Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sound Decisions

A fellow I work with was talking about the new breed of turntables and how nice it would be to convert some old LPs into a digital format. Googling the internets, I found some interesting and decent quality USB turntables, with some of the best prices on Amazon.com . When I dug deeper, however, I learned something interesting -- if you already have a decent turntable (I do, albeit an old one), then another approach is to buy your own pre-amp, and use that combination for ripping.

It turns out that even some of the better USB turntables don't feature cuing. I decided that my old Audio Technica turntable with direct drive, speed control, damped cuing, dust cover and a pretty decent Pickering magnetic cartridge with elliptical stylus could still serve me well. When I compare that venerable dinosaur to this $300 Stanton T.90 model at Amazon, I would still opt to keep my own.

Now I'm looking to get a standalone pre-amp, which I can use to hook my turntable directly to my PC's soundcard. Here's where I found a good lineup of pre-amps: http://www.phonopreamps.com/. I've ordered the TCC TC-750 model, which lists for under $50. It was mentioned in this PC World article, which seems pretty informative.

Hardware alone is only part of the story. Most of the USB tuntables came bundled with Audacity, which is an Open Source program. I downloaded the Linux version the other night. The Linux sound quality of my home-built PC is superior to that of the Windows XP side, which often has a background hum. The culprint, I think is the Chaintech AV-710 Sound Card. Often a cold boot into Windows XP will result in some godawful sound coming from the speakers. It must be the drivers, because the card is perfect under Ubuntu's Gutsy.

Years ago, I attempted some LP ripping using older software and older technology, so I'm not going into this with any delusions as to how problematic this will be. It's a real bear to get all of the pops and clicks out. Still, I have a substantial collection of LPs, some of which do not appear to have their CD counterpart. This looks like it could be a productive use of my time on some cold winter nights.

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