What Is A Phono Amplifier? A Comprehensive Guide

Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with it, the need for a phono preamplifier or phono stage.

But what exactly is a phono amplifier?

In simple terms, it’s an electronic component that amplifies the signal from your turntable to a level that can be connected to your sound system.

However, there’s more to it than just boosting the signal. A phono stage also applies an equalization curve to reverse the frequency adjustment made during the record cutting process.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what a phono amplifier is and why it’s essential for any vinyl lover’s setup.

So, let’s get started!

What Is A Phono Amplifier

A phono amplifier, also known as a phono preamplifier or phono stage, is an essential component for any vinyl lover’s setup. It’s responsible for amplifying the signal from your turntable to a level that can be connected to your sound system, just like any other audio source.

But why is a phono amplifier necessary? The answer lies in the nature of vinyl records themselves. Unlike digital audio sources, vinyl records produce a very low-level signal that needs to be amplified before it can be heard through your speakers.

Additionally, vinyl records are recorded with a specific equalization curve that boosts higher frequencies and reduces lower frequencies. This is done to prevent the needle from jumping out of the groove during playback. However, during playback, this frequency response needs to be reversed to restore the original sound.

This is where a phono amplifier comes in. It not only amplifies the signal but also applies the necessary equalization curve to restore the original sound of the recording.

The Importance Of A Phono Amplifier In Your Vinyl Setup

A phono amplifier is a crucial component in any vinyl setup, as it ensures that you get the best possible sound quality from your records. Without a phono amplifier, the signal from your turntable would be too weak to be properly amplified by your sound system, resulting in low volume and poor sound quality.

Furthermore, the equalization curve applied to vinyl records during recording must be reversed during playback to restore the original sound. A phono amplifier not only amplifies the signal but also applies this necessary equalization curve to ensure that you hear the music as it was intended.

It’s important to note that not all sound systems have a built-in phono amplifier, so it’s essential to check before connecting your turntable. If your system doesn’t have one, you’ll need to purchase an external phono amplifier to get the most out of your vinyl collection.

When shopping for a phono amplifier, it’s important to consider the type of cartridge on your turntable. Moving magnet (MM) and moving-coil (MC) cartridges have different signal strengths and require different levels of amplification. Some phono amplifiers can handle both types of cartridges, while others are designed specifically for one or the other.

Investing in a high-quality phono amplifier can make a significant difference in the sound quality of your vinyl collection. It’s worth taking the time to research and find one that suits your needs and budget, as it can greatly enhance your listening experience.

Understanding The Equalization Curve

The equalization curve used in vinyl records plays a crucial role in the sound quality of the recording. The RIAA equalization curve is a specification established by the Recording Industry Association of America to standardize the recording and playback of phonograph records. The purpose of this curve is to allow for greater recording times, improve sound quality, and reduce groove damage during playback.

The RIAA curve is an equalization filter applied to vinyl records during mastering, which reduces low frequencies and boosts high frequencies. During playback, the phono preamplifier applies an inverse curve to restore the original frequency response of the recording.

Without this equalization, listening to vinyl records would not be the same rewarding experience. EQ curves are standardized recording characteristics that ensure records are mastered and manufactured with equalization that ensures a smooth listening experience. Before the RIAA curve was established, different record companies applied their own equalization curves, resulting in different reproduction results if the recording and playback filtering were not matched.

It’s important to note that some phono preamp designs include an extra time constant known as the “Neumann time constant.” This additional low-pass filtering was originally described in an article by Allen Wright and later picked up by Jim Hagerman. However, there is controversy surrounding its inclusion in phono preamp designs as it varies with cutting lathe model, making it impossible for the equalization of the phono preamp to compensate for the cutting lathe low-pass characteristics in general.

Types Of Phono Amplifiers: Moving Magnet Vs. Moving Coil

When it comes to choosing a phono amplifier, there are two main types to consider: Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC). MM phono amplifiers work with MM cartridges, while MC phono amplifiers work with MC cartridges.

One of the main differences between MM and MC phono amplifiers is the gain level. MC cartridges produce a lower signal level than MM cartridges, so MC phono amplifiers have higher gain to compensate for this. This means that MC phono amplifiers usually have a lower noise floor and better noise characteristics than MM phono amplifiers.

Another difference is the input impedance. MM and MC cartridges have different output impedances, so phono amplifiers need to have different input impedances to match. MC phono amplifiers usually have adjustable input impedance and gain that needs to be adjusted to match the specific MC cartridge used, while this is unnecessary in MM phono amplifiers.

Moving Magnet cartridges are generally more compatible with a wider range of household stereo equipment and produce a medium to high output level. They are also more affordable and typically come with a replaceable stylus, making them a simpler choice for installation.

Moving Coil cartridges, on the other hand, are preferred among audiophiles because they use far less moving mass, resulting in greater detail, improved accuracy, and less distortion of sound. However, they require a secondary preamplifier (sometimes known as a head amp) to increase the voltage enough to be picked up by a phono input on a stereo component.

Ultimately, the choice between MM and MC phono amplifiers depends on personal preference and the specific needs of your turntable and cartridge. It’s important to choose the right one to ensure optimal performance and sound quality.

How To Choose The Right Phono Amplifier For Your Turntable

When it comes to choosing the right phono amplifier for your turntable, there are a few factors to consider. The first is whether your turntable has a built-in preamp or not. If it does, you can connect it directly to your sound system without the need for an external phono amplifier. However, built-in preamps may not offer the best sound quality, so upgrading to an external phono amplifier may still be worth considering.

If your turntable does not have a built-in preamp, then you will need an external phono amplifier. When choosing one, consider the output voltage of your turntable’s cartridge. Moving magnet cartridges typically have higher output voltages (around 4-8 millivolts), while moving coil cartridges have lower output voltages (below 2.5 millivolts). Choose a phono amplifier with a gain setting appropriate for your cartridge’s output voltage.

Another factor to consider is the sound quality you are looking for. Some phono amplifiers feature tubes, which can provide a warmer and fuller sound but may sacrifice neutrality. If you prefer this type of sound, then a tube phono amplifier may be the right choice for you.

Ultimately, the best way to choose the right phono amplifier is to listen to different options and compare their sound quality. Our experts can provide detailed opinions on the characteristics of different phono amplifiers, such as dynamism, timbre, neutrality, precision, and realism. Some popular options include the Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2 and Jolida JD9 SE1 phono amplifiers.

Setting Up Your Phono Amplifier: Tips And Tricks

Setting up your phono amplifier can be a bit tricky, but with a few tips and tricks, you can get the best sound possible from your vinyl records.

Firstly, it’s important to determine whether you need an external phono preamp or not. Some turntables come with a built-in preamp, while others require an external one. If your turntable doesn’t have a built-in preamp, or if you want to upgrade to a better one, then an external preamp is necessary.

When connecting your phono amplifier, make sure to use a good quality audio interconnect cable. This will ensure that the signal is transferred with minimal interference and distortion.

It’s also important to properly ground your turntable to the phono amplifier. This will help to eliminate any unwanted hum or noise in the signal.

Before investing in a new phono amplifier, make sure to check for any other weak links in your system. Is your turntable in good condition? Is your cartridge compatible with your receiver’s built-in phono stage? Are your connections secure and properly aligned?

Finally, consider investing in a record cleaning machine to keep your vinyl records in top condition. A clean record will produce better sound quality and reduce wear and tear on your stylus.

By following these tips and tricks, you can ensure that your phono amplifier is set up properly and producing the best possible sound from your vinyl records.