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LP-to-MP3 Converter - ION TTUSB10

March 6th, 2008
Recover your lost music and rip it yourself.

If you have ever searched unsuccessfully for some obscure favorite tune, you well know that not all music is available on CD or in the iTunes store. In addition, a lot of music on CD underwent remastering and doesnít sound the same as the version you fondly remember. The only way to digitally capture those favorites on vinyl is to use some kind of turntable and equipment that connects to your computer.

The LP-to-MP3 Converter unit, as sold by Hammacher-Schlemmer, is one good solution. This unit is actually the ION TTUSB10, and it is a regular turntable. While you can plug it into your stereo system, its best feature is its ability to plug into your computer's USB port and play music directly into your computer. Most of the marketing focus is on its ability to create MP3 files, but it can also rip AIFF, WAV, and many other audio formats. If you have a lot of music you want digitized, the turntable is well worth the $190 price tag.

Easy to Use

The turntable is very easy to set up, with clearly written instructions. The dust cover has guides that conveniently allow it to stay partially open without the worry of it falling down and jarring your ancient media. The unit sits atop sturdy built-in round legs, yet is not too heavy. It is large though, so you will need a good size table to include your laptop or keyboard and mouse on the workspace at the same time. The dimensions are: 20 1/4" W x 3" H x 17" D and it weighs 8 3/4 pounds.

The LP-to-MP3 Converter (Ion TTUSB10) as sold by Hammacher-Schlemmer

The belt-driven ION USB Turntable comes with all the accessories needed to play 33 1/3 and 45 RPM records, including cables and software. It also has built-in RCA jacks, an 1/8Ē stereo input on the front to connect tape players or any other audio source, a gain control knob on the back, and a switch that selects between PHONO and LINE. Unfortunately, if you want to rip 78 RPM records, you must use a sound editing program to reduce the speed of the songs you rip. I only tested ripping regular 33 1/3 RPM records. I had no trouble following the turntableís set up procedures and it worked great, but capturing the sound was involved.

Lost Music Found

There are many pieces of music that are not now and may never be available on CD and this turntable is one of the few easy ways to rip those records into digital files. The built-in digital converter does the work for you. The problem is that all records are not created the same. Some are very thin vinyl while others are thick, especially older records. Some have deep grooves, while some have shallow grooves. This is where the turntable falls short. The platter is not adjustable and the adjustable tone arm, housing the pre-mounted needle cartridge, has no level control on it. A rotary counterweight with markings from 0 to 4 handles the arm weight and balance, and is a best-guess scenario.

What I didn't like is fussing with the tone-arm counterweight and the Anti-Skate adjustment. I donít know what damage can be done to these ancient artifacts if the stylus arm exerts too much or too little pressure. If would be helpful if one of our readers enlightened me on this problem. Each record requires its own adjustments, which is a time-consuming process, when you consider that ripping takes the same length of time that the music plays. I found I had to adjust the arm and make multiple rips for each record to find the settings and that canít be good for the vinyl.

Tone Arm - Image courtesy of Everything USB.com

For example, I used a pristine copy of Music of My Mind, a 1972 Stevie Wonder album, and it would not play without skips. This very thin album with shallow grooves required a 0 anti-skate setting to play perfectly. The music file is full of pops and hisses that I'll have to remove later. On the other hand, Bob Keeshan's Child's Introduction to Jazz from 1958 is a very thick platter, and it not only had deep grooves, but a variety of scratches that I thought would prevent the rip. After much fussing with the arm, it played fairly well with the anti-skate control set to 3, with only one problem area. In addition, if you are dismayed at the quality of your remastered CDs, you can regain the original sound from the ripped record. For example, most of the Jefferson Starship remastered CDs are a far cry from the original records.

Track Editing

If you can find your coveted music on CD, it is much less time consuming and more convenient to buy. If, on the other hand, you own obscure music, like my 1958 Captain Kangaroo does jazz, as mentioned above, this turntable is one of the few ways to preserve this music for posterity. By the way, Ion also makes a turntable that will convert directly to CD, but that is not helpful if you have a scratched or damaged record; you still need to edit the rough spots.

The ION TTUSB10 turntable ships with the free Audacity software to capture and edit your digitized tracks. While the software is easy to use, it lacks features found in other software. The included Audacity manual is very helpful. If you want to convert tracks to MP3, you must remember to install the LAME MP3 encoder plug-in. Software links appear in the Documents and Downloads tab on Ionís Web site.

The turntable is compatible with most audio editing software, so I tried the reasonably priced, Audio Hijack Pro, from Rogue Amoeba. I like the Audio Hijack interface better, and if I was more adept at sound editing, Iíd report my results, but this is not one of my strengths. Other users told me they separated tracks and removed problems using both programs successfully, but Iím still learning.

Best for Large Collections

The bottom line is that digitizing vinyl is time consuming, a bit frustrating, and you will fill a lot hard drive space, depending on your choice of audio formats. The bright side is you can recover those coveted titles that do not exist anywhere else. While audiophiles may not love the results, most people will be pleased with the recovery of their lost music. It is a good buy; if you have a lot of vinyl to convert, otherwise, find a friend who has one.

Hereís my list of irreplaceable music. Send me yours!

Easy to set up and use. Solid. Complete with cables. Good dust cover. Cheaper through Hammacher-Schlemmer than ION. Cons
Must play around with anti-skate adjustment. Better software available than included free Audacity. Time consuming. Hammacher-Schlemmer name is misleading.