Are you looking for the best phono preamp under $500? If you have bought a turntable that does not come with its own preamp built into the mechanisms, or you’re simply looking for a better preamp, you have come to the right place.
Today we will be trying to find the best phono preamp under $500. It is rarely necessary to exceed such a price. So this is the perfect stomping ground for anyone looking to upgrade their sound. Keep reading to discover some of the best preamps at reasonable prices the market has to offer.
Table of Contents
- 1. Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp (Best Budget)
- 2. Schiit Mani Phono Preamp (Most Affordable)
- 3. Cambridge Audio Alva Duo (Best Headphone Amp)
- 4. Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra (Best Sound)
- 5. Parks Audio Puffin DSP Phono Preamp (Most Versatile)
- Why Get a Phono Preamp?
- Final Tones
- FAQs Best Phono Preamp Under $500
|Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp
|Buy Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp
|Schiit Mani 2 Phono Preamp
|Buy Schiit Mani 2 Phono Preamp
|Cambridge Audio Alva Duo
|Buy Cambridge Audio Alva Duo
|Pro-Ject Phono Box S2
|Buy Pro-Ject Phono Box S2
|Parks Audio Puffin DSP
|Buy Parks Audio Puffin DSP
1. Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp (Best Budget)
Pyle has managed to stuff all the utterly necessary elements of a phono preamp into a very small and affordable package. This will be ideal for those working within the harsh confines of a strict budget.
Sure enough, it is incredibly affordable. But I would recommend this preamp if you really do not have any other choice. The sound quality on display here is far below some of the others on this list. In fact, if you already have a preamp built into your all-in-one record player or turntable, you would do best to use this really, rather than fork out the money for a new one.
If you do need to spend very little, then you cannot really do much better than the Pyle in terms of value. The Pyle, indeed, lives to serve and will humbly do your bidding.
The low price point is mainly because of the utter simplicity of the preamp, lacking in knobs, buttons, or switches of any kind. Rather, there are just phono inputs on one side, phono outputs on the opposite, a ground screw, and a power supply input.
So, for anyone who finds the overwhelming number of choices in life too confusing, you really cannot go wrong with this fine vessel.
- It is ridiculously affordable. It barely costs the price of a monthly phone contract.
- For the price, there is a surprisingly low base noise output. Perhaps less than the preamp you already have built into your turntable.
- This is about as basic a model as you can get. It has nothing more than inputs, outputs, and power. There is not even an on/off switch.
- The sound response that comes out of this model pales in comparison to the others here arrayed.
2. Schiit Mani Phono Preamp (Most Affordable)
Whether you are using an integrated amplifier or not, this preamp is ready and willing to accommodate your specific needs. Even going bipartisan in the steaming hot debate between moving coil vs moving magnet phono cartridges.
This simple and small preamp, like the Pyle, also lacks any sort of knobs or controls. This can be a boon for those craving a simple and minimal approach. This does, however, mean there are very few options for customizing one’s sound in the preamp stage of things.
Besides being compatible with moving coil cartridges (MC cartridges) and moving magnet (MM), this preamp also has four switchable gain modes. Even though they can be quite rigid, they offer some degree of customization and optimization.
For those not already in the know, gain modes are simply different amounts of amplification. You can add them to the cartridge signal as it comes through the preamp before it is sent out and toward the main amplifier.
Which of the 4 onboard you use will depend on the amplitude of your cartridge as it stands. However, these modes are 30, 42, 47, and 59dB. This should cover a full spectrum of possible cartridge volumes.
- The preamplification itself is pretty stellar and will undoubtedly serve each user very well. Regardless of their sonic interests and stylistic preferences.
- It is compatible with all three of the main varieties of phono cartridges (moving magnet, moving coil, and high output). Something that many others in this price range cannot boast.
- Comes equipped with 4 gain modes. The sound can be adjusted depending on the cartridge.
- The switch for the gain modes is not easily accessible. Being on the underside of the preamp, so it has to be turned over.
- The appearance is rather plain for the price.
3. Cambridge Audio Alva Duo (Best Headphone Amp)
Cambridge Audio has named the Alva Duo very helpful, the Duo. This simply means that it is designed to accommodate both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges.
This is, however, not the only reason that the Duo is named thus. Rather, it is also because it doubles as a unique and capable headphone amplifier. It sends the incoming signal from the record and amplifies it enough to be heard by headphones.
The compatibility between cartridges is something to be coveted at all costs in this price range.
The incredibly sleek and simple design is an exemplar of this kind of attention to detail. Cambridge Audio ensured that this preamp was designed with vinyl in mind, rejecting room noise.
Specific to this preamp is the so-called subsonic filter. A feature that seeks to make older records that exhibit more surface noise as a result of wear and tear sound better.
- Comes with the so-called subsonic filter. Specific to Cambridge Audio, which allegedly makes older records sound better.
- The balance control offers customization of a kind that we have not yet seen in this list. With an immediate and capable balancing between modes and tones that the user can actually hear.
- Doubles up as a headphone amp and is welcoming of both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges.
- The part of the preamp concerned with headphone amplification also brings with it the opportunity to add extra noise to the signal chain. A complete no-go if you are an audiophile equipped with discerning ears.
- The large knob on the front might be an inconvenience to some, especially those with an already-established stereo setup.
4. Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra (Best Sound)
Besides excelling in the world of preamps, Pro-Ject is also adept at designing and manufacturing turntables. Something that they have exhibited with their incredibly successful Pro-Ject 1. This turntable took the audiophile by storm. And they have since grown a considerable reputation as being one of the best to offer such high-quality turntables below $1000.
This extends to their production of preamps, of course, whose appearance very much mirrors the minimal beauty of their matte brutalist turntables. For those looking to pair their minimal home aesthetic with something equally befitting, then look no further (and it comes in monochrome white or black)!
Though the colors are bold and the construction is metal-cased and sturdy, the real selling point here is the supreme audio quality.
This is simply a product that works. Thus, the manufacturer has seen it fit not to burden the user with a bunch of knobs and switches. This would ultimately get in the way of a listening experience. Rather, this is just a box that makes the records sound good. With plenty of attention to detail paid to the circuitry instead of all the fancy features.
- As we have come to expect from Pro-Ject, they use some parts that are of considerably high quality. These are parts and components that can entirely be depended upon.
- The design is incredibly simple. It will perfectly satisfy those looking for a minimal setup that is still going to sound good.
- It offers some of the best sounds you can expect from any preamp in this price range.
- The simplicity ought not to belie the amount of control you can exhibit over the sound. There is just enough to satisfy those who want to customize their sound a little, too.
- There is no gain or volume knob. The only controls are rather minimal and do not do all that much to the sound overall. There are very few extra features or frills, though this is kind of the selling point.
5. Parks Audio Puffin DSP Phono Preamp (Most Versatile)
Minimalism may not quite be your thing. So instead, you are looking for the most options possible. If yes, you can scarcely go wrong with this maximalist beauty by Parks Audio.
Rather than spread themselves thin manufacturing from all corners of audiophilia, Parks Audio has instead opted to specialize in phono preamps alone. It offers some of the best and most specific examples on the market today.
Despite its relatively small size, this thing really is brimming with options for customization. It will fit anywhere but expand the consciousness of just about any setup that it becomes a part of. Unlike others here arrayed, it has its very own screen. This can be incredibly useful in navigating all of these perhaps overwhelming tonal possibilities.
The simple design can often belie just how versatile this thing is. Do not be afraid to consult the manual for a little guidance. I would be surprised if even the most registered audiophile would not be tempted to reach for the manual.
- This is easily the most versatile preamp on this whole list. It offers forth a boundless variety of tonal options in a rather small package.
- Thankfully, this perhaps overwhelming amount of options is easier to navigate. This is thanks to the small digital screen that has been installed in the middle of the preamp.
- It comes equipped with a unique tilt setting. This offers a quick and easy way to elide all of the otherwise complicated setup and settings. Instead, it can fatten up or thin out the tone at a moment’s notice.
- This is easily the most expensive option here. So any trepidation on the part of those working within a budget is more than understandable.
- The extensive range of options, thanks to digital signal processing, maybe a little too much for those just starting out their audiophile journey.
- Contrary to their wholly digital signal processing, there is no USB output. What gives?
Why Get a Phono Preamp?
Suppose you have already found yourself the phono preamp you want to get in this article. In that case, I hope you will already be aware of the different parts of a turntable, where phono preamps sit in relation to the actual amplifiers.
However, you may also be thinking about why you even need a separate preamp in the first place. It can sometimes simply be the case that the turntable in question does not have its own preamp. Preamps are a pretty vital component, for they amplify the relatively weak phono signal directly from the needle before it is sent to the amplifier.
Without this preamplification, the sound quality would be spared no mercy before being sent forth through the amplifier and then through the speakers.
Moreover, some users choose to purchase a separate phono preamp even if their turntable comes with one already built in. This is often, again, a matter of sound quality. The turntable in question here might have a phono stage that is not to the liking of the turntable user, so they might choose to invest some time investigating phono stages of their own.
The best phono preamps will change the entire listening experience for the user. Granted, this is often in rather subtle ways, but it is a grave mistake of many audiophiles to doubt the importance of a good preamp over the main phono amplifier.
Indeed, a good phono preamp will result in an entirely different listening experience for all the reasons listed above. So, it is no wonder why many often opt to purchase their own separate preamp and use that over the one that is built into more affordable turntables.
These built-in preamps will do the job, but a very good phono preamp (or even a great phono preamp) will maximize the output of phono cartridges by untold amounts.
So, there you have it!
Hopefully, this article about the best phono preamp under $500 has been of some use to you in finding a new preamp for your stereo setup. Whether you simply did not have one in the first place or whether the one you had was not doing your records justice, I pray that you have now found peace and a potential avenue for reinvention and upgrading.
However, if you do find any better phono preamps than the ones in this review, we would love to hear about them.
FAQs Best Phono Preamp Under $500
Does a good phono preamp make a difference?
For those who are simply wanting to spin some discs at a reasonable quality without any questions asked, then it would not really make sense to purchase a phono preamp of considerable quality (and, thus, at a higher price point) simply because the user will not reap the benefits as much. Inversely, if the user has a particularly discerning ear, then the difference between a decent preamp and a good preamp will be readily apparent and will, thus, make a difference to their listening experience.
Is a phono preamp necessary?
Unless you want your turntable and stereo setup to sound weak and lacking in pep, yes, a phono preamp is necessary. Thankfully, many turntables manufactured these days for under $500 come with phono preamps already built into the mechanism that are more than able to get the job done. In these cases, a separate phono preamp would only be necessary if the user is not entirely satisfied with the response of the original.
How much does a good preamp cost?
This will depend, though you can pick up a good preamp these days fairly easily for under $500. Anything much more than $500 would be a little steep and would only be expanding upon the kind of groundwork that these more affordable options offer.
What makes a good preamp?
The better a preamp is, the more headroom it will tend to have, meaning that it will be able to accommodate higher volumes without distorting the signal in the way that other more affordable preamps and such might do. Likewise, a good preamp will also process the signal in a neutral and balanced way that fairly represents the signals
How do I know if I need a preamp for my turntable?
You will know if you need a preamp for your turntable if the built-in preamp is not doing your records or setup any favors. Then perhaps you will need to invest in one that will, one that will do justice to the sounds that it is fed without any judgments or questions.
Does a phono preamp affect sound quality?
A phono preamp can affect sound quality, though the extent to which this is important will vary depending on the user. For those who are simply wanting to spin some discs at a reasonable quality without any questions asked, then it would not really make sense to purchase a phono preamp of considerable quality. However, if the user has a particularly discerning ear, then the difference between a decent preamp and a good preamp will be readily apparent in the overall sound quality.