Phonograph/vinyl records have been around since the 1940s and are still a fairly popular method of listening to music. To play vinyl records, one must have several pieces in his or her sound system, including speakers, a power amplifier, a record player (turntable), and, as we'll discuss in this article, a phono preamplifier stage.
Note that it's fairly common for designers to include the phono preamp within the record player (similarly to how some speakers have built-in power amps). However, for many HiFi systems, having a separate phono preamp is part of the fun of designing the system and trying different sonic “flavours”.
There are plenty of phono preamp options on the market, and with so many to choose from, it can be difficult to find the perfect match for the system. In this article, I’ll share my take on the top brands to produce phono preamplifiers.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Performance of the phono preamplifiers
- Accessibility of the phono preamplifiers (how easy they are to find/buy)
- The company must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.
The top 11 best phono preamplifier brands in the world are:
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best phono preamp brands. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable phono stage/preamplifier, and a link to their official website.
Related article: Full List: Audio Amplifier Brands/Manufacturers (+ Examples)
Richard Schram founded Parasound in 1981 in San Francisco. Although he started a fresh company, he already had 15 years of experience and acquired knowledge in the audio industry. Plus, he had worked as an engineer for other non-audio brands in the middle as well.
Richard’s know-how, experience, and passion for sound took the brand to land some contracts with companies the size of Sony, LucasFilms, Pixar, and plenty more. Furthermore, they coined a motto by which they abide: not having a “Pro Line” and delivering top-notch quality throughout the entire catalogue.
Parasound might be one of the best “bang for the buck” brands on this list; if you haven’t already, be sure check them out.
Notable phono preamplifier: Parasound Halo JC 3+ (link to check the price at Crutchfield)
Designed by audio legend John Curl, this is a silent, smart-looking amplifier capable of pristine-clean tones. One of the reasons it is so clean-sounding is the triple shielding and the built-in AC line conditioner that prevents any AC noise from reaching the speakers. Also, the non-magnetic aluminum rear panel helps keep sound at its purest.
Its exclusive dual-mono design with rear independent controls for each channel and the Vampire-brand 24K gold-plated jacks make this unit as immaculate-sounding as reliable and flexible. Finally, it is available in black or white and gold.
Parasound was founded in 1981 by Richard Schram in San Francisco, California, USA, where the company is still headquartered today.
Official website: parasound.com
Parasound is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Primare was born, as an idea, at the dawn of the 1980s. It was founded by Danish audiophile and industrial designer Bo Christensen in 1985 in southern Sweden, where its headquarters remain still. He set out in the quest of creating great-sounding, beautiful-looking sound equipment he couldn’t find in the market back then. For this, he gathered a team of notables, including the very talented engineer Bent Nielsen.
Since that year, the uncanny mix of Scandinavian design, simple layouts, straightforward operation, and the best audio components in the market set this company apart from the rest.
If you are ready to test a next-level audio component and unleash the true power of minimalism, you have to give Primare a try.
Notable phono preamplifier: Primare R35 (link to check the price at Crutchfield)
Speaking of minimalism, elegance, and top-notch sound, this state-of-the-art piece of sonic equipment will haunt you at first sight. Indeed, the clean lines and completely clean front panel make it one of the most appealing units on the list.
But it is not all looks when it comes to Primare; the company builds each unit in Sweden with obsessive attention to detail. For example, the MM/MC phono preamp is completely isolated from the power supply making it one of the most pristine-sounding preamps available today.
Plus, you can connect it to the rest of your Hi-Fi system via top-notch XLR and RCA connectors.
Primare was founded in 1985 by Bo Christensen in Sweden. The company headquarters is located in Skane, Sweden.
Official website: primare.net
SPL or Sound Performance Lab is a German brand founded by Hermann Gier and Wolfgang Neumann in 1983. They have successfully created state-of-the-art equipment for audiophiles as well as the film industry non-stop since day one.
Today, the company works as two separate units, and one of the secrets to SPL success is to have an in-house team of engineers, designers, and builders that can take any idea and make it into a prototype within 6 weeks. That being said, most projects in the factory take more than a year of obsessive perfecting and polishing.
This company is one of the best options for those who want the best audio quality without breaking the bank. If you want to know more about them, check out this video.
Notable phono preamplifier: SPL Phonos (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video)
With separate controls over capacitance and impedance for moving magnet and moving coil systems, respectively, this unit allows you to fine-tune the audio of your turntable like few others in the market. Moreover, the gain switch allows you to select between normal gain values, -10dB and +4dB bringing a turntable closer to the gain generated by, for example, a modern DA converter.
Finally, the subsonic filter can help you eliminate any muddiness or rumbling from the turntable’s drive mechanism.
Sound Performance Lab was founded in 1983 by Hermann Gier and Wolfgang Neumann. The SPL headquarters is located in Niederkruechten, Germany.
Official website: spl.audio
Sound Performance Lab is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
An engineer coming from the aviation world, John Franks, envisioned a company that could take audio to fly standards. This means going beyond reliable and powerful, as is the standard in that critical industry. The year was 1989, and the soil beneath his feet belonged to the United Kingdom.
With a strong work ethos and impeccable design, the company's very first products ended up in the BBC, Abbey Road Studios, and later on, The Royal Opera House. The word was that this groundbreaking company was supplying state-of-the-art equipment for the most demanding scenarios, and their arrival in house audio caused a revolution.
Today, their British-made gear can be found in the houses of the most discerning Hi-Fi lovers in the world.
Notable phono preamplifier: Chord Huei (link to check the price at Audio46)
Designed and manufactured in the UK, this phono preamp by Chord Electronics carries the heritage of the aircraft industry right to the materials of its housing. Inside that aircraft-grade aluminum case, the isolated electronics offer a pristine reproduction of the sound, and the gain switches allow it to better suit MM and MC cartridges.
Finally, the dual unbalanced RCA and dual balanced XLR connectors are all this small device needs to enhance the sound of your entire audio system.
Chord Electronics Ltd. was founded in 1989 by John Franks in Kent, England, United Kingdom, where the company is still headquartered today.
Official website: chordelectronics.co.uk
Chord Electronics is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Abbingdon Music Research, better known as AMR, a UK-based audio brand, founded iFi as a branch in 2012. They recognized a gap in mobile audio for Hi-Fi lovers, and the name is an acronym for “interactive” and “Fidelity”.
This approach caused a revolution; Hi-Fi lovers could finally feed their high-impedance headphones while walking on the streets or commuting. That great performance in the smallest package possible went from pockets to desks, and the newest line of tabletop preamplifiers is every audiophile dream. Plus, they occupy less than half the real estate, a normal preamp would while delivering similar audio quality.
Notable phono preamplifier: iFi Micro iPhono3 Black Label (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video)
Don’t let the size of this stage preamplifier fool you because it really packs some of the best AMR technology under the hood. For example, the plethora of sound-shaping options under the chassis, the op-amps being computer-matched for best performance, the high-gain bipolar transistors in the output, and the Nichicon audio-grade capacitors deliver nothing but the purest sound from your turntable to your speakers.
All connections are high-quality RCA, and a top-notch, noiseless power supply is included.
iFi was founded as a brand of Abbingdon Music Research in 2012 and is headquartered in Southport, United Kingdom.
Official website: ifi-audio.com
Parent company: Abbingdon Music Research
iFi is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
From the first product designed to power The Grateful Dead’s “wall of sound” to some of the most amazing-sounding tube-driven Hi-Fi equipment on the market today, McIntosh remains one of the best audio brands money can buy.
Although McIntosh Group was purchased by Japanese and Italian holdings company's, the brand's structure, design, and production were never altered. This speaks a lot about the quality of the products coming out of the New York factory.
Nowadays, the company is owned by the McIntosh Group since 2014, and every piece of equipment still comes out of the New York facility. If you want to get a taste of a new definition of “amazing” for sound, you have to give McIntosh a try.
Notable phono preamplifier: McIntosh MP100 (link to check the price at Crutchfield)
This state-of-the-art preamplifier is true to McIntosh’s tradition in many ways. For starters, every vinyl lover can fine-tune the loading on their MM or MC turntable with six presets for each. Also, the balanced and unbalanced inputs are next to coaxial, optical, and USB connections for increased flexibility.
Furthermore, you can even disable all digital inputs completely, taking them out of the circuit for analog purity. Finally, there’s a mono switch to listen to old records the way they are supposed to sound.
Related article: Are Audio Amplifiers Analog Or Digital Devices?
It doesn’t get much better than this in terms of preamplifiers.
McIntosh Laboratory was founded in 1949 by Frank McIntosh in Binghampton, New York, USA. The company is still headquartered in Binghampton today.
Official website: mcintoshlabs.com
McIntosh Laboratory is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Born as Sima Electronics in 1980, this Canadian brand earned a reputation for being one of the region's best-sounding, most affordable brands.
After two decades of successful products released to a market of audiophiles hungry for great-sounding gear that wouldn’t cost a fortune, the first MOON-branded preamps were released to huge acclaim. Furthermore, the company entered the home theatre niche and expanded the line of available products taking technology one step further.
Today, after winning over 400 awards worldwide for their products, these made-in-Canada sonic wonders can still haunt your senses without breaking your bank. If you are after quality and price, give MOON preamps a try.
Notable phono preamplifier: Moon 810LP (link to check the price at Analogue Seduction)
This great preamplifier borrows some of its technology from its bigger brother, the 850P preamplifier. For example, the state-of-the-art floating, suspended circuit board together with the independent inductive DC filtering (meaning there’s one inductor for each IC in the audio’s path, making 24 stages in total) make this a great-sounding, flexible piece of gear.
Finally, the metalized polypropylene film capacitors were handpicked to have a very tight tolerance of 1%, and the PCB tracings have a dedicated ground and power planes utilizing pure copper.
For more info on amplifier ground, check out my article What Is Amplifier Ground & Where To Ground An Amplifier.
This is one serious preamplifier you need to test before buying.
Moon Audio was founded as Sima Electronics in 1980 by Victor Sima and is headquartered in Boucherville, Quebec, Canada.
Official website: simaudio.com
Parent company: Simaudio
Plinius manufactures top-notch audio equipment in New Zealand and has been doing so since 1980. The idea was to bring New Zealanders an affordable product made in their own land that would take their listening experiences to the next level.
The first decade of work saw some mild success. By 1993, after a successful CES appearance, the Plinius line made it to the USA and continues to be a worldwide brand receiving appreciation for their impeccable work from all corners of the planet.
Still, all units are designed, built, tested, and shipped from their New Zealand facility, where much of the work is finished by hand. If you want obsessive attention to detail, amazing craftsmanship, and a great sound, you have to check this brand out.
Notable phono preamplifier: Plinius Koru (link to check the price at Criterion Audio)
This preamplifier is a great way to bring new life to your old vinyl records. The dual chassis allows the unit to isolate the power supply completely, reaching a new definition for the sentence “clean-sounding”.
Plus, the unit features passive high-frequency equalization and active low-frequency equalization to fine-tune the speakers' sound. Also, it can be adjusted for MM and MC cartridges and boasts a precision of 100,000 micro Farads of capacitance in a 2-stage regulation. With impedance this low, the accuracy in power delivery to the amplification stages is uncanny.
Plinius was founded in 1980 by founded by Peter Thomson and is headquartered in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Official website: pliniusaudio.com
ELAC is a German brand founded in Kiel, Germany, in 1926 as “Electroacoustic GmbH”. Although not many people know this, the big break for ELAC came through the marine industry, for which they developed and built countless electroacoustic devices.
After WWII, when the company reached a peak of 5,000 employees, it scaled down and branched out to other markets. Nowadays, they enjoy a reputation for making some of the most sought-after speakers globally for studios and audiophiles alike.
This know-how in the field of acoustics and speakers gives the company a competitive advantage to design and build some of the best preamplifiers in the market. Plus, they have been making history for 95 years; it is about time you give them a chance if you haven’t already.
Notable phono preamplifier: ELAC PPA-2 Alchemy Series (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video)
This all-analog, FET-fueled unit utilizes discrete gain and EQ stages to turn the grooves in the vinyl into the groove of the party. Furthermore, you can tailor the response of the PPA-2 for MM and MC cartridges and even get a switchable gain per channel.
Finally, unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs and inputs make this great-sounding unit a great companion for any turntable and audio system.
ELAC was founded in 1926 as ‘Electroacustic GmbH’. In 1978, ELAC was bought out by the American firm Honeywell and renamed as ‘Honeywell-ELAC’. Today, the company is owned by the Chinese investment holdings company Legend Holdings Corporation and is headquartered in Kiel, Germany.
Official website: elac.com
Parent company: Legend Holdings Corporation (China)
ELAC is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Pro-Ject was founded in Mistelbach, Austria, in 1991 by Heinz Lichtenegger. Although all products are designed in Austria still, the company owns production facilities in Slovakia and Czech Republic. Pro-Ject distributes and sells its products to over 80 countries around the world. The main headquarters, a state-of-the-art facility just 35km away from Vienna, utilize solar, air, and crystallization energy to heat or cool its 1,200 square meters.
Pro-Ject’s main products are turntables, which are considered by many a benchmark in the industry. That being said, the know-how of making some of the best-sounding vinyl players in the world cascaded into other pieces of equipment such as speakers, amplifiers, and preamplifiers, making Pro-Ject an integral solution for all things Hi-Fi.
Notable phono preamplifier: Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2 (link to check the price at Crutchfield)
Pro-Ject presents this product as a “precision tube pre-amplifier” because of its uncanny accuracy when reproducing vinyl.
To begin with, the pair of 12ax7 (ecc83) preamp tubes make this a very warm-sounding preamp that also utilizes Dr. Sykora circuit technology and hand-picked audiophile-grade components. Moreover, the switchable subsonic (to get rid of the less-than-20Hz rumble) and MM or MC selection make this the ultimate, audiophile-approved preamp to have at home and enjoy every record with.
Pro-Ject was founded in 1991 by Heinz Lichtenegger and is headquartered in Mistelbach, Austria.
Official website: project-audio.com
Pro-Ject is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Based in Salt Lake City, where they still make their proud “made in USA” tags and all products, this company was founded in 1989 to bring great-sounding equipment to audiophiles without a limitless budget.
With this direction, the company has been hand-building some of the most reliable, great-sounding, and affordable preamps and power amps in the industry for audiophiles around the world.
Notable phono preamplifier: Bellari VP130 MK2 (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video)
With a 12ax7 valve glowing in the heart of its design, this Bellari preamp can breed new life to any recording. Indeed, the sound and craftsmanship quality in this piece of equipment doesn’t match its price tag.
Related article: Do Amplifiers Improve Sound Quality?
What does match its performance is the red colour in the chassis and the top-mounted valve, which make it look like a racecar. Finally, stripped-down controls and connections make this intuitive preamplifier a great no-frills approach for your vinyl collection.
Bellari was founded as a brand of the Rolls Corporation in 1989 by David O. Di Francesco. The company headquarters is located in Murray, Utah, USA.
Official website: bellariaudio.com
Parent company: Rolls Corporation