Product review: Ion USB turntable

22 May 2007

I’ll bet many people have a pile of old music records relegated to the dusty confines of the attic. If you’ve replaced all these with CDs or MP3s then you probably won’t see the point of buying a turntable that will convert your vinyl to a format for use on your computer.

But what was the best thing about listening to vinyl? The pure nostalgia evoked when hearing the soft crackle as the needle travels over the 45 comes to mind.

Ion’s USB turntable records vinyl straight to your PC via a USB connection, using the free open-source recording software Audacity, which is included.

The software is compatible with both Mac and PC.

The tagline on the turntable’s box reads: “The easiest way to digitise your vinyl collection.” I’d hate to see the hard way.

Although the results were well worth it, it took a considerable amount of tweaking and fiddling about to get Peter Frampton to come alive on my iPod.

First of all, the turntable needs to be set up. The playhead has to be screwed on and a weight to counterbalance this must be adjusted exactly so the needle isn’t lying too heavy on the record or barely touching the surface.

Then the platter must be placed on the turntable, and the attached rubber ring has to be looped around the motor that drives the record around. These are low-tech demands but are fiddly enough.

Using the turntable is pretty straightforward: turn the power on, press play and you’re away. But strangely there are two huge play/stop buttons. Surely one is enough.

The turntable is automatically set to 33RPM for albums but can be switched between this and 45RPM. You can record 78RPM on the 45 setting and adjust speed in the Audacity editing tool.

I connected the turntable to my PC via USB, installed the software, stuck on my record, pressed record on the software and nothing happened.

It turns out that the input and output sound settings must be adjusted accordingly, both in the software and on your computer. The lesson to be learned here is to read instruction manuals carefully — plug and play this is not.

When I recorded my Peter Frampton song and played it back it sounded glorious; the audio was rich and atmospheric and had a lovely crackly undertone.

You can use trial software SoundSoap 2 for cleaning up the audio, depending on the condition your vinyl is in.

This done, I set about converting it into MP3. More speed bumps were encountered as I clicked on ‘export as MP3’.

A message popped up telling me I needed to download an MP3 encoder called LAME from the net.

So off I went, armed only with the search term ‘LAME encoder’, and Googled it. Minutes later, after having located and downloaded the appropriate file, I had to reclick on ‘export as MP3’, find the appropriate LAME file and click on it.

Finally my journey was complete. I had an MP3 to load on to my iPod, and the sounds of Baby, I love your way straight from vinyl, came alive in digital format.

Converting to a Windows Media File is straightforward, however.

After you have converted your entire stock of vintage sounds, you can still use the turntable as a traditional record player — the audio output cables attached to the turntable can be plugged into your home stereo system.

Ideally, buy this only if you have a sizeable vinyl collection to warrant it, but the novelty factor alone will impress your friends.

Price: RRP €189.99 (including Vat) from PC World

Pros: Old-school music on your MP3 player as it was meant to be heard — raw and crackly.
Cons: Time-consuming and fiddly to set up.

By Marie Boran