What’s The Best Phono Preamp? (REVIEW)

If your turntable doesn’t have an integrated phono preamp, then you’re going to need an external one. Even if there is an integrated phono preamp, they’re usually not that great. High-end turntables often eschew them completely. If it’s possible for you to turn off the preamp and use an external one, this is the best way to go for a superior sound.

With so many options to choose from that range from less than a $100 to well over a $1000, it’s hard to figure out which one you should get.

A good rule of thumb is that whatever your turntable cost, you shouldn’t spend more than that on your preamp.

Having the world’s best phono preamp won’t magically transform a cheap, low quality turntable into an audiophile’s dream machine - but a bad preamp can completely wreck the tone of a great turntable.

We love turntables here at Zing Instruments, check out some of these articles on the best audiophile turntables and the best cheap turntables!

At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Phono Preamp On The Market

Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.

Buyer's Tips: What to look for when buying the best phono preamp

  • What kind of cartridge is your turntable equipped with? Not all phono preamps can handle both MM and MC cartridges, so you’ll have to make sure you get the right kind. If you can envision yourself upgrading your rig later on, then it’s wise to consider the fact that you might change cartridge types
  • Some phono preamps allow you to adjust the tonal qualities before it hits the speaker, allowing you to compensate for a weak bass or thin sound
  • Take note of the impedance. A phono preamp will need to have an impedance that’s matched to your turntable. Analogue record players typically have a low impedance output, and you need to have a preamp that has an impedance rating somewhere between 5 to 10x higher

Ok let's look at each product in more detail. To make things easier for you, we've added pros and cons for each one, as well as a video demonstration so you can see them in action. So without further ado, let’s take a look...

5 Best Phono Preamp​

1. Rega Fono Mini A2D

Rega - Fono Mini A2D MM Phono Preamp & USB A/D Converter

A basic, budget friendly phono preamp. It forgoes anything fancy and simply does exactly what you need it do.

  • Provides a good level of amplification without much distortion or colouration
  • Has a USB output for digitizing your vinyl collection
  • Very cheap, making it great for newbies to the vinyl world
  • Doesn’t have any fine-tuning capabilities
  • Not compatible with moving coil cartridges

2. Pro-Ject Phono Box (Budget Choice)

Pro-Ject Phono Box MM DC Phonograph Preamplifier,Black

Like the Rega Fono Mini A2D, this is a highly functional and spartan phono preamp that delivers good sound quality without breaking the bank.

  • Smooth and compact design
  • Dynamic performance in all frequencies ranges
  • Simple to use, simply plug in and go
  • Doesn’t support moving coil cartridges
  • Like the Rega Fono it doesn’t have any fine tuning options
  • Poor customer support in case of damage even when within the warranty period

Let's take a look at this product...

3. Rega Aria (Editor's Choice)

REGA - Aria MM/MC Phono Preamp

The Rega Aria represents a good balance between high quality and cost. It’s not a professional device, but for hifi demands it’s one of the best phono preamps you can find without emptying your savings account.

  • Supports both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges
  • Has various options for moving coil cartridges so that you can match the impedance, adjust the gain and alter capacitance
  • Very responsive, able to handle dynamic shifts easily
  • All of the cartridge loading controls are awkwardly placed at the back
  • The controls themselves must be used manually, rather than by remote
  • Needs to be broken in before it reaches its best quality

Let's take a look at this product...

4. Clearaudio Basic Plus

Clearaudio Basic Plus MM/MC Dual-Chassis High-Performance Phono Preamp, Silver Basic+

A highly transparent phono preamp that uses a minimalist design to look good and as an integral part of its high quality output.

  • Compact design limits the loss of quality caused by longer signal pathways
  • Gold plated RCA input and outputs
  • Supports both moving magnet and moving coil designs
  • No fine tuning controls
  • Can’t adjust the impedance
  • For such a simple unit the Basic Plus can seem overpriced

Let's take a look at this product...

5. McIntosh Labs C47 Control Center Stereo PreAmplifier

McIntosh Labs C47 Control Center Stereo PreAmplifier

A versatile preamp that allows you to plug in just about any kind of audio equipment.

  • Able to handle moving magnet and moving coil designs, and also has inputs of various different types for non-analog sources as well as multiple analog inputs that impart different tonal qualities or complete transparency
  • Not just for casual listening, this unit is fully capable of being used in a professional setting and can easily function as a hub for a home audio system
  • Front panel control placement make it easy to use
  • This is a professional piece of equipment, so it’s likely to be overkill for the average home setup, even a high end one
  • It’s quite large, so you’ll need to have enough space for it

Let's take a look at this product...

So Which Is The Best Phono Preamp?

We’ve covered a pretty broad budget spectrum with these phono preamps. No matter how much you’re willing to invest into your audio system, you can be sure that you’re getting the best phono preamp for your needs.

The first thing to consider before you decide which preamp to go with is whether you having a moving magnet or moving coil design on your turntable. If it’s a moving coil, the Rega Fono Mini A2D and Pro-Ject Phono Box will be no good for you. If you have a moving magnet design, then it’ll be down to budget. If your turntable is entry level to mid-range, then you won’t need anything more advanced than the Rega Aria.

If you want a simpler experience but want absolute transparency from your preamp, then the Clearaudio Basic Plus is an excellent choice - but the high price seems a little over the top.

And finally, if you’re looking for a true professional piece of equipment that can handle much more than just RCA inputs, then the McIntosh Labs C47 Control Center Stereo PreAmplifier is an excellent starting point for working purposes.​

Image Credits:​

Featured image source: Alan Levine / CC BY-SA 2.0


Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

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