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Best Turntable with Preamp (Phono Stage)

Based on comprehensive research, I’ve found that the best turntable with a built-in preamp is the Rega Planar 1 Plus. It combines the award-winning Rega Planar 1 turntable with the award-winning Rega Fono Mini A2D phono preamp into an elegantly designed package that gives very high value for money.

Rega Planar P1 Plus

My runner-up is the U-Turn Orbit Plus with preamp. I place it slightly behind the Rega Planar 1 Plus because it does not include an as highly regarded preamp as the Rega and it doesn’t fully match the Rega’s elegant and expensive look. But that is hugely down to personal taste. And the money you save by buying the US made Orbit instead of the Rega might be reason enough to make it the best choice for you.

U-Turn Orbit Plus

The benefit of a turntable with a built-in preamp is that it can connect directly to all stereo receivers, powered speakers and other audio systems without the need of a separate preamp.

It gives fewer boxes to place and fewer cables to hide. Fewer frustrations. And, potentially, money saved.

Traditionally, turntable manufacturers have only included built-in preamps in their most affordable entry-level products. While their higher-quality and higher-end turntables usually needed to be paired with a standalone preamp or a stereo receiver with one built-in.

In recent years, this trend seems to have changed. Manufacturers have started to equip more and more of their higher-end turntables with built-in preamps.

To explore this trend, I have done a lot of research to find the best turntable with preamp on the market today.

My research

To find the best turntable with preamp, I have researched all the top turntable manufacturers to identify their highest-end model that includes a preamp. And then I have done a researched based review and comparison. I have used my experience with several turntable brands and reviews from trusted Hi-Fi critics and discussions in the vinyl community.

The recommendations in this article should be used as guidance only. To pick your turntable, it is always ideal to test and experience the products hands-on in your local Hi-Fi store.

Top picks

Below is a review and comparison of the 5 turntables that stand out to me as the best options for turntables with preamp from the world’s leading turntable manufacturers today.

Rega Planar 1 Plus

When the well respected engineers at Rega merge one of the best entry level turntables on the market (Rega Planar 1) with a high-quality, award-winning phono preamp (Rega Fono Mini A2D), our expectations should be sky high. And rightly so. The Rega Planar 1 Plus is rewarded with “best buys” and “recommendations” from major Hi-Fi publications such as What Hi-Fi, Hi-Fi Choice and avforums.com.

DriveBelt
Speed33 and 45 RPM
CartridgeRega Carbon
PlatterPhenolic
PreampYes
USBNo

PROS

  • Elegant design
  • Look and feel expensive
  • Includes the award-winning Rega Fono Mini A2D preamp (ex. USB)
  • Easy to upgrade cartridge with Rega’s plug-and-play 3-mount system

CONS

  • Nothing at this price point

VERDICT

The Rega Planar 1 Plus is probably the most elegant and best value turntable with preamp on the market today.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

U-Turn Orbit Plus with Preamp

Designed and manufactured in Massachusetts, US by real and authentic turntable enthusiasts, the Orbit Plus has become a huge success since it was launched in 2012. It combines great sound, simple and elegant design with a wide variety of configurable options in a way that no competitors can match.

DriveBelt
Speed33 and 45 RPM
CartridgeSeveral options
PlatterAcrylic
PreampYes
USBNo

PROS

  • Can be configured with a variety of cartridges from the factory
  • Acrylic platter
  • Simple and elegant design
  • One of the cheapest turntables on this list

CONS

  • Nothing at this price point

VERDICT

Being nicely designed, well reviewed, US made and highly configurable, the U-Turn Orbit Plus becomes a very desirable turntable with preamp.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon USB

The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC is one of the most respected entry-level turntable on the market. When it is equipped with a built-in preamp, it becomes a package it is impossible to overlook when searching for a great turntable with a built-in preamp.

DriveBelt
Speed33 and 45 RPM
CartridgeOrtofon OM10
PlatterMetal
PreampYes
USBYes

PROS

  • Simple design with focus on high value and maximum sonic performance
  • USB output

CONS

  • Doesn’t come as standard with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge like the non-USB version does.

VERDICT

The fact that Pro-Ject has fitted an older OM10 cartridge on the USB version instead of the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge they fit to the standard version makes this package slightly disappointing in my opinion. The difference might however not be substantial. But still, the Ortofon 2M Red is a big selling point for the regular Pro-Ject Debut Carbon.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

Audio-Technica AT-LP7

Audio-Technica is the only manufacturer (I’ve found) that includes preamps in all their products. Also in their top of the line AT-LP7. The AT-LP7 is a solid and well-built turntable that features the highest quality cartridge of all the turntables on this list.

DriveBelt
Speed33 and 45 RPM
CartridgeVM520EB
PlatterPolyoxymethylene
PreampYes
USBNo

PROS

  • VM520EB cartridge
  • Very solid look and feel

CONS

  • The most expensive turntable on this list
  • The DJ inspired design might not be as elegant as some of the other turntables on this list

VERDICT

The look and feel might inspire to Audio-Technica fans, but might lack the elegance we see in some of the other turntables for non Audio-Technica fans. It features the highest quality cartridge on this list as standard, but it is also the most expensive turntable on this list.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

Denon DP-400

The Denon DP-400 is a semi-automatic turntable with a built-in preamp. Its bigger brother, the DP-450, is equipped with an USB port that makes it possible to digitize records. But that is not the case for the DP-400.

DriveBelt
Speed33, 45 and 78 RPM
CartridgeCN-6518
PlatterMetal
PreampYes
USBNo

PROS

  • Easy to set up
  • Plays 78 RPM records (stylus replacement required)
  • Semi-automatic (tonearm returns automatically after the last song)

CONS

  • The design of the dust cover is not for everyone
  • Might lack x-factor. Boring?

VERDICT

The Denon DP-400 seems to me to be the turntable that receives great reviews but struggles to spark real emotions in the vinyl community. It offers more usable functions than the other turntables on this list as it can play 78 RPM records and is semi-automatic. If those features are important to you, the Denon DP-400 might be the best choice for you.

Click here to check price on Amazon.

Conclusion

All the turntables covered in this article are great and highly regarded products that offer great value for money. You will not go wrong by choosing any of them. Your budget and design preferences might be the deciding factors for which one to choose.

If you have narrowed your list down to two or three models, but find it hard to make the final decision, it might be worth visiting your local Hi-Fi dealer to experience the candidates hands on before you make the final call. It will probably make the choice easier if you see and test the final candidates live.

That said, I strongly believe the Rega Planar 1 Plus is the best and safest choice for most people. A fantastic turntable combined with an award-winning preamp in such an elegant and expensive looking package for entry-level amounts of money is just hard to beat.

I have to admit that I am a Rega fanboy myself. I have the Rega Planar 2 turntable and the Rega Fono Mini A2D preamp. Almost the same package as the Rega Planar 1 Plus. And I love that setup. I sound great. It looks great. And it feels super solid and well built.

When Rega put together a package like the Rega Planar 1 Plus, I see no competitors that can match that.

My runner-up is the U-Turn Orbit Plus with preamp. It is not far behind the Rega, but it lacks the X-factor that the Rega Planar 1 Plus has when it comes to quality of the built-in preamp and elegant design. But the money saved when choosing the U-Turn might make it an equally great choice as the Rega overall.

What makes a good turntable?

For a turntable to be good, it must be mechanically stable, be able to rotate the record with a very stable and exact speed, have good grounding and good signal-to-noise ratio, and a have stable and correctly adjusted tonearm.

When all the mechanics mentioned above are good and the cartridge is give good working conditions, the dominating factor becomes the quality of the cartridge itself. This is why upgrading the cartridge on a turntable that have the mechanical fundamentals in place can take it to the next level sonically.

What is a preamp?

A preamp (or phono stage) is an electric circuit that converts the PHONO signal from a turntable cartridge to a LINE level signal.

It can be a standalone box or built into turntables, stereo receivers or active speakers.

When a PHONO signal is converted from PHONO to LINE it is boosted from approximately 5mV (for MM cartridges) to 300mV. It is also tone corrected (RIAA equalized) to achieve a flat frequency response.

For a more in-depth explanation, please check out this article:

PHONO and LINE Explained

Do I need a preamp?

For a home stereo to play vinyl records, it is absolutely necessary to include a phono preamp (or phono stage) in one way or another.

For a more in-depth explanation, please check out this article.

Do I need a preamp for my turntable?

Can I connect my turntable directly to speakers?

If you have powered speakers with an amplifier built-in, and there is a phono preamp included in either your turntable or in your powered speakers, it is possible to connect the turntable directly to the speakers.

All the turntables mentioned in this article can be connected directly to powered speakers. But to connect them to passive speakers, you will also need a stereo receiver (amplifier).

Resources

Rega Planar 1 Plus (Rega Research)

U-Turn Orbit Plus (U-Turn Audio)

Project Debut Carbon USB (Pro-Ject Audio Systems)

Audio-Technica AT-LP7 (Audio-Technica)

Denon DP-400 (Denon)

RIAA equalization (Wikipedia)

Rega Planar 1 Plus Overview (Youtube)

Rega Planar 1 Plus review – What Hi-Fi

Rega Planar 1 Plus review – Hi-Fi Choice

Rega Planar 1 Plus review – avforums.com

  • Tom
  • October 13, 2019