Turning the Tables on Digital Media

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Waxing Poetic

Ah, physical media. Vinyl. LPs. EPs. 45s. 78s. Wondrous words for older music fans and dyed-in-wool Luddites, but surely out of step in this age of instant music downloads and cloud-based media streaming—or are they? Make no mistake: for some diehard music fanatics downloading an mp3 will forever play second fiddle to the joy of acquiring a shiny circle of vinyl. And despite all the recent assertions about the “death of physical media,” vinyl records are experiencing a steady resurgence with DJs, collectors, and younger consumers alike.

It’s easy to understand vinyl’s allure. From the distinct aroma of factory-sealed, 180-gram pressings... to the satisfying, analog warmth of sound inscribed onto a single, spiral groove… to the eye-popping visual impact of classic album sleeves… vinyl records are all about the act of listening as a tactile feast for the senses. Try getting all that from a digitally compressed download!

Waxing poetics aside, there’s no denying the sheer convenience of digital media. Typically, music files are scattered across various desktops, laptops, tablets, networked hard drives, and cloud-based services, ready to be beamed straight into home stereos, portable media devices, and smartphones for our enjoyment. Vinyl, on the other hand, has but one purpose-built playback device: the turntable. Despite that fact, there’s a surprisingly diverse range of options for the vinyl enthusiast—with record players spanning USB-equipped models for digitizing vinyl to feature-packed decks for audiophiles to vintage-inspired phonographs for the retro chic.

Analog Sound, Digital Connectivity

For vinyl archivists and others reluctant to discard their precious albums and singles, many turntables now feature USB connectivity, allowing them to digitize their collections for convenient access on computers and portable devices. A popular choice for this purpose is the Audio-Technica AT-LP60USB, a fully automatic belt-driven deck that’s perfect for integrating into existing home theater and stereo systems. With its switchable line or phono level output, compatibility with any sound system is assured, while a built-in USB output allows direct connection to the included Audacity audio-recording software for easy analog-to-digital transfers of vinyl rarities.

While turntables will never match the portability of mp3 players, some models like the AC- and battery-powered Numark PT01USB are a great choice for on-the-go listening. A favorite of old-school DJs and record collectors, the PT01USB, at less than 5 lb and easily stowable inside a backpack, is perfect for auditioning vinyl at flea markets and antique shops, and contains desirable convenience extras such as USB connectivity and 78 rpm playback. Leave behind the mp3 player and take along this portable lil’ number to your next platter party!

Matching the basic feature set of the Audio Technica model above, the Music Hall USB-1 adds premium extras typically found on professional DJ decks, including a counterweight to adjust tracking, a detachable headshell (for upgrading the included cartridge), and adjustable pitch control. While a far cry from Music Hall’s own high-end, audiophile-oriented turntables, the USB-1 should appeal to listeners who demand more hands-on control and upgradeable sound from their vinyl deck.

Retro Vintage Cool

In an age of slumping CD sales, vinyl sales—though still a miniscule portion of overall music sales—are outpacing even digital downloads in terms of growth. And it’s not just the “olds” and music snobs that have embraced vinyl’s superior sound and collectability. Younger music fans seem to be picking up on vinyl’s vintage-cool appeal, as evidenced by the rise in popularity of style-conscious, affordable, and portable consumer turntables.

Crosley Radio’s whimsical line of turntables harks back to earlier eras with retro designs inspired by vacuum-tube radios, space-age bachelor pads, and Mid-Century Modern interiors. With their built-in speakers and integrated cartridges, the line’s focus is less on premium sound and more on stylish, fun design. But all the Crosleys have interesting additions, with many of the players featuring USB connectivity, auxiliary inputs, line outputs, and even CD, cassette, and SD card playback.

Recalling the low-key style of educational audio/visual equipment of decades past, Crosley’s Keepsake USB Turntable slyly conceals its platter, tonearm, and control knobs inside an integrated suitcase complete with durable carrying handle and chrome snap closure. Sporting built-in stereo speakers and the ability to play records at all three available speeds (33 1/3, 45, and 78 rpm), not to mention digitize vinyl collections with its included USB interface, the Keepsake is a versatile choice for occasional vinyl listeners and archivists or those who simply desire an easily stowable, all-in-one system.

If muted, institutional style is not really your flavor, Crosley offers plenty of retro mid-century pizzazz with the Spinnerette, a stylish USB-equipped portable that comes in either blue or red. Containing all the key features of the Keepsake, the tote-able deck cleverly folds down, Murphy bed-style, to reveal its platter and tonearm; the perfect eye-catching design for college dorms and cramped urban living spaces.

But it’s the vaguely UFO-shaped CR6004A Oval Turntable that best encapsulates Crosley’s retro-futuristic design aesthetic. With its curvy chassis and elegant s-shaped tonearm, this stylish, oblong player recalls a piece of hi-fi equipment you might find in the home of the Jetsons. And with convenience extras such as fully automatic operation and shutoff, you won’t need Rosie the Robot to lift the needle from the groove when the music’s done. And, really, what space-age bachelor pad would be complete without such niceties?

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"minUscule," not miniscule, is correct.

For converting 78rpm records to digital files, I purchased an Audio Technica turntable several years ago, not realizing until it was received that there was no provision for USB output. Is there any recommended hardware to convert the analogue output of the turntable to digital?