Best phono preamps Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best phono preamps you can buy in 2022.
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 may not have one, in which case you won't be able to play records without one. Or you might just want to upgrade its sound beyond what's possible with the built-in preamp.
As with many product categories, phono stages 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 available right now, so you can be sure that you're buying the very best quality for your money.
If you're on the lookout for a new turntable, check out our pick of the best record players for every budget. And once you've got your new vinyl set up ready, here are a few tips on how to get the best sound from your turntable.
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
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 Audio Duo MC/MM
Great-sounding cheap 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
Over half a decade since its debut, this is still one of the finest sub-£100/$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
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
Another oldie but still a goodie, the Gram Amp 2 holds its own a full six 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
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
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
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
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 Rega Aura review
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 / $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
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
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 the high-end price tag.
Read the full review: Burmester 100 Phono Premplifier
How we test phono preamps
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door – including phono preamps (or phono stages).
Sound quality is key in forming our verdicts and star ratings. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, so we listen to every phono preamp we review against the current leader in its field and price point to gauge how it compares to the best-in-class competition. We keep What Hi-Fi? Award winners in our stockrooms so we can always pit new products against ones we know and love, and we do our best to review as many new models in as many markets as possible to ensure our contextual knowledge is the best it can be.
We are always impartial in our testing and ensure we hear every phono preamp at its optimum – with the matching turntable of course. We'll use them in their best use case with different partnering source kit and speakers, as well as play plenty of different types of music through them. Naturally, we give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in) too.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.
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