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USB Turntables Review
How to Choose a USB Turntable
We spent 30 hours in our lab testing each USB turntable’s conversion quality using the converter software included in the retail packaging. We believe the Ion Archive is the best USB turntable for most people because it costs less than $100, and it converted all our test records, regardless of condition, with great accuracy. It produced digital copies that compared closely in volume and clarity to the original vinyl recording.
The Audio-Technca LP120 doesn’t have built-in speakers or a headphone output, but it’s a good fit if you want to use the turntable for casual listening as well as converting your vinyl collection. The direct drive may add some noise during conversion, but it offers more consistent playback speeds than a belt-drive turntable, and it doesn’t require as much maintenance.
The Audio-Technica LP60 is missing some of the playback features found on the best USB turntables, but it produced good quality conversions in our tests and costs less than $130. The built-in phono preamp makes it easy to add to any sound system that has RCA or 1/8” inputs.
How It Works
All the USB turntables we reviewed connect to your computer via USB. This makes transferring converted files from your turntable to your computer quick and simple. Most models include software you need to install on your computer to complete the audio transfer.
You start by connecting the turntable to your computer with a USB cable and making sure your computer recognizes it as an input device. You then put the record you want to digitize onto the turntable with the needle at the beginning and press Record in the software and Start or Play on the turntable – this begins the conversion process. After the turntable converts the tracks, you can save them as MP3s or another file format of your choice. You can store converted files on your hard drive, transfer them to a mobile device or use an audio editing program to clean them up.
Converting vinyl records to a digital format is time-consuming. Conversions are done in real time, so it takes a full 30 minutes to convert a 30-minute LP. After, you need to go into the software, listen to the audio for any discrepancies, and separate the audio tracks so you don't have a single 30-minute file. If the software has them, you can use cleaning tools to remove the unwanted hisses and cracks common with vinyl recordings.
What We Tested, What We Found
We hands-on tested all the USB turntables in our lab. During testing, we hooked up each vinyl-to-digital converter to the same computer and used the same 33 and 45 records.
Audio Quality Test
We used a handful of records during our testing: worn-down "Rubber Soul" and “The Beatles” albums by The Beatles, a brand new "Lazaretto" by Jack White, a good-condition LP of “Off The Wall” by Michael Jackson, and a worn-down and slightly warped 45 of "Let It Be" by The Beatles. We chose records in different conditions to simulate real-world conversions.
After we converted from vinyl to digital, we compared single audio tracks from the records to digital downloads of the same songs, listening for any discrepancies, including hissing, pops, lack of bass, panning issues and scratches. We then gathered all the data from our listening tests and assigned each USB turntable a letter grade to make it easy to compare audio quality.
The Ion Archive and both Audio-Technica turntables – the LP60 and LP120 – produced the best sounding audio. The Ion Archive’s conversions still had some static, but they also had prominent bass, good volume and original details such as stereo panning, effects and other song intricacies.
Some vinyl converters come with software, but others don’t. During testing, if a turntable didn't have software, we downloaded Audacity to complete the conversion. In general, programs that have step-by-step instructions make it easy for first-time users to successfully convert files.
Program’s with automatic track detection sense pauses in the audio and automatically split files into separate tracks so you don't have to manually do it yourself. The feature worked well in apps that include it, such as EZ Vinyl/Tape converter, though a few programs accidentally created a new track when a song became quiet or paused. There was also an instance where two songs combined because the silence between them was too short.
In addition, software that lets you input metadata helps you organize your digital library. Metadata are the labels attached to each digitized song such as title, band, album and year.
What Else Is Important?
It’s a bonus when a vinyl turntable comes with additional features outside of those used to convert vinyl to MP3s. These extra features make purchasing a digital converter turntable a more worthwhile investment.
You can use converter turntables with built-in speakers like classic turntables and listen to the music on your record as it spins. There’s no need for additional speakers or wires – you simply put your record on the turntable, set the tone arm, press Play and enjoy.
Turntables with headphone jacks allow you to listen to your vinyl without disturbing the people around you. Not all vinyl converters feature a headphone jack, but it's nice to have the ability to listen to your records with headphones.
Contributing Reviewer: Billy Bommer