With turntables back in style and new people joining the community every day, some of the old questions have become relevant again. One of the most popular ones is whether or not you need a preamp for your turntable. Today we are going to try and settle this for good. We will go into what a preamp is used for, what it can do for you in terms of performance, and under which conditions is it necessary. Without any further ado, let’s jump right in.
Do You Need To Buy A Preamp For Your Turntable?
Yes, no and maybe. As confusing as that sounds, this question doesn’t have a straight yes or no answer. Every single turntable needs a preamp no matter what. However, there are numerous models out there which come with a built in preamp. High-end models usually don’t, which might sound counter intuitive, but there is a very good reason for that.
Preamplifier or Amplifier?
The difference between Preamps and Amps is that the Preamplifiers are devices that help you convert an electrical signal into an audible, clear, accurate output signal that doesn’t suffer from distortion and noise. While Amplifiers are devices that add some noise while increasing the power output level of the signal.
On a side note, in terms of placement, you should also keep them apart because the Amplifier might interfere with the Preamp signal and could end up messing with your high-quality signal. However, they are made to be connected, so keep in mind their positioning while doing so.
What Is A Preamp?
The problem with turntables is that the signal produced by the stylus isn’t anywhere nearly as high for your speakers to read it. In other words, if you were to just use the output of the stylus, you would get a very weak sound that lacks most of the definition and topography. This weak signal is called PHONO signal. What we need is something that will boost that PHONO signal to Line Level. In simple terms, Line Level is a type of signal which your speakers and other audio equipment can read.
A preamp is what converts or boosts a PHONO signal to Line Level. However, not every preamp is good in doing so. Sure, the strength of the signal is usually not going to be the problem, however, sound quality tends to change depending on the preamp you are using. As a matter of fact, your choice of preamp can have a large impact on the performance of your turntable.
Built-In Preamp VS A Standalone One
The next logical question is whether or not you should avoid turntables with a built-in preamp? In all honesty, it depends. Models with built in preamps are generally going to be cheaper, mostly because you won’t have additional expenses. However, turntables with integrated systems are often aimed at new users or those who just want to play records with little regard to sound quality. In other words, they are inherently cheaper.
One thing that some brands like to do is to offer models with built-in preamps, but ones which are switchable. This means that you can use the built-in preamp for as long as you like, but also have the option to bypass it completely and plug in your new high-end stand alone preamp. Overall, it is a great solution for those who are unsure how far they want to take their new hobby.
Why Are Some Preamps Cheap And Some Ridiculously Expensive?
Preamps are a bit more complicated than we have made them be up to this point. Aside from the overall build quality, type of components used and reliability, there are few other factors that will dictate the price of a preamp. First, we have MM and MC cartridges.
Every turntable cartridge uses some type of process to generate current. Two primary ones are the Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC). Both of these require different signal handling, which in turn means different preamp types. Preamps designed for use with MM cartridges are usually cheaper as this is the method of generating current is considered basic. MC preamps tend to be more expensive. There are even pre-amps which support both types of cartridges
Another factor we have to talk about is how the preamp affects the sound. Not every preamp works well with every turntable nor cartridge, even if they are rated to support that specific type of system. You will see pre-amps that positively impact the sound to a point where it’s completely different, while you can run into pre-amps that completely ruin the stock sound you had before. Unfortunately, figuring out whether your turntable can benefit from a certain preamp involves a lot of guesswork.
How To Go About Buying A Preamp?
Going out there to get your first preamp can be pretty intimidating. There are so many different models to choose from and most of them seem to be good. Before we get into details, you have to ask yourself what kind of performance are you looking to get? A good rule of thumb is to spend about half the amount you’ve spent on the turntable. For some reason, that often puts you in the sweet spot of preamp selection where you get the best bang for your buck.
There is always the option to future-proof your system by getting a high-end preamp. While doing this might be expensive, it is generally recommended if you know that turntables are something you want to be involved with in the future. In some cases, doing so can turn out to be cheaper in the long run. Those just starting out might want to experiment with cheaper preamps. There is a slight learning curve when it comes to understanding how to use a preamp and how it affects the tone. On top of that, chances are you won’t be able to notice the difference in tone quality just yet.
We might have gone off topic a little towards the end of this article. The bottom line is that every turntable needs a preamp no matter what. With that said, exploring the world of pre-amps and what they offer is one deep rabbit hole. It is so easy to get lost in the abundance of information, and you might find yourself constantly chasing that next level. However, that is the risk that comes with the hobby. We hope that this guide has answered some of the questions you’ve had regarding pre-amps, and brought you at least one step closer to reaching your desired turntable setup.