USB turntable plugs vinyl into your computer

6 Oct

The ION USB Turntable has regular RCA output jacks, as well as a USB output to your computer, to easily convert vinyl LP’s into digital files. There is also an input on the front to connect and convert cassette players or other analog sources. (Geoff Meeker photo)

October 6, 2008

By Geoff Meeker

Back in June of 2006, I told you about the Instant Music (by ADS Tech) analog to digital converter, which converts music on vinyl LP’s into mp3 files.

Evidently, a great many of you have a shelf full of albums, because that column generated more comment than any other I’ve done.

The Instant Music device worked as intended, but it was not easy to use. The interface between the GarageBand software, which processed the signal, and the converter was buggy and complex, which meant relearning how to use it each time I took it out of the box. And there was one major fallback: it could only convert one song at a time. You had to stop the recording, lift the needle from the turntable, process the song, name it and send it to iTunes, before starting the next recording. That wouldn’t be a problem, if you just wanted to capture one or two songs, but when you want to capture the entire album, it became tiresome.

Eventually, I stopped using the device. And many of my albums stayed on the shelf, unconverted, unplayed, unappreciated.

Imagine my intrigue when friends told of a new USB turntable they had purchased at Costco, which easily converts albums to digital.

I drove to the store the next day and picked up the ION USB Turntable, for $129.

In addition to the usual RCA output jacks, which connect to a stereo, the turntable has a USB output that plugs right into your computer. A MixMeister software package is included.

The turntable hardware is of surprisingly good quality. I enjoyed the task of putting the cartridge head on the tone arm, and the counterweight on the other end, because my previous turntable didn’t have a counterweight. For the first time in years, I can control tone arm weight and adjust down to my ideal of three grams.

After assembling the turntable, you load the software onto your computer, a process that took mere seconds, and connect the turntable with the USB cable. You open the program, and it is ready to receive tracks, advising you to click ‘record’, then drop the needle.

That’s all there is to it. When a song ends, you click the ‘new track’ icon, to create a clean break between songs.

When finished recording, you click ‘next’ and name the files, filling in the blanks for artist name, album title and individual song titles. Check for typo’s, then click ‘done’. `

The software sends the recordings to iTunes – this takes a few seconds to process – and you’re finished. You can go to iTunes and play your new recordings.

There is no way to simplify the process any more than that (short of having someone else do it for you). It’s rare that software actually lives up to the promise of being “easy to use”. All unnecessary steps have been sifted out; the task reduced to the bare essentials.

I had one minor issue with my first recording attempt, as my computer was set to record from the built-in microphone. It was a simple matter of changing the settings, from built-in mic to USB input, for recording. You may need to go through a similar process with your computer.

Included in the software bundle is an advanced sound processing package called Audacity, which is more complex to use but gives more control over recording levels and supposedly removes the scratches and pops. However, the basic software performed so reliably that I may never bother with Audacity.

There is only one downside, and it’s a significant one. The turntable has no dust cover. Yes, albums can be returned to their sleeves after playing, but this doesn’t stop the platter itself from collecting dust – which will then stick to the next record you place on the turntable. It’s not a deal-breaker, but frustrating nonetheless. I now have to improvise a cover of my own.

The turntable’s audio quality is excellent (in fact, the converted mp3 files don’t have quite the same oomph as the original vinyl). It has a switch-able pre-amp, so you can plug into your old phono input, or CD/aux/tape inputs, on your stereo system. You can also plug cassette players, radios and other analog devices into the turntable, to feed directly into your computer for digital conversion.

All in all, a fabulous product that comes highly recommended. A quick search shows that the product can be ordered online in Canada, at www.thesource.ca, for $169.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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