6 Best Tube Amps for Vinyl Turntables

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Serious audiophiles like myself (and probably you) are willing to do whatever it takes to maintain that sweet sound of vinyl including investing in a proper tube amp to maintain that old school feel.

That’s despite the fact that vinyl records are more primitive, fussier, and more limited. They also get scratched and skip and can’t be played in your car. So why do we like vinyl records so much?

We still put up with vinyl along with the less convenient tube amplifiers to get that perfect sound. Heck, nobody would have believed you ten or twenty years ago if you told them that in 2019, vinyl records would outsell CDs for the first year since 1986. So it’s not just the hardcore audiophiles that are looking for the perfect vinyl and tube amp combination.

When it comes down to it, vinyl records are just plain cool! They have this “je n’ai sais quoi” that’s difficult to pin down. Something about the history, the particular combination of “imperfections,” the character.

The process of engaging with your music in that physical way. Of submitting to the limitations of the medium. You can’t give your crush a mix-vinyl! If you don’t like track three on your favorite record, is it worth getting up and trying to skip it?

I say you ride it out and just appreciate your vinyl set up from tube amp to turntable. We’re about to go over everything you need to know about picking out the perfect tube amplifier for your vinyl turntable so you can bravely endure that third track you don’t like. But if you want to skip ahead and see what made the list you can check out our top three here:

Best Overall
BoyuuRange A50 MKII
9.9
  • Solidly built tube amplifier that's perfect for turntables thanks to its 300B sound
  • A balanced price point that still delivers extremely high quality
  • Comes with two 6N8P tubes, two 300B's, and one 5Z3PAT tube in the center
Best For Audiophiles
Willsenton R8 KT88
9.7
  • This is a tube amp that any audiophile will be proud of and I promise your friends will be jealous
  • You normally have to pay way more for a tube amp with this type of architecture and your turntable will thank you
  • Comes with three 6SN7 tubes, two 6SL7, and four KT88 tubes so it's ready to go right out of the box
Best On A Budget
Nobsound Little Bear T7
9.6
  • One of the few quality tube amplifiers that won't break the bank
  • 6J1 tubes aren't going to blow you away and are good candidates for tube rolling
  • Manage your expectation if budget is your priority

Best Tube Amps for Turntables and Vinyl Records

We are now entering audiophile territory…and this can be dangerous.

Sure, instruments can be expensive, but we all know musicians are broke, which generally keeps a lot of prices in check. Audiophiles, on the other hand, have been known to build sound systems that outprice an economy car. Don’t worry, I’ll include a little of both so everyone can get just want they’re looking for.

Best Overall: BoyuuRange A50 MKII

Best Overall
BoyuuRange A50 MKII
  • Solidly built tube amplifier that's perfect for turntables thanks to its 300B sound
  • A balanced price point that still delivers extremely high quality
  • Comes with two 6N8P tubes, two 300B's, and one 5Z3PAT tube in the center

The BoyuuRange A50 is simple, hefty, and more than enough amp for most turntable and vinyl heads. You’re not going to see a remote or crazy per channel wattage like you’ll find in our pick for hardcore audiophiles but you’ll still get 7.6 watts per channel which is more than enough for most turntables and should give your speakers plenty of power.

In fact, you’ll probably be surprised by just how loud this tube amp can really get despite the relatively lower watt output.

Thanks to its very specific design (single ended triode, class A amplifier, no negative feedback, 300b tubes) this beautiful piece of equipment is about as simple as you can get it. For most folks, (myself included) simple means pure and you can see why so many vinyl lovers appreciate this specific tube amp. It’s going to give you that classic, pure and warm vinyl sound which is the whole reason you’ve opted for a turntable in the first place.

For a breakdown of the sound quality, you’ll want to check out this video which does a great job explaining where the A50 excels and where it’s a little lacking:


The only thing I don’t love is that the VU meters barely move. It’s a bit of a small complaint and doesn’t actually impact the amazing sound, but it does lose style points for meters that are very difficult to see. And honestly, if the worst thing I can say about this tube amp is that the little meters don’t move much, we’re probably in a really good spot.

You can read more reviews, dive into more of the technicals and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best For Audiophiles: Willsenton R8 KT88

Best For Audiophiles
Willsenton R8 KT88
  • This is a tube amp that any audiophile will be proud of and I promise your friends will be jealous
  • You normally have to pay way more for a tube amp with this type of architecture and your turntable will thank you
  • Comes with three 6SN7 tubes, two 6SL7, and four KT88 tubes so it's ready to go right out of the box

If you read any review of the Willsenton R8 (including this one) you’ll see the same thing: audiophiles that are raving over the sound quality compared to much more expensive options. We’re talking about competitors like McIntosh, Luxman, Cary, Devialet, Naim, and so on. 

Seriously though, check anywhere online and you’ll see people constantly comparing this to other tube amps that can cost two to three times more than the Willsenton R8. So while being an audiophile means you should be ready to invest in great quality gear, including a tube amp to finish your vinyl set up, it doesn’t mean you need to spend more than you have to.

The build quality is great and this bad boy weighs in at around 57 pounds with plenty of metal (not plastic) components. Even the remote is metal which gives it an excellent feel in your hand (even if it does make changing the batteries a little tricky).

The sound is plenty loud and the highs and lows are all there. While it’s going to depend on your personal taste and overall setup, I’ve found that the stock tubes handle jazz particularly well. I do love classic rock, but my turntable experience is focused more on jazz than anything else so I could be a little biased here. If you’re interested in a detailed (and very objective) review of the sound, this video does an excellent job will breaking down the nuance of this tube amplifier:

I really believe the Willsenton is one of those sleeper tube amps that is getting unfairly overlooked by turntable and vinyl enthusiasts. If you spend any time around diehard audiophiles, it’s easy to think that you have to pay to five figures for a decent tube amp- but that’s just not the case. Still, it does mean this hefty and high quality piece of equipment doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

But I’m far from the only one saying this and at the time of writing the Willsenton R8 has some of the most enthusiastic reviews of any tube amplifier I’ve ever seen so I’m not the only happy audiophile here.

You can read those reviews, take a closer look at the technical details and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best On A Budget: Nobsound Little Bear T7

Best On A Budget:
Nobsound Little Bear T7
  • One of the few quality tube amplifiers that won't break the bank
  • 6J1 tubes aren't going to blow you away and are good candidates for tube rolling
  • Manage your expectation if budget is your priority

If you’re looking at very inexpensive tube amps for your vinyl player- I won’t lie, it’s a tricky balance to strike. Sure, there are plenty of choices for very appealing prices. But between low build quality, added noise and distortion, and overall inferior audio quality. You’d essentially be paying for the tube visual aesthetic, sacrificing the actual music in the process.

But along comes the Little Bear T7 to save the day. I’d go beyond calling this the best tube preamp in its price range- I’d actually call it the only one worth owning in this price range. Look at it, it’s adorable! The Little Bear is also fairly simple to swap the tubes out, which is an appealing quality in lower-end preamps. You can upgrade the sound gradually without springing for a new unit. Overall, the T7 will get you the best tube sound quality in its price range.

That makes it an excellent entry point into the world of tube amps and vinyl.

But it’s not without issue. Are you surprised, when you can spend literally 100x this amount on a tube preamp? The Little Bear is not that loud. It’s still quite noisy compared to a solid-state amp in its price range. Depending on your setup, you may run into the occasional hum issue but it’s possible to rectify this by removing the aluminum casing.

But honestly, I don’t think you need to remove the aluminum casing, and just making sure that the tube amp is plugged into the same power strip as your turntable and speakers will usually fix this problem. The other thing a lot of people miss is that tube amps need to warm up (usually about 10 to 15 minutes) before you can judge.

Since a lot of newer folks are going for this budget option, I think they’re forgetting to let their new tube amp really warm up.

As much as I like this little tube amp unless the budget is really tight you’re always going to be better off going for an upgrade. So if you’re dying to get a tube amp for your turntable with what you have, then this can work but it might be worth the wait to save up an upgrade and not have to worry about tube rolling either.

You can read more reviews, take a closer look at the inputs/outputs and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best For Tube Rolling: Little Bear T11

Best For Tube Rolling
Little Bear T11
  • Made for turntables and designed to keep vinyl heads happy
  • The stock tube amp comes with on 6Z4 tube and three 6N2 tubes
  • Still easy on the budget with a big bump in quality

It seems appropriate that our budget alternative is the big brother to the Little Bear in the form of the T11 tube amp. As you’d expect, the preamp’s quality is proportionate with its price point and while this is still budget friendly it’s not the cheapest tube amp on the market.

The T11 Little Bear is the preamp to beat at its price point. In fact, you can say many of the same things about the T11 as the T7. It has a great, warm, powerful tube tone for its price. You can upgrade the tubes (known as “tube-rolling”) to further improve the sound. Very appealing when you’re on a budget, to gradually improve your system!

The T11 can also handle a huge range of tubes which makes it a great starting point for folks that want to explore the wide (and sort of complicated) world of tube rolling.

At the same time, the T11 is much quieter than the T7- but still relatively noisy for its price point. If you’re looking to experiment without breaking the bank, it’s definitely worth checking out.

You can read more reviews, see all the compatible tubes and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best Value: Pro-Ject Tube Box S2

Best Value
Pro-Ject Tube Box S2
  • Specifically made for turntables so it's very vinyl approved
  • Comes with a pair of ECC83 tubes which makes for easy tube rolling
  • Great all-around balance of budget and quality

The S2 doesn’t just sound like a tube preamp, it also sounds great. Low-noise, punchy, detailed. Yet featuring that gorgeous tube tone that pairs so darn well with vinyl.

So what do I mean by “value” here?

The Pro-Ject Tube Box is hitting that in-between spot when it comes to quality and budget. In my mind, that’s exactly where value lives. So with tube amplifier, you’re not prioritizing budget above quality or quality above budget. Instead, the intersection of both is where value (and this tube amp) live.

Even though it might be a little more costly than you’d expect for a specific architecture here, this little tube amp still delivers and is perfect for rocking out to that classic vinyl.

You can read more reviews, geek out on the technicals and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best Built In The US: Bellari VP130

Best Built In The US
Bellari VP130
  • One of only a handful of tube amps to feature a headphone output- at least at this price point
  • Comes with a 12AX7 tube
  • Wins some style points for its unique look and is one of the few pieces of audio equipment manufactured in the United States

Despite the budget-friendly price, the VP130 is actually manufactured in the U.S. It’s also got a solid sound (especially for vinyl and turntables) but if you upgrade the stock tubes and power supply, you can have a really phenomenal unit on your hands.

It doesn’t show off its tubes like most tube amps which make rolling the tubes a little more of a challenge so if that’s your bag I’d suggest going with our previous pick. But you want a budget-friendly and ready-to-go tube amp that can rock a turntable you’re not going to have a problem here.

It also helps that there’s a nice little headphone output which isn’t that common within this price range. That can be a real bonus for some folks.

You can take a closer look at the unique design, read more reviews and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

A Quick History Lesson On Amplifying Vinyl

Before we get into what you need to look for and the great solid state vs tube amp debate, let’s run through a quick history lesson.

The earliest vinyl players did not use electricity to amplify the input signal. Have you ever played a record with the speakers turned off? You can still faintly hear the song- that’s the sound of the needle physically traversing the groove. And that’s why early gramophone players had the ornate bell- it amplified and projected this sound, behaving just like the bell of a trumpet!

You can even see this “amplifier” in action here:

Of course, we’ve gone electric in the past century or so. But when you’re crafting your vinyl setup, the amplifier is still its own dedicated consideration. Unlike tape and CD players, which can plug straight into a powered speaker, vinyl players are naturally very low-output. They are paired with their own vinyl pre-amps that are then routed to the speakers.

And this gives you yet another opportunity for exploring that rich vinyl tone- but let’s take a closer look.

Why Use A Tube Amplifier For Vinyl Records and Turntables?

Tube amps aren’t are convenient as some of the modern options out there- and they’re not exactly cheap either. So let’s run through why I love the classic tubes for my classic vinyl and why you probably should too.

The Fidelity of Tube Amps and Vinyl

Music is a delicate balance between convenience and fidelity. Usually, the two factors vary inversely. Case in point, when cassettes were introduced, they had numerous advantages- price, portability, size, and durability. Car-mounted tape players! Walkmans! But they sound very lo-fi compared to the hi-fi sound of vinyl played on a decent system.

And throughout the tape era, audiophiles preferred vinyl.

The rumor persists that vinyl is still the most high-fidelity way to experience music. This is mostly false, but kind of true. Overall, since CDs were introduced, they have outpaced vinyl in terms of sound quality. Questionable mixing trends of the 90s and 00s aside, CD audio is crystal-clear compared to vinyl.

And in the modern era, FLAC files are comparable to CD quality. At this point, the standard mp3 bit rate of 320 kbps is virtually indistinguishable.

With all these high-fidelity options, why complicate things even further with a tube amp?

Easy, you want that high fidelity audio, and the combination of a tube amp and vinyl lets you play classics like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Kind of Blue from Miles Davis. You know, the good stuff.

Even though there’s a strong case to be made for modern solid state amps being comparable to tube amps (and don’t get me started on the micro-sized modelling amps) there’s still something to be said for playing it on the same setup that artists imaging you using. I know, that’s not very scientific but audio appreciation is an art and science sort of thing.

The Warmth of Vinyl

Vinyl Record PlayerVinyl records have a reputation for “warmth” that somehow is interlinked with their perceived ultimate fidelity.

Actually, this warmth is an imperfection of the medium- but a pleasant one. Vinyl records struggle with very low frequencies. Often tracks mastered for vinyl overcome this by applying EQ with cut bass, and boosted low-mids to overcompensate.

Hence, warmth. Vinyl records also introduce subtle harmonic distortion on playback, which adds to the perceived warmth. So it’s true that vinyl sounds good! But they are not as “true” as modern digital reproduction. Of course, there are a lot of factors that influence the warmth of a sound from the strings on the instrument, to the mixing and mastering, and of course the medium that’s being used.

Except, in a way, vinyl records are the truest! Even more so when you add in a tube amp to match the original and “intended” feel.

It comes down to the difference between analog and digital media. For comparison, think about a digital vs film photo. If you look too closely at a digital photo, you’ll start to see the pixels- the digital limit of fidelity. Whereas a film camera is only limited by the sheer power of the camera. Incredible film photos exist that can be viewed under a magnifier, to reveal a level of detail invisible to the naked eye.

In much the same way, a vinyl record is limited only by the precision of the tools used to make it. But the groove on a record is actually a physical impression of the sound wave, so it’s theoretically the most accurate copy of the original sound. And adding a tube amp to your turntable can give you an extremely accurate output to match.

Still, this is mostly academic at this point. From the average person’s point of view, the question of vinyl vs digital is more an aesthetic choice.

Tube Amplifiers Offer Ideal Power Output For Turntables

While it’s not always going to be the case, tube amps are more often rated for the power you’ll actually use with your turntable. Most turntables are using around 15 to 20 watts but you can find solid state amps that blast each channel with hundreds of watts. Not only does that mean you’re paying for power you don’t need but you’re also at risk of a literal meltdown.

That’s just one of the many reasons why we like tube amps over solid states but let’s dive a little deeper into this big debate.

Solid State vs Tube Amplifiers: Which One For Your Vinyl?

You may recognize these terms from guitar amplifiers. Well, it’s much the same type of decision to make. For a long time, a tube-amplified stereo (or guitar amp) was the only choice. In the mid-60s, solid state came onto the market, and briefly dominated. For both stereos and guitar amps, solid state is cheaper, louder, more durable.

But both vinyl and guitar enthusiasts have gradually reawakened to the advantages of the primitive vacuum-tube technology.

TurntableComplicating matters, at this point, many classic foundations of the SS-vs-tube debate are now obsolete. They say solid state is harsh and cold, that tubes are noisy and can’t power bass properly.

These perceptions have gradually been engineered out of relevancy. But some overarching themes remain. Solid state vinyl pre-amps are louder for the price. And in general, they are lower-noise and lower-maintenance. In terms of tone, they are more detailed, quick, and “immediate.”

That tube tone, though. It adds a quality frequently referred to as “bloom.” It enhances and enrichens the mid frequencies. Vocals and instruments will feel more natural, more realistic. Perhaps you could say that solid-state systems play your records, and tube systems “sing” them.

The biggest consideration today is, will solid-state or tube qualities fit your own personal system better? If your speakers, room, and turntable tend towards harsh and sterile, consider a tube pre-amp to inject some life. If your system already has a fussy and vintage character, a solid-state pre-amp could be warranted.

Conclusion

Vinyl records are not the most precise way to listen to music, and tube preamps are not the most precise way to amplify anything. But do you want to go through life pursuing precision, or beauty?

Because nobody will argue that a really fantastic analog system sounds beautiful. Sort of like an impressionistic painting- the “smudging” only serves to artistically enhance the overall effect. Between choosing your preamp, gradually upgrading it with new tubes, and overseeing an expanding music collection, you will never be bored with this hobby. Enjoy!