In this guide we will discuss the difference between an antenna preamplifier and an antenna distribution amplifier. As well, we will give you our recommendations for the best antenna preamplifiers and distribution amplifiers available in the market today.
Before anything else, let’s first address the elephant in the room: when discussing antennas, a preamplifier is very different from a distribution amplifier.
To summarize, an antenna preamplifier amplifies the signal coming directly out of the antenna, while a distribution amplifier amplifies the signal after the splitter when you want to distribute signals to multiple TVs.
Here, we will learn about their key differences and how they each can help your antenna’s performance.
What is an Antenna Preamplifier?
An antenna preamplifier, as we have discussed, is used to amplify the TV signal just when it comes out from the antenna. It is called a pre-amplifier because the amplifier is located before the attenuation/signal loss.
Due to the placement of the preamplifier, the signal is amplified at its strongest possible point to overcome signal loss, mainly due to the long cable length between the antenna to your splitter or TV.
The idea here is to amplify the signal before any noise or loss happens, so you wouldn’t amplify any noise, ensuring we can amplify the signal in its most optimal state.
Typically the preamplifier is mounted to the antenna’s mast so it can catch and amplify the signal coming directly from the antenna.
What Is a Distribution Amplifier?
Antenna Distribution Amplifier, or DA, is used together with a splitter to divide then amplify a single video or audio source into two or more identical copies (instead of two divided signals with half the strength of the original one.)
A distribution amplifier can be used to amplify both digital and analog signals:
- For digital signals, the distribution amplifier typically also include reclocking and signal buffering feature to prevent bit error and maintain data path integrity.
- For analog signals, direct amplification to the signal is provided, along with enhancement features like fixed or variable peaking, etc.
The main idea behind a distribution amplifier is that when the signal is divided or distributed via a splitter or other means, it would translate into signal losses.
Furthermore, when a TV is located further from the splitter (meaning, longer cable), the more signal loss would happen. A distribution amplifier is placed to tackle this issue, and this is why it’s important to place the DA centrally, relative to the location of the TVs.
In an analog system, signal loss can distort or degrade the higher frequency of the original signal, which typically would affect the clarity/sharpness of the resulting picture.
On the other hand, when a digital signal is divided, the signal level can fall below the normal operating parameters, causing failure in data delivery. This is called the “digital cliff”, and this is why even in a digital system, a distribution amplifier is needed.
When You Should Install an Antenna Preamplifier?
It’s important to understand that a preamplifier can only amplify signals that are already there, so it won’t guarantee you can pick up more TV channels if the signal is already too weak in your location.
With that being said, installing a pre-amplifier might help your TV setup if:
- You live in a weaker signal area where you still get reception but the picture isn’t very clear/sharp.
- When the cable from the antenna to the TV/splitter or from the splitter to TV is 50 feet or longer.
- In most cases when you use a signal splitter, a preamplifier can help counter signal loss/attenuation
However, if the TV signal is already very strong and/or your location is less than 20 miles from the tower/transmitter. Very strong signals, when amplified, can be distorted/overdriven instead, causing various reception problems.
Installing a preamplifier to your antenna is pretty simple, and although it might vary slightly depending on the brand/model of your antenna, typically you can use the following steps to install your preamplifier:
- Your preamplifier should be installed as close to the antenna as possible. Typically the preamplifier package would include a U-bolt clamp so you can attach the preamplifier to the antenna’s mast.
- Connect the preamp and the antenna with a coax cable (a very short one will do). Typically the input on the preamplifier would be labeled “VHF/UHF” or “Antenna (ANT) Input” or similar terms.
- Run another coax cable from the output of the preamplifier to the TV, the preamp’s output is usually labeled “TV Out” or just “Output”.
- Install the preamplifier’s power supply (or power injector) inside the building, then connect the aforementioned coax cable running from the preamplifier to the port labeled “From Antenna/ANT” or something similar
- There should be one open port on the power injector labeled “to TV” or “output”, this is where you should connect a coax cable to a TV or splitter.
- It’s important to avoid having any device installed between the preamplifier and its power supply. This can block the voltage used to power the amp, which can result in a significant signal reduction instead.
Common troubleshooting in installing your preamplifier:
- Too strong signal: if you receive signals from weaker (further) stations but you get a nearby channel without any reception at all, it can be caused by an overdriven signal caused by amplifying signals that are already too strong (i.e. coming from TV stations within 20 miles).
- Blocked FM channel: if you want to use the antenna to receive FM frequency but failed to, it might be caused by a built-in feature called FM Trap. FM frequency can often interfere with TV reception, so some antennas have this feature to filter out FM frequencies. You can set this FM Trap feature to off if you still want to receive FM.
- Preamplifier won’t turn on: this might be caused by installing any device between the preamplifier and power supply/injector. However, also check whether the coax cables are damaged/faulty. A coax cable can be damaged and still send a TV signal but won’t pass voltage.
When You Should Install a Distribution Amplifier?
In general, you only need a distribution amplifier when you use a splitter. In other cases, a preamplifier is almost always the better fit. If you have more than one TV in your house, there’s a good chance you’ll need a distribution amplifier.
When you use a splitter, the original signal will experience loss:
- 4dB of signal loss when a 2-way splitter is used
- 8dB of signal loss when a 3-way or 4-way splitter is used
- 14-16 dB of signal loss when an 8-way splitter is used
When choosing between different distribution amplifiers, you should consider:
- What signal type will be distributed?
- How many outputs/TVs would you require?
- How far is the distance between the TVs to the splitter?
- Where will you install the distribution amplifier? How will it be mounted?
Keep in mind that the distribution amplifier might act as a splitter on its own (a distribution amplifier is something like an amplified splitter).
The typical installation process for a distribution amplifier is like this:
- Connect all inputs from TVs or splitter before plugging it in an electrical outlet.
- Find a location to place the distribution amplifier. The general rule of thumb is to find a place as centrally as possible between all the TVs to minimize signal loss.
- Mount the distribution amplifier to a sold surface, or place it somewhere it won’t be disturbed
- Connect the power supply to an input labeled “Power In” or similar ones with a coax cable.
- Connect the coax cable coming out from the antenna to the distribution amplifier’s “input”, “RF in” or similar label.
- Connect cables going to individual TVs to each of the distribution amplifier’s outputs.
- You can use termination caps to terminate any unused outputs if allowed by the distribution amplifier.
- Plug the power supply into an electrical outlet, and voila.
Can You Install Both a Preamplifier and a Distribution Amplifier Together?
Technically, yes, you can install both a distribution amplifier and a preamplifier together in the same antenna system. However, there are two main concerns:
- You have to make sure they both receive power. Don’t install the distribution amplifier between the preamplifier and the preamplifier’s power supply, or it can cause voltage block.
- Remember that signal overdrive is a thing. If the received signal is already strong even after the splitter, you don’t need to amplify it
There are many different configurations you can try if you are going to use both a preamplifier and a DA, but typically it will be something like
Antenna –> Preamplifier –> Splitter –> Distribution Amplifier –> TV or
Antenna –> Preamplifier –> Distribution Amplifier –> TV
if the distribution amplifier can also act as a splitter.
In general, check whether the signal strength in your area and your setup demands the usage of both preamplifier and distribution amplifier before deciding to install both.
Top 3 Best Preamplifiers Right Now
#1. Channel Master CM-7778V3 Titan 2 Antenna Preamplifier
- 16 dB gain with very low noise produced, can effectively amplify weak signals, but preventing overdrive by not amplifying signals that are already strong
- Selectable FM pass-through filter
- Heavy-duty, outdoor-rated housing with rubber weather seal, effective in protecting against moisture
- RF shielding to protect against interference
- Includes u-bolt for mast mounting, power adapter, power injector/inserter, and 6ft coax cable
Pros and Cons
- Compact and portable,
- Powder coating and RF weather shield, effective for outdoor installation
- Switchable FM trap for extra versatility
- Combined VHF/UHF inputs
- Not compatible with satellite TV
- Not the most affordable option
Channel Master CM-7778V3 Titan 2 has several amazing features, making it one of the best in our tests. Has 2 ports, a very compact, and durable design that can withstand outdoor installations and bad weather.
It can improve the overall signal quality with a gain of approximately 16 dB, and also a low noise level of 16 dB to ensure performance. Also, RF shielding to protect against interference and switchable FM filter.
Not the most affordable option, but offers one of the most complete packages.
#2. Antennas Direct ClearStream Juice VHF/UHF Low-Noise Preamplifier System
- UHF/VHF preamplifier system can amplify signals running in coax cables over 100ft
- Great gain production with best-in-class overload protection, 17.5dB VHF / 19dB UHF
- Shielded in a heavy-duty, weatherproof case with an integrated low pass filter, can filter interference from cellular and wireless data services. Optimal signal to noise ratio
- 90-day money-back warranty
- Includes power supply, power injector/inserter, two 36″ coaxial cables, two zip ties
Pros and Cons
- Completely shielded housing, great for outdoor installation
- Protection against all types of weathers
- 90-day warranty
- Not very good against heat in some cases
The Antennas Direct Clearstream Juice is one of the best antenna preamplifiers we’ve ever test with its rich set of features. The key highlight of this product, however, is its build quality: very durable, weatherproof, and great protection against interference.
The only downside is that it is relatively expensive compared to the other two options we have shared above. However, its robust design makes it worth it.
#3. Winegard LNA-200 Boost XT HDTV Preamplifier
- Enhances any non-amplified antenna to deliver a clearer signal and more available channels.
- Supports any passive (non-amplified) antenna
- TwinAmp technology amplifies UHF and VHF signals separately, allowing maximum performance and lowest possible signal noise.
- Boost Clear Circuit Technology, allowing lowest noise production (1dB average) allowing more range and preventing pixelation/dropout.
Pros and Cons
- Compact size, and simple design, easy to install with any antenna
- Great noise reduction performance
- Effective on both VHF and UHF antennas, can amplify both signals separately
- Great with longer coax cables
- Decent RF interference cancellation feature
- Not very durable
- Quality control issues, you may get a faulty product (check for warranty)
The Winegard LNA-200 Boost XT is a very good preamplifier that supports both UHF and VHF and can amplify each of them separately for maximum amplification. Also has various features to reduce noise, so it offers a top-notch quality in amplifying a wide range of frequency ranges.
Being a relatively affordable product there are some issues regarding durability and quality control, but it offers a one-year limited warranty.
Top 3 Best Distribution Amplifiers Right Now
#1. Channel Master CM-3414 4-Port Distribution Amplifier
- Compatible with 4KTV, HDTV, TV signals
- 8dB output gain, great for long cable runs or a signal splitter
- Operates at 5 to 42 adn 54 to 1002 MHz ranges ideal for VHF/UHF antenna signals.
- Improved gain flatness, allowing better balance across the frequency range
- Lower noise figure for optimal signal
Pros and Cons
- Impressive 8dB of gain, great for very long cable runs
- Optimal signal reduction feature, typical in most signal booster
- Improved gain flatness, more balanced amplification across the frequency range
- Passive Return line for two-communication
- Only one output, you can’t use it as a splitter
- Doesn’t come with variable gain control, you can’t adjust the gain as needed
This Channel Master 4-Port is a very powerful distribution amplifier. Useful in cases like when a TV is located too far from the splitter, and you’d need to amplify the signal for this specific TV alone.
This amplifier has four output ports and can be used in HDTV, CATV, off-air, analog and digital RF distribution applications where high performance and reliability are required.
A little bit expensive for what it offers, but very decent build quality and features.
#2. Antennas Direct 4-Port TV Distribution Amplifier
- Connect one antenna to 4 TVs while boosting the signal in each location
- Weatherproof housing, suitable for both indoor and outdoor installations (power supply for indoor only)
- 7.5dB signal amplification (per port)
- 90-day warranty
Pros and Cons
- Pretty affordable for what it does
- Weatherproof can install it outdoor if necessary
- Compact and ergonomic design
- High-quality signal amplification and reception
- Easy to install
- No interference/surge protection
- Can get very hot with prolonged use
Well-made with a strong, durable build, and has a very attractive price tag. Great amplification performance, reliable signal-to-noise ratio, and comes with various accessories, which are great for its price.
The only major downside is that it doesn’t come with a surge control, which can be a problem when there’s, for example, a lightning strike.
#3. Antronix Distribution Amplifier
- Four-port amplifier with a passive return path. Increase of 7.5dB per port. Effective in reducing image pixelation.
- Compatible with all standard and cable TV services and OTA antenna reception. Not compatible with antennas with existing preamplifiers.
- 6kV surge protection, protection against lightning.
- 5-year warranty (amplifier only)
- 3dB noise figure
- Nickel-plated housing, corrosion-resistant against weather
Pros and Cons
- Five-year warranty, safe long-term investment
- Very easy to install
- 6kV surge protection
- Comes with several accessories
- Self-resetting circuit for short circuit protection
- Doesn’t work with preamplifiers
- Pretty high noise level (3dB)
The Antronix Distribution Amplifier is is a very well-built, well-engineered device. Comes with 4 output ports, 7.5dB per port. Also comes with built-in short circuit protection and 6kV surge protection.
The best part, however, is its five-year warranty, so it’s a safe long-term investment. A downside is that it won’t work with existing preamplifiers.
Some Final Words…
The 3 best preamplifiers and distribution amplifiers we have shared above are our top picks that can fit many different setups and indoor/outdoor installations.
Our number one pick here goes to the Channel Master CM-7778V3 Titan 2 for preamplifiers and Channel Master 4-Port Distribution Amplifier for distribution amplifier, but all models presented are great products with their own advantages and disadvantages.
We hope you’ve gathered enough information from this guide, and can make a better decision with what we’ve shared.