Do I Need a Preamp If My Receiver Has a Phono Input?

As an owner of the best phono preamp, I seldom use the devices with a preamp in them, to listen to my vinyl records. However, many receiver owners often ask, “Do I need a preamp if my receiver has a phono input?” Though as a lover of a pure analog sound I’m tempted to say “yes”, I admit it can be not necessary.

A phono input on the receiver’s back panel means it already includes a preamp and can boost the analog phono signal to reach the “Line” level. So, with such a setup, you might skip a standalone preamp stage, and hook up your deck directly to the receiver.

As useful as this solution appears to be, it is not without flaws. The receiver’s preamplifier may be of lower quality than your turntable’s, and its circuit may be influenced by nearby amp circuits. Let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages of the setup with the receiver’s preamp in greater detail.

A Preamp in the Receiver: Pros and Cons

Let’s start with the positive side. A receiver with the integrated preamp means:

  • Straightforward setup. You don’t have to tune all the components to match your newly installed preamp, and don’t have to mess with the details of the RIAA equalization.
  • Less space and cords. Even a tiny preamp requires some room near the turntable/amp/powered speakers. Besides, you’ll need an additional pair of cords to ensure the connection between the preamp unit and the speakers/amp/receiver.
  • Good sound quality. Though the receiver preamp won’t provide the audiophile serenity of signal, it will let you listen to vinyl records, and hear a balanced sound, without cutting the bass.
  • Allows upgrading. If you decide on integrating an external preamp, you can connect it to the receiver’s “Line” input and enjoy its performance. Each preamp sounds differently, so you might tweak the output according to your preference.
  • Cost-saving. You don’t need to purchase any more devices to listen to your record player.

So, basically, the preamp in the receiver means you have less work to do. Still, cutting cords and components may result in a reduction in sound quality. Let’s look at the disadvantages of the receiver with a built-in phono preamp:

  • No tuning available. Even the basic standalone preamps have knobs and switches letting you change the output and customize it to your liking. With the phono stage integrated into the receiver, these options are minimized or (often) absent.
  • Does not work with MC cartridges. The signal produced by moving coil phono cartridges is weaker than the one of the moving magnet heads. Switching to the MC cartridge means an external preamp is needed to enjoy its performance.
  • Cannot beat the external preamp as to the sound quality. If your setup is of audiophile level, you’ll hear a huge difference in definition, separation, and overall clarity of the sound with the standalone preamp. Let alone the tube one.

So, a receiver with the phono preamp is a good backstopping solution. However, for an audiophile-grade sound, you’ll need an external preamp.