Phono Preamp Reviews: The Top 5 Phono Preamps Under $500

An outboard phono stage can dramatically improve vinyl sound. These 5 phono preamps are excellent value for money for entry level audiophiles.


Our phono preamp reviews are aimed to assist a budget conscious vinyl lover in making a decision on which preamp to purchase for a relatively affordable price. Under $500 can be considered as the cheap end of the market in terms of phono preamps. Although there are phono preamps for under $100 available, these units will not provide much more than the standard integrated preamp in your turntable or amplifier.  If you have a vintage turntablebut a modern amp, this is the one scenario where a very cheap preamp might be suitable in order to just let you play vinyl. This is because modern amplifiers do not contain phono inputs (99% of the time, anyway) and old turntables need to have their sound preamplified before reaching the amplifier/receiver. These phono preamp reviews recommend preamp that will provide you with an improvement in sound, and often a surprisingly large one. Built in phono preamps often do not do the sound justice.

Should I Be Reading These Phono Preamp Reviews?

These phono preamps are probably worth purchasing if you have turntables that cost somewhere around the $300 to $1000 mark. The lower end of the Pro-ject, Music Hall and Rega range, or good quality vintage record players are about the sort of standard. Note that preamps are included in some modern models, which will do for creating sound. An outboard phono preamp is only required if you want to improve it further.

On To The Phono Preamp Reviews!

Clearaudio Nano

#1: Clearaudio Nano The appropriately titled Clearaudio Nano is a tiny little metallic box that packs excellent value for money. Clearaudio have clearly aimed to provide as many features as possible for the money, having created a phono preamp that takes both moving coil and moving magnet signals. It includes a subsonic filter to eliminate the low end mechanical noise created by the turntable, and a headphono output which allows headphones to be plugged directly in to the preamp. At around $400, the Clearaudio Nano is an excellent choice if you desire a natural, honest sound with good separation of instruments. It’s not as punchy as some other models.

#2: Pro-ject Tube Box II Not content to dominate the turntable market, Pro-ject have been manufacturing phono preamps for the last few years as well. The Phono Box is their cheapest offering, and the Tube Box II is the 3rd iteration of their Tube Box model, with the Tube Box SE actually being the second. The Tube Box is excellent because, well, it’s a tube preamplifier. A real rarity in today’s solid state dominated market. The Tube Box II is fully adjustable, although the adjustment itself can be a little tricky. People have very few negative things to say about this excellent number from Pro-ject. If you enjoy the tube sound, go for it. As is often the case in audio, it seems to match well with turntables by the same manufacturer.

phono preamp reviews

Jolida JD-9

#3: Jolida JD-9 Tube Phono Preamp Yay, more tubes! The Jolida doesn’t have the same flashiness of the Tube Box II, but it comes similarly superbly reviewed. The Jolida’s presentation is extremely detailed to the point of being a little too detailed for some ears. If you’re concerned that your current setup is a little too chilled out, inserting the Jolida JD-9 will definitely spice things up.

#4: Musical Fidelity V-LPS This unit is at the bottom end of the price range for our phono preamp reviews, but nonetheless a very worthy inclusion. At a bit under $200, the Musical Fidelity V-LPS is astounding in its ability to draw out the entire frequency range.  It has both moving coil and moving magnet inputs, which is always welcome. I understand that the older model (MkI as opposed to MkII) was only for moving magnet cartridges, so make sure you check if buying second hand. This phono stage should be purchased by the budget conscious audiophile, perhaps to go with a Pro-ject Debut III or similar.

#5: Cambridge Audio Azur 651PThe Cambridge Audio Azur series have a fantastic reputation. Their matching amplifiers are also excellent. Their phono offerings provide laid back sound, so choose this if you prefer a relaxed feel to your music.. The 551P is also available for less cost. If considering buying a brand new system, the CAmbridge Audio Azur 651P with its matching amplifier is an outstanding choice.

Conclusion

Other honourable mentions include the Lehmann Black Cube and Rega Fono Mini, but in terms of value for money these 5 deserve to be on our best preamps under $500 list. Of these phono preamp reviews, my two winners would have to be the Clearaudio Nano at the more expensive end, and the Musical Fidelity V-LPS at the cheaper end. After reading these phono preamp reviews, decide what suits your budget best and buy accordingly.

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