Digitization isn’t anything new in the audio world. Since vinyl’s surprise resurgence in popularity began half a decade or so ago, a host of USB vinyl players appeared on the market claiming to digitize your record. Marketed for a generation who had grown up without ever playing a vinyl record, these players were simple to use and inexpensive compared to analog turntables. The problem is that they are also cheap, most of them insultingly so.
The reputation that USB tables are junk doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that they are USB. It has everything to do with the cheap materials that they are made from. A turntable consists of many precision parts, including the arm, the platter, the plinth, the motor and the cartridge. Most USB turntables are all about style (or budget) over substance. So long as it looks good in a sepia-filtered Tumblr photo, does it really matter how the thing sounds? The problem isn’t just that they look and sound cheap (many play music at an abysmal 128Kbs). But some of these players, like the Crosleys you see at Urban Outfitters, use non-changeable ceramic cartridges that have a heavy tracking force that damages records. Why even spend the extra money?
In other words, most USB turntables are not made with the audiophile in mind.
Best USB Turntable For Digitizing Vinyl: Sony PSHX500
So what happens if you are sitting on boxes of vinyl that need to be converted to digital for posterity’s sake? That’s where the Sony PSHX500 Hi Res USB Turntable comes in. Its cartridge isn’t the best on the market and it isn’t packed with a ton of features, but this is the first device that converts to digital in high resolution. The PSHX500 is also almost completely customizeable, a fact that sets it apart from most other USB turntables.
So how good are the recordings? Sony uses a patented circuit that the takes the record’s signal and converts it into a digital audio data stream using a Burr-Brown PCM4202 analog to digital converter. You can record files in everything from WAV to double DSD (although good look finding a vinyl that will rip at 5.8MHz). After you rip a track, the file appears on Sony software, which lets you choose the file format. It also lets you do some basic manipulation, like rearranging the tracks.
Now, you don’t always get a perfect recording. Some reviewers noted a faint humming in the background. But this is bar-none the best commercial option available for getting those rare options off wax and onto silicon. The process is also incredibly streamlined. You just plug the USB from the device into the computer, drag the needle, and hit play. Finally, you can digitize your records.
I like the minimalist matte black design for home use. It’s modern and goes well with polished dark wood cabinets and exposed brick and all the other staples of 2o10s interior decorating. The bare-bones approach means you are forgoing DJ staples like reverse function and pitch range. You get two speeds: 33 and 45 rpm(78 is missing, so don’t plan on converting those).
The Sony PSHX500 is outfitted with a moving magnet cartridge that is fit at the top of the arm. It is a fine cartridge, but audiophiles will want to switch in their preferred one. It also has a built-in phono preamplifier with RIAA curve, which is a nice feature for a turntable in this range. If you would rather play through your own phono EQ, just switch off the built-in one. It also has a removable lid and and integrated shell for solid stabilization.
All in all it is a durable piece of equipment, with a belt system that uses spindle-bearing construction. The platter is aluminum die cast and the mat is rubber, so that’s good. The spindle hinges are worrisome. I don’t recommend this unit for DJs who are going to be transporting their equipment around, but it will hold up in a stationary environment for a long time.
Best USB Turntable For DJs: Audio Technica AT-LP1240
Hauling a turntable around to parties and shows necessitates a device that can withstand wear and tear. The Audio Technica AT-LP1240 is a professional quality DJ turntable that is equipped with an internal stereo phono pre-amp and a high-torque motor. The thing is built to last and weighs like it.
If you are drawn to turntables for their retro aesthetic, then the blue LED lights and the slick pitcher and controls on the LP1240 won’t appeal to you. The turntable platter is made with die-cast aluminum, an S-shaped tone arm with counterweight, and anti-skate adjustment. These quality components are held together in a futuristic black and silver design. The LP1240 is a 3-speed fully manual and comes with plenty of ways to keep your speed accurate. It also has a a high quality brake. DJs also get a target light for dark clubs, two start/stop buttons, a reverse function, and a pitch change that goes to 50 percent over or under record speed.
You can plug right in to your laptop via USB and record using Audacity software. It doesn’t come with a cartridge so you will have to supply your own. You won’t find a better turntable in this pricerange, USB or otherwise.