Q: I need a phono preamp for a Denon high-output moving-coil cartridge. What would you recommend for under $500?
A: A high-output moving-coil cartridge will work with any phono preamp with a moving magnet (MM) input. A moving coil (MC) input is needed only with a moving-coil cartridge that is low-output.
A good phono preamp can make a major difference in sound quality. This often-overlooked component has a critical job. First, it takes the tiny electrical signal from the cartridge and increases it many times, so it can be used with a line level input on a receiver or amplifier. Then it must adjust the signal from the cartridge so it does not sound distorted.
My top recommendation under $500 is the Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE, which sells for $419. It is optimized for moving-magnet and high-output moving-coil cartridges. (It doesn't even have a setting for low-output moving-coil cartridges.) Designed and hand-assembled in England by designer Graham Slee, it has won many awards for its fine sound. (hifisystemcomponents.com)
Next up is the Bellari VP130, another phono preamp optimized for moving-magnet and high-output moving-coil cartridges. An audiophile favorite for years, it uses vacuum tube circuitry for warm, rich, velvety sound. It also works as a high-quality headphone amplifier. It sells for $275. (musichallaudio.com)
If you would like to transfer your vinyl records to a computer, check out the Pro-ject Phono Box USB. It has settings for moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges and features a USB connection for use with a computer. It sells for $255. (pro-jectusa.com)
Big news on savings
Nearly every website wants us to sign up for newsletters. While many of us want to avoid more junk in our inbox, sometimes the newsletters from electronics manufacturers include promotions that can lead to huge savings. The key is to be selective about where you sign up — manufacturers and major retailers are best.
For example, regular readers of my column know I am a fan of Olympus cameras. When you visit the Olympus site, they invite you to sign up for their newsletter. Then, every once in a while, they send you a coupon code that gets you 20 percent off everything in the Olympus Outlet. I was looking at an Olympus PEN E-PL6 interchangeable lens camera — two excellent kit lenses and an 8 GB wireless SDHC card — that was priced at $319.99. That's a good deal in itself, but then a newsletter offered a 20 percent discount. That brought the cost down to $255.99.
Another example is Koss Stereophones, manufacturer of the Pro4S headphones that are one of my top recommendations. I signed up for their newsletter and got 15 percent off my order on the spot. Normally $149, the discount brought the Pro4S price down to $126.65. But it got even better. Around New Year's, I received an e-mail with a code for 30 percent off, bringing the price of these excellent headphones all the way down to $104.99.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations at soundadvicenews.com.