Did you know that, without a phono preamp, you just can't play your records? This dedicated phono preamp uses an inverted curve: in broad outline, a bell curve is applied on recording, and an anti-bell curve is applied on playback. This brings the frequency response of a record down to around 20 Hz (bass). However, the phono preamp has other roles. It also gives gain to the cartridge, it amplifies the very low signal coming from the cartridge up to a line level signal.
Key role of a phono preamp
The phono preamp also addresses certain electrical problems. In fact, MM cartridge manufacturers combine various parameters to obtain the flattest response curve possible, but this result is dependent upon the capacitative and resistive values of the cartridge/cable combination. MC cartridges are also designed to operate with a specific load in terms of resistance and capacity. The phono preamp must bring the capacity and impedance values in line with those of the equipment used as much as possible. Nowadays, 97% of commercially-available equipment comes without a built-in phono preamp. Only very few manufacturers offer it as an option. So you'll need to purchase a phono preamp to be able to play your records. They come in different prices, sizes and design.
High technology: phono preamp categories
Transistor phono preamps are cheaper and use fairly basic yet well-tried circuits. The quality of the components and their combination, as well as the contacts and power supply are key features. Some use very high end discrete components as well as standalone or battery-powered power supply systems. Tube phono preamps are the most prestigious and are therefore more expensive. However, they have become more widespread in recent years, and more affordable. They are very popular with audiophiles because of their impressive musicality. They are still expensive to manufacture and require maintenance as the tubes have a limited service life.