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What’s an external phono preamp? And does your turntable need one?

I’m gonna save you some time: yeah, you probably should buy an external phono preamp for your record player. Easy, right?

Not enough info? Want to dig a little deeper? Don’t worry — I’ve got you covered.

In this piece we’re going to explore what a phono preamp is, and why you, an audio fan, should add an external one to your setup. First things first…

What’s a phono preamp?

Let’s get simple. A phono preamp (or phono stage) amplifies the sound of your record player so it can be played through your sound system.

The signal that a turntable produces is too weak to be compatible with standard amplifiers. This is why you need a phono preamp to boost the record player’s output before connecting it to whatever’s driving your speakers.

It also provides equalization to the turntable, but that’s a topic for another day.

Do you need a phono stage to play vinyl?

Yep. Some record players have these built in, but this is less common in quality hardware. That’s not to say you can’t get great turntables with in-built phono preamps — the existence of the Pro-Ject Juke Box E and the Rega Planar 1 Plus proves this — they’re just less typical.

What’s more common is that some amplifiers will have a phono preamp built in. Normally, they look something like this: