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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.
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...
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.|