Reviewer: Anthony Fordham
One of the almost-forgotten injustices of the whole recording industry versus the common man thing, is that many classic albums – especially jazz – have never been released on CD. For you, the collector of ’60s jazz or certain obscure rock EPs, listening to your old music has always involved either putting on the white gloves to handle the actual vinyl, or fiddling around with analog cables to get an unsatisfactory recording onto your PC.
Sony’s USB turntable aims to put a stop to that, combining a straightforward USB interface, internal AD converter and sophisticated software to help you record and restore your favourite albums from the Land Before Time.
This turntable is more of a tool than a piece of audio gear. The design is basic and functional, and no expense has been spent on quality plastics or heavy-duty components. There’s a USB cable for the PC, and a pair of stereo RCA cables should you want to use this unit to play records directly into a hi-fi system.
The way Sony intends you to use it, however, is to connect it to your PC via USB, play each of your albums into the included software – Sony’s own Sound Forge Audio Studio LE – where a range of wizards allow you to split the audio into tracks.
You can name tracks, name the album, clean up crackly or popping audio, up the sample rate, and essentially turn your slowly disintegrating pressed vinyl into theoretically indestructible MP3.
Set up is physically simple: plug the turntable into your USB port. After that, though, things can get a bit fiddly.
The turntable is identified as a ‘USB Audio Codec’ on your Windows PC. Unfortunately, Windows will sometimes divert all audio functionality to the turntable, even though it has no playback capability.
You will need to be familiar with Control Panel and the Sound settings for Windows, where you can change audio settings to accept input from the turntable but still output via the PC’s own audio subsystem.
This isn’t a high-end turntable, and the price certainly indicates it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s designed to be a quick and simple solution for the person who wants to get their ageing vinyl collection into a portable media player, such as an iPod.
There are few concessions to audio quality. Sony instead relies on the fact most users will be more than happy with 44KHz sampling, converted into an MP3 or similar compressed format at 128 or 192kbps.
This is fine for Top 40 pop songs, but anyone serious enough to have kept a vinyl collection for the last 20 years will surely demand a little more from their equipment.
The audio cleanup functionality in the software is able enough, but it is just software-based. It seems almost bizarre to send an analog audio signal through so many low-end digital circuits. Yes, you can understand the music when it comes out the other end, but it carries with it almost none of that classic vinyl sound.
Here’s another oddity: you can’t play vinyl through the USB and out your computer speakers using this turntable. Windows treats it as a microphone, and mutes the output to prevent feedback. A few hacks will solve this, but it’s a huge fiddle.
There are two essential problems with this turntable: if you have a big vinyl collection, odds are you have a decent hi-fi system that you play it on. Plugging this into your PC via analog cables and playing it into a good audio software package will get the same – if not superior – results to using this $300 unit.
And if you spend your $300 on a dedicated sound card, then results will be even better. You’ll also have the flexibility to use software that allows you to record in lossless compression formats or even raw formats for the ultimate in fidelity.
Then there’s the question of what you do with it once your whole collection is converted. Retro parties? Historical curiosity for the grandkids? Your guess is as good as ours.
Still, if you’re on the verge of chucking out all your vinyl and you want a simple, straightforward way to convert it all to basic MP3 so you can go jogging to old Blues records, then the PSLX300USB will get the job done.