Whether you’re building a turntable setup from the ground up or you’re looking to boost the sound quality of your current record player, a quality amp can make a huge difference. Follow along as we go over the basics of turntable amplifiers and review five of our favorites. The amplifier is the middle man in a typical record player setup. It receives a minute electrical signal from the turntable cartridge, boosts that signal, and forwards it to the speakers.
Record Player Amp on the market
A lot happens in the time an amplifier converts a 3-millivolt cartridge signal into a 300-millivolt signal. Under the perfect circumstances, the signal becomes a delectable audio file that is free from background noise. This can only happen if the amp is able to add power in balanced stages.
In a rush? Check out our top five picks in the table below:
1. Puffin DSP Phono by Parks Audio Preamp – Best Overall
Let’s start by saying that the Puffin is the phono preamp of the future.
RIAA Defaults are Just the Tip of the Iceberg
Unlike your standard preamp, the Puffin equalizer has over 500 adjustable phono settings. Of course, it defaults to RIAA settings. From there, you can adjust the tilt, air, treble, bass, BassBoost, and more. The Puffin also has 20 unique gain settings ranging from -4 decibels (CD) to 72 decibels (moving coil). Users can check Puffin’s gain recommendation sheet to see the preferred gain settings for a range of popular turntables.
The Puffin’s default settings feature a gain of 40 decibels (for moving magnet cartridges) and a load of 74 kiloohms. There are also default settings for moving coil cartridges, CDs, PCs. Users can restore default settings or store their own hand-calibrated presets (there’s room for four up to user presets). It also has a “Magic” function that attenuates undesirable vinyl pops and clicks. Plus, it has a grade function that counts a record’s flaws and assigns it a letter grade (record resellers, this feature is for you).
Don’t underestimate the Puffin’s onboard tone control suite. The tilt feature allows you to adjust the fulcrum of each signal frequency to generate a sound that fits your personal listening preference. A quick toggle can add warmth and brightness to dull or dark recordings. The Air feature is yet another adjustable parameter within the tone control suite. It serves as a cartridge loading adjustment point.
Above and Beyond
You can also apply transfer functions for various inputs, including tube amplifiers and tape players. The Puffin has RCA inputs, RCA outputs, and a grounding lug. As you can see,
the Puffin also features an onboard LCD screen, a power “standby” button, a rotary dial, and a select button. The interface makes it easy to play around with settings or dial in presets.
You can also adjust the load to better suit your cartridge. This function makes it easy for users to switch between moving magnet and moving coil turntables. As you will see at the end of this video, you can easily toggle the “air” setting to add detail or warmth to your audio output. Don’t let the toggles scare you away. The presets sound fabulous, and they’re super easy to restore.
At just under $500, the Puffin is far from your typical entry-level preamp. Still, its seemingly endless array of adjustable parameters makes it well worthy of such a steep price tag. All of the inputs, outputs, and dials are located on the top side of the interface. It’s compact and attractive, with a seemingly indestructible black body and glistening gold accents.
This interface has faced some scrutiny from analog purists. After all, it converts analog inputs into digital outputs. With that said, digital signals are always converted back to analog signals once they go through the RIAA equalization process. You can read more about that here.
- Over 500 adjustable phono settings for LPs and 78S
- Integrated volume and bass control knobs
- High-frequency filter allows you to minimize the background noise on older, worn records
- Low-frequency filter minimizes motorized noises on older LPs
- Tilt control allows you to adjust the warmth of the sound
- Compact black and gold exterior
- Mono and Stereo settings
- Traditional analog inputs and outputs
- Might be frustrating to someone who isn’t a highly dedicated audiophile
2. Fosi Audio Phono Preamp for Turntable – Tube Amp For Vinyl
The Fosi’s sleek metal exterior and matching tubes make it a stunning addition to any turntable setup. The Fosi converts phono signals to line-level signals with the help of low-noise integrated circuits. This preamp is designed to work with moving magnet cartridges. However, it cannot be paired with MM turntables with built-in preamp circuits (though you may find that your turntable has a switch that allows you to bypass the internal preamp). The interface features left and right RCA inputs and outputs alongside a grounding post.
Adjustable Gain Settings
The interface’s front-facing power switch allows users to adjust the gain from 0 decibels (off) to 45 decibels. It features stops at 39 and 42-decibel gains. There’s also a 3.5 mm AUX input on the front, should you want to send your output to a tablet, laptop, or television.
The Fosi come with a set up matching 1.77-inch vacuum tubes. These produce audio with warm, bright details. They can be switched out for 6K4, 6J1, 6J4, GE5654, 6AK5, or 66 tubes. Aftermarket tubes will boost the quality of the Fosi. With that said, the stock tubes do an excellent job of boosting the tone, clarity, and power of audio signals.
- Converts phono signals to line-level signals while reducing low-frequency background noise
- Four preset gain settings (including 0, 39, 42, and 45 decibels)
- Features a moving magnet grounding screw
- Features a tube set than can easily be switched out
- Covered by an 18-month warranty
- Upgrade the factory-installed tubes to hear major improvements
3. Pyramid PR2500 Mono Preamplifier – Most User-Friendly Channel Adjustment Interface
The Pyramid PR500 is a budget-rate mono preamp with rack mounting capabilities and plenty of analog toggles. However, don’t let the old school interface fool you. It features a dynamic high/low-frequency filter that automatically eliminates the rumble of noisy turntables motors and scratched or warped vinyl records. Plus, it features a full lineup of independent inputs, including ones for tape decks, AM/FM tuner signals, CD players, turntables, and AUX-enabled devices.
A Dynamic Control Panel
The front control panel looks like something off a traditional home stereo setup. There’s an on/off switch with an LED indicator, a dedicated mic input, a mic level control, a bass/mid/treble bar, loudness, and balance controls, an input selector, a master volume control, and more. Mono input and mute switches enable users to reduce the sound by 20 decibels for microphone recording sessions.
- Measures 19″ x 2.375″ x 8.5″ and features a rack mount design for easy installation in tight areas
- Dynamic onboard control panel makes it easy for users to switch between inputs
- Switch between 110-watt and 220-watt voltages depending on your input
- Tuner, CD, AUX, and phono inputs
- Microphone input jack and level control
- Issues with mixer
- Not a standard height for most rack-mount setups
4. ARTcessories DJ PRE II Phono Preamplifier – Good record player amp
ARTcessories’s DJ PRE II Phono Preamplifier is perfect for audio playback and recording. The device’s adjustable preamp gain control is a huge asset. The gain maxes out at 45 decibels. It has a frequency response that ranges between 0 and 50K hertz +/-.5 decibels. As a result, it produces a range of bass, mids, and treble.
The preamp features a dual-color LED indicator light t. We love that you can switch the capacitance to better suit specific types of phono cartridges. It also has built-in switchable and low-cut filters.
The DJ PRE II’s circuitry comes with a built-in low-cut filter that removes audio discrepancies. Since the DJ conforms to the RIAA curve, you can easily pair it with any turntable that lacks a built-in preamp. The low-impedance outputs enable you to pair this phono preamp with just about any sound card.
A Rugged and Compact Interface
While we don’t like to get too carried away with aesthetics, the DJ PRE II’s has an undeniably unique design. The heavy-duty extruded chassis measures 1.85-by-4.6-by-4.5 inches and weighs 1.25 pounds.
- Analog input capacitance can be switched between 100 and 200 picofarads (pF) to better suit a specific phono cartridge
- Adjustable low-cut filter removes audio interruptions
- Integrated variable gain control
- High-frequency, low-noise phono circuitry
- RCA inputs and outputs ensure that this device paired with any sound card
- Heavy-duty extruded interface
- Frequency response that ranges between 10 and 50 Hz
- Conforms to RIAA curve
- Ground terminal for moving magnet cartridges
- No on/off switch (there is an LED indicator)
- LED indicator is super bright
5. Pyle PP444 Mini Phono Preamp – Record Player Amp and Speakers
If you’re looking to get a turntable up and running on a tight budget, then Pyle’s mini phono preamp might be the perfect pick for you. The Pyle PP444 is only suitable for use with moving magnet cartridges. It has an input sensitivity of 3 millivolts at 5 kiloohms. Meanwhile, it has a maximum output of 2 volts at 10 kiloohms and a load impedance of 10 kiloohms. It does a decent job of amplifying a MM turntable’s signal.
The PP444 has a 1.4-inch phone jack and dedicated RCA outputs. Right and left RCA inputs to enable users to connect this device to any turntable or piece of studio equipment. The unit measures just 3.54-by-2.13-by-0.102 inches and weighs 0.85 pounds. It also comes with a 12-volt DC power adapter. The separation of the power unit cuts down on the production background noise during amplification. This device has a signal to noise ratio of 70 dB, which is good but not ideal.
Decent Sound for a Decent Price
Magnetic pickups preserve the warmth and detail of the original signal. You get defined highs, mids, and lows. While the end harmonics aren’t mindblowing, they’re certainly better than what we expected to hear from a less than $20 preamp.
- Coverts phono signals to line level signals
- Sensitivity of 3 mV at 50K Ohms (Phono)
- Maximum output of 2V max (P-P) at 10 K Ohms means low noise operation
- Can connect to turntables receivers, speakers, laptops, and much more
- Covered by a one-year warranty
- Measures just 3.54″ x 2.13″ x 1.02″
- Perfect for any audiophile with tight budget and limited space
- Lacks rubber feet
- Does not produce hi-fi audio
- No on/off switch
How to Choose the Best Record Player Amp – Guide
Are you still confused about what makes one turntable amplifier better than the next? Here are some key elements of a quality interface:
Turntables that have phono inputs and ground screws already have built-in preamps (aka phono stages). With that said, many audiophiles find that an external preamp and amplifier combo produces higher quality audio.
There are two main types of external preamps, including moving coil (MC) preamps and moving magnet (MM) preamps. Most audiophiles consider moving coil preamps to be the more desirable of the set. After all, moving coil cartridges produce far less electrical output than MM preamps. As a result, they have fewer issues with capacitance and audio degradation.
If your turntable doesn’t have a built-in preamp and you’re in the market for a new amplifier, it’s usually best to go with one that has a built-in preamp.
Gain tube amp record player
The signal sent from a turntable cartridge to preamp or amp is usually no greater than 5 mV (millivolts). Meanwhile, the average set of speakers have a constant-voltage value of 70.7 volts. Somewhere along the line, the electrical signal has to multiply. This rapid increase is called gain. This takes place in the preamp or amp.
More advanced phono preamps allow you to adjust the level of the incoming signal to create a more precise and balanced audio output. Gain control translates to more audible, clear noise.
Amplifiers may be able to switch between various input modes, including phono and line. Phono signals have voltages and undergo RIAA equalization. The RIAA equalization boosts the bass and decreases the treble when playing back vinyl.
Why? Years ago record producers sought out a way to maximize the length of tracks. They were able to so by reducing the size of the grooves. These amendments resulted in the universal a reduction of bass (low frequencies) and the enlargement of treble (high frequencies). RIAA equalization simply rectifies the changes made during the vinyl production process.
Turntables with phono inputs already boast built-in phono stages with RIAA EQ. Those that do not require external preamps with RIAA EQ. If you were to feed an unamended phono signal directly into a signal, the music would be flat and dimensionless. That’s because line signals use flat (rather than curved) frequencies.
RMS vs Peak Power
An amplifier’s peak power is the total amount of power it can put out without producing distortion. Peak power is usually only sustainable in short bursts.
An amplifier’s RMS power rating is much more indicative of its continuous power output threshold. RMS ratings are far lower than peak power ratings. You can use an amplifier’s RMS power rating to determine if it is a good pairing for your speakers. For example, if you have two speakers that each carry their own 100-watt RMS power rating, you should be looking for an amplifier with an RMS power rating of 60 to 200 watts.
A DSP, or digital signal processing, enables a preamp to boost a cartridge signal while applying digital effects. In other words, DSP power amplifiers allow you to adjust the parameters of each channel to optimize the quality of audio outputs.
Most amplifiers have traditional analog (RCA) inputs and outputs. For the most part, that equates to universal compatibility. Still, if you’re looking to maximize the quality of your output, you’re going to have to consider your amp’s compatibility with your:
- Cartridge: If you have a MM cartridge, you should focus on finding an MM-compatible preamp. Meanwhile, if you have an MC cartridge, you should focus on finding a preamp that produces lower outputs.
- Turntable: If your turntable already has a built-in phono stage, you do not need to add an amp with a built-in preamp.
- Speakers: Check your speaker’s nominal impedance (this is measured in ohms) and program power rating to see if it is a good match for a prospective amplifier. A speaker’s nominal impedance is the level of resistance it poses to the amplifier. Most hi-fi amplifiers are rated to handle a load impedance of 4 to 16 ohms. The amplifier should also put out a signal that is strong enough to power whatever set of speakers you will be using. For more information, check out Q Acoustics’ beginner guide to matching speakers with amplifiers.
If you’ve learned anything from this article, we hope that it is to stop underestimating your sound system’s middleman. The phono preamp has a big impact on your turntable’s sound output. We’ve brought you some of the most innovative, budget-friendly, and midrange products on the market. If we had to choose a favorite, it would have to be Park Audio’s Puffin. This next-level DSP phono preamp enables you to adjust several parameters, including gain settings and tone controls. It even has a built-in vinyl grading feature and a suite of EQ settings. Of course, we’ve also included plenty of analog phono preamps for the audio purists out there.
Do you have any remaining questions or comments? Drop them in the section below, and we’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as possible.
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