Published On: August 7, 2023

What Is a Phono Preamp And Why Do You Need One

Published On: August 7, 2023
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What Is a Phono Preamp And Why Do You Need One

Are you looking to amplify the sound of your vinyl records? Perhaps a phono preamp is exactly what you need, so read on and decide for yourself!

What Is a Phono Preamp And Why Do You Need One

  • David Bates, a dedicated home theater connoisseur, shares his passion and expertise through engaging writing. He provides insights on the latest trends, technologies, and techniques, helping others achieve optimal audiovisual experiences.

Knowing that a phono preamp can significantly improve your vinyl listening experience makes it worth understanding. This blog post will demystify what a phono preamp is, its importance in a turntable system, and how to select one that suits your needs. Ready for better sounding vinyl records? 

Key Takeaways

  • A phono preamp is an essential component for turntable playback, amplifying and equalizing the low output signal to make it compatible with modern audio systems.
  • Without a proper phono preamp, vinyl records would sound weak and distorted when played through a regular amplifier or receiver.
  • There are two main types of phono preamps: internal (built-in) and external. Internal preamps are convenient and budget-friendly, while external preamps offer superior sound quality and more flexibility in terms of connectivity options.
  • When choosing a phono preamp, consider factors such as compatibility with your cartridge type, adjustable gain and equalization settings, budget, additional features needed, build quality and design.

What Is Phono Preamp and What Does It Do

A record on a turntable

A phono preamp is a significant component of any turntable setup. This device fulfills the vital role of amplifying and equalizing the low output signal from a turntable to line level, making it compatible with modern sound systems.

It's necessary because without it, your music would be barely audible over your speakers. The phono preamp also applies essential equalization measures. These adjustments are crucial in order for vinyl records to produce good quality sound when listened through an amplifier or speaker system, leading to vibrant audio playback that truly honors the medium's rich warmth and depth.

Importance of a Phono Preamp for Turntable Playback

Phono preamps play an essential role in the world of vinyl records and turntables. It boosts the low signal from your turntable to a level suitable for modern amplifiers, which ensures that you can enjoy your favorite tracks at their best possible sound quality.

Without one, all you would hear is a whisper of the music due to the weak output signal of most turntables. Moreover, a phono preamp also does an important job of equalizing the distinct analog output from your turntable's cartridge.

This assures rich and well-balanced audio playback every time you drop that needle on a record. So if you're planning to set up or upgrade your home audio system with a turntable, make sure to include a good-quality phono preamp in your list!

Types of Phono Preamps

There are two main types of phono preamps: internal and external. Read on to find the main differences, as well as key features and drawbacks of both of the types. 

Internal Preamps

Many turntables come equipped with internal preamps, also known as phono stages. These are designed to equalize the signal from a turntable and make it compatible with line-level inputs on other audio equipment.

An internal preamp can simplify your setup because there's no need for an additional piece of hardware. The cartridge type used in your turntable dictates whether you need this kind of preamp or not.

So, if you have a moving magnet cartridge (which is common), an internal preamp should work just fine for you.

External Preamps

External preamps are an excellent choice for enhancing your turntable's sound quality. They offer superior performance compared to built-in options, delivering clearer and more detailed audio reproduction.

With external preamps, you also have more flexibility in terms of connectivity options. They typically come with a variety of inputs and outputs, allowing you to connect your turntable to different audio systems and devices.

Crutchfield Phono Preamp

Another advantage of external preamps is that they provide better shielding from interference, resulting in cleaner and distortion-free playback. Keep in mind that not all phono preamps are compatible with every type of cartridge, so make sure to choose one that suits your specific setup.

Differences and Benefits of Each Type

As mentioned, there are two main types of phono preamps – internal and external. Each comes with its unique attribute that sets it apart, but both are absolutely necessary for enhancing the quality of sound from your turntable. Here's a table preview: 

Type of Phono Preamp DifferencesBenefits
Internal Preamps Resides within the turntable or receiver. It's convenient because it doesn't require an additional device.They're generally less expensive and perfect for space-saving.
External PreampsSituated outside the turntable, providing versatility in terms of configuration and upgrades.They offer superior sound quality and are ideal for high-end systems. Most MC phono preamps are external, and while they might be more pricey, the advanced sound quality makes it worth the investment.

Choosing between an internal or external preamp mainly depends on your personal preference, the quality of sound you desire, and your budget. If you're still using an MM cartridge, an internal preamp might be sufficient. 

However, if you've upgraded to a high-end MC cartridge, you might want to consider an external preamp for an optimized audio experience. Remember, the ultimate goal is to enjoy your vinyl and the music it produces in all its glory.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Phono Preamp

Prior to purchasing a phono preamp, these are the factors you need to have in mind:

  • Compatibility: Ensure that the phono preamp is compatible with your specific type of cartridge. Some preamps may only work with moving magnet cartridges, while others may be suitable for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges.
  • Gain and equalization settings: Look for a phono preamp that offers adjustable gain and equalization settings. This will allow you to fine-tune the sound and compensate for any deficiencies in your turntable setup or record collection.
  • Budget: Consider your budget when selecting a phono preamp. There are options available at various price points, so it's important to find one that offers the best value for your money.
  • Features: Determine what additional features you may need from a phono preamp. Some models offer built-in headphone amplifiers, USB connectivity, or even wireless streaming capabilities.
  • Build quality and design: Pay attention to the build quality and design of the phono preamp. Look for solid construction and sturdy components that will ensure reliable performance over time.

Budget, Features, and Compatibility

Phono preamps come in a wide range of prices, so determining how much you are willing to spend is crucial. Prices of phono preamps at Crutchfield start from $139, making them a great choice for audiophiles. 

Pro-Ject Phono Preamp

Additionally, make sure to look for features that meet your specific requirements, such as adjustable gain settings or a built-in headphone amplifier. Lastly, check if the phono preamp is compatible with your turntable and cartridge type.

Not all preamps work with all cartridges, so ensure they match before making a purchase decision.

Recommendations for High-Quality Phono Preamps

We have done some research to find high-quality phono preamps for you. Here are our recommendations:

  • Pro-Ject Phono Box S2: This external preamp offers excellent sound quality and compatibility with both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges.
  • Cambridge Solo: With its sleek design and multiple input options, this preamp is a great choice for vinyl enthusiasts looking to upgrade their sound system.
  • Rega Fono MM MK3 Phono Preamp: Known for its outstanding performance, this preamp is specifically designed for moving magnet cartridges, delivering warm and detailed sound reproduction.
  • Music Hall Mini Plus Phono Preamp: Compact and affordable, this preamp is perfect for entry-level turntable setups without compromising on sound quality.
  • Pro-Ject Phono Box DC: Designed with flexibility in mind, this preamp allows you to adjust the gain and load settings to optimize the sound output according to your cartridge's specifications.


Ultimately, a phono preamp is an essential component for anyone wanting to enjoy the true sound quality of their vinyl records. Whether you have a turntable with an internal preamp or need to invest in an external one, the benefits of using a phono preamp are clear.

Having a phono preamp provides several benefits that enhance your listening experience. One major benefit is improved sound quality. The preamp boosts the signal from your turntable and applies RIAA equalization, resulting in clearer and more balanced audio reproduction.

Cambridge Audio Phono Preamp

Moreover, using a separate phono preamp allows for easy upgradeability. You can replace or upgrade components over time to achieve the desired sound quality without having to invest in an entirely new system.

Furthermore, a phono preamp amplifies the low-level signal generated by the cartridge, significantly boosting its output strength. This ensures that even with a switchable built-in preamp on your turntable, using an external phono preamp can still provide noticeable improvements in sound quality.

Don't miss out on the rich and detailed audio experience that can be achieved with a high-quality phono preamp - discover the difference for yourself!


1. What is a Phono Preamp?

A phono preamp, also known as a phono stage or phono amplifier, is a device that boosts the low-level output signal from a turntable to a standard line level so it can be properly amplified by an audio receiver or speaker.

2. Why Do I Need a Phono Preamp?

You need a phono preamp because most modern audio systems are designed to work with digital sources like CDs or streaming services, which have higher line level outputs. Since turntables produce weaker signals, using a preamp ensures that the sound quality is optimized and matches other audio sources.

3. Can I Connect My Turntable Directly to My Speakers Without a Phono Preamp?

No, you cannot connect your turntable directly to your speakers without a phono preamp unless your audio system has an integrated one. Without the proper amplification provided by the preamp, the sound from your turntable will be weak and distorted.

4. Are There Different Types of Phono Preamps Available?

Yes, there are different types of phono preamps available including standalone units, built-in options on receivers or amplifiers, and even USB models for digitizing vinyl records. The type you choose depends on your specific needs and setup preferences.

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