Are you new to the world of vinyl records and turntables?
Or maybe you’re a seasoned audiophile looking to upgrade your audio setup?
Either way, you may have heard of a phono preamp, but do you know what it is and when you need one?
In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about phono preamps, from their basic function to how to determine if you need one for your specific setup.
So sit back, relax, and get ready to learn all about the importance of a phono preamp in your vinyl listening experience.
When Do You Need A Phono Preamp
If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, you may already know that a turntable requires a preamp to amplify the signal from the turntable to a level that can be played through your sound system. But when exactly do you need a phono preamp?
The answer depends on your specific setup. If your turntable has a built-in preamp and your amplifier or receiver has an input labeled “phono,” then you don’t need a separate phono preamp. However, if your turntable doesn’t have a built-in preamp and your amplifier or receiver doesn’t have a phono input, then you will need to purchase a phono preamp.
It’s also worth noting that some amplifiers come with a phono stage installed, which can be identified by the “phono” position on the input selector and corresponding phono connectors on the rear. If your amplifier has this feature, simply connect your turntable’s output to the amplifier’s input marked “phono” and you’re good to go.
If you’re looking to incorporate a turntable into your Sonos setup, you’ll also need a phono preamp since Sonos devices feature line inputs but no built-in phono stage. Once you connect an external phono preamp between the turntable and your Sonos device, you can enjoy the sound of vinyl across your Sonos ecosystem.
It’s important to note that the voltage level of the signal will vary based on the type of cartridge your record player uses. Moving Magnet cartridges (MM) are found on most turntables and have a higher signal level, while Moving Coil cartridges (MC) have a weaker signal level and require more amplification. Some phono preamps allow you to switch between cartridge types, while others are designed to work with only one kind.
What Is A Phono Preamp And How Does It Work?
A phono preamp, also known as a phono stage, is an essential component for any turntable setup. Its main function is to amplify the signal from the turntable’s cartridge to a level that can be properly played through your sound system. Without a phono preamp, the sound produced by your turntable would be weak and thin.
The signal produced by a turntable cartridge is very small, and needs to be amplified several hundred times before it can be played through your sound system. This is where the phono preamp comes in. The preamp boosts the signal level and applies an equalization curve to correct sonic imbalances that occur during the record cutting process.
There are two main types of cartridges used in turntables: Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC). MM cartridges have a higher signal level and are found on most turntables, while MC cartridges have a weaker signal level and require more amplification. Some phono preamps allow you to switch between cartridge types, while others are designed to work with only one kind.
It’s important to note that some turntables come with a built-in preamp, while others do not. If your turntable has a built-in preamp and your amplifier or receiver has a phono input, then you don’t need a separate phono preamp. However, if your turntable doesn’t have a built-in preamp and your amplifier or receiver doesn’t have a phono input, then you will need to purchase a phono preamp.
Why Do You Need A Phono Preamp?
A phono preamp, also known as a phono stage, is an essential component for any turntable setup. This is because the signal produced by a record cartridge is very weak compared to other consumer Hi-Fi electronics. A nominal output level from a phono cartridge is 1 mV, while the standard signal level produced by most other electronics is 100 mV. To meet the required level, a typical phono preamp will boost your signal by 40-50 dB.
Additionally, records are cut with bass frequencies reduced and high frequencies boosted. This equalization helps to keep groove dimensions small, increase sound quality, and decrease record wear. A phono preamp acts to equalize the signal in an attempt to bring it back as close as possible to the frequency response of the master recording. The entire process is referred to as the RIAA equalization curve, which became the general industry standard during the 1950s.
If you were to plug your turntable directly into an AUX socket without a phono preamp, any sound produced would be very reedy, thin, and extremely quiet. Therefore, a phono preamp is necessary to boost the signal from your deck’s cartridge to a level that allows you to connect it to your stereo via standard AUX sockets.
How To Choose The Right Phono Preamp For Your Setup
Choosing the right phono preamp for your setup can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. The first thing you need to consider is the type of cartridge your turntable uses. If you have a Moving Magnet (MM) cartridge, you’ll want to look for a phono preamp that is compatible with high-output cartridges. On the other hand, if you have a Moving Coil (MC) cartridge, you’ll need a phono preamp that is compatible with low-output cartridges.
It’s worth noting that some manufacturers offer MM/MC phono preamps, which are versatile and allow for possible changes in the cartridge. This means that if you plan on upgrading your MM cartridge to an MC cartridge later on, you won’t necessarily have to change your phono preamp.
Another factor to consider is the gain of the phono preamp. For high-output cartridges like MM, it’s recommended to set the gain on the lower side to avoid noise and distortion. A setting of 40 dB is a good place to start. For low-output cartridges like MC, higher gain settings (60 dB or higher) are necessary.
When it comes to budgeting for a phono preamp, it’s important to remember that it is just one component in your hi-fi system and not the most important one. Speakers and turntables should command a larger chunk of your budget. However, investing about 20 percent of your budget on a dedicated phono preamp can make a significant difference in sound quality.
Finally, when choosing a specific phono preamp model, consider factors such as compatibility with your cartridge type, gain range, and impedance range. Look for models that offer features such as adjustable gain and loading options for more flexibility in adjustments. And don’t forget to consider the design and aesthetics of the preamp as well, as it will likely be a visible component in your setup.
Setting Up And Using A Phono Preamp: Tips And Tricks
Once you’ve determined that you need a phono preamp, setting it up correctly is crucial to getting the best sound possible from your vinyl records. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind:
1. Placement: When setting up your phono preamp, it’s important to keep it away from other electronic components that can cause interference and noise. Ideally, you should place it on a separate shelf or table away from your amplifier or receiver.
2. Grounding: Many phono preamps have a grounding screw or wire that needs to be connected to your turntable’s grounding post. This helps reduce hum and noise in the signal.
3. Gain: The gain control on your phono preamp adjusts the level of amplification applied to the signal. It’s important to set this correctly based on the output of your cartridge and the sensitivity of your amplifier or receiver.
4. Cartridge loading: Some phono preamps allow you to adjust the load impedance, which affects the way the cartridge interacts with the preamp. This can have a significant impact on sound quality, so experiment with different settings to find the best sound for your setup.
5. Quality matters: As mentioned earlier, not all phono preamps are created equal. Investing in a high-quality preamp can make a big difference in the sound quality of your vinyl playback.
By following these tips and tricks, you can ensure that your phono preamp is set up correctly and optimized for the best possible sound quality from your vinyl records.
Common Phono Preamp Myths Debunked
There are several myths surrounding phono preamps that may prevent vinyl enthusiasts from investing in one. Let’s debunk some of these myths:
Myth #1: A phono preamp is unnecessary if your turntable has a built-in preamp.
While it’s true that some turntables come with a built-in preamp, the quality of these preamps can vary greatly. Investing in a separate phono preamp can significantly improve the sound quality of your vinyl records, as well as provide more flexibility in terms of adjusting the gain and load.
Myth #2: All phono preamps sound the same.
Just like any other audio component, not all phono preamps are created equal. Higher-end preamps can offer better sound quality, more features, and greater flexibility in terms of cartridge compatibility. It’s important to do your research and choose a phono preamp that meets your specific needs and budget.
Myth #3: A phono preamp is only necessary for audiophiles.
While audiophiles may be more likely to invest in a high-end phono preamp, anyone who wants to enjoy their vinyl collection at a decent volume should consider investing in one. A phono preamp ensures that the signal from your turntable is amplified to a level that can be played through your sound system, regardless of whether you consider yourself an audiophile or not.
Myth #4: A phono preamp is only necessary for older vinyl records.
This is not true. All vinyl records require the RIAA equalization curve to be applied to the signal, regardless of when they were produced. This curve ensures that the sound is reproduced accurately and without distortion. A phono preamp applies this curve to the signal before amplification, ensuring that the sound quality is preserved throughout the entire audio chain.
In conclusion, a phono preamp is an essential component of any turntable setup. Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or just starting out with vinyl records, investing in a good quality phono preamp can significantly improve your listening experience. Don’t let these common myths prevent you from enjoying the full potential of your vinyl collection.