A phono stage is a special preamp device for a turntable that brings the signal from the pickup stylus into a state acceptable for processing by the amplifier. The phono pre-amplifies the signal and restores the frequency to the RIAA standard.
Such devices, like many other elements of audio systems, vary greatly in class, technical performance and cost. Expertology magazine has prepared for you a brief overview of the most interesting models at the end of 2022 from different price categories.
7 best phono stages
|7 best phono stages
|Behringer PP 400 MICROPHONO
|Pro-Ject Phono Box E, black
|Pro-Ject Optical Box E Phono, white
|Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS, black
|Pro-Ject Tube Box S2, black
|Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL, black
|MM/MC Vincent PHO-701 Black
Behringer PP 400 MICROPHONO
The most inexpensive model in our review, but at the same time representing a well-known and respected German brand. At the same time, this is one of the most compact phono stages – the dimensions are 103x32x64 mm, and the weight is only 0.18 kg. The case is metal, durable.
Although this is an entry-level model, it has an important advantage – the phono stage is almost universal. The device works correctly with virtually any pickup heads. According to user reviews, including the device normally interacts with Soviet-made vinyl players.
The model amplifies the signal with a factor of 35dB with a signal-to-noise ratio of up to 68dB. Provides decent RIAA correction in terms of accuracy.
Despite the miniature size, there are not only the most necessary inputs / outputs here – two RCA “tulip” for input and line output and plus another 6.3mm TRS stereo jack. All of them are placed on one of the ends of the case, and the signatures are on the top panel, so they are clearly visible.
The phono stage is powered from the mains through an external 12-volt adapter.
The reviews come across remarks about the background hum, but the reason for this is most often an ungrounded player.
- versatility – works even with Soviet players;
- compact and lightweight;
- durable metal case;
- precise RIAA correction;
- minimum price combined with a well-known brand.
- some users are missing the off button.
Pro-Ject Phono Box E, black
This model is more than twice as expensive as the previous one, but still belongs to the entry-level and budget segment. The Pro-Ject brand itself is a trademark of a reputable Swiss manufacturer of Hi-Fi turntables, and it has an impressive market share.
The Phono Box E is designed to work with the MM-type cartridges found on many turntables. Despite its simplicity and affordability, it is based on a scheme developed personally under the guidance of the founder and chief engineer of Pro-Ject, Dr. Sikora. It uses low-noise SMD components and shortened conductors, which together provide minimal distortion and accurate RIAA correction with an error of + 0.5 / – 0.2 dB.
The body of the device is plastic, but this does not negatively affect the quality of work, since the electronics are reliably shielded from interference inside. Dimensions – 120x32x100 mm, weight – 0.25 kg. There are no controls on the case, which, although it limits the functionality, allows you to place the device directly behind the rear panel of the player or amplifier.
The model is powered by an external 18V power supply. The set of interfaces is minimal – two pairs of RCA connectors for input and output.
- scheme designed by Dr. Sikora;
- low-noise components in the circuit;
- compact dimensions;
- accuracy of RIAA-correction with a small error;
- high-quality internal shielding.
- no controls (not essential).
Pro-Ject Optical Box E Phono, white
Another Pro-Ject model, even more advanced, and twice as expensive as the previous one. Its most important distinguishing feature is a set of interfaces. This model is designed to connect audio devices that do not have a special Phono connector, and even if it has a limited number of standard line inputs.
Unlike the options described above, this model is equipped with a standard 3.5 mm mini-jack jack and optical TosLink. Most importantly, both of these outputs can work simultaneously, so that the signal from the turntable can be sent to two receiving devices at once.
This model has a standard Phono input in RCA format with gold-plated connectors. Plus there is also an input on the 3.5 mm mini-jack jack. You can switch incoming channels with a mechanical button on the case, this is the only control.
Experts speak positively about the ADC used in this model. The 24-bit/96 kHz ratio gives you the confidence to faithfully preserve the characteristics of vinyl sound.
- high-quality shielding;
- low noise components;
- simultaneous operation of the line input and optical TosLink;
- accurate preservation of the features of analog sound;
- versatility in relation to player models;
- No major flaws or comments were found.
Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS, black
Next, consider an even more expensive phono stage from the British manufacturer Musical Fidelity. The brand has existed on the market since 1982, and the first models of equipment are still sold at auctions, which indicates unconditional recognition. The founder of the company, Anthony Mikaelson, is a professional clarinetist, a talented engineer and a great enthusiast of Hi-Fi audio equipment.
This model is already well above the entry level, but still far from the most expensive. The phono stage supports both MM-type and MC-type pickups. Provides highly accurate RIAA correction with +/- 0.25dB. Covers the range from 20 to 40 thousand Hz with a signal-to-noise ratio up to 80dB.
The dimensions of the device are already noticeably larger than the most compact models – 172x197x47 mm, weight – 1.05 kg. The dimensions allowed to accommodate more interfaces – 4 RCA line inputs and one RCA per output.
What is most remarkable, this model has an adjustable resistance, which is a rarity for this price category. This is done not by a switch, but by plugs on the rear panel. They need to be installed manually, and judging by the reviews, they are often not included in the package, so this needs to be checked with the seller separately.
- open, soft, full-blooded sound;
- support for MM and MC pickups;
- wide frequency range;
- accurate RIAA correction with minimal error;
- adjustable resistance;
- stylish look.
- there are no plugs-shunts for adjusting the resistance.
Pro-Ject Tube Box S2, black
The Swiss brand Pro-Ject is again in our review, and now it will be a very interesting and quite expensive model. Its main feature is “tube” in the most direct sense. All previous models were semiconductor.
But the lamps are the first impression. To be precise, this model is a hybrid. The circuit is built on a divided principle – field-effect transistors are used at the input, that is, still semiconductors. This is done in order to reduce noise and distortion at the input, while maintaining maximum sensitivity. But already at the output there are ECC8 lamps – two pieces, one per channel.
Another important point is that it uses an optimized channel separation scheme, the so-called “dual mono”. This implies identical mounting of the elements of both channels, which gives the same signal paths and the closest possible sound character and, as a result, the most correct stereo image.
The presence of lamps, of course, significantly influenced the appearance of the device. Elements protrude noticeably from the top panel, surrounded by metal “cages” for protection. It all looks very expressive, stylish and “cyberpunk”.
There are also a whole 16 miniature switches for adjusting the input impedance – this makes the model suitable for especially sophisticated music lovers.
- lamp (hybrid);
- high sensitivity and low input noise;
- optimized “double mono” channel separation scheme;
- 16 switches for setting the impedance;
- very expressive appearance.
- not marked.
Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL, black
And again, Anthony Michaelson’s Musical Fidelity, this time a really expensive model. But this is far from the upper price range. where the bill goes to many hundreds of thousands of rubles at the end of 2022. MX-VYNL is valuable just because there is a very poor choice in the middle segment, and this model partially fills this niche with itself.
Experts note that, despite the “average” price, the flexibility of the Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL architecture quite claims to be a high class. One of its notable advantages is the calculation for working with different types of heads with flexible adjustment options for individual selection of the optimal mode.
There are nine load settings for MC cartridges and five for MM cartridges for adjustment. What is characteristic, you can adjust directly during playback, and this is done easily – with a large rotary switch. This is unlike many other phono stages where you have to use DIP switches, which are often in the most inconvenient place.
The specified set of modes is not all the possibilities of adjustment. There is also a “+6dB” toggle switch, which can additionally double the gain. You can also switch from RIAA to IEC to mitigate infra-low unwanted effects.
- high technological level and quality;
- designed to work with different types of heads;
- flexible adjustment options;
- the ability to adjust the load directly during playback;
- there is a balanced input and output;
- elegant appearance.
- not marked.
MM/MC Vincent PHO-701 Black
The review will be completed by the most expensive phono stage in the selection, but again we emphasize that this is far from the highest price category. We are considering more or less affordable models. And this model of a reputable German manufacturer is already quite designed for sophisticated enthusiasts.
The phono stage is tube, which automatically adds to it not only the price, but also exclusivity. It is quite versatile, supporting both types of MM/MC heads.
According to experts, in this model, German engineers managed to realize all their plans and achieve an expressive effect. The sound processed by the phono stage pleases with a wide stage, detail, disclosure of musical works from different angles.
This model also provides adjustment and fine tuning for different cartridges. This is done not as conveniently as in the case of the Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL, but with the usual DIP switches at the bottom, but still.
Finally, one more detail, which is minor, but can greatly make life easier for music lovers who still want to digitize their vinyl. There is a USB port through which you can connect the equipment to your computer.
- supports both types of MM/MC heads;
- fine tuning for different types of cartridges;
- USB port;
- stylish appearance;
- reasonable price with a combination of characteristics.
- not marked.