Preamp turntable: Turntable Preamps Explained (And Why You May Not Need One)

Turntable Preamps Explained (And Why You May Not Need One)

If you want to hook your record player up to external speakers or audio systems, you need a preamp.

But you may already have one, without even knowing it.

Some turntables contain internal preamps.

So do some of the components you might want to connect to your turntable, like a receiver or amplifier.

If that is the case, you won’t need to buy an additional preamp.

These internal units are also referred to as a phono stage.

Often the two terms are used interchangeably, but generally, a phone stage is a built-in preamp, while the word ‘preamp’ can refer to any preamplifier, whether it is internal or standalone.

How do you know if your record player or other component has an internal preamp? And if it does, is that phono stage any good?

We’ll answer those questions and more. By the time you get to the bottom of this page, you will know everything you need to know about phono preamplifiers.

Contents

  • 1 The Role Of The Phono Preamp (Or Phono Stage)
    • 1.1 What Does A Phono Preamp Do?
    • 1.2 Does Your Turntable Have A Preamp?
    • 1.3 Amplifiers And Receivers With Phono Stages
    • 1.4 Speakers
  • 2 How Preamps Work
    • 2.1 The Process
  • 3 Preamp Styles
    • 3.1 Moving Coil Preamp
    • 3.2 Moving Magnet Preamp
    • 3.3 Design
  • 4 Record Player Preamps: Final Thoughts

 

The Role Of The Phono Preamp (Or Phono Stage)

With a new rise in popularity of vinyl over the past several years, the market is exploding with a whole new generation of record players containing the latest plug-and-play technology.

Those new to vinyl expect a turntable to simply play out of the box. Or they anticipate a quick setup that allows them to easily integrate their new turntable into an existing sound system.

But it’s not quite so simple.

The signal that comes from the cartridge on the record player is approximately 1000 times lower than the signal that comes from a streaming device or a CD player. Read “Why is my turntable so quiet?” for more.

In order to hear music from vinyl via your stereo system or your free-standing speakers, it requires a signal boost.

That is where a preamp comes in.

Whether it is a phono stage or an external preamp, it boosts the signal from the turntable to the correct level, so that it can be received by your stereo system or speakers.

 

What Does A Phono Preamp Do?

Even those new to the vinyl world know most of the basics, such as how to play a record player, what type of speaker setup is needed, or even how to connect a turntable to a Bluetooth speaker.

But preamps are a different matter.

Even some seasoned audiophiles don’t know much about preamps, or the important role they can play in an audio setup.

A turntable preamp is an audio component that amplifies the signal from a turntable to a higher level, so that it can be received by an audio system, the same way it receives any other type of audio source, like a CD player, etc.

In addition to boosting the signal, 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.

We won’t go into any more detail on the RIAA curve. You can read more about it here. Those new to vinyl usually aren’t interested in the complexities of how a preamp work. The most important thing to know is that a preamp is needed in order to enjoy your collection at a volume you can actually hear.

 

Does Your Turntable Have A Preamp?

Preamps come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some models are built-in, and many modern turntables do have a phono stage.

Others do not, meaning you’ll need a standalone model. Most audiophiles actually prefer to use a separate preamp, but whether or not it can actually make a difference often depends on the rest of your sound system.

How do you know if your turntable has one?

There’s actually a pretty simple way to determine this. Try hooking your record player up to your audio system or speakers. If the volume level is high and there are no signs of distortion, then you have a model equipped with a built-in preamp.

Many new record players, such as the Audio Technica AT-LP120, come with a built-in preamp. But not all self-contained turntables do.

The good news is: you don’t have to purchase a top of the line model to get a phono stage. You can find plenty of low priced turntables that have one and plenty of high-priced models that don’t.

If you are currently shopping for a record player and plan on connecting it to an audio system like Sonos, a receiver, or speakers, but you don’t want to purchase a separate preamp, make sure your the model you buy has an internal preamp.

Unless, that is, the component you plan to connect to already has a phono preamp built in.

 

Amplifiers And Receivers With Phono Stages

If you have a vintage amp or receiver that was produced before 1980, then it’s likely it has a built-in preamp.

If you’re not sure, look on the back of the device. You should see a label that says phono, with a ground screw right next to it. If you do, it has a preamp.

Most new models of amps and receivers don’t come with a built-in phono preamp, but they may have a label that says phono anyway.

Another way to determine whether or not your model has a phono stage is to plug in your record player and try turning up the volume. If it sounds clear and the volume is booming, then it comes equipped with a built-in phono stage.

 

Speakers

A new category of high-quality powered speakers has made an appearance on the market over the last several years. The speakers can be used for your vinyl playback system, desktop computer, or a small bookshelf system. They can connect directly to the turntable without a receiver and some of these speakers actually come equipped with a built-in preamp, too.

 

How Preamps Work

The preamp performs a process on a scale that no other component in the phono audio chain comes close to matching. Instead of just being an added-on component that helps your system run smoothly, it actually shapes your turntable’s performance and ensures it is able to work with the rest of your system.

 

The Process

The turntable preamp adds gain to the output of a record player so it can be received by an amp, which then further amplifies the sound for your speakers. The amount of gain that’s added to the signal by the preamp is tremendous.

On the turntable, electric power is applied only to the process of spinning its platter. The stylus in the cartridge does not actually receive any of this power.

The stylus is the component that generates a signal from the grooves in the vinyl record via movement. This audio signal is then converted into an electrical signal. But this signal is very feeble. With most models, it has an output of 4 mv.

This is nowhere near the strength of the audio signal from other components like a CD player, so it needs to be boosted. A basic preamp boosts the signal to an output of 300 mv.

In other words, a signal must be amplified by a factor of 75 in order to be of any use to the amp.

As you can see, the preamp has a serious job to do and has a major impact on vinyl playback and how your record player performs.

Fortunately, purchasing a top of the line preamp doesn’t have to cost $500 dollars or more. You can find a good quality, standalone model for under $300, although most in that price range are not good.

We highly recommend the Cambridge Audio Alva Solo.

Cambridge Audio Alva Solo

4.0

$229.00

Pros:

  • Switchable between MC or MM cartridges
  • Doubles as headphone amp
  • Balance control
  • Subsonic filter

Cons:

  • Big knob on the front may make it hard to place in your setup
  • Headphone amp could add more noise to the signal chain

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You can also find units that aren’t quite as high quality, but that cost far less and still do a good enough job for the casual listener.

This model by Rolls is the best budget option.

Rolls VP29 Phono Preamp

$59.00

The Rolls VP29 is a phono/turntable preamplifier with provisions for line-level output. The VP29 is designed for use with amplifiers, mixers, or stereo systems that do not provide turntable inputs. The preamp features dual RCA phone inputs, ground terminal connection, and dual RCA stereo line-level outputs. A separate 1/8″ stereo line-level output is provided for added flexibility.

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03/22/2023 04:09 pm GMT

A standalone model comes equipped with its own chassis and power supply. They usually run quieter than a built-in preamp.

With the addition of a preamp, you’ll notice immediate improvements to channel separation, and signal-to-noise ratio and torsion will basically disappear. Modern models are remarkably quiet during operation and the impact they have on playback is simply astounding.

 

Preamp Styles

The type of preamp you need depends on the cartridge type and your budget. Your record player may come with a built-in phono stage, in which case you won’t need to worry about choosing a new model.

Additionally, if your audio system comes with a phono input with a ground screw installed next to it, this means that it has a built-in preamp. As long as it is compatible with your turntable, you don’t need to buy one separately.

However, most audiophiles argue that an external preamp offers better sound quality on average than an internal phono stage. Read our article comparing a built-in preamp vs external for for more on this.

If you need to, or want to, buy an external preamp, the main thing you need to know is that there are two types available: the moving coil and moving magnet.

 

Moving Coil Preamp

The moving coil preamp is the more popular type, because the slow-moving mass allows it to reach a higher frequency. This generates a lower impudence, which means there’s a lower chance of RFI, or radio frequency interference.

However, it is placed under more stress than a moving magnet preamp and also provides a much lower output of only 0.5 millivolts. It has fewer coil windings and a much higher price tag. Due to the low output, especially when it comes to bass frequencies, moving coil preamps require a minimum of ten times more preamp gain compared to the moving magnet variety.

 

Moving Magnet Preamp

The moving magnet preamp delivers a high-end output of around five millivolts. As such, it requires far less gain and it also costs a lot less. The sound quality is inferior, however.

 

Design

Most preamp manufacturers work hard on designing models that are extremely low noise, which is a huge plus for any serious audiophile. That said, it really doesn’t matter if you have a phono stage that’s only a few decibels quieter than the vinyl itself. The vinyl surface noise will still dominate.

 

Record Player Preamps: Final Thoughts

The preamp is a vital component that deserves just as much care and consideration when you’re shopping for a turntable, as the record player itself. Whether the preamp is internal or a standalone unit, you want to make sure it is capable of delivering the audio quality you are looking for.

With any audio setup, the sound quality of your system will only be as good as the weakest point in your signal chain. It’s important to invest in a good cartridge, stylus, and turntable, to ensure that the signal chain gets the best start possible.

But you can’t stop there. Invest in a good preamp to make sure the sound quality stays high after the signal leaves the record player.

Moon 110LP v2 review: a cultured and well made phono stage

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What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022 winner. A well-built and capable entry-level phono stage
Tested at £450 / $450 / AU$699

(Image: © Moon)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The Moon 110LP v2 is a well-built and capable performer. Stick with moving magnet cartridges and it’s sure to please

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Pros
  • +

    Smooth, refined presentation

  • +

    Spacious stereo imaging

  • +

    Impressive build and finish

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi?
Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

If you play records, no other electronic component in your system has as much impact on the sound as the humble phono stage. There aren’t many talented units around the £500 ($500) mark, so when we come across something as capable as Moon’s 110LP v2, it’s something to celebrate.

Build

(Image credit: Moon)

This is a neatly made aluminium box finished to the high standards we’ve come to expect from Moon. The curved front panel is beautifully machined and makes the 110LP v2 look classier than most of the competition. This phono stage is a switchable unit capable of handling both moving coil and moving magnet cartridges.

  • Moon 110LP v2 at Futureshop for £495

Unlike most rivals, the Moon offers gain adjustment in four increments, starting from 40dB and continuing through to 66dB. This range should be enough to cope with every moving magnet design and all but the lowest output moving coil cartridges.

The phono stage’s gain is changed through a series of dipswitches on the underside of the unit, as are the various input capacitance and resistance values. Provided you know what the correct settings should be, it’s easy to manage – but check your cartridge’s specifications if you’re unsure.

Features

(Image credit: Moon)

Elsewhere, the 100LP v2 is as simple as most affordable phono stages usually are. There’s a single input and partnering stereo RCA output (to go to your main amplifier), a power port for the wall socket adaptor and a grounding post. That’s your lot.

Moon 110LP v2 tech specs

(Image credit: Moon)

Inputs 1x pair RCA

Frequency response 20Hz – 20kHz

Weight 1.5kg

Dimensions (hwd) 4.2 x 12.7 x 16.5cm

Provided care is taken with placement, by keeping it away from other mains powered products and power cables, the 110LP v2 proves suitably quiet and hum-free too.

This is a fine sounding unit, particularly with moving magnet cartridges. It works well with Goldring’s 2400 mounted to our reference Technics SL-1000R record player, and we can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work equally well with similarly capable Ortofons, Audio Technicas and Nagaokas.

The rest of the system is our usual Burmester 088/911 Mk3 amplifier and ATC SCM50 speaker combination to really put a spotlight on the Moon’s performance. We also give Cambridge Audio’s CXA81 integrated amplifier a go to see how this little phono stage delivers into more modest amplification.

As for comparisons, we have the cheaper MM-only Graham Slee Communicator (with PSU1 power supply) on hand, as well as the more premium Lindemann Limetree Phono. Overall the 110LP v2 sits well with such talented company.

Sound

(Image credit: Moon)

This phono stage has the classic Moon sonic signature. Its sound is smooth, fluid and refined but has enough in the way of drive and punch to satisfy. We start with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the 110LP v2 delivers an impressively spacious and expansive performance. Nothing sounds cluttered or confused and it’s easy to follow individual instrumental strands.

The stereo imaging is accomplished and remains stable even when the music becomes demanding. Overall, insight levels are good, though this isn’t a product that goes out of its way to highlight detail.

Each piece of information is presented in an unforced and subtle manner, meaning that in a short demo it would be easy to conclude that more forward-sounding rivals were more revealing. Give it a longer listen and it becomes clear that the Moon is right up there with the best at the price when it comes to resolution.

This unit has an undemanding nature, which makes it easy to listen to over long sessions. The aforementioned Graham Slee pulls ahead when it comes to dynamic punch and rhythm drive, but the Moon counters with greater refinement and sweeter tonality. The choice comes down to taste and partnering system, rather than a difference in absolute ability.

We move to Catch A Fire by Bob Marley and the Wailers and the 110LP v2 responds with a lovely flowing presentation that’s rhythmically surefooted. While the lowest notes are a touch rounded, there’s enough in the way of agility and articulation to make that something simply to note rather than a notable shortcoming.

As with most phono stages at this level, the Moon’s performance with moving coil cartridges is less impressive. There’s not much to complain about when it comes to noise levels or gain, but when we swap the Goldring MM cartridge for an Ortofon Quintet Blue MC, we note that large-scale dynamics sound a touch restrained and bass becomes softer. It’s important to note that you’d have to spend half as much again to get a phono stage that does appreciably better.

Verdict

The Moon 110LP v2 remains one of the best of its kind at this level. It’s better built than most and is certainly musically satisfying. If you’re in the market for a quality affordable phono stage, this little box is well worth auditioning.

SCORES

  • Sound 5
  • Features 5
  • Build 5

MORE:

See all the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022 winners

Read our guide to the best phono stages

Read our Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator review

Moon 110LP v2: Price Comparison

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DO YOU NEED A PREAMP AND WHY?

​For those halfway through building their home audio system, one component that raises a lot of questions is the preamplifier (preamplifier).

After all, if you already have a powerful amplifier and good speakers, why would you need another component? However, in high-quality audio-video systems consisting of separate components, the preamplifier plays a decisive role. It is important to understand its functions and what to look for when buying.

Why do I need a preamplifier?

As the name suggests, the preamplifier is the first “stop” of the audio signal before it passes through the amplifier and into your speakers. In a home theater system, the preamplifier performs two main functions: it controls the switching between different line-level sources and amplifies the signal before sending it to the power amplifier. The weak electrical signal in it is amplified to a level sufficient for additional processing, preventing noise intrusion and providing a cleaner output.

If you have an AV receiver with an integrated preamp, you don’t need a dedicated preamp. However, many home theater enthusiasts prefer separate pre-processor and power amplifier components because this arrangement can produce a richer, fuller sound with minimal distortion. The higher gain and independent power supply of the separate components provide the purer sound that hardcore audiophiles seek..

Do you need a preamplifier? If you have several different sources such as a turntable, CD player, or network audio player, then yes. The more sources you are going to connect, the more benefits a preamp will provide. It serves as the control center for your audio players and ensures proper signal routing, optimum quality and true audiophile sound.

To achieve sonic excellence, choose the preamp that offers the best sound quality for your needs. Focus on how the technology and performance of each component contributes to the sound of your home theater.

Choose the best preamp processor for your home theater

Like amplifiers and AV receivers, preamp processors have grown in capabilities over the years. To fully enjoy high-definition video and high-definition audio, look for a model that combines flawless design with support for the latest in home entertainment technology.

The Marantz AV8805, for example, is built with minute attention to detail for truly exceptional sound, and is packed with the most advanced technology to stay state-of-the-art for years to come. This preamp processor provides 13. 2-channel processing and is compatible with popular 3D audio formats such as Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D so listeners can get the most out of their speaker sets to create a 3D cinematic experience. Meanwhile, its wireless connectivity gives the AV8805 the versatility you need to enjoy music from a wide variety of sources and create multi-room systems.

But above all, such a preamplifier-processor must produce a clean line signal that allows your power amplifier and speakers to perform at the highest level. In the AV8805, all channels feature AK4490 32-bit DACs, laying the foundation for captivating sound by decoding files with the utmost fidelity. Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Modules on discrete circuitry offer ultra-wideband response, helping to create an expansive, nuanced soundstage.

The right preamp processor provides a major improvement in the sound quality you get from separate AV components in a home theater system. Find the perfect components to suit your needs by browsing the full selection available from Marantz.

Categories

  • Marantz Tips

What a preamp is for and how to choose one

Contents:

  1. Preamp functionality
  2. Do you need a preamplifier?
  3. Preamplifiers are also divided into the following classes

More often, this device is necessary for those who are engaged in arranging a home audio system. After all, the pre-amplifier in this matter is of no small importance.

Some stop at installing a powerful amplifier and high-quality speakers. But in fact, this is not enough for good playback of audio-video systems. After all, different components are required here and the preamplifier has an important role to play. Therefore, when purchasing, you should clearly understand their characteristics and understand which one is required.

Preamp functionality

From the name it follows that this device is installed in front of the main amplifier when moving the audio signal to the speakers. In home theater systems, a preamplifier is needed for two main purposes:

  • takes over the control of switching between different signal sources. This is followed by its preliminary amplification before entering the power amplifier. In this way, the effect of noise is eliminated and the low current signal is amplified to a certain level required for a standard amplifier.
  • has various receivers with built-in preamps. But usually they are weak and cannot clear the audio signal. How is this possible when separating the components into a preamplifier and a power amplifier. So the sound becomes fuller and richer, distortion is more minimized. After all, separated power supplies of amplifiers and independent ones ensure the purity of the sound.

Do you need a preamplifier?

In cases where you have different playback sources, a player, a CD player and a vinyl player, then undoubtedly yes. After all, here the preamplifier acts as a “control center” and distributes incoming signals. In addition, amplifying them to the required value with a power amplifier. It is recommended to install it near signal sources. For a greater percentage of amplification and purity of sound.

Before choosing a preamp, you should determine what parameters you need. Indeed, in different home theaters, the requirements are different.

Modern stereo preamps add tone and brightness to conventional audio signals. There is also no resonance effect in enclosed spaces. From what the sound is obtained clean and alive. They are used mainly in various professional studios for more accurate sound and signal. To understand all the shortcomings in the reproduction of a particular material.

Preamplifiers are also divided into the following classes:

  • Classes A and B are more commonly used in Hi-Fi equipment. A feature of this class are preamplifiers assembled on tube and transistor circuits. And because of this, it is relatively cheaper. The essence of his work is that the waveform at the output must repeat the shape at the input. Only reinforced to the required parameter.
  • Class D differs from the above in that the opening and closing of the transistors is controlled by a signal. Their shapes at the input and output are significantly different, and due to this, the difference in amplitudes and frequencies of their efficiency is increased. And the operation of the power supply is more energy-saving. They are also much more powerful and look compact compared to other class preamps.

If the speaker system is installed indoors, then class AB can be used. After all, the work of lamps and transistors has already been worked out for a long time. And in the event of a breakdown, they can be quickly and cheaply repaired.

But class D is more suitable for connecting subwoofers. After all, bass is the most expensive value in terms of signal energy. And high efficiency at the same time very handy.