Editors’ Choice: My Favorite Phono Preamplifiers of 2022

The RIAA’s H1 2022 information for brand new vinyl gross sales within the United States indicated that customers are spending much less as a consequence of inflation within the post-pandemic economic system, however vinyl continues to develop as a viable bodily media format in 2022. Just how a lot? Last 12 months 40 million LPs (albums) have been offered within the United States alone (supply RIAA), which was up 67% from the prior 12 months and the very best quantity in 33 years (since 1988). 40 million. Stick that in your CD participant. It has additionally created a surge of recent phono preamplifiers within the market. Most shoppers don’t take into consideration one of the best phono preamplifiers for his or her turntables and that’s an issue.

Did you put money into a brand new turnable throughout the pandemic? Are you continue to standing in line on Record Store Day? One of essentially the most uncared for components of the phono chain is the phono preamplifier; that is significantly true for those who’re new to vinyl playback and have probably not on condition that a lot thought to how that cartridge on the tip of your tonearm really works and the way that minuscule degree of output is amplified.

The greatest reasonably priced phono preamplifiers will probably do a a lot better job than the interior phono stage within your amplifier and provide better flexibility with each MC and MM cartridges.

Don’t count on vinyl nirvana from a $300 turntable set-up — you could be upset with how that model new $30 report sounds. $500 is a greater place to start out for an reasonably priced audiophile turntable.

There is nothing worse than taking the plunge on an costly element like a turntable and discovering that the flowery cartridge put in on the tonearm sounds dreadful.

The actuality is that your turntable isn’t damaged and the cartridge that you simply painstakingly put in is able to a lot extra. The greatest phono pre-amplifiers don’t must look good. In an ideal world, it ought to sit on their lonesome in your rack and correctly amplify the output of your cartridge. 

A phono preamp can also be requested to use the RIAA equalization curve to the sign, reverting it again to the form it was on the unique recording. No stress there. The downside is that phono cartridges don’t play nicely collectively within the sandbox. 

They don’t have the identical output degree and require comparatively exact loading (impedance) to sound their greatest. Everything about their efficiency adjustments for those who don’t choose the proper phono pre-amplifier; colour, tempo, transparency, element, soundstage, dynamics, and diploma of immediacy. 

If your cartridge shopping for choices lean in the direction of high-output shifting magnet cartridges from manufacturers like Sumiko, Grado Labs, Ortofon, Audio-Technica, Hana or Nagaoka – all of our strategies will work somewhat nicely. 

Low-output shifting coil cartridges from Denon, Audio-Technica, Dynavector, Ortofon, Hana, and Grado Labs require extra achieve (50dB or extra) and the power to regulate their load settings. In such instances, think about the dearer choices on our record which supply better set-up flexibility and sufficient achieve for all these cartridges. 

So what did I actually like in 2022? It’s definitely a optimistic to see higher high quality phono preamplifiers which are extra reasonably priced and we hope that is still a pattern.

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Glenn Croft’s passing in November 2022 was a somewhat unhappy second for audiophiles who’ve used his merchandise for a number of a long time. Not solely was he a really gifted designer however a stunning man. The Croft RIAA Phono Preamplifier is a improbable product however Glenn made them by hand so we’re prone to see used variations promoting for a premium going ahead.

All of my picks apart from the Pro-Ject are real bargains at their asking worth and definitely higher than any inside phono stage that you simply may discover inside the present crop of built-in amplifiers or receivers beneath $1,000.

Schiit Audio Mani 2 ($179)

Inexpensive phono pre-amplifiers just like the Schiit Mani 2 are very uncommon. Not solely does this tiny metallic field sound like a much more costly unit, nevertheless it’s manufactured and assembled in California. The adjustability of the Mani makes it versatile and opens the door to a wider vary of cartridges that customers might need to attempt. If you might be new to vinyl listening and your amplifier doesn’t provide an inside phono pre-amplifier – this could be a terrific place to start out. 

Reasons to purchase:

  • Inexpensive and really quiet efficiency
  • Works with each MM and MC cartridges
  • Decent pacing
  • Warm midrange

Reasons to cross:

  • Not the deepest sounding soundstage
  • Can sound barely restrained or well mannered relying on the cartridge 

$179 at Amazon | Schiit.com

iFi ZEN Air Phono Front

iFi ZEN Phono ($199.00)

iFi Audio is celebrating its tenth anniversary with some thrilling and reasonably priced merchandise together with this wonderful phono preamplifier that gives each MM/MC inputs. The iFi ZEN Phono is a part of a a lot bigger vary that features DACs, and headphone amplifiers and we’ve been tremendous impressed with the merchandise that now we have reviewed to date. 

Don’t take a look at the worth and assume that it should have some severe shortcomings. We have been fairly stunned by how quiet it’s and that it might deal with nearly any cartridge available on the market; the iFi ZEN Phono presents 32dB to 72dB of achieve. The impartial tonal steadiness and readability make it a really robust choice beneath $200. 

The rear panel of the chassis features a energy enter, balanced output (4mm), a achieve change with 4 positions, two RCA enter jacks, two RCA output jacks, and a grounding terminal.

Reasons to purchase:

  • Very reasonably priced 
  • Excellent construct high quality 
  • MM/MC cartridge compatibility 
  • Transparent, detailed, and really quiet
  • Hard to seek out something higher beneath $200

$199 at Amazon | Crutchfield

Andover Audio SpinStage Phono Preamp

Andover Audio SpinStage ($250)

$250 for a somewhat prime quality MM/MC phono preamplifier? 

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While turntable and cartridge choices have been somewhat plentiful, the reasonably priced MM/MC phono stage class beneath $400 has been dominated by only some fashions from Schiit Audio, U-Turn, Cambridge Audio, and Rega. Andover Audio sells numerous SpinDeck and SpinDeck Max turntables however they’ve by no means supplied a devoted and reasonably priced MM/MC phono pre-amplifier till now.

The Andover Audio SpinStage has two key options not generally present in price range phono preamplifiers. First, by including a separate MC achieve stage with ultra-low-noise discrete transistors in a kind of transconductance topology often discovered solely in dearer designs, the SpinStage advantages from offering the required achieve with out added noise.

Second, the addition of an Auxiliary enter restores the enter utilized by the SpinStage when it’s related to an amplifier that has only some inputs. For instance, a system that features a CD participant or different system may have the enter utilized by the SpinStage.

The MM part provides 40dB of achieve, while the MC part presents 66.5dB for low output shifting coil cartridges. 

I’ve solely been listening for the previous 24 hours with the Goldring E3 and Grado Labs Prestige Red3 cartridges and so they might need a winner right here. Especially when mixed with the hotter sounding Grado cartridge and their SpinDeck Max turntable. 

It is a considerably vigorous presentation nevertheless it’s far superior to any inside MM stage in most $400 to $500 built-in amplifiers. Detail retrieval and readability will not be what you usually count on at $250.

Reasons to purchase:

  • Very quiet operation. Not as quiet because the Moon by SimAudio however there may be $350 distinction within the worth.
  • Solid construct high quality
  • Works with each MM and MC cartridges 
  • Adjustability with MC cartridges
  • Solid pacing
  • Warm tonal steadiness 
Cambridge Audio Alva Duo

Cambridge Audio Alva Duo ($349) 

The Alva Duo is similar to the Schiit Mani from the angle that it delivers a heat sounding midrange and a really low noise ground. It presents each MM and MC inputs and a somewhat propulsive presentation. Some might discover the inclusion of a devoted headphone amplifier unusual, nevertheless it delivers numerous energy and makes listening to vinyl with a pair of headphones very fulfilling. For additional element, learn our full evaluate of the Alva Duo with Cambridge Audio CXA61 Integrated Amp.

Reasons to purchase:

  • Zero noise. Deep house no person can hear you scream degree of quiet 
  • Works with each MM and MC cartridges 
  • Very little adjustability with MC cartridges
  • Solid pacing
  • Warm tonal steadiness 
  • Headphone amplifier has partaking sound and numerous energy

$349 at Amazon | Crutchfield

Pro-ject Phono Box S2 Ultra Phono Preamp Front

Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra ($349.00)

Pro-Ject is the world’s largest producer of high-end turntables, however a rising a part of their enterprise features a somewhat intensive vary of DACs, pre-amplifiers, headphone amplifiers, and loudspeakers. The actual gems of their lineup are their intensive vary of phono pre-amplifiers that should get much more protection. 

The Phono Box S2 Ultra is without doubt one of the extra reasonably priced items of their lineup and it’s the polar reverse of flashy; it resides very quietly in your shelf and presents compatibility with each MM/MC cartridges with a number of loading choices.

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It presents 43dB to 63dB of achieve (there are 5 totally different achieve settings) and it undoubtedly will get out of the way in which and permits one to listen to the cartridge with a really impartial tonal steadiness, wonderful element, and a really clear sounding high finish. The treble has enough chew and also you may uncover that your cartridge has better high finish sparkle than you beforehand thought.

Reasons to purchase

  • Solid construct high quality 
  • Neutral tonal steadiness, detailed, resolute bass response 
  • Affordable 
  • MM/MC cartridge compatibility 
  • Extremely quiet and dependable

$349 at Amazon | Amazon.ca

Rega Fono MM MK5 Phono Preamplifier

Rega Fono MM MK5 ($445)

Rega is without doubt one of the main producers of high-end turntables on the earth and we’re somewhat keen on the Planar 3 and their wonderful built-in amplifiers together with the io and Aethos which now we have lined somewhat extensively. Rega additionally manufactures their very own phono cartridges who’re designed to work with merchandise just like the Rega Fono MM MK5.

The model does a wonderful job with all of their phono pre-amplifiers, however the Fono MM MK5 is a somewhat good worth in case you are utilizing MM cartridges within the $150 to $500 vary and need one thing that may be very quiet, detailed, and barely hotter sounding than the opposite phono pre-amplifiers on this record. 

The Fono MM MK5 lacks among the transparency and low finish heft of the dearer Moon by SumAudio LP110 V2 — however that ought to be the case when you’re spending a further $150 at this worth degree. Rega house owners already know that the Fono is a strong performer, however these utilizing the 2M Red, Nagaoka MP-110, and Goldring E3 may need to have a pay attention at their native seller.

Reasons to purchase

  • Solid construct high quality 
  • Warmer tonal steadiness, punchy low finish
  • Works very well with entry-level MM cartridges 
  • Excellent tempo

$445 at AudioAdvice | Amazon | Amazon.co.uk

Moon by SimAudio LP110 V2

Moon by SimAudio LP110 V2 ($600)

This very strong piece of engineering presents adjustability for nearly each cartridge available on the market and is lifeless quiet in its operation. The impartial tonal steadiness makes the LP110 V2 preferrred for hotter sounding cartridges just like the Grado Timbre Series or low-output MCs from Hana. Music strikes with a way of objective and the extent of element retrieval is excellent for the asking worth. 

Reasons to purchase:

  • Built like tank
  • Works nicely with each MM and MC cartridges
  • Multiple loading choices for each sorts of cartridges
  • Zero noise
  • Neutral sounding tonal steadiness that makes numerous cartridges sound their greatest
  • Excellent sense of tempo
  • Borscht for the asking worth 

$600 at Amazon | Amazon.ca

Pro-Ject Phono Box DS3 B Silver Front

Pro-Ject DS3B ($799)

Almost 22 years in the past, I invested in a really costly turntable and felt that I had reached vinyl nirvana. I paid an expert $200 to correctly set up the cartridge, setup the desk which had a finicky suspension system, and assist me mount the turntable shelf to the wall.

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My constructing on the time was a pre-war in downtown Toronto that wanted an improve on {the electrical} entrance. Noisy to say the least. 

No matter what I attempted, my turntable setup all the time sounded noisy; floor loop points, fixed hiss, and it grew to become a a supply of melancholy (first world issues). Why trouble spending nearly $8,000 on such a system if it sounded horrible. 

An area seller prompt that I’ve my arm and desk modified in order that I may run a completely balanced rig; which additionally included upgrading to a balanced phono stage. I offered a number of different objects to facilitate the adjustments. 

Extreme? Perhaps. 

But once I listened to the identical data that mattered to me — I used to be shocked by the variations in readability, noise ground, and general dynamics of the sound. 

Does a balanced setup all the time sound higher? Not essentially and I’m not satisfied that each producer who markets “balanced” is de facto providing that. 

Pro-Ject is aware of what it’s doing and the costs on these new phono phases are fairly wise.

Combined with the Pro-Ject X2 B Turntable and Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 — the DS3B balanced phono preamplifier completes a high-end analog playback system that I may dwell with for the lengthy haul.

Reasons to purchase:

  • Superb construct high quality
  • Compatibility with a variety of reasonably priced and high-end cartridges
  • MC/MC adjustability
  • Bold, dynamic, and wonderful decision
  • One of the quietest phono preamplifiers available on the market
  • Price ought to be greater

Where to purchase: $799 at Crutchfield

Related Reading

Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite Turntables

Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite Phono Cartridges

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Editors’ Choice 2022: Wireless Speakers

Editors’ Choice 2022: CD Players & DAC

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