What Hi-Fi’s Best Phono Preamp: A Comprehensive Review

Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking for the best phono preamp to enhance your listening experience?

Look no further than the What Hi-Fi Best Phono Preamp list.

This comprehensive guide features top-rated preamps that deliver exceptional sound quality and a range of features to suit any budget.

From entry-level options to high-end models, we’ve got you covered.

So sit back, relax, and let us guide you through the world of phono preamps.

What Hi-Fi Best Phono Preamp

The Rega Fono MM MK III takes the top spot on our list as the best overall phono preamp. This award-winning preamp delivers exceptional sound quality and performance that belies its affordable price point. It’s warm, smooth, and has a muscular bass that makes your vinyl records come alive.

For those looking for an entry-level option, the iFi Audio Zen Phono Preamp is a great choice. It boasts a wider-than-normal feature set, including MM and MC capabilities with selectable gain, a smart subsonic filter, and even an additional 4.4mm balanced out. It also delivers excellent sound quality with great depth and nuance.

If you’re looking for a solid-state phono stage that’s a true hi-fi bargain, the Manley Chinook MC/MM phono preamplifier is an excellent choice. It’s highly regarded and favorably reviewed by audiophiles for its exceptional performance and sound quality.

For those who want to transfer their vinyl records into digital music on their PC, the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII is a top pick. It’s an affordable preamp that delivers warm and smooth sound with a muscular bass. It also comes with a USB output that enables you to transfer your vinyl records into digital music on your PC.

Why A Phono Preamp Is Important For Vinyl Enthusiasts

Vinyl enthusiasts know that getting the best sound from their record player requires more than just a good turntable and speakers. A phono preamp, also known as a phono stage, is an essential component in a vinyl setup. It corrects sonic imbalances left over from the manufacturing process and boosts the weak signal from the turntable cartridge to a level that can be connected to a stereo via standard AUX sockets.

Without a phono preamp, the sound produced from a turntable would be thin, reedy, and extremely quiet. Some turntables come with a built-in phono stage, but others require either a separate preamp stage or an amplifier that includes its own. In fact, many hi-fi amplifiers no longer have built-in phono stages or inputs, so a separate phono preamp is necessary to connect the turntable to the amplifier.

A dedicated phono preamp is fine-tuned to reproduce the warm sound of vinyl without any hiss or bearing rumble. It amplifies the signal from the turntable cartridge up to several hundred times its size before it is loud enough for the amplifier. This amplification is necessary because turntable cartridges output a very small signal.

The difference between moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) cartridges can create spirited debates among vinyl aficionados. MM cartridges have a magnet attached to the needle that moves inside a surrounding coil of wire, while MC cartridges have the coil riding on top of the needle surrounded by a magnet. MC cartridges tend to be more expensive than MM cartridges due to their smaller parts and greater precision. However, MC cartridges have a much lower output voltage than MM cartridges and require a higher level of amplification before input to the amp.

While speakers and turntables should command a larger chunk of your hi-fi budget, investing about 20 percent of your budget on a dedicated phono preamp can make a dramatic difference in sound quality. The right phono preamp will bring your vinyl records to life with warm, smooth sound and muscular bass.

What To Consider When Choosing A Phono Preamp

When choosing a phono preamp, there are several factors to consider. First, you must ensure that the preamp is compatible with the phono cartridge on your turntable. Moving magnet cartridges require a preamp with low gain settings, while moving coil cartridges require a preamp with high gain settings. Some manufacturers offer MM/MC phono preamps that provide both options in a single device, making it versatile and easy to upgrade your cartridge without having to change your preamp.

Another important consideration is the budget. While the phono preamp is not the most important component in your hi-fi system, it can still make a significant difference in sound quality. As a general rule, investing about 20 percent of your budget on the phono preamp is recommended. Splurging for flexibility in terms of adjustments like gain, loading, and compatibility with Moving Coil cartridges can also be beneficial.

Lastly, it’s important to consider the features offered by the phono preamp. Some models come with smart subsonic filters that eliminate low flutter and drive rumble without cutting out the low end of your track. Others come with supplemental 4.4mm balanced outs that allow you to wire the preamp into a digitizing device or whatever else you wish. Make sure to choose a model that suits your needs and preferences.

Entry-level Phono Preamps For Budget-conscious Listeners

If you’re on a tight budget but still want to enjoy the warmth and depth of vinyl sound, there are some great entry-level phono preamps to consider. The Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444 is a very inexpensive option that performs well compared to phono stages built into affordable turntables and amplifiers. It’s a great choice if you need a phono preamp to get started spinning vinyl, and the highest possible sound quality is not a priority for you.

Another affordable option is the Schiit Mani 2, which is a rare find in the world of inexpensive phono pre-amplifiers. This tiny metal box sounds like a far more expensive unit and is manufactured and assembled in California. Its adjustability makes it versatile and opens the door to a wider range of cartridges that users may want to try.

For those who want an entry-level option with a wider feature set, the iFi Audio Zen Phono Preamp is a great choice. It boasts MM and MC capabilities with selectable gain, a smart subsonic filter, and even an additional 4.4mm balanced out. It delivers excellent sound quality with great depth and nuance, making it perfect for budget-conscious listeners who don’t want to compromise on performance.

Mid-range Phono Preamps For Improved Sound Quality

If you’re looking to improve the sound quality of your vinyl records and have a bit more to spend, there are several mid-range phono preamps that offer exceptional performance and features.

The Pathos In The Groove MM/MC phono preamp is a solid-state device that offers excellent sound quality and craftsmanship. It’s well-crafted and has a detailed sound that will bring out the best in your vinyl collection. Additionally, it offers both MM and MC compatibility, making it a versatile choice for any turntable setup.

The Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 is another mid-range phono preamp that offers exceptional sound quality with the added warmth of vacuum tubes. It has adjustable gain settings, making it compatible with both MM and MC cartridges. The Tube Box S2 also has an adjustable impedance setting, allowing you to fine-tune the sound to your liking. Overall, it’s a great choice for those who want the added warmth of tubes without breaking the bank.

Lastly, the Cambridge Audio Alva Solo is a great option for those who want a versatile phono preamp that can be used with both MM and MC cartridges. It has adjustable gain settings and a subsonic filter to reduce unwanted low-frequency noise. The Alva Solo also features Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to stream your vinyl records wirelessly to compatible speakers or headphones.

High-end Phono Preamps For Audiophiles

For audiophiles who demand the very best, there are several high-end phono preamps on the market that deliver exceptional performance and sound quality. One such preamp is the Pathos In The Groove MM/MC phono preamp. This well-crafted solid-state phono stage is highly regarded by audiophiles for its exceptional detail, clarity, and musicality. It’s a great choice for those who want the very best from their vinyl records.

Another high-end phono preamp that’s highly regarded by audiophiles is the Pass Labs XP-32 line preamplifier. This preamp delivers exceptional transparency, detail, and soundstage, making it a great choice for those who demand the very best from their audio system.

For those who want a phono preamp that’s designed and manufactured in the UK, the Chord Electronics Phono Preamp is an excellent choice. It features an aircraft-grade aluminum case and isolated electronics that deliver a pristine reproduction of the sound. It also comes with dual unbalanced RCA and dual balanced XLR connectors for enhanced connectivity.

What Hi-Fi’s Top Picks For The Best Phono Preamps On The Market

If you’re in the market for a phono preamp, there are a lot of options out there. To help you make an informed decision, we’ve put together a list of our top picks for the best phono preamps on the market.

1. Rega Fono MM MK III: The Rega Fono MM MK III is our top pick for the best overall phono preamp. It delivers exceptional sound quality and performance at an affordable price point. It’s warm, smooth, and has a muscular bass that really brings your vinyl records to life.

2. iFi Audio Zen Phono Preamp: For an entry-level option with a wider-than-normal feature set, the iFi Audio Zen Phono Preamp is a great choice. It offers both MM and MC capabilities with selectable gain and a smart subsonic filter. It also delivers excellent sound quality with great depth and nuance.

3. Manley Chinook MC/MM Phono Preamplifier: If you’re looking for a solid-state phono stage that’s a true hi-fi bargain, the Manley Chinook MC/MM Phono Preamplifier is an excellent choice. It’s highly regarded and favorably reviewed by audiophiles for its exceptional performance and sound quality.

4. Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII: For those who want to transfer their vinyl records into digital music on their PC, the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII is a top pick. It’s an affordable preamp that delivers warm and smooth sound with a muscular bass. It also comes with a USB output that enables you to transfer your vinyl records into digital music on your PC.

Overall, these phono preamps offer different features and capabilities to suit different needs and budgets. Whether you’re an audiophile looking for the best possible sound quality or just starting out with vinyl records, there’s a phono preamp on this list that will meet your needs.