For many people in the market for a stereo preamp, they may scoff at the $500 price tag I have allocated myself for this article.
But I think that it is enough to get you a decent enough stereo preamp.
You may be surprised by what I include here, given the budget I have set.
But I think that for under $500 you can take your sound to the next level with the hardware I look at here.
Don’t forget though that when buying a preamp, you must make sure first and foremost that your equipment is compatible.
That means that the better turntable and speakers you have the better your listening experience will be overall.
A new stereo preamp isn’t capable of working miracles though, so if you have a pair of lower-end speakers and you think that buying a new stere preamp will turn them into a premium set of speakers then I am sorry to say that this just will not happen.
But you will get a noticeable elevation in sound quality if the rest of your equipment is up to standard from any of the stereo preamps I have included here.
Let’s take a look now at my pick of the six best stereo preamps under $500.
In my collection, there should be something to suit all tastes and budgets.
Some of these preamps are rather on the cheap side in terms of price so when you read my reviews on those do so with an open mind.
Having a low-price tag these days doesn’t always mean that the quality of the product is bad.
In fact, with what I have included on my list, especially the preamps that are on the cheaper side, I think you will be pleasantly surprised with just how well they perform given the price.
6 Best Stereo Preamps Under $500 of 2021
In a rush? Here is a quick rundown for you:
Now, let's get to the list!
Parasound Z Phono MM/MC Preamp
Parasound has more than one entry on this list of mine.
Already this is available at around just half of my budget so that’s a big plus point, to begin with.
The design though is something that may need to grow on you as it did with me.
At first, it reminded me of a car stereo, when you see it you will understand, but the more it sat next to my current equipment the more it started to just blend in.
People were surprised when they saw this unit by just how contained it is.
It has a clean and crisp and simple look.
And I like that.
It gives you a ton of connectivity options to choose from which is another tick in the plus column.
You even get a headphone jack and connecting equipment to this is easy to do.
When I tested the sound quality of this out with vinyl, because what else, I was impressed with just how good it sounded.
If you want to get the best sound out of this preamp then, as I mentioned at the start, you must make sure that your equipment is the best that it can be.
Some people say that this preamp turns their vinyl sound into a sound like listening to a CD (so less quality), but I disagree.
I thought that vocals especially were enhanced and made clearer and had more clarity with this preamp.
What’s more, this is one preamp you can get it sounding exactly as you want it to.
When you factor in the price it makes it quite an enticing proposition when you combine its value with its sound quality.
But this is not a purchase for someone who is in the market for their first preamp.
It can take time to set it up properly and achieve the right sound so this is a preamp more aimed and suited to those who have experience using and setting up preamps and not for novices who may be new to this.
Adding this to your current stereo setup will kick it but when you consider that my budget for this is $500 this may not be the first preamp you think of and you may be better off looking at other ones on my list.
Parasound ZPRE3 Stereo Preamplifier
I had to include this on my list based on how cool it looks alone.
This is available online for around $350 – $450 range so it is within our budget.
It has a great digital display which is something you see less and less off these days on a stereo preamp.
It looks sleek and cool and is just a great piece of equipment to add to your audio setup.
Plus, if your existing stereo equipment is black then this will fit right in.
This allows you to connect to five devices.
And it's easy to use little remote makes using it super simple and controlling the device is very easy.
One cool feature is it can remember your settings, so if you want to have it at a certain volume then you can program it to remember that for you.
Each display can be named, and the name appears on the front screen which is another nice little feature.
The sound quality from this is exceptionally good, both with turntables and digital devices.
It delivers some serious punch to your sound which you should be happy with.
This is one of those stereo preamps that is getting rave reviews online.
People praise it for how it works flawlessly and that offers a great range of inputs and outputs for connectivity.
Some people may think that the digital display on the front is too small but that is just nitpicking at what is otherwise one of the best stereo preamps for under $500 right now.
As a bonus, this preamp might look large, but it is smaller than you think.
That means it should have no problem sitting alongside your current audio equipment.
And it’s all about ease of use thanks to its remote control and massive array of inputs.
Some people, if you read the online reviews of this preamp, are especially happy with its selection of inputs, outputs, and settings.
It should give you everything that you require and although some may say the screen on the front is too small, it works simply fine once you get used to it.
Cambridge Audio Alva Duo MM/MC Preamp
This is one of the best stereo preamps you can buy for under $500 hands down.
Cambridge Audio has created a preamp that looks elegant and tasteful.
It’s a complete 360 from some of the other preamps on my list where the design is loud and brash.
In the age-old question of silver or black Cambridge Audio has made me wish that all my equipment was silver to fit in with this.
The silver casing looks fantastic and it's extremely high quality.
It pops thanks to the chrome that is also added.
You may be surprised though that when you lift this it does kind of feel a little empty.
But when you put your favorite songs through it you’ll forget all about that.
The sound quality you get here is impressive.
It gives you great clarity and there is no humming or interference.
Even when you play music at a loud volume the sound doesn’t break or crackle.
This preamp is not the fanciest, but it works well and has extraordinarily little negatives to it.
All right, if you want one negative thing, plug in some headphones and listen to your music.
Doesn’t something just feel a little off? I thought that anyway, but I cannot fathom what it is.
But that’s a negative for you.
There are many great reviews of this unit on YouTube if you want a second opinion.
As ever though, it’s the product page on Amazon where the best reviews can be found.
A glance here and you will see that people are impressed with this unit.
Sure, they do say that the build quality may not be the best, but that will all be forgotten when you use the unit and hear its sound quality.
It gives you great sound quality for the price and whilst you may need to take some time to break it in once you have it all figured out you should be incredibly happy to have this stereo preamp as part of your audio setup.
It especially enhances the vocal clarity of your music and produces a rich and warm sound to any music you play through it.
Just bear in mind that the build quality may not be to the exacting standards you might expect from Cambridge Audio.
Also, if you do a lot of listening through headphones then you may notice, as I did, a slight degradation in quality.
Of course, you may not, it could depend on the headphones you use, but there is something not quite right about listening to music on headphones through this preamp.
Those who primarily listen to music through headphones may want to seek out this unit in a shop first so that they can see it and listen to it themselves and make up their mind.
If you don’t mind this and you envisage yourself using this preamp to blast your favorite songs out of your speakers then I say go for it.
You will not be disappointed with what Cambridge Audio brings to the table in terms of sound quality and improving the sonics of your music collection.
Bellari PA550 Preamplifier
The design of this preamp is fantastic, I must admit.
It looks both cool and retro at the same time.
It may not be to everyone’s taste, but I certainly like it.
Another bonus is that this preamp is well under our budget being sold for just $129.
This makes it really good value and one of the best on my list if you are shopping on a budget.
It has a solid build quality to it, given the price.
If you do not believe me go and see one in the flesh and hold it.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the build quality.
Like you, given the price, I thought that this preamp would be cheap in every sense of the word.
Not just the price but also the build quality, sound quality, and so on.
I was happy to be proven wrong on all counts.
Its solid casing and dials do not have the cheapness you would expect with other equipment in this price range.
Make sure you are okay though with its color.
Some people may not be happy with its bright red paint job if the rest of their audio equipment is black.
So, bear that in mind.
This is a preamp that is meant to be connected to a DJ turntable.
So, if you have one, and you hook it up to this, which you can do very easily, you’ll get some neat little things to play with.
On the front of the unit is a dial that not only controls volume but also the bass and treble too.
This allows you to completely mess around with how a song sound.
Try playing your favorite song through it and you will find that you spend a lot of time at first twiddling this dial until you get it sounding exactly as you want it to.
Of course, it wouldn’t be on this list as potentially the best stereo preamp for under $500 if it didn’t improve your sound quality.
It does do this but remember the price you are paying for it and that it will have limitations when compared to other preamps on my list that cost more.
This is a great piece of equipment to buy if you are new to the world of preamps and this would be your first one.
One thing about this preamp that many people may find strange is that it doesn’t have a power switch.
But if you look at other reviews of this unit you will discover that many people are happy with it.
Especially its build quality and that it produces clean sound with a lot of gain in volume, bass and treble.
That all combines to add warmth to your music.
Don’t be fooled by the low asking price.
This is anything but a cheap piece of equipment.
The more you play around with it the more you discover what it can do, and you will be satisfied with what it offers.
It may be a basic preamp but what it does it does very well.
Nobsound G3 2 Channel Bluetooth 5.0 Power Amplifier
I added this preamp to my list because it’s different from all the other ones on here and that intrigued me, as did the price.
I wanted to include a preamp that stepped away from what you may normally expect a preamp to be.
It’s well under our budget and the cheapest preamp on my list by far.
This is a preamp that I have not personally used but given its price I am sure many people out, there will take the plunge and buy it, even if it is just a passive preamp.
This device gives you great control over your sound.
That makes listening to your favorite music even better.
And it looks rather simple, and that may make people doubt what it can do, as I did, and that’s because when you look at it looks like it just doesn’t contain the technology you need for it to improve your sound quality in a significant way.
But based on my research of how this preamp works it should output your music in a way to make it clearer and with little to no distortion.
It also features a nice and big volume dial which should make controlling how everything sounds nice and easy.
This seems both affordable and simple to use.
Just make sure you set your expectations accordingly and realistically.
It won’t make your music sound like they are playing right in your living room, but for its price, you will be more than happy with the results.
So, this is a preamp that, for what it does, it does it very well.
And it is hard to argue with a price tag that is under $100.
It’s very easy to use and has a ton of reviews from people online who all praise it.
And we all can’t be wrong so that is why I had to put it on my list of the best stereo preamps for under $500.
Onkyo A-9050 Integrated Stereo Amplifier
I put this on my list even though I have not tested it personally.
I would enjoy doing that though if I could.
With this preamp, you get all you need to listen to your favorite music.
With tons of inputs on the back, you can easily and quickly hook up all your existing audio equipment to it.
The remote control you get with it makes it look like you can set up and configure everything quickly and easily.
The price you can expect to pay for this preamp is just under $500.
I will admit that I think this may be too much for what you are getting.
But remember that I haven’t tested this yet.
I say it is too much but when you look at what this unit can do, and all its features, and break that down then the asking price may be worth it after all.
I put this on my list of the best stereo preamps for under $500 mainly for its sound quality.
This preamp is all about making your music, and in particular, your vinyl collection, sound as crisp and clear as possible.
This preamp will also make sure that your CD collection or music from your digital devices that you connect through it will also sound great.
Onkyo went all out on making sure that all music you play through this preamp sounds great, no matter what you are playing through it.
That’s quite a rarity with most preamps focusing on vinyl audio quality as the primary focus.
If you look online to see what others are also saying you will find that people are incredibly happy with this preamp.
That’s because it delivers a clean and beautiful sound.
And whilst it may lack some of the bells and whistles of other stereo preamps on my list, this is all about simplicity.
You don’t need to mess around with it that much.
It just gets on with the job and does it well.
You also have to say that it looks good as a piece of equipment.
It is well styled and for the price on offer, it really will upgrade the sound quality of your music collection.
It focuses on being as easy to use as possible and for many people that may just be enough to justify the price.
After all, when you pay for something expensive you want to be able to get it all set up as quickly and as easily as possible.
Onkyo knows this and that is what they have set out to achieve with this preamp.
One thing that you need to possibly bear in mind though is that if you do have any problems with it or any questions on how to use it, you will have to contact their customer support and, as I am being honest, they are not the best.
Please remember that if you have your heart set on buying this stereo preamp.
After all, you need to be able to know that you are dealing with a customer support team.
Guys there are great, knowledgeable, and patient.
This is something that Onkyo may need to work on, but when it comes to what they produce when it comes to preamps, they are doing a much better job.
So, after reading all that and comparing my list of six of the best preamps for under $500 you are probably wondering which one is the best.
Making that decision was tough and it took me some time.
Because we are on a budget there isn’t a lot separating these devices in terms of what they can do and what they offer.
But, if you want to put me on the spot and pick just one, it will have to be the Parasound Zpre3 Stereo Preamplifier.
I choose this one out of all of them because not only did I love how it looked but I was impressed with the sound quality as well.
The little screen that it features it also far more useful than it has a right to be.
Even if other people disagreed with me and were not happy with the screen and how it worked.
As my backup choice, if I had to pick a runner-up, it would be the Bellari PA550 Preamplifier.
This was my runner-up because of the price.
At just under $200 it’s hard for anyone to avoid picking one of these up.
I also like the bold red design, even if it did stand out amongst my other audio equipment, and its overall sound quality was good.
Just don’t be put off by the look and price of this model.
I already said that in my review but for those who are budget conscious the Bellari PA550 Preamplifier makes a perfect choice if you are in the market for something affordable and gives you a noticeable improvement in the sound quality of your music collection.
Last update on 2021-01-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API