Best phono preamps 2024: budget to high-end phono stages tried and tested

Own a turntable? Then you'll likely need a phono preamp (also called a phono stage), which raises your turntable's audio output to make it compatible with line-level modern amplifiers and deliver a sound you can hear through your system. At the same time, it also adds standardised equalisation. 

If your current stereo amplifier or turntable does not have a phono stage built in, this means you won't be able to play records without this crucial component, and so you'll need to invest in a separate phono stage to be able to hear your records. Or you may just want to upgrade your system's sound beyond what's possible with the built-in phono stage found in amplifiers or some record players, giving you that extra performance kick to give your vinyl another layer of sonic depth.

As with many product categories, phono stages span all price ranges and types, and we've got a phono preamp recommendation for you regardless of your budget. Every model on this list has been rigorously tested by our experienced review team in our dedicated listening rooms with the appropriate turntable and cartridge pairing at each price level, so you can trust our advice. From new models to long-standing favourites, we've highlighted the best available phono preamps right now, so you can be sure that you're buying the very best quality for your money (and for your record player).

If you're on the lookout for a new turntable, check out our pick of the best record players. 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, too.

The quick list

Written by
Kashfia Kabir
Written by
Kashfia Kabir

I am the Hi-Fi and Audio Editor of What Hi-Fi? and have reviewed and listened to various hi-fi products (turntables, speakers, phono stages) for over a decade. Which phono stage is best for you will depend on the cartridge and turntable you already have. Whether you need a budget moving magnet-only phono preamp, a box that handles both MM and MC cartridges or a high-performing moving coil phono stage with plenty of cartridge loading adjustments, the best phono stage should cater to your specific vinyl set-up. Above all, it should deliver the best sound quality from your records – and all our top picks here do just that.

The best phono preamp overall

What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. A new look, but still the same energetic and detailed performance.

Specifications

Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: No
Cartridge loading adjustment: No
Remote control: No
Dimensions (hwd): 4.5 x 18 x 15cm

Reasons to buy

+
Detailed, spacious performance
+
Fine handling of timing and dynamics
+
Updated, sleeker design

Reasons to avoid

-
Not a huge change over the previous version

We've continuously been impressed with Rega's excellent (and rather affordable) Fono MM range, so it was something of a relief that the latest model, which featured a brand-spanking new look, didn't sacrifice style for sound. That same Rega DNA is still in there throughout the latest Fono MM Mk5 phono stage.

No, the changes aren't massive from the previous models, but what remains is the Fono MM's ability to knit music together confidentially and cohesively. When testing the phono preamp out with the Rega Planar 3/Elys record player (it's moving magnet only), we were once again struck by the unit's fast, punchy sound that gives your favourite tracks a real sense of weight and gusto. 

Detail is great, too, uncovering new layers of musicality and texture as it goes, especially with regard to vocals. From Beethoven to Bruce Springsteen, the Rega Fono MM is completely at home. 

Rega didn't exactly reinvent the wheel with the Mk5 model, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. That new case is certainly attractive enough, while that same agile, punchy performance gives you just the sound you're looking for if you like your music to have a bit of bite.

Read the full Rega Fono MM Mk5 review

The best budget phono preamp

Low-key style, but it remains our budget moving magnet phono stage of choice.

Reasons to buy

+
Musical integrity
+
Strong dynamics and rhythmic drive
+
USB output for recording
+
Small size

Reasons to avoid

-
Improved appearance is neater, but still nothing to shout about

If you're looking for the best budget phono stage currently on the market, Rega's Fono Mini A2D is a top contender. This tiny, plain box was never much of a looker, and the Mk2 version is no different, with a new glossy front panel and a neater appearance simply bringing it up to date with Rega's current amplifier range.

The most important part of this phono stage, the audio circuitry, remains unchanged from the original model we gave five stars to. It features stereo RCA for input and output connections, and a USB (Type B) output with an accompanying level control, for recording your vinyl records to your laptop as a digital file. It's unusual to see this option on a phono stage, let alone at this budget level, but it's a fairly easy process to digitise vinyl provided you have the time and good recording software. We use Audacity and have no problems recording numerous tracks from vinyl to our MacBook Pro. The quality of the recordings mirrors that of the Fono Mini A2D's performance, and that’s a positive thing.

Sonically, it's as frill-free as it looks but gets the basics right. It's a lively presentation, full of convincing and nuanced dynamic contrasts, with power and passion behind vocals. While it's not the most refined or spacious sound, there's ample detail and insight to hold our interest. We use both a Sumiko Rainier MM and Vertere’s Sabre MM cartridges during our testing and the Fono Mini A2D sounds balanced with both. It has Rega's surefooted sense of rhythm and punch, plenty of low-end articulation and its overall composure when the music gets demanding is admirable.

What we find most impressive is the musically cohesive way that Rega organises and delivers all this information – for this price, there's no better alternative. We imagine this phono stage to be an ideal go-between, say, a KEF LSX II LT speaker system and a turntable, or if you wanted to upgrade your existing vinyl system. A talented little device that delivers excellent performance for the money.

Read the full Rega Fono Mini A2D Mk2 review

The best phono preamp with headphone jack

Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM

The prettiest phono preamp around is also a talented performer, with a bonus built-in headphone amp.  (Image credit: Cambridge Audio)
An affordable, stylish and fantastic-sounding phono preamp.

Specifications

Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Cartridge loading adjustment: No
Remote control: No
Dimensions (hwd): 4.8 x 21.5 x 16cm

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 the Cambridge Audio Duo phono stage. 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 MK3 for punch, but it certainly holds its own verve with both MC and MM cartridges.

The bonus here is the inclusion of a built-in headphone amplifier with 6.3mm headphone jack, which is somewhat unusual but entirely welcome in a phono stage at this level. It's a lovely way to upgrade your vinyl system or add a bit of modern flourish.

The smooth, full-bodied performance, coupled with the inclusion of a headphone amp, makes this stylish box certainly worthy of consideration.

Read the full Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM review

The best mid-price phono preamp

What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. A solid, compact phono stage with a wonderfully musical sound.

Specifications

Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Cartridge loading adjustment: Yes
Remote control: No
Dimensions (hwd): 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 Moon 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 a satisfying punch. We like how stereo imaging remains stable even with demanding music – it's an accomplished performance. It has a subtle way with music that's rewarding and easy to listen to for long hours.

With moving coil cartridges, large-scale dynamics are a touch restrained and bass is softer – but you’d have to spend half as much again to get a phono stage that does appreciably better.

If you’re in the market for a quality affordable phono stage, this little Award-winning box is well worth auditioning.

Read the full Moon 110LP v2 review

The best audiophile phono preamp

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

Specifications

Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Cartridge loading adjustment: Yes
Remote control: No
Dimensions (hwd): 5.3 x 22 x 21.5cm

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive transparency
+
Articulate and agile presentation
+
Impressive build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-
Rivals have better rhythmic cohesion

Phono stages tend to be, apart from the sleek Cambridge Audio Duo above, rather plain black boxes. Musical Fidelity takes a different approach: this phono preamp is beautifully made, with a smartly machined front panel and nice-to-use controls.

Rather than use a series of dipswitches (as many rivals do), the MX-VYNL has a rather elegant control dial to manage the switch between moving coil and moving magnet inputs and their different loading requirements.

Alongside a standard single-ended phono input – something that will be used by the vast majority of decks around – it can also accept a balanced signal in the form of a mini XLR 5-pin connector. 

Thankfully, convenience is far from the MX-VYNL's only strength - sound is wonderfully transparent and detailed, digging up low-level instrumental strands and sonic textures with ease. We love the way it handles vocals. There's a fluidity to it that makes rivals seem mechanical by comparison, although it may not have the outright rhythmic cohesion found in the similarly-priced Rega Aria. But it doesn't exactly hold back when it comes to bite and attack. 

It's superb balance of attitude and refinement. If the rest of your system is up to scratch, the MX-VYNL is worth the investment.

Read the full Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL review

The best high-end phono preamp

What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. A brilliant premium phono stage with excellent features and even better sound.

Specifications

Moving Magnet: Yes
Moving Coil: Yes
Cartridge loading adjustment: Yes
Remote control: No
Dimensions (hwd): 5.5 x 21 x 23.5cm

Reasons to buy

+
Improved clarity
+
Impressive dynamic expression and rhythmic drive
+
Excellent detail resolution
+
Good range of adjustability

Reasons to avoid

-
Price rise over original

Vertere already had a great phono stage on its hands, but this updated version manages to deliver significant performance gains, thanks to some careful housekeeping and honing of the circuit board and power supply. The tidy little box remains the same; an orange power LED is the only addition to the design.

The new Phono-1 MkII L is a brilliant performer, with a useful selection of features and adjustments that should help you get the most from any cartridge. Its detailed, musical delivery makes it a joy to listen to.

We love the scale of performance and the way the Vertere delivers the seismic dynamic shifts of the recording with so much enthusiasm. As with the previous generation (also an Award-winner), our main takeaway after hearing this phono stage is that it makes listening to music interesting and, where appropriate, fun. And what more could we ask from any hi-fi product?

If you’ve got an earlier version of the Phono-1 don’t worry about swapping it out for this new one. For new buyers, don’t hesitate to go for this version as it's a clear step up and worth the price hike (now £1350 / $1895 / AU$2700). Given a source and system of appropriate talent, it remains one of the finest phono stages we’ve heard at the price.

Read the full Vertere Phono-1 MkII L review

Also consider

  • iFi Zen Phono: While a new Zen Phono 3 has been released, the original Zen Phono is yours for just under £200. For its price and compact size, it packs a lot in: MM and MC cartridge support, balanced circuit design, low-noise power supply, and a clean, detailed and balanced sound. The MM-only Rega Fono Mini A2D betters it for timing and rhythmic engagement at a lower price, but the iFi is better featured.
  • Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator: Low on frills, high on quality: this dinky device is a long-standing favourite with vinyl fans and the What Hi-Fi? review team. Superb detail, excellent timing, and ferocious dynamics still impress for £180. Adding the PSU1 power supply brings more punch and weight to the sound, but it is an extra cost.
  • Rega Aura: Rega's more affordable phono preamps are easy to recommend here, but even more accomplished is the brand's flagship high-end moving-coil offering. The impeccably built Aura MC phono stage costs £4000 and is fully adjustable, with terrific clarity and insight levels, impressive agility and expressive dynamics – it's hugely exciting to listen to.

How to choose the best phono preamp for you

Which phono stage you need is entirely dependent on what your existing turntable system is, and your budget.

If you have a budget turntable, then an affordable phono stage that's simple to use and is compatible with your (most likely) moving magnet (MM) cartridge is the only parameter you need to consider. If you're a hi-fi enthusiast with a more premium or high-end turntable and enjoy fine-tuning your system and swapping out different MM and moving coil (MC) cartridges like a mad scientist experimenting for the best sound quality, then you'll want a phono stage with plenty of flexible cartridge loading and gain adjustments to suit your matching high-end system, and more inputs. 

Phono stages typically only have one set of inputs (you're usually plugging in just one turntable, after all), and even those on the entry-to-mid-level price range now increasingly let you switch between MM and MC cartridges – although beware that plenty still specialise in one type only. High-end phono stages tend to be larger (separate power supply units and better components all take up space), while budget options have a smaller footprint. Compatibility trumps design here, although it's not hard to find nicely made boxes.

Ultimately, which phono stage you choose will depend on what's most appropriate for the turntable and cartridge you already have, so make sure you've got your deck's specs handy. It's the same case if you're looking to upgrade your current set-up, although it's always worth looking at the next model up for future-proofing.

Of course, sound quality is the final decider: we'd recommend demoing your new phono preamp with your existing deck and system if possible, to ensure you get the best-sounding performance when spinning your vinyl records.

How we test phono preamps

We have dedicated, acoustically treated testing facilities in Reading and London, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and audio kit that pass 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 are lucky to be able to keep all What Hi-Fi? Award winners in our stockroom so we can always truly compare new products against our current best-in-class products in each price band.

We are always impartial in our testing and ensure we hear every phono preamp at its optimum – with the matching turntable and appropriate cartridge(s) 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 and records through them. We give phono stages ample time to run in and listen to them over days and weeks to get a full picture at how each model performs.

All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than an individual reviewer, to eliminate any personal bias and to ensure we are consistent across all our reviews. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, and What Hi-Fi? is proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for nearly five decades. 

You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.

FAQ

Why do I need a phono stage?

The audio information stored in a record's groove measures as small as a micron (1000th of a millimetre), so the scale of the task to retrieve it and playback through your speakers is immense – one that your standard line-level stereo amplifier isn't able to do on its own.

The physical limitations of vinyl mean that the original audio signal has to be altered before it can be recorded onto its tiny grooves – low frequencies are reduced in level and the high frequencies are boosted. The curve that governs this equalisation standard was set by the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) in 1954.

This is where the phono stage (or phono preamp) comes in. It has two jobs. Firstly, it has the reverse response built into it – one that boosts bass and flattens treble to exactly the right degree, which should result in a tonally even presentation for the audio signal.

Secondly, it acts as an amplifier. The cartridge signals from tracking the groove can be as low as a thousandth of a volt (CD’s output is specified at 2V, for instance) so the signal has to be amplified massively before the line-level stage of a stereo amplifier can take over to deliver the sound through your speakers.

Learn more about how a vinyl record makes a sound

Watch a needle read a vinyl record in microscopic detail

Is a separate phono stage better?

As with many pieces of standalone hi-fi kit, the theory goes that using separate pieces of kit to do individual jobs will almost always provide a superior sound. In a turntable set up, keeping as many bits of circuitry away from the platter, tonearm and cartridge is preferred, so there are no minute vibrations or electrical interferences that will affect the cartridge's highly precise job of accurately tracking the tiny grooves in a record to reproduce sound. 

While many turntables come with decent enough phono stages built in, we have always found that a separate phono stage, with its own power supply, will deliver the better performance. Even budget models such as the Rega Fono Mini A2D or Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator will bring better precision, detail and rhythmic agility to your turntable system.

How much difference does a phono stage make? Will a phono preamp make my turntable sound better?

A phono stage's job is essential if you want your turntable setup to make a sound through speakers when spinning records. A phono stage provides extra amplification – the output of a cartridge can be as small as a thousand times less than a typical CD player – and it equalises the tonal balance.

Vinyl isn’t physically able to accept large amounts of bass during the cutting process, so the tonal range of the music has to be skewed heavily towards the higher frequencies to make things work. On playback, the phono stage’s job is to rebalance this. A good phono stage will let your record player shine, a poor one will have you wondering what the vinyl fuss is about.

So how well a phono stage performs will have a direct impact on the overall sound you hear from your turntable system. It certainly pays to choose a good one, then.

Recent updates

  • May 2024: Added an Also Consider section to offer additional choices to consider when buying.
  • February 2024: Updated our advice and testing process, and added FAQ section to help buyers with the most asked questions about turntables.
  • January 2024: Added Rega Fono Mini A2D Mk2 entry following its five-star review.
  • November 2023What Hi-Fi? Award-winning products are labelled after the 2023 Best Buys and Product of the Year announcements.

MORE: 

Need a turntable? Here's our pick of the best record players

Listen to 15 of the best vinyl test records

Moving magnet vs moving coil cartridges: which is right for you?

Browse today's best hi-fi and audio deals

Kashfia Kabir
Hi-Fi and Audio Editor

Kashfia is the Hi-Fi and Audio Editor of What Hi-Fi? and first joined the brand over 10 years ago. During her time in the consumer tech industry, she has reviewed hundreds of products (including speakers, amplifiers and headphones), been to countless trade shows across the world and fallen in love with hi-fi kit much bigger than her. In her spare time, Kash can be found tending to an ever-growing houseplant collection and shooing her cat Jolene away from spinning records.

With contributions from
  • 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
  • ausmonty60
    How could you not include the Dynavector P75 MK4. Bangs for bucks, it's one of the best phono stages out there . . . no matter which cartridge you have.
    Reply
  • froze
    I agree with others, the Gram Amp is a piece of junk, I tried it and immediately knew it was junk so I sent it back.

    Instead got the Schitt Mani and it sounded better than not only the Gram Amp but that's no big shake because that Gram Amp would have lost to any $20 preamp, but it also sounded better than my old Cambridge.

    One of the comments cut down the Schitt Mani saying it didn't compare to the Rega Ari...Duh! Really? You're going to compare a $1,500 phono preamp to a $150 one, then call the $150 one bad?? (Insult deleted by moderation) That is like comparing a Bentley Flying Spur to a Honda HR-V, and then saying the Bentley is a much better luxury car!

    I would like to do a blind listening test of the Rega Ari to the Schitt Mani, I bet the difference isn't worth $1,350 more money, but some people think they hear the difference, like they think they can hear the difference between $1 a foot speaker wire vs $1,000 a foot wire, they can't hear any difference because there is none, test have been done to prove that fact, and no one has ever taken anyone up on bets that they could hear the difference.
    Reply