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Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

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Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end
(Image credit: Vertere)

Best phono preamps Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best phono preamps you can buy in 2021. 

A phono preamp (aka phono stage) raises your turntable's output to make it compatible with modern amps. At the same time, it adds standardised equalisation. 

So why do you need one? Your turntable either doesn't have one, in which case you won't be able to play records without one. Or maybe you just want to upgrade its sound beyond what's possible with the built-in preamp.

As with many product categories, models span all kinds of price ranges. But whether you're looking to pinch pennies or break the bank, we've got a phono preamp for you: we've drawn on our extensive reviews back catalogue to pick the best around right now, so you can be sure that you're buying quality.

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

1. Rega Fono MM MK3

Without doubt the best phono preamp you can buy for the money.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: No
Line level in: 1
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 45 x 178 x 140mm
Reasons to buy
+Detailed, spacious performance+Fine handling of timing and dynamics+Updated, sleeker design
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing

The Rega Fono MM MK2 was one of the finest phono stages available, so to say expectations were high for its successor is a bit of an understatement. Thankfully, it meets them and then some. The design has been fine-tuned within an inch of its life, making for a much sleeker product that retains the winning simplicity of its predecessor. The Award-winning sound of the MK2 now has a greater dynamic range and greater clarity, making an already fantastic performance even better. The best sound-for-pound phono preamp around.

Read the full review: Rega Fono MM MK3

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

2. Cambridge Duo MC/MM

A fantastic-sounding, feature-packed phono preamp.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 2
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 48 x 215 x 159mm
Reasons to buy
+Full-bodied, warm presentation+Times well, good dynamics+Looks lovely and is a treat to use
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks some punch

Well this is certainly a looker. With an offset volume dial, minimalist styling and mirrored rear labelling that's easy to read even if you're peering over the top of the unit, it's clear a lot of thought has gone into this device. And no less attention has been paid to the audio quality. The presentation is very good indeed, being spacious and cohesive, while the sound is dynamic and the timing spot-on. It doesn't quite match the Rega Fono MM MK2, but it certainly holds its own, which makes it certainly worthy of consideration.

Read the full review: Cambridge Duo MC/MM

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

3. Edwards Audio Apprentice MM

For such an affordable phono stage, this has bags of musicality.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: No
Line level in: 1
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 47.5 x 160 x 114.5mm
Reasons to buy
+Decent amount of detail+Good timing and dynamic range+Knits music together well
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing at this price

Great-sounding sub-£100 phono stages are rarer than hens' teeth, so it gives us great pleasure to see another entrant in the field. Sure, it's small and fairly basic looking, but every effort has been made on the innards: they give sufficient body to a song's vocals without overloading it with bass. It has a great sense of timing, too. One of the best budget phono preamps around.

Read the full review: Edwards Audio Apprentice MM

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

4. Rega Fono Mini A2D

Still one of the best phono stages around at this price.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: No
Line level in: 1
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 30 x 102 x 125mm
Reasons to buy
+Musically excellent+Bags of space and detail for the price+Ability to rip vinyl
Reasons to avoid
-Not much to look at

Over half a decade since its debut, this is still one of the finest sub-£100 phono preamps money can buy. Tracks are served up with lashings of zest and enthusiasm, along with a side serving of musicality and dynamics. And because it has a USB out, you can also use it to digitise your vinyl collection.

Read the full review: Rega Fono Mini A2D

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

(Image credit: Moon)

5. Moon 110LP v2

A solid entry-level phono stage with a musical sound.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Inputs: 1 x pair RCA
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 4.2 x 12.7 x 16.5cm
Reasons to buy
+Smooth, refined presentation+Spacious stereo imaging+Impressive build and finish 
Reasons to avoid
-Less convincing with moving coil cartridges

It doesn't have the snappiest of names but the 110LP v2 does a fine job of improving your vinyl performance. The neat aluminium box is finished to Moon's high standards and is switchable, meaning it's capable of handling both moving coil and moving magnet cartridges. 

Provided you keep it away from other mains powered products and power cables, this phono stage will prove suitably quiet and hum-free. Features are basic but it's clear that Moon has focused on the bit that counts – sound quality.

As such, the Moon 110LP v2 is one of the best phono preamps of its kind at this price. It works particularly well with moving magnet cartridges, dishing up a smooth, fluid and refined sound with satisfying punch. If you’re in the market for a quality affordable phono stage, this little box is well worth auditioning.

Read the full review: Moon 110LP v2

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

6. Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator

Despite improved competition, the Gram Amp still stands the test of time.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: No
Line level in: 1
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 130 x 210 x 155mm
Reasons to buy
+Class-leading detail+Brilliant timing+Expressive sound
Reasons to avoid
-Not the last word in weight or punch

Another oldie but still a goodie, the Gram Amp 2 holds its own a full five years after first coming on the scene. And you can see why - simplicity is the name of the game here, an approach that ages remarkably well. It's a moving-magnet phono stage with one set of inputs, one output, no bells or whistles. Sound quality is first rate: fantastically detailed, with the upper register particularly impressive. There's also an optional PSU1 linear audio upgrade, a 24V DC brick that evens out the variations from a household power supply. It will cost you a bit more, but if you want to elevate this already excellent budget model then it's worth it.

Read the full review: Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

7. Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS

Musical Fidelity's engaging phono amp deserves to be heard.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 2
Remote control: No
Finishes: 2
Dimensions (HxWxD): 46.5 x 172 x 197mm
Reasons to buy
+Open, full-bodied presentation+Fluid dynamics+Ace vocal performances
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks some punch and drive

Catering for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges is a rarity at this price, and doing so with such aplomb is even rarer. This has bags of features - some of some might be overkill, but this phono stage still performs with plenty of gusto. Its delivery is impressively spacious and full bodied, with plenty of bass. It's not quite the best at this price range, but it's certainly up there.

Read the full review: Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

(Image credit: iFi)

8. iFi Zen Phono

An ambitious, clean-sounding entry-level photo stage.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 1
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 3.5 x 15.8 x 11.7cm
Reasons to buy
+Clean, detailed performance+Well balanced+Lots of features 
Reasons to avoid
-Not class-leading timing

The iFi Zen Phono is a welcome edition the ranks of decent, entry-level phono stages that make your records sound clean. In fact, you'll struggle to find anything that does a better job, clarity-wise, at this price.

As you'd expect from a company with solid reputation in this sector, the iFi Zen Phono is well-built. It's suited to moving magnet cartridges, but can handle moving coil too. It's also worth noting that the balanced circuit design reduces noise and crosstalk – a feature less common at this end of the market.

The main attraction here is the sound. It's clean but never drifts into the realms of clinical. If the aim of the game is to reproduce each note, having perhaps given it a little polish, Zen Phono wins hands down. Balance is spot on, too.

This product doesn't offer the same level of enthusiasm and dynamism found in a few of the options listed above, but we can't help but fall for its honest sonic character. For that reason, it's well worth auditioning.

Read the full iFi Zen Phono review

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

(Image credit: Chord)

9. Chord Huei

Chord’s experience shines through in this fine phono stage.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 1
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 4.3 x 16 x 7.2cm
Reasons to buy
+Clear and composed sound+Impressive build+Neat design
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks a little dynamism

Chord's excellent DACs might steal a lot of the headlines, but let's not forget the company makes analogue amplification. This phono preamp looks and feels the part, with single-ended stereo RCA connections for input and output, plus a balanced   XLR output. Setting up is a bit fiddly, and there's a wide range of adjustment to get acquainted with, so we'd recommend having the instruction manual close to hand.

As long as you own a suitably talented turntable, you'll get good results from the Huei. There's a nice overall balance to the sound, a good level of insight and am open, stable and welcoming stereo image. It's not quite as dynamically expressive as the top performers at the money, but it's a solid performer that should be taken seriously.

Read the full review: Chord Huei

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

10. Rega Aria

A phono stage of rare quality.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 2
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 78 x 220 x 340mm
Reasons to buy
+Excellent insight+Plenty of punch+MC loading adjustments
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing of importance

File this one under rugged rather than elegant, though it's well-made and built to last. It handles both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges too, so it's more versatile than many. The sound is responsive and agile, as you would hope for the price, but it's the sense of composure that really sets it apart from lesser units. A fine all-rounder that deserves to be paired with a suitably talented turntable.

Read the full review: Rega Aria

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

11. Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL

Generous features, superb sound and a little flavour of the truly high-end.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 1
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 53 x 220 x 215mm
Reasons to buy
+Impressive transparency+Articulate and agile presentation+Impressive build and finish
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing at this level

This is a very convenient device indeed, with very easy-to-use controls. Thankfully that's far from its only strength - sound is wonderfully transparent and detailed, digging up low-level instrumental strands and sonic textures with ease. There's a fluidity to it that makes rivals seem mechanical by comparison. And it doesn't hold back when it comes to bite and attack. A superb balance of attitude and refinement.

Read the full review: Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

(Image credit: Rega Research)

12. Rega Aura

Rega's premium phono stage is one to savour.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: No
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 0
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 88 x 435 x 350mm
Reasons to buy
+Dynamic and entertaining presentation+Impressive detail resolution+Terrific build
Reasons to avoid
-Lack of choice in equalisation curves-Not compatible with moving magnets

Rega as a brand tends to focus on the more affordable end of the hi-fi market, but when it decides to go big the results are usually spectacular, as the Aura phono stage proves. This is no Swiss Army knife device, being devoted to get the most from moving coil cartridges only. Those with moving magnets will have to look elsewhere.

That’s not as much of an issue as it might appear bearing in mind that most cartridges likely to be partnered with the Aura will be of the appropriate type. Once the cartridge is optimised with the correct electrical loading you’ll find that the Aura will allow your record player to sing, delivering a sound fully of excitement and drive. Rarely have we come across such an entertaining performer. The Rega Aura isn’t cheap, but in a suitably talented system it’s worth all that money and then some.

Read the full review: Rega Aura

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

(Image credit: Vertere)

13. Vertere Acoustics Phono-1 MkII

One of the finest phono stages we’ve heard at the price.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: n/a
Remote control: No
Finishes: 4
Dimensions (HxWxD): 55 x 210 x 360mm
Reasons to buy
+Dynamic, entertaining performer+Impressive resolution+Rhythmic coherence+Good range of adjustments
Reasons to avoid
-Simple appearance-Lacks bling value

You couldn't say the Vertere Acoustics Phono-1 MkII is much to look at, but if you're in the market for a phono amplifier anywhere near £1000 you need to audition one. It's a brilliant performer for the money, with a useful selection of features and adjustments, which should help you get the most from any cartridge. Its detailed, musical delivery makes it a joy to listen to.

Read the full review: Vertere Acoustics Phono-1 MkII

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

14. Cyrus Phono Signature/PSX-R2

A quality phono stage for high-end turntables.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: No
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 3
Remote control: Yes
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 73 x 215 x 360mm
Reasons to buy
+Balanced, insightful sound+Expressive dynamics+Rhythmically surefooted
Reasons to avoid
-Remote poorly marked-Display contrast is poor off axis-Front panel buttons feel vague

A remote control makes fine-tuning the sound as easy as changing the TV channel. Or at least it should - while a welcome innovation, the remote could be more clearly marked, as only a handful of buttons actually operate the phono preamp. Or Cyrus could have made a separate remote altogether for this unit. But there are plenty of inputs, the sound is seriously talented and it comes bursting with texture and insight. Highly recommended.

Read the full review: Cyrus Phono Signature/PSX-R2

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

15. Pathos In The Groove

Not Pathos' usual design statement, but a superb unit nonetheless.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 1
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 70 x 200 x 260mm
Reasons to buy
+Refined sound+Cartridge loading adjustments+Fine build and finish
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing

Pathos is known for its striking designs, so we were a little disappointed to see its In The Groove. A bit conservative, no? Still, you can't deny it feels like a premium piece of kit. It sounds great too - there's a sweetness to the presentation, and the balance is fluid and full-bodied. It all adds up to a versatile phono preamp that will do you proud with lots of different systems.

Read the full review: Pathos In The Groove

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

16. Aesthetix Io Eclipse

Only suitable for the high-end systems, but this is one of the very best.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 3
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 141 x 441 x 450mm
Reasons to buy
+Natural, informative sound+Exquisite design and build
Reasons to avoid
-Needs care in use-Lacks flexibility-Takes up loads of rack space

£17,000 for a phono preamp? It might be crazy money, but then this is a crazily good unit. The sound is out of this world, providing you pair it with some worthy turntables, that is. The midrange is beautifully layered, the treble full of insight and its ability to convey low-level dynamic shifts is truly mesmerising. If you want one of the very best, this is for you.

Read the full review: Aesthetix Io Eclipse

Best phono preamps 2021: budget to high-end

17. Burmester 100 Phono Preamplifier

A top-class phono stage with a price tag to match.

Specifications
Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Line level in: 1
Remote control: No
Finishes: 1
Dimensions (HxWxD): 95 x 482 x 345mm
Reasons to buy
+Fluid, dynamic, informative sound+Modular nature+Superb build
Reasons to avoid
-Lack of choice in equalisation curves

Switching between moving magnet and moving coil cartridges is as easy as flicking a switch on this, which is welcome, as pricey kit isn't always so user friendly. It boasts pretty much every feature on our wish list, including a bundled test record to fine-tune the balance. And the sound? It packs plenty of punch, but without compromising the warmth we've come to associate with Burmester. It's every inch as good as you would expect for £9,000.

Read the full review: Burmester 100 Phono Premplifier

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  • listenandyouwillsee
    Best phono pre amp Rega Phono MM MK3 !!! REALLY!!! obviously no one at What Numb Nuts has heard the sublime Shiit Mani. It blows the Rega MM MK3 into next week I know I've had the Rega and now listen to the Mani. But it doesn't even get a mention, serious loss of respect for the reviews and revievers here now.
    Reply
  • jdej541943
    listenandyouwillsee said:
    Best phono pre amp Rega Phono MM MK3 !!! REALLY!!! obviously no one at What Numb Nuts has heard the sublime Shiit Mani. It blows the Rega MM MK3 into next week I know I've had the Rega and now listen to the Mani. But it doesn't even get a mention, serious loss of respect for the reviews and revievers here now.


    Hi there!! I had the Rega for about a year , then the Mani came out it was $99 so i took the plunge. I could not believe it!! The Mani blew out the Rega by a mile . Everything improved so much from Hi to Lows. I owned a Clearaudio Champion II with an Audio-technica 150mlx. Thats the problem with reviews from magazines that are bias to USA products. Have you seen a Magnepan in recommended review in British HiFI magazines?
    Reply
  • Belerofon
    jdej541943 said:
    Hi there!! I had the Rega for about a year , then the Mani came out it was $99 so i took the plunge. I could not believe it!! The Mani blew out the Rega by a mile . Everything improved so much from Hi to Lows. I owned a Clearaudio Champion II with an Audio-technica 150mlx. Thats the problem with reviews from magazines that are bias to USA products. Have you seen a Magnepan in recommended review in British HiFI magazines?
    Well, i don't think it's bias. British are one of most brilliant manufactures in case vinyl or music industry. IN case of rega aria. Aria is in her price tag great phono and multi award winner so no suprise here. If you prefer Mani good for you, but i've heard aprox. 10 phono stages and Aria truly shines. For my ears Mani is not even close to Aria. Of course i have all rega setup so it's synergy there.
    Reply