What’s the best moving coil phono preamplifier?

Easy – a good step-up transformer.

Nothing does a better job of taking the extraordinarily small signals from a moving coil cartridge and amplifying them than a step-up transformer. That’s because they are completely passive, require no power and have no electronic or moving parts to degrade sonics or add noise. Note: this is not my opinion, this is a fact.

Most people have never owned or used a really great transformer, or any transformer at all, but they were common in high-end systems in the ’70s and ’80s.

In summary, the pros:

  • Better in every way, better bass, midrange, treble
  • Lowest noise,
  • Greatest resolution and micro-dynamic detail
  • No parts to wear out

And the cons:

  • More expensive to manufacture than consumer-grade electronic phono pres
  • Require careful matching to the cartridge and thus should involve an expert third party
  • Really good transformers are expensive

The very best MC step-up transformers are seriously expensive, but once you’ve heard what one can do for a really good moving coil cartridge, it’s almost impossible to go back to an active electronic MC gain stage, whether it be tube or transistor-based.

Note that the MM and EQ parts will still be active, so you cannot get away from this completely. The first part of the chain is where the transformer sits, doing at least 30dB of heavy lifting.