What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive preamp?

the thin end of the wedge
RJDG14
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What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive preamp?

Post by RJDG14 » 16 Sep 2018 04:00

I own a cheapish £30 Behringer MicroPhono PP400 and it sounds very good to me, so I wondered how much better an expensive preamp would sound? Do they produce a better dynamic range, reduce the amount of hum coming from a turntable or what?

My receiver is a Rotel RA-820A that's 30 years old and failing as it hasn't had any maintenance done to it, and it seems fine 90% of the time when on the CD/tuner/AUX/tape inputs but the left channel constantly drops out on the Phono input, but when it periodically works the phono input on it sounds pretty much exactly like my Behringer connected to the AUX input, and I believe the reciever cost about £100 in the late 1980s, which would be nearer £300 today.

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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by balky » 16 Sep 2018 06:46

I guess the best thing to say is that you won't know the difference until you try...

It's only just another rabbit hole :D

LD100
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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by LD100 » 16 Sep 2018 07:45

RJDG14 wrote:I own a cheapish £30 Behringer MicroPhono PP400 and it sounds very good to me, so I wondered how much better an expensive preamp would sound? Do they produce a better dynamic range, reduce the amount of hum coming from a turntable or what?
No, they do not magically reduce the level of hum if you have a hum problem, however, they will not add to it. :D

Recently, my 26 year old pre amp's phono input gave up the ghost (doesn't anything last anymore?).
I didn't have the money handy for a nice >$3000 tube phono stage, so I looked at solid states at <$1000. Found a Rogue Audio Steath that was being discontinued due to it being replaced with the Triton.

It gives a few layers more detail than the built in phono pre amp did, probably due to lower noise floor. Important for me since I use a single layer low output moving coil cartridge (0.25mV).

So happy with choice, not so happy with having to spend the money. #-o

tlscapital
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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by tlscapital » 16 Sep 2018 10:22

Like 'balky' said, if you have the opportunity try to compare for yourself. That should set you up on the matter. Mind you as 'LD100' tells us here, a preamp with better-end parts can do a lot of difference with LO cartridge for example. And those preamps with adjustable settings in gains and loads are truly beneficial to some of the most exotic cartridges...

RJDG14
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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by RJDG14 » 16 Sep 2018 11:56

Ah, so the main difference is that more expensive ones often have more sound adjustment options whereas cheaper ones simply output an amplified version of the exact audio signal that they get coming in.

tlscapital
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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by tlscapital » 16 Sep 2018 12:09

RJDG14 wrote:Ah, so the main difference is that more expensive ones often have more sound adjustment options whereas cheaper ones simply output an amplified version of the exact audio signal that they get coming in.
Well, there is that I agree. The qualities of the components can be crucial in the sound definition qualities (properties) even more so if the rest of the phono chain allows that to show. And capacitors for example can be expensive for some of them and can they truly enhanced sonically "regular" ones.

Then there is the design (ingenious brain if ever) and the build (craft) behind and in it. So, I guess one could understand that just out of the factory it should come to a cost. If not... But then there are those with facilities who just build their owns... or those who go for the assemble yourself 'IK_A' ones...

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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by katana1100 » 16 Sep 2018 17:10

Look up the pjl electronics phono preamps on the auction site. I got the hybrid one back when it wa $200 and slight different design, they have an all tube one for $200. They build to order and set loading to whatever cart you use. I think that is a fair price, and I am one who thinks a little tubi-ness in the stereo chain is a good thing .
I think this is important as some carts need different from norm loading to sound good. ( like the Shure 97).
I think when it comes to user adjustable loading, Emotiva might be best all SS bet.
Keep in mind that any differences you hear will be minor, with the quality of your speakers having a role.

addicted-to-analog
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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by addicted-to-analog » 16 Sep 2018 17:27

RJDG14 wrote:I own a cheapish £30 Behringer MicroPhono PP400 and it sounds very good to me, so I wondered how much better an expensive preamp would sound? Do they produce a better dynamic range, reduce the amount of hum coming from a turntable or what?

My receiver is a Rotel RA-820A that's 30 years old and failing as it hasn't had any maintenance done to it, and it seems fine 90% of the time when on the CD/tuner/AUX/tape inputs but the left channel constantly drops out on the Phono input, but when it periodically works the phono input on it sounds pretty much exactly like my Behringer connected to the AUX input, and I believe the reciever cost about £100 in the late 1980s, which would be nearer £300 today.
Some questions, if I may?

- What are your other components? Turntable, tonearm and cartridge? Speakers?

- Do you plan on upgrading any or all of your components after getting a new phono stage?

- What is your budget for a new phono stage?

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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by justjed0001 » 16 Sep 2018 17:51

There are many factors that figure into the cost of anything having to do with audio. Doing small runs of exclusive gear is a good way to increase cost per unit. Having ten face-plates machined at a time will cost more per piece than having ten thousand done, it's the set-up time that makes the difference. Totally hand-built, or boutique items with a lot of hand-work involved, will increase prices. Parts and build quality may be similar to higher end production gear, but exclusivity is expensive. It has always been so.

The actual RIAA equalization circuitry hasn't changed much since the introduction of the LP. It's the quality of the parts, the precision of the assembly, and the associated amplification circuitry that make the difference in sound quality. Decent sound is not necessarily an expensive proposition, but there are phono-pre's for every income level, even stupid expensive 5-figure pieces that do the exact same thing as a $50-ish TC-750(my personal fave cheap unit). But while the over-all specs for a given boutique pre versus a given production model may be similar, the specs tell you nothing about how a particular piece will sound in a particular system in a particular room, or if the rest of the stack is capable of resolving the differences in performance between the two. Or, if the listener is capable of discerning the difference in the first place.

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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by ]eep » 16 Sep 2018 18:52

First I'll answer the question. The correct answer is: the price you pay, the distribution cost, VAT, taxes, transport costs, marketing, looks, materials, parts, engineering and manual labor wages, company overhead, profit, nametags, you name it.


And yes, it makes a huge difference but you need the chain all up to par to hear it. A weak chain won't get strong by using 1 strong link, but a strong chain can be ruined by 1 weak link. Improve a weak link and you will notice improvement overall.

Unfortunately, it's not simply a matter of exchanging 'links' because they also interact. You can have very good units that perform very well but that are very difficult partnering with other equipment. If you know what you want you can make a short, simple and relatively cheap chain that sounds awesome. But for that you need experience and knowledge.

To what billshurv said, yes it is true that a good housing costs money and doesn't do much for the sound. I made a cheap phono-amp by modifying a good but cheap board. I mounted it in a stomp box, made holes for the 4 Rca's, led, on/off switch. And then the power supply (very important). That more than tripled my cost, not to mention the hours I put in.

watchnerd
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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by watchnerd » 16 Sep 2018 20:47

Ticking to the technical aspect, more money should get you:

1. More configurability
2. Lower noise with higher gain

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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by ChrisfromRI » 17 Sep 2018 02:55

A more expensive phono stage will afford you better balance in gain between channels, better matched components to allow you a more even soundstage (same exact gain per channel), higher quality connectors to allow you better connection reliability, and a generally better circuit layout reducing hum/noise and allowing you to enjoy a better performance...

watchnerd
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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by watchnerd » 17 Sep 2018 02:57

ChrisfromRI wrote:A more expensive phono stage will afford you better balance in gain between channels, better matched components to allow you a more even soundstage (same exact gain per channel), higher quality connectors to allow you better connection reliability, and a generally better circuit layout reducing hum/noise and allowing you to enjoy a better performance...
Or just get a DSP phono stage for $500 and almost all of those problems go away... :)

ChrisfromRI
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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by ChrisfromRI » 17 Sep 2018 03:00

watchnerd wrote:
ChrisfromRI wrote:A more expensive phono stage will afford you better balance in gain between channels, better matched components to allow you a more even soundstage (same exact gain per channel), higher quality connectors to allow you better connection reliability, and a generally better circuit layout reducing hum/noise and allowing you to enjoy a better performance...
Or just get a DSP phono stage for $500 and almost all of those problems go away... :)
Yeah, I guess so if you actually like the sound of digital compared to analog...

watchnerd
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Re: What's the difference between a cheap vs expensive pream

Post by watchnerd » 17 Sep 2018 03:33

ChrisfromRI wrote:
watchnerd wrote:
ChrisfromRI wrote:A more expensive phono stage will afford you better balance in gain between channels, better matched components to allow you a more even soundstage (same exact gain per channel), higher quality connectors to allow you better connection reliability, and a generally better circuit layout reducing hum/noise and allowing you to enjoy a better performance...
Or just get a DSP phono stage for $500 and almost all of those problems go away... :)
Yeah, I guess so if you actually like the sound of digital compared to analog...
It still sounds analog.

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