Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with that comes the need for a proper audio setup.
While most people know the basics of playing a record player, such as connecting it to speakers, the role of a preamp is often overlooked.
A preamp is an essential component in amplifying the signal from a turntable to a level that can be received by an audio system. It also applies the RIAA equalization curve to ensure that the sound remains unchanged after amplification.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what a preamp is, why you need one, and how it works. Whether you’re new to vinyl or a seasoned audiophile, understanding the importance of a preamp can greatly enhance your listening experience.
What Is A Pre Amp Turntable
A preamp turntable, also known as a phono preamp or phono stage, is an electronic circuit that amplifies and equalizes the analog output of a turntable cartridge. The output is boosted to a level equivalent to other audio sources like tapes and CDs, and RIAA equalization is required to restore the original signal.
The primary function of a preamp turntable is to amplify the signal from your turntable to a level that can be played properly through your sound system. Without a preamp, the signal from your turntable would be too weak to be heard at a reasonable volume.
What Is A Preamp And How Does It Work?
A preamp, or phono preamp, is an essential component of an audio setup that amplifies and equalizes the signal from a turntable cartridge. The signal from a turntable cartridge is very weak, and without a preamp, it would not be loud enough to be heard through speakers or headphones.
The preamp boosts the signal from the turntable to a level that can be played through the sound system. It also applies RIAA equalization to the signal, which is necessary to restore the original sound. The RIAA equalization curve is applied during the vinyl mastering process to compensate for the limitations of vinyl records.
There are different types of preamps available, including those built into turntables, amplifiers, and stereo systems. Some DJ mixers also function as preamps. If your turntable has a USB output, it likely has a built-in preamp. If you need an external preamp, you will need a set of cables (usually RCA cables) to connect it to your audio system.
Preamps come in a wide range of prices and quality levels. The cheapest preamps can cost less than $50, while the most expensive can cost over $500. A high-quality preamp can make a significant difference in the sound quality of your vinyl records.
Why Do You Need A Preamp For Your Turntable?
If you want to enjoy your vinyl collection, a preamp turntable is a necessary component in your audio setup. The signal from your turntable is much weaker than other audio sources, and a preamp is needed to boost the signal to a level that can be properly played through your sound system.
In addition, a preamp also applies the RIAA equalization curve to the signal. This ensures that the equalization curve has the same shape after amplification as it did before, meaning that the sound does not change at all, apart from being amplified. Without this equalization, the sound from your turntable would be distorted and unbalanced.
It’s important to note that not all turntables come with a built-in preamp. If your turntable doesn’t have one, you’ll need to purchase a separate preamp to properly play your records. Some amplifiers may also have a built-in phono stage, so it’s important to check your equipment before purchasing a separate preamp.
While some turntables may have a built-in preamp, investing in a separate preamp can greatly improve the sound quality of your vinyl playback. A high-quality preamp paired with a great turntable can provide an exceptional listening experience. When choosing a preamp, make sure it’s compatible with your cartridge type (moving magnetic or moving coil) and consider its size and space requirements in your audio setup.
Built-in Vs. External Preamps: Which Is Better?
When it comes to preamp turntables, there are two options: built-in or external. Built-in preamps are more convenient and generally cheaper, but they often sacrifice sound quality. On the other hand, external preamps offer better sound quality, but they come at a higher cost and require additional setup.
Built-in preamps are often found in entry-level turntables and are designed to fit within a smaller space of another piece of equipment, such as a turntable. They can be used as a sales “add-on” and may not be the primary focus of the manufacturer. As a result, they may not have the same level of quality components as an external preamp.
External preamps, on the other hand, are designed solely to be a preamp and offer better build quality and electrical components. They are not limited by the size constraints of a turntable and can be their own standalone unit. A higher-end external preamp will have less noise and distortion, more gain, and overall better sound than a built-in one.
While built-in preamps may be more convenient and cheaper, they often sacrifice sound quality. If you are serious about your sound quality, an external preamp is the way to go. They offer better sound quality and the flexibility to upgrade as you learn what you like. However, they do come at a higher cost.
How To Choose The Right Preamp For Your Turntable
Choosing the right preamp for your turntable is crucial in ensuring that you get the best sound quality possible. Here are some factors to consider:
1. Cartridge Type: The type of cartridge on your turntable is an important factor to consider when choosing a preamp. Moving magnet cartridges (MM) require a preamp that is compatible with this type of cartridge, while moving coil cartridges (MC) require a preamp that is compatible with low output cartridges. Some manufacturers offer MM/MC phono preamps which can handle both types of cartridges, making them versatile and convenient.
2. Gain Settings: The gain settings on your preamp determine the level of amplification applied to the signal from your turntable. High-output cartridges like MM cartridges require low gain settings of around 40 dB, while low-output moving coil cartridges require higher gain settings of 60 dB or more. It’s important to choose a preamp with the appropriate gain settings for your cartridge type to avoid distortion or excessive noise.
3. Compatibility: If you have a vintage amp or receiver produced before 1980, it may have a built-in preamp. However, most new models of amps and receivers do not come with a built-in phono preamp. It’s important to check if your system has a preamp before purchasing one separately.
4. Budget: While the speakers and turntable should command a larger portion of your hi-fi budget, investing about 20 percent of your budget on the phono preamp can make a dramatic difference in sound quality. Consider splurging on a preamp with flexibility in adjustments like gain, loading, and compatibility with moving coil cartridges if you plan on upgrading your system in the future.
5. Space: Preamps can vary in size, so it’s important to consider the physical space you have available for a new preamp in your audio system. If you don’t have enough space for a full-sized preamp, consider opting for a mini phono preamp that can easily stack with the rest of your audio gear.
By considering these factors when choosing a preamp for your turntable, you can ensure that you get the best sound quality possible from your vinyl collection.
Tips For Optimizing Your Preamp For The Best Sound Quality.
Optimizing your preamp turntable is essential to achieving the best sound quality possible. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your preamp:
1. Choose a high-quality preamp: A good preamp can make a significant difference in the sound quality of your turntable. Look for a preamp that has a low noise floor, good frequency response, and high gain.
2. Properly ground your preamp: Grounding your preamp is crucial to reducing noise and interference in your audio signal. Make sure to connect the ground wire from your turntable to the grounding terminal on your preamp.
3. Adjust the gain: The gain setting on your preamp determines how much amplification is applied to the signal from your turntable. Adjusting the gain can help you achieve a better balance between the volume and clarity of your audio.
4. Experiment with different cables: The cables you use to connect your turntable to your preamp can also have an impact on the sound quality. Try different cables to find the ones that work best for you.
5. Keep your preamp away from other electronics: Interference from other electronics can negatively impact the performance of your preamp. Keep it away from other electronics and power sources to minimize interference.
By following these tips, you can optimize your preamp turntable for the best possible sound quality and enjoy your vinyl collection to its fullest potential.