If you want your amp and turntable to play correctly, you will need to get the best tube phono preamp that you can. Here is our best.
by Helen Appling | Updated:November 17, 2020
As you may know, the greatest vinyl playback is never the easiest to get. In fact, we can say with confidence that record players need the same kind of care we give to musical equipment. Thus, to get the best sound, you need to provide your vinyl rig with at least a preamp.
Of course, there are cases where a turntable has a preamp built inside it. However, we have realized that these pre-built preamps are not durable or precise. Hence, if you are interested in getting the most natural and appropriate sounds, getting the best tube phono preamp is the best solution.
Why Is Phono Preamp A Must-Have?
First of all, we need to understand how phono preamps work. So, what we call phono stage preamplifiers are autonomous analog devices that will improve the signals the record player receives. After this boost, these signals will become a line-level outgoing signal, which is strong enough to reach the input of power amplifiers.
Phono preamps of the higher end can offer you impeccable control over numerous vital parameters like gain, impedance, and capacitance. This feature is especially advantageous for people who deal with huge music catalogs covering various ears. After all, the more control you can gain, the better the sound will become.
As a result, your vinyl rig will be finely tuned, and believe us when we say that there is no competition to a proper vinyl rig. To be precise, vinyl rigs leave DVDs and digital playbacks in the dust when we talk about audio warmth, width, depth, etc.
Reviewing The 5 best tube phono preamps
Little Dot MK2 Tube - Best For New Users
If you want a preamp that can balance useful features and superb sound quality, look no further. To tell the truth, the Little Dot MK2 Tube Preamp is undeniably great with sound quality. Also, the audio it produces has a clear, ballsy, and wide nature, something lots of preamps lack.
From what we have seen, we can say that it is the best fit for people who have just started out. Basically, the capability of driver tube rolling in the factory jumper setting lets newbies test their limits with less repercussion.
Furthermore, the Little Dot MK2 has options such as driver tube rolling, capable of hitting EF95, CV4010, M8100, 6JI, etc. Additionally, while others can only do something like this in weaker modes, the Little Dot MKII can handle driver tube rolling in the factory jumper setting. Hence, if you are new to vinyl, you can be less scared of messing up while experimenting.
However, the tubes are not of the best quality possible, so you may encounter some difficulties while tube rolling. Thus, we recommend getting some other tubes to replace them if you want to experiment.
Clear, ballsy, and wide audio
Many options for driver tube rolling
Capable of tube rolling in factory jumper setting
Rockville BluTube 70W - Best For Warm Sounds
The adjustable bass will offer you a unique audio experience, as it will make your vinyl sound fuller and warmer. Thus, we recommend the Rockville BluTube as the best fit for someone who is more interested in warm audios than pinpoint accuracy.
Besides, as you can see from its name, the Rockville BluTube 70W Tube Amplifier is no simple preamplifier. While other products only focus on their preamp nature, the Rockville BluTube ventures beyond, providing us with a multi-function device and distinct sound quality making it even more worthy of an investment.
Specifically, the preamp itself has audiophile-grade tube amps, coupled with Bluetooth access for good measures. Also, the tube amps will not hard clip in any situation, even while dealing with high volumes, ensuring you have the greatest listening experience. As an extra touch, their efficiency is just through the roof, so you can get even clearer and more serene sound.
One minor issue though. This device works like a charm in every single aspect, but its precision is a little bit below expectations. Having said that, it will not affect your experience that much.
Great frequency response
Adjustable bass and treble
No hard clipping, even with high volumes
Not as precise as other options
Fosi Audio Phono Preamp - Best For Smoothening Sound
The Fosi Audio Phono Preamp is the best for people who like to smoothen the sounds. It can convert phono signals easily to line-level signals using specialized low-noise circuits. You should not underestimate these specialized circuits, as they are very effective in removing low-frequency noises, clearing the sound quality.
In addition, there are three available switchable modes for gain: 39, 42, and 45dB. Truthfully, these adjustable levels are there to offer you as much customizability and compatibility as possible. With this feature, you get entry-level analog sound that can compete with high-end stuff.
Also, the audiophile-grade tube amplification modules give outstanding performance thanks to the Low-Noise Audio Operational tech. Additionally, the tube preamp has a 3.5mm AUX input so that you can get input sound at the highest quality possible. Consequently, you will get the smoothest sound out of the vinyl record.
On the other hand, the tubes are undeniably low-quality, so they are not that great when it comes to getting high-frequency sounds.
Replaceable vacuum tubes
Free RCA cables
Three adjustable gain modes
Focusing too much on the simple design
SUCA-AUDIO Tube-T1 - Best For True Sound
The SUCA-AUDIO Tube-T1 will provide you with a unique acoustic and experience thanks to its realistic, sweet and dynamic tube sound. In fact, using the Tube-T1 preamp can improve the tone, richness, and details of your music, as it can easily clean out the impurities.
Also, as we all know, being able to change tubes means the quality of the 3D sound in specific situations will improve significantly. Regarding this matter, the SUCA-AUDIO Tube-T1 offers you a simpler time replacing the tubes, which is hardly the case of several products from the same range - in other words, its competitors.
Furthermore, there is no difficulty connecting this item to your iPod, phone, or even computers due to the RCA cables. Also, RCA cables help you get a much more versatile sound editing experience with lossless audios.
Of course, we do not say that the SUCA-AUDIO Tube-T1 is faultless. In truth, it’s reception and handling of audio frequency is not ideal, to say the least.
Unique acoustic experience
RCA cables making it easier to connect
Far from ideal frequency response
Pro-Ject Tube Box S Phono - Best Premium Phono Preamp
There is no word more fitting for the Pro-Ject Tube Box S Phono PreAmplifier than “premium”. Despite not having the most audacious design ever, the Pro-Ject Tube Box S more than makes up with its incredible quality.
For instance, this preamp is undoubtedly among the most versatile, as it not only has an adjustable subsonic filter but also three switchable gain levels. Thus, you can freely customize your sound in accordance with your preference.
Besides, the preamp itself is made from high-quality polypropylene, so you can be sure of its durability. To be more specific, it can handle high volume sounds regularly, which can easily be the death of several devices which were not fortunate enough to be constructed out of decent components.
However, as you might have probably foreseen, the cost of this product is way out of many’s price range. But come to think of it, you cannot possibly think that something of premium quality will be dirt cheap, right?
Highly durable materials
No standby button
Cartridge is, no doubt, the most vital thing you need to consider before making a phono preamp purchase. Essentially, only phono preamps with cartridges that are of the same type to the cartridge in your turntable will work.
For instance, a turntable that has a moving magnet (MM) cartridge can only work with a phono preamp with a MM cartridge.
We are sure that you must have heard of the term “capacitance” being thrown around at least once during vinyl enthusiasts’ conversation. However, being a new member of this world, there is a high chance you do not get what it means and why it is so important
So, capacitance describes the measurement of signal characteristics such as resistance or load. To put it in simpler terms, excessive capacitance almost always changes the sound for the worse. This is due to incorrect loads acting as sudden equalizers or filters, producing resonant peaks.
All in all, the general rule that we all need to pay attention to is high capacitance value at the phono stage’s input means a duller and darker audio signature. On the other hand, low capacitance value will lead to a distorted and overly-bright signal.
At the end of the day, most of us have to take into consideration our budget whenever we want to decide on a new purchase of the best tube phono preamp. Thus, we believe that the Little Dot MK2 can fit the need of the majority of vinyl enthusiasts. After all, it is indeed a combination of affordable price and incredible quality.