How To Digitize Your Vinyl Records for Modern Devices
By Alison Blackman & Anthony Sabatini
When was the last time you listened to your favorite records? What do you do with all those records you don’t have room to store and can’t play on your phone or music devices? Don’t dump them….digitize them with a USB Turntable!
Audio Technica Sound!
The Advice Sisters Beauty and Style received the Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable (available in silver, ours was black) to find out how easy it is to digitize our favorite records.
Audio Technica makes a range of turntables at various price points amd we’ve had great experiences with Audio Technica headphones including the SonicPro® Over-Ear High-Resolution Audio Headphones ATH-MSR7 and ATH-ANC33 iS QuietPoint® Active Noise-Cancelling In-Ear Headphones + Audio Technica Ath-ANC70 QuietPoint Active Noise-cancelling headphones.
Read this feature: How We Test Sound.
Meet the Turntable!
While the Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable we tested is on the modest consumer end, it’s still a quality stereo turntable with a high-torque direct-drive and a USB output that connects directly to your computer. You can also attach it to your home stereo system if you wish and just use it as a standard turntable.
But the main thing about a USB turntable is that you can use it to digitize and to preserve your vinyl records and for use on your phone and music players.
Features of this turntable include: forward and reverse play capability; cast aluminum platter with slip mat and a start/stop button; three speeds 33/45/78; selectable high-accuracy quartz-controlled pitch lock and pitch change slider control with +/-10% or +/-20% adjustment ranges; and removable hinged dust cover.
There is also a built-in selectable internal stereo phono pre-amplifier allows the turntable to plug directly to components with no dedicated turntable input. For us, this was a plus, even though some audiophile reviewers didn’t love it. For the average consumer, it’s not an issue.
A USB cable and adapter cables are included along with Mac- and PC-compatible Audacity software to digitize your LPs, a power cord, 45 RPM adapter, phono cartridge (78 RPM need a different cartridge, not included), Counterweight, Slipmat, and removable hinged dust cover
When you lift the turntable out of the box you realize just how solid and heavy it is. This is a turntable that is built to last.
Balancing the tonearm, adding the cartridge (a ½” mount universal headshell with AT95E Dual Magnet™ phono cartridge) and long-life diamond stylus and hooking up the various cables might take some patience for a neophyte.
Fortunately, the instructions are quite good. We finished the setup in about half an hour or less.
Most of the setup is quite straightforward except that of setting up the tonearm and the cartridge. There is a little plastic guard that lifts off the cartridge–be careful not to pull the needle out of the cartridge (it easily goes back in).
Depending upon cartridge, either the needle or the cartridge must be replaced after about three years because there are internal parts that age with use, or even if it’s just sitting around gathering dust. This is true for any turntable.
You also have to carefully balance the tonearm, reading the instructions carefully on how to set the balance and anti-skate mechanism. It’s critical to do it correctly. Once this is accomplished, however, you don’t have to mess with it again.
Operating the turntable is intuitive. We appreciated some nice features such as the S-shaped tone arm with hydraulically damped lift control and a lock to keep it in place when not in use.
A thoughtful small detail is a place for the 45-adapter right on the turntable so you won’t lose it.
Controlling the speed is easy, and there’s a target light for easy queuing and forward/reverse operation and variable pitch control.
This is definitely not the end of our Audio Technica Turntable Review! Hear how to deal with digitizing your records, how to clean well-loved vinyl, and more from from our Tech Editor
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Have you ever heard the saying: “Garbage In/Garbage Out?” Well, it is definitely true when you’re going to digitize vinyl records on a turntable.
Even though Audacity or another audio editing program can clean up some of the “noise” a lot of vinyl records are well loved and used, and not pristine.
This isn’t the fault of the turntable. A scratched or dirty record makes editing the sound so pleasant to listen to, somewhat more challenging.
Vinyl records are delicate and you can’t just wash dust and dirt away as tap water can abrade the surface. Record cleaners and cleaning devices can help you to get a better if not great recording.
We used a simple disc washer on a nearly pristine album for our test, but if your records are well loved, know that really good record cleaning devices are not cheap. They will cost anywhere from under $100 to thousands of dollars.
Without any cleansing before recording, you will hear every hiss pop and click transferred to the digital version.
So before you start playing and recording, at least use some sort of vinyl record cleaner be it a microfiber cloth, carbon fiber brush or mechanical device, plus cleaning solutions made specifically not to harm the vinyl.
For those who aren’t audiophiles or tech geeks, there is a bit of a learning curve to record and clean up your records.
The Audio Technica turntable comes with a free Audacity disk, but you can get a better (and still free) version download online from the Audacity website. Audacity software will also do minor cleanup and minor editing.
Learning to use the editing software wasn’t difficult for Tony Sabatini, our tech editor, but for me (Alison) it is a steeper learning curve. Audacity is one of the most popular audio editing programs around and it’s worth learning how to make your digitized sound the best you can.
The Bottom Line:
My experience with this turntable was overwhelmingly positive, even when I just used it to play records I hadn’t heard in a long time (oh that wonderful audio trip down memory lane). But how did our Tech Editor feel this turntable performed?
Here are his thoughts:
Another feature is that a record has more dynamic range than a CD and using this turntable we can capture the higher audio quality inherent in the record and record that to individual files.
I think it’s a perfect unit for consumers for so many reasons. It’s easy to set up and use, and it’s a great way to either preserve a library of records taking up space, or to record one of a kind records, or collector’s items.
If you’re planning on keeping your vinyl, this is a quality turntable to play them on– with the bonus of extra electronics to allow recording.
Do we think that this Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable is worth the money and great for recording an old beloved album just so you can hear your favorite songs again wherever you want?
For all it does and the quality of the turntable, I’ll give it four stars.
Is this an audiophile product? No, But it’s a very very good and far better than one would expect at the suggested retail $99 price at probably $2,7000 cheaper than the same audiophile setup.
If you really want more exceptional quality Audio Technica offers more refined and expensive versions along with less pricey versions. For under $300, it’s a great way to preserve your vinyl and have a lot of satisfaction in the process.
Tip: If you need any help setting up your AT-LP120-USB turntable you can visit the Audio Technica Blog for step by step instructions: Setting up the AT-LP120-USB Turntable – Part 1 and setting up the AT-LP120-USB Turntable – Part 2