Review: 5 USB turntables convert LPs to MP3s

Want to move all those great old LP tracks to your media player? We look at 5 USB turntables that can make the process easier.

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Numark TTUSB

Numark and Ion are two of five companies run by Numark Industries, so it's not surprising that the Numark and Ion USB turntables share similar design, setup and controls.

There are differences. The Numark turntable has a somewhat better manufacturing quality (and is therefore somewhat more expensive) than the Ion. For example, unlike the Ion TTUSB, the Numark's platter is aluminum, not plastic, so it is heavier and less sensitive to vibrations.

Like the other turntables here, the Numark plays 33-1/3 and 45 rpm records. According to the company, it can also handle 78 rpm records via software; in other words, you can slow down the audio on your computer after the fact. If you've got old 78 rpm records, it would probably be better to use a turntable like the Stanton T.92 that can actually handle that speed.

Numark TTUSB
Numark TTUSB

Also like the Ion, the Numark doesn't have a tone-arm raising lever for cueing. And again, like the Ion TTUSB, a dust cover for the Numark costs extra, pushing the total price about $40 higher.

In terms of setup, the Numark is identical to the Ion. So the Numark TTUSB is also easy to use: Turn the power on, press Start, make sure the recording software on your computer is on, manually lift the tone arm and set it down on the record, and then quickly click the software to start recording.

The software provided by Numark includes EZ Vinyl Creator (for Windows), EZ Vinyl (for Mac), Audacity (Windows/Mac/Linux freeware) and iTunes (Windows/Mac freeware).

Like the Ion, the Numark doesn't have a cueing lever or automatic stop-at-end-of-record feature. So while it is a better device than the Ion due to its weight and the quality of its components, I can't recommend the Numark over the Audio-Technica, Stanton or Pro-Ject turntables.

Pro-Ject Debut III/Phono USB

[Note: This product has been discontinued.]

The most expensive (with a list price of $499) of the five USB turntables in this roundup, the Pro-Ject Debut III/Phono USB is, without a doubt, the sweetest-looking and highest-quality turntable of the bunch.

Pro-Ject Debut III/Phono USB
Pro-Ject Debut III/Phono USB

The steel platter alone weighs around three pounds, nearly half what the entire Ion turntable weighs. The design is elegant, and the specs read like an audiophile's dream, with phrases like "low-tolerance chrome-plated stainless-steel axle runs on a polished ball bearing in a brass bearing housing" and "gold-plated RCA phono sockets."

There are a few more assembly steps involved in getting the Pro-Ject set up compared to the other four machines reviewed in this article. For example, it ships with two locking screws, which help secure the mechanism during transit and have to be carefully removed.

In addition, the anti-skating mechanism uses a little metal weight on a thin nylon thread; you slip the pre-tied looped end over a notch on a little metal bar on the tone arm. This only takes a few seconds, but requires good eyes and lighting. (By contrast, the other turntables have a dial that regulates an unseen counterweight.)

If you're drawn to well-built gear, you'll have trouble not buying the Pro-Ject over the Audio-Technica, even though it means more hands-on work per record.

For example, the Pro-Ject doesn't have an automatic stop feature, so you have to move the tone arm back manually when the record's over. And while the Pro-Ject turntable has a cueing lever, unlike the Audio-Technica's pushbutton controls, the Pro-Ject's cueing is manual, so you have to raise the dustcover to use it.

One minor feature that only the Pro-Ject has is a ground terminal that connects to an electrical ground, which helps eliminate the possibility of a 60-cycle hum in your recordings.

Pro-Ject did not include any software with its turntable; the manual suggests the free open-source application Audacity.

If you're an audiophile also looking for a new turntable, don't need the automatic tone-arm pickup at the end of a side, and you've got the money, you'll like this machine. Otherwise, the Pro-Ject Debut III/Phono USB may be too rich for your budget ... and the lack of automatic stop means you can't walk away without risking damage to the needle.

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