When you start out with collecting vinyl a good record player setup is essential to enjoy your music. As there are a lot of terms and gear within this hobby it can be confusing for the beginner to know exactly what they need to get started. So you might be considering buying a record player or you already have. One of the questions many people ask when starting with vinyl is: “do I need an amplifier for my record player?”
Yes. A turntable must be connected to an amplifier as the output signal is not strong enough to drive speakers. However, there is an exception as a lot of record players have pre-amplifiers built-in already. So if you have a turntable with a built-in preamp and also have speakers with a built-in amplifier, then you connect the two without the standalone amplifier.
The description above talks about the pre-amplifier and the amplifier. For a turntable to work you need both amplifiers. The pre-amplifier is sometimes called the Phono or RIAA and the second is also called the power amplifier or the receiver.
The preamp corrects and converts the tone of the signal that is picked up by the turntable. A record holds small grooves that are mainly the high notes of the record, this is because these grooves are more compact compared to the lower bass notes. The preamp adjusts the sound to equalize the volume of the high notes and the lower notes.
The preamp not only converts the signal but also, as the name suggests, amplifies it. The signal that the needle gets from the record is called PHONO. Since this signal is rather weak the preamp boosts this to the audio standard that is called a LINE or AUX signal. This standard is used in most audio devices such as radios and amplifiers.
As mentioned earlier the preamp can either be an external device or it can be integrated into the record player. This means that a turntable without a built-in preamp will have a PHONO output signal and a standalone preamp is needed. But if the preamp is integrated into the device output will be a LINE signal. In this case, there is often a switch to also have the option to bypass the preamp so you can connect your own external one. This means you have a choice to either have a PHONO or LINE signal output. Hifi enthusiasts will often go for an external preamp as that can increase the sound quality but this option will often come with a higher price tag.
In the both cases, we have reviewed a number of products. We have written a buy guide on the absolute best turntables with a built-in preamp and also have a list on the best budget preamps on the market if you want to go with an external one.
The Power Amplifier
The main amplifier has, as the name above suggests, the main tasks of this device are to boost the signal and power the speakers. The terms amplifier and receiver are both used to describe this device, wheres the preamp is always referred with the term “pre” before amplifier. Amplifier come in all shapes and sizes, from big amplifiers powering a guitar to a small one powering your record player.
To complicate the amount of possible record player setups an amplifier can also have a built-in preamp. This means a PHONO input can be sent to the amplifier, of course a LINE signal can be the input as well. If you want to know how to connect your turntable to amplifier read this article.
One more thing to consider is to buy active speaker, also called powered speakers. Active stands for speakers that are powered not by an external amplifier but by their internal amplifier. As they already have an amplifier integrated this of course means that you don’t need an external amplifier, whereas passive speakers always need a standalone amplifier/receiver to drive them.
Of course, you still need a preamp but if that is also integrated with the record player than it is really plug and play with just one cable. The speakers can be plugged into a wall power outlet and the RCA cable into the preamp or turntable.
The option above is perfect for vinyl beginners or people with lower budgets since you need fewer devices for the audio setup to work. However, you do need to keep in mind that hifi enthusiasts will prefer standalone devices because of the superior audio quality. Of course, the total budget spend can be a lot higher depending on the type of devices.
Summary of vinyl setups
To summarize there are 4 components that are necessary for a vinyl record player setup to work, however, keep in mind these don’t have to be 4 different devices as the amplifiers can be integrated into devices.
The four components in every setup are:
- The needle on the record will output a PHONO signal
- The preamp will convert this and output a LINE signal
- The amplifier will boost this and output a power-amplified signal
I hope this information has cleared all your questions regarding whether an amplifier is needed for your record player or not. If you want to know more or get an overview of all the different possibilities I recommend the video below: