Don’t know what a turntable preamp is or how to use one? We’re the experts on record players, and we can explain turntable preamps to you. It’s not that hard to learn about them if you’reexperienced teachers like us are teaching you.
The signal that emits from the cartridge on a record player is approximately 1000 times lower than the signal that emits from a streaming device or a CD player. To hear music from vinyl through your stereo system, it requires a signal boost. That’s what a preamp does. Whether it is a phono stage or an external preamp, it raises the signal from the turntable to the proper pitch, so that your stereo system or speakers can detect it.
It requires a preamp if you want to hook your record player up to external speakers or audio systems. Don’t have one? Don’t be too sure. You may already have one, without even being aware of it. Some turntables have internal preamps. As do individual components, you might connect to your turntables, such as an amplifier or receiver.
What Does a Phono Preamp Do?
That question usually puzzles even long time record lovers.
A turntable preamp is an audio component that amplifies the signal from a turntable to a higher level to be received by an audio system, the same way it receives any other type of audio signal.
Along with raising the signal, a preamp also applies the RIAA equalization curve to the signal. This keeps the equalization curve in the same shape after amplification, meaning that the sound does not change, apart from being amplified.
The most important thing to know is that a preamp is needed for you to hear your record collection.
Does Your Turntable Have a Preamp?
Some preamps are built-in, and many modern turntables do have a phono stage.
Others do not, so you’ll need a standalone model. Most listeners prefer to use a separate preamp, but whether or not it can make a difference often depends on your sound system’s rest.
How can you tell if your turntable has one?
This can be determined in a relatively simple way. Try hooking your record player up to your audio system or speakers. If the volume level is high, and there are no distortion signs, then your model has a built-in preamp.
Many new record players come with a built-in preamp. But not all self-contained turntables do.
You don’t have to purchase a top of the line model to get a phono stage. You can find many low priced turntables that have one and many high-priced models that don’t.
If you are currently shopping for a record player and plan on connecting it to an audio system like Sonos, a receiver, or speakers, but you don’t want to purchase a separate preamp, make sure the model you buy has an internal preamp.
How Preamps Work
The preamp performs a process on a scale that no other component in the phono audio chain can equal. Instead of just being an added-on component that helps your system run smoothly, it shapes your turntable’s performance and ensures it can work compatibly with your system’s rest.
The turntable preamp adds volume to the output of a record player so it can be received by an amp, which then further amplifies the sound for your speakers. The amount of volume that’s added to the signal by the preamp is enormous.
On the turntable, electric power is applied only to the spinning of its platter. The stylus in the cartridge does not get any of this power.
The stylus is the part that generates a signal from the grooves in the vinyl record through movement. This audio signal is then changed into an electrical signal. But this signal is very weak. Most models have an output of 4 mv.
This is not even close to the audio signal’s strength from other components like a CD player, so it needs to be raised. A basic preamp will raise the signal to an output of 300 mv.
The preamp has a serious job to do and has a significant effect on vinyl playback and your record player’s performance.
Luckily, purchasing a top of the line preamp won’t cost you hundreds of dollars. You can easily find a high-quality, standalone model for around $150.
You can also find units that aren’t as high quality, but that cost far less and still do a good enough job to please the casual listener.
A standalone model comes with its chassis and power supply. They usually are quieter when they run than a built-in preamp.
After adding a preamp, you’ll notice an instant enhancement of channel separation and signal-to-noise ratio. Modern models are remarkably quiet during operation, and the impact they have on playback is impressive.
Two factors determine the type of preamp you require, the cartridge type, and your budget. Your record player may come with a built-in phono stage, in which case you won’t need to select a new one.
Moreover, if your audio system comes with a phono input with a ground screw installed next to it, this means that it has a built-in preamp. If it is compatible with your turntable, you don’t need to buy one separately.
If you need to purchase an external preamp, the main thing you must know is that there are two types: the moving coil and moving magnet.
Moving Coil Preamp
The moving coil preamp is the more popular type because the slow-moving mass allows it to reach a higher frequency. This generates a lower impudence, which means there’s a lower chance of RFI, or radio frequency interference.
However, it is under more stress than a moving magnet preamp and provides a much lower output of only 0.5 mini-volts. It has fewer coil windings and costs much more. Due to the low output, especially about bass frequencies, moving coil preamps require a minimum of ten times more preamp gain compared to the moving magnet variety.
Moving Magnet Preamp
The moving magnet preamp produces a high-end output of about five mini-volts. Thus it needs a lot less gain, and it also costs a lot less. However, the sound quality is inferior.
The preamp is an essential part that deserves just as much care and consideration when you’re shopping for a turntable, as the record player itself. Whether the preamp is internal or a standalone unit, you want to make sure it can deliver the audio quality you desire.
With any audio setup, your system’s sound will only be as good as your signal chain’s weakest point. It’s essential to purchase a good cartridge, stylus, and turntable to ensure that the signal chain gets the best start.
You should also invest in a good preamp to make sure the sound quality stays high after the signal leaves the record player.