Try as it might, digital just can't kill analog. Analog has managed to keep itself alive just fine in the music industry through the continued popularity of vinyl records. DJs and audiophiles seem to cherish the things.
I have no intentions of waxing nostalgic about vinyl. You see, I'm too young to have grown up with records, and I never have understood what it is that people like about vinyl's "warm" sound. The hissing, popping, and crackling just isn't for me. I haven't even purchased a compact disc in the past few years. I prefer my music digital, portable, and transferable. Translation: I have about 15,000 mp3 files taking up 70GB of storage on my computer.
Then I found out one of my favorite bands has multiple releases that I can't listen to because, for whatever reason, they only released them on vinyl. So I started looking for a way to convert records into mp3 files.
Not owning a turntable, I feared I would need to purchase a turntable and a preamp in order to be able to digitize the music to my computer. Thankfully, I came across the Ion TTUSB. This gem is a standard turntable with an added USB port so you can hook it up to your computer. Plus, it comes with all the software you need to get your old LPs and 45s onto your hard drive.
I went over to Best Buy and picked one up for $134.99. I got home, tore into the box and started pulling out pieces. There is some minor assembly required. First you need to put on the platter and stretch the pre-installed belt drive over the brass motor spindle. Next, you will need to install the cartridge as well as the counter weight. The included instructions were easy to follow. Total time took about 15 minutes, and the process was very easy and straightforward.
The turntable has a USB output for the computer and an RCA output for your home stereo system. The RCA output can be used as either a phono or line out, depending on what you hook it up to. There is a gain control for the USB output so you can adjust the signal level going to the computer. And, there is a 1⁄8-inch input jack that passes signal through the USB port only. It is intended to be used for digitizing cassette tapes, but with the right adapters you can hook up just about any audio device to it.
As for the included software, you get EZ Vinyl Converter 2 (PC), EZ Audio Converter (Mac), and Audacity for both PC and Mac. My primary computer is an iMac, so I thought the included Mac compatible software was a nice touch. I did test recordings on my Mac and PC and found the software to function equally well on each platform.
My first attempt at recording a record yielded the most awful sound quality I'd ever heard. Then I realized that just installing the software on your computer and following the included instructions was not enough. One very important step was left out. You need to select your input device. Both my iMac and my Windows Vista laptop have built-in microphones set as the default recording device. So, when I recorded the first album, I, in fact, recorded it through the microphone picking up my speakers. Once I realized what I had done, I went in and set my default recording device to be the USB turntable and had much better results.
The EZ Vinyl Converter software is just that - easy. You put your record on the turntable, push "record" on the screen and then start playing the album. To create new tracks, you simply push the "new track" button at the start of each new song. This does mean you have to babysit each recording, which can be very time consuming if you have a large vinyl collection. Hint: Create a new blank track when you flip to side B and delete it later.
The next step differs a little between the Mac and the PC. When using a Mac, the next step prompts you to input the name of the artist, album, and track names and then adds them to your iTunes library, converting them to whatever your import settings are currently set to in iTunes. On the PC, EZ Vinyl Converter 2 attempts to name each track automatically using the Gracenote MusicID database, then adds the files to your iTunes library. I preferred naming the tracks manually on the Mac. I found it was faster than waiting for Gracenote MusicID to look up each individual track and then pick the track name from a list (if it showed up at all). If Gracenote MusicID can't find the track, you get the option of naming it yourself.
The included Audacity software also can be used, and it gives you much more control over the digitizing process. With my background in broadcast production, I know the audio editing processes needed to take advantage of this software, and I used it for review purposes. The EZ Vinyl Converter software did such a good job, however, that unless you really know what you are doing and feel like wasting a lot of your time, Audacity just isn't worth it. Audacity has its place, but this is not one of them.
If you have a large vinyl collection and want to listen to it on your portable music player - or just want to back it up digitally - this is about the easiest way to make that happen. Ion has several turntable models that do just about the same thing. Check out their Web site at www.ion-audio.com to see which one will work best for you.
How to change input settings
Mac OS X: System Preferences > Sound > USB Codec
Windows Vista: Start > Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound > Recording Tab > USB Codec
Cubeecraft.com: Technology is great. I find myself immersed in it on a daily basis as part of my full-time job, and I love every minute of it. Technology for me has become more than just a way to pay the bills; it's become a lifestyle.
However, not every aspect of that lifestyle revolves around electricity. Many of us technophiles enjoy collecting limited edition art toys. Which brings me to my new favorite hobby, www.cubeecraft.com. The site hosts a collection of paper toys that you simply print, cut, and fold.
Once assembled, you have a fun cubicle decoration that will add a unique sense of style to your office workspace. With nearly 100 models to choose from, there is something for everyone and are completely free. Buy some 110 card stock, fire up the inkjet, and make your co-workers jealous.
Story published Friday, November 7, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 6 )