What is a Turntable Preamp?

A turntable preamp is either a built-in or external audio device that helps amplify the signal from the record player so it can be heard better. Preamps are integral to getting a good turntable set up for ideal audio listening.

My name is Donovan, and I’m a music lover at heart. I live for writing, recording, and producing music, and I also listen to it all of the time. I’m a big fan of vinyl records and have used many different turntables and related gear over the years. 

This post will explain what a turntable preamp is. I’ll tell you what a preamp does and why you might or might not need one. I’ll also provide you with other helpful information to help you get the most out of your turntable setup. 

Let’s dive in. 

Key Takeaways

  • The function of a turntable preamp is to boost the audio signal from a record player so a receiver or speakers can better pick it up. 
  • A preamp can be built into a turntable or attached as a separate piece of equipment in your setup. 
  • Stand-alone turntable preamps typically offer better sound than built-in preamps, but built-in preamps are more convenient for people who aren’t as concerned with audio quality. 

What is a Turntable Preamp? 

A turntable preamp is an essential piece of the puzzle for connecting your record player to the rest of your stereo. A preamp helps to amplify the electronic sound signal that the turntable produces so it can be amplified. 

The preamp handles the signal created by the needle on your turntable and turns it into a line-level signal. This signal can then be sent to a receiver or powered speakers for you to hear the sound from your vinyl records. 

You might hear several terms amongst audiophiles and turntable enthusiasts that describe a turntable preamp. A phono preamp, phono stage, preamp, or preamplifier, all generally represent the same thing. 

Some preamps aren’t designed for use with turntables, which is why the phono preamp designation exists. There isn’t any technical difference between the terms I mentioned above. 

Turntables can come with built-in preamps, or you can get a stand-alone preamp. I’ll explore the difference more in the sections below, but for now, just know that built-in preamps are more convenient, and stand-alone options deliver better audio quality.

Do You Need a Preamp for a Turntable? 

You do need a preamp to play your turntable through speakers. But you might not need to buy a preamp because many models come with a built-in preamp that helps boost the signal without you needing to do anything. 

A built-in preamp is very convenient and a good option for anyone who doesn’t know much about audio and is looking for a simple setup. This can also be a more affordable option because you don’t need to purchase a separate preamp. 

But a stand-alone preamp is a better option regarding overall audio quality. Stand-alone options can boost the signal better than built-in preamps, allowing you to hear more of a vinyl record with more depth. 

I like to use a stand-alone turntable preamp because of its superior sound quality. But I’ve also used plenty of built-in models over the years, which is still a good way to listen to records. It just depends on what your priorities are. 

Phono Preamp vs Preamp

A phono preamp is the same as a turntable preamp. This device can also be called a phono stage. But a phono preamp is not always the same as a regular preamp, even though it can be. That might sound confusing but stay with me as I break things down. 

Preamps are used in situations other than just for turntables. There are preamps used with microphones and built-inside of audio interfaces to bring out better sound during the recording process.

All preamps essentially serve the same purpose – to boost audio signal. But a microphone preamp cannot be used with your turn table and vice versa. That’s why you always want to ensure you buy a phono preamp, specifically for record players.

A phono preamp also does something very different from other types of preamps that is specific to turntables. This involves something called RIAA equalization, which helps create the best sound quality possible for your records. 

Will a Preamp make my Turntable Sound Better? 

The entire function of a turntable preamp is to help your records sound better. And because you need some sort of preamp to amplify the sound coming from your turntable in the first place, a preamp is essential. 

If you want the best sound possible, you’ll want to get a good preamp. A stand-alone unit is highly recommended because this will work better and get optimal sound quality compared to a built-in preamp. 

But remember that even if you have a good stand-alone preamp, you might still not get good sound if you have sub-par speakers. If you upgrade to a good preamp, you’ll also want to upgrade to good speakers. 

You can still get decent sound quality from a built-in turntable preamp. This is a good enough option for the average person. But if you want the best audio quality possible, you’ll need a stand-alone preamp and top-notch speakers. 

Will a Preamp make my Turntable Louder? 

The entire purpose of a preamp is to make your turntable louder. If you connect a turntable that doesn’t have a preamp to your receiver, it will be very quiet. This is true even if you turn up the volume all the way. 

The only way to get authentic sound from your vinyl records is to use a preamp, whether that is a built-in option or a separate stand-alone one. And a stand-alone one will help make your turntable louder than a built-in one.

Turntable Preamp vs Receiver

Many people who are getting their first turntable or getting back into listening to records need clarification on the difference between a turntable preamp and a receiver. These are technically two different things, even though they can function similarly. 

If you have a receiver with a dedicated Phono Input, then it most likely has a turntable preamp built into it. You can connect a turntable without a preamp to the receiver and won’t need a preamp to hear it clearly. 

But receiver preamps are essentially the same thing as built-in turntable preamps. So the sound quality won’t be as good unless you use a stand-alone preamp in your stereo setup. 

Not every receiver comes with a dedicated phono input, so you’ll need to use a built-in or stand-alone preamp to get full sound if you don’t have the correct setup. 

I use a stand-alone preamp and a receiver in most of my turntable stereo situations. Even though I have dedicated phono inputs on a receiver, I still like the increase in sound quality that a stand-alone preamp provides. 

Quick Tip: Before you purchase a new preamp or receiver, check what type of turntable you have. If you have a built-in preamp, you can use a receiver without a dedicated phono input. If you don’t, you’ll need a phono input or a stand-alone preamp. 

Final Thoughts

A turntable preamp is an essential aspect of listening to vinyl records. This unit helps boost the audio signal so it’s loud enough to hear clearly through speakers. You need some type of preamp to really listen to your turntable. 

Your record player will either have a built-in preamp or it won’t. If unsure, you can ask the manufacturer when you purchase it or look up the model number online. If the turntable doesn’t have a preamp, you’ll need a stand-alone option or a receiver with a phono input. 

Do you use a built-in preamp or a stand-alone one? What do you like about your choice? Let me know in the comments below.

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