A major vinyl resurgence is currently happening and many music loving people are bringing out their old vinyl players and some are setting up new systems using modern devices all with one goal, that is to harness the classical and true sound that comes from vinyl recordings.
As things stand, many people are spending way more than they should in setting up vinyl systems. Setting up an awesome vinyl system should not cost you a lot, you can easily piece together an excellent system yourself without parting with a lot of money.
If you research around you will find that the most important component of a good vinyl system is a phono preamp. There are a number of great phono preamp under $500 that you can easily choose from and build an excellent vinyl setup.
In this article, we will review the best of these under $500 preamps and help you make an informed decision. But first, let us take a quick look at what a phono preamp is and what you should look out for when purchasing one.
Understanding a Phono Preamp
A phono preamp is an external electronic device that provides the connection between the record player or turntable and the rest of the system, this includes amplifiers and mixers.
Its role is to apply the right amplification to the sound signal from the player and channel it to the amplifier of the audio system.
Why Do You Need a Phono Preamp
The audio signal that comes from the turntable is very low and needs to be amplified to boost it to the standard line level that is required by modern power amplifiers. In order to achieve this, you need a phono preamp.
Pro-Ject Audio Tube Box S Phono Preamplifier
The Tube Box S is a high-end and durable phono preamp with tube output stage. It is a perfect unit for someone looking for an excellent quality at an affordable price.
Because it uses vacuum tubes, the sound produced by this device cannot be matched by any other device. It comes packed with Audiophile-grade ECC83 (12AX7) vacuum tubes that can easily be replaced.
It has adjustable gain levels and a function to switch between input impedance and capacitance that gives you more control over the sonic quality. It also has a dual-mono configuration that adds on to your control options.
- The tubes can be changed
- Adds a warm lovable sound
- Can boost even the flattest audio units
- The product has very little documentation for first-time users
- Tends to sound thin in the bass region
- The tubes need time to burn in before they can produce stellar quality sound
Vincent – PHO-8
The Vincent PHO8 is a beautiful looking preamp with excellent sound quality. It is a bit bulky to look at but that is due to the power supply and internal components that were designed to allow for heavy use.
It has a separate-chassis that supports both Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridges, there is a function on the front panel that lets you switch between the two cartridges.
The high-quality components used in this unit makes it a low noise preamp, it delivers more than 84 dB signal-to-noise ratio when using a Moving Magnet and more than 71 dB when using a Moving Coil. In terms of connectivity, it uses RCA inputs and outputs.
It is a truly solid device that does a great job of boosting turntable signals to standard line level.
- Premium quality unit
- The switch function to choose between MM and MC is very convenient
- It has an external power supply
- It is rather bulky and heavy, but that is due to the components and power supply
Cambridge – CP2 MM/MC Preamp
The Cambridge CP2 phono preamp lets you connect your turntable to the rest of your system, boost signal level and quality without adding any noise thanks to the premium components used in making the device.
The circuit is made of high-quality components and multiple parallel transistors that allow for accurate sound amplification, it is compatible with Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridges.
It has controls to balance and fine-tune signal output. The sound produced is of excellent quality, it matches that produced by most high-end expensive devices.
- The build quality is top notch and feels solid
- The sonic character is very smooth
- Minimum noise
- It comes with a power supply of 110-120v, for a 220-240v operation, you will have to get a separate power supply
Fono Mini A2D MM Phono Preamp & USB A/D Converter by REGA
If you have a vinyl collection that you want to transfer to your computer or upload to your mobile device, then this is your go-to phono preamp.
The Rega Fono Mini A2D is an analog to digital phono preamp that comes highly recommended due to its quality and excellent features.
It converts an analog input into USB output that can be plugged into a computer or any other digital device. It has built-in controls, one for level and the other for balance.
It can be used with a digital audio editing software like Audacity to provide high-resolution digital audio.
- Converts both ways, analog-digital
- High-quality analog to digital transfer
- Simple plug and play
- The look and build could be improved, for such a high performing device it deserves a better build
- It works well with Moving magnet cartridges but not with Moving coil cartridges
- On any low-end frequencies, the Fono Mini A2D tends to over-compensates with a harsh hi-frequency
Emotiva Audio XPS-1 Phono Preamp
The Emotiva Audio XPS-1 Phono Preamp is an excellent choice for anyone who is looking for high-quality sound output from their turntable or vinyl record player.
It has a quality feel and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to features and results. It has high sound precision with low noise even when used at 100 ohms’ settings.
It has multiple RCA inputs that allow you to connect an analog sound line-level system with ease. Emotiva used high-quality components in the device’s signal path to provide RIAA equalization and standard signal boost even for units with a very low output.
The circuitry in the XSP-1 is designed to provide standard gain and high-performance for both Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridges.
- Comes with a 100 – 240 volts’ power supply
- Supports up to 100-ohm setting
- High-quality overall performance at an affordable price
- Not good for MM cartridges
Rolls VP 29.TTL Phono Preamp by Turntable Lab
The VP29 is a USA made turntable amplifier that boosts phono audio signals to a standard line level that is also known as AUX. It also provides standard equalization thanks to the neat electronic circuits installed in it.
The circuitry also allows it to produce great sound with reduced background noise. It has a headphone jack that can be used for out, the input channels include an RCA input that everyone is familiar with.
The most likable feature about the VP29 is that it is a simple plug and play device, there is no electronics expertise needed to connect it and use it with your system.
In general, the VP29 is an excellent preamp that does a great job of boosting phono signal at affordable costs.
- Great sound and very minimal hum
- Made in the USA
- Comes with a power supply
- Lacks controls on it, there is no volume knob or a power button