Choosing a good phono preamp is key to make your Rega Planar turntable sound as great as it can.
The phono preamp needs to be of good quality. It needs to be a good match for your phono cartridge. And it needs to have a sound character that you like.
But it doesn’t need to totally break the bank to meet those criteria.
The phono preamp is a simple electronic circuit that can be designed to sound excellent without costing a ton of money.
And the phono preamp is probably not the component that will transform the sound of your stereo even if you put three months of hard-earned salary into it buying one that is regarded ultra high end.
In this article, we’ll see how this plays out when finding the best phono preamp for your Rega Planar turntable.
My Rega Planar setup
It forms a turntable setup that I am exceptionally happy with. Even my hard-core audiophile friends seem be impressed by it. It sounds very good even though none of the components cost real audiophile amounts of money.
The essence of phono preamps
As you may know, the phono preamp, or phono stage, if you will, have two main tasks.
The first task is to boost the level of the signal from PHONO level to LINE level. The PHONO signal that is about 5mV (for a MM cartridge) is amplified to about 300mV which is the standard LINE level.
The second task is to tone correct (equalize) the signal according to a standardized RIAA curve. You can read more about that here (Wikipedia). The lower frequencies are enhanced (boosted) and the higher frequencies are dampened. Since the opposed is done when the record is carved, this will result in a flat frequency response.
These two tasks are not hard for the engineers to get right when developing a phono preamp. The nature of the PHONO signal and the shape of the RIAA curve has more or less been the same since the 1950s.
The amount and complexity of the electronic components that are needed to make a phono preamp is not overwhelming either. It is quite basic. The important thing is that a few key components are of high quality.
A phono cartridge transforms physical grooves in a record to an electrical signal. And speakers transform an electrical signal to physical sound waves in the air. And therefore the cartridge and speakers have a massive impact on the sonic performance of a Hi-Fi system. The preamp, on the other hand, has a much simpler and less critical task.
This is why I argue that it makes little sense to throw a lot of money on a phono preamp. There is no reason why a quality phono preamp should cost thousands of dollars to sound great.
Buy a phono preamp that is of high quality but also offers great value for money. And switch the focus to the cartridge, power amplifier and speakers that will have a much bigger impact on the sound of your stereo and deserve much bigger budgets.
One thing to be aware of is that phono preamps of equally high quality can have significantly different input impedance and sound characteristics. So buying a phono preamp that is a good match for your phono cartridge is important. And, in my opinion, more important than buying the most expensive preamp you can afford.
Great phono preamps for Rega Planar Turntables
The thing that’s make life easy for us is that the Rega engineers design three preamps that meet every criteria to be the perfect choice for Rega Planar turntables.
- They are designed to perfectly match the characteristics of the Rega cartridges (important!)
- They are designed by some of the most passionate and experienced analog audio engineers in the industry (important!)
- They focus on quality components (important!)
- They don’t totally break the bank (not necessary!)
- They are award winners and loved by the vinyl community for their great sound and value (perfect!)
1. Rega Fono Mini A2D
This is my top recommendation for Rega Planar turntables with a MM cartridges.
The one I chose myself.
It sounds noticeably richer and warmer than the phono stage that is built into my Denon Denon PMA-1600NE receiver.
Now available in an upgraded MKII version with a better looking cabinet. The design of the cabinet was probably the only thing that could be held against the original version.
It feels solid like a rock in my hands. Very well built.
It matches the Rega MM cartridges perfectly. And are also a great choice for other popular cartridges to use with the Rega Planar turntables. Like the Ortofon 2M range.
This is the phono preamp the Rega engineers designed with special focus on value. It is simple, sound great, and it is nothing flashy about it. The true spirit of a well designed quality phono preamp that sounds great without breaking the bank.
Click here to check price on Amazon
2. Rega Fono MM
The best choice for those that want a little extra compared to the Rega Fono Mini A2D above.
It features a fully discrete design and fully separated channels. And it looks better than the Rega Fono Mini A2D.
Just as its little brother, it perfectly matches the Rega cartridges as well as Ortofon 2M cartridges.
If it is worth the premium over the Rega Fono Mini A2D is hard to say.
Maybe. It probably sounds a fraction better than its little bother. But we are talking nuances for sure.
For me the Rega Fono MM wasn’t worth the extra money so I chose the Rega Fono Mini A2D. And I have never thought about upgrading to a Rega Fono MM since. Or to any other phono preamp for that sake.
Click here to check price on Amazon.
3. Rega Fono MC
The go to preamp for those with Rega turntables with MC cartridges. For example a Rega Planar 6 with a Rega Ania Cartridge.
Features different internal components and design than the two MM phono preamps above to match the impedance characteristics and lower signal-level of MC cartridges.
While being highly versatile and a great option for most MC cartridges, it is designed with special attention towards the Rega MC cartridges.
Click here to check price on Amazon.
In my opinion, it is not required or recommended to look outside the Rega product range to find perfect phono preamps for the Rega turntables.
At least not for sound quality alone. But there might be a specific sound character (color) you prefer that require you to look outside the Rega product range. For instance towards tube phono preamps.
I also think the cheapest option from Rega is the best choice for most Rega turntable owners with MM cartridges. In my opinion, the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII is the best choice for most Rega turntable owners.
Rega Fono Mini A2D review (What Hi-Fi)
Rega Fono MM MK3 review (What Hi-Fi)
Is a phono stage the same as a preamp?
In the context of turntables and vinyl records, phono stage and preamp usually mean the same. The exact terms would be phono stage and phono preamp. As preamp can have a different meaning than phono preamp outside the vinyl jargon.
What is the difference between PHONO and LINE
A LINE signal level is a standard 0.316 Volt signal that is outputted from consumer music sources like CD players, DVD players and digital streamers with analog outputs, etc. Also turntables with built-in preamps output a 0.316 Volt LINE signal. A turntable without a built-in preamp outputs a PHONO signal that normally is around 5mV for MM cartridges and 0.5 mV for MC cartridges. A phono preamp or phono stage converts a PHONO signal to a LINE signal.