The digital music revolution seems to have affected all age-groups – with your nan being as likely to listen to her iPod while she’s gardening as your annoying nephew is to be rocking his Walkman ‘phone at the back of the ‘bus. A problem that perhaps affects the older MP3 enthusiast a little more keenly than the young is the difficulty of transferring old, beloved and often irreplaceable vinyl disks into the new digital formats. Sooner or later though, almost everyone wants to convert a little bit of history. A few solutions have been floated in the past, Steinberg’s Clean was one particularly worthy contender, but all the products hitherto available have been a bit..how shall I put this?…fiddly.
A Californian outfit called Ion has spotted this evident need for a simple piece of kit which makes the vinyl-to-digital transfer as painless as possible and launched the first (as far as they know) USB turntable. We reported the product launch at the end of last year but it’s only recently that we were able to snag one for review.
It’s a nicely-designed object, with DJ-compliant pitch slider, anti-skate mechanism for those older albums and, for reasons only Ion can tell you, two start buttons. It’s rather lightweight, which is either a mercy if you’re planning to move it from house to house scavenging old vinyl or a disappointment if you’re one of those audiophile types who like everything made out of depleted uranium for added stability. Certainly the audio transferred sounded pretty good with no obvious rumble or other environmental artefacts.
There’s also a very handy, if somewhat strangely-sited, minijack input just next to the turntable if you want to use the turntable as an analogue-to-digital converter for other line sources, like a cassette or minidisk.
The bundled Audacity software (Both PC & Mac version 1.2.3 in the box, I downloaded 1.2.4 for free from the Audacity site) was easy enough to use, with most settings left at default and only the USB audio needing to be designated as the input for things to start happening. I noticed some mild weirdness with input at first, with only the left channel recording, but flicking the input preference from stereo to mono and back again made everything behave nicely. In fairness, that could just as easily have been a peculiarity of my Mac as the Audacity software. One interesting little detail is the ability to rip 33rpm albums at 45, then slow the audio back down. For the minor time saving achieved I’m not convinced it’s worth the inevitable audio degradation, but it’s a clever thought and if you’re in a real hurry to digitise a massive library it might just be worthwhile.
Certainly compared with other systems I’ve tried this is the simplest and most senior-friendly method of capturing old records to hard disk yet seen. It works as a regular hifi turntable as well, making the price (they’re £120 from Firebox) even more reasonable and even though I’ve already transferred that last old Grandmaster Flash 12″ I’d been hanging onto I think I want one.