A USB turntable works like most other turntables – it plugs into your existing hi-fi system and plays your vinyl records – but it has the added functionality of letting you digitize what you’re playing. You can save your recordings and save them as digital files on your computer, smartphone or hi-fi player, so that you can then listen to them whenever you want. No record player required.
You may be thinking: why? You can still stream the same songs from services like Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal anyway. A great answer is sound. It’s a warm sound filled with wonderful imperfections (like scratches) – and it’s nostalgia for a lot of people. Additionally, vinyl records tend to get damaged easily, so it makes sense to have a digital backup.
In years gone by, USB turntables were frowned upon by vinyl enthusiasts – Steve Guttenberg wrote an article for CNET in 2014, which condemned them as “the worst audio product ever” – because they were generally cheap and had crappy built-in analog-to-digital converters. But in the last few years that has changed a lot and you can buy a relatively high quality turntable with a lot of features including built-in USB.
Of course, digitizing your vinyl records depends a lot on your turntable. The better your turntable is, the better the quality of the digital files you can record. So if you are serious about audio quality and have a huge collection of vinyl records, we recommend that you get a better USB turntable. (Or you can get a separate USB converter for your non-USB turntable.)
How to digitize your vinyl
The good news is that if you have a USB turntable, it is quite easy to digitize your records. All you need to do is connect your turntable (via its USB output) to your computer – some USB turntables also allow you to save files directly to a USB stick – and the companion software guides you through the process, by pressing the record button, dropping the needle and choosing the type of digital file (WAV or MP3) you want to save it as. Most USB turntables come with their own companion software, but there are third-party options, like VinylStudio, if you want another solution. (Just make sure it’s compatible with your Mac or PC.)
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB is an excellent entry-level USB turntable. It has a solid body (weighing over 20 pounds), a built-in phono preamp, and comes with the company’s beloved AT-VM95E cartridge. Ultimately, you’ll get this turntable because you love the look (and it fits your budget).
Pro-Ject Debut III RecordMaster USB
Pro-Ject makes some of our favorite audiophile turntables that are still relatively affordable. Its Debut range has interesting features such as a heavier plate, better quality legs and a motor that is decoupled from the base. The Debut III RecordMaster USB has an additional A / D converter and a USB output.
The Denon DP-450USB is one of the highest quality USB turntables you can buy. It has a built-in phono preamp as well as a built-in phono equalizer, the latter allowing you to modify the highs, mids and lows of your music.
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