How to Connect a Turntable With a Built-In Preamp
In this article, you’ll learn how to connect a turntable or record player that includes a built-in preamp.
To learn how to connect a turntable that doesn’t include a built-in preamp, then jump to our How to Connect a Turntable Without a Built-In Preamp article.
To learn how to tell if a turntable has a built-in preamp or not, then jump to our How to Tell if a Turntable has a Preamp article.
Alright, let’s get started.
A turntable with an integrated phono preamp (that is enabled) outputs what we call a LINE level signal.
A LINE level signal is a standardized signal that is outputted by all types of home audio equipment, including CD-players, digital streamers and tape recorders.
This means that a turntable or record player with a built-in preamp shall be connected to an amplifier, receiver or powered speakers exactly the same way as all other types of home audio music sources.
We must connect a turntable with an enabled built-in preamp to a LINE input on our amplifier, receiver or powered speakers.
LINE Inputs have many different names. I have covered most of them in the table below. You can connect a turntable with an enabled built-in preamp to any of these.
What we must not do, is connect a turntable with an enabled built-in preamp to a PHONO input on our amplifier, receiver or powered speakers.
Only turntables without a built-in preamp can be connected to the PHONO input.
A turntable without a built-in preamp outputs a PHONO signal that is much smaller than a LINE signal.
Therefore, the PHONO input on an amplifier, receiver or powered speakers includes an extra stage of amplification.
So, if we input a LINE signal to a PHONO input, the signal will be amplified way too much, resulting in most of the music signal being clipped off. Which will sound terrible.
The PHONO input is engineered to only work for turntables without a built-in preamp. Turntables that outputs a tiny PHONO signal.
Not every amplifier, receiver or powered speakers feature a PHONO input, by the way.
Turntable PHONO/LINE Switch
If your amplifier, receiver or powered speakers feature a PHONO input, you can actually choose if you want to use the preamp that is built-into the turntable, or the preamp that is built-into the amplifier, receive or powered speakers.
Let me explain more.
Turntables with a built-in preamp have a PHONO/LINE switch at the back.
This switch is used to enable or disable the internal preamp.
With the switch set to LINE, the internal preamp is enabled and the turntable outputs a LINE signal.
This will be the recommended setting in most cases. And usually the default setting when you unbox the turntable.
With the switch set to PHONO, on the other hand, the internal preamp will be bypassed and the turntable inputs a small PHONO signal.
In this mode, the turntable essentially becomes a turntable without a built-in preamp.
Now, the turntable must be connected to a PHONO input on your amplifier, receiver or powered speakers. If there is one.
If you set the PHONO/LINE switch to PHONO, and connect the turntable to a LINE input, the result is that the music will be so low in volume that we can barely hear it.
This is because we now lack one crucial stage of amplification.
(PS! The PHONO/LINE switch must also be set to PHONO if we use an external phono preamp.)
A turntable with a built-in preamp must be connected to a LINE input when the PHONO/LINE switch is set to LINE.
This is the default setting, and the recommended option in most cases.
A turntable with a built-in preamp must be connected to a PHONO input when the PHONO/LINE with is set to PHONO.
This is optional and not recommended in most cases. It is usually best to use the preamp in the turntable because it is well matched to the turntable’s cartridge.
What is a phono preamp?
A phono preamp converts a tiny PHONO signal to a standard LINE signal. It can be a standalone unit, or built into receivers, amplifiers and powered speakers.
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.
Does my turntable need a preamp?
Your turntable will need a preamp if there isn’t one included in the turntable. It is not possible to play vinyl records without a preamp included in the system. If your turntable doesn’t have a preamp, you can use a separate preamp, or a receiver with a preamp built-in.