USB turntable buying guide: How to choose the best USB turntable to get the most out of your vintage records
With a USB turntable, you can listen to your collection anytime, anywhere.
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Key facts about USB turntable:
- If you've been wondering what to do with your cabinet full of records, a USB turntable might be the answer. USB turntables can play your records like a traditional record player and also transform them into digital files.
- Your records will be transferred directly to a USB, SD card, or to a computer where the files can be touched up by audio editing software.
- Knowing exactly how you plan to use your turntable will allow you to get the best audio experience and help you avoid paying for features you'll never use.
What is a USB turntable?
A USB turntable is a vinyl record player that can both play your records and convert analogue files into digital formats. As your record plays, sound output is gathered from the turntable's needle and transferred to a computer, USB drive or SD card in a digital format. This process is known as encoding.
Conversion from analogue to digital only works when the record is playing, meaning all the cracks and pops that your record makes will be captured in the transfer. Once the sound has been captured and converted into a digital form, you can use audio editing software to smooth out and soften any rough spots or kinks.
Pros and cons
There are a number of advantages to buying a USB turntable. These include:
- Lifetime storage. Digitising your music is a great way to ensure that you have it forever. Vinyl recordings are easily damaged and the quality can fade over time. Digital files can be formatted in a number of ways and stored in the cloud or on external hard drives so that they're less likely to be lost or broken.
- Cost efficiency. If you've spent a lifetime building a vast vinyl collection, buying digital copies of all those songs could be expensive. Investing in a USB turntable will allow you to digitise your entire library, all at one cost.
- Listening to vinyl. USB turntables play your tunes as well as digitise them. Many people are returning to vinyl as a way of listening to music. Vinyl players encourage shared listening experiences and offer something different to the private world of headphones.
- Listening to rare songs. Some songs only exist on vinyl. While streaming services do have vast music libraries, there are many tracks that were only ever pressed on vinyl. If you have an obscure collection, a USB turntable can help you safeguard those classics.
USB turntables can be tricky to use. Before you buy a USB turntable you should think about:
- Is it worth it? Many classic albums have already been digitised and can be purchased online or found on streaming services. Be sure to check that your favourite vinyl albums don't already exist in digital form.
- Do you have the time? Every minute of audio equals a minute of transfer time so if you want to digitise an hour-long record, it will take an hour. If you're planning on converting an extensive catalogue of music, be prepared to spend a lot of time doing so.
- Can you set it up? Setting up your USB turntable and installing the compatible editing software can involve a fair amount of fiddling around.
- Are you comfortable using editing software? Most USB turntables come with or recommend audio editing software. This software allows you to smooth out the kinks and clicks that come with vinyl play. While these software programs are effective, they take time to master, and they can only do so much if the audio captured is poor quality.
If you've decided a USB turntable is for you, compare your options. If a USB turntable doesn't offer what you need, check out some of our suggested alternatives.
What types are available?
There are two main types of USB turntables that differ in how they encode music.
USB turntables that encode to a computer
The first type of turntable connects to a computer via a USB cable. As your record plays, the sound will be captured and transferred to your computer, often directly into audio editing software. This is convenient as most transfers will require some editing, even if it's just dividing an album into individual tracks.
USB turntables that encode to a USB drive or SD card
Audio files are transferred directly onto a USB thumb drive or SD card, which can then be uploaded onto a computer or tablet if need be. This is convenient as you don't need access to a computer when encoding. Keep in mind that records are transferred as one file, so if you want to break an album up into individual tracks you'll have to upload the file onto a computer anyway.
How to compare USB turntables
The best model for you depends on how you plan to use it, and whether you want to use the turntable as a record player, make digital transfers or both.
There are many USB turntables that offer high-quality audio, and others that don't. Price and performance often correlate when it comes to audio products. If you're willing to pay for a USB turntable that is well designed and uses high-quality materials, you'll likely be rewarded with a good listening experience.
Digital transfers are where the sound quality can drop off. All the clicks and pops that are an inherent part of listening to a vinyl record will remain on the digital copy. You may never be able to get rid of them entirely, no matter how much time you spend with audio editing software.
When looking for a USB turntable, consider the following features:
You can find a basic USB turntable for around $50 while more sophisticated models can be $1,000 or more.
USB turntables are fitted with a USB port that allows for computer connections. Different models and brands often include additional ports and jacks for connections such as RCAs, headphones and AUX cords.
Sound quality is often discussed in terms of fidelity, and the higher the fidelity, the better. High fidelity, or HiFi, is a reflection of how close a recording is to the original or true sound. There are many moving parts in a turntable, all of which can influence sound quality. If each cog in the turntable is well designed and is made of high-quality materials, you should get a high-quality sound. You'll generally pay more for higher fidelity, but it tends to be worth it.
Sound quality can be linked to how well damped a turntable is. Damping is the process of combating internal and external vibrations that impact the way you hear sound. Damping can be impacted by motor configurations, how many feet a turntable has and the materials or elements used in manufacturing.
USB turntables can weigh less than 2 kilograms or more than 10. If you're hoping to help all your friends digitise their vinyl collections, consider a lighter model that is easy to transport. If your turntable is going to sit in the same spot on the counter for the next few years then weight is less of a concern.
If you want to edit your digital transfers, you'll need to use audio editing software. Most USB turntables come with a software program. Audacity is the most common software. However, included programs vary from turntable to turntable. There is nothing stopping you from using any pre-existing audio editing software you may have.
The three standard speed settings for vinyl records are 33 ⅓, 45 and 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). Two speeds are standard across turntables. However, some basic models don't play 78rpm records as there weren't as many released. If you have a 78rpm vinyl, make sure the turntable you're considering has a 78rpm setting.
If you've decided a USB turntable isn't right for you, a streaming service or dedicated vinyl player might better suit your needs.
Streaming services often have digitally remastered versions of old songs. You could work forever on editing your audio files and never get them to the quality that already exists on a streaming service. If your favourite song is already digitised, you don't need to waste time repeating the process. Keep in mind, you will have to pay to access most streaming services.
Dedicated vinyl players are designed with sound in mind. If you're buying a USB turntable primarily to play your records and not to digitise them, you should consider a dedicated record player. The range of dedicated record players available is far broader than USB turntables, meaning you'll have more options to choose from and won't be paying for a feature you never end up using.
If you want to buy a USB turntable, start comparing your options now.
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