How do I integrate a record player into my digital setup?
April 3, 2016 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I recently inherited a collection of interesting vinyl records, and I want to buy a record player so I can enjoy them. The rest of my audio setup is very digital, and I'm not interested in buying an analog speaker setup. I want to both listen to the records live and record them to digital audio. What kind of record player/turntable should I buy?

I do some digital music production, so I have an AudioBox 22VSL connected to my PC that I use to take in audio input and drive output, and I was thinking of trying to maybe pipe a record player into that. The other option would be to hook it up to my digital surround-sound speaker set through something like coax or optical. Does anyone have suggestions for record players or general audio setups that work well for my situation? Thanks!
posted by JZig to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You need any combination of devices that perform the following steps:

Record player -> Phono amplification -> Conversion to preferred output format

This could be as simple as a record player with a built-in phono amp and USB output which plugs directly into your AudioBox/PC. Or a record player with a built-in phono amp and then a dongle that converts stereo RCA output (which 99% of turntables have) to USB/optical/whatever. There are tons of those (Google "phono to optical" or "phono to USB") and they run between $15-50. Some of these dongles have built-in phono amps, so you could go record player-without-phono-amp to dongle-with-phono-amp-and-digital-out to your computer.

The better the sound quality you are searching for, the more likely it is that you will end up with three separate dedicated devices in your chain from vinyl record to digital speakers: record player, phono amplifier, and output conversion device. I'd start with getting the best record player you can find in your price range, and then buying the rest of the pieces based on that.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 10:40 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

The question very rapidly becomes one of how much you're willing to spend, and whether this is a one-time digitise a bunch of albums job, or is likely to be an ongoing thing.

You can get turntables of varying quality that will basically rip a record to MP3 files. They are, almost universally, not very good, especially if you care about audio quality.

Your alternatives then are either to find a service that'll rip them for you, or buy a decent turntable and something to connect it to what you've already got. On preview, lefty lucky cat mostly has that covered, but for what it's worth, cheap turntables really aren't very good - especially not those ones that clog up the best seller lists on Amazon. Something like a Pro-ject Elemental (£150 or so) would be great if you're serious about this.
posted by parm at 10:51 AM on April 3, 2016

For cost, let's say somewhere between $200-$500. I'm willing to pay extra for good quality, those USB turntables don't look like a good option and the rest of my setup is decent enough.

I don't know yet if it will become a "thing", I might be interested in collecting some older vinyl, but buying new vinyl releases of things that were originally released as digital files just seems silly to me. I know a fair amount about digital audio, but this is my first foray into analog.
posted by JZig at 11:00 AM on April 3, 2016

In which case, it basically becomes a "which turntable should I buy?" question - no-one ever got fired for buying Pro-ject; an Elemental or Essential 2 would be ideal in your budget; despite their 'bargain'-sounding names, they're way better than pretty much any other similarly priced turntable. Then follow advice upthread about phono to optical - be aware of the pre-amp issue; phono is a much lower signal level than line-level so you'll either need something with a pre-amp in it, or a separate pre-amp, a decent one is about £50 ($50-$100 I guess).
posted by parm at 11:12 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would support the suggestion of an entry level Pro-ject. They usually come with a decent Orthofon pickup, and all you need for vinyl goodness is a Nad pp-2 preamp, and for less than 250 dollars you're sorted.
posted by fordiebianco at 1:55 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Wirecutter loves this Audio Technica turntable that is $250 and includes a phono preamp and USB out.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:48 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

The bad thing about that Audio Technica turntable is that there is no way to totally bypass the internal preamp without hardware mods - it always affects the sound. Almost every audiophile site I've been to has a thread about how to remove it. The Pro-ject is a better choice.
posted by rfs at 9:25 AM on April 5, 2016

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