The Best Tube Phono Preamp

The Best Tube Phono Preamp

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Selecting a phono preamp can mean the difference between a brittle, lifeless sound, and one that gives you a warm, deep, and smooth sound that you have always wanted. So in this article we’ll take a look at how you can achieve that satisfying warmth with the best tube phono preamp on the market today.

The Little Bear T7 might easily be the best budget option available on the market today due to how amazingly clean and warm it sounds. Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 is also highly recommended for similar reasons, and the Fosi Audio Box X4 is great if you want to use headphones.


Table of Contents


About Our Top Choices

Pro-Ject Tube Box S2

Pro-Ject Tube Box S2
See price @ Amazon

More details…

The Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 is a great choice for someone who is looking for a very compact yet powerful phono preamp with a very minimalistic design and a smooth sound. It is very reasonably priced for a tube preamp and can easily satisfy the needs of both beginners and seasoned enthusiasts.

Pros
  • Sturdy
  • Rich and smooth-sounding
  • Versatile
Cons
  • A bit simplistic design

Little Bear T7

Little Bear T7
See price @ Amazon

More details…

The Little Bear T7 might easily be the best budget option available on the market today due to how amazingly clean and warm it sounds. Also, it’s worth mentioning that this device can easily fit in the palm of your hand, which is great news for audio enthusiasts who value great design and compactness.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Stylish
  • Warm and clean sounding
Cons
  • MM cartridge turntables only

Fosi Audio Box X4

Fosi Audio Box X4
See price @ Amazon

More details…

The Fosi Audio Box X4 might easily be the best tube phono preamp for headphones, and considering it can accommodate other audio equipment apart from turntables, it truly is a bargain. It also is compatible with a great variety of vacuum tubes which means you won’t have any trouble maintaining this preamp.

Pros
  • Natural-sounding
  • Stylish
  • Sturdy
Cons
  • Not compatible with passive speakers 

Top 5 Best Phono Tube Preamp

  1. Pro-Ject Tube Box S2
  2. Little Bear T7
  3. Fosi Audio Box X4
  4. Douk Audio T3
  5. Nobsound Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7

Best Phono Tube Preamp Reviews


Pro-Ject Tube Box S2

Pro-Ject Tube Box S2

Pros
  • Sturdy
  • Rich and smooth-sounding
  • Versatile
Cons
  • A bit simplistic design
See price @ Amazon

The Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 might easily be the best hi-fi for the money, it is a very popular choice amongst either experienced audio enthusiasts or beginners. Despite the fact that it is a very compact device, it packs a lot of power and delivers a very rich and smooth sound.

Best features and specs

The Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 is a phono tube preamp that takes a highly enjoyable listening experience as its duty. This preamp is compatible with both MM and MC cartridges. It offers extensive support for 5 variable input impedance settings for MM cartridges and 47k ohm input impedance settings for MC cartridges. It has a solid build quality and special aluminum or metal casing, which saves it from electromagnetic interference and vibrations. On top of that, it has 2 replaceable ECC83 tubes.

User impressions

Users say that the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 gives a bold and rich sound that is highly addictive. Also, the key to making this preamp sound like this is that you have to set up the right gain, capacitance, and resistance. Some users experience that the tube that comes in a set with a preamp might sound a bit thin in a high-end, so it’s better to change them to other tubes of your choice.

What we think

The Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 is, without a doubt, a powerful device worth considering, especially if you take into account its power and price-to-value ratio. But some might be discouraged by its rather simplistic design, although you should also consider that this approach helps this preamp to fit almost any aesthetic.

Bottomline

The Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 is a great choice for someone who is looking for a very compact yet powerful phono preamp with a very minimalistic design and a smooth sound. It is very reasonably priced for a tube preamp and can easily satisfy the needs of both beginners and seasoned enthusiasts.


Little Bear T7

Little Bear T7

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Stylish
  • Warm and clean sounding
Cons
  • MM cartridge turntables only
See price @ Amazon

The Little Bear T7 might easily be the best budget option available on the market today due to how amazingly clean and warm it sounds. Also, it’s worth mentioning that this device can easily fit in the palm of your hand, which is great news for audio enthusiasts who value great design and compactness.

Best features and specs

The Little Bear T7 is a very compact phono tube preamp that gives a great warm sound. This preamp runs at MM cartridges and should be used with the same kind of turntables. It’s possible to use it as a HiFi tube preamp. The Little Bear T7 has a sturdy build quality and a very compact size that lets it easily fit in your backpack and be carried around. This preamp is run by a 6J1 tube and is compatible with 654, 6AK5, and EF95 tubes.

User impressions

Users like the Little Bear T7 for being worth every dime and providing a warm and pleasant listening experience. Users praise its compact form factor and top-quality sound that is enough for the majority of audiophiles. Also, it will sound even better if you decide to upgrade the tubes.

What we think

It’s hard to find a reason not to expand your audio gear arsenal with the Little Bear T7 apart from its cartridge compatibility. It works only with MM cartridges, so if you are using any other turntable, you are going to have to look for something very much different.

Bottomline

The Little Bear T7 is a great choice for someone who is looking for an extremely compact and well-designed phono preamp that delivers great and smooth sound. It is also very reasonably priced for a device of such great quality.


Fosi Audio Box X4

Fosi Audio Box X4

Pros
  • Natural-sounding
  • Stylish
  • Sturdy
Cons
  • Not compatible with passive speakers
See price @ Amazon

The Fosi Audio Box X4 might easily be the best tube phono preamp for headphones, and considering it can accommodate other audio equipment apart from turntables, it truly is a bargain. It also is compatible with a great variety of vacuum tubes which means you won’t have any trouble maintaining this preamp.

Best features and specs

The Fosi Audio Box X4 is a phono tube preamp which is a more advanced version than its predecessor and provides you with sound of much better quality. This preamp works on MM cartridges and is compatible with turntables of the same kind. At the same time, thanks to the included 3.5mm AUX, you can connect your favorite earphones and enjoy your favorite music. The Fosi Audio Box 4 is sturdy-built and is made with the help of top-quality components, low-noise integrated circuits, and a grounding post, which protects the turntable. On top of all that, this preamp is compatible with 6K4 / 6J1 / 6J4 / GE5654 / 6AK5 / 66*In vacuum tubes that you can change to have the most of the listening experience.

User impressions

Users say that the Fosi Audio Box X4 is great at bringing to life the magic of old turntables and adding warmth and smoothness to the sound. Users add that if you put vintage tubes in this amp, you get the cozy vibe and feel as if you’re listening to something very sweet. Also, the build quality is very solid and the knobs are a nice touch.

What we think

Despite the fact that the Fosi Audio Box X4 is an excellent headphones preamp, you may pass this one by if you prefer to use passive speakers. This preamp is only directly compatible with active ones, so in order to use passive speakers, you will need to connect a separate amplifier.

Bottomline

The Fosi Audio Box X4 is a great choice for someone who is looking for a very compact and sturdy headphone tube preamp that accommodates a MM cartridge turntable and offers you separate AUX input. For such a reasonable price, you also get a very nice two-band equalizer to tweak your sound.


Douk Audio T3

Douk Audio T3

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Clear-sounding
  • Stylish
Cons
  • None that we know of
See price @ Amazon

The Douk Audio T3 is a very versatile tube preamp that is compatible with a great variety of audio equipment, including, of course, MM cartridge turntables. It has a minimalistic and rather contained design and a gain switch on the front panel that makes it possible to match different sound sources.

Best features and specs

The Douk Audio T3 is a phono tube preamp, which features a MM cartridge and 3.5 mm AUX input so that it’s compatible not only with turntables that work on MM cartridges but also with TVs, phones, MP3 players, etc. This preamp has great built quality, which ensures that it produces clear sound with almost no noise. Also, the Douk Audio T3 has 2PCS 6A2 vacuum tubes that can be changed with 6K4 / 6J1 / 6J4 / GE5654 / 6AK5 / 6*1n tubes to get a sweet and warm sound.

User impressions

Users like the Douk Audio T3 because it surely gives a great listening experience while remaining extremely affordable. Users note that the tubes that this preamp has should be replaced almost immediately as with them on, the sound is distorted and the total feeling is as if EQ is cranked up. Also, setting up this preamp is very easy and it has good build quality. Users emphasize that the tubes are glowing with a very bright blue color, so it may annoy you a bit.

What we think

Although the Douk Audio T3 wasn’t specifically built to be a turntable preamp, it does its job remarkably well. But still, it is more of an all-around versatile device and you will benefit from it greatly if you are more interested in versatility than in a perfect preamp for turntables specifically.

Bottomline

The Douk Audio T3 is a great choice for someone who is looking for a very versatile phono tube preamp that can easily accommodate a wide variety of audio equipment, including turntables. It is very reasonably priced but note that you might need to replace vacuum tubes straight out of the box.


Nobsound Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7

Nobsound Little Bear T11 6N2/12AX7

Pros
  • Well-built
  • Reasonably-priced
  • Great-sounding
Cons
  • Rather outdated design
See price @ Amazon

The Nobsound Little Bear T11 is a very reasonably priced and sturdy phono preamp with exchangeable tubes covers and many other improvements over the previous version.

Best features and specs

The Nobsound Little Bear T11 is a sturdy-built tube phono preamp that works with turntables that feature MM cartridges. The Little Bear 11 is a much more advanced option than its predecessor and has reduced background noise on the average volume. There’re 4 acrylic and 3 metal covers for the tubes that come with this tube phono preamp so that you can choose for your liking. This phono tube preamp is compatible with 6N2 / 12AX7 tubes, which can be interchanged with 6H2, 6H2n, 12AX7B, 6N4(9PIN), ECC83, and 5751 tubes as well.

User impressions

Users agree that the Nobsound Little Bear T11 is very stylish and sturdy. Users note that when they use the tubes that come out of the box with this preamp, some cracking and clipping noise are present. As soon as they changed tubes for new ones, the sound became exactly as it was advertised. Also, not many users are in favor of phono jacks being on the front panel, as they have to figure out how to organize the wires so that it would not look ugly.

What we think

The Nobsound Little Bear T11 could be simply perfect if you are looking for an extremely budget-friendly solution, but otherwise, you may not be happy with its simplistic and rather outdated design.

Bottomline

The Nobsound Little Bear T11 is a great choice for someone who is looking for an extremely reasonably priced phono tube preamp that delivers great sound.


Tube Phono Preamp Buying Guide

What is a tube phono preamp?

A tube phono preamp is a device that raises and enhances the sound that is produced by turntables. The preamps operate by use of vacuum tubes and valves that boost the signal that comes from the turntables, resulting in clearer and louder music.

Why would you need a tube phono preamp?

If you fancy having a much clearer, louder sound with improved quality, then you definitely need a tube phono preamp. If you’re used to the smoother and warmer sound, it’s another good reason why you should have a tube phono preamp. Another one is if you have a sound system that is characterized by a cooler sound, having a phono tube preamp will balance out the sound.

Important features

When choosing a tube phono preamp, you should pay attention to the following features, such as cartridges, compatibility, and build quality.

Cartridge

You should be vigilant about whether the cartridge in the tube phono amp would be the same as the cartridge in your turntable. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work.

Compatibility

Mostly, phono tube preamps can be connected to the turntables. In some cases, you can find those that are compatible with MP3 players, phones, TVs, etc.

Build quality

It’s pretty obvious that the phono tube preamp should be of fine quality and is sturdy built.

How to choose the right one for you?

When you are choosing the best phono tube preamp, you should thoroughly analyze your needs before making a decision. If you want to use it not only with the turntable, it’s better to look at devices that offer compatibility with a wide range of different gadgets. You should always keep in mind that the cartridge in the phono tube amp and turntable has to be of the same kind. And as you plan to use the phono tube amp quite for a long time, you should check its build quality.


FAQ

Are tube phono preamps worth it?

Yes, they are. Only by using a tube phono preamp can you get an amazingly smooth and sonically pleasant sound.

Are expensive phono preamps worth it?

Yes, as they can amplify a much wider range of cartridges than a budget-friendly option can.

Is tube better than solid state?

Tube is better than solid state in terms of producing a more sonically pleasing sound. But solid-state equipment can be more affordable and has a longer lifespan.

How long do tubes last in a preamp?

It depends on how much and how often you use a preamp. The average lifespan of tubes is from 2 to 3 years.

How do you know when to replace preamp tubes?

There isn’t any precise time. But as soon as you notice that the preamp sounds not the way it should be. And with each day, the sound quality slowly reduces, till it becomes lifeless and flat. Then it’s time to change the tube.