Consumer Electronics & Appliance News, Reviews & Information.

Dec 12

Where’s My Phono!


Well do I remember the first time I looked at the back panel of my new AV receiver, and didn’t see the familiar RCA jacks marked Phono.

Blasphemous. A slight upon all right thinking individuals.

What I didn’t know, as I was cursing this new-fangled gimcrackery, was the modern AV receiver would be the best thing to happen to analog recording since we went to diamond needles.

Rookie Mistakes

Old turntable. Image by cogdogblog, used under Creative Commons

When I started buying stereo equipment in 1976, you plugged the record player into the phono jacks. It didn’t work on the other plugs, so you went with it.

Pro-Ject Turntable

As I got a little more sophisticated in my turntable usage, I learned the cartridge needed more power than was generated by the turntable, and that additional power was provided by the pre-amp inside the receiver.

But it wasn’t until the advent of the AV receiver, with no phono-in jacks, that I found out how poor that system had been.

Setting A Sonic Base-line

In my life, I have heard some amazing stereo systems,  I had always assumed that audiophile analog was simply beyond my budget. But what I think I’ve learned is that manufacturers cut corners on the internal phono pre-amps in receivers. In the past, to get a great phono pre-amp, you had to spend huge sums of money on audiophile amps and pre-amps, so you got the most from your LP’s. I heard how great my albums could sound on systems that cost $50,000, but I certainly didn’t hear that at my house.

And then the AV people got rid of phono. Move with the times, out with the old, etc. And if you were going to listen to LP’s through your AV receiver, you needed a pre-amp to make your turntable work. And that has opened up a whole new world for the analog listener.

Thank you, AV Receiver!

Cambridge Audio 551P Phono Pre-Amp

Because these new pre-amps make your LP’s sound amazing. For a comparatively small price, I can make my LP’s sound richer and fuller than they ever did on my old equipment, even my best amp/pre-amp set-up. Because a good phono pre-amp does more than meet the minimum requirements to power the music. It applies more than ample power, with almost no distortion, and as a stand alone piece, minimizes electronic noise as well. So you get enough clean power to let the music to shine through, providing greater detail, clarity, and, as the British say, weight to your analog music. Advanced circuitry and the magic of 30 years of technological advancement have made the LP perform as it rarely had in the past.

Pro-Ject Phono Box USB


For fun, let’s say you own an iPod, as well as the two record set Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival 1972. (Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Sun Ra, Sister Sarah Brown and a whole lot more) Up until this point, while not mutually exclusive, they were certainly not close friends. It took a lot of creative planning on my part to hear that old music on new gear, especially if I was journeying outside my own home. And then along came the phono pre-amp, many of which have a USB output as well. Which allows you to put your beloved LP’s into an electronic form that can be carried in your pocket along with, in 1981, would have been an additional 275 lbs of music (Hey, vinyl is heavy. Trust me, I used to carry 12 crates of LP’s every time I moved). The phono pre-amp with USB- the perfect blend of old and new.

I love my iPod. I love my digital. But I also love the sound of a great LP, with all the warmth that’s found in true analog music. And the phono pre-amp allows me to get audiophile analog sound for way under audiophile pricing. Who knew, when AV receivers needed the space for 3D pass-through and 5 more channels, it would be the best thing to happen to my analog music.




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