Progress could not kill the vinyl record. It survived the tape age, it survived the CD age, and it is beginning to flourish again in an age where many people prefer to purchase music by downloading it.
Of course, some people never deserted vinyl, claiming that records have a depth and richness that is missing on cold, precise digital recordings. There also is a growing market of young vinyl consumers born during the CD age.
Contributing to vinyl's rejuvenation is Record Store Day, conceived in 2007 by independent record store owners. There are about 1,000 independently owned record stores in the United States. This year, Record Store Day is Saturday. Special vinyl and CD releases will be available exclusively at participating stores (to check for local ones, go to
recordstoreday.com/Venues). Last year, independent record stores sold 544,000 albums the week of Record Store Day. Of those, 244,000 were vinyl LPs.
If you have treasured LPs and 45s you want to preserve digitally, a number of manufacturers produce turntables for just that purpose. We tested two. Both require a connection to a computer via an included USB cable (they are PC and Macintosh compatible) and the installation of software. Remember, your results will depend on the quality of your records. If they are scratched, warped or otherwise damaged, it will definitely affect the digital recording.
Here's what we found.
NAMES Audio-Technica AT-LP60 USB and Ion Archive LP turntables
WHAT THEY DO Both turntables can play records and convert them to digital files.
COST Both can be found for about $100
WHAT'S HOT Though neither unit produced a file that equaled the sound quality of a commercial digital recording, the results were pleasing, nonetheless, and better than expected.The AT-LP60 USB has a full LP-size turntable, a magnetic cartridge with replaceable stylus and buttons to direct the arm to automatically begin playing and to stop, as well as to lift and lower the arm so it can be manually guided to a specific track. It also has a removable dust cover and can play 45 and 33 1/3 records. The Ion has embedded speakers on the turntable so you can listen to records without additional hookups or monitor the recording process without using headphones; its EZ Vinyl/ Tape Converter software couldn't be simpler to use, and it can split an LP recording into tracks. Archive LP has settings for 45, 33 1/3 and 78 records.
WHAT'S NOT The Audio-Technica turntable requires a small amount of assembly. It comes with Audacity software for recording, which can be a bit daunting to those with more limited computer skills, but the reward is more flexibility with manipulating the sound files. However, LP tracks must be separated manually with Audacity. Because it does not contain speakers, you will need to use headphones inserted into your computer's headphone jack to monitor recording. The Ion's turntable is not full LP size, it is slightly larger than a 45 record, and the unit does not come with a dust cover. The arm must be directed manually to the record, although there is a lever to lift and lower it, as well as an auto stop control. The output from its speakers is acceptable but will likely disappoint audiophiles. Although the Ion software separates tracks, if there is a natural pause in the sound on a song, it will "read" it as a new track. And while Audacity will convert a file to any number of formats, including MP3, the Windows version of EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter creates only WAV files (iTunes is one program that can be used to convert these to MP3 or MPEG-4 AAC files).
BOTTOM LINE Overall, the Audio-Technica seems to be the better-constructed turntable and generated a sound file of slightly higher quality.
AVAILABLE FROM Both are available at bhphotovideo.com