Vinyl is having a bit of a comeback in these times, with many famous artists releasing their records not just on Spotify and CDs but also on vinyl. So a lot of young people are going out and buying turntables to play records. But vinyl technology is often different from a lot of other easily playable or accessible technology out there.
If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, then you know the importance of phono preamp in your vinyl setup, which is an integral part of amplifying your audio signal so you can listen to music the right way.
Some turntables do have phono preamps built-in, but some audio aficionados prefer to buy separate ones. The equipment will provide some much-needed sound equalization, and of course, will help to boost the signal so you can connect your turntable to external speakers.
In general, most people buy solid-state phono preamp to upgrade the turntable. The reason is, they are easy to use affordable. But Phono Tube amps give stereos a much more pleasant, warm, and smooth sound when compared to a regular amplifier based on a transistor. This is perfect for house parties or for when you have guests over, but it’s also a great option if you want to make the most of your vinyl and listen to good music at a decent volume, without any distortion.
If you don’t know much about tube phono preamps, don’t worry. I’ll take you through some of the best tube phono preamps that are available today.
LIST OF BEST TUBE PHONO PREAMP
BEST TUBE PHONO PREAMP REVIEW
1) FOSI AUDIO BOX X2 – BEST SOUNDING TUBE PHONO PREAMP
- 12V/1.5A power adapter output
- Input AC voltage range is 110V-240V
- RIAA frequency response
- Signal-to-noise ratio ≥ 98dB
- Total harmonic distortion ≤ 0.1%
- Output Voltage Level: 600 Mv @3mV 1kHz
- Stereo RCA inputs and stereo RCA outputs
Fosi Audio phono preamp is probably the best tube phono preamp for a warm and rich sound and will bring your music to life. This tube-moving magnet phono amplifier can easily convert the phono signals into line-level signals with the help of low-noise integrated circuits.
I know the pain of the low-frequency noise that develops when you listen to the music. But here, this preamp has some high-quality components that can remove them and ensure clear sound quality.
It has a 3.5mm AUX input so that you can connect it to your turntable, but you can also hook it up to your PC, laptop, or PS4. You could even connect it to your phone.
It is built with quality material that can come for long life. You get three adjustable gain levels like 39, 42, 45 dB, so you can determine and set the preamp’s sensitivity, and it also offers outstanding compatibility. You can also switch out the vacuum tubes if you like (the setup comes with 6J2 tubes), although they should last you a long time.
There are several other compatible tubes you can use with this preamp, though, and your sound might slightly change depending on the tube you use, in case you’re interested in experimenting.
The phono preamp is made mainly of metal with some plastic parts and is also designed with a grounding post, so no harm comes to your turntable.
This is particularly suited to Moving Magnet (MM) turntables or MM cartridges instead of MC cartridges, also make sure to check this recommended phono cartridge for your turntable. The phono preamp also comes with an RCA cable and a power adapter, so you don’t have to worry about scrambling to buy the necessary accessories.
- It helps to prevent low-frequency sound output
- Value for money
- It helps to boost clarity
- 18-month warranty included
- Installation is quite simple
- No distortion
- The tubes are decent but could be better
2) LITTLE BEAR T7 – BEST VALUE TUBE PHONO PREAMP
- MM turntable tube phono preamp
- Harmonic distortion is <3%
- 6J1 tube is used, can be switched out
- 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
- Input sensitivity 300 mv
- Signal to noise ratio: 96 db
This sleek little preamp from Little Bear is very useful and comes at a pretty affordable price, with the added benefit of not taking up much space on your turntable setup. It has an aluminum body, so it’s pretty durable, and the size also makes it quite portable in case you’re taking it to a friend’s party or an event or simply moving it to another part of the house.
Now talking about the sound quality this tube preamp offers, I must say that I was surprised by the quality of sound it tends to offer. The signal-to-noise ratio exceeds 85dB and often reaches 96dB and translates the music into the most fantastic way listeners would love.
It supports a wide dynamic range and also picks up several details of sound. Overall, the output sound is rich unless you stick with the lower gain.
In fact, in terms of a combination of price and portability, this is probably the best tube phono preamp you can get on the market, and it comes in two colors: black and silver. This is for MM turntables and doesn’t support MC turntables, so check the compatibility of your turntable before you purchase this particular piece of equipment.
This is fairly easy to set up as well, and it’s pretty much plugged and play. All you have to do is insert the tubes and attach them to the power supply, and you should be playing your favorite vinyl track in a trice. The gains are also adjustable in an updated model, which is a bonus.
This is also an AUX preamp, so you can even attach it to your PC or phone. So if you’re a bit fed up with your built-in phono preamp, and your turntable has a ‘Line Out’ switch, you should give this a go.
- It has an elegant look
- Gain is adjustable
- No noise issues with the equipment
- You get a full sound
- LEDs included
- Nothing much
3) SUCA-AUDIO VACUUM TUBE – BEST BUDGET TUBE PHONO PREAMP
- AUX and MM turntable preamp, with AUX priority
- RCA audio output
- 39, 42, and 45 dB gain levels
- 12V power adaptor required (included)
- Connect to phone, TV, MP3, etc.
- RIAA frequency response
- 12-month warranty
If you’d like a little more flexibility in your turntable setup, and you want to DIY the system a bit, this may be the best tube phono preamp you can get because you can easily apply several different tubes.
However, the tubes that the preamp comes with help amplify audio to give you a high-fidelity sound that will make your tunes sound much better than using a stereo receiver with turntable compatibility.
It comes with an adjustable gain design where you get three different gains levels like 39/42/45 dB. Different output gain matches different audio signals easily and gives a customizable control and a great listening experience.
The Suca-Audio preamp comes with 6A2 vacuum tubes, which glow when running. The preamp also comes with an AUX input so you can connect to other devices, and the circuitry is optimized to prevent any buzzing or other irritating noises while you play music. You can also adjust the gain levels, and there are three switchable levels to choose from via a knob on the surface of the preamp.
This isn’t a small-sized preamp, and it’s not particularly modern in its look, so if you’ve got a particular aesthetic eye, then maybe this isn’t for you. However, it is super-functional, and it’ll do the job that it’s supposed to very well, which is all you can ask for from a preamp.
There is a kind of noise that disrupts the sound quality in this preamp; it can be due to low-quality RCA cables and power supply. If the connection is poor or the vacuum tubes are defective, then it creates problems as well. You can fix this problem using the instructions given in the product manual.
If this preamp stops working or shows some issues within three months of purchasing, you can easily replace it. Also, you get a 12-month warranty for this product and its 24-hour customer service is also available to clear your doubts.
The reasonable price also makes this a perfect option for vinyl enthusiasts who want to get more out of their records.
- Noise-free operation
- Great for bass
- Warm and clear sound
- Very versatile allows tube switching
- Vintage design
- No grounding post
4) DOUK AUDIO PHONO STAGE PREAMP MINI STEREO VACUUM TUBE PREAMPLIFIER
- Phono preamp for MM turntables, with AUX input
- Signal to noise ratio is ≥98dB
- Total harmonic distortion: 0.1%
- RIAA frequency response
- 12V is the working voltage
- Output level: 600mV (3mV 1KHz)
- Frequency response: RIAA standard
- Working voltage: DC12V
This is a mini-sized tube phono preamp, so it definitely scores points for portability. With an aluminum alloy chassis, you won’t have to worry about this preamp not performing up to par, and it’s well-built to last you through hours of tunes as you play through your favorite artists.
The gold-plated terminals in the preamp also ensure lossless transmission, so there should be no voltage issues at all, and the audio should be smooth.
The frosted technology on the front panel of the preamp also gives it a distinctive look, so it’ll look a little more high-end than just some random box of equipment (as preamps often tend to look like). This is primarily suited for MM turntables, and you can hook up other devices via the AUX input.
This preamp uses 6A2 vacuum tubes (which can be replaced), and you’ll be surprised by the positive quality shift your audio will undergo. The tubes glow blue as well, which is a nice touch if you like that sort of thing. At roughly $60, this is pretty affordable for a solid preamp and has the added benefit of looking polished and sleek on your table or display.
Douk Audio has a winner here, and this is the best tube phono preamp in terms of affordability if you’re looking to save a few bucks.
- Easy to carry around
- Simple installation
- It makes audio clean and crisp
- Sounds great when connected via AUX
- Good for bass
- If you’re not a fan of the blue lights, there’s no way to switch them off.
5) AIYIMA TUBE T3 HIFI TUBE PHONO PREAMP FOR TURNTABLE
- Compatible with several devices, including MM turntables, phones, DAC, MP3, etc.
- It comes with 6A2 vacuum tubes
- Signal to noise ratio: ≥98dB
- Working voltage: DC12V 2A
- 3 switchable gain modes – 39, 42, and 45 dB
- Output level: 600mV @3mV 1KHz
- 3.5mm AUX input
- RIAA frequency response
The Aiyima Tube T3 is a versatile preamp that should work seamlessly with old or new receivers, and the ground wire will also lend some protection to your turntable. You should get a warm sound when you hook up your turntable to this preamp, and the vacuum tubes are a great accompaniment, but there are over a dozen options to choose from if you want to switch out your tubes.
In terms of compatibility, this is the best tube phono preamp you can get at this price, as it will accommodate all kinds of tubes, so you can change up the tonal quality of your music depending on your preferences. The 3.5mm AUX allows you to connect to other devices, and the 12V adapter you need to power the Tube T3 is included with the preamp.
The circuitry is specifically optimized to prevent noise during operation, and low-frequency audio shouldn’t be an issue when you’re using this to play music or anything else.
With a distortion rate of 0.1%, you’re guaranteed a clear, rich listening experience that’s devoid of any unexplained or annoying noise. The Tube T3 is made of high-quality components, so it’s sure to deliver in terms of performance.
- Great for bass, mids, and highs
- Great value for money
- Warm and full sound
- LED lights included in the vacuum tubes
- In terms of volume, it could be a little louder
6) NOBSOUND LITTLE VACUUM & VALVE TUBE PHONO TURNTABLE PREAMPLIFIER
- Compatible with PHONO signal output
- RIAA equalization used
- Power supply: AC110V(115V)
- A maximum gain of 48 dB
- Output Voltage: 2.0V
- Gain = 48dB
- Input RIAA ≤ 5mV
- THD ≤ 0.5%
- Signal to Noise Ratio ≥ 65dB(A)1KHz
If you want to spring for something slightly more expensive, then this Nobsound preamp is for you. At around $220, it isn’t cheap, but this pricing is pretty standard for audio equipment of a high caliber, and if you’re a real audiophile, you might well appreciate it.
The Little Bear T1 (as this preamp is called) works with MM cartridges and will perform seamlessly with a minimum of operational noise. The compact and neat look of the preamp might also appeal to neat freaks who don’t like messy equipment. It also comes with metal and acrylic tube covers and 4 tubes.
You’ll get a great natural sound with this, and if you consider yourself an audio aficionado, this is a preamp that’s worth adding to your setup.
- Very durable
- Neat, clean look
- Full and warm sound
- Good tonal range
- No grounding wire
7) DOUK AUDIO T3 PLUS VACUUM TUBE PREAMP
- THD: 0.2%
- SNR: 89dB
- AUX and phono inputs available
- Headphone output available
- 6A2 tubes enhance sound
- 12V is the working voltage
Getting back to cheaper options, this isn’t the most affordable model on this list, but it’s still in the budget range. This is another preamp from Douk Audio, and it’s got a unique, vertical design with wood-colored rods to lend some contrast to the black chassis.
The aluminum alloy build is a plus, and the frosted technology also helps to draw the eye. You won’t be forced to hide this behind some decorations when guests come over, as it’ll look quite stylish next to your turntable. So if you’re particularly drawn to cool-looking preamps, this is the best tube phono preamp for you.
But of course, it works very well to amplify your sound and make your music much fuller. It also supports both MC and MM cartridges, so if you happen to have an MC turntable, you can check this model out.
- MC cartridges are compatible
- Small and well-designed
- Smooth, full sound
- Stylish appearance
- It could be slightly more durable
BUYING GUIDE FOR TUBE PHONO PREAMPS
If you’re on the hunt for the best tube phono preamp, you’ve probably got an MM cartridge, and you’re limited in terms of budget (MC cartridges tend to be much pricier). Almost all the preamps on this list are priced fairly reasonably, so they should be within your budget. It’s better to go for a budget option unless you have an MC cartridge, in which case you’re looking for something more premium. If you are into upgrading your turntable, take a look at these 20 best turntable accessories you probably didn’t know to exist.
TYPE OF TUBE
Also, try to pick preamps that allow you to switch out tubes and are compatible with several different kinds of tubes. If you happen to be dissatisfied with the tubes that come with your preamp, you’ll always have an alternative, and you won’t have to opt for buying a whole new preamp.
And if you’re into experimenting with your audio setup, using different tubes is a great way to do that. It always helps to have a multipurpose device as well, so try to pick preamps that have an AUX input. That way, you’ll be able to plug in other devices (computers, tablets, phones, MP3s, etc.) if you’re not a vinyl-only audiophile.
Also, a grounding wire is a good thing to look out for because otherwise, you might hear a pronounced humming, which will distract from the music or audio.
Platter refers to the place where you place the record for spinning. It has a mat that is located between the record and its surface and acts as a record’s cushion. Also, the platter’s mat aids in reducing the vibration created while the record is playing. If your platter doesn’t come with a mat or felt, then buying one is crucial.
The capacitance refers to the measurement of signal characteristics such as resistance or load. When incorrect loads start acting as sudden equalizers or filters, they tend to produce resonant peaks. As a result, it causes excessive capacitance. This excessive capacitance can influence the sound and makes it worse. So it is crucial to check this feature. A high capacitance value is needed for your device to deliver good sound; either low or excessive capacitance will cause distorted sound.
The cartridge is the most important thing to consider before buying a phono preamp. This is because only when the phono preamps remains the same type to the cartridge in your turntable it will work. For example, the moving magnet (MM) cartridge of your turntable can only work with a preamp that has a MM cartridge.
If you focus on sound quality, then proceed with one of the tube amplifiers we have suggested. But if you want more than just amplification, consider getting turntable stereo amplifiers with phono input that includes multiple channels, AM/FM radio, USB, Bluetooth, and more features.
Ultimately, it depends on what you’re going to use the preamp for and what your specific audio needs are. If you’re a newbie, stick to a simple preamp that doesn’t require too much technical know-how, and you should be in the clear.
If you’re more advanced in terms of having a strong knowledge of audio peripherals, just pick what you think will best enhance your vinyl records. Pick the best tube phono preamp for you from this list, and you should be good to go!
1. What Is A Tube Phono Preamp?
A phono preamp is also called a phono stage preamplifier. It is an analog device that helps in improving the signals of your turntables. Getting a phono preamp for your vinyl setup is important to utilize its full potential.
This device provides standard equalization by correcting the sonic imbalances left that come with the device. Thus, it can boost a weak signal that comes from your cartridge to a level.
2. What Is The Difference Between The Tube Phono Preamp And A Regular One?
The tube phono amplifier utilizes the vacuum tubes to improvise the power of the output signals. At the same time, a regular preamp uses a set of transistors and operating amplifiers to perform the same job.
3. What Is The Advantage Of Using Tube Preamps?
The main advantage of using tube preamps it gives a pleasant and smoother sound than the normal amplifier. This is due to the smoothness of the tubes present in the tube preamps. Also, the sound quality coming of these preamps depends on the tube type and quality.