Many amplifiers and receivers (a receiver is an AM/FM tuner and amplifier built in the same piece of equipment) have phono preamps built into them.
Like all components of a stereo system there are significant variations in quality in the preamps, which has significant effects on the quality of the playback of your records.
Preamps can be purchased as a separate stand-alone component for as little as $20 or you can spend $3000 or more! It should be obvious by now that a phono preamp is really, really important for proper playback of vinyl records. So let’s discuss preamps for a while.
Since the beginning of the history of making recordings, records (vinyl or other materials) were the primary means of listening to the recordings. With the introduction of the Long Play Micro-Groove record and the magnetic cartridge came the need for the preamp, consequently the quality of the preamp was essential to good listening.
Generally, better receivers and amps had better preamps which had a lot to do with their improved sound over lesser units. This held true until the 1980s when CDs came upon the scene. Equipment manufacturers figured out very quickly that they could save some money by cheapening the quality of the preamp, since it was perceived that consumers wouldn’t care about playing their records much anymore.
Eventually most manufacturers stopped putting a PHONO input in their amplifiers and receivers altogether and saved the expense of the phono preamp. But not getting a phono preamp is actually better that getting a cheap one in the long run since you can purchase a separate preamp of good quality and then plug it into the same input as a CD or Tape player. The turntable then plugs into the preamp.
So what do you get when you buy a $20 preamp? It is a “one-size-fits-all” with marginal quality in its amplification and its accuracy implementing the “RIAA Curve”.
Better preamps concern themselves with how clean their amplification is, how closely they implement the RIAA Curve, and take into consideration the actual cartridge and stylus that you are using. A good preamp can be purchased for $40-50 for most needs, and a great preamp can be had for $200. Beyond that you are really getting marginally improved results for your money. This is a very important variable in the ultimate sound quality that your records can reproduce and just a few extra dollars spent can make a big difference.