If you’re unsure, you can always plug your turntable into the Line In of your powered speakers and try it out. If it plays as expected then you have a built-in preamp.
Amplifiers With Phono Inputs
If your amplifier has a phono input, then it likely has a built-in preamp, which means you won’t need to buy a separate one. Many modern amplifiers come with phono inputs, but not all of them do. It’s important to check the specifications of your amplifier to see if it has a phono input.
Amplifiers with phono inputs are designed to work with turntables that have a low-level output signal. The phono input on an amplifier is specifically designed to amplify the signal from a turntable, which is why it’s important to use this input if your amplifier has one.
If you’re in the market for a new amplifier and you’re planning on using it with your turntable, it’s worth looking for one that has a phono input. This will save you the hassle and expense of having to buy a separate preamp.
It’s important to note that not all amplifiers with phono inputs have high-quality preamps. Some lower-end models may have preamps that are not as good as those found in standalone preamps. If you’re serious about getting the best sound quality from your vinyl collection, it may be worth investing in a high-quality standalone preamp, even if your amplifier has a phono input.
The Difference Between Moving Magnet And Moving Coil Cartridges
When it comes to choosing a phono cartridge for your turntable, there are two main options: Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC) cartridges.
MM cartridges are generally more affordable and compatible with a wider range of household stereo equipment. They have a medium to high output level, meaning they require less gain in the phono stage to amplify the signal. MM cartridges also typically come with a replaceable stylus, making maintenance easier and more affordable.
On the other hand, MC cartridges are preferred by audiophiles for their technical superiority. They have less moving mass, allowing the stylus to reach more of the surface area in the record groove and transcribe more micro-detail, particularly in the high frequencies. MC cartridges are also known for their delicate construction and require a phono preamp with an additional gain stage due to their lower output signal. They are more expensive to manufacture and maintain, and typically do not have a user-replaceable stylus.
If you have invested in an expensive MC cartridge, it may be wise to choose a high-quality dedicated MC phono preamp to extract its full sonic potential. However, if you are on a budget, an MM cartridge may be a more practical choice. Ultimately, the choice between MM and MC cartridges comes down to personal preference and budget.
How To Choose The Right Phono Preamp For Your Setup
Choosing the right phono preamp for your setup is crucial for achieving the best sound quality from your vinyl records. The type of phono preamp you need depends on the type of cartridge your turntable has.
If your turntable has a moving magnet cartridge (MM), you’ll need an MM phono preamp that is compatible with this type of cartridge. Most preamps are compatible with MM cartridges by default. However, if your turntable has a moving coil cartridge (MC), you’ll need a phono preamp that is compatible with low output cartridges.
It’s important to note that some manufacturers offer MM/MC phono preamps, which provide both options in a single device. This type of phono stage is versatile and allows for possible changes in the cartridge. If you plan on upgrading from an MM cartridge to an MC cartridge later on, you won’t necessarily have to change your phono preamp if you have an MM/MC phono preamp.
When it comes to gain settings, it’s important to set your preamp’s gain on the low side if you have a high-output cartridge like an MM cartridge. A setting of 40 dB is a good place to start. If you go too high, you’ll hear more noise and obvious distortion. On the other hand, if you have a low-output moving coil cartridge, you’ll need higher gain settings (60 dB or higher).
When it comes to budgeting for a phono preamp, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s just one component of your hi-fi system and not the most important one. Speakers and turntables should command a larger chunk of your budget. However, investing about 20% of your budget on a phono preamp can make a dramatic difference in sound quality. It’s recommended to splurge for flexibility in terms of adjustments like gain, loading, and compatibility with moving coil cartridges if you plan on experimenting with different cartridges in the future.