Posted by Deliverator on December 30th, 2006
One of the gifts given to my dad for Christmas this year was an Ion USB Turntable. For those of you with a born on date after 1982, a turntable is a device for playing back Vinyl Records. While it is very easy for even your average Joe to take content from a CD and digitize it, thanks to free, automated ripping programs like EAC and track information lookup databases like freedb, it has remained comparatively difficult to digitize records.
Part of the difficulty is that almost all turntables very weak “Phono” output which cannot easily be interfaced directly to a computer’s soundcard. At a minimum, one needs to hook the turntable up to a receiver or pre-amp capable of producing a line-level output. There are some sound cards capable of accepting a Phono input, but not many. This ION turntable solves the problem by integrating such a USB soundcard right into a turntable. Simply plug the turntable it into your Mac or PC and it is auto detected as a new sound recording device – no messing with driver installation necessary. The turntable comes with the excellent (and also free) audio editor Audacity and a booklet giving some basic conversion procedures. Essentially, what you are getting for your money is a cheap plastic turntable and some software that you could have easily downloaded anyways. For those who own a good turntable already and wish to convert your records, I would recommend just purchasing a good soundcard with a built in RIAA equalized preamp and download Audacity yourself. If you are just looking for a cheap, minimum fuss solution to convert your LP’s, then the ION USB Turntable might be the right solution for you.
My main issue with the ION Turntable is that it is definitely a cheaper quality turntable than I am really comfortable using. The turntable is entirely plastic and I found it very difficult to get all the wobble out of the belt-driven turntable itself. I spent the better part of two hours fussing with the belt trying to minimize the degree of wobble. In the end, there was still enough wobble to cause the stylus needle to raise out of groove a bit on the upswing of the wobble. As a result, I had to place more down pressure on the needle using the tone arm counterbalance than is generally considered healthy for the record. The needle definitely stays in its grove now, but I would have greatly preferred using a good, well balanced turntable with a quality stylus. My dad’s old run of the mill turntable only needed 2 grams of down pressure, compared to close to six for the Ion turntable.
Thus far I have converted a couple dozen albums and have developed a good work flow for physically cleaning the albums, recording them in Audacity, editing out hisses and pops, normalizing, splitting tracks and recording mp3’s. It has been quite a bit of work and you need a lot of patience and tenacity to get the best results – I recorded one album 3 times to avoid clipping, but it has been a lot of fun to listen to Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel and various other artists while I work.