The humble phono pre-amplifier has a bugger of a job. It gets an incredibly small signal in way of a very small voltage, and has to apply a linear amount of gain to it.
It also is required to apply an RIAA curve to the signal to allow your records to have proper bass.
Because of the inherently low signal passed from the record player, the phono pre-amplifier needs to amplify this, without adding any noise of itself.
One of the biggest upgrades you can do is making sure the phono pre-amp is isolated from any other equipment.
While a lot of integrated amplifiers have great phono stages internally, they always suffer from a higher than desirable noise floor due to the phono pre-amplifier amplifying the EMI that is generally present in a lot of integrated amps.
Roll on Pro-Ject's Phono Box DS!
With it's folded metal casing, subtle push buttons and external power supply the Phono Box DS is a great option for those getting into their Vinyl.
It's a good step forward too - While the more affordable pre-amps have an MC/MM switch or button, the Phono Box DS gives you a lot more control over gain, capacitance loading and impedance.
It also features a subsonic filter, helping your main amplifier work more efficiently and not waste power on inaudible rumble.
Running with Pro-Ject's new RPM3 Carbon and it's accompanied 2M Silver Cartridge, the sound was sweet and musical and well balanced. But the thing that really stood out was how 'quiet' it is. Low passages in classical music were still well defined and it happily kept up with the dynamics.
Throwing on Moderat's first album revealed that this could roll with the punches and agile enough to maneuver through '3 Minutes of Nasty Silence'.
So all in all a really great phono pre-amplifier for the money and a great starting point for anyone who is passionate about their records.