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Best phono preamps 2019: budget to high-end

Best phono preamps Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best phono preamps you can buy in 2019.

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. And with Black Friday around the corner, it's a good time to be keeping an eye out for bargains.

Best phono preamps: Budget to high-end

1. Rega Fono MM MK3

The MK2 was already great. The MK3? Even better...

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: Budget to high-end

2. Cambridge Duo MC/MM

With moving magnet and moving coil compatibility, a headphone amp and corking performance, this is a solid effort.

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: 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: Budget to high-end

4. Rega Fono Mini A2D

Still one of the best 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: Budget to high-end

5. 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: Budget to high-end

6. Arcam rPhono

Few rivals can compete with the Arcam's combination of insight and entertainment.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: Yes | Moving Coil: Yes | Line level in: 2 | Remote control: No | Finishes: 1 | Dimensions (HxWxD): 44 x 194 x 124mm

Reasons to Buy

Informative, entertaining sound
Flexible
Well built

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

With its smart, understated looks, you can tell this will impress before you even plug it in. And once you do you won't be disappointed: it handles both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, and even comes with a handy tool for adjusting the settings. The sound is superlative, packing plenty of power, with generous scale and pleasing stability. Add in a smooth and refined tonal balance, and you've got quite a package on your hands.

Read the full review: Arcam rPhono

Best phono preamps: Budget to high-end

7. Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS

This 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: Budget to high-end

8. 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: Budget to high-end

9. 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: Budget to high-end

10. 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: Budget to high-end

11. 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: Budget to high-end

12. Aesthetix Io Eclipse

Only suitable for the high-end systems, but this is one of the very best of its kind you can buy.

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: Budget to high-end

13. 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

Best phono preamps: Budget to high-end

(Image credit: Rega Research)

14. 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

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