Two Types Of Amps For Turntables (And A Few Recommendations We Bet You Would Like)

  • By: Andrew
  • Date: August 15, 2022

There are so many questions in the land of audio that may pose too complicated for the common folk, such as knowing the types of amps for turntables. If you have tinkered with audio equipment before, you must have already known that there is always an amplifier for every speaker, as both are what I would call “partners in crime.” In this article, we will be dissecting the role of the amplifier in the vinyl record 2system, its types, and some of the editor’s recommendations.

There are two main classifications of amplifiers for record players. One of which is the phono preamplifier, an amplifier specific to vinyl players. The second type is called the outboard preamplifier, a more common type of amplifier. (source)

This article will explore the preamplifier, the need to have one, the types of amplifiers you can buy for your vinyl records, and some of the preamplifiers we recommend.

Table of Contents

What Is An Amplifier?

If you have some knowledge regarding audio equipment, you should know that an amplifier is essential. Maybe a close friend said so, or a stranger from the internet told you such, that does not matter. However, while many people know the importance of the amplifier, many do not understand why it is essential in the first place.

In this section of the article, let us talk about the following topics to help you understand the basics of amplifiers. Aside from the types of amps for turntables, we will also talk about the importance of amplifiers. Additionally, we will be touching upon essential subjects, such as the differences between an amplifier and a preamplifier, and more!

The Importance Of An Amplifier

Before we proceed with the importance of an amplifier, let us first understand the definition of what an amplifier is. An amplifier is a device that, you guessed it, amplifies the electrical signal to increase either or all of these variables. (source)

Amplifiers can amplify the following:

  • Power
  • Voltage
  • Current

An amplifier is very helpful in a variety of fields. However, for this article specifically, we will be focusing on its uses on audio equipment with a more specialized view on vinyl record players. 

So how do amplifiers work specifically for turntables, and what are the types of amps for turntables? Well, an amplifier works mainly by exaggerating audio signals. To put it simply, it is like “screaming a whisper.”

Suppose that you are an “amplifier.” At one instance, someone whispered something into your ears, and you, the amplifier, screamed it out for everyone to hear. By exaggerating signals, amplifiers help audiophiles and casual listeners enjoy music at a more audible range.

So what about the person that whispered into your ears? What is their role in a vinyl record player? Well, they are what we call your record player’s cartridges.

Cartridges are gadgets you can find at the tip of your turntable’s tonearm, and most often, they also house the needle. The audio signals read by the stylus (needle) from the vinyl records will go through the amplifier, which will amplify the signal into the speakers for you to hear.

How Does An Amplifier Amplify Signals?

An amplifier amplifies signals by taking power from a power supply. By doing this, the relatively low-power signal of your record player’s cartridge is amplified and strengthened for the speaker.

Since amplifiers amplify and strengthen signals, they may cause distortion and some noise. However, this does not outweigh the benefits of running an amplifier, as, without it, it will be virtually impossible actually to have a good listening experience.

The Duality: Two Types Of Amplifiers

Earlier, we discussed the two types of amps for turntables. Although considering both as amplifiers (despite both identifying as preamplifiers), their differences are still staggering.

The two types of amps for turntables are:

  • Phono Preamplifiers
  • Outboard Preamplifiers

In the following section, we will be differentiating the two and why you need not only one but both of them. So, let us not waste time and get started, shall we?

Phono Preamplifiers

Record players are complex machines, and to further understand the concept of phono preamplifiers and try to explain the types of amps for turntables, we must first grasp the concepts behind the vinyl record players.

There are four significant concepts that you will need to understand regarding vinyl record players. These are the following: (source)

Why Vinyl Records Need Phono Preamps

  • Vinyl record players rely on the physical artifacts stored in-between the grooves inside the vinyl to read the data and transform said data into audible audio.
  • Vinyl record players use the stylus or needle to do the “reading” process.
  • Needles are a part of a more extensive system called a cartridge, which produces electrical signals. Although these electrical signals are vital, they tend to be too weak. 
  • Because the electrical signals are feeble, a phono preamplifier fixes this problem.

A phono preamplifier’s (phono stage) function is most often to amplify signals. Still, because of this ability, the effects of such amplifications transcend from just “mere amplifying” to other skills as well. For example, because of the phono amplifier, you can now connect your turntable to sound systems such as speakers and other amplifiers, just like how you would with other audio sources such as 3.5 mm jacks and microphones. (source)

Preamplifiers Versus Amplifiers: Does The “Pre-” Make A Difference?

Ah yes, the confusion is due to two things having almost the same names. It reminds me of the “lead as in leader and pencil lead” confusion we once had in college, but that’s irrelevant. However, many people tend to associate two things together just because they sound similar.

Okay, I get that both preamplifiers and amplifiers are amplifiers, but in reality, their functions are different as they tackle problems on different levels. First of all, we must understand that the preamplifiers are “pre-” for a reason: they handle ground-level situations while the amplifiers handle system-wide issues. (source)

At this point, let us first forget the types of amplifiers for turntables and let us first understand what preamplifiers are. Let us know firsthand the limitations of your vinyl records as to why a preamp is needed. With turntables (excluding those with built-in preamplifiers), most people must grasp that record players themselves are not responsible for the sound that comes out of your speakers.

The process is made out of different components helping out together. Preamplifiers are mainly responsible for amplifying the electronic signal from the amplifier to be on par with other audio sources. Then, the amplifier amplifies the sound for it to be audible to the human ear.

Amplifiers Versus PreAmplifiers:

  • Amplifiers handle and amplify the sound from sound sources such as microphones and other preamplifiers.
  • Preamplifiers boost audio signals of audio sources with weak signals (i.e., guitars and vinyl record players) to be on par with other sound sources.
  • Both amplifiers and preamplifiers are essential.
  • Both are prone to distortion.
  • A preamplifier’s quality will significantly impact the output of your vinyl record, so choose wisely!
  • While preamplifiers strengthen electrical signals to line-level, amplifiers advertise line-level signals by an even more significant margin.
  • Separating preamplifiers and amplifiers is crucial due to temperature concerns.

Now that we know the two types of amps for turntables, let us proceed to the following topic: the editor’s recommendations.

Meeting The Best Of The Best: Phono Preamplifiers Edition

Phono preamplifiers, as discussed earlier, is one of the two types of amps for turntables, and in fact, is an essential one at that

Phono preamplifiers, as discussed earlier, is one of the two types of amps for turntables, and in fact, is an essential one at that. As a quick review, phono preamplifiers are line-level amplifiers that help your vinyl record player enhance and amplify the signals from the cartridge for it to compete with other sound sources. However, even though phono preamps are considered a must-have, do you need to buy one, or should you skip this one?

Can I Skip Such An Essential Product?

Of course, without a phono preamplifier, it will be tough to make use of your vinyl record player. However, what if I tell you that there is a possibility that you might have one already? Yes, even if you specifically did not buy one, you might have one lying around.

Aside from the two types of amps for turntables, there are also other types of phono preamps: the built-in phono preamp and the external preamp. If you are not aware, your vinyl record player might have a built-in phono preamp already, so you might want to check with your manufacturer or with the product specifications. (source)

You Might Still Want To Buy A Separate Phono Preamp

Now that we have discussed the possibility of you having a built-in preamplifier, now let us discuss the reasons as to why you might consider buying a separate one, even though you may already have a built-in one. In this section of the article, we will discuss the differences and the rationales you might have for buying a separate phono preamp.

First of all, there is the elephant in the room: quality. Of course, most dedicated phono preamplifiers are much more high quality than the built-in ones as most of them use cheaper materials such as circuit boards and resistors. Moreover, since they use a smaller form factor, a sacrifice might have been made for miniaturization. (source)

Not all phono preamplifiers that are built-in are subject to such constraints. However, unless you are using the most high-end vinyl record players, you can bet on your money that the built-in phono preamplifier is a significantly stripped-down version of the external phono preamplifiers.

Here Are The Key Takeaways Why You Might Want To Consider A Dedicated Phono Preamplifier

  • Built-in amplifiers generally have lower quality sound
  • Most built-in amplifiers make use of cheaper component
  • The smaller size of built-in options suffer from problems related to miniaturization
  • Most dedicated phono amplifiers are more durable

Phono Preamplifiers: Our Recommendations

They say phono preamplifiers are a vinyl record player’s best friend, who, by themselves, is an audiophile’s best friend. Of course, you would want only the very best for your vinyl record player. Here are the types of amps for turntables that you would like for your very own.

Baseline Phono Preamplifiers For The New Audiophiles: Pyle Phono Turntable 

Let us be honest, people, not all can shell out a hundred bucks for a phono preamplifier and call it a day. Some can only afford the bare minimum, but that does not mean that their experiences should be the bare minimum as well, as we believe that there are two types of amps for turntables: the trashy ones and the good ones. Nothing in there says anything about price, so do not fret.

Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp - Mini Electronic Audio Stereo Phonograph Preamplifier with RCA Input, RCA Output & Low Noise Operation Powered by 12 Volt DC Adapter (PP444)

We think it would be only appropriate to offer a cheap yet nice-sounding product: the Pyle Phono Turntable Preamplifier for the new audiophile and the audiophiles on the budget. For the tech-savvy, here are the specifications. (sources)

Pyle Phono Turntable Preamplifier (PP444) Specifications:

  • Powered by a 12 Volt DC Adapter
  • RCA Output
  • RCA Input
  • It has a green LED indicator
  • Input sensitivity of 3 mV at 50k ohms

Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp - Mini Electronic Audio Stereo Phonograph Preamplifier with RCA Input, RCA Output & Low Noise Operation Powered by 12 Volt DC Adapter (PP444)

Well, let us not fret upon the specifications, as all of these will not be more than moot if it sounds like trash. So for a $17 phono preamplifier, does it sound like its price? Well, truthfully, it does not sound like something above $100, but it is much better in comparison to other phono preamplifiers at its price range. (sources)

Pyle Phono Turntable Preamplifier (PP444) Sound Signature:

  • It offers excellent sound quality in the bass range, creating a tight, round bass quality.
  • It falls off when it comes to the mids and the highs, so instruments like the snare drum and the vocals are generally more washed-out when compared to high-end phono preamplifiers.
  • Compared to phono preamplifiers of its price range, it can be considered as excellent, a satisfying fit for a money-pinching audiophile.

Although the Pyle Phono turntable preamplifier (PP444) offers excellent sound, there may be concerns regarding its durability. For a $17 to 19 dollar offering, I would not expect much either. Looking at the silver lining, we can see its very generous warranty of one whole year, enough for you to judge it out. 

This type of amp for turntables is modestly suitable for those looking for great basses and are not too concerned with the ultra highs and those who involve themselves with classical music. Below is a list of its recommended genres to listen to together with our affiliate link.

Genres Recommended For Pyle Phono Turntable Preamplifier:

  • Suitable for most rap songs and modern rap
  • Ideal for music with a lot of bass guitar
  • Not too good with percussions, especially with snare drums
  • It is not suitable for classical music or any very treble-heavy music.

Buy the Pyle Phono Turntable Preamplifier Here: Buy It Here!

High-End Phono Preamplifier: Pro-ject Tube Box S2

Seeing that you are still reading this article means that you do not lack cash, nor are you willing to skimp out for phono preamplifiers. Well, here it is, our recommendation for the high-end segment: the Pro-ject Tube Box S2.

Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 Phono Preamplifier - Black

The Tube Box S2 is a passion project by the Pro-ject, exemplified by its design, capabilities, and output. An intelligent design comes with quirky internal architecture, allowing it to be absent of operational amplifiers or OPAmps while coming in with replaceable tubes for tube rolling and sound-shaping. Below, we dictate its list of features. (source)

Pro-ject Tube Box S2 Features:

  • Allows the replacement of tubes for flexible listening.
  • Has no operational amplifiers
  • Suitable for MM and MC cartridges
  • Dual mono circuitry
  • Robust high-voltage anode power supply
  • Gold-plated RCA inputs and outputs
  • Sports polystyrene capacitors
  • Ultra-low noise circuitry

Again, now that we have discussed the specifications let us proceed with the real-world performance. How does it sound, and does it sound good? As a disclaimer, the sound performance will heavily vary with your setup, so your experience may not be holistically representative of yours. (source)

Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 Phono Preamplifier - Black

Pro-ject Tube Box S2 Sound Signature:

  • Because of its variable tubes, the sound signature will be varying.
  • It has a very smooth and warm sound.
  • Produces a rich, pleasant sound with no audible downsides

In conclusion, if you have the money for it, the Pro-ject Tube Box S2 will impress you with its output. However, that does not mean that you can’t experience good quality music without the Pro-ject Tube Box S2. As I said earlier, there are two types of amps for turntables: good ones and bad ones. No one says that just because something is cheap, it is terrible, nor just because something is expensive, it is automatically good.

If the Pro-ject Tube Box S2 tickles your fancy, then please we highly recommend you buy it. Buy it now with our affiliate link here: Buy It Here!

Highly Anticipated Questions

  1. Do Phono Preamps Affect Sound Quality? 

When it comes to turntables, everything affects the sound, even the material used for your turntable. Some may affect the overall sound output more than others, and the phono preamp is undoubtedly one of the significant reasons a turntable may turn out fantastic or a plain disappointment.

  1. What are the differences between a solid-state preamp and a tube preamp?

A solid-state preamp uses transistors and operational amplifiers (Pyle), while tube preamps use vacuum tubes to amplify (Pro-ject).

  1. Does the tube preamp sound better?

Of course, the sound output is always in the ear of the beholder. However, it is most often associated with a more warm sound signature, so whatever floats your boat, buy that one.