Choosing a turntable preamp can be difficult for a beginner to the task. Although there are fewer preamps on the market than, say, cartridges, they are less discussed in reviews and on forums and therefore difficult to distinguish.
Please refer to this page to discover whether you actually need to worry about choosing a turntable preamp. If all is well, then read on!
Choosing a Turntable Preamp: Features
As phono cartridges are generally either moving magnet (MM) or moving coil (MC), preamps must cater for the two different signals. It’s common for a preamp to be able to deal with either one or both of these. Inexpensive preamps are often MM only, as MM cartridges are the cheaper of the two designs. In the middle of the road are the MM/MC phono preamps to match the cartridge range in the middle of the market, and at the higher end most phono preamps are MC. Decide what you need to match your cartridge. Many people will own a moving magnet cartridge and are happy with them, which is fine. Others may own a MM cartridge but are considering upgrading to a MC at a later date, in which case buy a MM/MC phono pre.
Some preamps also have various settings that can be fiddled with. The most important of these are the ability to adjust loading. This refers to the impedance that your preamplifier provides. Cartridges are typically loaded at 47K ohms but changing this can sometimes improve the sound of a cartridge. Some people say the Shure M97xE sounds better at about 62K ohms, for example. This can be done using resistors, but is much easier done with a turntable preamp. Adjustable gain is also useful for fine tuning the balance of the components plugged in to your amplifier/receiver.
I generally ignore most specifications when choosing audio components, instead preferring to go off the recommendations of other reviewers and respected audio nerds.
Choosing a Turntable Preamp: Sound
Sound is a difficult thing to decide upon when buying audio products. If adding a turntable preamp for the first time, a well-balanced system can change, and not to the listener’s tastes.
The ability of a phono preamp to alter the sound of a system can also be a good thing though. If you think your system sounds too relaxed, too bright, too narrow or any such things, a phono preamp can ‘fix’ that. As always, if it’s possible to audition audio components from a local shop before buying, do so. Things can sound different in a shop as well, so the holy grail of component testing is to test a few in your own home with your own system. Many specialist audio shops are willing to do this as they understand the importance of it.
Choosing a Turntable Preamp: Budget
Budget should always be the most important factor when choosing a new piece of electronics – even if it does somehow get stretched by a few hundred dollars every single purchase. The lofty price range of audiophile preamps, which will set you back 800 dollars or more, frequently produce sound that is exceedingly honest. The philosophy of many vinyl audiophiles is that the turntable and cartridge’s sound should be pretty well uncoloured by any other components as it makes its way towards your speakers.
This can be a great philosophy, but only as long as the rest of your system stands up to the task as well. There’s no point buying an expensive
Personally, I think that spending about half as much as you spent on your turntable is a fair estimation of how much you should spend. This doesn’t necessarily apply to vintage turntables due to their fluctuating prices.
When choosing a turntable preamp, first decide how much you want to spend, then look at whether you need any extra features and whether you need MM or MC inputs.