10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 Reviewed

Just getting a turntable to play your old vinyl records isn’t enough. Simply plugging the turntable into an amplifier won’t cut it as the sound will be too low. But you already knew that.

The hard part is finding the right phono preamp out of all the models and brands available in the market.

What’s the right gain range? What’s THD? There’s plenty to take into consideration.

Well, we’ve done all the research for you, and guess what, you do not have to spend thousands of dollars on a good phono preamp.

Below we covered the best phono preamps under 500 for 2021 so your vinyl collection no longer sits there collecting dust.

#1: Puffin Phono Preamp by Parks Audio

10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 Reviewed

When it comes to preamps in this budget, there’s hardly any that can go toe to toe with the versatility of the Puffin Phono Preamp by Parks Audio, and here’s why.

Do you use a coil turntable or magnetic turntable? Or maybe you use both? Skip the hassle of buying two preamps. This baby can be adjusted to run with either turntable as it comes with a whopping 20 gain settings i.e. -4dB to 72dB

The -4dB gain means the preamp isn’t just limited to turntables but also supports CDs (one of the very few preamps under 500 with this benefit).

And adjusting the gain takes mere seconds as it has an intuitive knob along with a clear digital display that lets you know the exact gain setting for the perfect sound.

This phono preamp also comes with a touch of ‘Magic’, a feature that automatically detects and removes any clicks and pops heard during the playback.

And it is considered to be more efficient than a DSP filter. That is because your vinyl wouldn’t sound processed as it only works on the bad bits. And yes, its detection system is pretty darn good so it doesn’t miss too much.

Apart from that, there are also high and low-frequency filters to further improve sound quality. For anyone using 78s and LPs, high-frequency filters can be a blessing especially if you find surface noise annoying.

It also allows you to adjust bass and treble with easy to use tilt tone controls. And in case you want heart-thumping bass, you can easily turn on the BassBoost (get the beats, just the way you want it).

Lastly, the preamp also features a grading system. This doesn’t just help you sort the best sounding and duplicates vinyl but also provides a detailed analysis that can help with sales or trade, flags the ones that need replacing, and so on.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Works with both coil and magnetic turntables
  • Supports CDs as well
  • Adjust gain in seconds with the toggle switch and digital display
  • The magic feature automatically clears clicks and pops
  • Compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri
  • Easily adjustable treble, bass
  • Increase bass with the BassBoost feature when needed
  • The grading system sorts out dupes, vinyl that need replacing, etc.

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • The most expensive preamp on the list
  • Larger than most phono preamps

#2: Cambridge Audio Alva Duo Phono Preamp

The Cambridge Audio Phono Preamp is another pricey but premium phono preamp that is ideal for the audiophiles that like their music point perfect.

Don’t you just hate it when there’s this hum due to the vinyl’s low-level signal? Say goodbye to such issues.

With switch-mode power supply and surface mount technology, the signal travels in milliseconds ensuring clearer, more precise sound.

It is one of the reasons why the preamp has such impressive numbers when it comes to Signal to Noise Ratio i.e. >90dB for MM and >70dB for MC (no buzzing even if the room had no other noise).

Oh, and yes in case you didn’t notice, the preamp works with both magnetic and coil turntables and boasts equally impressive audio quality for both.

And one of the reasons for that is the Subsonic filters. There’s also the balance control that keeps out any rumbles that come with low frequency. So if you have a vinyl that isn’t in the best of condition, this preamp is your best bet.

Thanks to the filters and controls, it also has one of the lowest THD’s in a preamp at a mere 0.0025% for MM turntables and 0.20% for MC turntables thus confirming how little distortion there is.

The preamp also handles Crosstalk exceptionally well and has a good gain for both types of turntables. To top it all, it also has an RIAA Curve Accuracy of +/- 0.3dB

Wait, what’s that?

Well, RIAA stands for the Recording Industry Association of America and is the gold standard when judging the accuracy of the sound produced by the preamp in accordance with the vision of the artist. And yes, the lower the decibels the better it is.

In case you like to listen to your vinyl in private as you take a walk down memory lane, you will be happy to know that the preamp also features a 6.35mm headphone jack.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • One of the best-designed preamps
  • Comes with a headphone jack for privacy
  • TDH is a mere 0.0025 for MM and 0.20 for MC turntables
  • RIAA Curver accuracy is just as impressive at +/- 0.3dB
  • Cross talk is pretty low as well
  • Switch Mode Power Supply and Surface Mount tech keep buzzing to minimal
  • Works with both MC and MM turntables
  • Works well with imperfect vinyl

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • Slightly bigger in size
  • Costs around $300

#3: Pyle Store 5.2 Channel AV Receiver

10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 for 2020

What if you could get a phono preamp under $15? You heard that right. If you are on a tight budget and do not need the fancy frills but a plain, simple amplifier, this one checks all the boxes.

Considering the low price, the preamplifier does a reasonable job of removing background noise and disturbances.

It has a THD (total harmonic distortion) of 0.08%, not the best number but decent compared to other cheaper preamps. It also lacks filters and you get very little room to make adjustments to the preamp.

So yes, the sound won’t be as clear as with a high-end preamp but if you use your vinyl collection occasionally and don’t want to spend big, you won’t be disappointed

On the bright side, it is one of the most portable and lightweight phono preamplifiers on the list as it weighs a mere 0.88lbs (you can even carry it in your pockets).

We also love that the preamp, even with all that compactness and ultralight build, stands strong and will easily last you for 1-2 years (if not more).

 Lastly, it is a simple plug-n-play preamp that can be used right out of the box. Plug-in all the RCA cables and voila, you are good to go within minutes

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Costs less than $250
  • Good AV Receiver for small rooms
  • Comes with 3 HDMI ports
  • EQ Controls to adjust treble, echo, etc.
  • Connect a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth for music
  • Also features an MP3/USB reader
  • Support 5.2 channel for a decent home theatre experience
  • Compatible with a 4k display
  • Comes with Over Current, Short Circuit, and Over Voltage Protection

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • No Wi-Fi so you cannot stream music
  • It has lesser HDMI Ports than other receivers
  • Video quality is average.

#4: Rega Fono MK III Phono Preamp

10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 for 2020

If you are using a Rega turntable or any other magnetic turntable and don’t want to pay for the Puffin Preamp, this is tailor-made for you.

After winning WhatHiFi’s award for the best phono preamp under 500 for three consecutive years with the Rega MK II, Rega has created another masterpiece.

The Rega MK III carries over the same aluminum build giving you excellent durability (this bad boy can take a beating), but at the same time, it’s sleeker and compact and thus easier to store.

It also has the perfect gain level for MM turntables at 41.4dB. But it is topping that all is the RIAA equalization technology.

After years of research, Rega split the RIAA equalization into two stages. This helps lower background sounds and disturbances, giving you music the way it was meant to be.

It is one of the very few preamps to come with an RIAA Accuracy deviance as low as +/–0.2dB (even lesser than the Cambridge preamp).

Some of its other impressive stats include:

● Input sensitivity: 1.7mV for 200mV output

● Input loading: 47KΩ in parallel with 100pF

● Maximum input level: 60mV at 1KHz

● Output impedance: 200Ω

● Recommended minimum output load resistance: 5KΩ

These together ensure the preamp can work with various magnetic turntables while keeping the sound quality top-notch (whatever your turntable, the preamp can handle it all).

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Ideal preamplifier for magnetic turntables
  • Comes with a good gain of 41.4dB
  • It has one of the lowest RIAA Accuracy deviance at +/–0.2dB
  • Aluminum build gives it excellent durability
  • Splitting of the RIAA equalization lower disturbances
  • It is lightweight and compact.

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • Does not work with coil turntables
  • Can only be used with Rego PS1 cable

#5: Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 Phono Preamp (Best Tube Phono Preamp)

10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 for 2020

Are you looking for a tube phono preamp? Many audiophiles believe tube preamps produce a warmer tone with a more musical distortion, and there’s some truth to it.

This happens because, in tube preamps, the signal’s transition is more subtle thanks to the vacuum tubes, which, in turn, reduces distortion, that is what this preamp delivers as well (serene, warm, distortion-free sound).

And that is irrespective of whether you use an MC or MM turntable. To make it compatible with MM turntables, it comes with five impedance levels, while the 47k ohm input impedance setting means it should work perfectly fine with any MC cartridge.

Like the REGA, even this comes with a split RIAA equalization through its RIAA accuracy isn’t as good as the REGA at +/–0.4dB.

There is a front button for Subsonic filtering to improve sound quality, which you can leave on. You also get complete control over the gain with front buttons.

All the RCA in- and outputs are gold-plated. While gold plating doesn’t directly affect sound quality, it prevents corrosion or tarnishing, thus ensuring optimum sound levels even after years of use.

Further making the phono preamp highly durable is its aluminum/metal casing. This also minimizes vibrations and electromagnetic interference to boost sound quality (no wonder, it has a THD of just 0.02%).

To top it all off, this one of the few tube preamps at this price point and also one to feature replaceable tubes that can be switched within minutes thanks to their hassle-free mechanism.

Yes, these amps need a little more maintenance than solid-state preamps, but if sound quality is your only priority, this is worth the extra effort.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Produces warmer tones and music-like distortions
  • Works with MC and MM turntables
  • It one of the very few feature-rich tube preamps at less than 500
  • Comes with gold-plated RCA in- and outputs
  • Aluminum/metal casing makes it durable
  • The case also reduces vibrations and electromagnetic interference
  • Tubes are easy to replace
  • Subsonic filters reduce noise and distortion
  • Gain can be easily adjusted with front controls.

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • Tubes will need replacing
  • Buying tubes adds to cost
  • RIAA Accuracy could have been better

#6: Douk Audio P1 Bluetooth 5.0 Tube Preamp

10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 for 2020

Want to get the best bang for your buck with a cheaper tube phono preamp? Well, the Douk has some features that even some high-end preamps do not have.

One of the standout features of this preamp is that it comes with Bluetooth 5.0. That means if you have 32~300Ω portable speakers or wireless earphones, you can listen to your vinyl anywhere in the house.

Not just those, it also supports USB connections, which means you can also connect MP3 players, TV, Blu-ray players, Echo Dot, CD players, laptops, etc. apart from standard RCA inputs.

But what if I do not have a wireless earphone? No problem, there’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack so you can have all the privacy you want.

Whether you like more treble or bass, get complete control over the sound with individual knobs for gain, treble, and bass.

Furthermore, you do not have to worry about humming either. It has a Signal to Noise ratio higher than most preamps in this range at 103dB.

It says the THD is 0.01 but felt slightly higher as you might notice some distortion when listening through Bluetooth or USB, though nothing too serious.

Lastly, the tubes also help create the perfect mood as you can change the color of the LED lights within the lines between blue or orange.

WHAT WE LIKED

  •  Comes with Bluetooth 5.0
  • Get surround sound with 2 speakers
  • Also supports USB connections from all operating systems
  • Switch between orange and blue tube light
  • Comes with bass and treble control
  • There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Tubes are replaceable
  • Get more authentic audio experience with bypass function.

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • Low-quality build
  • Sound quality isn’t as good as with the Pro-Ject preamp

#7: Fosi Audio Tube Phono Preamp

10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 for 2020

If you are willing to compromise a tad on sound quality and benefits that the tube mentioned above preamps came with, you can further cut-down cost by $20-25 on tube preamp.

This Preamp by Fosi Audio works only with MM turntables, and so you can find the right configuration; it has three gain settings, namely, 39, 42, 45 dB, that can be easily adjusted with a knob.

The one area it does beat the Pro-Ject preamp is connectivity. Yup, this tube preamp comes with an AUX input allowing you to connect headphones/earphones for privacy or even your smartphone.

It is also much lighter and compact than the Pro-Ject and thus easier to place or store in the house.

Like the previous tube preamp, this too has replaceable vacuum tubes, so you vary the audio as per your preference. This should take no more than 5-minutes, even if you are a new user.

Included with your purchase are RCA cables, further making it a value for money buy.

Being a tube phono preamp, it does produce better sound than cheaper solid-state preamps. Further ensuring this is the good RIAA equalization.

It also has an excellent signal to noise ratio of ≥ 98dB, which means it reduces humming effectively. Yes, the THD is on the higher side at 0.1%, but with a price tag of $80, that isn’t a dealbreaker and suits occasional vinyl users.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • A cost-effective yet excellent phono preamp
  • Comes with AUX input to connect earphones or phone
  • Three gain settings available
  • Adjust gain easily with a knob
  • Tubes are replaceable
  • Get RCA cables free
  • Has an excellent Signal to Noise Ratio of ≥ 98dB
  • 24hrs customer service

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • Does not work with moving coil turntables
  • THD much higher than others at 0.1%

#8: Pro-Ject Phono Box MM DC Preamp

10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 for 2020

We already know the quality Pro-Ject can create, and their solid-state preamp is just another example of it.

Like any good preamp, this also comes with adjustable gain and RIAA equalization, so you know there’s little compromise in terms of audio quality.

There’s also the metal casing that protects the preamps not just from bumps and falls but also from vibrational and electromagnetic interference, so there’s low distortion. Supporting this are also low-noise ICs that help keep THD to only 0.04%.

Like the previous Pro-Ject preamp, you’ll find gold-plated inputs and outputs here as well that ensure the preamp doesn’t lose sound quality over the years.

Furthermore, it has Dual-mono circuitry, which ensures mixing the left signal with the correct output or crosstalk in minimal for improved sound.

It is pretty easy to set up and use but keep in mind; it only works with MM turntables, limiting its use, and lack of filters means there is some background humming.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Metal casing for durability
  • Also reduces disturbances
  • Low-noise ICs further reduce distortion
  • Gold-plated inputs and outputs for lasting quality
  • Dual-mono circuitry ensures correct channel separation.

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • Works only with MM turntables
  • Creates some humming sound

#9: ART DJPREII Phono Preamplifier

10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 for 2020

This is an excellent combination of both pocket-friendly pricing and functionality-based preamp. Here’s what you need to know about it.

Firstly, this preamp has been in the game for about five years now and still sees a firm sale, so you know it is a reliable product.

It comes with a suitable input range of 100pF and 200pF to quickly find the right settings based on your cartridge. Plus, it works with almost every sound card as all output jacks are low impedance.

Similarly, you can even adjust the gain as per the input source with the knob, and the signal LED to help find the right balance.

And when you find the right balance and play the audio, the rumble filter will ensure quality remains good.

The dual Dual RCA-type outputs and inputs allow you to run two input and output devices simultaneously saving you tons of time and effort.

Lastly, the ground terminal prevents any failure due to power surge and while the aluminum chassis looks old, it can handle even a fall.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Adjust game and input capacity with ease
  • LED signal helps find the right gain
  • Ground terminal prevents damage from a power surge
  • Comes with dual Dual RCA-type outputs and inputs
  • Long-lasting aluminum build

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • Some people find the design to be old
  • ● Stereo images can be distorted

#10: Moukey Mini Phono Turntable Preamp

10 Best Phono Preamps Under 500 for 2020

Last on our list of the best preamp under 500 is another very pocket-friendly preamp that costs less than $25. It is one of the newest releases and there’s more to like than just its low cost.

One of those things is that it does not solely rely on its DC 5V power supply. You can use any similar power supply as long as it has CE or UL certification.

This means it can easily be powered up by your phone, laptop, phone plug, and even your power bank.

Thanks to its specially designed, low noise circuits, you can expect the preamp to clear some disturbances.

It also has a ground connection which protects it from surges while volume can be easily controlled via the knobs

But hey, it is a low-costing preamp and won’t do any wonders when it comes to audio quality. It also isn’t as durable as the other.

So unless you are really strapped for cash, we’d suggest going to any of the high-end or mid-range preamps for a better experience.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Costs less than $25
  • Comes with 30 preset radio stations
  • Works with any CE or UL certified DC 5V power supply

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE

  • Not very durable
  • You will notice some humming and distortion

Best Phono Preamp Under 500 Buying Guide

When buying a phono preamp under 500, here a few features you should keep in mind for the best results.

What is a Preamp?

The turntable gives out signals that are picked up by the speakers. However, without a phono amplifier, your turntable is as good as mute.

This is because the signal given out by the turntable cartridge is almost 1000 times lower than the signals given out by other devices such as a CD player or your mp3 player, mobile, etc. resulting in feeble sounds.

Because these signals are so low, you need a device to amplify it so that it can be picked up by your speakers.

And this is where the phono amplifier comes into play. The phono amplifier, as the name suggests, amplifies the signal and allows it to be picked up by the speakers, resulting in good quality sound.

Types of Phono Preamps

One of the most important things to do before you go shopping for a preamp is that you have to learn more about the turntable you have.

This is because there are two types of turntables in the market that use two types of cartridges. Depending on the turntable you have, you can decide which preamp to purchase.

MM (Moving Magnet) and MC (Moving Coil) are the two types of cartridges used in turntables. How do you find out which one do you have?

If your turntable is relatively new, it is most likely that you have an MM cartridge. These cartridges do not require as much amplification as an MC cartridge.

In other words, MC cartridges give out less output as compared to MM cartridges. This means that if you were to use an MC cartridge with an MM phono, the sound would be too low for you to enjoy.

On the other hand, if you were to use an MM cartridge with an MC phono, the sound will be mangled.

Gain Range

Gain range refers to the amplification a phono preamp can create. This is another important point to consider while choosing a preamp as depending on the cartridge you use, the gain range you require will also differ.

Now how do you figure out the optimum gain range? Even if you are not an audiophile, do not worry. Most preamps make it really easy for you to figure out their gain range.

Most of them will give you at least 40dB, which is more than enough, especially if you are using an MM cartridge. On the other hand, if you use an MC cartridge, you need to be a little more careful as they might require up to 45-50 dB of gain.

THD

Total Harmonic Distortion or THD is a system used to determine the extent to which a system is nonlinear. In other words, the THD of the phono stage will tell you how good or bad the sound quality will be. Thus, the lower the THD measure, the clearer the sound will be.

Included Accessories

As complicated as the preamps may appear, setting it up is a piece of cake. All you need to connect it to your turntable and sound system with just a few cables and adapters.

Extra Features

While these are the few major pointers to keep in mind while purchasing a preamp, they do come with a variety of other features. According to your need, you can pick one that will serve you the best.

For example, if you possess multiple turntables, it makes sense to invest in a preamp variant that can switch between MM and MC systems.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a customized experience, it would be wise to purchase a preamp that gives you the option of adjusting the gain range to suit your requirements.

This will ensure that you get to experience the best sound quality, no matter what you are listening to.

Conclusion

For anyone that loves vinyl and owns one or more turntables, a preamp is a must. That’s because without a preamp your turntable is of little use as it will barely be audible. But finding a good, durable preamp at a lower budget can be tough and that’s what we aim to help you with.

With our detailed reviews and comparisons, finding the best phono preamp under 500 will be hassle-free and less time-consuming.

In case you have used any of the above-mentioned phono preamps, do share your experience with us. You can also drop a comment below if you think we have missed any feature or a preamp that is better than these.

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