For music fans and, more specifically, fans of vinyl, a phono preamp is one of the first things one must get. The device not only enables you to play your vinyl record, but it also helps raise the signal output from the turntable and make it on par with modern amps.
However, due to how difficult and costly it takes to have a good setup, you must find the best-priced components without forfeiting quality, especially an important item, such as the phono preamp. That’s why we’ve compiled a thorough list of the best phono preamp under 500 for you, including buying guides and reviews of each product.
Too Long; Didn't Read - Here are our top choices:
Top 5 Best Phono Preamp Under 500
Pro-Ject Phono Box MM - Best Overall
When it comes to phono preamps, Pro-Ject is a name you can trust. And if you’re on a tight budget, then you can’t get much better than the Pro-Ject Phono Box MM. For something as cheap as this, the features you get to lay your hands on are downright phenomenal!
First thing first, the design of this device is amazing. Although compact and minimalistic in appearance, it’s built thick and can preserve durability very well. This is suitable for those who are looking for something that doesn’t take up space while also built to last.
In terms of sound quality, it has very low noise, practically no distortion, a flat RIAA equalization curve with 60dB of gain (MC), and 40dB gain for high-fidelity performance. You can already see what this can possibly mean, right? Get ready to be blown away with some quality music!
Not only affordable, well-built, and sounding great, but Pro-Ject Phono Box MM’s flexibility is also unmatched, namely its compatibility towards both MM and MC cartridges. It’s made to suit all types of turntables, with its line output feature made for both the MM and MC types of cartridges.
This phono preamp usually has a complaint that its output can be quite low, which can put users off. However, for the price and the many features the phono stage can accommodate, it’s one phono preamp that is still very worth checking out.
- Compatible with both MM and MC cartridges
- Highly affordable price
- Low noise
- Flat RIAA equalization for MM and MC
- No customization
- Low signal output
Cambridge Audio Alva Solo - Best For Sonic Sounds
Any best-of list without the Cambridge Audio Alva Solo is an incomplete one. It is a dedicated moving magnet phono preamp designed to provide a superb sonic experience by utilizing its switch mode power supply and surface mounted circuit board.
One thing that attracts audiophiles to Cambridge Audio Alva Solo is that the preamp has its subsonic filter and balance control, which helps eliminate low-frequency rumbles from imperfections in the vinyls. So even if your records are a bit rough, the Alva Solo will still make it work.
Although it doesn’t quite match the Pro-Ject phono preamp we’ve listed in terms of flexibility, it compensates for this with high-quality sounds. If you’ve used a phono preamp before, then it will take no effort at all to notice the smoothness and warmth that comes with the device.
In general, there’s not much to complain about the Alva Solo besides that it can be a bit unreliable due to its durability issues. But this is likely defective productions rather than something the preamp is inherently plagued with.
- Beautiful design
- Can work with flawed vinyls
- Switch-mode power supply and surface mounted circuit board
- Subsonic filter with balance control
- Durability issues
Nobsound Little Bear T11 - Best For Phono Signal Output
If you’re looking for something that might become a mainstay in a permanent setup, Nobsound Little Bear T11 is what you’re looking for. It is based on the T10, which is also a very good phono stage, but with improvements.
One thing we suppose we should tell you beforehand. This item is a pure tube phono preamplifier that works with MM cartridge turntables only, so ensure that your turntable is equipped with a phono signal output. But among phono preamps with phono signal outputs, it’s possibly the best.
The Little Bear T11 has an amazing gain range of 48dB, one of the highest among phono stages. Not only are you able to produce louder sounds with such a gain, the sound quality is also kept intact. It has very low background noise and more liveliness to its sound performance which is crucial for a good vinyl listening session.
Its design rests more on the bulkier end with tubes pointed upwards, further confirming its usage for the long term and in fixed positions. This is because T11 is a preamp with a conventional phono stage circuit. There are three metal and four acrylic covers for the tubes. You will also be able to choose which type of covers you like as included in the package.
If you can get past the thickset and possibly unpleasant look, Little Bear T11 can be a solid companion to your vinyl experience for years to come. It’s very strong and durable and comes packaged with all necessary tools for a perfect and easy.
- Low background noise
- Low TDH
- Metal and acrylic covers for tubes
- Gain range of 48dB
- Works only with MM cartridges
- Unpleasant appearance
Vincent PHO 8 - Great Durability
The last phono preamp on the list is the Vincent PHO 8 from the famous Vincent brand. This is a big one with big components and will ensure long-lasting benefits as it’s built so strong and thick.
The product's power unit weighs approximately three pounds and you can really feel its heft when holding it. As an additional testament to its durability, both the preamp units and the power supply present an outstanding metal case, an impeccable match for the quality of this item.
PHO 8 has a five-pin din plug that helps connect the preamp to the phono stage unit. This separate chassis is among the primary factors that elevate the phono preamp’s status and make it such a great and adored product. Neat!
Also, its construction is made of high-quality parts to keep low noise. The MM part provides a signal to noise ratio of 84dB or greater, while for the MC part, it’s 71dB ratio. Simply make this a part of your music world, and you can spend your whole day immersing your mind in the lovely tunes of your favorite song without getting distracted by the untasteful mechanical sound.
It’s quite expensive for the features it provides but all and all, it’s still a very good phono preamp that deserves its place in the list and can guarantee optimal performance as well as usefulness for a long time.
- Works with MM and MC
- 84dB signal to noise ratio (MM) and 71dB ratio (MC)
- Very durable with metal case
- Massive transformer and superior power regulation
- Can be overpriced
- Average sound quality
Among music enthusiasts, the Rega Fono MK2 is known as one of the best phono stages. Well, its successor Rega Fono, is even better. With a highly affordable price, this multi-award-winning, high-quality phono preamp is something that all vinyl fanatics can’t miss out on.
The preamp has a construction made for effectiveness and easy usage. Its RIAA equalization has been split into two stages to minimize interactions, with signal paths featuring polyester capacitors for further durability. It has a clean, fine-tuned slickness to its appearance that complements its fantastic performance.
Rega Fono delivers quality and dynamic brand of sound with an output impedance of 200Ω. Furthermore, you can keep the consistency of this sound for precisely as long as you want as it comes with a power button that helps you cut off power more conveniently and easier.
Although it might not be a reach to proclaim that this is the one of the best all-around phono preamp out there, Rega Fono still has some weaknesses, namely its loud power supply, which can hamper music enjoyment. However, factoring in everything else, Rega Fono, for sure, will always be a worthwhile purchase.
- Fine-tuned sound quality
- Durable and easy to use
- Power button on the device
- Signal paths with polyester capacitors
- RIAA equalization split into two stages
- Loud power supply
Things To Consider When Buying
Since the correct info is either sparse or diluted, it’s crucial to have a thorough and clear breakdown of the most important aspects to consider for a phono preamp. Below are some of the things that you must examine first before shopping for preamps:
Types: Determine if the preamp with either MM or MC cartridges, or both
There are three different kinds of phono preamps which you must take note of before buying: MM-compatible only, MC-compatible only and ones that support both types of cartridges.
MM is short for Moving Magnet and MC refers to Moving Coil. Generally, if you look for the type of sound quality that might reach even audiophile levels, a MM preamp is for you. However, MM preamps still provide the best value with its low cost and very decent sounds.
Signals: PHONO (weaker) and LINE (Stronger)
Even among vinyl enthusiasts, it can be sometimes hard to tell the difference between PHONO and LINE signals. And how does it all connect to having a phono preamp?
There are two primary differences between a PHONO signal and a LINE signal. Firstly, a PHONO signal is usually 0.005 volt and that number for a LINE signal is 0.3 volt, which is much stronger. Secondly, with a PHONO signal the lower tones such as bass are much reduced when compared to that of a LINE signal.
Turntables produce a PHONO output signal, and a phono preamp helps convert PHONO to LINE level for higher audio output. Different preamps will have different types of input and will connect to only suitable outputs on the turntable, with built-in preamps typically having a LINE output.
Gain ranges: The gain range points to the amount of amplification the phono preamp can put out
A phono preamp helps increase the gain of the turntable’s output so that it gets into a range that makes it recognizable and receivable. Different phono preamps will provide different levels of gain.
THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): Help predict the sound’s clarity
THD, sometimes called distortion factor instead, is a measurement of harmonic distortion presented in a signal. Phono preamps with higher measurements will generally have more coloration to its sounds, while preamps with lower measurements will sound much closer to the original recordings.
In short, you will want this number to be lower. When you shop for a preamp, this should be one of the first things you take a look at.
Package: Each phono stage have different cables and adapters, which must be taken note of
- More to consider: Best Receiver for Turntable to Consider for Your Hi-Fi System Setup
As with almost anything, one can’t assess something unless one tries it out For music fans and audiophiles alike, vinyls are still something of a commodity for the ‘elites’. However, it doesn’t mean that those who enjoy vinyl records spend wildly on necessary equipment, or should they be. Therefore this list of the best phono preamp under 500 will be something really worth taking a look at.
Thank you for reading.
*Table's last update on 2021-10-14. Information is from the Amazon Product Advertising API. They're accurate as of the date and time indicated and are subject to change.