Phono pre-amps aren’t supposed to get in the way. Designed to simply boost the sound of vinyl recordings, these boxes sit in between your turntable and your speakers. As a vinyl-head, I’ve been exploring multiple vinyl pre-amps in order to see just what the fuss is about. I’ve almost figured it out.
Take the Rolls Bellari VP549 for example. This $149 box is a solid little preamp with a few high-end features that you might find in, say, products from Pro-Ject. In this case, the VP549 features a simple cartridge loading feature that allows you to find tune your experience to your phono cartridge. It’s also built like a tank, in the US, which is a benefit.
How Does it Sound?
A standard phone pre-amp is tuned to the RIAA curve. This means it is designed to replay audio within certain frequency thresholds which means, in theory, that every amp should sound the same. In practice, that isn’t true.
I’ve tested three pre-amps in the past year, a very cheap Behringer, a Pro-Ject, and this one. At their core, each of these things are the same. They amplify a tiny signal coming from a stylus. That said, the audio quality on each one differs greatly. While I like the Bellari VP549, I have to report that it is definitely missing some clarity and depth and the overall sound is a bit muddy. I performed a very active swap between the two pre-amps and definitely noticed a degradation of quality in the Bellari vs. the Pro-Ject. The difference is absolutely minor but noticeably
When compared to the $399 Pro-Ject, for example, the Bellari VP549 is missing a bit of clarity. The best way to explain it is, on the same album, the VP549 is muddled and even begins breaking at higher and lower frequencies, even when the gain setting is reduced considerably. While it’s not a terrible experience, it’s very noticeable and gave me immediate pause.
That said, as an entry-level, low-cost pre-amp it works just fine. I like the casing and the quality and barring my pickiness in terms of audio quality it’s on par with similar offerings from boutique manufacturers. Obviously a pre-amp is a pre-amp – it’s not supposed to sound different from any other model. The Bellari VP549 has its weak spots but it definitely works, it’s definitely a pleasant piece of hardware, and it’s definitely within the average turntable lover’s price range.
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