Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with it, the importance of a phono stage.
But what exactly is a phono stage, and why do you need one?
In this article, we’ll explore the world of phono stages and how they can help you get the most out of your vinyl collection.
From amplifying the small signal from your turntable to correcting the bass and treble balance, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this essential piece of audio equipment.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of phono stages.
What Does A Phono Stage Do
A phono stage, also known as a phono preamp, is a device that connects your turntable to your amplifier or sound system. Its primary function is to amplify the small signal generated by your turntable’s cartridge and re-equalize the signal to correct the bass and treble balance.
When vinyl was the standard medium for audio recordings, amplifiers and receivers included a built-in phono stage that allowed direct connection to a turntable. However, with the introduction of new formats like CDs, manufacturers started removing or reducing the quality of their in-built phono stages and inputs.
Nowadays, many hi-fi amplifiers won’t let you plug in a turntable directly. You need to connect via a phono stage to make the very small signal from the turntable powerful enough for your main amp to work with.
To connect a turntable to an amplifier, you will need to pass the signal through an external phono stage to increase its level. Turntable cartridges output a very small signal, and this needs amplifying up to several hundred times the size before it is loud enough for your amplifier.
If any noise creeps in before or during amplification, it will become increased in volume detracting from the potential audio quality. That’s why dedicated phono stages are fine-tuned to reproduce the warm sound of vinyl, free from hiss or bearing rumble thanks to our engineers’ expertise in circuit design, component choice, and layout.
What Is A Phono Stage?
A phono stage, also known as a phono preamp, is an audio component that provides the connection between a turntable and an amplifier or sound system. It amplifies the small signal generated by the turntable’s cartridge and re-equalizes the signal to correct the bass and treble balance.
Phono stages were originally built-in to receivers and amplifiers when vinyl was the standard medium for audio recordings. However, with the introduction of new formats like CDs, manufacturers started removing or reducing the quality of their in-built phono stages and inputs. As a result, many hi-fi amplifiers now require a separate phono stage to connect to a turntable.
The primary function of a phono stage is to amplify the small signal generated by the turntable’s cartridge. Turntable cartridges output a very small signal, which needs amplifying up to several hundred times its size before it is loud enough for an amplifier to work with. A dedicated phono stage is fine-tuned to reproduce the warm sound of vinyl, free from hiss or bearing rumble thanks to the engineers’ expertise in circuit design, component choice, and layout.
In addition to amplifying the signal, a phono stage also re-equalizes the signal. When record grooves are carved, the bass is reduced to save space on the record. The phono stage amplifies the bass and decreases the treble to correct this and create a good listening balance. The process of a phono stage balancing the bass and treble is called RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) equalization.
How Does A Phono Stage Work?
A phono stage works by taking the small electrical signal generated by the turntable’s cartridge and amplifying it to a level that can be played through a standard sound system. The signal from a turntable cartridge is very weak, so it needs to be amplified several hundred times before it can be played through an amplifier or receiver.
The phono stage also re-equalizes the signal to correct the bass and treble balance. This is because the signal from a turntable cartridge is not flat, but rather has a curve that boosts the bass and reduces the treble. The phono stage corrects this curve to produce a flat, even signal.
Dedicated phono stages are designed to reproduce the warm sound of vinyl without any interference or noise. They are fine-tuned by engineers to ensure that the circuit design, component choice, and layout are optimized for the best possible sound quality.
Why Do You Need A Phono Stage?
If you’re a vinyl lover, adding a phono stage to your setup could help you get more from your vinyls. A phono stage is essential if you want to play your favorite albums through your stereo. Without a phono stage, the signal from your turntable will be too weak and distorted, and you won’t be able to enjoy the full potential of your vinyl recordings.
Phono stages are especially important if you have an amplifier or sound system that doesn’t have a built-in phono stage. Many amplifiers nowadays don’t include a phono stage, so you’ll need to connect your turntable via an external phono stage to get the best sound quality.
Moreover, a dedicated phono stage is designed to reproduce the warm sound of vinyl, free from hiss or bearing rumble. It’s fine-tuned to amplify the small signal from your turntable cartridge and re-equalize the signal, so the bass and treble balance is corrected. The result is stunning clarity, musicality, and resolution from all your vinyl recordings.
Types Of Phono Stages
There are two main types of phono stages: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC).
Moving Magnet (MM) cartridges have a magnet attached to the needle, which moves inside a surrounding coil of wire. The signal generated by the cartridge is then sent to the phono stage, which amplifies it and applies an equalization curve to inverse the standard frequency adjustment made during the record cutting process. MM cartridges tend to be less expensive than MC cartridges, as they are easier to manufacture.
Moving Coil (MC) cartridges have a coil attached to the needle, which rides on top of a surrounding magnet. Due to the smaller parts and greater precision required, MC cartridges tend to be more expensive than MM cartridges. However, they also tend to produce better sound quality due to their low mass and high compliance.
Some phono stages are designed to work with both MM and MC cartridges, while others are specifically designed for one type or the other. It’s important to choose a phono stage that is compatible with your turntable’s cartridge in order to achieve the best possible sound quality.
Key Features To Look For In A Phono Stage
When looking for a phono stage, there are a few key features to consider to ensure that you get the best possible sound quality from your vinyl recordings.
One important feature is gain, which refers to the amount of amplification that the phono stage provides. Moving Magnet (MM) phono stages generally feature a gain of around 40 dB, while Moving Coil (MC) phono stages must propose a minimum gain of 58 dB. It’s important to choose a phono stage with the appropriate gain for your cartridge to ensure optimal performance.
Another important feature is load impedance, which refers to the resistance that the phono stage presents to the cartridge. MM cartridges typically require a resistive load of 47,000 ohms, while MC cartridges require a resistive load of between 50 and 1,000 ohms. Some phono stages allow for adjustable load impedance, which can help to fine-tune the sound quality.
In addition to gain and load impedance, it’s also important to consider the quality of the components used in the phono stage. Look for a phono stage with high-quality capacitors, resistors, and other components that are designed for audio applications.
Finally, consider whether you need a phono stage that supports both MM and MC cartridges, or if you only need support for one type. Some phono stages are capable of both, while others are designed specifically for one or the other.
By considering these key features when choosing a phono stage, you can ensure that you get the best possible sound quality from your vinyl recordings.
How To Set Up And Use A Phono Stage
Setting up and using a phono stage is a straightforward process that can be done in just a few steps. Here’s how to do it:
1. Plug the RCA cables connected to your turntable into the “In” or “Input” RCA jacks on the rear of the phono preamp.
2. Using a separate pair of RCA cables, plug one end into the “Out” or “Output” RCA jacks on the rear of the phono preamp.
3. Plug the other end of the RCA cables into the Aux or CD input on the rear of your receiver.
4. DO NOT plug the RCA cables into the phono input on your receiver.
5. Set your preamp to the proper cartridge setting, either MM or MC. If you are new to vinyl, you are most likely using a MM (or moving magnet) cartridge and not an expensive MC (or Moving Coil) cartridge.
Once you have completed these steps, you’re ready to start listening to your vinyl records with improved audio quality. It’s worth noting that some amplifiers already have built-in phono preamplifiers, but these are often outperformed by external phono stages.
In summary, adding a phono stage to your setup can help you get more from your vinyl records by amplifying and re-equalizing the signal for improved audio quality. Setting up and using a phono stage is a simple process that can make a big difference in your listening experience.