Best Home Audio Phono Preamps in 2020



Pro-Ject - Phono Box S2 (Black) Review:


Love this, especially the fact that I can modify the capacitance. I bought some LC-1 Blue Jean cables here, very low capacitance. I only had a modified Cambridge 640p in which I removed the 220 capacitors for an Audio Technica cartridge to lower the capacitance down to AT's liking - but needed a bit higher for my Ortofon 520 cartridge. I only have a MMF 5.1 turntable, so I didn't want to spend as much or more on a phono preamp. This fit the bill perfectly and I can say it outperforms its price range - at least I think so.



Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 Phono Preamplifier - Black Review:


I have to start with...I'm certainly no audiophile. This is my very first turntable since I was a kid (U-Turn Orbit Plus) - and definitely my first tube preamp. I'm running U-Turn Orbit Plus ->Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 -> AudioEngine A5+ speakers.

Now, I was/am very happy with the built-in Pluto preamp. The system sounded great to begin with. But I just had to try a tube preamp. (I'm a guitar player...I like tubes...sue me). I only compared the Pluto to the Pro-Ject once - very early on. And frankly, it didn't sound much, if any, better than the Pluto to me. For that very reason...it's simply not worth $400 to me. However, all that being said, the Pro-Ject, now, sounds just fantastic to me. Perhaps it was tube burn-in. Perhaps it's all psychological. But it sounds great!

I did change the tubes to new production Mullards immediately. Didn't even try it with the supplied tubes.

Regarding sound: You'll see this in many reviews - the bass is fantastic. Deep, rich, room-filling. But not overdone. I can't say, "I'm hearing things I never heard before!" That's not the case at all. But it just sounds good.

I'm running it at 40db (was originally at 43db, but backed it down). Also have the Subsonic filter on. With my Ortofon OM20 stylus, I've got it at 220 pf and that seems to sound best to my ears. (You'll have to read up on the pF settings based on your particular set-up/slylus, etc. Very cool that you can customize to your preferences). I have very short cable runs. (Mogami cables - one 2549 and one 2534 - I think).

Bottom line, I really don't know that it's worth $400 to me. But I have to give it a great review. The system sounds great! If you've got an extra $400 burning a hole in your pocket - and you're not 100% sold on your current preamp - I'd say go for it.



Vincent PHO 8 Phono Stage MM/MC Outboard Power Supply Silver Review:


UPDATE 10/7/2017::: Since writing this review, I had the opportunity to purchase and audition the $300 Lounge Audio MKIII. Like the Vincent Pho 8, it is a $300 Phono Stage. This MKIII a game changer - it DOES offer compelling enough value for me over the $130 Schiit Mani --- so much so that the Mani has been relegated to woodshop duty (yes, I have a TT in my woodshop... yeah, first world problems.) The MKIII is now top shelf in the HT.

Oh, and it goes without saying that I feel the Lounge MKIII is better than the Vincent Pho 8... in fact I am going to make a bold statement and say it blows it away. But do your own research, the MKIII gets rave reviews everywhere, except for one eccentric individual in Singapore who used to have credibility in my eyes until he slipped up and misjudged the MKIII. But then again, maybe he got a "bad one" or was having a bad "ear" day..... or maybe his setup just didn't agree with the MKIII.... that does happen with phono stages, what works well on one setup croaks on another. I can't understand how he is the only one on the planet who didn't think the MKIII offered compelling value for $300.

In the end, if I had a choice to buy the the Vincent for $300, Mani for $150 or the Lounge MKIII for $300 the choice is simple - give me the MKIII all day long. In fact, so much so I bought a SECOND MKIII recently, and also bought the Lounge Copla for my MC cartridges. Don't believe me? Try it for yourself - once you see the build quality, listen to it you'll be sold too. To me the Lounge is the "sweet spot" for pirce to value in phono stages for those wanting to spend less than $750.
END UPDATE

ORIGINAL REVIEW OF Vincent PHO 8:
Whether the Vincent Pho 8 is a good choice or has a good price to value ratio with all of the choice that exists for phono stages - well, only you and your own ears (and wallet) can ultimately answer that.

But what I can say is that I currently own this phono stage, along with a Schiit Mani and a Radial J33. I will also say I recently returned a Cambridge Audio 651 because I did not feel that for $200 it offered any compelling improvement over the $130 Schiit Mani, or for that matter the $200 Radial J33. (Note I have a review of the Cambridge 651 also).

I could take a few paragraphs and attempt to share with you what I thought MY ears heard with the Vincent, and how it stacked up - but this time I am going to make a long story short. In summary, I don't think this $300 Vincent stage offers any better sound over the $130 Schiit Mani either. That is what my ears found after MANY hours of listening. At times I would play the same album twice on the two different stages to help with my impressions.

I know the Vincent has a great reputation, and rightfully so. It is still probably one of the top 10 in my opinion of stages under the $500 price point. Just because I think the Mani is a better price to value, and is in the same class audibly does not by any means make this a bad stage. Is the Mani better? That is up to you and your ears. I think they are in the same class musically, and don't think one is any better or worse than the other. However, price point is quite different. In some ways the Mani has created a real problem for a lot of phono stage manufacturers today in the under $500 crowd.

Thanks for reading.



Schiit Mani Phono Preamp for MC and MM Cartridges Review:


I own a Denon AVR-1300W receiver. Since its an A/V type it doesn't come with a phono, aux input for a turntable out of the box. I've been jonesing for some sort of pre-amp for about a year now (the 1300W replaces the absolute POS Onkyo TX-NR626 that I got off of Woot!). The TX-NR626 had the inputs for analog devices while the Denon has only 2 sets but more than what I needed.

The other constraint in my thinking about purchasing a preamp for phono was to either get something that could handle both MM and MC phono cartridges. My SL-D2 has a Shure M97E cart now but someday I fantasize about getting an MC type cart if I ever make the big-time (lol).

If you do some research there are a lot of cheaper options that perform well but are all mostly MM type preamps and not for both. There are some Tube designs on the market too that are interesting but I didn't want something that would burn my kids if I accidentally left the thing on.

One evening I found an article on a Project TT that some guy rebuilt and used this brand: Shiit which piqued my interest so I went to their site and checked out the Mani. The Mani model is quite affordable especially compared to brands like Cambridge etc that are out of my reach. At $149 bucks I know that there are some compromises, such as no DAC but for me, there's the law of diminishing returns vs. cost. Considering my hodgepodge setup my SLD2 sounds amazing playing Jazz/Classical/Rock... Great value for money!

Simple setup, plugin TT, new cable to AV1300W
Construction of Mani is amazingly substantial, quality case materials look like it'll last quite a while
Adjustable gain for MM and MC dirt simple to manipulate.



Music Hall Mini MM Phono Pre-Amplifier Review:


This was the 2nd preamp I bought for use with my relatively new Sony STR-DN840 and Technics SL-B350 TT, as the first one I purchased performed as poorly as its price was cheap: the Pyle PP999, for which I think I paid USD $20 or less. It just didn't bring the sound level up to what I I remember having from my old 1991 Kenwood reciever which had a dedicated phono input. The Music Hall Mini phono preamp looks and feels like a much better unit, and the sound level and quality difference is just what I was hoping it would offer! Also, it is made in the USA! (unlike any of my other audio components, except for maybe the Bose satellite speakers).
The Music Hall Mini was very easy to set up and is a most welcome addition to my home stereo system. Small in size, but big in value is my description, and the sound quality from my vinyl is again deep and rich. I haven't seen many reviews for this unit online, which compelled me to share my findings with you audiophiles who are looking at preamps for less than $USD 100 and want a quality, American-made unit to help get the most out of your vinyl collection.



Parasound Zphono MM/MC Phono Preamplifier with USB Review:


This unit provides the versatility I need to enjoy and transfer my 78's, LP's, cassettes, Reel-to-Reel and video tape audio to the digital domain - all in one unit. It may only output CD-quality sound, so a "True Audiophile" might not be impressed, but for anyone who would love to hear and digitize their old analog recordings once again it is a dream come true! I have one output hooked up to my home theater system and the other to my computer. In addition, I can plug my headphones in directly so there is only the Parasound and my 'phones between my source and my ears. The result is remarkable. My daughter has started buying new-release vinyl because it puts anything she can download to shame. My source equipment is old, but is still worth a lot on the used market and beats anything you can buy today for under a grand in any format. Together with the Parasound Zphono with USB, it is making evenings a lot more enjoyable as we rediscover and share the greatest music of the last 100 years!



Fluance PA10 High Fidelity Phono Preamp (Preamplifier) with RIAA Equalization for MM Turntables/Vinyl Record Players Review:


I decided to purchase this product after a lot of research and not knowing a lot about Fluance. I was thoroughly impressed by their YouTube video about having two discreet chips for left and right plus being true to the RIAA curve. I hooked this up between my Gemini direct drive turntable and Yamaha receiver and all I can say is WOW! My vinyl sounds great and I’m hearing a dimension I never heard on CD or MP3. I can hear highs and vocals that aren’t on the MP3 or CD recordings. The preamp looks great with its wood grain look, subtle Fluance text etched into the front, and unobtrusive LED front indicator power light. I’m truly impressed and I recommend this for those of us who have good gear, need something that’s going to sound great, and from a company that puts a lot of technical capability into its products.



Yamaha RX-A880 Premium Audio & Video Component Receiver - Black Review:


During the past 10 years I was very underwhelmed with the last three receivers I purchased. This time I decided to go with a higher end (for me) receiver (The Yamaha RX-A880) and I am not disappointed. With lower end receivers (less than $500), I was unable to achieve the sound I wanted. But the RX-A880 delivers. It has the power to drive the speakers without distortion during the loudest part of the music. Lower end receivers just can't deliver the power needed to drive my speakers (Polk audio) correctly. With prior receivers, I could turn the volume to max level, and I was not blown away. With this receiver, I do not think I have been able to go past half way on the volume level. Very impressive. (I like my rock and roll loud.)

I do have a few complaints that prevent me from giving 5 stars: I wish it let you define meaningful descriptions for the inputs which are displayed on-screen while switching sources. It is often hard to find the source you want. Second, they need to do a better job on documentation. It is very important to tell the system your speaker layout. That needs to be in bold and clearly described. Last, when switching sources, it takes longer to sync up than I would expect. I would like instance sync/display when switching between sources.

I would give 4.5 stars if I could. It's almost perfect.



Turntable Lab: Rolls VP 29.TTL Phono Preamp - Turntable Lab Edition Review:


Impressive sound quality considering it's price class. I had been using the Behringer PP400 and the Rolls VP29 TTL runs circles around it!!! Definitely a "warmer" and more inviting sound. Prior to using the Rolls VP29 TTL, I had to apply a generous amount of EQ to achieve the warm sound I was looking for. With this phono pre-amp, I flattened out the EQ, sat back and enjoyed the music. With a VERY low noise floor (nothing discernable to my ears), I can recommend this to those audiophiles on a budget.



Nobsound Little Bear T7 Vacumn Tube Mini Phono Stage RIAA MM Turntable Preamp & HiFi Tube Pre-Amplifier (Black) Review:


I was hesitant to buy this because of the overzealous recommendation by the Seller to ground this to an earth ground, water pipe or metal window.
I simply connected the ground on my SL-1200 MK2 Turntable to the provided ground on the Little Bear, and the hum or lack thereof was non existent.
The Little Bear output was more than adequate for my Vintage Teac Receiver CD input, and the Seller has (supposedly) added the ability to increase/decrease gain with a trimpot on the PCB. I say supposedly , because I did not find it necessary to do so, and did not open up the Little Bear. The Chinese 6j1 tubes sounded fine, (a spare is provided), but you can experiment with Soviet 6J1 P-EV matched pairs, or GE 5654W matched pairs among others, if you are searching for a "Sweeter" sound. The build quality appears solid, the aesthetics are appealing, the audio is pleasant and for $50+ you can add a tube preamp to your audio system.