Pro-Ject Phono Box phono stages explained

The phono stage is a frequently over-looked component in vinyl hi-fi systems. Often bought without fully understanding what they're there for, phono pre-amplifiers actually provide a vitally important function which can make or break the overall audio performance that's delivered from your turntable.

What do they do?
Phono stages provide two core functions. First, they amplify the very quiet electrical signal generated by the cartridge on your turntable. When we play a record, the signal created by a cartridge/turntable may only be as loud as 5 or 6mV (millivolts), but your amplifier needs a signal nearer to 2V to actually power your speakers - that's nearly 300 times louder! Second, the phono stage applies an RIAA equalization curve, which makes sure the final audio you hear is accurate and full of detail (click here to learn more about RIAA).

When do I not need a phono stage?
In order to play vinyl through your audio system you will always need a phono stage. However, there are a variety of turntables, powered speakers and amplifiers that already have phono stages built in. We always recommend using external phono stages due to their increased flexibility, but if you choose to use a built-in device, be sure to never use two phono stages in a system. For example, if your turntable has a built-in phono stage and you connect it to the phono stage on an amplifier, you will double amplify the signal, resulting in a loud, distorted noise that could damage your hi-fi system.

What should I look for when buying a phono stage?
There are three key considerations to make when purchasing a phono stage. How much should I pay, what's the type of sound I want and do I need something future-proof? In order to answer the sound question, we recommend auditioning or reading reviews whenever you can before making a purchase. So far as "future-proofing" is concerned, a good phono stage can help you step-up to a better turntable in the future - so it's always worth thinking about what you're going to do next, before you buy. Then how much you should pay is tricky, but as a general guide we recommend spending anything up-to 50% the value of your turntable/cartridge on a phono stage.

Questions to ask when buying a phono stage

Regardless of what your taste, budget or requirements are, if you're in the market for anything above a plug-and-play solution, we recommend you ask these questions before making your next purchase...

  1. Does it work with my cartridge?
    Some phono stages only work with Moving Magnet (MM) or Moving Coil (MC) cartridges, while others work with both types.
  2. How accurately can it match my cartridge?
    No two cartridge models are exactly alike, so the ability to fine tune settings (including Gain, Impedance or Capacitance) can make a big difference to the overall sound.
  3. Does it have the type of output you require?
    There are Pro-Ject Phono Box models that feature RCA, XLR, Optical, USB and Bluetooth outputs.
  4. Does it have that special feature I'm looking for?
    What makes the product you're looking for special? This is also where we recommend trying before you buy, if possible.

To help you answer these questions, we've put this handy table together on our current range (correct as of May 2019).

Phono Box Model Cartridge Types Adjustments Available Output Options Special Feature
Phono Box MM MM only None RCA Affordable plug-and-play in sturdy metal case
Phono Box MM and MC None RCA Iconic model with great sound
Phono Box S2 MM and MC Gain / Capacitance / Impedance / Subsonic Filter RCA Extensive adjustability for a low price
Phono Box S2 Ultra MM and MC Gain / Capacitance / Impedance / Subsonic Filter RCA Fully discrete internal layout and premium components for liquid smooth sound
A/D Box S2 Phono MM and MC None RCA / USB Variable USB output to manage overload when recording
Tube Box S2 MM and MC Gain / Capacitance / Impedance RCA Tube output stage for added valve warmth
Phono Box DS2 MM and MC Gain / Capacitance / Impedance / Subsonic Filter RCA Improved internal components and simpler push-button setting adjustments
Phono Box DS2 USB MM and MC Gain / Capacitance / Impedance / Subsonic Filter / Output Sample Rate RCA / Optical / USB Extensive digital output options for high-end recording capabilities
Tube Box DS2 MM and MC Gain / Capacitance / Impedance / Subsonic Filter 2 x RCA Tube output stage for added valve warmth and dual inputs/outputs for multi-tonearm turntables. Fully adjustable impedance settings.
Phono Box RS MM and MC Gain / Capacitance / Impedance / Subsonic Filter / EQ Curve RCA / XLR Fully-balanced for premium turntables and extensive settings including RIAA/DECCA curve switch. Fully adjustable impedance settings.

Find Out More

View the whole Pro-Ject range in the Product Catalogue.
Learn more about Turntables and Cartridges in our Tech Support Section.
Contact Us to find out more.