Week 38, 2018: Great phono preamps under $500: Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE, Bellari VP130, Pro-ject Phono Box USB

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 38, 2018

Q. I need a phono preamp for a Denon high output moving coil cartridge. What would you recommend under $500?


A. A high output moving coil cartridge will work with any phono preamp with a moving magnet (MM) input. A moving coil (MC) input is only needed with a low output moving coil cartridge. Many phono preamps have settings for both kinds of cartridges.

If vinyl record playback is a big part of your musical enjoyment, a good phono preamp can make a major difference in the sound quality of your system. This often-overlooked component has a critical job to do. First, it takes the tiny electrical signal from a phono cartridge and increases it many times, so it can be used with a line level input on a receiver or amplifier. Then it must adjust the signal from the cartridge so it does not sound distorted, using a process called RIAA equalization.

You should be logical when allocating your resources when building a vinyl playback system. For example, it would not make sense to pair a $500 phono preamp with a $99 turntable/cartridge combo with a pair of powered speakers. Here are some recommendations for you.

My top recommendation under $500 is the Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE, which sells for $419. It is optimized for moving magnet and high output moving coil cartridges and does not have a setting for low output moving coil cartridges. Designed and hand assembled in England by designer Graham Slee himself, the Gram Amp 2 SE has won many awards for its fine sound.

Next up is the Bellari VP130, another phono preamp optimized for moving magnet and high output moving coil cartridges. An audiophile favorite for years, it uses vacuum tube circuitry for warm, rich, velvety sound. It also works as a high-quality headphone amplifier. The Bellari VP130 sells for $275.

If you would like to transfer your vinyl records to a computer, check out the Pro-ject Phono Box USB. The Phono Box USB has settings for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges and features a USB connection for use with a computer. The Pro-ject Phono Box USB sells for $255.