Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to upgrade your audio setup?
Have you come across the term “phono input” and wondered what it means?
Look no further!
In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about phono inputs, from what they are and how they work, to why they’re important for getting the best sound out of your turntable.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of phono inputs.
What’s Phono Input
A phono input is a type of audio input that can be found on preamplifiers, amplifiers, and stereo receivers. It is specifically designed to accept signals from analog turntables and boost them to recreate the original sound.
When records are recorded, the higher frequencies are increased and the lower frequencies are reduced. However, during playback, the frequency response is reversed to reduce audible background noise. This is where the phono input comes in – it incorporates standardized RIAA equalization circuitry to boost the signal and provide the necessary equalization to restore the original sound.
Most A/V receivers also have this type of input to increase the number of sound options available. Similar to how you might use an HDMI input to improve video quality, using a phono input will bring a more high-fidelity sonic experience when listening to vinyl records on a turntable.
It’s important to note that a phono input is not the same as a line input. Modern phono cartridges give a very low level output signal of only a few millivolts, which the circuitry amplifies and equalizes. This is why using a phono input will bring a more high-fidelity sonic experience when listening to vinyl records on a turntable.
How Does A Phono Input Work?
A phono input works by amplifying and equalizing the low-level signal from an analog turntable. When a record is played, the vibrations from the needle are converted into an electrical signal which is then sent to the phono input. The phono input circuitry then boosts the signal and applies RIAA equalization to restore the original sound.
Phonograph recordings are made with high frequencies boosted and the low frequencies attenuated. During playback, the frequency response is reversed to reduce background noise, including clicks or pops, and also conserve physical space needed for each groove by reducing the size of larger low-frequency undulations.
It’s important to note that a phono input is not the same as a line input. Modern phono cartridges output a very low level signal of only a few millivolts, which requires amplification and equalization. The phono input incorporates standardized RIAA equalization circuitry to boost the signal and provide the necessary equalization to restore the original sound.
By using a phono input, vinyl lovers can experience a more high-fidelity sonic experience when listening to their records on a turntable. It’s also worth noting that some newer low-cost turntables include built-in amplifiers to produce line-level outputs. In this case, devices are available that perform this conversion for use with computers or older amplifiers or radio receivers can be used.
Why Do Turntables Need A Phono Input?
Turntables need a phono input because the signal that comes from a turntable is different from other audio sources. The signal from a turntable is very low-level, and it needs to be amplified and equalized before it can be played through speakers. This is because records are recorded with high frequencies boosted and low frequencies attenuated, and during playback, the frequency response changes are reversed. Without a phono input, the sound would be distorted and unbalanced.
Additionally, the standardized RIAA equalization circuitry that is incorporated into a phono input is necessary to restore the original sound of the record. This equalization curve inverses the standard frequency adjustment made during the record cutting process.
Understanding The Difference Between Phono And Line-level Inputs
The difference between phono and line-level inputs lies in the level and frequency response of the signals they handle. Line inputs, sometimes labeled as aux inputs, are intended to handle higher-level signals that come from other audio sources such as CD players or tape decks. In contrast, phono inputs on hi-fi equipment are specifically designed to handle the low-level signal output from a turntable’s phono cartridge.
The phono-level signal from a turntable requires additional amplification and equalization compared to line inputs to properly boost and shape the sound from a turntable’s phono cartridge. This is because the phono cartridge has a much lower output level and a different frequency response compared to other audio sources. Phono inputs on amplifiers and receivers are expecting this very low, tinny signal, and will perform the task of boosting and balancing the signal so that it’s suitable for playback.
This task is performed by a phono preamp, which can be inside the turntable, a standalone unit, or inside the stereo receiver or powered speakers. If a turntable is switchable to a line output, then it has a built-in phono preamp, and users have the option to go straight to an input labeled “line” or “aux” on their amplifier or receiver.
Line-level signals are already amplified and do not require additional amplification. These signals come from devices such as CD players, DVD players, laptops, phones, and televisions without any alterations or amplifications. Line signals are much stronger than phono signals, with a typical line signal being 60 times bigger than a phono signal.
Plugging a device producing a line signal into a phono input will result in heavy distortion and horrible sound quality because it’s amplifying an already amplified signal. Similarly, connecting a phono signal to a line input on an amplifier or receiver will result in almost no volume and strange sound quality with no bass at all due to the low signal level and reduced bass of the phono signal.
How To Connect Your Turntable To A Phono Input
Connecting your turntable to a phono input is a simple process, but the steps may vary depending on your specific setup. Here are some general guidelines to follow:
1. Check if your receiver has a built-in phono preamp: Some receivers have a built-in phono preamp, which means you can simply connect your turntable to the receiver’s phono input using a set of analog (RCA red and white) cables. Make sure to attach the turntable’s ground wire to the receiver’s ground terminal to prevent any “hum” or noise from playing through your system.
2. Use an external phono preamp: If your receiver does not have a built-in phono preamp, you will need to use an external phono preamp. Connect your turntable’s RCA cables to the “In” or “Input” RCA jacks on the rear of the phono preamp. Then, using a separate pair of RCA cables, plug one end into the “Out” or “Output” RCA jacks on the rear of the phono preamp, and plug the other end into an available analog (RCA red and white) input on your receiver. Make sure not to plug the RCA cables into the phono input on your receiver.
3. Enable/disable the built-in preamp: If your turntable has a built-in preamp, make sure it is enabled if you are using an external phono preamp. All current Denon turntables have an EQ switch to enable or disable the turntable’s built-in phono preamp.
4. Set the cartridge setting: Set your preamp to the proper cartridge setting, either MM (moving magnet) or MC (moving coil). If you are new to vinyl, you are most likely using a MM cartridge.
5. Select the input connector: Use the Source Select knob or button on your receiver to select the input connector your turntable is connected to.
By following these steps, you can easily connect your turntable to a phono input and enjoy high-quality sound from your vinyl records.
Tips For Optimizing Your Phono Input Setup
To optimize your phono input setup, there are a few things you can do to improve the sound quality of your vinyl records. Here are some tips:
1. Invest in a high-quality phono preamp: While some turntables come with a built-in phono preamp, they may not provide the best sound quality. Consider investing in a separate phono preamp to improve the audio signal and get better sound quality.
2. Choose the optimal gain level: Some phono preamps offer different gain levels to accommodate different cartridges. However, it’s best to choose a gain level that is best suited for your ear. AnalogMagik offers a scientifically repeatable method of setting gain levels by playing the optimal gain test track on the 33 1/3 rpm test LP and observing the behavior of the signal-to-noise ratio.
3. Adjust tonearm height: Many upmarket turntables allow the user to adjust tonearm height. If the arm is too high, you’ll get a bright, forward sound, and if it’s too low, you’ll get the opposite. Adjusting the tonearm height will help you get better sound quality.
4. Proper cartridge alignment: Proper cartridge alignment is crucial for getting the best sound quality from your turntable. Use a gauge to align the cartridge body square to the lines while the stylus tip is placed on each point.
5. Experiment with different phono preamps: Not all phono preamps are created equal. Experiment with different phono preamps to find one that provides better dynamics and extended resolution over the phono input on your amplifier.
By following these tips, you can optimize your phono input setup and get better sound quality from your vinyl records.