With the resurgence of vinyl over the last several years, a whole new generation is getting into turntables (record players). With so much “plug and play” technology, we find that people who are younger or have never used a turntable before expect that a turntable will just play, or at least simply connect to their existing stereo system or speakers.
What they’re forgetting is one of the most critical pieces to any vinyl playback system - a phono preamplifier. The signal coming out of the cartridge/stylus on your turntable is around 1,000x lower than the signal coming from a CD player or a streaming device. In order to hear music from vinyl through your speakers or stereo system, you first need to boost the signal. This is where a phono preamp comes in. A phono preamplifier, also known as a phono stage, is an audio component that amplifies the signal from your turntable to a level that allows you to connect it to your sound system the same way you would with any other audio source.
If you are using a vintage amplifier manufactured before around 1990, it is highly likely that the phono section is built in. The big clue to look for is on the back of your unit, where a set of left and right input connections will be labeled phono with a ground screw next to them. Most newer amplifiers made between 1990 and 2010 do not have a phono preamp built in.
The phono pre-amp has to take these microvolts and turn them into the 1.5ish volts that your sound system would expect from a CD player, a streamer, or any other playback device. When we think about the ratio, this can be doing more amplification than the actual amplifier that’s powering your speakers. The quality of your pre-amp can have a huge effect on the end result of your system’s overall sound quality. It often gets overlooked, but it is an amazing way of giving your records a higher level of detail, and a tighter bass.
Dealing with such low level signals means that dealing with interference and electromagnetic noise are huge problems. When you’re boosting microvolts up, all of a sudden the almost undetectable feedback into the power circuit created by your fridge’s compressor in the next room becomes a big deal. When you buy a garbage phono pre-amp for $20 from a sketchy eBay seller, a little fuzz and background noise can easily be picked up and amplified with all the good music you’d rather be listening to.
We stock a range of quality phono preamplifiers from Award-winning brands such as Rega, ProJect Audio, Cambridge Audio, MoFi, and more that will do an excellent job of amplifying those small signals without introducing noise or distortion into the sweet sound of playing your vinyl.These brands have an extensive range to suit individual music listeners needs and performance requirements.
There are Moving Magnet preamps (the most common type of cartridge/stylus combination), Moving Coil preamps and even Valve phono preamps for those looking to add the sweetness of valves to their vinyl experience.
Some newer turntables come with a phono stage built in. There is no real rhyme or reason to which tables have one built in. We have a section of our website dedicated to turntables with inbuilt phono preamplifiers for those looking for the convenience of easy connection to audio devices with an auxiliary input. It is important to mention that many music listeners would like to have vinyl playing through their Sonos WiFi audio network. The Sonos "The Amp", "Connect" and the "Play 5" models all have an auxiliary input perfectly suited to attach a turntable with an inbuilt phono preamp.
Over the last several years, a new category of high-quality active powered speakers have entered the market. They can be used as small bookshelf systems, desktop computer systems, and more and more frequently can be used as part of a vinyl playback system. Some of them even come with a built-in phono stage. We now have an extensive range of quality amplified speakers that incorporate a phono preamplifier. Major brands are recognising that amplified speakers are a convenient option for music listeners wanting a combination of compact design with quality sonic performance. Many also include Bluetooth wireless connectivity for Smartphone music streaming and direct digital TV input.