A preamp is known as the ‘primary control unit’ of a home theater system. Although AV receivers come with a preamp in it, you can always choose a dedicated one. Budget AV preamp are also known as ‘preamp/processor’ or ‘pre/pro’. AV preamps have several ports that help you connect to your desired device such as: TV, PC, gaming consoles, or speakers.
While choosing a budget AV preamp, you should make sure the preamp has all the connection ports which will be compatible with your devices. If you want flexibility in streaming and connection, then you should buy a budget AV preamp that has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Denon, Marantz, Emotiva are some of the best preamp manufacturers which you can rely on. The sound quality should be decent without any distortion or coloration. You can connect the preamp with an AV receiver and then to a pair of speakers in a home theater system.
What is the purpose of an AV preamp?
The purpose of preamp is to take the weak input signals coming from, for instance a microphone, and convert it into a strong output signal. The preamp does this conversion without introducing any noise or distortion.
There are some preamps that add a color or character to the signal and others create a transparent signal ensuring the signal is in its purest form. Preamps are designed in such a way that it will give clean gain to your signal while it remains cautious about adding the lowest amount of noise.
List of budget AV receiver
In this section we have chosen some of the best budget AV preamps based on functions, quality and price. We have listed preamps that are very cheap to mid-range and high priced AV preamps so that you can choose one within your budget.
Yamaha WXC-50 MusicCast Wireless Streaming Preamplifier
This Yamaha preamp is quite a player in terms of functionality. With this budget preamp, you can connect to devices and stream using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It can connect to Airplay and Spotify connect. This preamp works with Alexa and you can easily connect with Pandora, Rhapsody and many more.
The preamp has a solid metal body and uses aluminium in its construction. It is only 2 inches in height so you can easily place in into shelves. To save space, you can also place it vertically. If you take out the feet you can insert them into racks.
It is known to deliver audiophile grade sound. You can download the MusicCast app in your smartphone to control the system. It has several connections including: Ethernet port, wireless off switch, optical and analog inputs, digital optical and coax outputs, subwoofer out, trigger in/out and remote in.
The device allows file streaming from internet, smartphones, USB devices, TV and audio devices, PC and DLNA servers. You can share the music in different rooms into multiple MusicCast devices throughout the house. However, we’ve compared S.M.S.L AD18 and SA300 that might take your attention for a bit.
- Easily connects to home theater or AV receiver
- It can transfer audio to 9 additional MusicCast devices
- Easy control with MusicCast app
- Flexible placement
- Several connection options
- Supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- Good sonics and clean sound
- Doesn’t support Amazon Music
Denon HEOS Link Wireless Pre-Amplifier
This is one of the versatile budget AV preamp which is basically a wireless preamplifier. The main purpose of this device is to allow multi-room audio with ease. This device is a part of the HEOS Wireless multi-room system.
This Denon AV preamp uses built-in dual band ‘N’ wireless technology. It has RJ-45 Ethernet port, stereo line input, 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB, optical digital audio input, stereo pre-amp outputs, sub out, coaxial port, and optical digital audio output.
The HEOS app available in Android and iOS, makes it a ‘press of a button’ to play your favorites. You can stream from internet radio, PC, NAS, mobile, or other external audio device. You can also stream audio via Bluetooth.
With the HEOS Link, you can stream the music through Wi-Fi to another HEOS device in another room. The device is known to produce ‘high-res audio’.
The audio quality is impressive in most cases but with Tidal there may be some files displaying with 16/44. The sound quality is precise, accurate and detailed. Overall, this device will not compromise sound quality.
- Multi-room audio system
- Several connections and ports
- Works with PC, streaming sources, etc.
- Control one or more devices with the HEOS app
- Works with receiver and sound system
- High quality sound
- Has ‘Audiophile-Grade Synchronization’
- Will not work without Wi-Fi
Emotiva UMC-200 7.1 Home Theater Preamp/Surround Processor
Emotiva is a 7.1 channel processor that has several connections as stated in the table above. You can connect an external amplifier to RCA style output and subwoofer to the XLR output. It has a USB support that supports the Bluetooth dongle.
The Emotiva UMC-200 has 3D and uses Xpressview switching which is needed for quick switching between HDMI. The front panel has Standby button, Left/Right navigation button and Vol+/Vol- buttons.
It uses Advanced Emo-Q Gen2™ for multi-channel room correction and loudspeaker. The Emotiva comes with a powerful headphone amp which will make your private listening pleasant.
It also lets you tweak with 11 EQ for each channel. The audio-band noise performance is impressive. It has a clear and natural sound with good imaging. It is one of the best budget AV preamp due to its versatile functionality and impressive sound. The inclusion of remote control makes it easier to control.
- Fully functioning remote
- Automatic room calibration
- Clear and transparent sound
- Faster switching
- Supports 7.1 channel
- Produces audiophile grade sound.
- No port for analog video
Marantz AV8805 – 13.2 Channel AV Audio Component Pre-Amp
This is one of the high end AV processors in terms of connectivity, functionality and performance. It has a strong build quality and is designed to eliminate vibration. Also, supports 13.2-channel processing with 15.2-channel XLR and RCA outputs.
It supports audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and the Auro-3D support will be available with firmware update. The AV8805 has 8 HDMI inputs with HDCP 2.2, 4K Ultra HD video in 60 Hz, 4:4:4 pure color sub-sampling and many more.
The Marantz preamp gives you the freedom to have up to six overhead or Atmos compatible speakers. You can have a 7.1.6 or 9.1.4 system. You can also use this as a 5.1 surround sound processor. The preamp allows you to connect two powered subwoofers with it.
HDAM (Hyper-Dynamic Amplifier Module) is Marantz’s proprietary technology used for excellent movie and music sound enhancement. It ensures wide soundstage and precise details in the audio.
- Audyssey MultEQ Editor App for tuning, customizing
- MultEQ® XT32 and room calibration
- IMAX Enhanced certified
- Supports 24-bit/192 kHz ALAC, FLAC, and WAV lossless files
- DSD 2.8 MHz and 5.6 MHz
- HEOS built-in for multi-room seamless audio
- Audiophile grade sound
Pyle Rack Mount Studio Pre-Amplifier
This budget AV preamp is made of metal and has an Aluminium panel. The front panel consists of power on/off switch, independent input source selectable, bass, treble, mid, balance knobs, level control and master volume adjustment. It also has buttons for play, pause, and select mode, repeat.
The preamp allows you to record audio through USB/SD port. It has built-in Bluetooth 2.1 which means you can connect to smartphones, tablets, iPad, iPhone, etc. you can adjust the bass, mids, treble and balance as per your need.
It has an FM antenna for capturing better reception. The remote control of this unit is small in size, easy to grip and has several buttons to control the amp from a distance. The front panel has an LCD display and shows the name of the song playing.
The sound quality is decent just as we would expect from such a budget AV preamp. So as long as you are not comparing it with audiophile products, this is a reasonably priced preamp.
You can also check the Ear Force DSS 7.1 Channel Dolby Surround Sound Processor
The Turtle Beach Ear Force DSS is a palm sized USB powered processor which you can use for stereo headphones.
You can use the sound processor to get immersive sound while playing in Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or PC games. You can also enjoy movies from Blu-ray or DVDs, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Now TV using this device to boost up the headphones.
The surround sound processor can produce 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound with the help of Dolby Headphone technology and Dolby Pro Logic IIX. You can connect TV mp3, TV or any other analog sources to the 7.1 surround sound processor which gets processed by the Pro Logic IIX.
The bass booster is the main attraction of the Ear Force DSS Surround Sound Processor. It produces chest-thumping bass that remains consistent throughout the audio. While playing games, the surround sound will impress you and you can pin-point where the sound is coming from.
It has a built-in headphone amplifier which means you can connect a passive radio headset with it. With this budget AV preamp, you can seamlessly enjoy movies, music, or games. Although it is a headphone preamp, you can connect it with desktop speakers or other speakers with a 3.5mm cable.
- Several connection options
- Built-in Bluetooth
- Decent sound
- FM antenna
- Easy control
- Some units may produce noise.
Budget AV Preamp: Buying guide
What features should you look for while shopping for the budget AV preamp? Let’s take a look.
This is one of the important factors while choosing a preamp. Different users will have different types of devices they want the preamp to connect. Some connections like the HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 are common in many preamps.
For instance, the Marantz AV8805 supports HDMI 2.0b with HDCP 2.2 and eARC. Optical or coaxial digital connections are some basic connections which the preamp should have. It is best if the HDMI port works at 18Gbps.
Some preamps have HDBaseT connections, USB DAC, and etc. so, overall you should look into a preamp connection based on which devices you are going to connect.
The more number of channels in a preamp, the more versatile and powerful it is. The most common and standard is having 5 channels. Then, 5.1 and 7.1 are widely available. These preamps also have low cost.
You can also find preamps with 9 channels for 5.1.4, 11 channels for 7.1.4 and 13 channels. However, if you are confused about buying between Sennheiser GSX 1000 and 1200, then this might help.
Sound quality is another crucial factor to take into consideration while buying a budget AV preamp. Most preamps support Dolby Atmos, DTS and some other expensive models like the Marantz AV8805 has Auro-3D. Overall, the preamp should produce powerful and immersive sound.
Room calibration feature
The room calibration feature is also found in many preamps like Emotiva and Marantz. It adjusts sound based on room acoustics.
Networking and Bluetooth features
If your preamp supports Wi-Fi, then using it with other devices or playing files will be very easy. It may connect wirelessly or may come with Ethernet cable. You can easily connect the Wi-Fi preamp with wireless AVs, DTS Play-Fi, etc.
Along with Wi-Fi, if the preamp comes with built-in Bluetooth aptX technology, then it becomes even more versatile. With Bluetooth, you can connect to any Bluetooth enabled devices and smartphones.
Many preamps come with another feature known as multi-room audio. This allows you to play the song in different rooms. Preamps like Denon HEOS Link Audio Series 2, Emotiva and Marantz support multi-room audio. Moreover, we’ve compare two amp which are JDS Atom and Magni 3, it might come very handy.
This feature again depends on user usage. Depending on the device you are going to connect, make sure your chosen preamp will be compatible with it. For instance, if you want to connect a LaserDisc player/VCR, then you need analog video inputs.
On The other hand, if you want to connect vinyls to it, then the preamp should have a phono input option.
Although listed as the last factor, this is the most important. A single AV preamp will cost more than an AV receiver. But, a dedicated preamp will also work better. Preamps with basic 5.1 or 7.1 channels are affordable.
In this article of budget AV preamp, we have listed both affordable and some costly preamps so that you can choose within your budget.
Preamps are essential particularly if you want to build your own home theater customized in your own way. When you use a preamp, you can easily switch from one input to another without the need to disconnect them. It is useful if you want to build a 5.1 or higher channel in a home theater.
Budget AV preamps often come with standard connections; some models offer Bluetooth compatibility and multi-room. The sound in most budget AV preamps like the Emotiva UMC-200 is crystal clear. If you are willing to compromise slightly on quality you can buy one within $100. If you are willing to pair an AV receiver with the preamp then you can choose between Marantz vs Denon.
At the end of the day the choice of preamp will depend which external equipment you are willing to connect. Most preamps have easy setup and some are even more user friendly as they come with remote controls. Room calibration is an additional feature which helps to improve the sound.
Top pick: Emotiva UMC-200 7.1 Home Theater Preamp/Surround Processor
Still have some questions unanaswered? Check out this section.
How to connect external devices to the Denon HEOS preamp?
you can connect the Denon HEOS preamp with amplifier, AV receiver, and subwoofer or USB storage.
- Amplifier/AV receiver: use the PRE OUT, coaxial out or optical out port to the amplifier
- Subwoofer: connect the powered subwoofer into the subwoofer output port of the preamp
- Audio playback device: use the line in, aux in or optical in input port to the CD player or portable music player.
- USB: insert the FAT 32 USB device to the USB port.
How to connect XBox 360 with Ear Force DSS?
follow these steps:
- Use the A/V cable of XBox 360
- Use the DSS digital optical cable to connect between the digital output of the XBox 360 and digital input of the DSS.
- Insert the DSS USB power cable to the USB port of the XBox.
- Switch on power
- Ensure the LED on DSS lit up
- Plug in the audio cable of the headset to the headphone jack of the DSS
- Connection is complete
How to connect preamp to the receiver?
follow this procedure to connect your preamp to the receiver:
- Switch off all devices
- If you have any audio inputs, connect them to the preamp
- Insert Output or phono Out of the preamp to the HT bypass or Direct In of the receiver
- Lower the volume knob of the preamp to minimum
- Turn on the preamp
- Turn on the receiver
- Adjust the volume and gain of preamp