Great-sounding vinyl setups don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. They can be pieced together and slowly upgraded over time, an ever-changing amalgamation of gear that steadily sounds better as the years go by. A big piece of the puzzle for many would-be vinyl addicts is a phono preamp. So what is a phono preamp and why would you need one?
While built-in phono inputs are making a comeback with vinyl’s recent resurgence, many modern receivers and amplifiers don’t include one. A phono preamp is an outboard device that steps into that void, boosting a turntable’s output so modern electronics can play it at the proper volume level, while adding standardized equalization from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for accuracy to the recording. There are really two main reasons to get a standalone phono preamp: Either your turntable or amplifier is devoid of a built-in phono preamp, or you’ve decided to upgrade your setup with better sound than what’s afforded by your built-in options.
You can easily blow your wad on a high-end solution, but luckily there are plenty of models that provide great sound at a totally reasonable price. That’s where our list comes in. Here are our favorite affordable phono preamps, ranging in price from budget solutions to long-term audio investments.
Note: We’ll be using a lot of vinyl terminology in this piece. Scroll to the bottom for a glossary of terms commonly used in the vinyl world.
Rolls VP29 ($50)
Those looking for a simple plug-and-play solution will love the Rolls VP29, which has no buttons or knobs and is designed to perform one task and one task only — amplifying the sound of your favorite vinyl to standard playback level with RIAA equalization. A fire-red box that’s made in the USA, the VP29 even features a 3.5mm jack for versatile connection, perfect for connecting to powered speakers.
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Art Pro Audio DJPRE II ($34)
ART Pro Audio has made a name for itself as a purveyor of solid studio gear for some time now. The company’s affordable and intuitive VLA II compressor is a workhorse in many home studios worldwide. ART Pro brings those same attributes to its DJPRE II, a small rounded box that offers many features even pricier models lack. Along with standard RIAA equalization, the DJPRE II allows you to choose between a low-cut and flat frequency response, as well as a gain control to allow for optimum performance with your specific setup, or to properly feed an input device for preserving your vinyl in digital form. It is even compatible with turntable cartridges that require special input capacitance levels, meaning even high-end buyers can consider the DJPRE II. At an extremely low price point, this is a great option for those who are looking for a feature-packed solution without going broke. As a bonus, the TCC TC-750 LC is another solid option at this price point for those who want an adjustable gain output.
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