This week I bought myself a late Christmas present, a Sony PS-LX300USB turntable and there is a story behind that. I have a fairly large LP collection which I acquired mostly in the 1980s, mainly reggae and African music. Most of the about 450 LPs I found in record stores in the UK, others were bought in Harare, Zimbabwe or in Germany.
My friends in Zimbabwe used to joke that I had more Zimbabwean music than was available locally. It was half true: When I went record-shopping in Harare back in 1988/89, I found that the predominant type of music available was Country & Western, because that’s what sold best amongst white Rhodesians who had the money.
Paul Simon’s Graceland album brought Southern African music to a wider audience, but when most consumers in rich countries switched from LPs to CDs in the late 1980s and 1990s, African artists and their music were left behind again. Much of what I bought then never made it onto CD and is unavailable today.
One of my long term projects therefore was to archive my vinyl collection onto hard disk, to keep it from disappearing altogether. Recently, I wanted to continue with that after a pause of about two years, but my trusty old Dual CS-503-1 which I had bought around 1987 had stopped working due to a broken drive belt. Even after I installed a mail-ordered replacement belt it didn’t sound right.
Then I started thinking about USB-enabled LP players. There are models that will record directly onto a USB thumbdrive, but I was more interested in USB turntables that can be connected to a PC using a USB cable because they offer much more control over the recording process. The host operating system sees them as a line input on a sound card. You can record 44.1 KHz 16-bit stereo samples just right for burning a CD, or you can compress to MP3 after whatever editing and digital cleanup you fancy.
I can say that I am quite happy with the sound quality of the PS-LX300USB. There are other USB turntables that are cheaper, but I did not want to get the cheapest player that does the job. I won’t have the time to digitize my large collection twice. Having said that, my old Dual probably was a better player than the Sony. It has an adjustable anti-skating weight on its tone arm and its wow and signal-to-noise values look better on the spec sheet. On the other hand the Sony has start and stop buttons (the Dual’s mechanical controls are more basic), but more importantly the A/D-converter is built into the turntable (along with a pre-amplifier). With the analog Dual I had to use a sound card to digitize the analog line input coming from an amplifier hooked up to the phono output of the turntable. There is bound to be more interference inside a PC and most PC sound cards are cheaply made. Analog cables can pick up some noise too. That’s what makes USB turntables a worthy consideration, apart from the ease of use.
The mechanical setup wasn’t too difficult. I ignored the bundled Audio Studio LE and instead downloaded open-source Audacity off the net, which is working fine for me.
On the first evening after I unpacked the turntable and set it up, my 13-year old daughter looked at the spinning vinyl disk, which she had never seen in action. We listened to old favourites of my wife and me and it brought back many memories. Now I will be able to enjoy those tunes in the car or anywhere away from home, after I gradually record them one by one off a now largely obsolete medium.