Vinyl and turntables have made a remarkable comeback in recent years, as music enthusiasts rediscover – or perhaps discover for the first time – the warmth and depth of vinyl records. There’s also something about playing vinyl and hearing that needle come down, touch, and crackle against a record that’s just nostalgic and cozy.
For those who might not already know: If you want to play records, you’ll need a turntable – it’s the piece of source equipment that spins and reads the record and creates the audio signal that eventually gets played by the speakers.
In addition to that, it’s very likely that you’ll also need a receiver or an integrated amplifier at a minimum. It is possible in some cases to hook a turntable directly up to a pair of speakers if they are active/powered, and that is a viable option which we will discuss later on, but most speakers and turntable setups will require a receiver or amplifier to function.
Having a good receiver, and moreover the right receiver for you, will absolutely play a significant role in maximizing your listening experience, so it’s worth it to learn why, and how to pick the best option. That’s what this article will fully cover.
What is a Receiver? And Why Do You (Usually) Need One For a Turntable to Work?
In case you don’t know: a receiver is essentially the central hub of any stereo or home theater system. All of the components of a system hook up to the receiver – including a turntable – and it dictates how they should all work together. One essential thing that a receiver does to make a turntable work is that it takes the low-level signal that a turntable creates, amplifies it, then sends the powered signal that the speakers ultimately need to create the sound of the music.
You don’t necessarily need a receiver to make a turntable work though. But in that case the set up becomes somewhat more complicated – you will need an integrated amplifier as well as what’s called a phono preamp, and possibly more pieces of separate equipment.
Most receivers have a phono input and phono preamp built into them as part of their feature list, and are the only thing you’d need (in addition to the speakers of course) to use a turntable for playing records.
The One Essential Features That A Receiver Needs to Make a Turntable Work On Its Own
Receivers come with all kinds of inputs and features now – enough so that it can understandably get confusing for the non-experts. For a basic turntable set up, there are a lot of inputs and features you likely won’t need and thus wont want to pay for, and there are other inputs and features that, while not required, will be ones that you might still want to have.
But there is one essential feature that a receiver must have if you’re looking for an easy all-in-one solution to make a turntable work:
a receiver must have a phono input and built-in photo preamp in order to make a turntable work on its own.
The electrical signal that comes out of a turntable is very weak, so weak in fact that it’s not even ready to be sent to an amplifier. Rather, it needs to go through a phono preamp, which “pre-amplifies” the signal to what’s called line-level, which then goes to the amplifier, which then amplifies the signal to what’s called speaker-level, which means it’s strong enough to actually move the magnet inside a speaker driver, which moves the woofer, which creates the sound.
A receiver with a phono input does all of this for you, which makes them an appealing all-in-one solution for using a turntable.
Most modern receivers have a phono input, but some still don’t, and those receivers will need a separate phono preamp for the turntable to plug into, then that phono preamp would connect to a line-level input on the receiver.
Other Important Features
There are other features that, while not essential, are still important enough to consider when choosing a receiver:
Power Output, Or Watts Per Channel (WPC)
Here’s the truth about power: Most modern receivers will deliver plenty of power for a basic stereo setup with two speakers, which is what most vinyl setups will have, and in reality a pair of main left/right speakers will rarely require more than a small fraction of that available power. 100+ watts per channel is plenty of power for, in all honesty, like 99+ percent of potential at-home speaker setups that are available.
That said, it’s still good to be sure you’ll have enough power, especially if your speakers have lower impedance, lower sensitivity, or unusually high power requirements. For example, if you plan to drive 4 ohm speakers, make sure the receiver you choose is graded for driving 4 ohm speakers.
Good Build Quality
Heat is the longevity and efficiency killer of electronics, and receivers generate a lot of heat, so it’s important that they are well built and can disperse heat efficiently. Though a big chassis might look bulkier and less slick, it will help the unit function better by giving the individual components space to breathe. On a related note, you want to make sure that wherever you place your receiver gives it plenty of space to breathe, and don’t ever stack anything on top of a receiver.
Additionally, a good back panel with a sensible layout and decent quality terminals is also ideal. If you can get a receiver with binding posts as opposed to basic spring clips for example that’s better.
The longer the warranty, the more coverage you have obviously, and companies that have reputations for building higher quality and more durable audio equipment will generally offer longer warranties. For a budget receiver, 2+ year warranty coverage is decent, but for a premium receiver we like to see at least 3-4+ years of warranty coverage.
Audio Quality Specs
Audio specs, particularly when they’re self reported by the manufacturer, are a somewhat contentious topic because they can be fudged and misleading. And whether or not small differences will actually translate into an audible difference is often controversial. But, it’s still a good idea to choose something with higher spec ratings:
- lower total harmonic distortion (THD)
- wider frequency bandwidth range
- higher signal to noise ratio
Adequate Features and Inputs
There are a lot of bells and whistles that you can get on a receiver now, but, there’s no point in paying for things you don’t want or need. So, just make sure the receiver has anything in particular that you want it to have, and also that it has enough inputs for any other devices you may want to connect it to.
Stereo Receivers vs AV Receivers vs Integrated Amplifiers vs Power Amplifiers
There are actually multiple options for powering a turntable signature that aren’t necessarily a receiver, and while this article is about receivers it’s still worth going over this here.
A stereo receiver is a receiver that has two channels, and sometimes an additional subwoofer channel, but no inputs for a TV. If all you want to do is play a turntable with a pair of speakers, a stereo receiver can be a great budget friendly option
An AV (audio video) receiver is a receiver that typically has five or more channels and is designed mainly for home theater use rather than for playing music. An AV receiver can do just a good a job at playing a turntable, but they are generally significantly more expensive and overkill for some people. If you’re looking to create a complete home theater system, or you want the future option to do so, and you want one piece of equipment to power all of your various audio sources, an AV receiver might be a great all-in-one option. Keep in mind that a 5+ channel AV receiver won’t do anything to make a vinyl record sound better – vinyl records are either mono or stereo.
While a receiver has an amplifier built into it, an integrated amplifier is just an amplifier itself, but additionally has some basic level controls to control the volume and such. Some integrated amplifiers have a preamp built in and can connect directly to a turntable, but, most will need a separate phono preamp to work with a turntable. Integrated amps are a great option if you need a particularly large amount of power to drive more demanding speakers.
Finally, a power amplifier is just a bare bones amplifier, and can be a good option if you need a lot of power but don’t want to spend a ton of money. Keep in mind that a phono preamp that has level controls will be required to work with a turntable (so you can control the volume). You might also additionally need a stereo preamp if the phono preamp cant amplify the signal enough for a power amplifier, but many good phono preamps should be perfectly capable of doing that.
To summarize, a stereo receiver is going to be the ideal simple and all-in-one choice for using a turntable, but there are a lot of possible options for setups that can accommodate all variety of needs.
Our Current Picks For The Best Receivers for Turntables
Now we’ll offer a few specific product recommendations, based on what different customers typically want and/or need:
A Great Budget Option – The Sony STR-DH190
The STR-DH1190 has been a very popular choice and one of our top budget picks for years now. It has the necessary phono input and it’s a great simple and inexpensive option for using a turn table with a stereo speaker system. The only slight downside is that the speaker terminals are spring clips, which can be a bit finnicky. You can always buy a simple spring clip to banana plug adapter though if you want to use banana plugs:
Get the Sony STR-DH190 stereo receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
FAQ: is the Sony STR-DH190 a better budget receiver for turntables than the Yamaha R-S202?
Answer: Yes, because the STR-DH190 has a phono input while the R-S202 does not. The R-S202 is a great product that has been one of the most popular receivers for many years now, but, for use with a turntable specifically it is not the ideal choice because the STR-DH190 is basically the same and does have the phono input.
Further reading: full STR-DH190 vs R-S202 comparison
The Alternative Yamaha Stereo Option – The R-N303
Unlike the R-S202 the upgraded R-N303 – which is also quite popular – does have a phono input, and additionally has binding posts, EQ adjustability, and a nice big chassis to ensure breathability. It also has a little more power per channel. The R-N303 is a little more expensive, but the additional features it brings will be worth paying a little extra for a lot of people, and R-N303 still sells for a competitive price overall.
Get the Yamaha R-N303 on Amazon (affiliate link)
A Good AV and Subwoofer Option – The Marantz NR1200
If you want a simple stereo receiver, but also want the option to hook it up to a TV and use your speakers for that, the NR1200 is a great option. It has, in addition to everything you need to play a turntable, HDMI slots and two subwoofer pre-outs if you want to add one or two subwoofers to your system.
Get the Marantz NR1200 AV receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
What About Higher Channel AV Receiver Recommendations?
If you’re looking at 5+ channel AV receivers, then you’re foraying more into the realm of prioritizing home theater while also having the option to hook up a turntable if you want to. At this point the floodgates open and there are a lot of products and factors to consider that are a bit outside the scope of this article, and just about every 5+ channel AV receiver will come with the needed phono input to hook up a turntable.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it possible to hook a turntable up to speakers directly, without needing any other equipment?
Yes, this simple-as-possible setup could work with speakers that are powered/active (built-in amplifiers) and that have a phono input (built-in phono preamp), and such speakers do exist.
Do all receivers have a phono input that’s needed for a turntable to work?
Most, but not all, modern receivers have a phono input. If it does, it should be clearly labeled as “PHONO IN” or something similar.
What is a phono preamp and do I need one?
A phono preamp (or phono stage) is a device that amplifies and equalizes the turntable’s low-level output signal to a line-level signal suitable for a receiver or other audio equipment. You need a phono preamp if your turntable or receiver lacks a built-in phono preamp.
Will a separate phono preamp improve the sound quality of a record playing on a turntable?
If you have very high end equipment, it’s possible that an equally high quality separate phono preamp will improve sound quality enough to audibly notice, but realistically for most cases and most people a receiver’s built-in preamp will do just as good a job as a separate phono preamp will. The argument of separates vs integrated systems is a perennial debate topic in the audio world for that matter.
Do I still need a phono preamp for a turntable to work if my receiver has a phono input?
No, a phono input means the receiver has a phono preamp already built into the system.
Can you still use a separate phono preamp with a receiver that has a phono input?
Yes, it is perfectly possible to use a separate phono preamp instead with such a receiver if you wanted to. You would just plug the phono preamp into a line-level input on the receiver instead of the phono input. Do not plug a phono preamp into a phono input on a receiver – this will just cause distortion and could possibly damage components further along the signal chain.
How do I connect a turntable to a receiver without a phono input?
You would plug the turntable into a phono preamp, then connect that to any available line-level RCA input. These can have a variety of different names, but typically they will be labeled as “audio in (assignable)” or something similar and have a red and white jack.
Some turntables have a built-in phono preamp, in which case you can connect it directly to that same audio-in input on the receiver. Turntables with a built-in phono preamp often have a switch on the back to either output a non-amplified or line-level signal depending on if you want to use the built in preamp or not.
Can I connect my turntable to a receiver with Bluetooth capabilities and control it wirelessly?
Yes some modern turntables have Bluetooth, and can be paused remotely, where the tonearm will raise automatically and the record will stop spinning. Keep in mind that pausing a record on a turntable, even a modern one, will never be as precise as pausing purely digital media.
Can I put a turntable on top of a receiver?
You should never put a turntable or anything else on top of a receiver. A receiver chassis is designed to disperse heat and is unusually vented on all sides to do so. Receivers should have enough space and open air around them to stay adequately cool, and their product manuals will usually specify exactly how much minimum space is needed.