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10 Best Phono Preamps from $10 to $500

A phono preamp, or phono stage if you will, connects between your turntable and amplifier. Its job is to increase the signal output from the turntable’s cartridge to a standard LINE level signal and provide necessary RIAA equalization.

You absolutely need a preamp if there isn’t one built into your turntable or amplifier. Or you might just want one that sounds better than the one that is built into your turntable or amplifier. Either way, we’ll look at the absolute best phono preamps between $10 and $500 in this article.

I have included a FAQ section answers any phono preamp related question you might have at the end of this article.

1. Best Overall: Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII

Our pick for the best preamp overall is the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII.

The award-winning and highly appreciated Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII is a preamp that perfectly blends cost and performance. It doesn’t cost a fortune, but it sounds and performs like it does.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes
Moving Coil (MC)No

The Rega Fono Mini A2D has been my own trusted preamp for a long time and it never disappoints. It sounds warm and smooth with a muscular bass. Lively and engaging. In my testing, it has a bit more grunt than other preamps. It sounds fuller in the low-end. And warmer. Which are two traits I love about the Rega Fono Mini A2D.

The Rega Fono Mini A2D comes with an USB output that enables you to transfer your vinyl records into digital music on your PC.

It doesn’t look very impressive in pictures, but it feels solid, heavy and very well-built when you get it in your hands. It is designed by some of the most experienced and acknowledged vinyl gear engineers in the world, the people at Rega Research.

When I was searching for the very best phono preamp that wouldn’t break the bank for my turntables, I couldn’t find a better option than the Rega Fono Mini A2D. So I bought it. And I can’t find a better candidate for best overall phono preamp in this article either. It is a really great phono preamp. One that you can buy, hook up, enjoy and never have to think about upgrading.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

2. Best Budget: Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444

Our pick for the best budget preamp is the Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444.

If you are looking for a very inexpensive preamp, there is no need to look any further. When I tested this against the built-in phono stage in my $1600 audiophile graded Denon receiver, I couldn’t honestly say that the preamp that is built into the expensive Denon receiver sounded that much better.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes
Moving Coil (MC)No

The Pyle don’t match up to the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII listed above. It lacks a bit warmth and grunt. But it will perform well compared to phono stages that are built into affordable turntables and amplifiers.

If you need a phono preamp to get going spinning vinyl, and the highest possible sound quality is not a priority for you, then I think the Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444 is a great choice.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

3. Best Runner Up: Schiit Mani Phono Preamp

Our pick for best runner up preamp is the Schiit Mani Phono Preamp.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes
Moving Coil (MC)Yes

I don’t have much firsthand experience with the Schiit Mani, but based on reviews from Hi-Fi critics that I absolutely trust, this has to be one of the very best relatively affordable preamps available today.

Just as the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII, that we selected as the best preamp overall above, the Schiit Mani can be that preamp you invest in once and never ever have to upgrade. It has the quality to be your trusted preamp for your whole vinyl spinning life.

The Schiit Mani lacks the USB functionality of the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII, but it is still more versatile in many ways. The Schiit Mani supports both MM and MC cartridges and has adjustable gain.

If you look for a good sounding and versatile preamp for life, for normal people budgets, this is one of the very best options out there.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

4. Best Under $50: Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444

Our pick for best preamp under $50 is the Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444.

The Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444 wins both our budget category above and our best under $50 category.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes
Moving Coil (MC)No

It will cost you way under $50 but I see no reason to throw in more money if you are basically looking for a very affordable turntable. In my testing it performed very well. Extraordinary well you factor in the very low price.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

5. Best Under $100: Pro-Ject Phono Box DC

Our pick for best preamp under $100 is the Pro-Ject Phono Box DC.

The Pro-Ject Phono Box DC is an acknowledged preamp that is used and loved by thousands and thousands of vinyl enthusiasts all over the world.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes
Moving Coil (MC)Yes

There are many good preamps to choose from around $100, but I think the Project Phono Box DC is the best option. It sounds great, it is built by one of the most trusted turntable company in the world and it supports both MM and MC cartridges.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

6. Best Under $200: Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII

Our pick for best preamp under $200 is the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII.

You might think that we lack fantasy here at Vinyl Restart, but the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII also wins two spots on our list of best phono preamps. It is our pick for best phono preamp overall, and also the best preamp under $200 in our opinion.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes
Moving Coil (MC)No

It sounds warm and engaging with lots of grunt. It is designed by some of the best engineers in the industry and won many awards. It feels very solid and well built. We could have selected another preamp for this spot to pimp up this list, but we couldn’t do that with integrity.

If you can do without MC support and adjustable gain, then the Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII is definitely the best phono preamp you can buy for less than $200 in our opinion.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

7. Best Under $500: Rega FONO

Our pick for best preamp under $500 is the Rega FONO.

As a vinyl enthusiast it is hard to not wish for a Rega FONO. It is multi award-winning, great sounding and great looking. And highly respected by hardcore audiophiles.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes (MM Version)
Moving Coil (MC)Yes (MC version)

The Rega FONO comes in two versions. One that support MM cartridges and one that support MC. Their circuitries are specially designed to match the type of cartridge they are suited for. Both versions use a fully discrete design where the channels are totally separated from each other for optimal performance.

I was debating whether to buy the Rega FONO MM or the Rega Fono Mini A2D when I was upgrading the preamp to use with my Rega Planar 2 turntable with the Rega Exact cartridge. I ended up buying the less expensive Rega Fono Mini A2D and hasn’t really regretted that choice. It is a great preamp. But if you have the budget and determination, there is probably a bit more sonic performance to tap into by selecting the more expensive and more sophisticated Rega FONO over the Rega Fono Mini A2D.

Click here to check price for MM version on Amazon.

Click here to check price for MC version on Amazon.

8. Best Tube Phono Preamp Under $500: Pro-Ject Tube Box S2

Our pick for best tube phono preamp under $500 is the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2.

All other preamps on this list are solid-state preamps. Which means that they use transistors for amplification. But I have included an amazing preamp for the tube phono preamp fans among us as well.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes
Moving Coil (MC)Yes

In my article here at Vinyl Restart, I often state that $200 is the sweet spot for a really good solid-state phono preamp that will sound excellent in most stereo setups. And that it make little sense to spend much more than that on a phono preamp until the other components of your stereo are of extremely high quality. The rationale for this is that a solid-state (transistor based) preamp is a quite simple electronic circuit that can’t really justify to represent a major part of your Hi-Fi budget.

When it comes to tube phono preamps, the story is a little different. They simply cost more.

You can read more about his in my Pros and Cons of Tube Phono Preamps article, but $200 seems to be the entry point for a decent tube phono preamp. You might even have to spend $400 to get a good one. Some will say much more.

When I was looking for a tube phono preamp, to accompany Rega Fono Mini A2D, my I didn’t pull the trigger before I could afford a Pro-Ject Tube Box S2. There might be more affordable tube phono preamps out there that are great, but I couldn’t find the evidence.

I bought the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 after a year or so researching affordable tube phono preamps, and it is now my default phono preamp.

The Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 sounds even warmer and smoother than the Rega Fono Mini A2D and I love it. Without missing great dynamics and details. It is absolutely fantastic. So far, I have not experienced any downsides with a tube phono preamp, if I look away from the fact that it has to warm up for 30 minutes or so before it sounds great. But I was well aware of that.

If you are looking for a great first tube phono preamp, I recommend that you save up until you can afford the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

9. Also Great #1: U-Turn Audio Pluto Phono Preamp

Another preamp to consider is the U-Turn Audio Pluto Phono Preamp.

U-Turn is a relatively new turntable company that have become very popular in recent years. They are based in Woburn, MA, and are founded by real vinyl enthusiasts. I am generally very impressed with their products, and their Pluto Phono preamp is no exception.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes
Moving Coil (MC)No

The Pluto phono preamp looks good, sounds good and is a very good phono preamp for the price.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

10. Also Great #2: Cambridge Audio Alva Solo

Our final preamp on the list is the Cambridge Audio Alva Solo.

Great sounding, great looking and received very good reviewed. It was impossible to complete this list without including the Cambridge Audio Alva Solo.

Moving Magnet (MM)Yes
Moving Coil (MC)No

Just as several other preamps on this list of great options, the Alva Solo is one of those phono preamps that has the quality to be your trusted phono preamp thought your complete vinyl spinning journey.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

Conclusion

Here are the complete list of the 10 best phono preamps from $10 to $500:

  1. Best Overall: Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII
  2. Best Budget: Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444
  3. Best Runner Up: Schiit Mani Phono Preamp
  4. Best Under $50: Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp PP444
  5. Best Under $100: Pro-Ject Phono Box DC
  6. Best Under $200: Rega Fono Mini A2D MKII
  7. Best Under $500: Rega FONO
  8. Best Tube Phono Preamp Under $500: Pro-Ject Tube Box S2
  9. Also Great #1: U-Turn Audio Pluto Phono Preamp
  10. Also Great #2: Cambridge Audio Alva Solo

Related Questions

Why do you need a preamp

The signal level that is outputted by a turntable cartridge is too low to be inputted to a standard audio signal input on an amplifier/receiver or powered speakers. The signal from the turntable cartridge also has a non-linear frequency response.

This is corrected with a phono preamp that provides necessary gain and frequency response correction (RIAA equalization).

If you try to play vinyl records on a stereo that doesn’t include a phono preamp the music volume will be very low and the music will totally lack bass.

You can read more about this in our Do I Need a Preamp article.

What is the difference between PHONO and LINE?

There are two main differences between PHONO and LINE.

Firstly, a PHONO signal is much weaker than a LINE signal. A PHONO signal is typically 0.005 Volt and a LINE signal is typically 0.3 Volt.

Secondly, the lower tones (bass) of a PHONO signal is significantly reduced (RIAA equalized) while this is not the case for a LINE signal.

You can read more about his in our Difference Between PHONO and LINE Explained article.

What is the difference between MM and MC Phono Preamps

There are essentially two types of phono cartridges found on turntables. Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC).

The output signal from a MC cartridge is much lower than the output signal from a MM cartridge. So MC compatible phono preamp provides more gain than a MM compatible phono preamp.

There are also other minor differences. You can read more about the difference between MM and MC phono preamps in this article here at Vinyl Restart.

How to tell if your turntable has a preamp?

If a turntable has a preamp, it will usually have a PHONO/LINE switch at the back. To activate the preamp, the switch must be set to LINE. If the switch is set to PHONO, then the built-in preamp is bypassed.

You can read more about this in our How to Tell if a Turntable has a Preamp article.

How to tell if your amplifier/receiver has a preamp?

An amplifier/receiver has a built-in preamp if there is an input labeled PHONO at the back. There will also be possible to select PHONO from the input selector.

Is a phono stage the same as a preamp?

In the context of vinyl and turntables, preamp usually means the same as phono stage.

In a wider context, a preamp can be something different than a phono stage. A preamp can for example be a preamplifier for a microphone.

To be exact, we could say that a phono preamp are the same as a phono stage.

You can read more about this in our Is a Phono Stage the Same as a Preamp article.

Do an expensive phono preamp sound better?

Just as with most most home audio gear, more expensive usually means better. When it comes to phono preamps, it seems like a great sweet spot between cost and quality is around $200.

A phono preamp is essentially a quite simple electronic circuit, and can be made with quality components for that price. In my opinion, it make little sense to spend much more than $200 on a phono preamp until the other components in your home stereo is of very high quality. With the exception of tube phono preamps, where the price you have to pay for quality is higher than for solid-state phono preamps.

You can read more about this in our Does an Expensive Phono Preamp Sound Better article.

Resources

Rega Research – Phono Stages

Pyle USA – Instrument Accessories

Schiit Audio – Products

Pro-Ject Audio Systems

U-Turn Audio

Cambridge Audio