Customer Questions - "What's a phono stage and do I really need one?"

Justin asks,

"I have just been gifted a beautiful Pro-Ject Essential III turntable, and I've plugged it into some speakers and the sound wasn’t very loud. I’ve been doing some research and assume I need to add on a phono stage. Is that right??"

Justin - this is about the most common question we get, so I'm glad you asked!

You need the following four things to get any system up and running: a turntable --> a phono stage (sometimes called a pre-amp) --> an amplifier --> a pair of speakers.

A phono stage is a kind of pre-amplifier that every turntable needs. The signal that comes out of the turntable is veeeery quiet, and needs to be boosted before it reaches the amplifier, which is where the phono stage comes in. Sometimes it's built into the turntable, sometimes it's separate (an external phono stage), and sometimes it's built into the amplifier.

 

A fancy kind of external phono stage known as a Tube Box S2

 

What you're connecting your turntable to will determine whether you need a phono stage or not: if you're connecting your turntable directly to an active speaker (like Justin here), then you'll almost certainly need one. If you're connecting your turntable to an amplifier, then it's worth checking whether it has one built in already.  

If you're buying a brand new turntable and also need a phono stage, then the simplest solution is to buy a model with a built-in one (by using our turntable builder and selecting "Built-in phono stage" from the drop-down menu). And if you already own a turntable but still need a phono stage, we've also got you covered!

And if you're unsure what an active speaker is, or whether you need an amplifier, these are all fair and reasonable questions, which we've tried to answer over here!

June 30, 2021 — Guy Barker