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Playing records and listening to my iMac through one system
December 14, 2008 1:32 AM   Subscribe

I would like to set up a system where my turntable and my iMac all flow out of a nice set of speakers. I have no idea where to start.

This is the junk I have:
1. iMac
2. Pioneer belt-driven turntable with audio out hardwired and no amplifier
3. a super crappy stereo with half of the speakers missing. Funny story, I had to toss one because a mouse made a nest in it. I want to make this ugly, usable-space-sucker go away.
4. Basic Airport
5. Record collection that I like to play AS RECORDS
6. a sizable MP3 collection that I play through iTunes

Stuff I am willing to purchase
1. New turntable, even though my current one sports a kick-ass sticker collection
2. amplifier
3. Another Airport
4. Sweet speakers
5. Something else a dunder head like me doesn't realize she needs.
6. The services of a male escort.

While I love my music, I am an idiot who doesn't know jack about setting up an audio system. Please advise me, you can be condescending if it helps it come out.
posted by Foam Pants to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have (almost) this setup for dj mixing. (if you are into that replace where I say 'receiver' with 'mixer' and mefi mail me for some speaker adjustments)

Things you need to buy are in bold.

This is your most painless method:

A two channel audio receiver (try craigslist, etc.) (has red/white inputs on back)

Cable: 1x headphone jack on one side and 'red/white' plug on the other (<>
(the headphone side plugs into the computer and the other goes into the back of the receiver.)

Your turntable audio-out plugs into one channel of the receiver as your computer (using aforementioned headphone to 'red/white' cable) plugs into the other.

Buy some basic speaker wire (<>(it pretty much goes by this name) and whichever speakers your heart desires. If you want to run it through a guitar amp or computer speakers mefi mail for logistics, I have all of the above.

The speaker wire will run from the back of the speakers into the receiver.

optional, depending on christmas cheer: Call a male escort after setting it up. Vent to him about how cool it is. Get drunk. Play christmas carols on turntable and show him how to scratch the record ftw. For cute

posted by bradly at 2:05 AM on December 14, 2008

ah!!! it killed my less than/greater than signs and made a lot of bold. Your cables will cost less than $15.
posted by bradly at 2:07 AM on December 14, 2008

if you want simplicity i'd go with the crosley solo or the tivoli model one. Each has one auxiliary input, unless you buy an audio switcher you'll have to switch the source manually.

granted, there's only one speaker rather than two sweet ones, but these are great systems, take up little space, are aesthetically pleasing, etc.
posted by camdan at 3:26 AM on December 14, 2008

If you buy a receiver, make sure that it has a phono input. Most new receivers don't have them and 99% of turntables won't plug into line level inputs. If the receiver you get can't take a phono input, then you'll probably need to buy a separate phono preamp.

The amount of money you're willing to spend might seriously impact the recommendations.
posted by paperzach at 4:29 AM on December 14, 2008

If you're taking random information from someone who's just worked his way along the beer pumps during sunday lunch at the pub:

Griffin iMic: into your Mac

Airfoil: from your Mac to...

... Airport Express to ...

... Powered monitors (I've shown Behringer B3030A, because I'm cheap. I'm sure you can go a lot better than that. There's also the much louder B3031A).

That way you wouldn't need an amplifier at all.

I use the Airfoil between a Mac Mini (which runs all the video etc as well as my iTunes library) and my hifi, and it also sends it to the work room where I listen to stuff on the Behringers while I'm working. No one is going to salivate over it by any means, but it works.
posted by Grangousier at 8:09 AM on December 14, 2008

1. Buy yourself a nice stereo system- receiver (w/phono input), speakers. This is really the important step if you are looking for good sound. If you have some reasonable money go to a store with some of your favorite music where you can actually listen to the systems. When I last did this I brought cds.
Do you want a new turntable?

2. Plug your airport express in near the new stereo. Buy a rca to small headphone jack cable. Plug it into the airport and the back of the receiver. There is usually an AUX input. You could use a TAPE input or another if you wanted to. You will use that button on the front to play iTunes. Set up iTunes to play through remote speakers.
posted by pointilist at 9:23 AM on December 14, 2008

Turntables go to Phono In and only to Phono In. Only some modern equipment has Phono In, so if you are buying new, make sure. The reason, the Phono In port has extra equalization which is required for any reasonable playback of an LP.

You want to get a nice vintage receiver or integrated amplifier, and place it right under your monitor/computer. Your location is tough, but this is a great deal, and this is even better (NAD produces really nice gear and $80 is a good price).

You can plug in pretty much any speaker you want. The state of the art is big ugly boxes that are heavy as hell. Sure, you want bookshelf sized, but don't try to find the smallest little thing, that will seriously compromise the acoustics. Big, but made out of cardboard, is also bad though. There don't seem to be any good deals in speakers on your local craigslist right now.. Grab any old thing that is cheap, and then try again for speakers in a couple of weeks. You should be able to get a super nice pair of bookshelf speakers for under $100. (on ebay, there are these, and these, which shouldn't get too expensive -- or if you want always available, nice and small, pretty good sounding, but a little over priced for what the are, you can always go for Minimus 7s on ebay)

You'll also need a 3.5mm stereo miniplug to dual RCA cable to go from the Line Out on your computer to the receiver. The turntable probably has built in interconnect cable, but you might need dual rca to dual rca for it (might be worth buying the "premium" part for this job). Any wire will work for speaker wire.

There are some previous AskMes on this topic, but I'm having trouble finding a really comprehensive one. Interesting though, Malor points out that iMacs have optical digital audio outs nowadays. An offboard DAC will sound much better than the built in one, but it is probably more complicated than you want to get for now.
posted by Chuckles at 2:51 PM on December 14, 2008

What you need is either a receiver with both a phono input and a line input, OR if you want to go the more DIY / discrete route, you'll need a phono-to-line converter (aka preamp), a small mixer of some sort, and an amp. And you'll need new speakers.

You do not, under any circumstances, need a new turntable. Unless you want one, but if you're happy with the one you have, don't upgrade. Except at the very high-end where they cost about as much as a small car, they aren't making very many good turntables anymore, but there are a lot of crummy ones.

As you may or may not already know, the output from a turntable isn't the sort of audio signal that you can just run into an amplifier and out to speakers. (You can try it; it'll sound bad.) This is because when sounds are recorded onto vinyl, they're intentionally distorted — phono preamps reverse this distortion. Receivers that have a dedicated "phono" input typically do this internally somewhere, but a modern receiver made post-vinyl, which only has "line in" plugs, probably won't. I would not let this influence your choice of receiver/amp, because outboard preamps are only about $20.

So now that you've gotten the turntable converted into a regular unbalanced line signal, you need to decide whether you want to be able to hear both the computer and the turntable at the same time. If you do, you'll need a mixer; if not, you'll just need a switchbox (or a receiver with switchable inputs). Most receivers that I've ever seen don't mix, they just switch, so if you want to hear both you're almost certainly going to be going the separate route. There are lots of little 2-5 channel stereo mixers around for under $100; it's sort of out of the scope of the question which you want, but just get yourself out of the really cheap RadioShack stuff and you'll probably be okay.

Then you'll need an amp. If you got a receiver this is obviously a part of it, if not, the sky's your limit. I have two truly ancient Altec (that's half of what would later become Altec-Lansing) at the heart of my stereo; I paid exactly $0 for both, since I got them out of a dumpster. They look, appropriately, like junk, but they sound fine. CraigsList can be your friend here. With efficient speakers, provided you don't want a subwoofer or anything, you don't need a lot of wattage to fill a room.

As for speakers, this is where I would reserve the biggest part of your budget. (Or if you don't have money, your "time budget." You can always buy some old 1960s or 70s hifi speakers at a yard sale, toss everything but the wood cabinets, and build yourself a very nice set without spending too much, if that's your thing. And actually, some of those old hifi speakers sound great as-is, when coupled to good equipment.)

It's possible to run your turntable through your Mac, essentially using it for the mixing function, if you want — but that means you have to have the Mac on in order to use the turntable, and depending on how much of an audiophile you are, you may notice increased hiss from the Mac's electronics. I had a setup like this for a while, but eventually I got a mixer and am happier; sometimes it's nice to have the computer completely off (so the room is dead quiet) and just listen to the stereo. YMMV, of course. And you can always just get a preamp and run the audio through the Mac to start, and then get an outboard mixer at some point in the future, if you want it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:20 PM on December 14, 2008

Lots of options above, but aside from a New Stereo and a copy of Airfoil, a USB Phono Preamp for connecting the phono to the iMac will get you the rest of the way there. I recommend this over getting a USB Turntable since it's upgradable.
posted by rhizome at 10:13 AM on December 15, 2008

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