While the most basic turntables can be connected directly to computer speakers via the headphone jack, once you’re dipping more fully into the vinyl world, you’re going to need some other equipment, like an amplifier.
Amplifiers are essential to listening to Hi-Fi audio, and this list is going to break down 7 of the best amps out there that include a built-in phono stage.
We’ll grade each amplifier with the following criteria:
- Ease of Use
Below, use our interactive guide to see some of the more popular amplifiers on the market (and see how well they stack up to the ones that make our recommended list!).
|VPI Cliffwood||$$||Works with MM Cartridges|
|Rega IO||$$$||30 watts per channel at 8Ω|
|Project Phono Box S2||$||Works with MC and MM Cartridges|
|Rega Brio||$$$||50 watts per channel at 8Ω|
|Project Tube Box S2||$$||Audiophile Phono Preamp with Tube Tech|
|NAD 3020 V2||$$||Hybrid Digital/Analog Amplifier|
|NAD PP4||$$||Works with MM and MC cartridges|
|Turntable Lab PHO-1||$||Phono Preamp and Headphone Amp|
|Clearaudio Smart Phono V2||$$$||Resonance-free aluminum chassis|
|Project Phono Box DS2||$||Works with MM and MC cartridges|
What is an Amplifier?
A turntable gathers its signal from an extraordinarily delicate and tiny piece of equipment, a stylus that follows the contours inside the walls of a record’s groove. As the stylus moves, a magnet attached to the other end, inside the cartridge, also moves and induces current in two coils of wire in there, creating electrical signals that are fed to the amplifier. These signals are exceedingly weak, far weaker than the signals from other sources.
A CD player may have an output of a couple of volts, a cartridge’s output is more like four or five millivolts; that’s 0.004 to 0.005 volts. This means these signals need a mighty whack of extra amplification. The signal coming out of the cartridge on your turntable is around 1,000x lower than the signal coming from a CD player or a streaming device. In order to hear music from vinyl through your speakers or stereo system, you first need to boost the signal. This is where a phono preamp comes in.
If your amplifier has a “phono” plug this happens automatically. If it doesn’t then you need a phono preamp between the turntable and the amplifier to bring the signal up to sufficient strength to be heard properly. Plug a turntable into an “aux” input and you may not hear anything even with the volume maxed. The reverse is also true – plug something that isn’t a turntable into the “phono” input and the signal will be so strong it may well blow your speakers.
The very first thing to know is whether you need a phono pre-amp and, for first-time buyers, it’s likely you do. Take a look at what you’re about to plug the turntable into. This will be some sort of amplifier and it will either have an input at the back marked “phono” or it won’t.
Serious amplifiers, and a rapidly growing number of cheaper amplifiers, have them. Less serious amplifiers and all-in-one stereos usually don’t. If you have a “phono” input, plug your turntable in there – you won’t need a phono preamp. Otherwise you will. Unless.
Unless the turntable you have just bought has a phono preamp built in. Some do. If that’s the case plug the turntable into a spare input, like the auxiliary or “aux” ports. Don’t plug it into a “phono” input or you may blow your speakers up. We’re assuming you know this for the purposes of the article, and that you are in the market for an amplifier with a built-in phono stage. With all of that in mind, let’s get into the 7 best amplifiers that fit that category!
The PM5005 2-Channel Integrated Amplifier from Marantz is designed to deliver high-quality stereo sound. This integrated amplifier is equipped with a discrete power amplifier design that produces up to 40W per channel at 8 ohms and 55W per channel at 4 ohms. Front-mounted bass, treble, and balance controls give you the flexibility of fine-tuning audio playback.
With six stereo RCA inputs, the PM5005 allows you to connect a wide variety of analog audio sources like CD players, tuners, recorders, and network audio players. These inputs also include a direct phono input for turntable connections.
The PM5005 features a power amplifier section that’s based on Marantz’s current feedback technology. High-current discrete power output devices mounted on a generously-sized aluminum heat sink to provide high instantaneous peak current capability, and are able to handle dynamic bursts into lower impedance 4 ohm speaker loads. The PM5005 includes multiple analog inputs including a MM moving magnet phono input.
There are also dual recording inputs and outputs, along with a headphone amplifier jack on the front panel, and the high-grade speaker connectors can accept multiple speaker cable termination types. The audio input and output jacks are all gold-plated for maximum signal integrity.
You don’t need huge power or a lot of buttons to push. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, either. If all you want is great sound for a small space, NAD has the solution. The C 316BEE is the perfect little integrated amp to anchor that high-quality audio system in your den, bedroom, or office. It delivers accurate, musical sound in a compact, easy-to-enjoy package. The large toroidal transformer is a key to this affordable amp’s amazingly clean, dynamic sound.
NAD designed this amp using the same principle behind their higher-end components — a no-frills approach that puts the focus squarely on performance, instead of bells and whistles. It boasts a high-current toroidal transformer — usually found only on expensive audiophile gear — and other carefully selected parts to provide punchy, lifelike sound. It makes the amp sound much more potent than its 40-watts-per-channel rating would lead you to expect.
This integrated amp offers enough inputs to connect five audio components, including a turntable, plus a handy front-panel minijack for hooking up a portable music player. And the included remote gives you easy control of the amplifier and the other NAD audio components in your system.
Okay, so I know this isn’t an integrated amplifier, but it’s worth adding to a list devoted to amplifiers that work well with vinyl, so it had to crack the list.
Pro-Ject’s Tube Box S2 phono preamplifier with a tube output stage offers unrivalled performance and unique flexibility at an incredibly affordable price. It’s one of the most economical ways to enjoy the lush sound of vacuum tube phono gear that we know of, and the ultra-compact size means that the Tube Box S can fit almost anywhere.
The sonic quality of Tube Box S2 is extremely impressive, offering a big improvement over Pro-Ject’s great sounding Phono Box S. It makes a big improvement over the built-in phono stage on many amps and receivers and offers a perfect upgrade for most analog hi-fi systems. Tube Box S2 is Pro-Ject’s very first product to feature a fully discrete circuit design without using any operational amplifiers.
It also is the first product to come with replaceable tubes for tube rolling and sound-shaping. This gives you many options to pick from and alter the sound signature to your preference.
Tube Box S2 provides a full and relaxed laid back sound with lush mids, just like you would expect it from a much bigger high end tube phono preamplifier. It offers support for both MM and MC cartridges and comes with many gain settings to be switched on the front panel. Five variable input impedance settings are available to adjust to any MM cartridge.
The 47k ohms input impedance setting is fixed and suited for high output MC cartridges. The aluminum/metal casing is adapted to Pro-Ject’s DS2 line in looks and protects against vibrations and electromagnetic interferences for superior sound. This is all-in-all a true high end solution in a small package.
The Fredenstein V.A.S. MicPre delivers clear, balanced preamplification that helps you capture the best of any vocalist or instrument. A big part of its vibrant sound is due to its steel-core output transformer, creating a smooth sound that never sounds hyped or “mid-rangey.” You can apply up to 65dB of mic gain, with switches for a 20dB pad, polarity, phantom power, input impedance, and low cut. Its compact size makes the V.A.S.
MicPre an ideal desktop preamp, or you can mount it in Fredenstein’s V.A.S. Rackmount Kit for installation in your equipment rack. Complete with an insert point for integrating a compressor, equalizer, or other processor, the Fredenstein V.A.S. MicPre is a highly capable preamplifier for mics and instruments.
To help you achieve the best results during tracking, the Fredenstein V.A.S. MicPre offers an Insert point for external processors. Use it to add a de-esser for vocalists, a compressor for bass guitar, an EQ for acoustic instruments, or anything else you wish to track through. Instead of using off-the-shelf components, the V.A.S. MicPre is based around Fredenstein’s OPA2 discrete audio op-amp.
Because the OPA2 op-amp is socketed, it can be easily swapped with a different model without requiring tools. Combined with the steel-core transformer at the output stage, the V.A.S. MicPre offers vibrant audio performance with a well-balanced frequency response.
Pioneer Elite A-20
Enjoy high-quality, stereo sound with the Pioneer PM5005 Elite A-20 2-Channel Integrated Amplifier. This integrated amplifier is equipped with a direct energy designed power amplifier that produces up to 30W per channel at 8 ohms and 50W per channel at 4 ohms. Front-mounted bass, treble, and balance controls give you the ability to fine-tune audio playback.
With five stereo RCA inputs, the Pioneer Elite A-20 allows you to connect a wide variety of analog audio sources like an SACD player and AM/FM tuner. A dedicated phono input is also on-board for vinyl playback. In addition to the aforementioned front-panel controls, a remote control is also included.
Audiophiles know there’s nothing better than a dedicated stereo system that presents pinpoint imaging, an incredible soundstage and infinite sonic detail. With 50 watts-per-channel, the Elite A-20 packs the punch to effortlessly drive revealing, lower-efficiency speakers that will fill your listening room with distortion free sound.
One look at the motorized, precision volume control tells you that the Elite A-20 has a build quality you’d expect to see on far more expensive components. The heavy, aluminum front panel and clean industrial design make this one impressive piece of gear. Inside, premium parts like an EL transformer and heavy-duty heat sinks tell you the Pioneer engineers really over-delivered.
Enjoy enhanced quality audio with the Marantz PM6006 2-Channel 80W Integrated Amplifier. It outputs 40W per channel RMS and can connect to two pairs of speakers in an A/B configuration, which it can switch between. Its rigid feet are designed to reduce resonance, and its shielded DAC is designed to decrease interference. The amplifier has five stereo RCA inputs, including one reserved for a turntable. It also has two optical inputs and a digital coaxial input.
The PM6006 is an upgraded successor of the multi-award-winning PM6005. We’ve retained the pre-amp and power-amp sections that exclusively feature discrete components – not a single IC in sight of the signal path. The PM6006 is upgraded for peak current at the amplifier stage, which makes it possible to refine the sound for you in much more detail.
All of the original features—such as five-line audio input including phono, two-pairs of gold-plated speaker connections with the convenience of bi-wiring, and a remote handset—are all still there. The lower impedance shielded Toroidal transformer, as well as customized components and unique Marantz HDAM modules care for powerful, dynamic and detailed original Marantz sound. In short, the new PM6006 is a new star with excellent genes.
Cambridge Audio Topaz AM10
Enjoy stereo sound with your favorite pair of speakers and the Cambridge Audio Topaz AM10 Stereo 70W Integrated Amplifier. It outputs up to 35W per channel at 8 Ohms and features a lid assembly designed for resonance control. Four stereo RCA inputs let you connect analog devices, and the MM/MC phono input enables connectivity with a variety of record players. The Topaz AM10 includes a remote control that will also control other Topaz-series devices.
In addition to impressive power, the Topaz AM10 displays impressive control and sonically minded design choices. The Topaz AM10 even uses toroidal transformers, usually only seen in high-end separates, to more accurately channel extra power. This means not only far better bass response, but also a deeper, richer reproduction of your music.
And while most budget amps hide a plastic case behind a metal front, Topaz AM10 claims an all-metal case to minimize vibration and maximize music purity. A built-in phonostage, you ask? Yep, it’s here, so you can instantly connect a turntable. There’s even a direct input on the front for plugging in iPod, smartphone, or MP3 player.
If you cannot find the Topaz AM 10, I highly recommend the Cambridge Audio CXA80.
There’s no denying that the best manner in which to listen and acquire Hi-Fi audio is an integrated amplifier with phono stage capabilities. This list provides you with 7 quality options, so find what works best for you, and spin with a whole new sound. Happy listening!
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