What’s the Best Phono Preamp Under $500?

by crackler01

As well as I you probably wonder what’s the best phono preamp under $500. Today I will offer an answer to this question.

What’s the Best Phono Preamp Under $500? – Intro

Nowadays, when turntables are experiencing their renaissance, many users want to have this analog source in their stereo. Please note that the vast majority of turntables require a phono preamplifier. The price range of these devices is very wide, and the number of manufacturers and models is also impressive. That is why in this guide I will try to explain which device to choose to use the full sound qualities of a record.

What's The Best Phono Preamp Under $500?

What Is the Function of Phono Preamp?

As the name suggests, phono preamplifiers are used to pre-amplify the signal from the turntable. In addition, the phono preamp equalizes the signal characteristics according to RIAA correction. Only after such processing, the signal can be further transferred to the analog input in a classic amplifier.

Built-in or external phono preamplifier?

A significant number of manufacturers have noticed the return of the popularity of turntables. That is why the integrated phono stage can be found in the currently available integrated amplifiers. Such devices, in addition to the classic 2xRCA inputs, have a connector marked as phono. They can also be distinguished by the terminals used to connect the ground wire. It is worth remembering, however, that manufacturers in budget construction use the simplest layouts. They are only an addition to the main function of the amplifier. The circuits built into the integrated amplifier will work but the sound quality is questionable.

I strongly recommend purchasing an external phono preamplifier. It is a separate device that performs the function mentioned above. External phono preamplifiers have a separate power supply. The manufacturer uses better quality components in such devices. The separate housing also reduces the risk of unwanted signal interference that can negatively affect the sound. All these factors mean that external phono preamplifiers will provide much better sound quality than phono inputs in amplifiers.

The Best Phono Preamp Under $500: A Review of the Best Options

I had the opportunity to test and compare many models of phono preamplifiers. I have found that not all constructions are equally attractive value for money.

1. Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 Preamplifier – Most Popular

Beginner turntable users who want to improve sound quality should consider the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 phono preamplifier. For less than $500, it features a fully discreet circuit design without using any operational amplifiers (OpAmps). It also is the first product to come with replaceable tubes for tube rolling and sound-shaping. This gives the customer many options to pick from and alter the sound signature to his preference.

Tube Box S2 will give a full and relaxed laid-back sound with lush mids, just like you would expect it from a much bigger high-end tube phono pre-amplifier. It offers support for both MM and MC cartridges and comes with many gain settings to be switched on the front panel. Of course, the preamplifier will work not only with Pro-Ject turntables but also in systems based on turntables from other manufacturers. You can read more about this preamp in the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 Review article.

Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 Review


2. Cambridge Audio Alva Duo – Best Appearance

For those with a slightly larger budget, I recommend the Cambridge Audio Alva Duo. This phono preamplifier from the British manufacturer surprises with its parameters and captivates with its sound. Just look at the signal-to-noise ratio, which is >90dB. The level of THD distortion is also low. Many people may like the appearance of the device. The modern body of the housing is made of aluminum – which means that we do not have to hide the device behind a turntable or amplifier.

Cambridge Audio Alva Duo


3. Musical Fidelity V90-LPS – Best Performance

The V90-LPS is a very high-performance MM/MC phono stage with superb technical performance. In my opinion, there are five critical areas where a phono stage must achieve excellence:

  • RIAA correction
  • Correction above 20 kHz
  • Low distortion
  • Low noise
  • Good overload margin.

The V90-LPS has extremely accurate RIAA correction that extends up to 80 kHz and beyond. That may sound extreme, but there is a good deal of information above 20 kHz that needs correction. If it isn’t corrected, it will show itself as ringing and overshooting. The V90-LPS’s distortion is very low. The noise ratio is extremely low and all but inaudible. The overload margin is easily adequate for any current cartridge. All in all, the V90-LPS accomplishes everything necessary for a phono stage.

Musical Fidelity V90 LPS


4. Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS – Best Quality

This is a high-quality flexible MM/MC phono stage with adjustable impedance and excellent technical performance. Housed in beautifully detailed and handsome metalwork, it is the epitome of understated high-class elegance.

Musical Fidelity designed this phono stage for reference-level listening, so it is unerringly accurate and faithful to the input. Its purpose in life is to give you your music as its artists and producers intended: nothing more, and nothing less.

You get killer technical performance with the LX2-LPS. Musical Fidelity’s RIAA correction is famous for its predictable and consistent accuracy. The LX2-LPS accuracy is ±0.25dB 20 Hz – 20 kHz, and it extends to 45 kHz, so there is no overshoot ringing. This results in absolutely clear high frequencies with no intermodulation or other distracting anomalies.

The noise ratio on both MM (better than 82dB) and MC (better than 72dB) is outstanding and virtually inaudible at any volume setting. “That is unless you are a half-deaf head-banger,” notes Musical Fidelity’s founder and CEO Antony Michaelson. “But then I don’t expect that MF’s refinement and subtly would be quite your thing!”

The LX2-LPS distortion is vanishingly low, typically less than 0.007% across the audio band. The overload margin is exemplary. Simply put, it is virtually impossible for any real-world cartridge to overload it. “As we all know nothing is perfect, but the LX2-LPS gets very near,” notes Antony Michaelson.

Musical FIdelity LX2 LPS


My Choice of the best Preamp Under $500

After listening and sound testing all the preamps listed here, I decided on the best choice: Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS. It has a great sound and a number of the features, such as:

  • High-quality components: The LX2-LPS is made with high-quality components, such as low-noise operational amplifiers and precision resistors, to ensure a clean and detailed sound.
  • Adjustable equalization: The LX2-LPS features adjustable equalization to accommodate different types of phono cartridges. It includes switchable resistors and capacitors to allow the user to fine-tune the equalization to match the characteristics of their cartridge.
  • Adjustable gain: The LX2-LPS also has adjustable gain to accommodate different output levels from phono cartridges. This allows the user to set the gain to match their cartridge and ensure that the signal is not too weak or too strong.
  • RIAA curve accuracy: The LX2-LPS is designed to accurately reproduce the RIAA curve, which is the standard frequency response curve used in vinyl records. This ensures that the sound quality of the records is faithful to the original recording.
  • Compact size: The LX2-LPS has a compact size, making it easy to fit into most hi-fi systems. It has a sleek, modern design and is made with high-quality materials, making it a durable and attractive addition to any home audio setup.

The Best Phono Preamp Under $500 - Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS


In many comparisons of phono preamplifiers, I have found that external devices provide better sound quality compared to the phono inputs built into integrated amplifiers. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but they are rare. Therefore, turntable users who want to improve the sonic qualities of their set should first consider choosing the right phono preamplifier. In this article, I have presented a few recommended models that I had the opportunity to test. However, this does not mean that other devices are not worth paying attention to. On the contrary, for people who do not go easy on the search for the perfect sound, I encourage you to test individual devices and share your opinions. Remember that I am happy to offer advice and assistance not only in terms of choosing a phono preamplifier but also with other devices included in the Hi-Fi set.

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