Two years ago I bought a new Yamaha stereo receiver and started to build out a new system. I had an old turn table that was purchased about 25 years ago and some old vinyl records that were even older than that and they had not been played in decades.
So I started to hook up the phonograph but the first thing I noticed was there were no dedicated Phono inputs in the back of the receiver. Modern receivers do not include Phono inputs unless you really want to spend more money than I was willing to spend for one. So instead, I used the Auxiliary inputs in the back.
However, when I played a record, I could barely hear the sound. I turned the volume up on the receiver just to get it to a level where I could actually hear it, but it sounded terrible. So I knew that was not correct so I tried some different RCA cables, but still got the same result. I put the turn table away for the time being.
Days later I was curious as to what could be the issue and after a quick search, I learned what the problem was. When phonographs were more popular, older stereo receivers were almost always equipped with inputs labeled “Phono” in the back. But that is not the important part. Those jacks not only provided a dedicated input for record players, they also were attached to something called a phono preamp inside the receiver.
Unlike line level audio sources such as DVD/CD players, cassette decks or iPod docks, the output from a magnetic cartridge installed in a turntable is much lower and thus requires an additional stage of amplification to bring it up to the same volume as the other sources mentioned. In short, record players need an amplifier because they send a much quieter signal to the receiver than things that came later.
When CDs and cassettes begin to be phased out in the early 90s, receiver manufacturers started to leave the phone amps and jacks out of their designs thinking they would no longer be used in the lower end market. And let’s be honest, they also wanted to save a little money, but still charge the same price for the receiver.
Therefore, if you have a modern receiver you need an outboard phono preamp in order to use a record player with it.
Choosing a Phono Preamp
The old adage you get what you pay for certainly applies here, but they can be bought for as little as $20 or much higher than $100. Obviously the more expensive brands are going to deliver better quality because they boost the signal in a cleaner and quieter manner. So if you are an audiophile, you will need to go high-end because that is the only way you are ever going to be satisfied with your "hobby".
However, for my purposes, I just wanted to hear some old vinyl that had not been played in decades, so I went looking for a basic model with good reviews. I chose the Pyle PP-999 Phono Pre-Amp.
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(price as of Jan 24, 2015)
Setting Up the Preamp
There is not a lot to say here because it is pretty straightforward. Hook the RCA output cables from the record player into the phono preamp RCA input in the preamp device.
Set the Phono preamp output on the receiver to “Aux” input since there will still be no Phono option. Then plug the AC adapter into the wall and fire it up.
Pyle PP-999 Phono Turntable Pre-Amp
The first thing I noticed is that it sounded much better than the other time I hooked it up. I could now listen to the records at a normal volume level. The second thing I quicly noticed is that records have a much better sound than CDs and certainly MP3s. Yes it is true, if you grew up listening to records, we had better quality back then than what is sold today, and there are not many things you can say that about.
The problem with the technology involved in making CD and digital music is that they are compressed. MP3s are compressed even more. Have you ever noticed how much larger a .WAV file of a song is than its equivalent MP3? The reason for that is the compression process eliminates some of the music through compression. It is not enough for you to be able to tell the difference when listening to digital music on a daily basis, but when you go old school on a record player with a good receiver and speakers, you will notice the difference. The words, the music, everything sounds crisper. I cannot really describe it to you, you just have to experience it again. Sometimes improvements in technology takes us a step backward in quality and this is certainly one of those cases.
There was one issue that I had to deal with and that involved a slight hiss at the beginning until I figured out it was not grounded properly. In fact, there is no ground wire attachment point on the Pyle preamp. However, I was able to connect the ground wire from my turntable to the ground point on my receiver and all was well.
It is a winner. It does make me wonder however that if it sounds this awesome at the Pyle price point, how great would a $150 amp sound?
However, for my purposes, this preamp is just fine. I have played a number of albums from the 80s on several occasions and it brings back a lot of memories just hearing the music.
So if you want to reconnect with some of your younger days, get a good phono preamp for your receiver like this one offered by Pyle and start spinning.
Amazon Price: $99.95 $98.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 24, 2015)