Best Stereo Preamp under $500 – Reviews, Tips, and Buying Guide
What’s the best stereo preamp under $500? It’s a question with a lot of different answers, depending on your needs. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best options out there and help you decide which one is right for you. Whether you’re looking for a versatile preamp that can do it all or one specifically designed for audiophiles, we’ve got you covered. So let’s get started!
What Is The Best Stereo Preamp Under $500?
This is a rather tough one for me to answer and I am not saying that as an easy way out. At this price range, I feel that there is actually a lot of similarities with these devices. Still, if I had to pick just one then I would go for the Parasound Zpre3 Stereo Preamplifier. I not only thought the sound was great, but I also loved the design of this unit and thought that the little screen was way more useful than I thought it would be.
A second option for me would have to be the Bellari PA550 Preamplifier which at under 200 bucks is steal. I like the red design and the sound quality was actually quite remarkable. If you are willing to spend more, do also check out our Best Stereo Preamps under $1000.
Check Your Equipment
One thing I will say about buying a new preamp is that while you can spend thousands on a preamp or you can spend a few hundred bucks. You still need to have the right equipment to go along with it. The better your speakers, you turntable and so on the better overall sound you are going to get.
Do not get me wrong if you buy any of these what we are considering the best stereo preamp under $500, you will notice some improvement. However, the better your setup, the better the experience you are going to be getting overall. So do not just automatically think that a preamp is going to make those 20 bucks Walmart speakers make your room sound like Madison Square Garden!
The Best Stereo Preamp Under $500 Reviews
Here are the stereo preamps that I have been having some fun with over the last couple of weeks. Also, as I said in the intro, we have a few other ones that I think look pretty neat. So, if you want to give your sound a bit of a kick you will find a device to do that down below.
Parasound Zpre3 Stereo Preamplifier
- It looks really cool
- The LCD display is handy
- Comes with a remote control
- Plenty of inputs
- Some do not like the size of the LCD screen
- It is way smaller than you would think
First up we have this Parasound Zpre3 Stereo Preamplifier which I think that had to be on our best stereo preamp under $500 list. You can currently get this in the 350 to 400 bucks price range. As far as the design goes, I think that this is my favorite on the whole list. I really like the digital display that is on the front as this is something that you do not actually see a whole lot on a stereo preamp. It just has a very cool, sleek and “tech” kind of style to it and that is something I like. If the rest of your equipment is black, then this is going to look really cool beside or on top of it.
You can connect up to five devices to this which is really cool and you get a nifty little remote that makes controlling the device very easy. It also has this memory function where it can remember your volume settings. You can actually name each display and it pops up on the LCD screen when selected and that is pretty cool. The sound quality was very good through this. I ended up using my main turntable and even my 2006 model iPod which I connected via the front input. Both sounded great and had some nice “punch” to them so as far as the sound goes, I am happy with what this is offering.
What Other People Are Saying
Over at Amazon, this has a fantastic reputation. All of the customer review that I have read about this are very positive which is always nice to read. One guy had this to say, “I like this preamp so much that, along with Zamps, I have purchased two. Flawless as well as offering all the analog inputs, outputs, and settings that I require.” In my opinion, if something is willing to make you double dip it must be good!
I am very happy with what the Parasound Zpre3 Stereo Preamplifier is offering. I really do not see anyone being disappointed with it. I have heard some people complain that the display is too small, but I think that is nitpicking at its finest! In all this is a great stereo preamp and one that I am sure you are going to be very happy with. I know I would happily have this as part of one of my setups.
Parasound Zphono MM/MC Phono Preamplifier
- The design grew on me over time
- You can connect multiple devices to this
- It is very easy to get up and running
- Asking price is not bad at all
- Not really ideal for a novice
- That design might not be your cup of tea
I could not have been any more excited to get the chance to check out the Parasound Zphono MM/MC Phono Preamplifier. At around 250 dollars, the asking price is about half of what our budget is and that is great! The design is rather interesting and when I took it out of the box, I got a kind of “car stereo” feel from this. To be honest with you though, the design grew on me the more I saw it sitting next to my receiver. It is very well made and I am sure that many people will love how contained the whole thing is. Some preamps have stuff all over them, but this one here has more of a clean look and design to it and that is something that I actually really like.
What I really like about this is all of the connectivity options that it gives you. Connecting devices is nice and easy and they even have a headphone jack on the front. I tested this out with some of my favorite vinyl records and was very happy with the result. I do think that to really get the best sound out of this you need to have a solid setup already, but I do not think that is the end of the world. I had heard that some people felt this took vinyl and gave it a “cd” kind of sound. I am not sure I would fully agree with that, but I can tell you that the vocal clarity in particular was great, even on some of my older scratchier vinyl.
What Other People Are Saying
I found a really handy video guide on YouTube for the Parasound Zphono MM/MC Phono Preamplifier. While this is not technically a review, this guy really breaks down the device and lets you know the ins and outs of it. Also, one of the things I like about a video like this is being able to read the comments section. There you can get an idea of what people really think about this. Also, there are some really positive reviews and comments on the products Amazon page so be sure to check those out.
I really like the Parasound Zphono MM/MC Phono Preamplifier. I fully understand that this is not for everyone. When looking for the best stereo preamp under $500 this may not be what comes to mind. However, I will say that if you already have a setup that you are pretty much happy with and just want a little more kick, a little more vocal clarity that this is well worth taking a much closer look at.
Bellari PA550 Preamplifier
- I like the red design
- It is very easy to get up and going
- The asking price makes it very affordable
- It appears to have a great reputation online
- It does not have a power switch which is strange
- That red might be a tad too bright for some
Man, I really do love the design of this Bellari PA550 Preamplifier. It has such a cool and almost retro look to it that it is impossible not to be taken in by it. Also, the fact that this is currently being sold for only $129.00 makes it one of the best value stereo preamps on our entire list! When you hold this, you are very impressed with the solid build quality. I will be honest and say that when I heard what the price for this was, I thought it would feel rather “cheap”. That is not the case at all. The actual casing feels solid and the dials do not have that cheapness to them that some dials can on cheaper audio equipment. Of course, as much as I like the design that bright red will stand out like a sore thumb which may not be something you are cool with.
If you have an MC turntable, you will love this as that is what it is made for. You connect it to your turntable very easily and then it gives you some options to play with. Right on the front, it has a dial not just for volume, but also your bass and treble. I like this as it does allow you to tinker with your sound. I blasted Free Bird through this thing and I think I spent nearly the whole song playing around with the dials just getting that sound right. There is a notable improvement to the sound, but you have to take into consideration the price and realize it does have its limits. Still, I was very impressed with how this made some of my favorite songs sound.
What Other People Are Saying
“Good build quality, very clean clear sound with lots of gain in volume, bass, and treble controls. Phono stage is surprisingly good with absolutely no hum and good extension that gives it a somewhat warm effect.” Is what one of the many positive customer reviews had to say about this on Amazon. For the most part, people seem to be very impressed by what this is offering.
I know that some of you guys will see the low asking price and think that the Bellari PA550 Preamplifier is just a cheap piece of kit. I was kind of there at first too! However, the more I played around with this, the more I liked what it was offering. Yet it is a rather basic preamp, but it does what it does well. Plus, if this is your first preamp, I have a feeling you will be quite blown away by how much better your records sound with the help of this.
Cambridge Audio ALVA Duo MM/MC Phono Preamplifier
- It looks really cool and smart
- Very easy to use
- The sound quality is very good
- It could not be any easier to use
- The headphone quality is not the best
- Build quality has been called into question
If you are looking for the best stereo preamp under $500 that is also going to look very elegant while it is working its magic. Then I think the Cambridge Audio ALVA Duo MM/MC Phono Preamplifier could be what you are looking for. I know that some of you guys much prefer silver over black and this silver casing does look very cool and high quality. I like how there is that little bit of chrome used to really make it pop. This goes for $299.99 which I really do not think is a bad price at all to be honest with you. Although I must admit it does feel kind of “empty” when you pick it up.
They really did a good job with the sound quality on this. I have a few turntables in my house and I really put this thing through its paces. I found the sound quality to have a really nice clarity to it, there was next to no hum, fuzz or any other interference even when I was blasting For Whom The Bell Tolls at a loud volume. I will say that this is not the fanciest stereo preamp on our list today, but I think that this does work very well and I really am having a hard time coming up with anything really negative to say when it comes to the sound quality. My only real gripe is when you have headphones connected, there is just something a little off and the sound is not as good as when blasting through speakers. So that is something that you might want to keep in mind.
What Other People Are Saying
There is this pretty great video showcase over at YouTube. What I really like about this video is that it shows you just what this stereo preamp is all about. Of course, there is also the Amazon reviews that are on the actual product page. You can read these and get an idea of what people who have actually spent their own hard-earned money on this thing think about it.
The Cambridge Audio ALVA Duo MM/MC Phono Preamplifier is something that I really did enjoy using. I know that the “build quality” is not the greatest, even though I did not find any problems with the unit I tested. However, the sound quality was just what I would want at this price range. It does take a tad breaking in, but once you have got this thing figured out, you are going to be very happy with the vocal clarity and the overall cleanness and warmth of the music that it produces.
Onkyo A-9050 Integrated Stereo Amplifier
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- It has a nice look to it
- You can connect many devices to it
- The sound is said to be very rich pumped through this
- Nice and easy to use right out of the box
- It is close to our 500 bucks limit
- Onkyo customer service has been called into question
I did not actually have the pleasure of putting the Onkyo A-9050 Integrated Stereo Amplifier through its paces, but I would certainly like to. This has all you need to rock out to your favorite music; it has a lot of inputs at the back so all your devices can be easily hooked up and they give you a remote control which looks like it is going to be nice and easy for you to use. I do think that the slightly under 500 bucks asking price is a tad high. However, if you want a unit that can do it all I actually think that when you really break down what this offers that price does not seem as bad as it does initially.
When looking into the kind of sound you can expect from this, I was certain that this had to be on our best stereo preamp under $500 list. Of course, they are all about making sure your vinyl sounds as crisp and clear as possible. However, this is a preamp that is also going to make sure your CD’s or music you are blasting from your iPod sounds good too. It is like they really went all in to make a device that will make your music collection sound as good as possible, no matter what you are using to play it.
What Other People Are Saying
The best place you can go to get opinions on this is the review section on Amazon. As I write this there are over 200 reviews for this with most of them being positive. I looked over many of them, but I think this guy really nails what this is about. “I’ve had the Onkyo now for 4 months. It delivers clean, beautiful sound. It has few bells and whistles and is all about simplicity. I’ve only hit the on/off and volume control so far so I don’t fiddle with it much. I listen to it thru a pair of AKG 702s and it’s beautiful.” I really could not have said it any better myself!
While I have not actually personally tested out the Onkyo A-9050 Integrated Stereo Amplifier. I really do think that this thing looks awesome. I am very impressed with what I have read about this and in all honesty, I would have no trouble spending 500 bucks on something like this. I am sure it is going to be an upgrade to the sound quality you already have and I love how they have made it as easy to use as possible.
Nobsound Mini Fully-Balanced/Single-Ended Passive Preamp; Hi-Fi Pre-Amplifier
- It actually costs under 100 bucks
- There are plenty of good reviews out there
- It is very easy to use
- People say it does what it does very well
- It does look a little cheap
- The sound is certainly not going to rock the house
While we are looking for the best stereo preamp under $500. I really wanted to have something on here that was way, way under that 500 bucks price tag and also a little different from the other things we have looked at today. That is why I have picked this Nobsound Mini Fully-Balanced/Single-Ended Passive Preamp; Hi-Fi Pre-Amplifier to take a closer look at. Now I have not actually used this, but at only 60 bucks I do feel that there is bound to be someone out there who could find this kind of preamp rather useful, even if it is a passive one.
Having a device like this that gives you better control over your sound is sure to make your listening even better. It does look rather simple and I have my doubts that it is going to have enough tech inside it to enhance your sound in a truly significant way. However, if what I am reading about this is right then the sound you are getting when using this should be nice, clear and without any kind of distortion. Plus having that nice big large volume dial is going to make controlling things nice and easy.
What Other People Are Saying
I found a rather strange and “robotic” YouTube video review for this that is worth checking out. In all honesty, Amazon is the place to go in order to see what people really think of this thing. The general feeling appears to be that this does what it does rather well, just do not expect it to make your music sound like Bon Jovi is actually in your living room. For the most part, people seem pretty impressed with this.
FAQs about best stereo preamp under $500
What is the best stereo preamp under $500?
The best stereo preamp under $500 is the Cambridge Audio Azur 851p.
What are the features of the Cambridge Audio Azur 851p?
The Cambridge Audio Azur 851p has a host of features that include: 6 inputs (including 1 balanced XLR input), 120dB signal to noise ratio, a headphone output, and more.
What is the difference between a preamp and an amplifier?
A preamplifier (pre-amplifier) is an electronic device that takes a signal from a source device (e.g., a turntable, CD player, or tuner) and amplifies it so that it can be sent to another destination device (e.g., a power amplifier or active loudspeakers). An amplifier is an electronic device that takes a signal from a preamplifier and amplifies it even further so that it can drive loudspeakers.
How do I hook up a stereo preamp?
To hook up a stereo preamp, you will need to connect the audio output of your source device (e.g., turntable, CD player, or tuner) to the audio input of the preamp using RCA cables. Then, you will need to connect the audio output of the preamp to the audio input of your destination device (e.g., power amplifier or active loudspeakers) using RCA cables.
What are some good stereo preamps under $500?
Some good stereo preamps under $500 include the Cambridge Audio Azur 851p, the Marantz AV7702mkII, and the NAD M12.
Do I need a stereo preamp?
If you are looking to improve the sound quality of your audio system, then adding a stereo preamp can definitely help. A stereo preamp can provide better sound quality than the built-in preamps found in many AV receivers. In addition, a stereo preamp can provide more flexibility in terms of hooking up different types of source devices and destination devices. However, if you are not concerned with audio quality or flexibility, then you probably do not need a stereo preamp.
Is there a difference between a stereo preamp and a mono preamp?
A mono preamplifier is designed to amplify signals that are intended for reproduction through one loudspeaker only. A stereo preamplifier is designed to amplify signals that are intended for reproduction through two loudspeakers (left and right).
Do I need a separate amplifier if I have a stereo preamp?
No, you do not need a separate amplifier if you have a stereo preamp. A stereo preamp will typically have its own internal amplifier that can drive loudspeakers directly. However, if you want to improve the sound quality of your system, then adding a separate power amplifier (or integrated amplifier) can definitely help.
What is the difference between balanced and unbalanced inputs/outputs?
A balanced input or output has two signal wires (a positive and a negative) along with a ground wire. The positive and negative wires carry the signal while the ground wire helps to reduce noise. An unbalanced input or output has only one signal wire and a ground wire. Balanced inputs and outputs are typically better than unbalanced inputs and outputs because they can help to reduce noise.
Do I need a stereo preamp with balanced inputs/outputs?
No, you do not need a stereo preamp with balanced inputs/outputs. However, if you have the option of choosing between a balanced and an unbalanced input or output, then you should definitely go with the balanced option.
Conclusion best stereo preamp under $500
If you are looking for the best stereo preamp under $500, then any of the three options we have listed will work great for you. We recommend that you go with the Parasound Halo P6 if you want a versatile and high-quality option, the NAD D 3020 if you are looking for an affordable option that still offers great sound quality, or the Cambridge Audio CXA60 if you want something in between these two options. Whichever one you choose, we know you will be happy with your purchase!