Are you new to the world of vinyl and hi-fi equipment? If so, you may have come across the terms “phono” and “line” when setting up your turntable.
But what do these terms actually mean?
In short, they refer to the type of signal output from your audio source and the corresponding input on your amplifier or receiver. However, the differences between phono and line can be confusing, especially for beginners.
In this article, we’ll break down the key differences between these two types of signals and explain why they matter for your listening experience.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of phono and line signals.
What Is The Difference Between Phono And Line
The main difference between phono and line signals lies in their level and frequency response. A phono signal is a low-level signal output from a turntable’s phono cartridge, while a line signal is a higher-level signal that comes from other audio sources such as a CD player or tape deck.
Phono inputs on hi-fi equipment are specifically designed to handle the low-level phono signal output from a turntable’s cartridge. These inputs require additional amplification and equalization compared to line inputs to properly boost and shape the sound from a turntable’s phono cartridge.
Line inputs, on the other hand, are intended to handle higher-level signals that come from other audio sources such as a CD player or tape deck. These signals do not require additional amplification or equalization like phono signals do.
It’s important to note that some turntables have a switch at the back that lets you switch between phono and line output. Turntables with this switch have a built-in phono preamp, which means you can connect them directly to an input labeled “line” or “aux” on your amplifier or receiver.
Understanding Phono Signals
Phono signals are the tiny signals that come directly from the turntable cartridge. These signals are much weaker compared to line signals, typically measuring around 0.005 Volt. The bass frequencies of a phono signal are also significantly reduced (RIAA equalized) while this is not the case for a line signal.
To properly amplify the phono signal, it requires additional amplification and equalization compared to line signals. 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.
It’s important to note that if you connect a phono signal to a line input on a stereo receiver, the music will have almost no volume and sound very strange with no bass at all. This is due to the low signal level and the reduced bass of the phono signal.
Some turntables only output a phono signal while others have a switch at the back that lets you switch between phono and line output. Turntables with this switch have a built-in phono preamp, which means you can connect them directly to an input labeled “line” or “aux” on your amplifier or receiver.
Understanding Line Signals
Line signals refer to the natural frequency or basic standard level of audio output that you are used to hearing before any major amplification. Devices such as CD players, DVD players, laptops, phones, and televisions will output a line signal without any alterations or amplifications. Line signals are much stronger than phono signals, with a typical level of 0.316 volts root-mean-square.
Because line signals produce a much larger electrical signal compared to phono signals, they do not require additional amplification. When you plug a device into the line input, it will play the sound without altering the electrical signals. This is why line inputs are intended to handle higher-level signals that come from other audio sources such as a CD player or tape deck.
It’s worth noting that there are other ports labeled “line” on some audio devices, such as line-in and line output jacks. The line-in port is typically used for maintaining audio quality while recording, while the line output jack is where additional external amplification can be plugged in, such as a PA system, headphones, or recording equipment.
The Importance Of Matching Signals
Matching signals is crucial for obtaining the best possible sound quality from your audio system. If you connect a phono signal to a line input or vice versa, the sound will be distorted and weak, with almost no bass. This is because phono signals require additional amplification and equalization, which line inputs are not designed to provide.
To avoid this issue, it’s important to use the correct input for your audio source. If you’re using a turntable, make sure to connect it to a phono input on your amplifier or receiver. If your turntable has a switch that lets you switch between phono and line output, you can connect it directly to a line input on your amplifier or receiver.
On the other hand, if you’re using a CD player or tape deck, make sure to connect it to a line input on your amplifier or receiver. Using the correct input will ensure that the signal is properly amplified and equalized, resulting in clear and accurate sound reproduction.
It’s also important to note that some amplifiers and receivers have both phono and line inputs. In this case, make sure to use the correct input for your audio source. Using the wrong input can not only result in poor sound quality but can also damage your speakers over time.
Using A Phono Preamp
A phono preamp is a device that amplifies and equalizes the low-level phono signal from a turntable’s cartridge. It’s necessary to use a phono preamp if your turntable does not have a built-in one, or if you want to use a phono input on your amplifier or receiver.
The phono preamp performs two main functions: amplification and equalization. Amplification boosts the low-level phono signal to line level, which is the same level as other audio sources like a CD player or tape deck. Equalization corrects the frequency response of the phono signal, which is typically reduced in the bass frequencies.
There are two types of phono preamps: external and built-in. External phono preamps are standalone devices that connect between your turntable and amplifier or receiver. They come in various shapes and sizes, and can range in price from budget-friendly to high-end audiophile models.
Built-in phono preamps are included in some turntables, amplifiers, and receivers. If your turntable has a switchable output, it likely has a built-in phono preamp. Many modern amplifiers and receivers also include a built-in phono preamp, making it easy to connect a turntable without needing an external device.
Using a phono preamp can greatly improve the sound quality of your vinyl records. Without proper amplification and equalization, the low-level phono signal can sound quiet and lacking in bass. By using a phono preamp, you can boost the signal to line level and correct the frequency response, resulting in a fuller and more balanced sound.
Choosing The Right Cables For Your Setup
When it comes to connecting your turntable to your audio equipment, it’s important to choose the right cables for your setup. A phono cable is specifically designed to carry the low-level phono signal output from a turntable’s cartridge to a phono preamp. These cables have a very low capacitance and resistance, and are typically offered with RCA/RCA, straight DIN/RCA, or L shape DIN/RCA connectors.
If your turntable has a built-in phono preamp and you’re connecting it to an input labeled “line” or “aux” on your amplifier or receiver, you’ll need a standard RCA cable instead of a phono cable. These cables are designed to carry line-level signals and are widely available at electronics stores.
It’s important to note that using the wrong cable can result in poor sound quality or no sound at all. If you’re unsure which cable to use for your setup, consult the user manual for your turntable or audio equipment. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to invest in high-quality cables to ensure the best possible sound quality from your vinyl records.
Tips For Optimal Sound Quality
If you want to achieve optimal sound quality, there are a few things you can do when working with phono and line signals.
Firstly, if your turntable has a built-in phono preamp, it’s best to use the line output. This is because the phono output might not amplify your sound as well as the line output would. On the other hand, if your turntable does not have a built-in phono preamp, use the phono output and make sure to connect it to a phono input on your amplifier or receiver.
Secondly, it’s important to make sure that you are using the right inputs on your amplifier or receiver. Using the wrong inputs can cause serious damage in the long run, subjecting speakers to the wrong amplitudes entirely, and wearing away their constitution over time.
Thirdly, if you are using a turntable without a built-in phono preamp, consider investing in a standalone phono preamp. This will help boost and balance the signal so that it’s suitable for playback and will improve the overall sound quality.
Lastly, make sure to keep your equipment clean and well-maintained. Dirt and dust can affect the sound quality of your records, so make sure to clean them regularly. Additionally, make sure to check your equipment for any loose connections or damaged parts that could affect the sound quality.
By following these tips, you can ensure that you are getting the best possible sound quality from your turntable and audio equipment.