I have been collecting vinyl for a very long time and here on the site, we have a ton of turntable reviews about various accessories that a vinyl enthusiast may want to consider buying. However, for someone who is new to the world of vinyl, the whole preamp/phono stage thing can be very confusing and, in some cases, even serve as a bit of a barrier for them to take that first step into the awesome world of vinyl.
This will hopefully help you guys new to the hobby have a better understanding and feel more confident about your record player activity going forward.
Is Phono Stage and Preamp The Same Thing?
Yes, yes is the simple answer here. If you were to do a quick search on Amazon and if you type in either phono stage or preamp, you are going to see a lot of the same devices. Many sellers will list a preamp as both a preamp and a phono stage. It is not even a price thing either, if you look at this 60 bucks Douk Audio T3 PRO MM Phono Stage Preamp Mini Stereo Vacuum Tube Preamplifier and this 300 bucks Music Fidelity V90-LPS MM/MC Phono Stage Pre-Amplifier, you will notice that they are referred to as both a Phono Stage and a Preamp multiple times during the descriptions.
This is there to make it “easier” for people to know what they are getting, but in my experience, it can make it more confusing. The terms preamp and phono stage are used pretty much interchangeably by most people, I 99/100 will use the term preamp, but I have no problem if someone else says phono stage.
Do I Really Need A Phono Stage or Preamp?
Yes, is the short answer here. I know that this whole thing can be confusing as hell so I will try to be as basic as possible. Every turntable has a cartridge. No matter if you are using the default one that comes with it or if you have looked at our cartridge reviews and purchased an upgrade! In order to actually hear the music, it needs to be played at what is referred to as line level. A preamp or phono stage if you prefer is what brings that sound up to line level. It is an essential part of the whole listening to vinyl thing. If you do not have one, the sound will be very quiet or you may not even hear it at all from your record player!
Some Turntables Have A Built In Preamp
One of the most popular styles of turntables for people new to the hobby are all in one unit. Record players such as this Vinyl Record Player Bluetooth Turntable with Built-in Speakers that have speakers built in. Actually, any record player that has a set of speakers actually built in to it is going to have a preamp inside of it. This is the perfect solution for you guys who want a record player that is ready to go right out of the box so you do not have to worry about buying anything else except for a bunch of awesome records!
A record player does not have to have speakers built-in in order to have a preamp inside it, this Music Hall MMF-1.3 Turntable is a perfect example of that.
What If I Need To Buy A Phono Stage or Preamp?
We have done a ton of fantastic preamp reviews here on the site and we have looked at preamps at every end of the pricing spectrum so there is sure to be one there to suit your needs. If you want something that is cheap and is going to let you listen to records then you may want to spend around 20 bucks on something like this Pyle Phono Turntable Preamp. It may not be the greatest, but at the end of the day, it is going to work.
If you want something a bit higher end you could look at something like this Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra Phono Preamplifier which costs over 300 bucks, but it is of a much higher-quality and it looks way nicer too. There are phono stages/preamps at pretty much every price you could imagine. For me personally, an external preamp is going to 99/100 sound better than a built in one. However, for the average person, a cheaper turntable that is ready to rock out of the box is probably going to be more than fine for them.
Is This Really That Confusing?
In all honesty, no it is not. The thing that confuses most people when they are looking at getting into collecting vinyl and listening to music on a record player is the way people use the terms phono stage and preamp so freely, heck you can even add in phono preamp to the mix if you want to confuse things even further! These terms are pretty much interchangeable and if you use one that you like which is called a preamp and another that is called a phono stage, do not worry about it too much and just go for the one that you personally feel more comfortable with. At the end of the day, they do the same thing and both are there to help you listen to your records.
I love listening to records, heck about ten minutes before I wrote this I was hanging out in the basement listening to 2020 by Bon Jovi on this Sony PS-LX310BT Belt Drive Turntable I had to test for a later review and I was having an awesome time! I know that it can be a hobby that seems like it has a lot of barriers making it hard to get into, but listening to vinyl should be accessible to everyone.
There is nothing wrong at all with buying a cheap turntable like this Wockoder record player for way under 100 bucks to dip your toes into the awesome world of vinyl collecting with! If you do own a Wockoder player and you experience it skipping, check out this article on how to fix it.
To wrap up, yes a Phono Stage and Preamp is essentially the same thing. It is just that some people prefer to call it phono stage while others call it preamp. So hopefully you shall not be confused anymore after this. Is it necessary to have one? The answer is yes so that you can listen to the music produced by the vinyl. If it is inbuilt then you no longer have to worry about buying an external one, but if it is not, you should get one.
We hope this post has been useful to you in understanding more about Phono Stage vs Preamp and its necessity in your vinyl journey. You may also want to read more about if the tracking force is too high for your vinyl and do you need a preamp if your receive has a phono input?