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Do I Need an Amplifier for My Turntable?

Do I need an amplifier for my turntable or record player? That is one of the most common questions I get asked by people just starting out with vinyl.

A turntable needs an amplifier to play vinyl records. The output signal from a turntable is not strong enough to drive speakers. There is, however, one exception. Powered speakers, that have the amplifier built-in, can be connected directly to a turntable without the need of a separate amplifier.

We’ll look at all the possible ways to set up a stereo to play vinyl records later in this article.

In a traditional stereo setup that uses normal speakers, an amplifier must be connected between the turntable and the speakers.

But the amplifier can be skipped if we use powered speakers with the amplifier built-in.

A great amplifier for turntables is the Denon PMA-600NE. It is a great sounding and great looking tradition stereo amplifier that have received fantastic reviews.

You will find more amplifier recommendations in my Best Affordable Amplifier for Turntables article.

If you want to skip the amplifier and choose powered speakers, I highly recommend the Audioengine A5 Plus which I use myself. They sound best in their class and use a fully analog class A/B built-in amplifier which make them perfect for vinyl.

You will find more speaker recommendations in my Best Powered Speakers for Turntables article.

In a working vinyl playing stereo setup it is actually necessary with not just one, but two amplifiers.

The first one is a phono preamplifier. Also called PHONO stage or RIAA stage. Or simply preamp.

The second one is the power amplifier. Usually called amplifier or receiver.

I will get to preamps and amplifiers shortly, but first I will just briefly explain the different signal types in a vinyl playing stereo setup. Then it will be easier to understand the function of the two different amplifiers needed to play vinyl.

PHONO and LINE signal

Below is a figure that might be helpful to illustrate the different signal types and signals levels at various stages in a typical stereo setup. Here we look at a traditional stereo setup that consists of a turntable, preamp, amplifier and speakers.

  • The turntable outputs a PHONO signal
  • The preamp outputs a LINE signal
  • And the amplifier outputs a power-amplified signal

The PHONO signal from a turntable is only 1-10mV, while the power amplified signal that drives the speakers are 10-30V.

That means that the signal that drives the speakers is from 3000 to 10000 times stronger than the signal coming from the turntable. And from 30 to 100 times stronger than the signal coming from the preamp (or from a turntable with built-in preamp). 

So connecting a turntable directly to speakers without an amplifier will not produce much sound at all… The signal is way too small to drive speakers.

Alright, let’s continue.

The Preamp

The preamp is a component that cannot be left out in a vinyl-playing stereo setup. 

It has two important tasks.

The first one is to correct the tone of the signal that is picked up by the turntable. When a record is carved, the bass (lower tones) of the music is significantly reduced and the treble (higher notes) are significantly increased. This is because lower tones take up more physical space on the records (wider grooves) than higher tones. So to be able to space more than one song on each side of a record this RIAA equalization technique is used.

So the first (and very important) task of the preamp is to correct the tone of the signal so that the music will sound right.

The other task is to boost the tiny PHONO signal that is picked up by the turntable to what is called a LINE level signal. LINE level is a standard signal level that is outputted by all consumer music equipment like CD players and DVD players. And that can be inputted to an amplifier/receiver. Or to active speakers. 

The signal inputted to the preamp from the turntable is a PHONO level signal. And the signal outputted from the preamp is a LINE level signal. (Sometimes also called AUX signal.)

The preamp can be a standalone unit or integrated into the turntable or amplifier/receiver. 

Check out my 10 Best Phono Preamps from $10 to $500 article if you need a preamp. It doesn’t have to cost much to do a good job.

Many affordable turntables come with the preamp built-in.

If you looking for a very affordable turntable with built-in preamp, I highly recommend the Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT. Possible the most popular turntable on the market.

If you are looking for a higher quality turntable with a built-in preamp, then the Rega Planar 1 Plus is your best option in my opinion. It combines the award winning Rega Planar 1 turntable with the award-winning Rega Fono Mini A2D preamp into a package that is very high value for money.

If the preamp is included in the turntable, the turntable will have a LINE output. Or a PHONO/LINE switch that makes it possible to choose between PHONO and LINE.

A turntable without a built-in preamp will have a PHONO output.

The Power Amplifier

The amplifier’s main task is to boost the signal so that it has enough power to drive the speakers. 

A standalone amplifier is usually called just that. Amplifier. Or a receiver. I use amplifier/receiver to cover both since the terms are usually used interchangeably. Here is a picture of mine. They typically look something like this. 

If your amplifier/receiver has a PHONO input, it will have a built-in preamp. Some amplifier/receivers have that, but not all.

Active Speakers

Another popular option, especially if you are setting up a vinyl playing stereo on a budget, is to buy active/powered speakers that have amplifier included. Which of course mean that you can skip purchasing a standalone amplifier/receiver. 

If you are starting with vinyl, this can be a good option. But if you are looking for excellent sound quality, buying standalone gear will in most cases be of higher quality. But it will also cost more money.

Below is an example of active speakers. They connect to power and have RCA input connectors as compared to passive speakers that don’t connect to power and only have speaker cable terminal inputs.

And note that if your turntable does not have a built-in preamp, you will need a standalone preamp to use active speakers with your turntable, as active speakers almost never will have a built-in preamp.

The five ways to set up a vinyl playing stereo   

There are five possible ways to set up a vinyl playing stereo. What they all have in common is that the four necessary components in a vinyl playing stereo are all included. As standalone components or bundled with other gear. 

And note that the amplifier (or receiver) is one of the four necessary components included in all configurations. 

The five absolutely necessary components in a vinyl playing stereo are: 

  1. Turntable
  2. Preamp
  3. Amplifier/Receiver
  4. Speakers 

As the preamp can be bundled with the turntable or amplifier/receiver. And and the amplifier/receiver can be bundled with the speakers. This gives five possible configurations. 

Option 1

  • Turntable with built-in preamp
  • Active speakers

Option 2

  • Turntable with PHONO output
  • Standalone preamp 
  • Active speakers

Option 3

  • Turntable with built-in preamp
  • Amplifier/Receiver 
  • Passive speakers

Option 4

  • Turntable with PHONO output 
  • Amplifier/Receiver with built-in preamp 
  • Passive speakers

Option 5

  • Turntable with PHONO output
  • Standalone preamp
  • Amplifier/Receiver 
  • Passive speakers

Related questions 

Do I need a preamp for my turntable? You will need a standalone preamp for your turntable if a preamp is not built into your turntable or amplifier/receiver. And even if a preamp is included in your turntable or amplifier, a popular option is to upgrade to a standalone preamp of higher quality than the built-in one to increase the sound quality. But that is down to personal preference. 

Do I need speakers for my turntable? You will need speakers for your turntable. They can be passive or active. Passive speakers will need a standalone amplifier/receiver to drive them. Active speakers have the amplifier built in and do not need a standalone amplifier/receiver to drive them. Record players on the other side, do have built-in speakers.