When it comes to starting your vinyl collection, you will doubtless have plenty of initial questions about getting set up with a decent system. A key one to consider is whether or not you need a phono preamp for your turntable – and in this guide we'll deliver all the information you’ll require to make a decision on a small piece of kit that will have a major impact on your enjoyment of all those LPs you’ve got your eyes on.
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What is a phono preamp?
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Firstly, let’s deal with the what and why. A phono preamp (also known as a phono stage) is a complete necessity when it comes to getting your vinyl setup off the ground: they provide standard equalisation – correcting sonic imbalances left over as a manufacturing necessity – and boost the weak signal from your deck’s cartridge to a level that allows you to connect it to your stereo via standard AUX sockets. If you were to plug your turntable directly into the same place, skipping the phono stage, any sound produced would be very reedy, very thin and extremely quiet.
If you were to go for something like the Rega you would also need to invest in either a separate preamp stage or an amplifier that includes its own – if your stereo has a phono input then you’re already off to the races.
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Phono preamps: size matters
Somewhere along the line you might also choose to upgrade from your built-in preamp in order to move into a more high-end realm of fidelity – and having a separate piece of gear gives you maximum versatility. A great preamp paired with a fabulous turntable really does lift the overall experience and give your ears a real treat
But before diving in head first, here are a few considerations to be made when investing in a preamp regarding setup and space. Phono stages range from the neat and compact to the beefy that you'll need to house somewhere convenient in your audio setup. Keep size and space requirements front and foremost when making your choice.
Also, be aware that preamps are designed to work with two different cartridge types: moving magnetic (MM), and moving coil (MC). Some cover both bases, but make sure to be cognisant of the difference and ensure you’re matching the correct preamp to your turntable.
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How much should I spend on a preamp?
Now we're getting down into the nitty gritty. How much is one of these things going to cost? Well, as with so many pieces of hi-fi equipment you get what you pay for. For something that sounds good and has decent build quality then you will most likely be looking to start around the £100 mark, although there are several budget options that will do the trick without causing too much in the way of disappointment.
In this arena, manufacturers like Rega, Pro-Ject and Cambridge Audio all have affordable models on their books. At the top end, you genuinely could end up spending thousands – the Aesthetix Io Eclipse, a long-standing tube-based heavy hitter in the preamp game, is still retailing at upwards of $15,000.
Don’t fret, though, as there are plenty of gems to be found across the price spectrum, and it’s important that you settle for something that complements your setup and aims as a vinyl collector.