Turntables and record players are making a comeback thanks to our love of authentic, retro sounds as vinyl has seen a real resurgence into the popular market. However, setting up your turntable isn’t as simple as plugging it in and pressing play. One of the essential components in your turntable setup is a phono preamplifier.
The phono preamplifier, or preamp for short, is responsible for boosting the signal from your turntable so that you can listen to it through your sound system much like you’d listen to your CDs or even your Spotify playlist on your smartphone. It’s a very standard device, but can see you spending lots of money if you don’t know what you’re looking for. In order to help you to complete your turntable setup, we’ve put together a list of the best phono preamp under $500.
What is the best budget phono preamp under $500?
How do I choose a phono preamp?
Before buying your new phono preamp, be sure to do your due diligence and research the features that you are going to need in order to turn your audio sound experience into an audiophiles dream setup.
MM versus MC support – Moving magnet and moving coil are the two cartridge types that you’ll find in most turntable devices. The MC cartridge is very low output, and if your preamp can’t pick up sounds that low then you’ll find that your experience will be lacking. Be sure to pick a preamp that works with the type of cartridge found in your turntable.
Vacuum tube or digital – Vacuum tubes are the traditional turntable style, and with them you’ll experience the rich, warm sounds that you remember from decades past. However, more modern users may not appreciate the nuances that come with this technology. If you prefer a cleaner sound, be sure to choose a digital preamp rather than the vacuum tube models.
Can the preamp work with CD players? – In general, your preamp will not work with a CD player as the signal sent from these devices is very high. If you plug it into a CD player you’ll find that your preamp will be damaged. However, if you want this functionality, you will find that some digital models are able to support sounds at this level.
Form over function – If you have an already established turntable setup then you need to buy a preamp that will fit into this system seamlessly. Some preamps are built to go into a rack or stack system, whereas others are freestanding. Be sure to know which type you need before you buy one so that you’re not disappointed.
Check the connections – The biggest disappointment you’ll experience is setting up your new preamp and realizing that you don’t have compatible connections and ports. Be sure to check your existing system so that you’ll have everything you need to enjoy your records as soon as you get your preamp.
10 Best phono preamps under 500 reviewed
It is now time for you to enjoy a superb sonic experience that hails from your favorite record collection. It has been designed with a state of the art switch mode so that it supplies power to the unit. The new surface-mount circuit will ensure better performance.
Subsonic filter: It has been designed to work even when they are a little worse for wear. The filter and balance control will eliminate the low frequency rumbles so that you don’t suffer from imperfections.
Has a headphone amplifier: There has been a 6.35mm headphone jack that you will put directly into the phono stage so that you will be able to have listen to your audio in private if you need to. The headphone has been integrated and it means that there is no need of turning on your amplifier to power headphones
Power consumption: You won’t be worried of the cost implications that will come with the longer usage of the system because it just uses 10W. That’s manageable and you might not even realize its energy consumption.
Designed with a switch mode power: It is able to deliver short signal paths with a faster response. When these work all together, you can be a user that you will enjoy a faster response and eliminate or bar background noise.
- lighter weight of 2.1 lbs
- designed with an overload margin
- has a nice fit and a solid feel
- input labels are well indicated
- headphone can be amplified
- Power not enough for its sufficient working
- Background noise not completely restricted
Summary: This is able to ensure that the short signals are delivered in a better manner. To make it work better, the faster response and owner background noise makes sure you don’t hear even a hum when you are enjoying your music.
For the audiophile on a budget, you can’t go past the Technolink phono preamp. While you might think that the lower price equates to a lower quality product, you’ll be happy to know that this isn’t the case for this preamp.
High level of connectivity: Though you might want to listen to your vinyl collection, your setup is probably a bit more technologically evolved these days. Therefore, it’s important for your phono preamp to be able to interface with your more modern gadgets. The USB output on this device allows you to do just that.
Compatible with the most typical setups: In line with the most typical and common of turntable setups, this phono preamp is compatible with moving magnet phono setups. However, while it isn’t officially supported for use with moving coil cartridges, it can handle any higher output device with ease.
Low signal-to-noise ratio: Turntable setups are notorious for delivering that signature vinyl crackling sound. While it may be a sound you can deal with, modern audiophiles might want to find a way to reduce this background noise. The Technolink preamp is whisper quiet, reducing the amount of extra noise you’ll experience.
- Moving magnet compatibility with the ability to be used with high output moving coil cartridges
- USB output so you can connect your turntable to your compute
- Excellent customer service from Technolink
- Solid and sturdy device with little heat generation
- Budget friendly so it’s available for any user
- Very slight hum noise may be evident
- You may experience interference on certain frequencies from outside devices
Summary: Get hold of this set of earbuds and enjoy your music without any undue interruptions. If you have small children in your household, the tangle-free cords shall come in handy.
Producing sound output is one thing. Making sure that that sound output is received audibly by the intended audience is yet another thing altogether. To be able to enjoy the higher audio output, you have no choice but to invest in a pre-amplifier. None other than the Schiit Mani assures you the high level of flexibility you need.
Awesome Construction: By all accounts, this preamplifier comes about in awesome construction. It comprises the 0.5% thin-film resistors and precision 2% film capacitors. On account of this wonderful construction, this gadget manages to deliver low noise gains and exceptionally audible sound output. All these at the comfort of your own home.
Consistent Sonic Performance: Thanks to the unparalleled structures and construction above, this preamp yet again manages to give you consistent sonic performances. Of all the vital aspects of this performance, the super low-noise stands out. You will indeed experience limited background effects and interferences with your recording. This definitely means better and more reliable sound output.
Four Switchable Gain Modes: To make your recording and sound outputs all the more richer, the appliance does consist of four switchable gain modes. These are the 30, 42, 47, and 59 decibels respectively. Together, they give you the freedom to select the kind of rating which may be relevant to your recording, as much as possible.
RIAA Network: In closing, the gadgets are also compatible with the RIAA network. For this reason, its audio output is passive, quiet, accurate, and very clear. By opting to have it enhance your audio signals, you will enjoy the benefit of not having to contend with undesirable background noise and effects.
- Usable with many kinds of cartridges
- Made of high-quality components
- Exceptionally accurate
- Manages low-noise performances
- Flexible enough to move about and engage easily
- Too complicated to a starter
- Limited compatibility (pairs with quite a few gadgets)
- May not work well in certain voltage ratings
Summary: Though this preamp has its own share of shortcomings, it is still a reliable way of handling sound amplification feats. You want to give it some try and luck, don’t you?
The Puffin phono preamp was a long awaited offering from Parks Audio, and in no way did it disappoint! With a sleek, mature design and wide range of settings, it will match an system to deliver amazing sound.
Tilt functionality: The biggest feature of the Puffin phono preamp is the tilt functionality. With the ability to boost the treble whilst cutting the bass, or vice versa, you get full control over the way you experience your sound.
Digital sound control: While many preamp models boast vacuum tubes, there is something to be said for digital sound amplification. Not only will you have a finer control over your sound, but it allows you the flexibility of working with a variety of inputs.
Able to handle many EQ settings: Built for vinyl purists, the Puffin preamp is able to handle a wide range of older style vinyl EQ settings. From 78s through to the more modern LPs, you can listen to your records without worrying about fussing around with the sound settings.
- Supports a gain range of -4dB to 72dB
- Is able to support turntables as well as CDs and more modern devices
- Tilt tone control allows for easy sound adjustment
- 12 phono EQ settings
- Digital sound control allowing for more flexibility
- No vacuum tubes which may disappoint some users
- On the expensive end of the spectrum
Summary: The Parks Audio Puffin is a great option for users who want a high end sound experience along with the ability to support a wide range of sounds. Not only is it flexible enough to allow for a wide gain range, but the tilt control will ensure you will get the most out of your new preamp.
If you’re a purist, then you’ll want your preamp to match the retro feel that you get from your vinyl collection. So what better way to compliment your setup than with the Bellari tube phono preamp.
Tube based audio precision: The Bellari is built with a vacuum tube design so that you’ll experience great audio response and precision. The tube delivers a warmth to the sound that you can’t get with digital units.
Gold plated transformers: Bellari really brings the bling with this model. The transformers are coated with 24 carat gold, which allows for superior dampening from interference whilst maintaining the sound you’re looking for.
Built in headphone amplifier: How better to experience your music than through headphones? Not all preamps are built with headphone support, but the Bellari is designed to allow you this added flexibility. This means you can listen to your music without disturbing your loved ones.
- Beautiful red design with a solid build
- Vacuum tube preamp for rich warm sounds
- Designed for use with moving magnet and high output moving coil cartridges
- Strong in the midrange sound frequencies
- Built in headphone amplifier for added flexibility
- Not very strong in the high frequencies
- Some users may experience a hum
Summary: The Bellari phono preamp is a great little device that can really take on the more high end options at a great price point. Not only is it fun and sounds great, but it allows you the added functionality of using headphones.
Pro-Ject are known for making quality audiophile gear, so it’s no surprise that we see them for the second time on this list. This affordable preamp delivers the quality you’d expect with the ability to work with any cartridge.
Switchable subsonic filter: In order to allow you maximum flexibility, this unit features a switchable subsonic filter that allows you to alter your sound experience as necessary. This is very helpful for music with super low frequencies.
MM and MC compatible: Not all preamps are built to work with any cartridge, but this model allows you to easily switch between moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. This way you can experience great sound no matter what the system you use.
High quality in a simple unit: The Pro-Ject Phono S Box preamp is designed with simplicity in mind. So you’ll find that it is a simple box featuring control switches underneath. That is not to say that the sound quality is simple, in fact you’ll find that it’s quite the opposite.
- Compatible with moving magnet and moving coil cartridges
- Four adjustable gain levels allow for cartridge matching
- Super small but sturdy design
- Very deep bass response for rich sounds
- Very affordable for any budget
- The switches are very small and can be hard to use
- The timing may seem a little off
Summary: If you’re after high quality and rich sounds but are working within a tight budget, the Pro-Ject Phono S Box preamp will allow you to experience the sounds you expect from Pro-Ject but at the price you want to pay. Though it is a simplistic design, it is ready to support any turntable setup.
The Pro-Ject tube box preamp is an offering for those who want a high end solution for their turntable setup. Stylish and modern with exposed vacuum tubes, this model is built to perform a job without complicating things with too many extra features.
Vacuum tubes: Nothing sounds better than the combination of a turntable with a vacuum tube preamp. A signature of high end audio equipment, vacuum tubes enable the free passage of the electrical signal, enabling a rich and full sound.
Improved turntable inputs: Rather than use run of the mill inputs, the Pro-Ject Tube Box S equalizes the voltages generated by your turntable in order to enable a fully three dimensional soundscape. In fact, there is one tube per each of the input channels which means you get improved separation and imaging.
Designed for flexibility: You can use a turntable that utilizes either a moving magnet or moving coil cartridge design. This allows you to properly match any setup design you have in mind. Not only that but you can also personalize your sound through the range of gain settings so that you can get the most out of your system.
- Noticeably less hum than other models
- Very sturdy build and design
- Sleek, modern, silver design with exposed vacuum tubes
- Switchable input which allows moving magnet or moving coil design
- Adjustable gain levels for added flexibility
- If the unit overheats then you’ll find your music skipping
- High cost compared to other models as it is a high end unit
Summary: The Pro-Ject Tube Box S phono preamp is the perfect device that will take your turntable setup from amateur to audiophile in an instant. Not only does it deliver a rich, full sound, but it has a modern, contemporary look.
Intending to tackle some low noise recordings? Well, this is the preamp to lay your hands on. It is specifically designed up the audio quality of low sounds. Then again, it is particularly awesome for the moving magnet cartridges. A host of features does combine to make this gadget a good one to choose from.
Top-notch Quality: A blend of elegant circuit design, high-quality components, and subsonic filters do contribute to making this preamp a unique and good piece of electronic to lay your hands on. These features jointly eliminate low noise frequency to make your recording spik and spun. Chances of suffering untold distortions are hence completely eliminated.
Precision Resistors: Next, come the precision resistors and the WIMA film capacitors. These two parts and components work hand in hand to give you sound output that is completely devoid of any distortions. In doing so, they let you enjoy limited, if any, ambiguities. This is definitely a good gadget to choose for those recordings which require no compromise.
Stainless Steel Enclosure: All these wonderful parts and components are enclosed in some stainless steel materials. Due to the tough and resilient nature of the stainless steel, you may be sure to enjoy the benefit of prolonged and uncompromised use. This is not to mention that you will spend less to care for and maintain your gadgets.
Compact Dimensions: Rounding up its most outstanding features is the compact dimensions. Indeed, the preamp is compact and slim enough to carry around smoothly. This means two things. One, you will enjoy the benefit of limited clutter in your room. Then, matters to do with transportation shall also be a breeze.
- Handles many sound frequency ranges
- Easy to assemble
- Comprises tough components
- Backed by excellent customer service regime
- Endures the test of time
- Takes longer to give off the required ends
- Needs some expertise to handle
- May not work well in certain weather conditions
Summary: There you have it! For your low noise recordings, no other preamp guarantees the same level of reliability as this one. Do go for it as a matter of priority!
Emotiva are one of the world’s premier audio manufacturers, and they take first place on our list with the XPS-1 phono preamp. Combining technical performance with superior quality for your analog sounds, this option is affordable and functional.
High quality gold plated connections: The quality of the connections will ultimately determine how you experience your sound. For that reason, Emotiva have used quality gold plated brass RCA connectors which deliver a great signal-to-noise ratio whilst eliminating distortions and outside interference.
Low power consumption: Phono preamps are typically built to be plugged in and left on, but this may not sit well with an energy conscious user. Thankfully, the XPS-1 has a very low idling power consumption rate which means you can relax and enjoy what really matters – the music!
Compatible with MC/MM phono setups: This preamp is flexible enough to work with any phono setup, regardless of the design. If you have a phono with a moving magnet cartridge, which is the most common type, then this preamp will handle that fine. However, if you have a moving coil cartridge, which often requires a higher level of amplification, this preamp also has you covered.
- Strong, rugged metal case that will help shield outside noise
- MM/MC switch which handles any sort of phono cartridge design
- High quality gold plated brass RCA connectors for high quality sound
- Easy to set the gain or cartridge type using toggle switches on the case
- Easy to fine tune the sound experience
- Inputs and outputs are on opposite sides of the case which you may not like
- The power indicator is extremely bright
Summary: The Emotiva XPS-1 phono preamp is the perfect sound solution for a user who wants high end quality without breaking the bank. Not only is it sturdy and reliable, but it delivers superior sound with the ability for tuning and customization.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Toroidal Little Bear preamp is the look. With exposed transformers nestled inside a clear box, this preamp will not only give you the sound you want but looks awesome too.
Assemble the device: There aren’t many preamps around that will let you take an involved approach to setting them up. The Toroidal Little Bear requires assembly before use, allowing you to get your hands dirty and upgrade components if you want to.
Enjoy buzz free music: Thanks to the ability to switch out components, you have complete control over the vacuum tubes that are mounted within the device. Therefore, you can simply enjoy your music without having to worry about the buzz that comes with low quality tubes.
Enjoy a wide sound stage: We know that the quality of the sound is the most important aspect, and the Little Bear delivers a super wide sound stage with amazing imaging. The result is an amazingly vibrant and rich sound that will satisfy your senses.
- Beautiful design with a slight glow when in use
- Rich and vibrant sound with a wide sound stage
- Upgradable modular design so you can install new components as necessary
- Hum free sound thanks to the quality components
- Easily one of the best quality offerings at the price point
- Assembly required, so is not quite plug and play
- The vacuum tubes that come with it may not be up to the quality you’re expecting
Summary: The Toroidal Little Bear preamp is a beautiful, eye catching and strong performer that delivers a great sound at a low price. The ability to upgrade components is easily one of the best features of any device on this list.
The Final Words (Summary)
Turntables are making a huge comeback these days and your vinyl collection is likely the envy of many. In order to enjoy it at the maximum level, you need a preamp that will boost the quality of your records without adding distortions that distract from the music. There are many styles and types of preamps out there that will do the job, but knowing the intricacies and features of each will help you to boost your experience. We hope that our guide to the best phono preamp under 500 dollars has helped you choose your new preamp.
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