Best Phono Preamps Under $200
As we mentioned elsewhere on this site, the paradoxical nature of the turntable is pretty evident in its design. Simple yet complex, it has numerous components that work together to do one thing: pick up the vibrations from a vinyl record and amplify it into music. These components can generally be replaced and customized to create even better sound quality than the components the turntable originally came with, and audiophiles around the world love replacing and customizing those components.
Scrolling through audiophile websites, one component that audiophiles love to replace and customize is the phono preamp. Phono preamp’s prices range from $30 to $40 dollars upwards to hundreds of dollars, but no matter what the price you will be able to find a phono preamplifier that will work for you. If you are looking for the best preamps under $200, this article will point you in the right direction.
What Is A Phono Preamp?
A phono preamplifier is a key component of a turntable and, because it is so central to the turntable’s operation, it is best to understand the entire turntable before detailing the phono preamp. A turntable is composed of several components that, when they work together, do something pretty simple: they translate vibrations created by the needle running over the grooves of a vinyl record into audible sound (music) and broadcast it out speakers. The better each component does its job and works in sync with the other components, the better the sound quality.
To make this good sound quality, the turntable works starting with an engine and a belt that spins a plate (with a rubber mat on top) upon which the vinyl record sits. A needle, technically called a “stylus” that is attached to the tonearm through a cartridge, is placed on top of that spinning record. As the needle passes over the grooves imprinted on the vinyl record, it creates vibrations, which are recorded by the electrical components in the cartridge and sent up the tonearm into the internals of the turntable unit.
The component that these signals are sent to is the phono preamplifier, or phono preamp. The phono preamp’s job is to take those vibrations, amplify them to levels that are audible to the human ear, and sent to the attached speakers. Yet the job doesn’t end here: the phono preamp is meant to isolate only those vibrations picked up by the needle, sending only those amplified sounds through to the speakers. The better the preamp, the less outside vibrations will be sent to the speakers and the clearer and crisper the sound you will have.
Today, many turntables already have phono preamps installed, essentially allowing you to just plug in the speakers and go. Oftentimes, you will know if your turntable comes with a phono preamp installed simply by reading the product title or description, which should state that type of phono preamp you have. If the turntable does not have a phono preamp or you are less than thrilled with your turntable’s phono preamp, you will want to find one that boosts the sound, isolates the proper vibrations, and provides great sound. The following are the best phono preamps under $200.
Best Phono Preamps Under $200
The Pro-Ject Phono Box MM DC Phonograph Preamplifier is the best preamplifier for turntables with moving magnet phono cartridges, which is what the MM refers to in its title. The preamplifier has excellent timing from the point where the vibrations enter and it is amplified to sound, which lessens the delay from the record to the output. Everything that you need to give your turntable that quality sound boost you are looking for is included in this preamp.
The mixture of great sound quality and really good price make this a winner of a preamp. Coming in only at $80, the quality of components makes it this a great preamp all around that costs far less than it should. Keep in mind, however, that the sound quality is not as good as some of the higher priced units, but for the price, this is a unit you will want to check out.
As hinted at above, some of the preamps we include below have much better sound quality because their vibration-isolation and wired delay are much better than this unit. This unit will do for those who do not have a lot of sound engineering experience, but know enough that the preamp they had preinstalled in the turntable isn’t enough. Moreover, the most problematic thing about this preamp is that it can’t be turned off manually, meaning that it will continually take power.
Like the Pro-Ject Phono Box MM DC Phono Preamp above, this preamp is good for turntables with moving magnet cartridges and comes chock full of pretty good components. Resistors and WIMA film capacitors provide a low-delay, outside vibration-free sound, while the included subsonic filter removes any outside, low frequency noise. Finally, it is placed in a beautiful and sleek stainless steel unit, which further helps keep out outside interference.
Simply designed and easy to use, the U-Turn Audio Pluto Phono Preamp is a great preamp for people just looking to start exploring the benefits of a good preamp. The components that it does have are good and can help boost and clear the sound coming out of the speakers. Those parts described above in the overall information will provide you great sound that doesn’t add anything extra that you may not want in a preamp.
The depth on this unit is a bit strange. While it creates great left/right sound, other preamps worth the same price will also add depth in terms of instrumentality. Much of the time, this depth is not available on preamps in this price range but there are some on the market that are cheaper then $200 that provide this quality of sound (see below). Ultimately, this piece will be good for people who are just starting to explore sound components or would like to step up their sound without breaking the bank.
Another preamplifier that works well with moving magnet cartridges, the Cambridge Audio Solo MM Phono Preamplifier is an affordable unit from a company that makes downright great sound engineering equipment. Of all the preamps on this list, Cambridge Audio’s is the best overall because it has the best components overall. Moreover, the sleek, stainless steel package allows you to mount it anywhere and it will look good.
Cambridge Audio’s equipment combines the best components with really great engineering. A little less involved than some of their higher end products, the Solo MM Phono Preamp comes with an immaculately designed and engineered switch-mode power supply that instantly records vibrations picked up by the stylus and cartridge, transports them across wires that have very little delay between input and output. Its housing in a stainless steel unit ensures that outside vibrations are not picked up, allowing the sound to be really crisp and clear.
As hinted at above, the Solo MM Phono Preamplifier doesn’t come with as many of the components that some of Cambridge Audio’s higher priced units come with. In other words, with this unit you are not getting everything that a higher priced unit, around $500, will offer you. So if you are just starting and don’t want to break the bank, this one will work, but if you are willing to go with a bit higher price, the sound quality will jump such an exponential amount that it will be worth it.
Ok, we will admit this right up front: this is not solely a preamp. It is a miniature sound system that comes with an excellent preamp installed, but can do a lot more than just amplify vibrations from a record. Other preamps on this list can do more as well (see above, Cambridge Audio), but this units portability and components that do an excellent job doing whatever it is you want it to do puts this unit on the list. Whereas many people will buy the preamp and eventually buy a media center to paly their records, CDs, etc. through eventually, you can start immediately, with this providing many of the same characteristics that a more expensive media player will provide.
The best part about this unit’s preamp is that it is designed specifically with an RIAA EQ. RIAA EQ’s prevent delay between vibrations entering the unit and the units output to either the speaker or to a computer. We say “computer” because this unit has a USB port included, which can allow you to record vinyls onto the computer in a way that will cut down on outside vibration and provide little delay while also providing an unparalleled signal-to-noise ratio. What this results in is a beautiful sound quality that will reflect in any MP3 recordings you make in your computer from a vinyl record or through listening through a speaker system. With the addition of a USB port, moreover, if your turntable was unable to connect to USB speaker, it will be able to now.
The biggest downside of this unit is not any component that is included, but rather that people will buy it and won’t use it for all of the things it could be used for. As a self-contained media unit, this thing can do a lot beyond just being a great preamplifier. So if you are looking to buy this unit, look into using all of its functions to really expand your listening experience. We suggest starting to explore the possibilities of vinyl records and computers, which can allow you to have new experiences when it comes to sound.
Of all the preamps on this list, this one is a bit more limited and for pretty good reasons. Turntable Lab’s PH01 – Phono Preamp and Headphone Amp is meant only to serve those two purposes: providing good vibration-to-sound translation and output that sounds pretty good while allowing for the sound to be properly translated into a sound level right for human ears listening through headphones. It comes with decent components that allow you to either use it as a preamp or as a headphone amp and allows you to switch right on the device (with a switch marked P/H), while also coming with a rather large volume knob that is pretty responsive.
For what it is meant to do, the the Turntable Lab PH01 – Phono Preamp and Headphone Amp works pretty well. Its components are good for listeners new to the audiophile world, housed in a metal unit that cuts down on outside vibration and with inner parts that have pretty good delay time. More importantly though is that it switches seamlessly between RCA/preamp output and headphone output.
There are a few come with this unit. In the first place, the last place it seemed that people like listening to vinyl records through headphones is at a record store where you can sample records. Otherwise, it doesn’t appear as if many people would use the headphone amp. On top of this, the components for the preamp are not as good as some of the other preamps on this list. For the price, $180, you can find better sound quality, but if you would like something with an included headphone amp, this will be a good unit for you.
As you can see from above, there are plenty of really good preamps that cost less than $200. We have to say again that many of these units are not as good as some of the preamps that cost more, so you may want to check out some more expensive preamps. However, if you are just not really thrilled with your turntable’s included preamp or need to buy one, any of those included in this list will be perfect for you. On top of this there are other preamps that may work better for you that are not included on this list. Check these out and check around online to find one that works well for you!