In this article, we’re looking at the best phono preamps you can buy for your turntable in 2021. The phono preamp is a key component of your sound system, but finding the best one is not easy. People often forget how vital it is, and overlook this component.
A phono preamp may also be referred to as a phono stage. It’s basically a high-quality (normally) electronic circuit. It can be set to give the right level of amplification to the signal provided by the cartridge within your turntable, before sending this to your speakers, or power amp.
Below, we’ve created some phono preamp reviews for turntables to help you enjoy the best sound possible.
Here are the best phono preamps 2021:
- Soundsmith MCP-2 MkII
- Cambridge Audio Alva Solo
- Bellari VP130 Mk2
- ART DJPRE II
- SPL Phonos
- Vincent PHO-701
- Music Hall Mini
- Fluance PA10
- Parks Audio Puffin
- U-Turn Audio Pluto
- Behringer PP400
1. Soundsmith MCP-2 MkII
The best phono preamp you can buy in 2021
The Soundsmith MCP-2 preamp might sound pricey to start with, but many of the preamps out there cost far more. This is a hand-made product to keep the quality high.
Instructions for setup are pretty simple and easy to follow. It comes with the DC power supply you need and everything is contained within the aluminum case to protect the high-end components.
The THD (total harmonic distortion) is extremely low, and noise levels are incredibly low, leading this preamp to be compared to some models twice the price.
The MCP-2 has variable loading between 10 Ohms and 5K Ohms. You can match this value up to your system for the best results for your listening.
If you need your turntable far away from the preamp, the cables can affect the capacitance. Luckily, this can be addressed by an upgrade changing the output impedance to 50 Ohms. This means that your high frequencies don’t go missing in your setup.
The crispness of the high end and audio fidelity make this a high-end choice with a professional sound.
|Image credit: Soundsmith Check Amazon||
For a preamp that performs above and beyond its price tag, even though it costs thousands, it’s worth considering the value offered by the Soundsmith MCP-2 MkII.
2. Cambridge Audio Alva Solo
The best phono preamp under $200
As you’ll see from this list, the prices can vary hugely between products. If you’re looking for an affordable phono preamp, that still offers high quality, the Cambridge Audio Alva Solo could be a good option.
One of the great things about this preamp is the fact it doesn’t include a ‘wall-wart’ power supply. This is something a lot of people try to avoid due to the fact it can cause extra hum, and it just isn’t convenient.
It creates a great stereo stage, and the surface-mounted components within the casing, on the circuit board, means low noise levels. The casing itself is aluminum and steel, so this gives good protection for those sensitive parts.
|Image credit: Cambridge Audio Check Amazon||
Though not for ultra-fussy audiophiles, the Cambridge Audio product can offer good performance for the money.
3. Bellari VP130 Mk2
A good value phono preamp
The Bellari VP130 Mk2 is a relatively inexpensive, affordable option for your turntable setup, with some excellent features and top-quality sound. There’s a caveat, though.
We should mention from the outset that the power supply included can give some unwanted hum. We recommend replacing it to get the excellent features of the VP130.
A shock of red in the casing is a cool design feature, but this is never the priority when reviewing audio products.
The things that make this viable for our list of the best phono preamps is the fact it offers very low THD (just 0.02%) and does an incredible job of livening up the sound. Users report hearing far more fizz in the high-end. This is a great companion for your turntable.
|Image credit: Bellari Check Amazon||
In the price range, this is a good option. It’s not what most would call ‘cheap’, but it offers high-end sound, just as long as you replace the power supply on the Bellari VP130 Mk2.
4. ART DJPRE II
The best cheap phono preamp under $100
Not all of us are looking to spend huge amounts of money on our preamps. A turntable system can quickly get very expensive.
The ART DJPRE II has good features at a low price point. It is a perfectly good option if you are looking for a phono preamp under $100.
It can play audio from sound cards, DAWs or other sources as well as your turntable. There is an option for capacitance which is unusual for this price.
Other features include gain control, which has an LED light showing when it is clipping. There’s a high pass filter that removes any rumble at very low frequencies, which can help with bassy sounds.
|Image credit: ART Check Amazon||
Generally, it’s fair to say this is not going to give you audiophile, high-fidelity sound, but for the price tag, it is hard to find a reliable preamp. The DJPRE II does a good job for those building a cheaper system.
5. SPL Phonos
The best high-end phono preamp
If you’re happy to invest a little more in your preamp, something like the SPL Phonos will be right up your street. It’s not stupidly expensive (compared to some other preamps) and it offers a huge amount of features, and customization.
The Phonos can use either MM or MC cartridges as the source of the sound, this is adjustable with a simple switch.
As you can see if you look at a photo, capacitance and impedance, as well as gain, can be altered with the simple flick of a button or turn of a knob. It also has an EQ curve that has been designed to improve the audio clarity.
What we really love is the ‘Voltaire’ tech that the brand has made. This means it can use a really high voltage that increases the dynamics and leads to far more clarity.
|Image credit: SPL Check Amazon||
For impact on the sound, the SPL Phonos is hard to argue with. Not the cheapest, but a fantastic option due to the Voltaire technology.
6. Vincent PHO-701
One of the best phono preamps under $1000
The Vincent PHO-701 phono preamp is a good choice for those looking for something under $1000. Some high-tech features make this a popular choice. It is one of the best tube phono preamps for those who enjoy the warmth of a tube sound.
This is a follow-up to the PHO-700, which was a decent preamp, but the features added include the option to adjust the pick-up cartridge. It works with MM and MC and there are DIP switches to make adjustments to customize to suit your input.
We really love the USB functionality. If you don’t have a record player that can do USB archiving, the Vincent PHO-701 will allow you to do this.
The preamp is a little big and bulky, but it has a very good resolution and low THD.
|Image credit: Vincent Check Amazon||
For great sound and USB compatibility, and value under $1000, it’s worth looking into the Vincent PHO-701.
7. Music Hall Mini
The best mini phono preamp
Don’t have a lot of space? You can buy some affordable and high-quality mini preamps. Don’t expect the highest fidelity, but these kinds of preamps can still provide a big upgrade from not using a preamp, or some inbuilt preamps.
The capacitance of this amp is 120pf and it offers 42 dB gain. Though there are no controls to change gain or capacitance, it doesn’t matter too much if you are just looking for a preamp to boost your sound system.
The features are a little basic, but this is to be expected at the price point. The hum and noise levels are low, though, and the sound doesn’t suffer.
|Image credit: Music Hall Check Amazon||
Most people are in agreement that this preamp does outperform its price tag, and if you need a portable setup, or just don’t have the most space in your home, the Music Hall Mini could be an option.
8. Fluance PA10
Another great choice under $100
There are a lot of options under $100, so choosing the best phono preamp in this budget was difficult. The Fluance PA10 has a lot of great reviews, and though it is big and bulky, we are very happy to recommend it.
The amplification is reliable, and it meets the RIAA standard with EQ that give a rich sound and highly accurate representation of the sound.
It cleverly uses individual channels for the left and right speakers, this means no crosstalk and is something not often found at this price. You can select whether to use a low cut filter that gets rid of the very lowest frequencies, this can stop rumble.
It’s pretty well-built, for the price. This means metal shielding to avoid interference and noise from electronics.
Like many of the inexpensive phono preamps, it lacks a little in controls over capacitance, for instance.
|Image credit: Fluance Check Amazon||
If you don’t mind the fact that this will take up a bit more space in your home, the Fluance PA10 is worth considering for a budget phono preamp.
9. Parks Audio Puffin
Excellent adjustable phono preamp
If you are the sort of audio lover who likes to tweak and perfect the sound then the Puffin by Parks Audio could be a good option for you. It comes in under the $500 mark, and offers a huge amount of options for this price.
The tone knobs are easy to adjust, and there are 12 EQ settings designed to be different based on whether you are listening to early LPs, 78s or modern vinyl.
Other controls include 20 different gain settings, and adjustable EQ (bass and treble). There are even high and low pass filters. What all of this means is that as well as being a good preamp, this model is basically a tiny mixer, too. You can adjust with a set of knobs and get the ideal sound for your needs.
|Image credit: Parks Audio Check Amazon||
If you want to listen to a wide range of vinyl and still get the most out of the sound, it is hard to argue with the Puffin. There are so many controls!
10. U-Turn Audio Pluto
Great stainless steel housing
The U-Turn Audio Pluto is an option for those who want an inexpensive phono preamp, but prefer one that has excellent housing. The reasons for this are clear, a stainless steel case such as the one that is used with the Pluto preamp means that interference is less of a problem than it may be in some of the competing options.
The circuit design seems well-made, and the components are decent enough in quality, though you aren’t going to see this on many high-end DJ’s record players. For home audio, it’s a good choice.
The THD is low, and there’s even a filter for inaudible low sounds that can stop rumbling. A WIMA film capacitor gives clarity to the sound.
If you need something that is simple, with ‘lug in and go’ capabilities, then it is worth going for a preamp like this. It offers a fairly good level of faithful sound reproduction. Keep in mind, it only works with MM models of cartridge.
|Image credit: U-Turn Audio Check Amazon||
This is aimed at the casual listener and home audio enthusiast. If you want an upgrade from the model of preamp included with your turntable then the Pluto could be a good option. Plus, the steel housing blocks out interference brilliantly.
11. Behringer PP400
Cheapest phono preamp worth buying
In some audio tech circles, the word ‘Behringer’ is a curse word. This is harsh on the brand, who offer cheap audio tech in a huge variety of categories, including the cheapest phono preamp reviewed.
It’s true that Behringer products can be hit and miss, but we’d call the PP400 a ‘hit’. It’s affordable, and can enhance an inexpensive record player and boost the signal significantly. Not on the top-end of the market, but for home audio enthusiasts on a budget.
The functionality is basic. Ins and outs are both RCA and TRS, perfect for connecting to a turntable. There’s a 3-year warranty on offer by Behringer, which is more than reasonable for such a cheap product.
It’s worth noting that this is not going to blow your mind! If you are an audio enthusiast then you may expect a little more from your turntable preamp, but actually, for an affordable option, the PP400 does a decent job.
|Image credit: Behringer Check Amazon||
We don’t advise pairing this with a high-end turntable as it won’t do it justice, but for a budget setup, and the cheapest preamp that is passable in quality, we do like the Behringer PP400.
So, there we have it, phono preamps can make a big difference to your stereo setup and greatly improve the power and clarity of a turntable.
The prices of the best phono preamps can vary hugely, as you will see in our reviews, but we’ve included options on a low budget and for elite audiophile listeners. It’s a case of matching up your needs and preferences to you budget. One of the options above should be perfect for you.
Ben is a writer, musician and former studio engineer from the UK with qualifications including music technology. A self-confessed audiophile. Ben can also play multiple instruments. He has worked in recording studios in the East of England, and written about all aspects of music equipment and the music business, as well as production and engineering.