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best phono preamp under 200

Best Phono Preamp Under 200 – Expert Audio Engineer’s Advice

If you’re reading this, then you’re thinking of enhancing the sound quality of your turntable or making it compatible with more devices (such as speakers, Hi-Fi, and sound systems) to enjoy your vinyl the best way possible. Just like fine musical instruments, record players make velvety audio waves, so you’ll need an audiophile-grade phono preamp to get your vinyl rig sounding at its best.

However, selecting the best phono preamp for your vinyl rig can be a challenge especially if you’re new to this equipment since there are so many phono preamp brands and models available on the market today.

Here is the good news: you don’t have to waste your time and money going through the hassles of buying and testing several phono preamps to find the right one or spend thousands of dollars to get the best. You can even get the best phono preamp under $200. In this post, I will provide you with an in-depth review of a few phono preamps that are available on the market today. Using my engineering background and years of experience reviewing, using, and testing audio and electronic devices, I will give you some buying advice to help you select the right one and avoid the frustration and disappointment that comes with choosing a wrong product.

If you are in a hurry take a quick look at the following summary table:

Now, let’s get started with more detailed reviews

Emotiva Audio XPS-1

Emotiva Audio XPS-1 Phono Preamp
  • Combines superb analog sound quality with excellent technical performance.
  • Precise equalization to the standard RIAA curve (within +/- 0.25 dB;Operating voltage: Between 100 VAC and 240 VAC @ 50 / 60 Hz (automatically detected)
  • Support for both Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC) cartridges.
  • User selectable termination impedance for Moving Coil cartridges.
  • Exceptional signal-to-noise ratio and very low distortion.

Finding a phono preamp that preserves the unique and original sound of analog record with great precision as the Emotiva Audio XPS-1 does can be a challenge especially when you consider its price tag. It can compete with most high-end phono preamps and even beat them hands down, little wonder why it is one of the bestselling phono preamps on the market with lots of positive users’ feedbacks. With this XPS-1 phono preamp, the sound quality of your new and old vinyl records will be greatly transformed! You’d be mesmerized by its punchy tones, great tonal balance, and low background noise even from low-output cartridges.

The XPS-1 features a small size which makes it ideal for any vinyl players in any entertainment setting without sacrificing the rack space. Its design may not meet everyone’s taste, but when you considered its price and performance, you would give it a second thought. The design is not bad; it is well built and looks smart and cool. The only aspect of its design that we don’t really like is its bright LED light, and you can tweak this by covering it with a small tape.

The XPS-1 supports both the Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC) cartridges (these are essentially the devices that are used to regenerate the music from the record grooves, that’s all you need to know about them at this point) as it is designed to provide the ideal gain and noise performance for this available cartridge types. The best part of this is that it comes with built-in switches that allow you to select different input impedances on the MC input. That means you can set the load or input impedance to match your moving coil cartridge and ensure you get the best sound for each type of cartridge you own.

Moreover, it is compatible with any audio equipment or sound system with line-level analog input and accepts standard RCA outputs and inputs and is very easy to install. It also features accurate RIAA equalization, and highly regulated external AC supply to ensure vanishingly low hiss and distortion, and extremely low background noise for optimum analog media enjoyment.

What we liked

  • Tweakable: easy to adjust or set the input impedance
  • Easy to install
  • Amazing sound reproduction with extremely low noise
  • Suitable for both MM and MC phono cartridges
  • Compact size with a durable case
  • 5-year warranty

What we disliked

  • Its design is not the best

Pro-Ject Audio – Phono Box DC

Pro-Ject Audio - Phono Box DC - MM/MC Phono preamp with line Output - Blk
  • Input Impedence MM: 47k ohms / 120pf, Input Pmpedence MC: 100 ohms / 120pF
  • Gain MM: 40dB / Gain MC: 60 dB
  • Noise MM: 86 dB/ Noise MC: 68 dB
  • THD: MM 0.01% / THD: MC 0.05%
  • RIAA EQ Curve Accuracy: 20 Hz - 20kHz / max 0.5 dB

If you’re looking for a high-quality but affordable phono preamp for your vinyl listening pleasure, then the Pro-Ject Audio – Phono Box DC might be all you need. This phono stage features a strong and durable metal construction that shields it from electromagnetic interference and vibration and a small size for easy installation. And if you’re looking for a phono preamp that fits almost anywhere or goes unnoticed in any entertainment setting, then this phono box is perfect for you due to its compact, subtle and classy design.

The phono stage uses low-noise ICs that are specially selected to provide a superb signal to noise ratio. With this, you’ll hear less background noise and more detail from your music. It features an outboard power supply and relies on the DC power supply from its plug. This is another feature that helps reduce the possibility of electrical interference within the tool. Apart from the low background noise, its sound reproduction quality is fantastic and allows you to listen to your favorite songs in styles.

The phono stage is suitable for both moving coil (MC) and moving magnet (MM) phono cartridges. It also includes other features like gold-plated RCA input sockets, low impedance output and precise RIAA equalization for improved sound quality and reduced distortion. Above all, the Pro-Ject Audio – Phono Box DC is easy to use and requires no complicated settings. You just need to connect it to your turntable and plug it in the line-level input or AUX of your audio component. You are then good to go!

What we liked

  • It is affordable
  • Great sound with low background noise
  • Easy to install and use
  • Suitable for both MM and MC phono cartridges
  • No complicated settings
  • stylish and durable design
  • 2-year warranty

What we disliked

  • Not really tweakable to set for optimal input impedance
  • No power switch, so it cannot be turned off

Cambridge Audio Solo

Cambridge Audio Alva Solo Moving Magnet Phono Preamplifier - Silver
  • High-quality stereo phono stage
  • Dedicated moving magnet phono stage
  • State of the art switch mode power supply – fast response, high precision & reduced hum.
  • Guaranteed low background noise thanks to the surface-mounted components on the circuit-board.
  • Premium quality aluminium and steel construction, finished in stylish graphite grey.

If you are looking for a high-quality stereo phono preamp that preserves the inimitable warmth of the vinyl sound, you can’t go wrong with the Alva Solo from Cambridge Audio. The phono stage features premium quality steel and aluminum construction with stylish graphite grey finish. The compact and groundbreaking assembly design does not only make it a phono stage that is built to last but also makes it a perfect companion for your record player without sacrificing your rack space.

The Alva Solo phono stage produces rich and pure sound without slightest distortion, thanks to its advanced switch mode power supply and its carefully designed surface-mounted circuitry that helps to reduce the unwanted background noise. Even if some of the vinyl records in your collection (especially the old records) are a bit worse for wear, this phono preamp includes a subsonic filter that will help to eradicate the low-frequency rumbles that may be caused by your vinyl imperfections.

It also has a fast and accurate RIAA response as well as a balance control that can be used to eliminate potential cartridge imbalances within your vinyl player to produce fluent warm tones for detailed experience and accurately outlined soundstage. Its low standby power consumption, as well as its automatic turn off features that shut it down when it is idle for 20 minutes, is a great bonus. However, the phono stage is only compatible with record players that comes with moving magnet (MM) cartridges, so you should check its compatibility with your turntable before you make your final decision.

What we liked

  • Aesthetically pleasing design
  • Low background noise with extremely low distortion and hiss
  • Auto shut off in 20 minutes to save power
  • Great sound
  • Controllable gain
  • Easy to set up
  • 1-year warranty

What we disliked

  • Not versatile: it only supports the MM cartridge

YAQIN MS23B

YAQIN MS23B Upgraded Version of MS22B 12AX7B X2 Stereo Tube Phono Stage (MS23B)
  • MS-23B is a Tube Phono Stage for use with MM or high output MI (Moving Iron) cartridge turntable for connection to either a pre- or an integrated amplifier.
  • It comes with stereo outputs of 0.5 V and an active RIAA equalization. A DC filaments power supply guarantees optimal hum and noise reduction.
  • Sound quality is excellent full in Class A, warm, silk-like smooth, but also precise, transparent and powerful over whole very wide frequency range with high dynamics, realistic, without coloration, music background calm and noise on very low level.
  • The already excellent unit allows tube rolling and in this way as well as by other measures can be tuned to an absolute Highend Sytem.
  • Power transformer is made in STALLOY, Japanese special audio steel of 0.35 mm in thickness , wiring consists of high-strength enamel-isolated pure OFC copper applied in a special coiling process. Further components are imported and of highest quality, audiophile capacitors, such as Japanese Nippon Chemi-Con capacitor filters, high-quality metallic resistors, all packed into a rigid, well-shielding and very durable aluminum enclosure with aluminum front panel.

If you’re looking for a high-quality tube phono stage that delivers rich and warm sound quality but offered at an affordable cost, then the YAQIN MS23B tube phono preamp might be the right model for you. It is very well built and features a pair of 12AX7B tubes and other top-notch components and enclosed in a rigid, high-quality aluminum chassis that help to enhance its durability. Although the preamplifier is a little bulky and some people may not like its exposed chrome, its design is very interesting which makes it suitable for both modern and retro setup.

The MS23B is compatible with turntables with moving magnet (MM) or high output moving iron (MI) cartridges. It uses the components of the highest quality – from the metallic resistors to durable enamel-isolated pure OFC copper wires to the Japanese Nippon Chemi-Con capacitor filters to deliver a smooth, crisp, powerful, warm and rich sound across a wide range of volumes and frequencies. The stock tubes (12AX7B tubes) can be replaced with vintage alternatives to improve its performance and achieve the desired sound quality.

While some phono preamp or turntable setups will produce a low-level background noise or humming sound, you’ll get none of that with this phono stage. Its power supply (the DC filaments) also guarantees optimal noise and hum reduction, so its sound reproduction quality is amazing with no humming or interference at all.

Tube phono preamps tend to be more expensive than their solid-state brothers, but the MS23B is economical in terms of its top-notch components (that ensures its durability) and the warm and impressive sound quality of tube preamps. In addition to that, it is very easy to set up and comes with an active RIAA equalization and 0.5 V stereo output.

What we liked

  • Rich, warm and powerful sound
  • High-quality internal components
  • No background hum or noise
  • Durable
  • Works with moving magnet (MM) or high output moving iron (MI) cartridges
  • Affordable tube phono preamplifier
  • Easy to setup
  • Roll-able and replaceable tubes

What we disliked

  • Not compatible with MC cartridges

Zphono Phono 

Zphono Phono Pre Amplifier
  • Switchable gain for Moving Coil or Moving Magnet cartridges
  • Quiet, clean, and accurate compact phono stage
  • Works with all line-stage preamps, integrated amps, and receivers
  • Exclusive AC polarity switch to eliminate hum
  • RIAA curve accurate to 0.25 dB

If you’re looking for one of the quietest phono preamplifiers on the market today with great performance, then the Zphono preamp from Parasound might be perfect for you. This preamplifier features a sleek wooden and modern design that is aesthetically pleasing with a compact size that makes it a space-saving solution for pre-amplifying the velvety sound waves of your turntable.

The Zphono phono preamp is compatible with all the line level receivers, integrated amps, and preamplifiers. It is easy to hook up and use and works great for both MM and MC cartridges. The gain is switchable thereby allowing you to switch from moving coil cartridges to moving magnet cartridges. So, you can be sure that it is a versatile model that would work great for audiophiles with different cartridge levels.

In terms of sound reproduction quality, the Zphono is great and performs excellently – thanks to its accurate RIAA equalization and high-quality internal components that help reduce background noise and distortion while maintaining great sound quality. This model also comes with a high-quality AC polarity switch – a feature that helps ensure a noiseless and hum-free performance. This made it a perfect phono stage for analog music lovers.

What we liked

  • Great sound
  • Easy to install
  • Low noise level
  • Compatible with both MC and MM cartridges
  • Audiophile-grade capacitors and resistors

What we disliked

  • No power switch, so it cannot be turned off

Music Hall PA1.2

Music Hall PA1.2 MM/MC Phono Pre Amp
  • Gain mm/mc 40dB / 60 dB
  • Input sensitivity mm/mc 5mV/1kHz / 0.45mV/1kHz
  • Input impedance mm/mc 47Kohms/120pF / 100 ohms/120pF
  • Output voltage typically mm/mc 300mV@1kHz – 3mV / 0.3mV
  • Total harmonic distortion mm/mc <0.01 / <0.05%

With a cool and elegant wooden design as well as a brilliant sound quality, the Pa1.2 phono preamp from Music Hall is certainly one of the best equipment you can add to your vinyl player to attach it to your Hi-Fi system and revive the unique vinyl sound.  It features rigid aluminum construction meaningng that this is a phono stage that is really built to last. Apart from its strong, sturdy and fantastic build quality, it has a compact size and comes with quality internal components that ensure the performance that any vinyl enthusiast would appreciate.

The Pa1.2 accepts both MC and MM cartridges and is very easy to connect to your speaker or receiver. It performs very well in terms of sound reproduction and creates smooth and crisp sound with ultra-low background noise. Its beautifully finished aluminum chassis wards off any electromagnetic interference or stray magnetic fields to create a safe environment for its sensitive internal components and ensure you get the best possible sound from your record player.

It also features precise RIAA equalization and external power supply to reduce interferences and background noise. According to some of its users, the sound produced by this preamp is a little flat. So, if you have this issue, you can fix it by adjusting the settings of your audio system to get the right sound that meets your needs.

What we liked

  • Cool and elegant wooden design
  • Build to last
  • Easy to connect
  • Great sound when you set it correctly
  • Works for both MC and MM cartridges
  • Low noise

What we disliked

  • No power switch
  • You may need to tinker with your Hi-Fi system to get the best sound

Toroidal Transformer T10 Pro 6N2 

Toroidal Transformer Little bear T10 Pro 6N2 tube valve Phono Turntable RIAA Preamp preamplifier Ver2.5
  • Newest version.upgrade 02-Oct-2016-For MM (Moving-MaganeticCartridge) turntable only.not support MC truntable yet. and package 6N2 tube.
  • Acrylic box version, WITHOUT power cable. Weight:1.95KG, Size:256*190*70mm(10.07*7.48*2.75inch)
  • PCB is finished and all electronic components are already soldered. The panel and transformer and case, you will need assemble by yourself to complete the unit - easy work! after you can using it.
  • 1,re-design the Gain swtich function. before ,it was through adjust output voltage to reduce output signal.and now. we through control V1 tube to setup Gain
  • TOP NOTIC:For solve hum problems that some buyer respond to us,follow is the suggesion:.when you listening the music, use your finger touch this GND point. if the hum come to lower. that's mean your T10 not connect to really ground. please re-connect it to really ground.that's important

The Toroidal Transformer T10 Pro 6N2 from the Little Bear is another excellent tube phono preamp you should consider if you’re looking to get a warm, rich and smooth sound from your vinyl player. This phono preamp is designed vinyl enthusiasts who need a quality phono preamp to enjoy great sound from their turntable with MM or low output MC cartridges. It uses a toroid (toroidal power transformer) which is a distinctively shaped core that does not radiate a lot of electromagnetic signals which can affect the quality of its sound production. This simply means a better sound quality you can enjoy.

For this reason, Toroid is a major component of high-end audio gadgets and equipment (especially in this model) since it causes minimal interferences. Instead of using the 6J1 tubes of the T7 model, this phono preamp utilizes the uprated 6N2 tubes and increases its tube numbers to three for smooth and rich sound production. It also utilizes an acrylic case which is transparent and makes viewing the internal components of this model interesting. However, the acrylic material is prone to scuffing and scratching. So, if you anticipate rough use of this phono preamp, you should consider selecting other enclosure options.

Moreover, this T10 Pro 6N2 from the Little Bear does not come completely assembled. All its electronic components are already assembled and soldered, but you would have to assemble the case, transformer and panel by yourself to make a complete unit. This process is however not technical, so it is easy to carry out – thanks to its straightforward instructions.

Above all, your turntable will produce nicer, richer and warmer sound with lower noise or hums than others. And if you can hear the hum when listening to music, you may have to check its GND point and ensure it is properly connected to the ground.

What we liked

  • Rich, nice and warm sound production
  • Three uprated 6N2 tubes
  • Use of toroid
  • Works for both MC and MM cartridges
  • Low noise
  • Interesting design

What we disliked

  • The chassis (acrylic enclosure) is prone to scuffing and scratching

Verdict – My Final Advice

After considering the pros and cons of our top recommendations, one of these phono preamps would definitely stand out as the best. As experienced as we are with turntables and phono preamps, you would expect that crowning the best phono preamp under $200 to be an easy task, but it’s not! All the phono preamps mentioned above comes with great features and have all it takes to enhance the sound quality of your vinyl player for your utmost enjoyment.

However, we have two favorites that in our book are the winners. The first one is the Emotiva Audio XPS-1. This solid-state phono preamp is durable, tweakable, easy to hook up and affordable. It is also suitable for both MM and MC phono cartridges, and has a compact size, extremely low noise, and comes with a 5-year warranty. Our other solid recommendation would be the YAQIN MS23B tube phono preamp due to its rich, warm, and powerful sound and low background noise.

Our top recommendations:

You can also check the other products we recommended out since each of them are the best phono preamp in their own way. And the good thing about them is that they all come at a pocket-friendly price. So, what are you waiting for? Grab yours today and start enjoying the unique sound that only a vinyl player can provide as well as the real value for your money!!

If you still need more information about phono preamps, feel free the read through the following sections where I have provided the main things you need to know and consider before buying your first or next phono preamp. I have also explained how I went with my selection process the in-depth review that I provided you with above.

Buying Guide: How to select the best phono preampBest Phono Preamp Buying Guide

As I mentioned above, there are lots of phono preamp brands and models available on the market, so it will require a great level of proficiency to select the right one for your needs. When it comes to finding the best phono preamp, there are certain things you need to check or consider to avoid the disappointment of choosing the wrong product. Some of the things you need to check as well as the factors we considered to come up with the list of our top  recommendations include:

Cartridge level

You need to select your phono preamp based on the type of phono cartridge (either Moving Magnet or Moving Coil) installed on your vinyl rig. For instance, if your record player comes with a moving coil cartridge, you should go for a phono preamp that supports low output cartridges. And if your vinyl rig comes with a moving magnet cartridge, you should select the moving magnet phono preamp. Alternatively, you can go for a phono stage that supports both the MM and MC cartridges as they are more versatile and can accommodate the upgrade or possible changes of your cartridge.

Tube or solid-state preamp?

There are two major types of phono preamplifiers, the tube preamp, and the solid-state preamp. There has been an unending debate for years among audiophiles as to which type of preamp is superior and neither side has been able to claim an absolute victory over the other. This means that you’ll have to select the type you prefer.

Solid-state preamps process and amplify the signal received from the needle using a digital silicon transistor like the one used in cell phones. Tube preamplifiers utilize valves and analog tubes for the same purpose and are believed by many that it produces fuller, warmer sound quality with a wider dynamic range.

With solid-state preamps, sound signals are clipped more sharply and tend to distort the sound at louder volumes. Their transistors also tend to pick up noise and radio interferences that can affect their sound reproduction quality. On the other hand, tube preamps have volume limits that are smoother; they are also more resistant to power surges or voltage overloads that can damage a solid-state preamp.

However, they are more expensive and require a lot of power to operate. Also, their glass tubes can overheat and easily get broken while solid-state preamps are more durable, cheaper and require less electricity.

Compatibility with your record player

You don’t need to use a phono preamp if your record player is connected to an amplifier using a phono input. But if the sound reproduction quality of the phono input falls below your expectations, then you’ll need to add a phono preamp to your record player to improve its sound quality.

Also, you don’t need to add a phono stage to your sound system if you are using a digital/USB record player with RIAA preamp integration. This means that you can’t improve or upgrade the sound quality of your sound system over time by using a phono preamp with better quality.

However, some digital/USB record player with RIAA preamp integration violates this rule; thus, allowing you to disable their integrated phono preamp. So, you need to check your record player compatibility and the possibilities of upgrading your sound system before buying a phono stage.

Sound system

Your Hi-Fi system is another important aspect you need to check when selecting the right phono preamp for your needs. You should select a phono stage that can alter the sound quality of your Hi-Fi system adequately. Choosing a preamp that cannot perform this function will be a waste of money.

Specification and technical aspect

You don’t want a phono stage that will take too much of your space, amplify the background noise, or fails to work with your vinyl player. That is why you should check the product’s specification for insights to select one that meets your needs. Check the gain range (the amount of amplification it can create) and select the one that offers a minimum of 40 to 50 dB of gain. Also, you should go for a phono stage that offers precise RIAA equalization for better sound quality with minimum noise, hiss or distortion.

Budget

Phono preamps are available in different price ranges. You’ll find them at all prices, so it is important for you to define your budget before you make your choice. Generally, the more expensive a phono preamp is the better its quality, but this does not mean you cannot get a quality phono stage that would meet your needs at a cheaper cost. That is why I have researched the market to select the best budget-friendly phono preamp that would help to enhance the sound production quality of your vinyl player.

Users feedback

Apart from reading and understanding the specifications of a phono preamp, checking its users’ feedbacks and review is a great way to know its quality, ease of use and get an insight into its performance in real life. To shortlist the best phono preamp under $200, I literally looked at tens products that were recommended on Amazon or other and other specialized websites. Then I narrowed down my list to 15 phono preamps that I would approve based on my experience, tests and years of experience and playing with this type of product. From there, I singled out the phono preamps with the best ratings and lots of positive feedbacks to help narrow down your search and assist you in making the right choice before purchasing.

 

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Best Phono Preamp Under $200
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