The phono stage can easily make or break a vinyl based system. The stage of phono pre-amplification is absolutely crucial - more so than the pre-amp or amplifier stage - if you have any doubts about this we urge you to get a demonstration of something like the gsp audio phono stages. The reason for this importance is that the phono stage carries out up to a massive 95% of your total signal amplification from cartridge to speakers. This is too much to entrust to a feeble £1 chip used in many integrated and pre-amps. For more information on this please see our page on "Why phono stages are so important".
The phono stage is the amplification required to step up the very low output levels produced by mm or mc cartridges to line level voltages (i.e. the 1 volt output levels of CD players, DVD players, tape decks etc.). This stage is often severely underestimated in the contribution it makes to producing a good sound. The way in which your amplifier handles the extremely low signal levels (thousandths of a Volt) from the cartridge is critical - information is more easily lost or distorted at this stage than later on in the signal path. Information lost can never be regained and any distortions and coloration's are amplified thousands of times. It is not difficult to appreciate why this area has so much potential for improvement and is often the weakest link in a system.
Why upgrade to a stand alone phono stage?
Many amplifiers neglect the phono stage:
With a focus on CD replay, many companies produce amplifiers with no phono input at all. The solution is to add a phono stage and then use interconnects to plug it into a spare input socket on your amplifier such as as an aux, tuner or tape input socket.If an amplifier does have a moving magnet or moving coil input, it is often assumed that all is well. The problem is that many phono inputs often use budget integrated circuits costing less than £1 as a cost cutting solution. Expertise in the area of RIAA equalization and cartridge amplification is not an area that many amplifier manufacturers have the time or resources to invest in. For this reason a well researched and properly designed phono stage is a huge upgrade.
There are theoretical advantages for a separate phono stage:
The power supply can be separate if the supply is separate then the sensitive circuitry is not susceptible to stray fields from the large transformer inside most amplifiers.