If you’re new to the world of vinyl, you may have heard about the importance of preamps, but aren’t quite sure what they do or if you even need one.
Even seasoned audiophiles may not fully understand the role that preamps play in an audio setup.
In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about preamps and whether or not you need one for your turntable.
From boosting the signal to applying the RIAA equalization curve, we’ll cover all the basics so you can enjoy your vinyl collection at a volume you can actually hear.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of preamps.
Do I Need A Pre Amp For My Turntable
The short answer is yes, you will need some form of preamp for your turntable. A 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, the sound from your turntable will be too quiet and weak to enjoy.
However, the type of preamp you need will depend on your specific setup. Some turntables, powered speakers, and amplifiers come with built-in preamps, so you may not need to purchase a separate one. Before buying a preamp, check the specs of your turntable and speakers to see if they already have a built-in preamp.
If your turntable does not have a built-in preamp and your amplifier or receiver does not have an input labeled “phono,” then you will need to purchase a separate preamp for your turntable. This is also known as a phono preamp.
It’s worth noting that some amplifiers already come with a phono stage installed. You can identify this by looking for a “phono” position on the input selector on the amplifier’s fascia, matched with corresponding phono connectors on the rear. If your amplifier has this feature, you can connect your turntable’s output directly to the amplifier’s input marked “phono” without needing an additional preamp.
If you’re looking to include a turntable in your Sonos set-up, you’ll also need a phono preamp as the Sonos Connect, Play:5, and Amp all feature line inputs but no built-in phono stage.
It’s important to note that turntables that do not have a built-in preamp require grounding. If your turntable needs grounding, it will feature a cable that needs to be attached to your preamp (whether it’s an external preamp, mixer, or amplifier). Turntables that are not grounded will produce an obvious humming sound.
What Is A Preamp And What Does It Do?
A preamp, also known as a phono preamplifier or phono stage, is an essential component for any turntable setup. Its primary function is to amplify the signal from your turntable to a level that can be played properly through your sound system.
The signal from a turntable is much weaker than that of other audio sources, such as a CD player, due to the fact that the stylus in the cartridge does not receive any electric power. As a result, the signal needs to be boosted significantly in order to be of any use to the amplifier. A basic preamp can boost the signal to an output of 300 mv, which is necessary for proper playback.
In addition to amplification, a preamp also applies an equalization curve to inverse the standard frequency adjustment made during the record cutting process. This allows for proper playback of vinyl records and ensures that the sound quality is not compromised.
It’s important to note that some turntables, powered speakers, and amplifiers come with built-in preamps, so you may not need to purchase a separate one. However, if your setup does not have a built-in preamp, you will need to purchase one separately in order to properly play your vinyl records.
Why Do Turntables Need Preamps?
Turntables need preamps for two critical functions. First, the signal coming out of the cartridge/stylus on your turntable is around 1,000x lower than the signal coming from a CD player or a streaming device. In order to hear music from vinyl through your speakers or stereo system, you first need to boost the signal. This is where a phono preamp comes in. The preamp amplifies the signal level up to a level suitable for the standard AUX input on your stereo.
Secondly, the preamp applies an equalization curve to inverse the standard frequency adjustment made during the record cutting process. This is because vinyl records are cut with bass frequencies reduced and treble frequencies boosted, so a phono preamp applies an inverse RIAA curve to restore the original sound.
Without a preamp, the sound from your turntable will be too quiet and weak to enjoy. Therefore, if you want to play a turntable, you will need a preamp. Some turntables have built-in preamps while others require an external one. It’s important to check the specs of your turntable and speakers before purchasing a preamp to ensure compatibility. Additionally, turntables that do not have a built-in preamp require grounding to prevent humming sounds.
Built-in Vs External Preamps: Which One Is Right For You?
When it comes to preamps, there are two main types: built-in and external. Built-in preamps are pre-installed within a piece of audio equipment, such as a turntable, powered speaker, or amplifier. They are more convenient and generally cheaper, but they may not provide the best sound quality. On the other hand, external preamps are standalone devices that offer better sound quality but come at a higher cost and require some setup.
If you’re on a budget and don’t want to spend too much money on a preamp, then a built-in preamp may be the way to go. However, keep in mind that the sound quality may not be as good as an external preamp. If you’re serious about your sound and want the best possible quality, then an external preamp is the way to go.
External preamps don’t have to fit into the casing of a record player, so they can be designed for optimal performance without any constraints. They can range from budget-friendly options to high-end models that can cost thousands of dollars. Some external preamps are also designed to look sleek and blend in with your entertainment center or home theater.
Ultimately, the decision between built-in and external preamps depends on your preferences and budget. If you’re new to vinyl and just getting started, a built-in preamp may be sufficient for your needs. However, if you’re an audiophile looking for the best possible sound quality, then an external preamp is definitely worth considering.
Understanding The RIAA Equalization Curve
The RIAA equalization curve is an important aspect of vinyl playback that is often overlooked. It is a form of pre-emphasis and de-emphasis that is applied to vinyl records during recording and playback. The purpose of this curve is to reduce the low frequencies and boost the high frequencies during recording, which helps to limit the physical stresses on the stylus and reduce noise from the recording medium. During playback, the opposite occurs, with low frequencies being boosted and high frequencies being cut in the exact same amounts as during recording.
The Recording Industry Association of America developed a standard playback equalization curve and required that all LP records and record players manufactured conform to this standard. This means that every phono pre-amp must have this playback equalization built into it. If you were to cut an ordinary audio source (without the RIAA EQ) into a lacquer at a reasonably hot level, you would notice that the bass frequencies would be so big and loud that they would cause the groove to make really large squiggles. These very large cut grooves would take up a huge amount of space on the disk and limit your playing time to only a few minutes on a 12′′ LP side. Additionally, records are noisy, and without the EQ, they would be mostly scratchy noise and clicks.
The RIAA curve defines transition points in three places: 75 μs, 318 μs, and 3180 μs, which correspond to 2122 Hz, 500 Hz, and 50 Hz (rounded values). Mathematically, the pre-emphasis transfer function is expressed as follows: (insert mathematical equation). Implementing this characteristic is not especially difficult but is more involved than a simple amplifier. Practically every 20th-century hi-fi preamplifier, integrated amplifier, and receiver featured a built-in phono preamplifier with the RIAA characteristic.
How To Set Up And Use A Preamp With Your Turntable
Setting up and using a preamp with your turntable is a straightforward process. If your turntable does not have a built-in preamp, you will need to purchase a separate one. Here are the steps to follow:
1. Connect the RCA cables from your turntable to the input audio jacks on your preamp. If your turntable has a grounding wire, connect it to your preamp as well.
2. Connect another set of RCA cables from the output of your preamp to one of the inputs on your amplifier or receiver. Make sure to connect the cables to an input labeled “line” or “aux,” and not “phono.” Connecting the preamp to the phono input will distort the sound.
3. If your preamp requires power, plug it into an electrical outlet.
4. Turn on your turntable, preamp, and amplifier or receiver.
5. Adjust the volume and tone controls on your amplifier or receiver as needed.
6. Enjoy your vinyl records!
It’s important to note that if you’re using a turntable that requires grounding, you’ll need to connect the grounding wire from your turntable to the grounding post on your preamp. This will help eliminate any humming or buzzing noises that may occur.
Do You Need A Preamp For Your Specific Turntable Model?
The answer to whether you need a preamp for your specific turntable model depends on the turntable itself. Some turntables come with a built-in preamp, while others do not. If your turntable does not have a built-in preamp, you will need to purchase an external preamp.
It’s important to note that turntables with a USB output have a built-in preamp. Additionally, some older amplifiers and stereo systems also have preamps built-in, so if you have one of these, you may not need to purchase a separate preamp.
If you’re unsure whether your turntable has a built-in preamp or not, you can always plug it into the Line In of your powered speakers and try it out. If the sound is as expected, then your turntable has a built-in preamp.
In summary, whether or not you need a preamp for your specific turntable model depends on whether it has a built-in preamp or not. It’s important to check the specs of your turntable and speakers before purchasing an external preamp.