If you’re new to the world of vinyl records, you may have come across the term “phono” and wondered what it means.
In short, a phono input is a type of audio connection that allows you to play records on a turntable. But there’s more to it than that.
In this article, we’ll explore what phono means, how it works, and why it’s important for getting the best possible sound from your vinyl collection.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of phono.
What Does Phono Mean
The term “phono” comes from the word “phonograph,” which is an early name for a record player. A phono input is a specialized audio input that is designed to accept signals from a turntable.
When you play a vinyl record on a turntable, the sound is picked up by a tiny needle, or stylus, which vibrates as it moves along the grooves of the record. These vibrations are then converted into an electrical signal that needs to be amplified and equalized before it can be played through speakers.
This is where the phono input comes in. It boosts the signal from the turntable and applies RIAA equalization, which is a specific type of frequency response curve that was developed to standardize the playback of vinyl records. This helps to recreate the original sound of the recording and reduce background noise.
Without a phono input, the signal from a turntable would be too weak and distorted to play through speakers. So if you want to listen to vinyl records, you’ll need a device with a phono input, such as a preamplifier, amplifier, or stereo receiver.
The Origins Of Phono Technology
The origins of phono technology can be traced back to the invention of the phonograph, which was developed by American inventor Thomas Edison in 1877. Edison had previously worked on the telegraph and telephone and experimented with a diaphragm and embossing point to record sound patterns on paper.
As he developed his idea, he changed the paper to tin foil wrapped around a metal cylinder. His mechanic, John Kruesi, built the phonograph that Edison designed. To test the new machine, Edison created his first recording, “Mary had a little lamb.” The machine recorded his words and played them back to him.
Early cylinder recordings were limited due to their two-minute capacity, fragile materials, and costly production. Tin cylinders could be played several times, but then they wore out. Other inventors worked on improvements to the machine and materials.
Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter collaborated to improve on Edison’s phonograph. The main improvement was replacing tin foil with wax on the recording cylinders. Bell and Tainter called their machine the graphophone. It was patented in 1886.
The Edison and Bell/Tainter teams raced to produce marketable versions of their machines in the 1890s. The gramophone replaced the cylinder recordings with flat discs. While Edison, Bell, and Tainter competed in the phonograph and graphophone race, Emile Berliner observed opportunities to improve on their designs.
Berliner worked to address the weaknesses in the cylinder recording machines. To produce recordings that were more durable than wax cylinders, Berliner tried several methods for etching and engraving sound patterns onto new materials. Instead of representing sound using vertical grooves on a cylinder, Berliner’s method used lateral grooves on a flat disc.
He tested wax, glass, celluloid, rubber, and shellac and developed a method to create an electroplated zinc master record. The master could then be stamped into a flat disc to mass reproduce the recorded sound.
By 1894, Berliner’s gramophone system had proved more durable, easier to produce, and convenient to store than its predecessors’ cylinders. The tin and wax cylinders used in phonographs and graphophones were bulky, fragile, and difficult to duplicate.
Gramophone launched the modern record industry, and its name is still used to signify achievement in recording as the Grammy Award. By 1929, other cylinder recording companies had either switched to flat discs or been forced out of business by the popularity of the gramophone.
Understanding Phono Inputs And Outputs
Phono inputs and outputs are essential components of any turntable setup. A phono input is a type of audio connection that is specifically designed to accept signals from a turntable. This input boosts the signal from the turntable and applies RIAA equalization to recreate the original sound of the recording. On the other hand, a phono output is an audio output that is found on a turntable, which allows you to connect the turntable to an amplifier or other audio device.
It’s important to note that not all turntables have a built-in phono preamp, which is necessary to convert the low-level phono signal into a line-level signal that can be played through speakers. In this case, you’ll need to connect the turntable to a device with a built-in phono preamp or use an external phono preamp.
Some turntables have a switch at the back that allows you to switch between phono and line output. Turntables with a built-in phono preamp will usually have a line output option, while those without will only have a phono output.
When connecting your turntable to an amplifier or receiver, it’s important to make sure you’re using the correct input. Most amplifiers and receivers will have both phono and line inputs, so make sure you’re connecting your turntable to the phono input.
It’s also important to note that if you connect a phono output to a line input, the sound will be extremely quiet and lacking in bass. This is because the phono output is much weaker than a line-level signal and has reduced bass frequencies due to RIAA equalization.
Why Phono Matters For Vinyl Playback
Phono inputs are essential for vinyl playback because they provide the correct amplification and equalization needed to reproduce the sound of a vinyl record. Unlike digital audio, which can be played through any audio input, vinyl records require a specialized input because of the way they are recorded.
During the recording process, the bass frequencies are reduced and high frequencies are boosted to fit more music on the record. This means that when the record is played back, these frequencies need to be restored to their original levels. The RIAA equalization curve applied by the phono input accomplishes this task, resulting in a more accurate reproduction of the original sound.
In addition to equalization, phono inputs also provide the necessary amplification to boost the weak signal from a turntable. Without this amplification, the sound would be too quiet and distorted to be heard through speakers.
How To Set Up And Use A Phono Connection
Setting up and using a phono connection is relatively straightforward. Here are the steps you need to follow:
1. Check if your device has a phono input: Before you can use a phono connection, you need to make sure that your device has a phono input. This input is usually labeled “phono” and can be found on the back of a preamplifier, amplifier, or stereo receiver.
2. Connect your turntable to the phono input: Once you have located the phono input on your device, you need to connect your turntable to it. This is usually done using RCA cables or mini jacks. Make sure that you connect the left and right channels correctly.
3. Set the PHONO/LINE switch: If your turntable has a built-in RIAA preamp, you need to set the PHONO/LINE switch to LINE. If your device has a built-in RIAA preamp, you need to set the switch to PHONO.
4. Adjust the volume: Once you have connected your turntable and set the PHONO/LINE switch, you need to adjust the volume. Start with a low volume and gradually increase it until you reach your desired listening level.
5. Enjoy your vinyl records: With everything set up correctly, you can now enjoy your vinyl records through your speakers.
Troubleshooting Common Phono Issues
While listening to vinyl records can be a rewarding experience, it can also come with its own set of challenges. Here are some common phono issues and how to troubleshoot them:
1. Pops and skips during playback: This could be caused by a buildup of static electricity on the record. To prevent this, consider using anti-static record sleeves or an acrylic platter mat. If static has already built up, an anti-static carbon fiber brush can help remove it.
2. Distortion: If the issue is isolated to one or two specific records, it could be due to groove wear or scratches. Cleaning the record may help, but if the wear is significant, there may be no way to restore the sound quality. Additionally, issues could be caused by poor pressing or mastering of the record.
3. Tonearm not lowering properly: If the tonearm bridge is not lowering enough when the cueing lever is used, there may be an adjustment screw that can be tweaked to solve the issue.
By troubleshooting these common phono issues, you can ensure that you’re getting the best possible sound quality from your vinyl records.
The Future Of Phono Technology In The Digital Age
As music evolves, so does the technology used to listen to it. In the digital age, streaming services have become the norm for many music listeners. However, there is still a growing interest in vinyl records and turntables, and phono technology is evolving to meet this demand.
Analogue sound has become the new high-end format for those who have listened to modern turntables and phono stages. For out-and-out sound quality, there is nothing to touch it, and this state of affairs is likely to continue due to the inherent problems of digital formats. Many of the recordings on vinyl have not been wrecked by digital remastering, which is often highly significant. The phrase “digitally remastered” fills most analogue lovers with horror because they have heard the results. This has led to a decline in CD sales, as people are disappointed with the sound quality of digitally remastered recordings.
However, phono technology is not without its disadvantages. Availability of records has been a problem, but this situation is steadily changing for the better as more and more recordings are repressed and made available through specialist internet mail-order companies. The cost of hardware for analogue is much less than digital (outside the budget end of the market). Turntables are also wonderful looking pieces of kit that resemble a work of art, which lends a certain romance to them that CD players don’t possess.
In the future, phono technology is likely to continue evolving to meet the needs of vinyl enthusiasts. As more people rediscover the joys of vinyl, manufacturers will continue to develop new and innovative products. Upgrades for turntables will become more common, allowing users to improve their sound quality over time. The popularity of social media and digitalization will also play a role in how people listen to music and how they share their experiences with others.
Overall, phono technology will continue to play an important role in how we listen to music in the digital age. While streaming services may be convenient, there is still a growing interest in analogue sound that cannot be ignored. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect phono technology to keep pace with these changes and provide an even better listening experience for vinyl enthusiasts.