If you've got a collection of LPs (those pre-MP3, pre-CD, flat black platter-like things) or even 45s (like LPs, but smaller) sitting in boxes somewhere, there are probably some tunes on them, even entire albums, that you wouldn't mind having on your portable media player. Why not convert these old-fashioned LPs to MP3s yourself?
Fortunately, that's both possible and affordable. There are a number of "USB turntables" out there that include USB ports and onboard electronics to help you MP3-ize your vinyl albums. And if you still have a working turntable, there's even a way to use the one you've got to convert analog music to digital.
Most USB turntables include cables and circuitry to connect to and digitize music from other audio sources, such as tape decks. Many have analog outputs so you can plug them into a plain old stereo and use them like any turntable. They also include (or recommend) digitization/editing software.
There are even a few USB turntables that record directly to media cards, flash drives, CDs or iPods. The Numark TTi, for instance, records directly to iPods and includes an iPod dock. But even though such "all-in-one" devices can digitize and record directly to these media or devices, if you want to properly "tag" the digitized song tracks -- that is, to add titles, genres and other metadata -- you'll need to use a computer after the recording is done. Based on my testing experiences for this article, you'll end up with the same amount of post-recording work to do.
USB turntables for digitizing your LPs (or for simply listening to them through your computer instead of a stereo system) are available from a dozen or so manufacturers. List prices range from about $120 to $500 (actual street prices can be significantly less).
For this article, I gathered five USB turntables: the Audio-Technica AT-LP2D-USB, Ion TT USB Turntable, Numark TT USB Turntable With USB Audio Interface, Pro-Ject Debut III/Phono USB, and Stanton T.92 USB. List prices ranged from $120 for the Ion turntable to $500 for the Pro-Ject; street prices varied widely.
To see if I could do the same job with a non-USB turntable, I took my still-working Revox B795 turntable and attached it to a USB phono/pre-amp -- a device that contains the amplify/equalize/sound card circuitry that's included in a USB turntable. I chose the Pro-Ject external Phono Box II USB pre-amp. With a list price of $199, it's on the higher side of the price equation; most cost between $20 and $200 (although, as with all audio gear, you can easily find ones that cost lots more).
How we tested
For my tests, I pulled a handful of records from my not-touched-in-over-a-decade orange crates, ranging from beat-up yard sale purchases to previously unopened albums. With each turntable, I used the Windows software that the manufacturer included or recommended to capture the audio stream from the USB cable to my hard drive; split captured sessions into individual tracks (files); tagged them with the album name, artist, and track/title data; and converted digitized tunes into MP3s.
(Note: Because several of the turntables came with the same third-party software, I've reviewed the applications separately.)