DJFilter - turntable help sought
May 13, 2005 6:45 PM   Subscribe

TurntableFilter: I am looking to buy a turntable in order to archive records. I'm not sure which model is best - help?

Firstly, IANADJ. I have a stack of 78 records I need to archive, and it looks like the Stanton T80 with the S/PDIF out is just the ticket. But then I see the STR8-80X for $50 less, and it also has the digital out. My questions are:
Which is better for archiving? Which is better overall? What is S/PDIF?
Why are straight arms better than S-curved arms?
posted by petebest to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
Response by poster: Previous turntable discussion on AskMeFi
posted by petebest at 6:46 PM on May 13, 2005

S/PDIF is just a digital audio format for transferring audio between digital devices (so that it doesn't have to be transferred back to analog to go through your normal RCA cables, then back to digital on your computer). But with vinyl, the original source is being recorded analog with the needle so it will only be transferred to digital one time - either inside your turntable if you go the S/PDIF route, or by your computer's soundcard if you go through the normal turntable line outs. And if you choose the S/PDIF from the turntable, you will also need a soundcard that supports S/PDIF input. If not, you will still want a quality soundcard to handle the A/D conversion to digital from the line-in.

Either way should be fine. The S/PDIF does cut down on potential electrical interference that could be picked up on the analog RCA cables between the turntable and the computer, but I think that is less of an audio quality factor than the needle you use and the phono pre-amp (you'll want to research both of those - I can't help too much w/ that).

Straight tone-arm is supposedly better cueing/back-cueing so scratch dj's like them, but the angle is worse for record wear especially on the far inside and far outside grooves of the record. More on tonearms.
posted by p3t3 at 8:41 PM on May 13, 2005

Would someone please explain how an "S" tonearm is different from a straight tonearm, other than being less direct and more sexy? You have pivot point (A) and a needle position (B), which remain in the same position relative to each other regardless of the path the tonearm takes from A to B. Imagine affixing a straight tonearm on top of an "S" tonearm ($). As the record spins, would the two shapes somehow fight one another for needle position?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:00 PM on May 13, 2005

The cartridge is not included in that Amazon page.
Otherwise they seem to be similar, but one is all fancy/corny looking. IANADJ either, but in the guitar world you might pay $50 for diamond inlay vs. dots on the neck. White TVs used to cost more..

On another note: 78s historically have been played with a much sharper, harder stylus than LPs. It is in fact quite needle-like. I believe there is much more pressure on the tone-arm as well. In addition to all of this, there is a frequency filter (RIAA Equalization) applied to vinyl recordings during the recording, which is then reversed in playback. With an analog turntable, the signal is filtered when it goes into an amp with a specific "Phono" input, or a dedicated phono pre-amp. With a digital table (I guess, I've never owned one), it seems the signal would be filtered before it comes out of the table, because it would be foolish to assume that any piece of digital equipment you hook up will have the RIAA EQ built in.

BUT - you mentioned 78s.. from the above linked page
"The RIAA equalization curve has operated as a global industry standard for the recording and playback of vinyl records since 1954. Prior to that time, each record company applied its own equalization; according to historical documents, there were over 100 combinations of turnover and rolloff frequencies in use, the main ones being AES, LP, NAB and FFRR."

So if you have stuff recorded before 1954, you may not be hearing it the way it was intended to be heard, supposing you care.

Honestly, I would call J & S Phonographs in Seattle, and ask if they have a recommendation. I recall seeing modern needles designed for playing 78s.

More on the curves here. As they mention, you could just use a graphic EQ to touch it up, but a hard core archivist would figure out what EQ to use based on the date, label, whatever.. and try to minimize subjective adjustments.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 12:21 AM on May 14, 2005

I have the STR8-80. I bought it because when needed a new table and it was the cheapest thing I could find that played 78's. You'll need to buy an extra stylus for that, however. (I ordered mine though the the Needle Doctor.) Annoyingly, with the two styli I have there is nothing to indicate which is which, so I painted a small "78" on one with nail polish. You might want to get a second cartridge and headshell for the 78 stylus -- it's easier to switch headshells than needles. The STR8-80 has a slot for storing a second headshell--looks like the T-80 has one too. Like Jack Karaoke says, there's a lot to know about 78 playback, if you care to learn. I just casually pick up 78's here and there, so it doesn't bother me that the audio isn't as "correct" as it could be.

The S/PDIF output is a nice feature, but if you're budgeting don't forget the cost of the cable (I needed a long one) and a compatible sound card. I'm not an audio-teckie guy, but it sounds good to me. A recording engineer friend had his doubts, however. Apparently there can be big differences in quality in analog-to-digital conversion, and what's in a $200 turnable might not be the best. I can send you some samples of vinyl-(or shellac)-to-digital recordings I've done, if you want to check 'em out. My email's in my profile.

After three years of happy service, my table started making horrible static noises. I sent it in to Stanton for a check-up, and they said it needed a new circuit board. The cost of repair was going to be more than the retail price, but they cut me a deal. It still cost more than a used one on ebay, though. Their service was terrible--it took forever, they didn't call when they promised, and they sent back the table with a bunch of new scratches but without the platter. I can only hope that's an isolated incident.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:20 AM on May 14, 2005

wpg - you're right. there's no difference in geometry, although it's possible one might be better than the other for other reasons (resonance, perhaps?).
posted by andrew cooke at 8:00 AM on May 15, 2005

Response by poster: cool, thanks for the help everyone. I didn't know about the 78-specific stylus, so that's a big bonus. I think the S/PDIF is the way I want to go (I'll look for a long cord) but I'm using a Firebox A/D converter so the soundcard won't be a problem.

Any tips on proper setup? On review I read of the T80 is that it didn't go into great detail on the setup.

Thanks again!
posted by petebest at 11:53 AM on May 15, 2005

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