If you’re serious about getting the most out of your vinyl collection, then a phono preamp is an essential piece of equipment. A phono preamp helps to amplify the signal from your turntable so it can be played through your speakers or amplifier. But with so many options on the market, it can be difficult to know which one to choose. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the best phono preamps under $200-so you can get the best sound without breaking the bank.
What Is A Phono Preamp?
A phono preamp is a device that amplifies the signal from a turntable. It is an important component in any vinyl setup, as it allows the signal to be played through speakers or headphones. Phono preamps come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be either standalone devices or integrated into an amplifier.
They typically have RCA inputs and outputs, as well as a grounding terminal. Some phono preamps also have built-in EQ controls, which can be used to fine-tune the sound of your vinyl collection. When choosing a phono preamp, it is important to consider the input impedance and gain. The input impedance should match the output impedance of your turntable, while the gain should be set to suit the volume of your speakers or headphones. With so many different options on the market, finding the right phono preamp can be a daunting task. However, taking the time to find a quality preamp will ensure that you get the most out of your vinyl listening experience.
External Phono Preamp vs Built In Preamp
When it comes to choosing a phono preamp, there are two main options: an external preamp or a built-in preamp. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the one that’s right for you.
External preamps offer greater flexibility in terms of sound quality and features. They also tend to be more durable and easier to upgrade. However, they can be more expensive and require more setup.
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Built-in preamps are less expensive and are often included with turntables or built-in to your preamp. They’re also easy to set up and use. However, they may not offer the same sound quality or features as an external preamp. Additionally, built-in preamps can’t be upgraded if you decide you want better sound quality.
Ultimately, the best option for you will depend on your needs and budget. If you’re looking for the best sound quality possible, an external preamp is the way to go. But if you’re on a tight budget, a built-in preamp may be the better option.
RIAA Equalization Curve
The Recording Industry Association of America developed a standard playback equalization curve in the 1940s, which is still in use today. This curve is designed to compensate for the way that vinyl records are cut and mastered. Most phono preamps will have an RIAA equalization curve, which means that they will boost the lower frequencies and cut the higher frequencies. This helps to produce a more balanced sound.
The RIAA curve phono preamp can be used with both MM and MC cartridges, and it includes all of the necessary cables and adapters. Additionally, the phono preamp is compatible with most stereo receivers and amplifiers. Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or just getting started with vinyl, the RIAA curve phono preamp is a great way to improve your listening experience.
Why do you need a Phono Preamp?
Most turntables and record players differ from others in audio quality. When you connect these devices to a sound source, it is likely the sound will never become amplified. The sound amplifier is designed for use by people who have already overcome these barriers, and it is amplified in the same way that the signal of the source is equivalent. The speaker can be connected anywhere.
The Best Phono Preamps Under $200
Below are our top picks for the best phono preamps under $200. We’ve included a variety of options although most phono preamps in this price range are geared towards a moving magnet cartridge and are solid state.
Pro-Ject Audio – Phono Box – Best Phono Preamp with MM / MC
When it comes to phono preamps under $200 it is hard to find many faults with the Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box DC. This unit has a RIAA curve and switchable gain settings which are both big positives.
It also uses two Jensen JT-11P1 input transformers, meaning that it can handle both a moving coil cartridge and moving magnet cartridges without issue.
In regards to the sound quality, the Pro-Ject way overperformed for the price. Although it doesn’t have the same level of detail retrieval as some of the more expensive options, it still managed to sound very musical and engaging.
If you’re looking for a phono preamp that will give you great sound quality without breaking the bank, the Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box DC is a great option.
U-Turn Audio – Pluto 2 Phono Preamp – Best Low Budget Phono Stage
One of my favorite phono preamps I tested in this price range was the U-Turn Audio Pluto 2. This unit is a great option if you’re looking for an external preamp that’s easy to set up and use while .
The Pluto 2 has a simple design using high quality components such as WIMA film capacitors and a digital silicon transistor to create clear sound signals. The preamp uses dual gain stages for low THD (distortion) output to sound systems.
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In terms of sound quality, the Pluto 2 gives a very smooth and musical performance. It’s not as detailed as some of the more expensive options, but it still sounds very good.
If you’re looking for one of the best phono preamps in regards to build quality and sound output, this Pluto is a quality phono stage that will not an external preamp
Cambridge Audio Alva Solo
The Alva Solo has a unique and unrivaled sound and is perfect for preserving the warmth of vinyl. The phono stage features premium quality aluminum construction in elegant graphite gray finishes. It is a versatile phono stage built for durability that makes it ideal companion for your record player without losing storage space.
The sound production of the Alva Solo is lush, full, and incredibly detailed and produces great sound. I found the bass remained tight while high end sound frequencies remained crisp without becoming overly fatiguing.
If you are looking for the best sound quality possible from your vinyl records, the Alva Solo is the perfect phono preamp for you.
Schiit Mani Phono Preamp
If you are looking for a versatile solid state preamp the Schiit Mani is a great option. It can be used with both moving coil (low output cartridges) and moving magnet cartridges and has a wide range of gain settings. The Mani has gain stage settings of 30, 42, 47, and 59dB making it compatible with a wide range of turntables and cartridges.
The Schiit Mani also has a very musical sound that is engaging and fun to listen to. It’s a great option if you’re looking for a phono preamp that will improve the sound quality of your vinyl collection without breaking the bank.
It also has a very clean and detailed sound which is perfect for those who want to get the most out of their record player and vinyl collection. The low frequency noise performance is also very good, meaning that you won’t have to worry about any added noise in your sound system when playing your records.
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The Schiit Mani is a great option for those who are looking for a high quality phono preamp without breaking the bank. It’s versatile design and sound quality make it a great choice for any vinyl
Additionally, the Schiit Mani phono preamp is very easy to use, so you’ll be able to get the most out of your vinyl collection in no time.
Yaqin MS23B – Best Tube Phono Preamp Under $200
Tube preamps in this price range that produce quality vinyl sound is few and far between. Most tube preamps are going to not be included in lists for best budget phono preamps but the Yaqin MS23B is a great budget tube phono preamp option for those of us on a budget.
The tube preamp produces a liquid and rich sound that everyone loved when testing. The bass produced from our sound system remained tight and did not get flabby as often occurs in tube phono preamps. The mid range and high treble frequencies remained clear
One downside is the analog tubes included are not the best quality so you may want to upgrade those down the road for an upgrade to this tube preamp. For the price, it’s hard to beat.
Not for this test, but in the past I have paired the Yaqin with an Ortofon 2M bronze cartridge and it is a match made in budget audiophile heaven. The Yaqin brought the 2M bronze to life and made it sound much better than it did with the built-in phono preamp in my turntable.
If you’re looking for the best phono preamp on a budget, the Yaqin MS23B is a great option for getting powerful sound production in a budget phono preamp using tubes.
Rega – Fono Mini A2D – Best Phono Preamp for Needle Drops
Rega - Fono Mini A2D MM Phono Preamp & USB A/D Converter
If you are looking for a convenient way to do needle drops the Rega Fono Mini A2D is a great option. The USB output allows you to record your vinyl to your computer with ease. The sound quality is very good for the price and it’s a great way to get your vinyl collection into the digital realm.
The Rega Fono Mini A2D is a great option for those looking for an easy way to record their vinyl collection to their computer without complicated settings. The sound quality is very good for the price and it’s a great way to get your vinyl collection into the digital realm.
When testing recording vinyl to digital, the noise ratio was very low and the results had a wider dynamic range than I expected. Just make sure to not overdrive the signal as louder volumes will result in more hiss in the recording.
If you are looking for a phono preamp to record your vinyl collection to digital, the Rega Fono Mini A2D is a great option.
Emotiva Audio XPS-1
Finding and maintaining the Emotiv Audio Phonics Preamp xPS1 can be an interesting challenge, even if its price tag is considered. It is capable of beating almost any preamp in the world, and that should explain the reason for this phono preamp to have such good feedback. This XPS-1 pre-amp can transform your vinyl records into an incredible quality! The sound is punchy with great tone balance and low background noise even with low inputs even for small devices.
The XPS-1 phono preamp’s other advantage is that it can upgrade the sound quality of your system as a whole by providing great isolation from any outside interference. The aluminum casing also provides durability, meaning that you won’t have to replace this preamp anytime soon.
If you’re looking for a high quality phono preamp using high quality internal components that will improve the sound quality of your entire hi fi system, the Emotiva Audio XPS-1 is a great option.
What To Look for In A Low Priced Phono Preamp
There are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind when shopping for a phono preamp under $200.
Moving Magnet vs. Moving Coil Cartridges
In order to understand the difference between moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, it is first necessary to understand how phono preamps work. A phono preamp amplifies the signal from a turntable’s cartridge, making it strong enough to be processed by a standard audio system.
The phono preamp contains two main components: a loading circuit and an equalization circuit. The loading circuit is responsible for impedance matching, while the equalization circuit restores the frequency response of the vinyl record.
Moving magnet cartridges contain a small magnet that is attached to the cantilever, which vibrates in response to the record’s grooves. The movement of the magnet generates an electrical signal, which is then amplified by the phono preamp.
Moving coil cartridges, on the other hand, contain a tiny coil that is placed in the magnetic field of the phono preamp’s output transformer. As the cantilever vibrates, the coil moves and generates an electrical signal. While both types of cartridges are capable of producing high-quality sound, moving coil cartridges tend to be more expensive and require specialized phono preamps.
Vacuum Tube vs. Solid-State Preamps
In the world of audio, there are two types of preamps: vacuum tube and solid-state. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important to understand the differences before making a purchase.
Vacuum tube preamps are known for their rich, warm sound. They tend to add a bit of color to the music, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your preferences.
Solid-state preamps, on the other hand, are known for their clarity and accuracy. They tend to reproduce the sound of the recording more faithfully, without adding any additional coloration. When it comes to phono preamps (used for turntables), there is a third type: transformer-based. These preamps offer a nice middle ground between the other two types, with a sound that is generally considered to be more natural and lifelike than either solid-state or vacuum tube.
External Power Supply
One way to improve sound quality on a budget phono stage is to upgrade the power supply. A good power supply can make a big difference in the overall sound quality of your system.
Using an external power supply in your audio equipment can have a number of benefits. It can help to reduce noise and improve the sound quality of your system.
There are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for an external power supply. First, make sure that it is compatible with your equipment. Second, look for a power supply that has isolated outputs. This will help to reduce noise and improve sound quality. Finally, make sure that the power supply has enough current to meet the demands of your equipment.
When choosing phono preamps, it is important to consider system compatibility. Some phono preamps are designed to work only with certain types of turntables or cartridges, so it is important to make sure that the preamp you choose is compatible with your equipment.
In general, moving magnet phono preamps are the most compatible, since they can be used with a wide variety of turntables and cartridges. Moving coil preamps tend to be less compatible, since they often require specific gain stages.
Also, a preamp is a great way to change the tone of your turntable cartridge. For instance, if you find your cartridge being harsh on high end frequencies, a warm sounding preamp can help to smooth out the sound.
Ease of Use
When choosing a phono preamp, it is important to consider ease of use. Some preamps can be very complicated to set up and use, while others are very simple. If you are new to vinyl, or if you don’t want to spend a lot of time fiddling with settings, it is important to choose a preamp that is easy to use.
Also, some preamps have additional features that can be useful, such as a built-in phono EQ or an auto-off feature. These features can make your life easier, so it is worth considering them when making your decision.
How We Tested
We tested each of the phono preamps by hooking it up to a budget U-Turn turntable with a Sumiko Moonstone MM cartridge and also used our VPI turntable with Ortofon Quintet Bronze MC cartridge. We used a variety of vinyl records to test performance of these budget phono preamps.
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We also listened for any hissing or humming that might indicate electrical interference. Additionally, we looked for any distortion or other sound quality issues of the vinyl sound.
Conclusion for Best Phono Preamps Under $200
There are a lot of factors to consider when shopping for a phono preamp under $200. But if you keep in mind the things we’ve discussed here, you’ll be well on your way to finding the best phono stage to add to your audio equipment toolbox for your needs.
Should I leave my phono preamp on all the time?
Most phono preamps should be turned on when you are using them and turned off when you are not. There are a few exceptions, however, such as those with battery power supplies or those that have been specifically designed to be left on all the time.
Can I use a phono preamp with a line level input?
No, you cannot. A phono preamp is specifically designed to amplify the signal from a turntable’s phono cartridge.
What is the difference between a phono preamp and a line level preamp?
A phono preamp is specifically designed to amplify the signal from a turntable’s phono cartridge, while a line level preamp is designed to amplify the signal from any other type of audio source.
Why Is there a humming noise in my turntable?
If you are hearing a humming noise from your turntable, it is most likely caused by electrical interference. This can be caused by a number of things, such as power lines, fluorescent lights, or even the wires in your walls. The best way to reduce this interference is to use a phono preamp with an external power supply.
You will also want to make sure your turntable ground is securely connected to the phono preamp ground.