Best Phono Preamps Under $500 in 2021

Rega Fono MM MK3 Moving Magnet Phono Pre-Amp

Rega Fono MK III is known as one of the best phono stages. Well, its successor Rega Fono is even better. Priced very affordably, this multi-award-winning, high-quality phono preamp is a must-see for all vinyl fans.

The Rega FONO is available in two versions. One that supports MM cartridges and one that supports MC. Their circuits are specially designed to adapt to the type of cartridge for which they are suitable. Both versions use a totally unobtrusive design where the channels are completely separated from each other for optimal performance.

The Rega engineering team specifically designed the Fono to perfectly match its impressive moving magnet cartridges that we see on many Rega turntables. While it doesn’t have many features as it specifically matches Rega’s moving magnets, it sounds warm and rich with lots of detail and separation. Plus, with such standardized moving magnet cartridges, it works great with any brand of moving magnet! It works so well that it has won numerous “Best of” phono preamp awards for moving magnetic cartridges. This is the third revision of the Fono MM that has won numerous European “best of” awards each year since 2014! Rega’s engineering team found that by dividing the amplifier section and the RIAA section into separate parts, they could optimize the components used for each section. They are wound using polyester capacitors in the signal path and polypropylene capacitors are used in RIAA equalization circuits. Very cool!

The preamp has a construction designed to be efficient and easy to use. Its RIAA equalization has been divided into two stages to minimize interactions, with signal paths with polyester capacitors for durability. It has a smooth and refined look that complements its fantastic performance.

Rega Fono offers dynamic and quality sound with an output impedance of 200Ω. Plus, you can keep that constant sound for as long as you want as it comes with a power button that helps you turn off the power more and more easily. While it might not be a reach to proclaim that this is one of the best phono preamps, Rega Fono still has a few weaknesses, namely its powerful power supply, which can hamper your enjoyment of music. However, all things considered, the Rega Fono is sure to always be a worthwhile purchase.

Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box DC MM/MC Phono preamp

Pro-Ject Audio - Phono Box DC - MM/MC Phono preamp with line Output - Blk
  • Compact phono preamplifier
  • Adjusts for MM or MC cartridge via switch on rear panel
  • Small size allows installation close to record player
  • Ultra-low impedance output stage

If you are looking for a low budget phono preamp, Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box MM / MC is here for you. Besides being affordable, it offers many features. First of all, the workmanship and the quality of the design are excellent. The equipment is made of high quality materials that somehow make it robust. Although it is small in size, it is very dense and this density adds to its strength.

In terms of sound quality, it has very low noise, virtually no distortion, a flat RIAA EQ curve with 60dB of gain (MC) and 40dB of gain for high fidelity performance. You can already see what that can mean, right? Prepare to be carried away by the quality of the music! Not only is it affordable, well built, and sounds great, but the Pro-Ject Phono Box MM’s flexibility is also unmatched, meaning its compatibility with MM and MC cartridges. It is designed to fit all types of turntables, with its line out function designed for MM and MC cartridge types. In addition, it offers high fidelity performance for moving coil cartridges and moving magnet cartridges. This is made possible by its low noise, distortion, and flat RIAA equalizer curve. For more power, it is capable of 9.5V RMS / 1kHz maximum output.

This phono preamp generally complains that its output can be quite low, which can put users off. However, for the price and the many features that the phono stage can accommodate, this is a phono preamp still worth checking out. The Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box MM / MC is also easy to use. It comes with RCA cables and is easy to install. With the user manual, you can connect and pair your equipment with your other devices and enjoy near-flawless sound.

However, what we like the most is the fact that it works with almost any cartridge. This means less expense for you and more opportunities to take advantage of all the features of your phono preamplifier. This phono preamp improves sound quality. The latter is much clearer, fuller, and even sounds superior when the volumes are low.

When it comes to phono preamps, Pro-Ject is a name you can trust. And if your budget is tight, you can’t beat the Pro-Ject Phono Box MM. For something as cheap as this, the features you can get are absolutely phenomenal!

Cambridge Audio Alva Duo | Phono Preamp for Moving Magnet & Moving Coil Turntables

Cambridge Audio Alva Duo | Phono Preamp for Moving Magnet & Moving Coil Turntables
  • ✓ DESIGNED FOR VINYL – Cambridge Audio’s Alva Duo was designed to give you a superb sonic experience from your favorite record collection using its state-of-the-art switch mode power supply and a new surface mounted circuit board.
  • ✓ ATTENTION TO DETAIL – The Alva Duo's switch mode power supply and surface mount technology delivers short signal paths and a faster response with precision and lower background noise so you don't hear a hum over the vinyl's low-level signals.
  • ✓ SUBSONIC FILTER & BALANCE CONTROL – The Alva Duo will even work if your vinyls are a little worse for wear. The subsonic filter and balance control eliminate low frequency rumbles from imperfections in your vinyl for an accurate soundstage.
  • ✓ HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER – Cambridge added a unique 6.35mm headphone jack directly into the phono stage so you can listen in private. The integrated headphone output also means no need to turn on your amplifier just to power your headphones.
  • ✓ TECH SPECS - MAX POWER CONSUMPTION 10W, CARTRIDGE SUPPORT Moving Magnet | Moving Coil, GAIN @ 1KHZ MM: 39dB | MC: 60dB, NOMINAL OUTPUT 300mV, SENSITIVITY FOR NOMINAL OUTPUT MM: 3.35mV | MC: 305uV, DIMENSIONS 1.9" x 8.5" x 6.2", WEIGHT 2.1lbs

The Cambridge Audio Alva Duo is called Duo because it is designed to accommodate both moving coil cartridges and moving magnet cartridges. It also has other unique properties, but the MC or MM switchable option is a nice touch that you won’t see in many preamps in this price range.

It could also be called a Duo, as it works as a headphone amp. It performs 2 tasks amplifying the incoming recording signal at the same time, sending power and sound to your headphones… how convenient! The box itself is stylishly designed with a large button on the front, the MC / MM switch next to it, and the power button right next to the switch. It has some useful features, some of which are notably in this price range.