Best Phono Preamp Under 500 Dollars: Our 12 Top Choices In 2023

Best Phono Preamp Under 500 Dollars: Our 12 Top Choices In 2023

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There are many good reasons to get a separate outboard phono preamplifier for your turntable – maybe your amplifier or your turntable doesn’t have its own preamp, maybe you want to upgrade the sound quality or your vinyl playback system or maybe it’s just time for a change.

And there are many choices for your next phono preamplifier, especially given the enormous upsurge in popularity of vinyl records in recent years. In fact, ‘many’ is an absurd understatement, and in fact the selection seems endless, with so many good and bad choices it will make your head spin faster than a 78.

So let’s narrow it down, from perplexing to manageable, with a close look at my top 12 choices for the best phono preamplifiers under 500 dollars, in this 2023 Speakergy special buyer’s guide.

If your head is already spinning a bit, and you would just like to get to the good stuff and be on your way, here are my top recommendations:

What to Look For in the Best Phono Preamplifier

I’m tempted to list out all of the specifications and technical considerations that are ‘important” in selecting a new phono preamplifier – to please my own inner geek as much as to speak to the more tech-focused readers of this article – but we run into some problems with such an approach.

As much as crosstalk, RIAA compliance, signal to noise ratio, harmonic distortion, discrete circuitry, all analog processing, dual mono topography, adjustable impedance and a lot more are surely important, they do not always and necessarily lead to better sound, and to find the best preamp for turntables we really just have to listen to a bunch of them and decide for ourselves.

Anyway, manufacturers are notoriously inconsistent in their standards and specifications. Some of the best companies, who make the very finest sounding gear (phono preamps or otherwise), tend to be very conservative, and if you look at their published specs for, say, total harmonic distortion and noise floor, you would have to assume that their product was harsh, hissy and almost unlistenable – especially compared to other products whose specifications may be more accurate, or even a bit generous.

Other preamps, on the other hand, have such amazing published specifications, and based solely on that they would surely be the most superb sounding products available – at least until it comes to the actual listening.

Again, this can be the case with pretty much any audio gear – or anything these days, I suppose – but I emphasize it here because it seems to be especially true with phono preamplifiers, and I have found again and again that even the most basic and seemingly important specifications often have little or no correlation with how the preamp actually sounds.

So I have cited the 3 or 4 most important specifications and data for all 12 of my recommendations, but I spend a lot more time talking about how each unit sounds. I also take heavily into consideration how well made each unit is (so that we don’t fall in love with our new phono preamp only to be bereaved a few months later) and how it is in terms of design and user interface.

Wherever possible I have listened with a wide variety of cartridges, or at least a few different ones, and in either my own reference system or with systems I know well, so as to avoid being blinded or mislead by special synergy (or lack thereof), distortions, colorations, inconsistencies or other conditioning factors from unknown variables. Also, in each case I gave the unit in question a good, long, focused and undistracted listen, often over days and weeks, but always long enough to really get to know that particular preamplifier.

As a result I believe that this is a very honest, accurate and helpful list, comprising 12 phono preamplifiers – from just under 500 dollars to, well, just over 0 dollars – that really are the very best in their range.

My list is simply sorted by price, from most to least expensive, and each entry should provide enough information on technical, functional and qualitative listening factors to help you make a sound, and successful. buying decision.

The Best Phono Preamplifiers under 500 dollars in 2023

Best Phono Preamplifier Under 500 Dollars – Overall

Parasound Zphono XRM MM/MC Phono Preamplifier

Sale
Parasound Zphono XRM MM/MC Phono Preamplifier
  • Dual inputs for two turntables (1 MM & 1 MC), Front panel mono/stereo mode switch
  • Balanced and unbalanced outputs, Variable MC impedance adjustment of 50-1050 ohms
  • MM Gain options of 40 dB or 50 dB unbalanced (46 dB/56 dB balanced)
  • MC Gain options of 50 dB or 60 dB unbalanced (56 dB/66 dB balanced)
  • Ultra-low distortion (<0.02% THD), Ultra high-speed, low-noise op amps

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) & MC (Moving Coil) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 1.8-10mV for 1V output (variable gain)
  • Input Impedance: 47K Ohms (MM) :: 50-1050 Ohms (MC)
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 90/94dB A-WTD (MM, Unbalanced/Balanced) :: 80/82dB A-WTD (MC, 50dB gain, Unbalanced/Balanced)
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.02% @ 1 KHz

I go on and on in the review just below about how both the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 and this wonderful Parasound Zphono XRM are truly top-level audiophile phono preamps, so much so that we can clearly say that to spend a lot more will only give you very slight advances in sound quality.

But somehow I think I need to emphasize this even more here, because with the Parasound Zphono XRM, which is a gorgeous piece of kit, there is a real danger of becoming so enamored by how it looks and how it works, and with everything this super-advanced preamp will do, that we lose sight of the most important thing.

But first, what it features and what it does:

  • Fully variable impedance for moving coil cartridges from 50 to 1050 ohms
  • Two phono inputs (MM & MC)
  • Stereo/Mono Switch
  • High-pass rumble filter
  • Balanced and unbalanced outputs
  • Exceptional audiophile grade topography and circuitry
  • Adjustable gain for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges
  • Exceptionally fast, transparent, neutral sound with the lowest imaginable noise, distortion or other types of interference

This is just a quick list, which doesn’t even cover everything, but the last point is the key. Sure, the functionality, material and build quality and advanced engineering are huge, but the speed, neutrality and transparency of this supremely musical phono preamplifier are why I consider it the best under 500 dollars – even if it had four RCA plugs, a power switch and absolutely nothing else, but sounded like this, it would be an easy top pick.

Heck, I don’t even need the power switch.

I was fortunate to spend some real time with the Parasound Zphono XRM, not in my own system but in a stereo I know very well, and was constantly amazed by the transparency of this unit. I want to say ‘authority’ or ‘power’ or even ‘poise,’ all of which are close to the experience, but that’s not really it.

The sound stage is not necessarily large or small, tall, short, deep or shallow, wide or narrow, the dynamics are not constricted or exceptionally wide, the tonality is not sweet, dry, analytical or warm, the bass and treble are not necessarily detailed, fast and controlled, extended and expressive, and the mids are not necessarily palpable, present and realistic.

Not necessarily, at least, because the Parasound Zphono XRM, more than anything else on this list, simply disappears. The power, beauty, realism and expressiveness of the original musical performance and recording come through without comment and without censorship – that is, nothing is changed, nothing is added, nothing is kept back or constricted.

Somehow, even with mediocre recordings I found that the listening experience through the Parasound Zphono was insanely beautiful and moving because of this ultimate transparency, and with great recordings and great pressings the whole stereo system was able to move to the highest levels of dynamic power, tonal accuracy, imaging and soundstage, transient speed, force and decay, deep bass slam and high frequency air, all of it.

With every record I listened to the Parasound offered an experience I can only call transportive – because – not to sound corny – the preamplifier did not stand in the way, and allowed the music itself to be transported into my space and time.

This is what the highest levels of audiophile listening, and audiophile equipment, are all about, and the Zphono XRM is right there.

Is five hundred dollars a lot of money for a phono preamplifier? Well, yes, but to realize that you have actually reached the top tier of audiophile componentry makes it well worth it, and the moment you first hear the Parasound Zphono XRM you’ll realize it is actually a steal – the finest piece of gear on my list, and the finest phono preamplifier under five hundred dollars on the market today..


Best Phono Preamplifier Under 500 Dollars – Tube

Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 Phono Preamplifier (Black)

Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 Phono Preamplifier - Black
  • Suitable for MM and MC cartridges
  • Precise RIAA equalization in two parts, passive/active
  • Fully discreet circuit design without OpAmps
  • 2x ECC83 tubes (replaceable)
  • Front-sided Subsonic filter button

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) & MC (Moving Coil) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: Variable
  • Input Impedance: Variable
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 75-80dB A-WTD (dependent on gain)
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.02-0.05% @ 1 KHz (dependent on gain)

When you read the promo material from Pro-Ject, which is more and more becoming one of my favorite companies, and is really, really in tune with analog vinyl playback, they seem to stress how much the lovely little Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 is like real high end audiophile equipment.

But I have to say, as much as I love the company, they’re all wrong on this one. The Tube Box S2 is not like, or similar to, or reminiscent of, or anything even slightly removed from or related to, high end audio – it is high end audio!

Sure, you can pay a lot (really, a lot lot) more for a truly best of the best phonograph preamplifier, and get that tiny fraction of a degree more realism, expressivity, timing, poise or whatever, but this Pro-Ject Tube Box S2, and the Parasound Zphono XRM just above, are the only two units on this whole list of top phono preamplifiers where we begin to talk not about the marked differences between these and higher level gear, but how even a lot more money really does only yield those tiny fractional improvements.

In other words, the S2 and the XRM are, IMHO at least, fully established on that top tier, and fully and completely audiophile products.

With this Pro-Ject Tube Box S2, for example, there is a tube warmth which does not somehow improve or condition the sound, but is an organic part of the sound. In fact nothing about this preamplifier – the surprisingly intense bass slam, the tremendous dynamic power, the airy high end, the wide open and finely etched imaging, the pace or the superb expressivity – are ways that the Tube Box S2 makes the music sound. They are simply the music, and the listening is wholly immersive and enormously gratifying as a result.

The Parasound is this way too, and in each case I can think of no better compliment, or nothing I would want more from any amp, or any piece of audio gear period – they both are in total service of the music, providing everything the original analog recordings need to fully realize and express themselves, the amps adding nothing of their own and holding nothing back.

Ultimately it comes down to two things – do you want your music to have that liquid warmth and flow that comes from the finest tube gear (again, somehow that I can’t explain, this quality of warmth and musicality is not what I would call ‘coloration’), or do you prefer the utmost degree of accuracy in a slightly cooler (though still musical and quite lovely) sound,  as well as more functionality on many levels.

If the latter, see above, but if you are in the first camp this is it – the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 is small in stature but enormous in talent, a truly honest and authentic piece of audio gear which provides quite possibly the most disarmingly beautiful listening experience of any on this list.


Best Phono Preamplifier Under 500 Dollars for Digital Recording

Music Hall pa2.2 MM/MC Phono Preamplifier with A/D Converter

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) & MC (Moving Coil) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 3.3mV for 316mV output (MM) :: 0.2/0.4 mVrms for 316 mV (MC)
  • Input Impedance: 47K Ohms (MM & MC) :: 100 Ohms (MC)
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 70dB A-WTD (MM) :: 70-75dB A-WTD (MC)
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.01% @ 1 KHz (MM) :: 0.05% @ 1 KHz (MC) 

This is going to be a bit of a brief review (although, as Supertramp sing on their highly underrated album Brother Where You Bound, ‘ah but I’ve said it before…’)

But seriously, brevity is the brother of something or another, and the main thing I want to express about the Music Hall pa2 phono preamplifier is that it makes by far the best digital recordings of analog vinyl records of any phono preamp I’ve ever used.

To be clear, the pa2 is a lovely preamplifier, and just based on pure analog playback and its sound quality in that realm it is a tremendous value, at about halfway between four and five hundred bucks. But I think that the slightly less expensive Thorens, below, and the slightly more expensive Pro-Ject and Parasound, above, have better sound.

But this is still top-notch audio, with beautifully open and superbly realized imaging, real speed, power and control in dynamics, enormous detail and wondrous tonal beauty that does not come at the sake of accuracy or neutrality. In fact, I think almost any turntable at any level would be thrilled to be coupled with the Music Hall pa2.

And I should also mention that this little guy can also act as a superb basic stereo preamplifier, with both fixed and variable RCA outputs.

Ok, one more paragraph and I am beyond brief, so let me just say that if you want the most accurate and fully realized digital recordings of your analog LPs, with all of their charm, power and analog beauty shining through, the Music Hall pa2 is the answer, and a superb choice on all levels.


My Favorite Phono Preamp

Thorens MM-008 Phono Preamplifier in Silver

Thorens MM-008 Phono Preamplifier in Silver
  • Thorens MM-008 Phono Preamplifier in Silver (Open Box)

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) & MC (Moving Coil) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 3.29mV for 316mV output (MM) :: 0.325 mVrms for 316 mV (MC)
  • Input Impedance: 47K Ohms (MM & MC)
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 86dB A-WTD (MM) :: 72dB A-WTD (MC)
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.013% @ 1 KHz (MM) :: 0.055% @ 1 KHz (MC) 

All of the less expensive products in this buyer’s guide for best preamplifiers for turntables are easy to describe in terms of their sound, but the Thorens MM-008 is almost exactly the opposite – it has, in that grand true audiophile tradition – essentially no sound of its own.

Don’t get me wrong – I really do think all of the preamplifiers yet to come on this list are fantastic, and in their various ways allow as much of the music in those magical grooves to come through as is possible at their respective price levels. They are all musical and enormously satisfying, and any music lover would be happy with pretty much any of them.

But with the Thorens MM-008 we are still at that level where there is just music, appearing with wholeness and integrity in an empty and silent space. Deep bass is allowed to go as low as it wants, with all the power and room it needs, vocals are palpably real, high frequencies sparkle with air and lovely ease, and the sense of time and space, of an actual musical performance, is absolutely extraordinary.

I’ve never heard such low distortion and noise, such tonal neutrality, such transient speed and control, such holographic imaging or such dynamic power in any phono preamplifier at this price level, and in fact a lot of even much more expensive preamps don’t have this kind of transparent musical presentation, effortlessness or authority – and none of them (maybe even the ones above) have the Thorens’ magic.

Thorens has been around for almost one and a half centuries, and many of their turntables and other products have become truly legendary over the years, and I strongly believe that this superb Thorens MM-008 phono preamp is on its way to joining them. If you don’t need digital circuitry or moving coil inputs, the 008 is my top pick, and my favorite phono preamplifier under 500 dollars by far.

If you’d like a little bit of that Thorens magic for quite a bit less money, and you don’t need moving coil inputs, check out the Thorens MM002 Phono Stage. I only had a few minutes with the MM002, and with somewhat unfamiliar equipment, but I could easily hear that it too is a really special unit. 


Best Value Overall in a Phono Preamp

Parasound Zphono USB MM/MC Phono Preamplifier with Digital Output

Parasound Zphono MM/MC Phono Preamplifier with USB
  • Dual transformers and analog power supplies - AC polarity switch to help eliminate hum
  • RIAA defeat switch allows for post recording digital RIAA equalization - Settings for MM-47 kΩ, MC-47 kΩ or MC-100 Ω cartridges
  • 2 additional inputs for recording line level audio (Tape, Tuner, Sat Radio, etc.) - Headphone output for monitoring recording

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) & MC (Moving Coil) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 5mV for 1.1V output
  • Input Impedance: 47K Ohms (MM & MC) :: 100 Ohms (MC)
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 74dB A-WTD (MM) :: 63dB A-WTD (MC)
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.1% @ 1 KHz

If you want a lower priced phono preamplifier for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, the iFi Zen Phono is an exceptionally smooth, natural and accurate choice for under 200 dollars, and the Schiit Mani 2 is another great choice, which sacrifices the last bit of the iFi’s poise and control for the sake of power and excitement.

But for a hundred dollars more we find a very special phono preamplifier in the Parasound Zphono, which is also MM and MC compatible, and even includes a stunningly musical analog to digital conversion stage, allowing you to make superb digital recordings of your vinyl records.

I think I wanted to mention the iFi and the Schiit, which are incredibly popular units, because to me the Parasound offers a kind of “best of both worlds” sound – that is, the Zphono has exceptional poise, with real accuracy and beautiful control, like the Zen, and at the same time has even more raw power than the Mani, and reproduces music with such effortless energy and excitement.

The Parasound Zphono has the best soundstage I’ve heard at this level, with unconstricted and perfectly scaled width, depth and height and with perfect precision in placement and movement. It also has the best bass, deep, fast and well defined, eerily  palpable and realistic mids and shimmering, liquidly musical high frequencies.

With its combination of disarming musical beauty, exceptional accuracy and transparency and thrilling power and impact, the Parasound Zphono reminds me very much of top-tier audiophile gear, as does the fine fit and finish and the overall build quality.

But let’s not forget that this premium product is still under 300 dollars – even more astounding when you consider the quality of the digital recording circuitry, auxiliary inputs for additional digital recording options, the excellent headphone amplifier, mono, polarity and rumble filter switches, on and on.

A supremely musical phono preamp for moving coil and moving magnet cartridges, with an equally musical AD converter and a fantastic headphone amp also on board, the Parasound Zphono is one of the best values I’ve ever found, and a fantastic choice at this level


Best Phono Preamp Overall – Mid-Priced

Rega Fono Mini A2D MM Phono Preamp & USB A/D Converter

Rega - Fono Mini A2D MM Phono Preamp & USB A/D Converter
  • MM Phono Preamp with a USB output, connects directly to your computer
  • Converts analog signals to USB
  • Makes it a snap to convert your records into high-resolution digital audio
  • User-friendly front and back panels
  • Compact size

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 5mV for 500mV output
  • Input Impedance: 47K Ohms
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 78 dBA ref 5 mV
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): .01 %

Here is exactly where I sometimes get into trouble. I am going to suggest that at this extremely popular and competitive price level, just under 200 dollars, the two most widely discussed, popular and acclaimed phono preamplifiers – the Schiit Mani 2 and the iFi Audio Zen – are not the best choices.

For that I would go with the frankly superb sounding Rega Fono, a decidedly understated box which is much less attractive cosmetically than either the Schiit or the iFi, but has much more beautiful sound.

The Rega Fono is more beautiful in sound specifically because it has a relentless honesty and accuracy. While the iFi is smooth and easy on the top end, and the Schiit is bracingly bright and detailed, the Rega Fono is simply neutral. And while the Schiit Mani has fun, powerful deep end, with exceptional extension, and the iFi is well known for its bass definition and control, the Rega simply allows the bass, from sub-bass on up, to appear accurately and powerfully, without any coloration or enhancement.

With exceptional dynamic power reserves, really everything in the musical picture comes through not just accurately but effortlessly, with real impact and exquisite subtlety as appropriate. To my ears the Rega Fono has the lowest noise floor, the lowest distortion, the most open and detailed sound, the most developed, detailed and coherent soundstage and the most musical sound by far of the three.

What’s more, the Rega Fono Box also has an equally superb analog to digital converter, which allows you to make top-level digital recordings of your precious vinyl on your PC.

I do think the iFi Zen Phono and the Schiit Mani Phono (The Gentleman and The Beast, as I call them) are superb phono preamplifiers and exceptional values, and I really do recommend them both highly – especially if you need moving coil compatibility, which the Rega does not have

But I myself highly value gear that, more than anything else, simply gets out of the way of the music and musicians, and for this the Rega Fono Mini is a better choice.


Best Phono Preamplifier for Moving Coil Cartridges – Budget

Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box DC – MM/MC Phono preamp with line Output – Blk

Pro-Ject Phono Box DC MM/MC Phono Preamp with Line Output (Black)
  • Compact phono preamplifier
  • Adjusts for MM or MC cartridge via switch on rear panel
  • Small size allows installation close to record player
  • Ultra-low impedance output stage

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) & MC (Moving Coil) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 5mV for 500mV output
  • Input Impedance: 47K Ohms
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 88dB A-WTD
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.05% @ 1 KHz

There are still five less expensive phono preamps to go, including another Pro-Ject product, but the Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box DC has the great distinction of being the lowest priced acceptable moving coil phono preamplifier I’ve ever used.

Indeed, the Phono Box DC is quite a bit more than acceptable, with an exceptionally low noise floor which really allows the low-level output of moving coil cartridges to emerge from empty space, and a supremely high level of detail and resolution which fully convey the delicate and beautifully expressive quality of any moving coil, even higher end cartridges.

It shouldn’t go without saying that the Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box DC is equally talented with normal moving magnet cartridges, and in fact the smooth, flat and well extended frequency response, the dynamic energy reserves and the surprisingly superb tonal accuracy make all turntables and cartridges sound their best.

It probably can go without saying that, being a Pro-Ject product, the Phono Box DC is very well made, and a nicely finished and decent looking – in a nicely understated way – product. Most importantly, the DC is not just the least expensive moving coil phono preamplifier I would recommend, it is simply a beautiful sounding amp.


Best Vacuum Tube Phono Preamplifier – Budget

Douk Audio T4 Plus Vacuum Tube MM/MC Phono Preamplifier

Douk Audio T4 Plus Vacuum Tube Phono Preamplifier, MM / MC Turntable Audio Preamp, GE5654 Headphone...
  • MM /MC phono input, support multiple input impedance switch (1KΩ/470Ω/220Ω/100Ω/47Ω/22Ω/10Ω), converts phono signal to line level...
  • Unique and amazing combination in the appearance: integrated T4 PLUS preamp with retro tubes and VU meter into a whole, the pointer dancing...
  • Imported JAN5654 tubes and vintage warm sound: default comes with JAN5654 tubes, improves everything associated with your music such as...
  • 3.5mm headphone output and perfect circuit design: T4 PLUS also with built-in classic headphone amp circuit (2*NE5532), easily to drive...
  • Mini size and excellent performance: all designs full of details, such as solid aluminum alloy knob, gold-plated terminals, grey integrated...

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) & MC (Moving Coil) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 5mV for 300mV output
  • Input Impedance: Variable
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 71dB A-WTD
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.8% @ 1 KHz

There are quite a few tube preamplifiers that are less expensive than this delightfully retro Douk Audio T4 Plus – really, a surprising number of them – but the Douk is the least expensive one I would consider good enough in terms of quality and reliability to enthusiastically recommend.

But let me be clear that my enthusiasm is not solely, or even mostly, because of build quality, or the funky industrial style, or even the fact that it also doubles as an excellent headphone amp and basic stereo preamp, but because of the luxuriously warm, rich sound of the Douk T4 Plus.

In that brilliant manner of the most successful tube gear, the T4 Plus is open, accurate, quick and easy, and able to resolve even subtle dynamics and other musical cues. It has a very nice stereo soundstage, with good depth, height and width, proper scale and real coherence. It also has good bass slam, slightly rolled off but clear and detailed highs and exceptional midrange tonality, with remarkably realistic vocals.

I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to this Douk with a moving coil cartridge, but many people find the exact same qualities present, and report that the transparency and delicacy of this amp works especially well with moving coils. That said, it does not have the sensitivity of other MC preamplifiers, and so you might well experience higher levels of noise.

We’re clearly in the budget range with the Douk Audio T4 Plus vacuum tube phono preamp, but we are also clearly reaching the next level in terms of sound quality, accuracy and beauty. For an amazingly musical product on the cheap – as a phono preamp, a basic functional stereo preamp and a fantastic headphone amp – I can’t recommend the T4 Plus strongly enough.


Best Phono Preamplifier Overall – Budget

Pro-Ject Phono Box E Phonograph Preamplifier (Black)

Pro-Ject Phono Box E Phonograph Preamplifier (Black)
  • Amplification and RIAA equalisation for MM cartridges
  • SMD circuitry
  • Special low noise components
  • Internal metal shielding
  • Gold plated RCA connection sockets

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 5mV for 500mV output
  • Input Impedance: 47K Ohms
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 88dB A-WTD
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.05% @ 1 KHz

It’s amazing to think that you can get essentially audiophile sound quality from a phono preamplifier that is well under a hundred dollars, and really I guess you can’t, but the Pro-Ject Phono Box E is pretty darn close!

Transparency and ease, musical energy and detail, particularly accurate and neutral tonality, quite decent bass extension and impact, an impressively extended and stable stereo imaging soundstage, very low noise and a lot more – again, the Pro-Ject Phono Box E, for just a shade over sixty dollars, may not be actual audiophile material, but it is definitely much closer than anything else at this level.

A well made unit, and quite nice looking as well, the Pro-Ject Phono Box E is the perfect choice for the budget audiophile – Pro-Ject is a great company, and the E is a very good choice for a low price preamp.


Big Sound for a Small Price

Rolls VP29 Moving Magnet Phono Preamplifier

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 5mV for 635mV output
  • Input Impedance: 47K Ohms
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 83dB A-WTD
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.01% @ 1 KHz

Very similar to the two lower priced budget choices on our list of best phono preamplifiers under 500 dollars, but in a somewhat garish red case, the Rolls is still a very inexpensive unit, but has  significantly better sound.

The main things I notice with the Rolls VP29 – besides that bright red box – is the weight of the low end, the overall dynamic energy and impact, and the feeling of authority overall. Low noise, low distortion, good clarity and detail and a decent stereo image are all evident as well, and the Rolls seems to just have more power than cheaper phono preamplifiers.

This is a very inexpensive unit, but the Rolls VP29 seems a perfect choice for somebody who is not just looking for the cheapest way to play records, but for a more satisfying, accurate and engaging high fidelity sound. American made, extremely highly rated and quite popular, this is a great phono preamp for the money.


Best Phono Preamplifier – Super-Budget

Fosi Audio Box X1 Phono Preamp for MM Cartridges

Fosi Audio Box X1 Phono Preamp for MM Turntable Mini Stereo Audio Hi-Fi Phonograph/Record Player...
  • 【Converts MM Turntable Signals】: BOX X1 compact ultra-low noise phono preamp converts phono signals to line-level signals. Designed with...
  • 【MM Phono Preamplifier with DC12V Power Adapter】: Output Voltage Level: 2V max (P-P) at 10K Ohms, SNR: 70dB, THD: ≤0.08% @ 1kHz and...
  • 【RCA Output & 3.5MM Headphone Output】: BOX X1 supports MM turntable input, 3.5MM headphone output, and RCA line output for powered...
  • 【Amplify Vinyl Records to Interface with Your Home Stereo System】:The built-in low noise phono preamp circuitry is highly accurate and...
  • 【What You Get】: BOX X1 phono preamp x1, 12V power adapter x1, User manual x1, our worry-free 18-month warranty, and friendly customer...

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 5 mV
  • Input Impedance: 47K Ohms
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 70dB A-WTD
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.08% @ 1 KHz 3 mV Input

A lot of people are really into the Fosi Audio tube phono preamplifiers, and with good reason – the X2 and X4 are amazingly warm, rich and musical preamps for very low money.

But if I had to select a single Fosi, it would definitely be the Box X1, a solid state preamp rather than their popular tube models, and one that – while still dirt cheap – has a real sense of musicality.

Compared to more expensive preamplifiers, the Fosi Box X1 does better than you might think, with some dynamic constriction and some rolling off of deep bass and high treble, but with actual dynamic energy, a clean and open sound, good imaging and a warm and engaging sound quality.

Fosi Audio’s Box F1 phono preamp may not win any beauty contests, but it is a decently well made and very, very inexpensive product with much better sound than you might expect, and can make even better turntables sound great.


Ridiculously Cheap and Actually Good

Pyle PP999 Mini Phono Preamplifier with 12 Volt DC Adapter

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Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp - Mini Electronic Audio Stereo Phonograph Preamplifier with RCA Input,...
  • CONVERTS PHONO SIGNALS: A turntable preamp that converts phono signals to Line Level Signals. This state-of-the-art circuitry phono preamp...
  • LOW NOISE OPERATION: Offers outstanding performance with it’s Low-Noise Audio Operational Amplifiers. The output is 2V max (P-P) at 10K...
  • CONNECTS TO TURNTABLES: Connect any turntable to modern sound equipment without specialized phono input for amplifying music. For the...
  • SIMPLE PLUG & PLAY: This mini preamp has stereo RCA inputs and stereo RCA outputs. Connect the turntable to the RCA inputs and ground. Then,...

At a Glance:

  • Works with: MM (Moving Magnet) Cartridges
  • Input Sensitivity: 3 mV
  • Input Impedance: 50K Ohms
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 70dB A-WTD
  • THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.08% @ 1 KHz 3 mV Input

There are so many different choices for phono preamplifiers at this lowest price level, many of them coming from Pyle, but their Pyle PP999 mini preamp is the best I’ve heard in this range.

No, for just over 20 dollars the sound cannot compare to the high end phono preamplifiers on this list, but the Pyle PP999  is surprisingly open and very detailed, with actual clarity and quite decent stereo imaging, very low noise and distortion and none of the strain or haze one often finds at this level.

Extremely simple in layout, the Pyle has a phono input, an output for your amp or receiver and a ground post, as well as a separate DC power adapter (kept outboard for reduced noise). All of the input and output jacks are industry standard, and hookup couldn’t possibly be easier.

 A well made basic preamplifier that lets you hear analog vinyl records with warmth, accuracy and clarity, the Pyle PP999 mini phono preamplifier is way ahead of most others at this lowest price level, and an easy recommendation.