The 5 Best Tube Amps for Turntables 2021

When I tried the Tube amp the first time years ago, I was instantly hooked. Now I’m a 100% audiophile who can’t wait to go home and enjoy that warm, harmonic music. 

Little did I know that there was a lot more to that experience. Pair your tube amp with a vinyl turntable and you’d be instantly sent to the 1950s. 

However, shopping for these vintage products can be quite tricky. You may end up buying a device incompatible with the rest of your setup. 

That’s why I went along and collected the 5 best tube amps for turntables. I’ve based my choices on performance, sound quality, authenticity, and overall amp reviews. You’ll get to know my personal favorite in the end, so make sure to stick around!  

Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier Hi-Fi Valve Headphone Amp Stereo Audio Preamplifier
SMSL T2 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier, Mini Audio HiFi Stereo Integrated Amp
Fosi Audio P2 Headphone Amplifier Vacuum Tube Headphone Amp Mini Hi-Fi Stereo Audio with Low Ground Noise Output Protection
Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier
LOXJIE P20 Full Balance Tube Amplifier Headphone Power Amplifier (Black)
Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier Hi-Fi Valve Headphone Amp Stereo Audio Preamplifier
SMSL T2 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier, Mini Audio HiFi Stereo Integrated Amp
Fosi Audio P2 Headphone Amplifier Vacuum Tube Headphone Amp Mini Hi-Fi Stereo Audio with Low Ground Noise Output Protection
Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier
LOXJIE P20 Full Balance Tube Amplifier Headphone Power Amplifier (Black)

What Is an Amplifier?

An amplifier, as the name suggests, strengthens the audio signals coming from relatively weak sources like a turntable. Why? Because otherwise, a high-power audio output, like a speaker, won’t be able to pick the signal.

How Do Tube Amps Work?

In the simplest words, tubes work via heating a metal that emits electrons. These electrons are accelerated in a vacuum by certain components within the tube, which strengthens the signal. 

The transistor, the component behind digital amps, does a similar job but within an electric circuit instead of a vacuum. 

So, Do You Need an Amplifier? 

If you’re running a turntable, then absolutely yes. The faint audio signal coming from a turntable needs amplification to be audible on a speaker. 

But the question is, do you need a standalone amplifier? It depends. Some speakers actually have a built-in amplifier so they could strengthen and play turntable audio at the same time. 

However, standalone amps offer higher quality and adjustability than built-ins. It’s pretty self-explanatory, right? Any standalone device would have a larger space to incorporate better materials. 

Moreover, if you chose to opt for tube amps, built-ins won’t be an option. The vacuum tubes present on those devices can’t be held inside a speaker. 

But that moves us to the next question, should you choose tube amps over solid-state amps?

What Will You Need to Connect a Tube Amp to a Turntable?

As I said before, vinyl turntables produce signals too weak to be caught on speakers or headphones directly. 

Therefore, if you want to include a turntable in your stereo system, you’ll need those 4 basic components in this order: 

  • Turntable, naturally!
  • Preamp
  • Tube amp
  • Speakers/headphones

The preamp, as the name implies, is a step that usually precedes a tube amp to make the signal suitable for amplification. It transforms the 10mV phono signal that turntables supply to a 300mV line signal. 

Then, the tube amp strengthens this to what we call a power-amplified signal at 10-30V, or whatever value your speakers need.

That said, you have a couple of options for your stereo setup:

Setup #1: 4 Devices 

In this setup, you’ll purchase 4 standalone devices to do their respective steps separately. This costs you the most in terms of money and space, yet it delivers the best audio. 

Setup #2: 3 Devices 

You can purchase a turntable with a built-in preamp to deliver a 100mV line input directly to your tube amp

What To Consider Before Buying a Tube Amp 

So, we’re off to the actual shopping. Buying a tube amp can be somewhat overwhelming, especially for first-timers. 

No worries, though. Here are the top factors you should bear in mind before choosing your device. 

Consider Your Intended Use

Will you listen to your turntable on headphones or speakers? As you might expect, headphones need much less power so it wouldn’t melt. 

Impedance for Headphones

The best way to know if an amp is headphone-compatible is through checking its output impedance value. Generally speaking, you should be looking for a value between 20 and 600 ohms. 

However, headphones can vary in their required power. So it’s better to check your headphone specifications to avoid messing up your hardware. 

Or, if you want more freedom with the headphone choice, you should opt for an amp with an impedance dial to specifically adjust it to your needs. 

Impedance for Speakers

You might think that if headphones need 20-600 ohms, then speakers should require even more, right? Well, no. 

I won’t dive into the electrical principles behind this concept since it can take a lot of time. But it’s enough to say that as impedance increases, output power decreases. 

So if you want to run a speaker, get an output around 4-8 ohms. 

Consider the Other Components of Your Setup

Generally speaking, the tube amp needs 100mV to function, to say the least. So luckily, you won’t have to get confused by numbers like those in the output. 

However, you need to consider the input cables. Make sure to buy an amp with ports that match your setup. 

Otherwise, you’ll have to plug in an adaptor that will cost you the pure, warm sound you’re craving.  

Figure Out Where You’ll Put Them Beforehand

Tube amps look magical in the dark with those glowing power tubes. However, this very advantage can be a downside for some people. 

A tube amp will need a lot of vertical space to accommodate for the size of the tubes. Therefore, it can’t fit in a constricted rack like a solid-state amp. 

What’s Unique about Tube Amps?

Alright, let’s be honest. If we compared tube amps with solid-state amps in terms of durability, the latter would definitely win. 

Power tubes need to be changed every two years, assuming that you use them at a regular rate. If you use them more frequently, their quality will deteriorate much faster. 

Nevertheless, I’ve seen more and more people switching to tube amps recently. Then why? 

We Crave Imperfect Music

As you might expect, electrons flowing through a circuit are much more stable than vacuum. We value this benefit in powering things like smartphones to create a perfect, reliable current. 

But in music, perfect is pretty boring, right? It’s those little imperfections that add personality to your favorite band. 

A tube amp does that seamlessly. It’s able to harmonically distort sound up to an octave above the same note. All science aside, it makes the music sound “warmer” and richer. 

Go Higher and It’ll Go Better 

Tube amps don’t only produce imperfections, they also vary them with the amount of overdrive. 

As any instrument plays louder, a tube amp will add more harmonic content. It’ll feel like a concert where the band gets better as the audience cheers more!

The 5 Best Tube Amps for Turntables

How does every product perform? What are the downsides? That’s what I’ll answer in each of the following amp reviews. Shall we see?

Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier Hi-Fi Valve Headphone Amp Stereo Audio Preamplifier
SMSL T2 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier, Mini Audio HiFi Stereo Integrated Amp
Fosi Audio P2 Headphone Amplifier Vacuum Tube Headphone Amp Mini Hi-Fi Stereo Audio with Low Ground Noise Output Protection
Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier
LOXJIE P20 Full Balance Tube Amplifier Headphone Power Amplifier (Black)
Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier Hi-Fi Valve Headphone Amp Stereo Audio Preamplifier
SMSL T2 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier, Mini Audio HiFi Stereo Integrated Amp
Fosi Audio P2 Headphone Amplifier Vacuum Tube Headphone Amp Mini Hi-Fi Stereo Audio with Low Ground Noise Output Protection
Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier
LOXJIE P20 Full Balance Tube Amplifier Headphone Power Amplifier (Black)

Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier – Best Overall